Go to Home Page

Go to Index for All Movie Reviews

 

Movie Renter's Guide
 

Number 120 - March, 2005

Staff

 


Now Playing
Divider

Cellular Flight of the Phoenix
The Incredibles Fritz Lang's M
Exorcist: The Beginning

Divider

New Line Cinema

2004, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 34 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by David Ellis


Starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jason Statham, William H. Macy

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"Cellular"

Synopsis

Jessica Martin (Basinger) is a typical L.A. housewife. She is a school teacher, with a son named Ricky (Adam Taylor Gordon), and a husband who is a real estate agent. They live in a nice suburban house.

One afternoon, kidnappers break into their home and take Jessica. They drive her to a remote place and put her in the attic. On his way out of the room, one of the kidnappers, Ethan (Statham), smashes the telephone that was mounted on the wall.

Jessica manages to piece together some of the phone wires, and tapping them together, she rings the cell phone number of a young man named Ryan (Evans).

At first, Ryan thinks it is a joke, but Jessica convinces him to take his cell phone to the local police station and hand it over to an officer. At the reception desk, Officer Mooney (Macy) takes the phone and listens for a moment, but when he is called away by a disturbance in the station, Mooney tells Ryan to go upstairs to a different department.

Ryan goes up the stairs, but the phone connection starts to fail, so he goes back outside and decides to take care of the problem himself.

Jessica discovers that the kidnappers want to find her husband because he accidentally video taped a drug purchase by some very important people. They want the tape, and they are willing to do anything to get it.

Mooney now realizes that the phone call was legitimate and starts investigating on his own.

Detective Jack Tanner (Noah Emmerich) apparently wants to help Mooney, but something just does not seem right  . . . .

Commentary

The reviews on this film were not very good, but I enjoyed it. Some of the plot seems a little unreasonable, like Jessica being able to piece the phone wires together and actually dialing a number by clicking them together, but most movies have such implausibilities.

Extras

These include an Audio Commentary by Ellis, Deleted Scenes, Dialing Up, Calling Out, Trailer, and other things.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

Divider

Twentieth Century Fox

2004, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 45 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by John Moore


Starring Dennis Quaid, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Flight of the Phoenix (2004)"

Synopsis

In this remake of a 1965 classic originally starring Jimmy Stewart, Dennis Quaid leads the cast as the gruff cynical pilot Captain Frank Towns. Sent to clean up a failed oil field and to return with the aging equipment and the rig's crew, Captain Towns and his co-pilot resent having to make the trip. Naturally, the crew, which includes the leader Kelly (Otto), feels the failure and ultimately agrees to abandon their post.

The crew also includes rednecks and the company representative who wants to distance himself from the remainder of the group. Actor Giovanni Ribisi plays the role of loner Elliot who finds his way out to the site and pleads his way onto the flight for the trip home.

Although filmed in Namibia, South Africa, the movie takes place in the Gobi desert. Upon takeoff, sandstorms make it virtually impossible to fly through, forcing Captain Towns to navigate around the storms but to no avail. Through his arrogance, he is forced to crash the plane.

Survival becomes the issue as the varied characters deal with the knowledge that it’s virtually impossible to be rescued. Tension and conflict lead the group to follow the loner’s idea of re-building the plane. As an airplane designer, he assures them he is capable of putting together a plane with what’s left of the aircraft and with what’s on board. He becomes obnoxiously self-absorbed and power hungry to another point of conflict.

If things couldn’t get worse, they discover that they’re sharing the locale with arms dealers, so the race to complete the plane is on.

Commentary

As a human struggle to survive, the characters begin to build bonds and rally together to make their escape. However, egos create tension, and the characters are forced to trust each other to complete the task. Giovanni Ribisi is convincingly creepy as the mad power hungry designer, finding his niche in the desert as the indispensable leader.

As we are to understand none of the characters want to be here, we nonetheless sense no compassion for their plight. Sure we want to see them overcome the odds, yet there is no sense of enduring human spirit, no passion as they muddle along in the endless sand. This is quite different than the original 1965 version, where such talent as  James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Hardy Kruger, Dan Duryea, and George Kennedy, deliver performances that result in a much better movie.

Director John Moore seemed more interested in making the movie commercially appealing by including catchy music, sand and electrical storms, and chase scenes. I’m surprised there was no love interest between Dennis Quaid’s character and the only female in the movie Miranda Otto.

