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Number 102 - September, 2003

Staff


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The Core Spider
The Life of David Gale Identity
Dark Blue

Divider

Paramount

2002, Color, Rated PG

2 Hr 14 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Delroy Lindo.

Directed by Jon Ameil

 

DVD Release Date 9/9/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Core"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Geophysicist Josh Keyes correlates recent unexplained geo-phenomena around the world and comes up with the conclusion that the earth's molten core has stopped rotating, spelling impending doom for the world.  A team of elite scientists is complemented by a Space Shuttle command crew to drive an incredible tunneling train to the center of the earth to detonate an explosion they hope will restart the core and set everything right.  But everything we know about the core is theory . . . or is someone on the team not telling the whole truth?

Commentary

This is one of those movies you desperately want to like, but will have an awful hard time doing so.  At first glance, it looks like a carbon copy of the movie Armageddon, albeit of course the expedition is going into the earth instead of away from it.  The story does make some different choices though, omitting the whole misfits angle, as well as the formulaic Bruckheimer sequence of events.  The scene with the disoriented flock of pigeons is remarkably sad and disturbing, but among the film's few "serious" moments.  Contrast that with the lightning storm which hits Rome, more typical of the film as a whole, where we feel nothing, and you'll see my point.

It simply strikes me like the final cut was hurriedly performed.

Some scenes feel intolerably rushed, while other take up time purely for the visual effects team's bravado.  Case in point:  the Shuttle crash landing.  No doubt the coolest shuttle landing I've seen portrayed by Hollywood, it just did not "fit".  There are plenty of other, more efficient way we could have set up Swank's character's need for leadership growth.

Everything in the story is just too darn "neat".  We need to get to the core of the earth, something which is absolutely impossible but, what-da-ya-know, the military just happens to know a mad scientist with the perfect plan who has never, ever been given the time of day, but suddenly, they throw millions at him and bingo, we instantly have a tunneling train. We're told it took months to build, but we just don't feel it.

To the actors' and actresses' credit, they do an amazing job, given the material at hand.  Hilary Swank in particular gets a nod for taking what would have been an extremely cheesy role and making it only a little cheesy.

Visually, the film explores some new ground, and for many it will be worth watching for this reason.  Not only has no one seen what a tunneling train zipping through solid rock looks like, but even in your imagination, you have to realize that the ONLY light will come from the train itself and molten rock/lava.  Makes your head spin.  For the most part, computer graphics don't look like computer graphics, but on a few occasions, the destruction of Rome in particular, there are some dead giveaways.  The mass death of pigeons was so real though, my wife had to wait until the end of the credits to see that the Humane Society's message about no animals being harmed was there (the fact that they were 100% CG is noted more than once in the extras).

On the whole, a good ride of a movie, worth watching, but it could have been so much more.

Extras

There is a Commentary Track by director Jon Ameil.  It is quite good as far as commentary tracks go, Ameil keeping the monologue focused on the material in front of us.

There is the proverbial making of featurette which is a broad overview of the director's and writer's motivations on the project.  This sequences are supplemented by several separate visual effects deconstruction pieces.  The entire set might have been better served as one concise whole.

Deleted Scenes.  More and more these are the rage in DVD extras.  For the most part, they are deleted for a reason and are of interest only to the burgeoning film maker, as the director does some good commentary on why he bothered to shoot them and why they ended up on the cutting room floor.

Technical

The soundtrack is above par.  At times, the surrounds engage with aggressiveness, almost competing with the front soundstage but ultimately succeed in remaining diffuse and not distracting us from the visual.  There is bass, DEEP bass.  The very walls of our house were resonating, but we could "hear" nothing.  This means two things:  A) this soundtrack has been crafted with very deep bass while omitting the cheap upper order harmonics, and B) my M&K subwoofer is awesome (lesser subs will just squeal with their own harmonics and distortion).  On the whole, it is very dynamic and well integrated, but we give a half mark off for the one or two instances where dialogue could have been a little more crisp in nature.

The video quality and transfer are a little better then I've been seeing lately, that is to say good but not great.  There is a decent amount of detail.  I wouldn't call it sharp, but neither is it soft.  There is a touch of video noise, but what really hinders this one is edge enhancement.  Not as much as most but still enough to be noticed (and potentially distract on the largest of screens).  Shadows and blacks are nicely done, and color is solid and consistent.

