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Number 135 - June, 2006

Staff

 


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Tristan & Isolde The New World
Freedomland The Producers
Firewall (HD DVD) 16 Blocks (HD DVD)
The Fugitive (HD DVD) Underworld Evolution
   

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20th Century Fox

2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 5 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Kevin Reynolds


Starring James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara, Mark Strong

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

No

"Tristan & Isolde"

Synopsis

In the Middle Ages, before the development of true castles, there were five tribes in Britanny.

There was also a tribe in Ireland, ruled by King Donnchadh (O'Hara), who did not want the five tribes of Britanny to unite, because that would make them strong enough to conquer Ireland.

King Donnchadh hears that the five tribes are having a meeting to discuss how they can form an alliance.

So, he sends some of his troops to destroy the alliance before it can be solidified.

In the forest, Donnchadh's troops meet some of the alliance members, and Tristan (Franco), who is a ward of Lord Marke (Sewell), is wounded so badly, he is thought to be dead. His funeral pyre consists of a boat to be set afire by arrows, with his body laid out inside.

The fire in the boat extinguishes, and the boat makes its way to Ireland, where Princess Isolde (Myles), daughter of Donnchadh, finds him and nurses him back to health. Neither one of them knows who the other is, but they fall in love.

Finding his way back to Britanny, Tristan becomes a soldier in the tribe, and discovers that Isolde is King Donnchad's daughter.

Unfortunately, he must face King Donnchadh, who attacks them once again.

Commentary

The story is actually based on a very old legend, which was written about 1235. Tristan may have been an actual person, named Drust, and was the son of Talorc, in 8th century Scotland.

As a result, the movie is rather entertaining, but not exceptionally so.

In any case, the plot of the brave knight saving a princess is an old one. This particular story pre-dates Romeo and Juliet as well as the legend of Lancelot and Guinevere in the days of King Arthur.

Extras

These include Love Conquers All, Producer's Commentary, and other things.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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New Line Cinema

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 15 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Terrence Malick


Starring Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

No

"The New World"

Synopsis

The fable of Captain John Smith (Farrell) and Pocahontas (Kilcher) is brought to the screen.

English settlers come to the shores of Virginia in 1607 and decide to stay and form a colony (Jamestown).

The Native Americans watch them curiously, and the Englishmen watch the natives suspiciously.

A princess, Pocahontas (Kilcher), is attracted to Smith, and he to her, but the tribal chief tries to keep the inevitable from happening.

In the meantime, things are not going so well back at the fort, and the men are starving.

So, Pocahontas and her fellow natives bring food to the fort.

By this time, Smith and Pocahontas have become an item, and the chief disowns her.

Unfortunately, Smith has to return to England, and Pocahontas can't go with him. So, she stays at the fort.

She meets one of the other explorers, John Rolfe (Bale), and although her heart still belongs to Smith, she slowly becomes romantically involved.

Smith does not return, so she marries Rolfe and travels to England with him.

There she meets Smith once again, and must resolve the romantic entanglement.

Commentary

The film is based on historical characters, and is uniquely Malick. There are lots of scenes with no talking, just Smith and Pocahontas looking into each other's eyes, with lush grasses in the fields surrounding them, or ocean waves washing onto the shores.

It pretty much failed at the box office, taking in only $13 million in the USA, with a $30 million dollar production budget. It's actually pretty good though, mostly because of Malick's storytelling skills.

Kilcher is truly Native American, and was only 14 years old when the movie was filmed. We will be seeing more of her.

Extras

This includes only Making the New World.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Sony Pictures

2006, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 53 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Joe Roth


Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, William Forsythe, Edie Falco, Ron Eldard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"Freedomland"

Synopsis

In a small New Jersey town, Brenda Martin (Moore) shows up at the police station and tells Detective Lorenzo Council (Jackson) that her car was stolen with her son in the back seat.

As Council gets more of the details, which includes the fact that the thieves were black, something about the story just does not seem right.

Council goes out to the housing projects where Martin lives, and questions the other people who also live there.

Now he finds that the suspects may live there too.

The story is so strange, a group of citizens who help find kidnapped victims becomes involved, headed up by Karen Collucci (Falco).

Their past experiences with kidnapped children leads them to believe that Brenda is not telling the truth.

Now the citizens in the housing project decide that the whole thing is racially based and start rioting. This makes Detective Council's job a lot more difficult.

Finally, everyone makes their way out to an abandoned manufacturing plant, and the final truth emerges.

Commentary

The plot itself is not very exciting, but Jackson, and especially Moore, do such a fantastic acting job, that it's gripping from start to finish.

