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Number 99 - June, 2003

Staff


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Baran Below
Little Richard Malevolent
Ordinary Decent Criminal Paid in Full
The Playaz Court Rabbit-Proof Fence
R' Xmas Women in Film

Divider

Universal/Alliance

2002, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 45 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Bruce Greenwood, Jonathan Hartman, Olivia Williams, and Scott Foley.

Directed by David Twohy

 

DVD Released 3/11/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Below"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

In the middle of World War II, a US Submarine is ordered to pick up the three survivors of a torpedoed British medical ship.  As the boat carries on with its patrol, strange, inexplicable things start to happen which threaten the submarine and all those aboard.  As one of the passengers digs into past events on the boat, including the recent death of her captain, a terrifying truth unfolds.

Commentary

How did this one miss at the box office?  Has anyone even heard of it?  By no means a B horror film, "Below" should have been up there with the recently lauded "The Ring".

The premise might strike as a little pedestrian, but Twohy pulls it off, turning out some classic chills.  When we first see one of the castaways is a woman, we think "oh great, just an excuse to have a skirt on board".  Maybe so, but Twohy uses it: as the word that a woman on board is passed down from compartment to compartment, we are given a tour of the ship and are also introduced to the classic superstition of the time that a woman on a boat, especially a submarine, is bad luck.  The story also needed an outsider to probe into the late captain's death.

The movie is artfully cut into three very distinct acts, with the first being more war time adventure complete with deep dives and lots of loud depth charges.  In the second, it's more of a mystery, and the third is downright scary.

Obviously Computer Graphics are the norm these days, and most of the shots are well done, but a couple are really bad, looking more like a video game than Hollywood cinema.  This is a big deal to me because it "shocks" me out of the fantasy of the movie, like a slap in the face that says, "It's fake!".

Extras

There is a form of making-of feature called "The Process" which is a nice change from the ordinary.  Instead of everyone patting themselves on the back, "The Process" shows raw footage of the cast and crew working out the minutia of each shot, at times scrutinizing a line, a character's motivation, or a camera angle, comparing that to the final shot.

There are a few deleted scenes which, as usual, were deleted for a reason, despite the director's narrative lamenting having to cut them out.

There is a feature length commentary which is too hap hazard to be interesting.  With no structure at all, they often go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the scene at hand.

Technical

The soundtrack is exemplary of what we expect these days from a 5.1 mix.  Dynamic, punchy action sequences were not "too loud" and bass content, while robust, did not overwhelm or bloat.  Surrounds were used to full advantage to support, not overtake, the sound spaces, and dialogue was articulate and clear.

The video quality and transfer are on the better side of the median.  The chroma channel was nice and solid without bleed, while shadows and the blacks were exquisitely textured.  There was a minute amount of noise, but nothing to be upset about.  Edge enhancement unfortunately was a little too much.

As for the MPEG PIC flags, yet again we see that an old MPEG encoder was used. The progressive frame flag toggles on and off during the film. This is a trait of the C-Cube encoder. At this point most MPEG decoders are aware of this and can deal with it, making it a non-issue, other than the fact that MPEG encoders have matured, and a newer MPEG encoder can encode at lower rates with higher quality. So, I believe this disc could have been better at the same bit rate if a newer MPEG encoder had been used. On a good note, there were no drops to video on any chapter breaks.

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

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Miramax

2001, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 34 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

Farsi/Dari Dolby Stereo

(English Subtitles)

 

Starring Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, and Mohammad Amir Naji.

Directed by Majid Majid

 

DVD Released 10/22/2002

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Baran"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Latif is a young man working a construction site in Tehran where the overseer is illegally giving work to Afghanistan refugees.  When one of the workers breaks a leg, he sends his son to work in his place.  Latif discovers that the son is really a daughter named Baran and becomes drawn to her.  He tries help her out by discreetly getting money to her father so that she won't have to work, but it never turns out as Latif expects it to. On the first try, the friend who is supposed to deliver the money takes off with it.  Then when Latif delivers some himself (claiming it is from the overseer), Baran's father decides to use it to return to their native Afghanistan.

Commentary

"Baran" is an engaging film that brings to life a part of the world which is almost never portrayed in film, at least films accessible to us in North America.  The piece has a delicious raw quality about it, evidenced in the somewhat rough framing and cutting.  There is a characteristic abundance of shots held for a long time as we see the expression on a character's face slowly migrate from one emotion to another.

The story is quite different from what we expect.  Latif and Baran NEVER actually speak.  There is no classic romance or anything like that.  This is more about personal sacrifice and putting the other person before oneself. Latif gives up a year's salary, and when the friend absconds with it, Latif just scrounges more to try and help Baran.  The ending caught me off guard.  We wonder if Latif was happy, relieved, or disappointed in the end to see Baran leave with her father.

