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Number 103 - October, 2003

Staff


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Confidence Dragonslayer
Hollywood Homicide Hulk
The Italian Job (2003) The Matrix Reloaded
May The Italian Job (1969)

Divider

Paramount

2003, Color, Rated PG-13

110 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Ed Norton

Directed by F. Gary Gray

 

DVD Release Date 10/07/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Italian Job (2003)"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

After the flawless robbery of millions of dollars in gold in Italy, Charlie Croker and his gang are betrayed by one of their own, resulting in the death of his mentor. Now a year later, Charlie enlists the help of his mentor's daughter to get the gold back and to get revenge.

Commentary

Considering the way the preview for this film seemed to give away every important plot point, I was surprised that I enjoyed this film as much as I did. I made a point of missing this film because of the trailer, which is a real disappointment, because it would have been a highlight of the 2003 summer movie season.

Mark Walberg will in all likelihood never win an academy award, but he usually doesn't ruin movies. Ed Norton and Chalize Theron were good as usual, although their roles really never required here to act very much. And of course Donald Sutherland is as good as ever.

This is basically a fun action/capper movie with interesting characters and great stunts. There really isn't any new ground covered, but it is an old road that is still enjoyable to ride.

Extras

There are lots of extra features. The extras consist of five featurettes which are basically one large 'making of' broken down into smaller units. That being said, they are very interesting, with interviews and commentary from the producers, director, and cast members.

The featurettes are the following:

Petal to the Metal, The Making of the Italian Job

I liked this piece because they spoke about each cast member and why they were chosen for the character they played and how the cast felt about each other

Putting word on the page for the Italian Job

In depth interviews with the script writers, how they tried to make this film stand out from the original film, and some of the scenes that they liked.

The Italian Job Driving School

The cast speaks about the intensive 3-4 weeks of driving school that they required for the film. I found Chalize Theron's comments on the extra time they alotted for her to learn the skills funny.

The Mighty Minis of The Italian Job

Basically a breakdown of the cars used in the film and how the filmmakers wanted to pay homage to the original film. The Austin Minis were a bit part of the plot of the first film and continued to be so in this one as well.

High Octane Stunts for the Italian Job

The producers wanted the actors the do a lot of their own stunts to prevent the wide shot <> close shot format that has to be used when filming with stunt doubles. Several of the stunts and the technical difficulties are discussed here.

There are also deleted scenes and theatrical trailers. However, there is no director's commentary, which is as shame because I found the director's commentary in the featurette's very good. F Gary Gray is a fun guy to listen to.

 - Jason Irving -

Technical

The video quality on this DVD is better than the median.  Sure there is some edge enhancement and/or ringing, but it's not as pronounced as most.  Beyond that we have an image which is reasonably detailed and very alive.  Grays and blacks are well rendered while the color channel is solid and consistent.  Depending on your display, you may be distracted by minor compression artifacts in larges areas of flat color such as the scenes in the snowy alps.

The soundtrack is an excellent example of what we expect from Hollywood these days.  It is punchy and dynamic, at times aggressive, but never overdone or "too loud".  There is some rich bass content and surrounds which are deftly used without being overt.  There are just a couple of occasions where dialogue was a little rough.  Not to the point of compromising ineligibility, but just enough to sound unnatural.

Try as we might, this disc would not let our software pull the MPEG PIC data.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Columbia Tristar

2003, Color, Rated R

116 Mins

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett

Directed by Ron Shelton

 

DVD Release Date 10/07/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Moderate

"Hollywood Homicide"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Two cops find themselves in the middle of a multiple homicide investigation that may involve other police officers. However their minds aren't always on the case, since one moonlights as a real estate agent, and the other only wants to be an actor and teach his yoga classes that are full of beautiful women. To make matters worse, they are being investigated by an internal affairs officer that has a vendetta against them.

Commentary

Two words to describe this movie, TOO LONG. There is not enough material to carry this film for close to two hours. The opening credits consisted of signage with the word Hollywood in it for what felt like 10 minutes. Even the big climatic chase scene, which I might add starts with no provocation that I can see, goes on and on. It was the chase that wouldn't end, and it really wasn't exciting. I get a feeling that someone from LA might be more privy to the inside jokes, but basically I thought it was too drawn out.