As for the MPEG PIC flags, not too bad . . . .

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There were no drops to video whatsoever

Film (3-3)

There were 48 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted mostly for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 42 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted mostly for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Columbia Tristar

2003, Color, Rated R

99 Mins

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson

Directed by David Cronenberg

 

DVD Release Date 07/29/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

n/a

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Mild

"Spider"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

A man is released from an institution and begins residence at a halfway house for the mentally ill. He begins reliving his violent and disturbing childhood as his condition worsens. His hold on reality starts to unravel.

Commentary

This is a very fine film, truly a technical accomplishment by Cronenburg. The cinematography, set dressing, and locations are superb. I also found the use of music and sound to be very effective, creating a quiet yet disturbing atmosphere. Cronenburg describes the film as "expressionist filmmaking", in that the emotional and mental state of the character are portrayed by his surroundings. Since the main character rarely speaks anything comprehensible, it is really the task of the filmmaker to enhance the physical performance of his actor, so deeper meaning can be conveyed.

In general, the cast gives great performances, especially Ralph Fiennes. I was a bit disappointed in Gabriel Burns' performance as Spider, since it really was a wonderful opportunity to really have fun with a character.

Extras

The director's commentary is good for this film, as Cronenburg is actually a very engaging and interesting person to begin with.

There is also a series of "featurettes" which appears actually to be one long documentary that is broken into several logical topics. These include director, producer, and actor interviews, and opinions on the making of this film. Of note was the insightful commentary of the producers and their take on the film and the story.

Technical

The transfer to DVD of this film is quite poor, which is really a shame since the cinematography was very good. Anyone with a large screen is going to see edge enhancement everywhere.

The sound was good, well mixed with the music never drowning out the dialogue.

- J. Irving -
Divider

Universal

2003, Color, Rated R

2h 11min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Starring Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslet

Directed by Alan Parker

 

DVD Release Date 07/22/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

n/a

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Mild

"The Life of David Gale"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

David Gale is on death row, an irony really since he was once the state's leading detractor of the death penalty. Bitsey Bloom, a seasoned reporter with a reputation for protecting her sources, is given exclusive access to interview David Gale in the last 3 days before his execution. Gale wants to clear his name for a brutal rape and murder that he claims never to have committed. Bloom must race against the clock to determine this man's innocence or guilt and possibly save his life.

Commentary

This film is a very, very heavy handed anti capitol punishment statement. There really isn't a scene where we are not fed the filmmaker's opinion on the subject. Every person for the death penalty is portrayed as a villain, or someone who is somehow uninformed, perhaps to have their hearts softened.

This is not to say that I am a proponent of executing criminals, but this movie is so obviously intended to be manipulative, it is irritating. At least it could have been good at it, but it really falls short, failing to draw much of a reaction or to move the audience with any sort of emotion.

There is a disturbingly realistic murder by suffocation scene in the movie which is very unsettling. It is unfortunately one of the only things I really took from this movie <-shiver->.

In the end, even when everything has played out, I found it very hard to reconcile with the characters' motives and actions.

As far as the performances, Kate Winslet is wooden and really only accomplishes a decent American accent. Kevin Spacey is good, but his character is sort of pathetic, and I'm not sure that is what the director was going for. Laura Linney actually gives the best performance.

Extras

There is an audio commentary with the directory Alan Parker. The deleted scenes with additional commentary were completely inconsequential. The featurettes were decent, especially the information on the locations chosen for the shots. I do wonder if the locals realized that this film was going to portray Texans that way?

Interactual Player was installed when I popped the DVD into the PC, which promised additional content only available on the Internet through the player. I was treated to a very long, text-only essay on the death penalty in America.

Technical

The transfer wasn't too bad, but the image was a little on the soft side. The audio was not anything spectacular, but then again, there really wasn't much need of an exceptional soundtrack and mix.

- J. Irving -

Divider

Columbia Tristar

2003, Color, Rated R

90 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1, 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Surround 2.0

Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0

 

Starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet

Directed by James Mangold

 

DVD Release Date 09/02/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

n/a

Violence

Yes

Sex

Suggested

Language

Strong

"Identity"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Ten strangers end up stranded at a motel in the desert because of a torrential rain storm. As they begin to die one by one, they realize they have something in common, and this meeting may not simply be a chance encounter.