Extras

There is nothing besides a trailer

Technical

The soundtrack is not actually Dolby Stereo but rather plain old mono.  It is clear but lacks a dynamic quality which makes it less than lifelike, despite the abundance of good foley and musical backgrounds.

The video quality and transfer are only par.  There is a too much edge enhancement, enough to be distracting.  Colors are consistently muted, but the blacks and grays and sufficiently resolved.  There is some noted video noise but not to a severe point.

The MPEG PIC flags.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There were only 5 drops to video.

Film (3-3)

There were 38 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 25 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Artisan (Fox Video)

2000, Color, Rated NR

97 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78 : 1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Starring Gilbert Glenn Brown,  Bob Cochrane, Arlen Escarpeta, Sticky Fingaz

Directed by Greg Morgan

 

DVD Released March 18, 2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Playaz Court"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

On the courts of Inglewood, a pickup game turns deadly.  Reggie is bent on revenge as he tracks down his best friend's killer and returns to the gym to finish him off. With conflicting stories circulating around, the other players agree they can't shoot him without a trial.

Commentary

I really wasn't looking forward to watching this DVD. The title alone had me worried, and “Sticky Fingas” as the headliner didn't improve my initial hopes for the movie. The insert for the DVD did explain that it was directed and edited by Greg Morgan on a very limited budget.

This is a concept film right from the get-go. It manages to create some great tension and really draws you into the predicament the characters are in. The dialogue was a bit repetitive at times, but otherwise it was a fun experience. The ending was a bit more morbid than most Hollywood fare but satisfying. Anyone interested in low budget film-making will find this an interesting watch. With only a few locations and little or no props, Morgan manages to make an entertaining feature length film.

The cinematography was standard, using well lit locals and outdoor scenes and a lot of handheld work

Extras

Nice audio commentaries from the director/editor Greg Mogan and producer Britton Hein. Also some interesting audition tapes and production photos.

Technical

This was not a good digital transfer. There is pronounced edge enhancement and a certain amount of granularity to the stock. On the whole, it is lacking in detail and very very soft.  The soundtrack fared better.  Basic, but clear and clean.

The MPEG PIC flags were awful, averaging almost 10 drops to video every minute.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not seem to trigger drops to video

Video (2-2)

There were an incredible 727 drops to video, most lasting around 8 MPEG PICs (16 video fields).

Film (3-3)

There were 31 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 32 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- J Irving -

Divider

Lions Gate Home Entertainment

2001, Color, Rated R

88 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

English Dolby Digital Stereo

 

Starring Beverly D'Angelo, Portia de Rossi, Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Directed by Bruce Wagner

 

DVD Released August 6, 2002

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

No

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Women in Film"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Three women from different walks of life in LA speak of their experiences in life and in Hollywood. Completely divulged in monologue, their stories are revealed, and we are exposed to an interesting insiders view of Hollywood.

Commentary

I wasn't sure what to expect just by inspection of the CD cover. The film is basically the intertwined story of three different women's lives and experiences in Hollywood. The stories themselves were significantly more serious and tragic than I had expected. The monologues are quite graphic and sometimes crass. These are not women with delicate sensibilities. It is not a feel good movie, but interesting, funny in parts, dirty in others. There is a lot of references to insiders in Hollywood and the business which may be confusing to some.

The cinematography was very interesting and cleverly edited. Music was also well used.

Extras

Not much in the way of extras, just a trailer. I would have been interested in hearing some director's commentary about the challenges of shooting in DV.

Technical

This film had very noticeable edge enhancement. This is not a nice transfer. I'm not sure of  the impact of the the  film being shot in DV. I would not have guessed the medium from a lighting/contrast point of view.

The audio track was clean and consistent, if basic in nature.

The MPEG PIC flags.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

Most of the chapter breaks triggered a drop to video.

Video (2-2)

There were 87 drops to video, most lasting around 80 MPEG PICs (160 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 37 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 31 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- J Irving -

Divider

Paramount

1990, Color, Rated PG

2 Hr 15 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, and Sam Neill.

Directed by John McTiernan

 

DVD Released 5/6/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

" 'R Xmas "

Synopsis

Plot Overview

It's a few days before Christmas, and a Latin American couple living in New York City are preparing and packaging their heroin for street distribution. While the wife has her qualms about the ethics of drug dealing, both she and her husband know there's plenty of money to be made in the drug trade. The couple discovers one of their lower-level dealers may be talking to the police, but they soon have a bigger problem to deal with when the husband is kidnapped and held for a huge ransom.

