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Number 142 - January, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


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Black Rain (HD DVD) A Christmas Story (Blu-ray/HD DVD/)
Lady in the Water (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Rocky (Blu-ray)
The Devil Wears Prada (Blu-ray) Total Recall (Blu-ray)
Casino (HD DVD) The Deer Hunter (HD DVD)
Pearl Harbor (Blu-ray) The Covenant (Blu-ray)

Number 142 - January, 2007 - Part I

Number 142 - January, 2007 - Part II

Number 142 - January, 2007 - Part III

Movie Reviews Index

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Paramount

1989, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 05 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital EX Plus 5.1

English DTS-ES 6.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Ridely Scott


Starring: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"Black Rain" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Two New York cops get involved in a gang war between members of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia. They arrest one of their hit men and are ordered to escort him back to Japan.

In Japan, however, he manages to escape. As they try to track him down, they get deeper and deeper into the Japanese Mafia scene and they have to learn that they can only win by playing the game the Japanese way.

Commentary

I had never seen this movie before receiving the DVD for review. I wasn't even aware that Ridley Scott directed it (and I am a big fan of his work!). I'd heard of the film of course, just never got around to watching it.

Black Rain was a solid cop thriller but it reminded me more of Tony Scott's work rather than Ridley's. The action and style of the film were more like Tony's, whereas I've always associated Ridley with a bit more epic and not as flashy.

Overall, I thought the film was good, but not exceptional. Douglas plays it by the numbers like all the other roles he was in at the time. Garcia is underused.

Technical

Since this is the first time I've seen this film, I really didn't know what to expect for video quality. Immediately I was impressed by how clean and detailed the film looks. Only problem is, it looks too clean. Some of the backgrounds have that static appearance that reminded me of DVDs that have been filtered. Detail isn't hurt though, which is refreshing. Contrast is excellent, and I was impressed with depth of image and color rendition.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1. Neither is a powerhouse of sound design, and the element does sound a bit dated. Like most 80's films, the soundtrack is a bit harsh in the upper end and sounds a bit thin. Surrounds are more aggressive than I would have thought, which helps with atmosphere. Bass is great at times, especially in explosions, but midrange is a bit lacking.

Extras

Paramount has added all the extras from the DVD special edition release including a two-part documentary on the production of the film. A feature commentary by the director, some production features, and the trailer are also included.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 49 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English DD Plus 5.1 EX

French DD Plus 5.1 EX

Spanish DD Plus 5.1 EX

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

 

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan


Starring Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

None

Language

None

"Lady in the Water" (Blu-ray/HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Apartment building superintendent Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) rescues what he thinks is a young woman from the swimming pool he maintains. When he discovers that she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the journey back to her home, he works with his tenants to protect his new friend from the creatures that are determined to keep her in our world.

Commentary

I've been a big fan of Shyamalan's work for a long time now, so I was excited to see this one when it made its way to theaters. While I wasn't as impressed with this one as his last films, I did think it was a solid fantasy. The second viewing for this review was far more satisfying. Maybe I just had too high of expectations at the theater.

The film is geared to a far younger audience than his last few films, and that is what separates it. If you expect an adult fairy tale here, it does not happen. This is a film that seems centered in the young adult realm, but is still very entertaining for us adults.

Technical

I must say I was pretty disappointed with this presentation. The image is far softer than I would expect for a newer film, and I don't remember it being that way in theaters. Compression noise is also very evident on occasion, especially in solid reds. Detail wavers a bit, and the image has a very veiled look to it. It would be interesting to do a comparison of this film to its master to see if this is intentional or not.

The image quality was identical between the Blu-ray and HD DVD releases, but the audio is slightly different. The HD DVD release includes a Dolby TrueHD lossless audio track, while the Blu-ray release has standard 640 kbps Dolby Digital EX mixes. Despite the EX encoding, both releases are weak in the surround soundstage. There were quite a few points in the film that a center back image would have been interesting, but I never heard one. Dynamics overall were good though and dialogue sounded very natural throughout. The TrueHD track was a tad more spacious than the DD+ and standard DD mixes, but the difference was fleeting.

