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Number 140 - November, 2006

Part V

Staff

 


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V For Vendetta (HD DVD) Casablanca (HD DVD)
Reds (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Kung Fu Hustle (Blu-ray)
Spartacus (HD DVD) Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) (HD DVD)
Elephants Dream (HD DVD) Excalibur (HD DVD)
The Dirty Dozen (HD DVD) Under Siege (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Number 140 - November, 2006 - Part I

Number 140 - November, 2006 - Part II

Number 140 - November, 2006 - Part III

Number 140 - November, 2006 - Part IV

Number 140 - November, 2006 - Part V

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Warner Bros.

2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 12 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by James McTeigue


Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Innuendo

Language

Some

"V For Vendetta" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Set against the futuristic landscape of totalitarian Britain, V For Vendetta tells the story of a mild-mannered young woman named Evey who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man known only as "V." Incomparably charismatic and ferociously skilled in the art of combat and deception, V ignites a revolution when he urges his fellow citizens to rise up against tyranny and oppression. As Evey uncovers the truth about V's mysterious background, she also discovers the truth about herself - and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to bring freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.

Commentary

I have a confession to make, I actually went to see this in the theaters when it was released and caught a late night showing with my brother and his girlfriend. But I had been on travel a lot lately and actually fell asleep during the film!! For some reason that was a hard month. I actually fell asleep in two other movies that month too!

But with the HD DVD, I did not fall asleep. V for Vendetta was different than I expected. Its tones on fear and controlling population through it touch the nerve of a lot going on in our own country, though probably not quite to the extent of what is portrayed here. It is a them that has been in more and more lately including an excellent book I just read from Michael Crichton.

The film is idea heavy and not really much of an action movie like the previews conveyed, but it is still quite enjoyable and moving. The performances of Portman and Rea are quite good, and Weaving's voice is nearly as memorable here as it was in the Matrix films. For those looking for a solid political thriller, this is a rare gem.

Technical

This film looks quite good on HD DVD. If I had to make a complaint, it would be the inconsistency of black. There were times when it almost seemed like something was reflecting on the lens in certain areas, making a distracting box on some objects. It reminded me of early special effects work and the distracting boxes that were around ships in the first Star Wars movie. I only saw it a few times though. Detail is great, but not consistently inspiring. The presentation definitely looks like film though with a subtle amount of grain and depth. Overall, I was quite pleased with the presentation, but it isn't quite what I would use to show off the format.

Warner has included a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track for this release, and it is quite good. Atmosphere is the main draw, with voice work providing a convincing sense of depth and realism. Surrounds aren't used to their full capability, but offer some nice touches in some of the action scenes. The bottom end is there when it needs to be and offers plenty of dynamics in some of the more explosive moments.

Extras

Not only do we get great video and audio, but Warner has seen it fit to include an in-movie experience complete with interviews, commentary, and production features that overlay throughout the film. You also get all the production features from the original DVD release and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount Pictures

1981, Color, Rated PG, 3 Hr 15 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

French Dolby Digital 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by Warren Beatty


Starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Some

Sex

None

Language

Mild

"Reds" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Reds is the story of the love affair of John Reed and Louise Bryant in a war-torn world and how the Russian Revolution shook their lives.

Commentary

I know that this one is held in high regard to a lot of people, but I just got bored with it. I've just never really gotten into any of Beatty's films, and this is no exception. The performances are good enough, but the story just takes a LONG time to develop. Fans of the film are probably glad it's out in high def, but if you haven't seen this one before, get ready for a long slow ride.

Technical

Despite no actual say so on the packaging, Reds is split over two dual layer HD DVDs. The master doesn't seem to be in impeccable form, so the overall video presentation is not very good. Blacks are a wash, so contrast is severely lacking. This makes the image seem overly flat for the most part. Some of the brighter scenes hold up better, but film grain and print wear are still an issue. I did see some very minor banding in some sequences, but it was hardly distracting. Overall I would say this doesn't look much better than an upconverted DVD, except there is no mosquito noise or edge enhancement, making the image look a bit more film-like.

The audio presentation is a bit of a wash as well. Fidelity is lacking a bit overall with dynamic range being a bit flat. Dialogue sounds okay but aged and thin. The soundstage is front heavy, and ambiance is lacking. I've never seen this film in theaters or on another format so it is hard to say how good this film should or shouldn't sound, but I wasn't very impressed.