Harrison Ford is fine as the quirky veteran who is desperately trying to sell houses on the side, but even that material is a bit thin. Josh Hartnett's performance had me wondering if he was stoned for the entire shoot. I really don't understand his appeal. He was ok in H20 but really hasn't grown at all.

Extras

The director's commentary for this film is delivered in a manner that brings to mind your worse history teacher. I mean, it is DRY. Most of commentary consists of suppositions and ideas that were readily apparent in the film.

Other than the commentary, there is static lists of the cast's filmography and film trailers.

Technical

The edge enhancement is severe enough to distract, even on smaller interlaced displays, and makes for a pretty bad presentation on large progressive systems.  Overall, the picture is pretty soft and a little muted, but we had a hard time seeing past the halos.

The soundtrack struck us as poorly assembled with sound effects and music overpowering the dialogue in several places.  Just too much "pizzazz".

- J. Irving -

Divider

Lion's Gate

2003, Color, Rated R

97 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz

Directed by James Foley

 

DVD Release Date 09/16/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Nudity

Mild

Language

Moderate

"Confidence"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

When his crew inadvertently cons an associate of crime boss "The King" (Dustin Hoffman), Jake Vig (Ed Burns) tries to to make things right with him by pulling off another larger con. But when faced with making that much money, it's hard to share.

Commentary

Doesn't hurt to have a great cast around you. I liked Burns' Sam Spade - like narration throughout the film. Dustin Hoffman is the real big story though. He really stretches the bounds of any role he has ever played. This is the best Hoffman since "Marathon Man".

Nothing new plot-wise for a crime/scam movie. There are a couple of plot points that are a bit of a stretch, when it comes to timing and the way things fit together, but nothing erroneous

Visually this is a very slick movie. Very inventive use of camera effects and the colors. Lots of use of colored lighting with plenty of saturation, interesting transitions, and camera effects. The music selection was appropriate and interesting, with a lot of high quality techno/electronic music from various artists.

All in all a very enjoyable experience, especially considering the size of this film. Most Lion's Gate films are hit and miss, but this one is quite good.

Extras

The main extra feature is the inclusion of a mini-documentary from the Sundance Channel called "Anatomy of a Scene". This is a very interesting format to do a featurette and one that will be of great interest to people who are interested in filmmaking. First, the director, editor, and cast discuss the film in general. Then they focus on one crucial scene and dissect it. All different facets of the production, screenplay, casting, and locations are discussed as they pertain to the film and this particular scene.

There are also deleted scenes/bloopers that are integrated, and music videos associated with the sound track.

Technical

The transfer is pretty good on this movie. The strong artistic use of color is well served and rendered consistently with decent grays and blacks.  The soundtrack is well integrated with decent dialogue rendition and a punchy dynamic musical score..

- J. Irving -

Divider

Lion's Gate

2002, Color, Rated R

90 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

 

Starring Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto 

Directed by Lucky McKee

 

DVD Release Date 07/15/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"May"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

May is born with a lazy eye. Because of her disability and the eye patch she must wear as a child, she is isolated. Her overbearing and self conscious mother sews her a doll to be her friend.

Now older, May sees the man of her dreams. But as she branches out to friends and to this boy, May's naive view of people is destroyed and she is exposed to human nature. If you can't find a friend you can always make one.

Commentary

This is an art house film and a concept piece, and you can really feel it in the the tone. Fans of "Ginger Snaps" or "The Hole" will like this film. There isn't a big budget for this picture, but it really doesn't show on the screen. I've seen several people accuse this film as simply being a slasher flick. I disagree. I found there were some strong messages in the film, and although they might not stand out to everyone, depending on their background, they are still relevant. The blood motif is used a bit too much, but it works.

Angela Bettis does a fantastic job as May and really sells the character. The change she makes at the end of the film is a bit too dramatic, however. I would have liked to have seen it be a bit more subtle.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid. Anna Faris of "Scary Movie" fame is not too bad, although I find she doesn't always sell me on her characters. Jeremy Sisto is very solid as May's love of her life.