Commentary

This movie has one big flaw, namely that we couldn't care less about the protagonists. They are scum of the earth and they end up facing the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, everything works out for them, which is too good for a couple of criminals. Ice-T makes a cameo in a nothing role that appears to have been created just to include him in the movie. It is a forgettable film that isn't even worth the rent. There are some incredibly long useless transition scenes that only establish boredom in the audience.

Extras

Audio commentary by director Abel Ferrara

Technical

The image quality of this film is really quite bad. Very pronounced edge enhancement. The sound is sub-par, and the gain is very low. The mix causes the audience to strain to hear the dialogue which is difficult enough to understand with the thick accents of the characters.

As for the MPEG PIC flag encoding...

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There was only 7 drops to video, but one lasted 395 MPEG PICs, another 1222 (2444 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 30 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 26 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

- J Irving -

 

Divider

Artisan (Fox Video)

2000, Color, Rated NR

120 Mins

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

 

Starring Anthony Lee, Carl Lumbly, Garrett Morris, Jenifer Lewis, Leon, Tamala Jones

Directed by Robert Townsend

 

DVD Released 10/22/2002

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Little Richard"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

The movie recounts Little Richard's life story, as he sees it, including his childhood trials, racism in the 50's, and bringing rock and roll to the masses. The story ends with his return to Rock and Roll in England, 1962, after a brief hiatus.

Commentary

I am not really all that fascinated by Little Richard, but this film actually piqued my interest in his career significantly. Having been produced by Little Richard himself, the story appears to be a bit biased, glorifying his accomplishments and attributing some of his experiences to the mystic. That being said, the music is incredible in the film, and the story itself is a very intriguing one. Well acted and some appealing side characters made this an entertaining experience. The cinematography was surprisingly good considering its TV roots.

Extras

Considering Little Richard's long career, there really should have been some extras included, discography, anything really. Unfortunately there are none to speak of.

Technical

Since this film was made for TV, 4:3 is the only available viewing aspect ratio.

As for the MPEG PIC Flags, the entire piece is flagged as video, appropriate for its made-for-TV nature.

- J Irving -

Divider

Miramax

1999, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 34 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Kevin Spacey, Linda Fiorentino, and Colin Farrel.

Directed by Thadeus O'Sulivan.

 

DVD Released 1/14/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"Ordinary Decent Criminal"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Michael Lynch is Dublin's most notorious thief, known for his elaborate heists and his ability to evade law enforcement and circumnavigate courtroom rulings.  As one cop gets closer to Lynch than any other, Michael plots the biggest heist of his gang's career, but not because he wants the loot, but because he needs to show everyone he can do it under their noses.

Commentary

This is a mildly entertaining piece with plenty of good qualities, but poor execution.

While at first we are very interested in what the main character is all about, somewhere at the half way point, we lose interest completely.  Michael apparently has two wives who happen to be sisters but that is just thrown at us and is never actually dealt with, and we end up distracted by little things like that instead of the big picture. Of course, Alfred Hitchcock would call that part of the plot, "The McGuffin".

Movies like this based on true stories are always interesting from that point of view, but in this case, the man's tale could have been better told.

Extras

There are no extras at all.

Technical

The soundtrack is par for the course, but unremarkable.  At times a little disjointed in nature, the spectral balance shifts on some cuts mid dialogue and distracts as such.  For the most part it is clear though a little mic preamp clipping is noted.

The video quality and transfer are also par.  There is just a touch of video noise, and the transfer is a little soft but not too soft.  A little edge enhancement can distract on occasion, but it is still less than most.  Blacks and shadows are nicely delineated, while colors are consistent, if a tad laid back.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There was 5 drops to video, each lasting between 2 and 36 MPEG PICs (4 to 72 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 29 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 36 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Dimmension

2002, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 38 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Bruce Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris, and Cam'ron.

Directed by Charles Stone III.

 

DVD Released 4/08/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Excessive

"Paid in Full"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Ace is a teenager in Harlem who is just tired of seeing his friends in the expensive cars and nice clothes getting all the attention from the women.  When one of them gets put in jail, Ace finds an opportunity to fill the drug traffic gap left open and soon finds himself on top of the illicit Harlem underground, with all the power and trouble that come with it.

Commentary

While at first looking like just another of the myriad of similar movies, this one has a nice raw edgy quality that makes it worth watching.  Frankly, even though it is based on a true story, that part of it just doesn't seem that original, but it make a good study in low budget film making.