Extras

Extras include some production features and a look behind the film in two parts.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1960, Color, Rated PG-13, 3 Hr 17 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.21:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Stanley Kubrick


Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Tony Curtis

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Spartacus" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Stanley Kubrick directed a cast of screen legends-including Kirk Douglas as the indomitable gladiator who led a Roman slave revolt-in the sweeping epic that defined a genre and ushered in a new Hollywood era. The assured acting, lush Technicolor cinematography, bold costumes, and visceral fight sequences won Spartacus four Oscars©.

The blend of politics and sexual suggestion scandalized audiences back then. Today, Kubrick's controversial classic, the first film to openly defy Hollywood's blacklist, remains a landmark of cinematic artistry and history.

Commentary

It is easy to compare this film to the more recent Gladiator. Like most older films, the story here develops slower as the director took more time to flesh out the characters, but a lot of the premise remains the same.

Overall I thought this was a good movie, but not great. The pacing is a bit tedious at times, but the production value is quite good. The cast plays by the numbers to me, and the film overall reminds me a lot of every other film from this period that is of a similar nature.

I've heard this film was a bit risky for its time period, but unless you lived then, it doesn't ring that way now. Fans of films from this period will probably really enjoy this one though.

Technical

I guess I've been a bit spoiled by some of Warner's classic film releases because this one doesn't look very good at all. The print used for the master seems to be the biggest issue. Its quality is inconsistent, and wear and tear can be pretty bad from scene to scene. Detail overall is lacking, and this transfer looks more like an upscaled DVD than an HD transfer, but it lacks the noise and ringing commonly associated with DVD. Overall, I wouldn't say this is a nice looking disc, but I've seen worse.

I didn't expect much on the audio side for this one. Dynamic range is what I expected, namely, thin. Dialogue comes off as a bit tinny, but I was impressed with the imaging in relation to what was on the screen. Foley work is decent for its time, but this doesn't have near the sound design of today's films. Overall don't expect much.

Extras

No extras on this one.

- Kris Deering -

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Orange Open Movie Team

2006, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 58 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Bassam Kurdali


Starring:

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

None

Language

None

"Elephants Dream" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Elephants Dream is the world’s first open movie, made entirely with open source graphics software such as Blender, and with all production files freely available to use however you please, under a Creative Commons license.

Commentary

This short animated feature is less than 10 minutes long and is basically a nonsensical dream like adventure through a bizarre machine. The two characters make their way through it, and even their babble doesn't seem to mean anything in general. The animation is impressive though given it was made from all open source tools. The cool thing about this release though is comparing the HD to the SD via a split-screen mode and comparing VC-1 to MPEG-2 as you can watch the short in either of the two formats.

Technical

Most of the animation has impressive detail, and depth in some scenes is spectacular. Some of the sequences could be used to test different displays and their abilities with ANSI contrast and fine detail. Banding is quite evident throughout though, with both codecs, which is probably a limitation of the animation tools used. While this short does have some nice eye candy, it pales in comparison to the quality of most big budget animated releases.

The 5.1 Dolby soundtrack is impressive too. Dynamic range is better than I expected for a short of this nature, and some moments have some tremendous low end presence. Atmosphere is impressive, and the imaging is incredible sometimes. It has a far better sound design than I ever would have expected from something like this.

Extras

Extras on this one are awesome. There is a split-screen comparison of SD vs. HD video as well as the film in different decoding formats! There is a Making Of feature for the HD DVD that is done with picture-in-picture and a production featurette.

- Kris Deering -

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MGM

1967, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 29 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Robert Aldrich


Starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Dirty Dozen" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Twelve jailbirds will earn their freedom, if they survive a suicide mission against the Nazi brass. Tough-as-nails Lee Marvin leads a nothing-to-lose convict squad of Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Trini Lopez, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker and more in the all-time action trendsetter.

Commentary

What can be said about this movie other than it is a true classic action/war film. I've seen it countless times with my dad over the years, and I still always enjoy it. The cast is huge and the production was awesome. Glad to see Warner is releasing these kinds of films this early in the game!

Technical

The Dirty Dozen looks good on HD DVD, but not great. Colors show their age with a bit of a veil. Detail wavers a bit, but overall I would say it is consistently good. Stock footage can look horrible at times, but that is usually the case with films of this age. Print wear is obvious, but film grain is less than I would have expected. While I don't think this is as impressive as The Searchers or Blazing Saddles, I doubt fans of the film will be very disappointed.

Like most films from this era, the soundtrack is on the tinny side and lacks dynamic range. Gun shots sound canned, voices are a bit too high pitched, and the sound stage is limited. But really, what did you expect?

