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Number 114 - September, 2004

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Murder on the Orient Express The Passion of the Christ
The United States of Leland The Ladykillers
Man on Fire

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Icon Productions

2004, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 6 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern

Directed by Mel Gibson

 

DVD Release Date 8/31/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

NA

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Passion of the Christ"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story we all know quite well.

In this film, it begins with Jesus in the garden, waiting to be arrested for treason, betrayed by Judas.

From there are the familiar events of being sent before Pilate, Roman Governor of the region, who says he has no jurisdiction over Jesus, and sends him to King Herod in the Jewish community.

Herod says that Jesus is not a criminal, but simply crazy, and sends him back to Pilate.

The crowd of Jewish citizens standing before Pilate demand that Jesus be crucified. Pilate washes his hands in front of them, not saying a word, because we know exactly what those words were.

Jesus is sent on the path through Jerusalem to be crucified, meeting Simon along the way, who helps carry the cross.

Commentary

Why did Mel Gibson tell the story that has been shown on film so many times before? Well, we probably won't know his personal reasons, but this is the first one rated "R", and it is not for sex or bad language.

The graphic violence portrayed against the founding figure of Christianity is more intense than any action film to date. Jim Caviezel does a spectacular job portraying the man, and I think he deserves an Academy Award for his performance. Unfortunately, the movie created such a controversy about it fomenting anti-semitism, I don't know if it will get that kind of recognition.

There have been some recent books suggesting that Jesus was actually never crucified, but got married. Perhaps that is the reason for The Passion: a reaffirming of what has traditionally been believed by Christians. But, regardless of whether the story of Jesus is totally true, partially true, or as some believe, not true at all, no one can discount the impact that this person has had on the human race for 2000 years.

Oh, and don't try to turn off the subtitles. The entire film is in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew.

Extras

There are no extras.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Paramount

2004, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Don Cheadle, Ryan, Gosling, Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Lena Olin, Kevin Spacey, and Michelle Williams.

Directed by Matthew Ryan Hoge

 

DVD Release Date 9/07/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Drug abuse

Sex

No

Language

F+S words

"The United States of Leland"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

After seemingly ordinary 15-year-old Leland stuns his quiet suburban community with a chilling crime, he is sent to juvenile hall where he meets Pearl, a teacher and aspiring writer who dreams of making Leland's compelling story into a book.  As Pearl digs deeper into Leland's life and the people caught up in it - his mother, his famous writer-father, and his troubled girlfriend - he uncovers Leland's disturbing motive.  The tables soon turn when the enigmatic teen forces Pearl to examine his own morally questionable behavior.

Commentary

I'll cut to the chase and say that yes this is a good film, perhaps even a very good one, yet I still have mixed feelings.

Ryan Gosling is absolutely brilliant in the role, as are most everyone in the picture. So far so good.

The script encompasses an abundance of at times very deep insights into life, the human condition, and so on.  Unfortunately, and here's the issue, there is so much of this compressed into the running time of the film that it gets outright dizzying after a while.  Certain sections you almost want to slow down so as to better grasp them, while other more trivial ones you wish you could skip.

Still, I can't imagine anyone interested in serious film coming away from this unaffected or unmoved.

Extras

There is nothing.  Nada.  Just a trailer.

Technical

The video quality, as is often the case with these less than mainstream pictures, is far better than the norm.  There is virtually no edge enhancement or ringing, leaving us with a very, very pleasing and natural image.  The only thing marring the visual presentation is a touch too much filtering, which leaves it feeling a soft.

The soundtrack quality, in terms of fidelity, is among the worst I've heard recently, even taking into account the somewhat indy nature of the movie.  Dialogue is much of the time of poor spectral distribution and comes off as muffled, often causing you to want to reach for the REW button to make sure you did not miss anything.  Artistically speaking though, it's a good effort with well placed music and at times credible environmental ambiance.

 - Brian Florian -

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Paramount

1974, Color, Rated PG

2 Hr 07 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital Mono

French Dolby Digital Mono

 

Starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, Richard Widmark, and Michael York.

Directed by Sidney Lumet

 

DVD Release Date 9/07/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Thematic

Sex

No

Language

No

"Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Poirot agrees to interview all aboard the famous train's Calais coach, hoping to find the killer of an American millionaire before the local police arrive.

Commentary

Among this month's catalogue releases, we get a long overdue one from Paramount.

I can't even recall off hand all the Agatha Christie stories and movies, but Murder on the Orient Express is by a margin the best known and most beloved of them all, and with plenty of merit.

First of all, the movie exemplifies the very concept of "All Star Cast".  Both screen and stage legends come together with no small part among them.  It also embodies a sureal nostagic quality for the period of train travel.  Artistically, it is breathtaking.

In terms of the actual who-done-it plot, there are a couple elements which make Orient unique.  Plot spoilers follow - to reveal, hold your left mouse button down and drag your cursor over the blank area below.