Technical

With a mixture of oldies but goodies like: “I’ve been Everywhere Man” sung by Johnny Cash, and “Night Train” by James Brown, and also “Gimme Some Lovin” performed by Steve Winwood, the music seems out of place. They use the briefly popular “Hey Ya” by Outkast to bring the group together which is completely contradictory to the plot.

The Dolby Digital surround is mostly enjoyable during the flight scenes and especially the early crash scene, placing you squarely in the body of the plane breaking apart around you.

The video is clean and the endless desert is richly exploited. The scene shifts are seamless except for one single pause, but hardly a problem. The film takes on a bit of a surreal look as time goes on, blinding and grey at times giving you the sense of despair and thirst.

Extras

Included are the usual behind the scenes discussions and interviews with the actors, and the director cursing as he makes clear his demands. Also include are a few interesting deleted as well as extended scenes, including an almost rescue plane spotting them.

 - Piero Gabucci -

Divider

Walt Disney

2004, Animated Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 45 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

 

Directed by Brad Bird


Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Cartoon Violence

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Incredibles"

Synopsis

Lawsuits against superheroes have forced elite crime fighters into living as their alter-egos full time. The story centers around former Mr. Incredible, his wife, former Elastigirl, and their three children. Inevitably bored with the hum-drum of normal life, Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) spends his ‘bowling night’ with old friend Lucius Best (once the chilling Frozone) listening to the police scanner in dark alleyways.

Eager to relive his glory days as an all important protector of good, Bob jumps at the opportunity provided by a mysterious figure. All too eager to do good, he is sucked into an evil life-threatening trap. This in turn causes his wife to come to the rescue, albeit she is motivated by relationship issues which cause her to ignore the dangers that come perilously close to destroying her family that she has worked so hard to raise ‘normally’.

Commentary

As with any animated movi,e the voices behind the characters are extremely important. I never even thought about the voice behind Bob/Mr. Incredible as Craig T. Nelson’s voice fits the role very well. I do feel that Holly Hunter was a poor choice for Helen/Elastagirl only because she has such a wonderfully unique voice that it was too distracting from the show.

Jason Lee on the other hand was the perfect choice for Buddy/Syndrome. I do admit, it would have been nice to see a little more of his character shine through though. I do enjoy a Kevin Smith rant in any movie.

Dash and Violet both had decent actors that fit their characters. And due to the little actual dialogue from Violet, her also very distinct voice actor fit quite well.

The movie starts off like a firecracker . . . quick to the action and very enjoyable. The lawsuit angle was very clever, and as a whole the entire movie was quite funny for kids and adults.

The last 45 minutes of the movie was also fast-paced and very exciting, especially the chase scene with the ultra quick dash (minor inconsistencies aside). The movie did however have too much slower paced footage that could have been trimmed to match the quicker pace of the first and third acts.

Technical

Wonderfully rich colors that can only be achieved by today’s amazing animation techniques, and the fact that the only time images ever go through a lens is with the projector. The flowing-lava doors in the evil lair were breathtaking.

The sound is very enveloping, with excellent low frequency effects, and great surround information. They did a wonderful job of matching the sound to the first rate picture.

Extras

The two-disc set is loaded with extras, such as the Director's Commentary and Behind the Scenes footage. The Story Boards contain way too much commentary, but they do show just how different the story began.

Also included is a wonderful short “Jack Jack Attack” that shows what happened on the other side of those frantic voice messages left by the babysitter. Add another short “Bounder” that was presented before the movie at the theaters, and an interview/essay with the voice behind Violet. There were enough good extras to warrant another enjoyable ½ hr of movie watching – thankfully I might add, as my only two TV stations were showing Survivor and figure skating. Frozone may have enjoyed that, but not I.

 - Jared Rachwalski -

Divider

Criterion

1931, B&W, Not Rated, 1 Hr 45 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Dolby Digital 1.0 In German
   Language with English
   Subtitles

Directed by Fritz Lang


Starring Peter Lorre, Inge Landgut, Ellen Widmann

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Fritz Lang's M"

Synopsis

This gem from 1931 is another sparkling release from the Criterion Collection. Although it is set in prewar Germany, this movie has nothing to do with the coming war unless you see the depicted poverty as one of the factors that led to WWII. Rather, this movie smartly anticipates a dominant theme for films for the next 75 years and counting. It stars Peter Lorre in his film debut as Hans Beckert, a serial child murderer.

Albeit for different reasons,  the police and criminals of a  fictional German town are galvanized in their efforts to rid the town of the grip of terror brought about by the child murderer. As the police search haplessly for the killer, they continually crack down on ongoing mob operations, hoping to find the criminal amongst the town’s low-life crowd. This motivates the mob to try to find the killer themselves, but it is the people of the streets, the beggars, who are finally able to find the murderer who is then subject to trial by the criminals.