Extras

Extras include a look at the children's book that was released simultaneously, some production features, and deleted scenes. You also get the trailer and teaser. The HD DVD is a hybrid and has the standard DVD version on the flipside of the disc.

- Kris Deering -

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20th Century Fox

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 49 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by David Frankel


Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Mild Themes

Language

Some

"The Devil Wears Prada" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

As assistant to impossibly demanding New York fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Streep), young Andy Sachs (Hathaway) has landed a job that "a million girls would die for." Unfortunately, her heaven-sent appointment as Miranda's personal whipping girl just might be the death of her!

Commentary

Based on the best selling book of the same name, The Devil Wears Prada is an interesting and funny look into the world of fashion. Streep is a vicious editor who makes life impossible for most of her staff, and Hathaway plays a girl who doesn't even seem to want to work there. The combination make life interesting for each other and eventually priorities come into question.

While the film is interesting, it isn't any great shakes. Streep isn't as tough as I would have liked, and Hathawy seems WAY out of place, even for an out of place role!

Technical

Fox has delivered a solid HD presentation here, which is what I would expect from a brand new film like this. Detail and depth are great, and the colors are bold. I saw a bit of noise on occasion, but I doubt most viewers would find much to complain about here.

The audio is presented in DTS's lossless HD Master Audio format. Unfortunately there is still no BD player capable of decoding, it so we are stuck with the full bitrate core 5.1 track.

Like all of the Fox titles I've reviewed so far, the mix is hot. This was a problem with early DVD titles that had DTS tracks, and it seems that history is repeating itself here. Other than that though, this is a great presentation. The genre doesn't require much, but the front soundstage is nice and open, and dialogue is delivered nicely. The film's music selections open things up a bit at times and dynamics are good.

Extras

Extras include an audio commentary with most of the production staff, some deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a trivia track.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1995, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 59 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Martin Scorsese


Starring: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, James Woods

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Some

Language

Strong

"Casino" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

This Martin Scorsese film depicts the Janus-like quality of Las Vegas - it has a glittering, glamorous face, as well as a brutal, cruel one. Ace Rothstein (De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Pesci), mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world. Seen through their eyes, each as a foil to the other, the details of mob involvement in the casinos of the 1970's and '80's are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw - Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger (Stone), and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.

Commentary

This is one of my favorites from Scorsese. I was elated to see Universal release this one on HD DVD. The film is hard hitting, disturbing, and REALLY entertaining. An epic of sorts, it covers the lives of three principle characters and their rise and fall in the mobster-run Vegas strip. For any fan of the gangster films, this is a must-own.

Technical

The HD presentation is far better than I was expecting. I've seen this film several times on various media formats and in theaters, and I always liked the style of it. The HD DVD delivers it perfectly. Colors are vivid and stylized, with a bit of noise. Contrast is exceptional and overdone. Detail was better than I was expecting as well. Despite its longer run time, Universal has done an outstanding job here.

The audio soundtrack is great, but not on par with the video. The soundtrack is a bit dated, so fidelity seems a tad off. The monologues waver a lot throughout the film, even in mid-scene, which can be a bit distracting. Tonal balance shifts a lot too. While not a bad presentation, I just wasn't pleased with the consistency.

Extras

Extras include a look at the story and how the director brought it to the screen from the book. There are also some production featurettes, interviews, and deleted scenes.

- Kris Deering -

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Touchstone Pictures

2001, Color, Rated PG-13, 3 Hr 3 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Michael Bay


Starring Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Alex Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Voight

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Thematic

Language

Yes

"Pearl Harbor" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Set during the time of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, two friends (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) are caught up in the events that draw the United States into World War II. One of them enlists with the U.S. Army Air Corps and the other flies for the British Royal Air Force, but they both find themselves in love with the same woman (Kate Beckinsale).