For one, it's not a who done it.  It's an everybody done it.  Also, breaking from Christie's normal values, the guilty go free.

Extras

The other two Agatha Christie murder mystery movies I would consider quintessential are Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun.  Both DVDs, which are out under the Anchor Bay label, are a farce compared to this excellent effort put forth by Paramount.

Agatha Christie: A Portrait is a brief overview of her life and how she came to write murder mysteries, as told by her grandson.

Making Murder on the Orient Express is a four part, nearly an hour long, quite comprehensive look at the making of the film.  There is no "behind the scenes" footage to be had (one has to assume that simply none could be found), yet through the interviews with surviving talents from the film, we feel as though we've seen some.  Particularly interesting are the memoirs and anecdotes offered up by director Sidney Lumet.

Technical

The video quality on this disk is a tough one for me to call.  On the one hand there is evidence that a good effort was put into the encoding:  compression artifacts are negligible, and there is virtually no edge enhancement/ringing (yea!).  Yet the picture does not look "good".  It does not appear to be to the fault of poor source film elements.  If I had to guess, I'd say this was an encoding of a previously done telecine master, perhaps from the LaserDisc era.  There is a fine line structure, but so little detail as to seem out of focus entirely.  It can appear at times noisy and a little on the dark side.

The soundtrack has been repurposed from its original mono to 5.1 (though the original mono is also offered).  This is an excellent remix effort with music extending across the front and bleeding quite a bit into the surrounds.  This is most fitting as it is such a lush, lavish score.  Unlike lesser remix efforts, music is not the only element to transcend the center channel.  Ambiance effects can be detected deftly occupying the various channels.  I would have to say I might have been sufficiently fooled into thinking it was originally a multi-channel soundtrack had I not known otherwise.  Dialogue is absolutely clear, but the spectral balance does just barely hint at its band limited origins.

 - Brian Florian -

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Touchstone Pictures

2004, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 44 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Language Track

 

Starring Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

 

DVD Release Date 9/07/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"The Ladykillers"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Professor D.H. Dorr (Hanks) arrives in a small Mississippi town and rents a room from Marva Munson (Hall).

He tells her he is taking a year sabbatical from the University of Mississippi and wants to work on Renaissance music with his band of musicians in the root cellar where he won't bother the neighbors.

The "band" arrives, including Gawain (Wayans), Garth (Simmons), the General (Ma), and "Lump" (Hurst).

So, as soon as the basement door is shut, they get to the real reason they are there, namely to burrow a tunnel into the storage room for a keelboat gambling house, where the receipts are kept.

When Marva discovers what they are up to, they have to decide how to get rid of her.

Commentary

In spite of Hanks' talent, this movie is terrible, and did poorly at the box office. It is supposed to be a comedy, but the only funny lines are provided by Irma Hall. Even standup comic George Wallace, who plays the Sheriff, doesn't have any good lines.

The film spends way too much time on the Gospel music, sort of like it has a more important role in the story than it actually does.

Readers have mentioned to me that the original version of this movie, made in 1955, and starring Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom, is very entertaining. I guess this is just one more example of a remake that is a failure.

Extras

These include Outtakes, Deleted Music, The Man Behind the Band, and ScriptScanner.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Fox 2000 Pictures

2004, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 26 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

Spanish Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Rachel Ticotin, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Mickey Rourke

Directed by Tony Scott

 

DVD Release Date 9/14/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Bad

"Man on Fire"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

John Creasy (Washington) is a burned out CIA operative and alcoholic, looking for work. His friend, Paul Rayburn (Walken), finds him a position as a bodyguard for Lupita Ramos (Fanning), the daughter of Samuel Ramos (Anthony), a businessman in Mexico City, where kidnappings are rampant.

Lupita tries to make a friend of John, but he is still bitter from his experiences in the CIA, and only wants to do his job, quietly.

Lupita's mother Lisa (Mitchell) senses John's inner demons and tries to make things easier for him, but he resists.

With time, Lupita finally breaks through John's protective shell, and the two become very close. John coaches her with swimming lessons.

In spite of Creasy's protection, some gangsters kidnap Lupita, and he is hospitalized with critical gunshot wounds. The police think he was in on the kidnapping, as two officers were killed in the process.

A local news reporter, Mariana Guererro (Ticotin) gets involved, as she knows there is a real story here. Together, they track down the kidnappers.

Commentary

From the credits, this appears to be a true story. Although Washington comes off as the same kind of character in all of his roles, there is something about him that makes each one still unique, and gut wrenching. That is certainly the case here, and it is a great story.

The directing is very smart and stylish, but I am not sure this style will be appealing years from now.

Fanning plays a sweet little bunny rabbit, and this makes the kidnapping hit home to the heart.

Extras

These include audio commentaries by the Director, Dakota Fanning, Producer, and Screenwriter.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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