Extras

There is a director's commentary.  Charles Stone III does his best to keep it interesting, never dropping the ball.  He concentrates mostly on talking about what he was going for in each shot, and sometimes what he might have done different.  A good track to go through if you are working on your own piece.

Technical

The soundtrack is not the best example of 5.1 audio, but it is clear and intelligible.  The music that punctuates virtually every scene is really the focal point of the soundtrack, and it is laid out nice and broad, spilling over just a little into the surrounds.

The video quality and transfer are so soft, it's as if the telecine machine was out of focus.  Despite the lack of detail, we can still see quite a bit of video noise, but any ugly edge enhancement is just blended in on account of the softness.  Colors are a tad muted, and blacks are just a little bit washed out.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

Every chapter break triggered a drop to video.

Video (2-2)

There were 23 drops to video lasting from 5 to 150 MPEG PICs (10 to 300 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 30 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 24 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Dimension

2002, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 35 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Kari Wuhrer.

Directed by John Terlesky.

 

DVD Released 3/11/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Malevolent"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Jack is a maverick cop under routine investigation for a job-related shooting.  After meeting a stranger at a bar, he begins to find himself being framed for various murders.  Instead of divulging the facts to his partner, Jack tries to do his own investigative work before someone else dies.  His leads take him to an exotic dancer who may hold the answer as to why the killer wants to ruin him.

Commentary

This movie is so played out, it's not even funny.  It's an hour and a half of us in the audience screaming at the protagonist to stop letting the bad guy frame him and get on with telling everyone else what's happening. "Frustrating" is what comes to mind when watching this picture.

Extras

There are no extras

Technical

The soundtrack scores par for 5.1.  The dialogue is clear, and the surrounds are used to full advantage to create the sonic environments of each shot.  There are at times very hard pans on the front soundstage, which, although "cool", tend to distract, especially when it is a line of dialogue.

The video quality and transfer are on the better side of the median.  There is a reasonable amount of detail, blacks and grays are nicely rendered, and color has a consistent lifelike quality.  There is noticeable edge enhancement though, and a tad too much video noise.

As for the MPEG PIC flags, yet again we see that an old MPEG encoder was used. The progressive frame flag toggles on and off during the film. This is a trait of the C-Cube encoder. At this point most MPEG decoders are aware of this and can deal with it, making it a non-issue, other than the fact that MPEG encoders have matured, and a newer MPEG encoder can encode at lower rates with higher quality. So, I believe this disc could have been better at the same bit rate if a newer MPEG encoder had been used. On a good note, there were no drops to video on any chapter breaks.

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Miramax

2002, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 34 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansury, Laura Monaghan, Ningall Lawford, David Gulpil, and Kenneth Branagh.

Directed by Phillip Noyce

 

DVD Released 4/15/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Rabbit-Proof Fence"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

In 1930's Australia, Molly, her little sister, and her cousin are taken from their mothers because they are "half-casts" (half Caucasian and half Aborigine).  The government caretaker is instituting a program to "reintegrate" the half-casts into white society and breed out the Aborigine.  Molly, her sister, and cousin, escape the institution and make a 1600 mile journey along the famous rabbit proof fence to return to their mothers.

Commentary

On the whole it is a simple story, and a true one at that, which is genuinely engaging.  You just can't go wrong with a classic "getting home" premise, and the young actresses are superb in the role of runaways, while Kenneth Branagh brings the right aristocratic air to his role.  Splendid, breathtaking shots of the Australian desert create a mesmerizing backdrop for the drama.

Extras

There is a documentary called "Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence", narrated by Branagh.  It is a welcome change from the usual patting oneself on the back. Director Phillip Noyce documents in great detail his search for raw talent in Aboriginal children and then developing his choice of three for their first acting experience.  The whole focus on the documentary is on them.

There is also a feature length commentary track with no less than six of the movie's talents vying for time.  As such, it's a little bit of a disjointed commentary track, with people often talking about related things rather than the scene at hand.  Such material would be better served in a documentary.

Technical

The soundtrack is above par in terms of fidelity, with articulate dialogue and surrounds which are exploited to communicate the ambiance of the wind and rain.  There is a prodigious, deep low end to the music which is powerful but not fat or bloated.  This film proves that Peter Gabriel should be doing more movie scores.  His signature exotic harmonies and intoxicating drums punctuate the entire film, lending to the surreal desert local.

The video quality and transfer are slightly to the better side of things, with good detail and a well broken down gray scale.  Unfortunately, there is noticeable video noise and at times a distracting amount of edge enhancement.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There were only 3 drops to video, lasting 1, 2, and 21 MPG PICs.

Film (3-3)

There were 28 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 30 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

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