The visuals in the film are pretty good. The opening sequence I thought was very good. Using the contrast of the 50's ideal family type scenes with May's disability and her mother's behaviors was quite effective. There was also really good use of subtle sound cues in the scenes where the doll is communicating with her.

Extras

The extras on this DVD are two commentary tracks. Both feature Luck McKee and several different cast and crew members, right down to craft services. These are the funniest commentary tracks I've heard. It's like they are sitting around someone's living room, having a couple of beers, watching the movies and swapping stories and cracking jokes. (Note: on the official web site, Lucky admits they were doing a bit of drinking while they were making the commentaries.)

Technical

The film "only" sports a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, however it decodes as Pro Logic in style.  The use of subtle sound effects and overlays required for the scenes is clear and distinct.  On the whole a pretty good mix. Picture wise we were distracted by some EE and video noise, and the picture is soft like so many these days.  In addition, it's a little schizophrenic as the visual quality shifts to some degree scene by scene.

- J. Irving -

Divider

Warner Brothers

2003, Color, Rated R

136 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

 

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving

Directed by the Wachowski brothers

 

DVD Release Date 10/14/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"The Matrix Reloaded"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

The Matrix trilolgy continues with Neo (Reeves), Morpheus (Fishburne), and Trinity (Moss) fighting the "Machines" who are now preparing to launch a major attack to destroy the humans who are attempting to break the Matrix. Neo consults the Oracle who tells him to find the Keymaker so that he can locate the origin of the Matrix' power.

Commentary

Although there is more character development in this installment, with Link's family matters, and Neo's love affair with Trinity, Part II does not have the magic of Part 1. It certainly is not for the lack of computer graphics or action, which are non-stop. It may be the novelty of what Matrix I offered, or perhaps that many other movies have this kind of action now. I see many of these special effects in commercials and documentaries on TV, so Matrix III will have to go some to keep the interest.

Unfortunately, Matrix III is already done and is being released in a few weeks, so they can't have learned from the mistakes in Part II, which did not perform as well at the box office as they had anticipated. Part II will make it into my test disc library, however, because it has one of the most demanding sound tracks I have ever heard.

Extras

The extras include "Get Behind the Scenes", "A Look at the Matrix Phenomenon", "The Freeway Chase: How They Did It", and other bits. The freeway thing is indeed truly amazing, but I am not sure I want to know how they did it. I prefer to remain astonished. I am always surprised at studios' willingness to show us the secrets of how they entertained us. To me, it is like having another show after a magician's performance, where he demonstrates the nature of his illusions. Such disclosures are always disappointing and ruin the fun.

- John E. Johnson, Jr. -

 Divider

Paramount

1981, Color, Rated PG

1 hour 49 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, and Ralph Richardson.

Directed by Matthew Robins

 

DVD Release Date 10/28/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Dragonslayer"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

When an ancient Dragon ravages the land, the king puts in place a lottery to take virgin daughters at random to appease the beast.  The task of freeing the people from the menace is passed to the apprentice of the last remaining wizard who can no longer make the journey.

Commentary

In 1981, just about any of us who are now 30-somethings were either catching the D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) craze or were already deeply entrenched in anything to do with dragons, magic, and swords.  It's no wonder then that despite doing poorly in its day, there is a whole underground of us who recall Dragonslayer as one of the favorites of our youth.

And not without good reason.  The story is classic:  The underdogs have to rise to the occasion, overcome their self doubt, and take care of business.

A word on visuals.  CG artists would do well to revisit some of these pre-computer titles.  The human eye has an incredible ability to distill the stimulus and as such, even though these old technique look "bad" on scrutiny, they are far less distracting than a computer graphic gone awry.

Basic premise, basic characters, basic fun.  'Nuf said.

Extras

There is literally nothing for extras.

Technical

The transfer quality is surprisingly good, yet again demonstrating how some of the lesser releases get better treatment than some of the biggest blockbuster titles.  The film does show the characteristics of an unpreserved print:  relaxed colors and somewhat washed out dark areas, but the encoding makes the most of what is there.  It is not too soft, and edge enhancement is at a minimum and will not distract unless you actively go looking for it.  There is just a little bit of video noise, but on the whole it is a pleasing picture.