Commentary

I was not sure what to expect when I rented this film. I am a big John Cusack and Ray Liotta fan, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The trailers gave me the impression I was going to see a "Usual Suspects" clone.

The acting is solid, the story a lot of fun, and the cinematography is very good. Copious use of lighting contrasts and well thought out editing made it tense and engaging. The language was a bit rough for the subject matter I thought.

This is a concept movie, and, like most concept movies (such as "The Cube"), there are plot holes and some inconsistencies. But if you let yourself be taken in, suspend your disbelief for a while, this is a fun ride.

A side note: Blockbuster Video's "News and Previews" pamphlet (in Canada, I'm not sure if it is the same in the US) for this month basically gave the entire plot away in its synopsis of this movie. I mean, HUGE spoilers. So skip over it if you see it.

Extras

There is a director's commentary on the feature film along with deleted scenes. There is also an "On the Set" featurette with cast and crew interviews.

When you load the movie, it asks if you want to see "widescreen" or "full screen" and then asks if you want to see the "theatrical release" or the "Extended Cut". Personally, I think this should be the standard for the majority of DVD releases instead of releasing two or three versions of the film on separate DVDs. Of course this would be the best vehicle for the extended version of "Lord of the Rings", but for most releases it would still be appropriate.

Technical

The transfer to DVD of this film is quite poor, which is really a shame since the cinematography is very good. Anyone with a large screen is going to see edge enhancement everywhere. The sound was good, well mixed.

- J. Irving -

Divider

MGM

2002, Color, Rated R

118 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1, 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Surround 2.0

Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0

 

Starring Kurt Russell,Scott Speedman, Michael Michele . Brendan Gleeson, Ving Rhames

Directed by Ron Shelton

 

DVD Release Date 06/24/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

n/a

Violence

Yes

Sex

Suggested

Language

Strong

"Dark Blue "

Synopsis

Plot Overview

A hard nosed LA cop, Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell) and his new partner investigate a high profile quadruple murder, days before the verdict of the police officers charged with the Rodney King beating. Eldon exposes his new partner to his brand of justice and their superiors who cover the actions of their unit, the controversial SIS (Special Investigations Squad). Only a candidate for Chief of Police, Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), stands against them, and plans to expose these officers for their corruption and underhanded tactics.

Commentary

I saw the trailer for this film not long after I saw "Training Day" and figured it might be a clone. Then I heard that the screenplay was based on the work of the same author. "Knock-Off" I thought. However, a decent Training Day clone would be better than most of the movies I've seen recently.

I really wasn't disappointed, but my expectations were not very high. I do like Kurt Russell, I even liked "Soldier". This is the first time I've really seen him play a "bad guy", and he did very well. It is really his performance that holds this picture together. There is not a lot of deep or rich material given to the supporting cast to work with, but everyone does a competent job.

Setting the story against the impending LA riots after the Rodney King verdict was an interesting idea for this story, creating tension and eventually a very chaotic backdrop for the unfolding action. This scene is probably the most memorable and certainly conveyed the chaos, violence and helplessness of the situation.

There are a couple of problems with this film though. The "feel" of the movie changes from gritty realism to standard cop show type action, which serves only to confuse the audience's expectation. Secondly, without giving away any details, the ending of this film feels very contrived. This is once again probably due to scene mismatch. Basically, this type of ending is not really the appropriate way to conclude this particular movie.

The film did get me interested in the premise's basis in reality. This is really a piece of historical fiction. After some research into the exploits of the SIS and the Rampart CRASH unit scandal, it is quite easy to see why there was and continues to be an atmosphere of distrust of the police in that city.

Extras

There is a director's commentary and several featurettes, mostly behind the scenes material and background information on the the story's setting and the cast and crew's feelings about that time in American history. Again the featurettes appear to really be chapters of one long "behind the scenes"

There are some interesting production details included which deal with the problems a very low budget presented for the director and set designers, which I personally find interesting.

Technical

The transfer to DVD of this film is merely OK, with edge enhancement only apparent in high contrast areas of the scenes. However, it is very close to the subjects and does not have a great deal of dispersion. It should not be terribly distracting. The audio was clean and well mixed.

- J. Irving -

 

Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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