Commentary

The film is packed with techniques and devices that were groundbreaking at the time, but are the standard fare of both movies and TV today, including loving depiction of the tools and techniques of both crime (think of Ocean’s 11 or the Italian Job or any of a hundred other films) and police work (CSI being the most extreme example). It is the treatment of the criminal however that is most ahead of its time, raising questions that society has yet to answer.

The movie came about because of the numerous serial killers that plagued Germany in the 1920's. In particular, the Vampire of Dusseldorf, one Peter Kurten, who murdered 9 people, was probably an inspiration for M. Kurten was captured, convicted, and executed in 1931.

Perhaps the most interesting technical aspect of this film is that as one of the first talkies ever made, it actually bridges the gap, having both long, silent stretches and portions with sound and dialogue. Lang wanted to use sound to enhance the film, not be enslaved by it. The effect can be a little unsettling at first, partially because it is an effective technique but also because of the way it plays on a modern home theater system. Even in a modern movie theater, if the soundtrack goes silent, there is still a comforting clat-clat-clat-whir from the projector. Except for the very slight fan noise you may be getting from your TiVo, when your home theater goes silent, it is really silent, and you might think something has come unplugged.

As is always the case with Criterion, the digital transfer is of archival quality. This is of course, a black and white movie, and the soundtrack is mono. But don’t worry, because the black and white looks great, with subtle tones and lots of shadow detail (isn’t that what we are looking for during calibration?).

Extras

A film this important in the history of cinema deserves the royal-bonus-features treatment, and Criterion delivers, including a 1975 interview of Fritz Lang by William Friedkin, and a short format remake of ‘M’. There is also a 32 page booklet with more interviews and commentary.

 - Rick Schmidt -

Divider

Warner Brothers

2004, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 53 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

 

Directed by Renny Harlin


Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, Remy Sweeney

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Bad

"Exorcist: The Beginning"

Synopsis

In this prequel to one of the scariest movies of all time, the 1973 Exorcist, seasoned actor Stellan Skarsgård recreates the role of Father Merrin who shows up in the original as the expert exorcist priest. Haunted by images of executed children at the hands of the Nazis, Father Merrin loses his faith and turns to archeology because, “It’s real”.

The discovery of a church in Kenya dating 1000 years prior to Christianity in that part of the world intrigues Merrin to accept a commission to find a certain artifact at the site. Immediately upon his arrival, he discovers the locals have deemed the dig cursed, and he bravely investigates the disturbances. As he is accompanied by a young priest sent by Rome (Vatican), Merrin is anxious to enter the buried church. This location in East Africa is said to be the spot Lucifer fell from the war in heaven.

Just as in the first movie, a native African child, played by Remy Sweeney (a boy this time), is suspected to be possessed as he is hospitalized and cared for by the female doctor Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), who herself experienced the atrocities of the Nazi prison camps. She and Merrin develop a close friendship on the verge of romance.

Father Merrin rediscovers his faith and battles the evil entity in the final battle deep beneath the church in the crypt chambers.

Commentary

It’s such a shame that more could not have been done with the potential of this film. The movie was wrought with problems from the beginning when the original submission to the studio by director Paul Schrader was rejected because it wasn’t gory enough. Warner Brothers decided to bring in Renny Harlin to bloody it up.

Poor quality CGI rabid hyenas seem out of place, other than to provide some gross factor. Unlike the original where your attention is held by the unknown, this version jumps around and hardly builds to the climax, lacking focus and a journey for the viewer.

The weak ending battle between good and evil is nothing like the exhausting and deadly marathon of the original. In fact, it was quite boring and predictable.

I’m not sure if this was the intention of the writer, but there seems to be a metaphor between Nazi Germany and Lucifer, almost as though the devil himself influenced the evil empire.

The original scared me because it instilled in us the plausibility of the devil existing. We knew the devil had the ability to kill anyone anytime. In this version, Merrin seems to come and go as he pleases, with little threat from the Evil One.

I’d sure love to see Schrader’s version for comparison.

Technical

The film quality is actually very good, as the exotic locations are very compelling. The music is disappointing, as it follows the cliché bursts to dramatize the unexpected.

Extras

There are cast and crew interviews, including comments from director Harlin. A brief The Making Of, and the original trailer are included.

 - Piero Gabucci -

Divider

 

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Go to Table of Contents for this
Issue

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use