In 1981, the art of the Dolby Stereo soundtrack was not perfected, but even this 5.1 remix feels awfully front heavy.  The surrounds are neglected, and even some environmental foley falls to center.  It is clear though, without noticeable hiss or other age revealing artifacts.  Dynamic range feels limited, but that is consistent with what we expect from a film of this age.

The MPEG PIC flags are almost perfect.  There are no instances of 2-2 video and a relatively low number of 2-2 and 3-3 progressive errors (22 and 23 respectively, all lasting no more than 2 PICs).  Likely a raw, un-tampered telecine master was fed to the encoder.

For an explanation of MPEG Picture Flags, please see the section "How the information is stored on disc" in Part 5 of our DVD Player Benchmark.

- Brian Florian -
Divider

Universal

2002, Color, Rated PG-13

2 hour 18 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte.

Directed by Ang Lee

 

DVD Release Date 10/28/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Hulk"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Forbidden by his military bosses to test his gene manipulation on humans, David Banner starts working on himself, passing on the mutation when his wife gets pregnant.  Years later, Bruce Banner, working in a similar field as his father, gets exposed to excessive gamma rays when a lab accident happens.  The rays awaken inside of him a creature on another level of human evolution: The Hulk.  Awakened by anger and rage, the Hulk appears to be a threat and the military comes after what they thought was just collateral damage from years ago.

Commentary

In a very refreshing change from the trend, Hulk is nothing like the catalogue movies spun from comic books we now have.  It is not in any way a "fun" summer hit (hint: that's a good thing). Hulk is a very dark picture with serious explorations.   This is a fact which seemed to be missing from the marketing campaign, as when I went to see this in the theater I was surrounded by parents who had brought children as young as 4 to 6 years of age.  Do not be fooled by the conspicuous appearance of Hulk Pillow cases and pajamas:  This is not appropriate for kids!

That off my chest, this is an exquisite piece.  Anyone who has been following Ang Lee's work knows to expect something expressive, something special, and Hulk delivers in spades.  Maybe even too much so:  Those not familiar with oriental movies may find the last 20 minutes of the film, well, "foreign" in its theme.

The visual style of the piece in every way compliments the darkness of the story and the complexity of its characters.  In a very interesting juxtaposition, the editing style emulates, in a fashion, the cell approach to story telling from comic books. And Lee's use of color evokes the sort of genius we know from Alfred Hitchcock.

Definitely not a film which will thrill everyone but one which really needs to be seen if you call yourself a patron of movie art.

Extras

On disk 1...

There is a commentary track by Ang Lee.  He is one of those types you are compelled to listen to as everything he says is interesting.  Unfortunately he frequently drops the ball and is silent for extended periods.  He might have done better with another personality to play off of.

"Hulk Cam" is the proverbial jump-out system where, when you see the icon during the movie, pressing enter on the remote will take you to a short piece on the visual effect at hand.

There is an "Anatomy of the Hulk" thingy which is more than just a tad juvenile and thus out of place.

And as usual, deleted scenes are deleted for a reason and these offer no commentary of contextual explanation.

On disk 2...

"Hulkification" is a set of four comic interpretations of the same scene from the film, demonstrating the broad range of style which exists in the graphic novel art form.

"Evolution of the Hulk" is a short piece which traces the origins of the comic book, through TV, and on to the film.  Stan Lee is the primary talker here.

"The Incredible Ang Lee" focuses on the director and his vision and intellectual contribution to the film.  Some of it is redundant in the making of features and it really does not talk about any of his other work.  It would have been far more valuable if they had done a filmography or something.

"The Dog Fight Scene" is an in depth look at the making of that particular scene.  Curious choice to focus on since it is the one section of the film I thought was really overdone.

"The Unique Style of Editing the Hulk" talks about the creative genesis which lead the the style we mention above.

The Making of Hulk is a set of four short features which cover Cast and Crew, Stunts and Physical Effects, ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), and the Music.  These could have been spliced into one more concise peice.