Extras

Warner really went out on the extras here. No you don't get any special HD feature, but you do get the film's sequel in SD! Not bad (thought the movie wasn't that great). You also get a commentary, some documentaries and production featurettes. The trailer is also included.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1942, B&W, Rated PG

1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

French Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

 

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt

 

Directed by Michael Curtiz

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Casablanca" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

During WW-II, people trying to get out of Europe must go through Casablanca, a city in French Morocco.

One fugitive, Victor Laszlo (Henreid) wants not only to get out, but must escape the Nazis, because he is a known resistance fighter.

Rick Blaine (Bogart), owns Rick's Cafe Americain in Morocco, and a local thief, Ugarte (Lorre) asks Rick to hold onto some stolen Exit Visas. Ugarte is taken by the police, and now Rick has the Visas to do with as he wishes.

In walks Laszlo, and with him is Rick's old flame, Ilsa (Bergman). Ilsa discovers that Rick has the Visas and tries to get them from him, any way that she can, including rekindling the flame.

Meanwhile, French Police Captain Renault (Rains) tries to figure out what Rick is doing, at the same time keeping Major Strasser (Veidt), a Nazi, from discovering his own sympathies, as the Nazis now occupy France.

Rick must decide whether to take Ilsa, who offers herself in trade for the Visa to get her husband out, or do what he knows is right, not only for her, but for Europe.

Commentary

Finally, we are able to watch, at home, one of the best movies ever made, in a resolution that comes close to the original film.

Apparently, the script arrived each morning for the day's shoot, so no one knew what was going to happen in the story. Director Curtiz told Bergman to be in love with both men, until they knew who would get the girl at the end.

Books have been written about this movie, and there is a biography of Michael Curtiz, entitled "The Casablanca Man", written by J. Robertson, which I own myself. It's a good read.

Everything about Casablanca is perfect. It is just one of those films that had it all come out right, in spite of many difficulties. It was made in Hollywood's golden years, and Warner Brothers was rolling action films out by the boat load.

Technical

The HD image is impeccable. This is the first HD disc that I have seen in black & white. Wow, what a picture! I am drooling at the thought of getting more HD 1940s Warner Brothers B&W films with Bogart, Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Errol Flynn.

The sound is mono of course, and much better than I thought it might turn out to be.

Extras

There are plenty of goodies here, including a documentary with Bogart's wife, Lauren Bacall, an interview with Bergman's daughter, and deleted scenes.

- John E. Johnson Jr. -

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Sony Pictures Classics

2004, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 39 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

Chinese Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Stephen Chow


Starring 
Stephen Chow

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Comedic

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Kung Fu Hustle" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In Shanghai, China in the 1940s, a wannabe gangster aspires to join the notorious "Axe Gang" while residents of a housing complex exhibit extraordinary powers in defending their turf.

Commentary

Word of mouth on this film was already going strong long before it hit stateside. Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer had already become a bit of a cult hit with foreign film fans, including myself, so I was anxious to see this one.

The wait paid off. Like Shaolin, Kung Fu Hustle is a bit of an over the top comedy, but it's a good one. It takes the Kung Fu genre to new levels, and I love the interesting mix of fantasy and reality that Chow toys with.

The fight sequences are fun, but the silliness ultimately won me over. If you haven't seen this yet, you really should.

Technical

It really amazes me how inconsistent Sony Pictures has been with their BD (Blu-ray Disc) releases. I really don't know what to expect from title to title. I saw this on DVD twice but didn't get the chance to see it theatrically (limited run), so I don't have a lot to compare to.

This release looks outstanding though. There are moments when the image can look slightly soft (not counting the obvious effects work), but depth and detail are solid throughout most of the film. Contrast is also quite good, and that helps a lot with the depth. Fine film grain is noticeable in most of the backgrounds, but it is never intrusive. Overall, one of the best releases yet from Sony Pictures.

The uncompressed audio track is in Mandarin and bravo to Sony Pictures for releasing as such. I hate it when studios decide not to use the original audio track for the main one (i.e., Universal and their D-Theater release of Brotherhood of the Wolf!!) I do have a complaint though. This PCM track seems awfully loud in comparison to just about every other release I have, with the exception of the new Fox BD titles. I had to turn my SSP way down to get to an acceptable level. Dynamic range is not compromised though, and this film has lots of it. The fighting scenes have superb use of the surround environment and really put you there. The dialogue sounds natural, and imaging across the main channels is excellent. I have a feeling this one will be used for more than a few demos.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, some deleted scenes, and production featurettes. There are also some funny outtakes and bloopers.