Commentary

Bay went for epic with this one, but his MTV video style killed it a bit for me (and audiences from what I've heard). The film is still an amazing feat when it comes to battle sequences though. While not the better director's cut, this is still an entertaining, but flawed ride that could have been amazing with a bit less bravado.

Technical

Pearl Harbor looked amazing with its Vista series DVD release, and this Blu-ray release is another testament to how good HD can look. The image has amazing detail, depth, and contrast. The print used for the master seems to be in impeccable shape, and clarity and depth keep your eyes locked to the screen. By far one of the best BD releases I've seen so far for video.

While the video looks good, the audio soars. Delivered in full 48/24 uncompressed 5.1 sound, Pearl Harbor retains its status as one of the best demonstration discs out there. The attack on Pearl Harbor has been one of my favorite demo scenes for a long time, and it sounds better than ever here. Dynamics are astounding, and surround usage is intense. It doesn't get much better than this.

Extras

Extras include interviews with survivors, a production feature, a music video, and trailers.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1983, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 33 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital 1.0

French Dolby Digital 1.0

 

Starring Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley

 

Directed by Bob Clark

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

No

"A Christmas Story" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Ralphie, a young boy growing up in the '40's, dreams of owning a Red Rider BB gun. He sets out to convince the world this is the perfect gift. But along the way, he runs into opposition from his parents, his teacher, and even good 'ol Santa Claus himself.

Commentary

It just wouldn't have been Christmas without this one. The best Christmas comedy out there in my opinion (well, I am a bit of a sucker for Home for the Holidays too), A Christmas Story has become a bit of a tradition around my household. Full of great humor and unforgettable lines, this one is a must-own.

Technical

I didn't think this film would look that great in HD, and it really isn't any great shakes. The difference between this and the special edition DVD release of a few years ago is almost trivial. The transfer is a bit cleaner, and some of the fine detail is lost on the DVD, but overall I didn't see a striking difference. The film had a muted style that keeps it from really shining.

The audio is big fat mono and delivered at a really low bitrate (192 kbps). Fidelity is lacking for the most part, and there is that constant thin sound that I've come to almost expect from it. Maybe someday this will be re-mastered to at least a stereo mix.

Extras

These appear to be the same as with the collector's edition DVD and include a commentary, a new documentary on the film, two featurettes, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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MGM

1976, Color, PG, 1 Hr 59 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 1.0

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

 

Directed by Bill Conti


Starring 
Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Rocky" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is a struggling boxer trying to make the big time. Working in a meat factory in Philadelphia for a pittance, he also earns extra cash as a debt collector. When heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Weathers) visits Philadelphia, his managers want to set up an exhibition match between Creed and a struggling boxer, touting the fight as a chance for a "nobody" to become a "somebody". The match is supposed to be easily won by Creed, but someone forgot to tell Rocky, who sees this as his only shot at the big time.

Commentary

Who hasn't seen this film already? Rocky is one of the all-time underdog films and a testament to filmmaking at its best. Stallone delivers the performance of his career and put himself on the map with this one. Amazed to see it already out in HD.

Technical

The high definition transfer is good, but not what I was hoping for with a film of this caliber. That is thanks to the limited budget of the time no doubt. Darker scenes are soft and on the noisy side when it comes to film grain. Daytime scenes are good though, even if they feel a bit muted. This is by far the best I've seen the film look and is probably accurate to the theatrical presentation, but I would still like to see someone like DTS Digital Images take a crack at it.

The audio sounded like the previous released special edition DVD. The soundstage is larger than you would expect for an older film, but dynamics are lacking. The mix is definitely top heavy, and even dialogue sounds a bit too thin. The DTS-HD MA mix is a little on the hot side, but it doesn't seem to hurt the balance of the soundstage.

Extras

Zip, nada, nothing.

- Kris Deering -

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Carlco/Lionsgate

1990, Color, Rated R

1 hr 53 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD 5.1 ES

English Dolby Digital EX 5.1

 

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox

 

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Total Recall" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is haunted by a recurring dream about a journey to Mars. He hopes to find out more about this dream and buys a holiday at Rekall Inc. where they sell implanted memories. But something goes wrong with the memory implantation and he remembers being a secret agent fighting against the evil Mars administrator Cohaagen. Now the story really begins and it's a rollercoaster ride until the massive end of the movie.