The extras are not 16:9 enhanced.

There is also a demo version of the Hulk game, playable on an XBox should you happen to have one.

Technical

The video quality is refreshingly better than the norm.  There is decent detail, very little video noise, solid color that preserve the artistic intent, and blacks and greys which admirably support the dark nature of the piece.  The only thing we really didn't like was the presence of edge enhancement/ringing, which is only in the vertical with little or none running horizontally.

The soundtrack is everything we expect to get our highest rating.  It is an entirely integrated achievement, holistic and complete.  Beyond just perfectly natural dialogue and enveloping environmental cues, it is punchy, dynamic, and aggressive, without being "too loud" or in any way distracting from the storey.  It does present a challenge for sound reproduction systems as at times there is wide bandwidth audio at high levels in multiple channels and a bass line that digs deep.

The MPEG PIC flags take a step back from what we've been seeing lately.  There are 25 instances where they drop to video, none of which are coincident with the chapter breaks though.  Most last for 5 MPEG PICs, but the first goes for 66 and the last one for 126.  There are an average number of 2-2 and 3-3 progressive errors (42 and 52 respectively, all lasting no more than 2 PICs).

For an explanation of MPEG Picture Flags, please see the section "How the information is stored on disc" in Part 5 of our DVD Player Benchmark.

- Brian Florian -
Divider

Paramount

1969, Color, Rated G

1 hour 39 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16:9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital Mono

 

Starring Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill, Raf Vallone, Tony Beckley, Rossano Brazzi, and Maggie Blye.

Directed by Peter Collinson

 

DVD Release Date 10/28/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Italian Job (1969)"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Just out of jail, professional thief Charlie Croker starts work on his biggest heist yet:  take 4 million in gold from an armored trunk passing thought a high tech Italian city.  As he assembles the team, the Italian mob starts to take notice and threatens to end the deal early for Charlie and the gang.

Commentary

I'm normally a fan of the oldies.  Case in point:  with "The Truth About Charlie" I for one felt the studio did themselves a huge disservice by including the original "Charade" on the DVD:  The latter put the remake to absolute shame!  Although The Italian Job 2003 (see above) is not an absolute remake, I watched it first and was pretty disappointed when I got around to this one.

I simply found it uninteresting and poorly assembled.  It doesn't get at all interesting until about 40 minutes into it and even then, the caper haphazardly unfolds with little or no exposition.  We don't really share in the planning and can't appreciate anything that's happening:  Is this what is supposed to happen or are they improvising?  Who knows?  Who cares?

It's puzzling that the director and cast of the 2003 Italian Job spoke so highly of what is supposed to be have been their muse.  Good thing they didn't do a remake per sť.

Extras

There is a commentary track by Matthew Field, author of the book "The making of The Italian Job", and the producer Michael Deeley.  They actually make a good pair, playing off each other, but as usual, you really need to be interested in this film to sit through the whole thing.

There is one deleted scene, presented in a 16:9 frame and commented on by Matthew Field.

There are three making of features focusing on, respectively, the writing, the people, and the stunts.  They are all 16:9 formatted.

Technical

The video quality I suppose is good for an old title which likely wasn't preserved.  There are some dirt and scratches but it's nothing too severe.  It's quite soft with some noticeable ringing, but contrast has been brought up to snuff and the color, while screaming "60s", is at least consistent.

The soundtrack is presented in both its original mono and a 5.1 remix.  The new mix is actually pretty good at fooling you most of the time, but now and then the force of music in the Left and Right channels, with everything else in the Center, gives it away.  Some foley is steered around a little bit and on the whole it's a good effort.  It does of course sound dated in terms of fidelity and spectral content, and it does distort a little at times on dialogue.

The MPEG PIC flags are about the median for what we are seeing these days.  There are no instances where they drop to video, and there are an average number of 2-2 and 3-3 progressive errors (32 and 41 respectively, all lasting no more than 2 PICs).

For an explanation of MPEG Picture Flags, please see the section "How the information is stored on disc" in Part 5 of our DVD Player Benchmark.

- Brian Florian -

 

© Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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