The only problem is that the racial tension is so strong, it distracts too much from the main theme, namely, where is Brenda's son? So, all of a sudden in the middle of the film, I was asking myself what this story was really about.

Extras

There are none.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Universal Studios

2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 14 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Susan Stroman


Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman, Gary Beach, Will Ferrell

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Mild

Language

No

"The Producers"

Synopsis

It's New York City in 1959.

Former big shot producer Max Bialystock (Lane) is hitting up old ladies for money to produce his Broadway plays.

He hires Leo Bloom (Broderick) to help him cook the books so he can continue to survive, producing lousy plays.

Leo tells him that he could actually make money by producing a failure on purpose, so they look through hundreds of scripts to find one that is guaranteed to flop.

They settle on a sure bet, "Springtime for Hitler", written by a WW-II Nazi, Franz Liebken (Farrell). They hire an over-the-top director, Roger de Bris (Beach), whom they are sure will turn this thing into Broadway's greatest disaster.

As the lead actress, they think Swedish bombshell Ulla (Thurman) will do the job horribly . . . er . . . perfectly.

Sure enough, the play is very offensive . . . at first.

But, soon, the audiences see that the play makes such a mockery of the Nazis, by golly, the play is fun after all.

So, now the boys are making money hand over fist.

Unfortunately, the way they set things up, their "success" is a failure because they have to repay the investors.

Commentary

The film is of course, hilarious, but the problem is that it has been told and retold so much since way back in the 1960s when Mel Brooks put the whole thing together and made a movie in 1968, then again and again on Broadway, that you know the plot by heart even if you never saw the play or the movie(s).

Nathan Lane is a riot, but the real star here is Uma Thurman who plays a deliciously silly sexpot from Sweden.

Extras

These include Director's Commentary, I Wanna Be a Producer, Outtakes, Deleted Scenes, and other things.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Warner Brothers

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 45 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

HD DVD Hybrid Disc: 1080p and 480p

 

Directed by Richard Loncraine


Starring Harrison Ford, Virginia Madsen, Paul Bettany, Robert Forster, Robert Patrick, Alan Arkin

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"Firewall" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Jack Stanfield (Ford) is a bank security officer in Seattle.

One day, a group of criminals break into his home, and hold his wife, son, and daughter hostage.

They tell him that unless he uses his security knowledge to transfer $100,000,000 from the bank to their offshore account, his family will be killed.

What the robbers don't seem to understand is that if Jack was smart enough to design the security system, he is also smart enough to beat them at their own game.

Commentary

The film starts off well enough and even builds quite a bit of intrigue and tension, but the middle just seems to fall flat leaving you not really caring too much by the end.

The establishing story arc is good, and the acting is fine, but it just plays way too by the numbers through the middle, setting up a predictable closure. This is a problem with most Hollywood thrillers nowadays, unfortunately. Overall, Firewall isn't a bad movie, but it just isn't worth owning.

Like all day-and-date titles released on HD DVD so far, Firewall is a hybrid HD disc with the HD version on one side and the standard DVD on the other. The video is pristine for the most part, with only a small amount of film grain popping up here and there (a property of the film stock, not of the HD transfer). Blacks are incredibly deep, and fine detail is preserved beautifully. In fact, the detail in this transfer was almost distracting at times, thanks to the complete lack of mosquito noise around small objects. Even the raindrops on windows looked gorgeous, it is that good.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital + 5.1. Like the story, this soundtrack is pretty cookie cutter, but it does have its moments. The score lends to the atmosphere, and it is presented wonderfully across the main soundstage. Surrounds are used a bit too infrequently for my taste, but overall, ambience is pretty good. Dynamics have their moments, mainly from gunfire, and lend to the bottom end presence.

Extras

There are no supplements for the HD presentation, but you will find some extras on the standard DVD side. These include Firewall Decoded: A Conversation with Harrison Ford and Richard Loncraine, and Firewall: Writing a Thriller.

At this point, I am not really a huge fan of the flipper disc, but understand its place. I am hoping that, eventually, costs will come down enough to justify just having two separate discs. This would remove the habit of excluding more features on the HD side (like TrueHD soundtracks!!) that would be more enticing to presentation zealots (like myself).

 - Kris Deering -

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Warner Brothers

2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

HD DVD Hybrid Disc: 1080p and 480p

 

Directed by Richard Donner


Starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"16 Blocks" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Director Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon Trilogy, Conspiracy Theory) returns for this somewhat of an action thriller with Bruce Willis and Mos Def.