Commentary

I remember seeing this in theaters when it was released and being really excited about watching it. The film was definitely epic for its time and groundbreaking in the special effects category. Looking at it now, it loses a bit of its luster, but it is still solid sci-fi. A bit of a cult classic, I was glad to see it in HD.

Technical

I saw this on DVD a long time ago and was never really that impressed with the image. The Blu-ray release definitely improves upon that, but still has a bit to go. The image is a bit washed out, making contrast a bit bleak. The print condition is better than I expected, but still has its moments. The blending of special effects and live action don't hold up nearly as well as today's films, and some might find that a bit distracting.

The audio is presented in both DTS-HD ES and Dolby Digital EX and is an exciting mix. Definitely what I would expect from a summer blockbuster like this one. Sound design is aggressive but lacks the dynamics of most modern sci-fi films you get today. Dialogue is clean though, and the soundstage is used impressively, even in the rear channels.

Extras

Extras include a production feature and interactive menus.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1978, Color, Rated R, 3 hours 4 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Starring: Robert De Niro, John Savage, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken

 

Directed by Michael Cimino

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"The Deer Hunter" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Michael, Steven, and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who enlist in the Army to fight in Vietnam. Before they go, Steven marries the pregnant Angela, and their wedding-party is also the men's farewell party. After some time and many horrors, the three friends fall into the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp in which they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other. Michael makes it possible for them to escape, but they soon get separated again.

Commentary

One of the most disturbing POW films of all time, The Deer Hunter has always been a hard film for me to watch. It also explains why Walken has always been the way he is in my opinion. The film is a startling look at the era, but is also a bit slow in my opinion. War film fans will not want to miss it though.

Technical

I was extremelly surprised how good this film looked on HD DVD. The print looks to be in excellent shape, and the detail and depth of the image were consistently surprising. Darker scenes suffer from a lot of grain, no doubt from the lighting conditions, but this wasn't nearly as distracting as some other films of this age. Color is very natural, and detail is excellent, given the age of the film. A great job by Universal on this one.

The audio is much weaker. Fidelity overall is lacking, and the soundtrack has almost no dynamic range at all. At times it almost seems a bit too forward with sound effects not matching the onscreen action. Surrounds are used a bit sparingly, but the front soundstage is open enough.

Extras

Extras include an audio commentary, some deleted and extended scenes, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Screen Gems

2006, Color, Rated PG-13

1 hr 37 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Steven Strait, Sebastian Stan, Laura Ramsey

 

Directed by Renny Harlin

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Covenant" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Four young men who belong to a supernatural legacy are charged with stopping the evil force they released into the world years earlier. Another great force they must contend with is the jealousy and suspicion that threatens to tear them apart.

Commentary

Wow. How many movies can one film borrow from in 90 minutes? From the opening Lost Boys tribute, to the numerous Underworld odes. It is really too bad, as the premise here is pretty good. Most of the time I felt like I was watching a made for TV film with Calvin Klein models stepping in for actors though.

Technical

This is a great looking high definition transfer and one of the best I've seen from Sony so far. The master seems to be in great shape, and detail and contrast are excellent. Since this is a newer film, it looks very clean, but the special effects don't always mesh with the live footage too well. This is exaggerated by the HD presentation (similar to what I saw with King Kong). I did see some very slight compression noise at times, but it was so slight it is almost not worth mentioning. I would love to see Sony start to deliver presentations as consistent as this.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is another great highlight here, especially in terms of dynamics and soundstage usage. The downside is the dialogue, which was completely out of balance with the rest of the film most of the time and poorly dubbed in relation to the actor's mouths. Even my girlfriend noticed this several times through the movie. Surrounds are aggressive though, and the ample use of modern rock fills out the soundstage nicely.

Extras

Extras include an audio commentary and short production feature.

- Kris Deering -

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