- Kris Deering -

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MGM

1962, Color, Unrated, 3 Hr 05 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.76:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Lewis Milestone


Starring
Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Tarita

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Mild

Language

No

"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962) (HD DVD)

Synopsis

H.M.A.V. Bounty sails from Portsmouth, England to Tahiti in 1787 to obtain bread fruit because it grows easily and is a substantial food that will serve the growing population.

Captain William Bligh (Howard) is tyrannical in his treatment of the men, and after everyone experiences the paradise of Tahiti, they commit mutiny on the way back, with First Officer Fletcher Christian (Brando) leading them.

Bligh is set out to sea on one of the life boats with those still loyal to him.

The Bounty heads back to Tahiti for more fun, but Bligh manages to survive, gets another ship, and goes to Tahiti for his revenge.

The mutineers are having a ball in Tahiti, but seeing Bligh coming for them, they don't particularly care to be taken back to England for a neck tie party, so they move on to Pitcairn Island, and set fire to the Bounty.

Commentary

The 1935 version of this story had a nastier Bligh, but the 1962 film was shot in 65mm, and has a road show multi-channel soundtrack which makes it spectacular to watch in high definition and listen to in a good home theater.

Apparently, Brando was quite a character on the set, making the cameraman keep things rolling even after Milestone would yell, "Cut!" He ate so much that he split dozens of costume pants.

Technical

Having a 65mm master (Camera 65/Ultra Panavision 70) to make the HD transfer obviously has its payoff. The image is beyond wonderful. It also has a very wide aspect ratio (2.76:1), perhaps to compete with Cinerama, which was 3:1 at the time, but also, MGM's Ben Hur had been shot in Ultra Panavision 70 a few years before.

The 1962 version was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but did not win any. The 1935 version won for Best Picture.

Extras

Extras include The Journey of the Bounty, an alternate Prologue and Epilogue, and other things.

- John E. Johnson Jr. -

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Warner Bros.

1981, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 20 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

 

Directed by John Boorman


Starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Paul Geoffrey, Nicol Williamson

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Some

"Excalibur" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

The myth of King Arthur is brought once again to the screen. Uthur Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlin. At his death, Uthur buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that can pull it out will be King of England. Years later Arthur, Uthur's bastard son ,draws Excalibur and becomes king. Guided by Merlin, Arthur marries Guenivere and gathers the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana sires a son with him, who may prove to be his downfall.

Commentary

I saw this one when I was really young at my Uncle's house, and it has stuck with me for a long time. There have been so many adaptations of this story, it is insane, but I still feel that this is one of the better, and more adult ventures into the subject. While it doesn't have the production value of a lot of modern day medieval films, it was impressive for its time. The basic premise is the same as all of the Arthur films except maybe the most recent one, but in this tale Arthur's sister bears a son that challenges the throne.

Technical

There are times when this film looks quite good, but the overall effort wavers a lot. This is no doubt due to the condition of the print used for the master, but that doesn't excuse the overall experience. Darker scenes are full of film grain and look awash. Contrast is severely lacking for the most part. The image has a stylized look to it for a lot of the film, so many of the images come off as soft intentionally. Colors look natural in most of the outdoor daylight sequences, and overall I would say this is the best I've seen this film look yet.

The soundtrack sounds very dated and thin. Dynamic range is flat, and the soundstage is consistently front heavy. Dialogue has a harsh tone to it at times and consistently sounds strained. I wasn't expecting much from this film, and that is just about what I got.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1992, Color, Rated R

1 hr 43 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Starring: Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey

 

Directed by Andrew Davis

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Under Siege" (HD DVD/Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A former Navy SEAL, now cook, is the only person who can stop a gang of terrorists when they seize control of a US Navy battleship.

Commentary

It has actually been a long time since I've watched one of Seagal's movies. I used to enjoy his early films, including this one, but his later films got a bit dry and some overly political. This is definitely one of his better ones though and the rest of the cast is pretty solid. If you like action thrillers and haven't seen this one, it is worth at least a rental.

Technical

For some reason, I didn't think this one would look that good in HD. I just expected a rather ho-hum catalog title look. Thankfully that wasn't the case. Sure some of the darker sequences look a bit grainy and at times soft, but most of the film is clean and has some impressive fine detail. Long shots of the ship are gorgeous, and most of the brighter scenes are crisp and very dimensional. Far more impressive than I thought it would be.

The soundtrack here is okay but not very impressive. The soundstage is a bit front heavy. I also thought the quality of the dialogue presentation wavered way too much. Some of the action scenes kicked it up a notch, and the soundtrack helped at times, but don't expect a big budget sound design despite being an action film with a decent budget.

Extras

The only extra included is the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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