New York Detective Jack Mosley (Willis) has been up all night and wants to go home.

His boss tells him, just one more task, please. He needs a convict, Eddie Bunker (Def), to be taken downtown to the courthouse - 16 blocks away - where he will testify to a grand jury about corrupt policemen.

Mosley takes Bunker out the door, not knowing that a good majority of the police force wants this convict dead and have set up a hit on him. Things get out of control when Jack decides he isn't going to let that happen, and 16 Blocks now seems to be as far as from here to the moon.

Commentary

I did like this film. I remember it getting lukewarm reviews when it made its theatrical debut, but I was never bored at all. The story is good, and the pacing of the film kept me very interested throughout. Willis does his normal job as a cop, a role we've seen him in too many times it seems, and Mos Def puts in a surprising performance as the hunted convict.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid, if not underused. Production design and direction are excellent overall, making this a pretty solid thriller.

16 Blocks is released on HD DVD as a "flipper" disc, offering a standard definition version on one side, and the HD version on the other. While it works during the SD to HD transition phase, the price tags on these hybrids tend to be a bit much for my taste, but if you are a fan of the film and don't have an HD DVD player yet, you may want to go this route to save the added expense of buying the film in HD later on.

The HD video quality is outstanding across the board. Fine object detail is incredible at times, and the depth of image is exceptional. The film has an intentionally dreary look to its color scheme, and this disc preserves that perfectly. There isn't a hint of compression artifacts, and film grain seems to be non-existent. Since HD DVD hybrids have all been limited to single layer HD DVD presentations (15 GB), I was concerned that we would see some compromise with the HD presentation, but that is definitely not the case here.

16 Blocks is presented in Dolby Digital + 5.1 sound, and the sound design is typical of higher budget Hollywood films these days. The soundstage is a bit front heavy in my opinion, but dynamics are very strong. Dialogue is well balanced, but there are a few moments when the ADR work could have been slightly better. The action sequences of this film have amazing dynamics, with some of the gunfire startling me!

This disc is encoded so that you cannot resume playback from the same spot if you press Stop while watching the HD presentation. This has been an issue with all of the HD DVD releases so far, and we hope to see it remedied in the near future.

Extras

These include Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending.

 - Kris Deering -

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Warner Brothers

1993, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 11 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (16x9 enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

HD DVD Disc: 1080p; Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Audio

 

Directed by Andrew Davis


Starring Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Joe Pantoliano

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Fugitive" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

The Fugitive has long been one of Warner's more popular catalog titles. It rejuvenated Tommy Lee Jones career and was one of the last really good picks for Harrison Ford.

Loosely based on the popular TV series from the 1960s, the film follows Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford), who is convicted of murdering his wife, but who has always claimed the murderer was actually a mysterious one-armed man.

On his way to prison, he escapes from a bus that overturns and has a collision with an oncoming train.

Kimble is on the run and goes right back home to try and hunt down the one-armed man, so that he can prove his innocence and clear his name. Jones plays Sam Gerard, a hard-nosed Marshal whose team of investigators tries to hunt Kimble down. Gerard and the gang reprised these popular roles in the later film, U.S. Marshals (1998).

Commentary

This is a film that I've always liked, but its age is starting to show a bit. Maybe it's because the movie always seems to be on TBS or USA network at least once a week. I was a little surprised by how fast the film made its way to HD DVD, but it is a solid thriller and definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it.

The video presentation is one of the weaker examples of how good HD DVD can be. The master used for the VCI encode was derived from a 1080i transfer, and it wasn't properly de-interlaced to 1080p24. This results in a rather soft image from an HD standpoint with occasional jaggies on diagonal lines.

While I did think this transfer looked better than the subsequent DVD releases of the film, it pales in comparison to the majority of HD material I've seen so far in this format or the D-Theater format. The material looks a bit too soft, and color fidelity seems to be a bit lacking. Fine detail is decent enough in close-ups but doesn't shine through in wider shots. You really won't get much benefit with this release over the already available standard definition DVD release.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital + 5.1, and like the standard DVD before, it offers a fun mix of dynamics and surround presence. The sound design of the film is quite good, with a nice mix of directional effects and ambience bringing you into the environments. The train crash scene has been regarded as a nice demo sequence for quite some time now, and this presentation seems to sound even better than the previous DVD releases, no doubt due to the higher bandwidth and more efficient compression of the Dolby Digital + codec.

Extras

Supplements are the same as the previous DVD release and include interviews as well as behind the scenes footage from the film. There are no new HD DVD supplements for this release.

 - Kris Deering -

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