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Number 143 - February, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


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The Sting (HD DVD) Crank (Blu-ray)
Scooby Doo (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Brokeback Mountain (HD DVD)
Open Season (Blu-ray) Casanova (Blu-ray)
Lucky # Slevin (HD DVD) Flyboys (Blu-ray)
Running With Scissors (Blu-ray) The Guardian (Blu-ray)

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part I

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part 2

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part 3

Movie Reviews Index

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Universal

1973, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 10 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by George Roy Hill


Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Ray Walston

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Sting" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

Commentary

One of the classic gambling movies of our time and reminiscent of Ocean's 11 in some ways. The Sting is a great film that still stands the test of time. Glad to see Universal releasing solid catalogue titles like this!

Technical

I don't even remember the last time I saw this film on any format, so I don't have anything to really compare it to. Overall, it is a good presentation with only a few limitations, the obvious one being the condition of the negative used for the master. Color balance wavered a lot throughout the movie and was distracting at times. Detail also wavered a lot from scene to scene and sometimes even in the same scene. Depth was better than I was expecting, and contrast wasn't too bad. While this isn't the best looking older film I've seen on HD DVD, it certainly isn't the worst.

The audio isn't much to brag about. The front soundstage is the only real thing going on, but imaging across the mains isn't too bad. Dynamic range is severely lacking in comparison to most films out today, but I would expect that for the time period. Dialogue sounds good enough, with only a few moments of bad ADR.

Extras

Most of the features from the DVD release are included. There's a feature commentary, production features, and more.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

2002, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 26 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English DD Plus 5.1

French DD Plus 5.1

Spanish DD Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Raja Gosnell


Starring Freddie Prinze Jr, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

None

Language

None

"Scooby Doo" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

The Mystery Inc. gang have gone their separate ways and have been apart for two years, until they each receive an invitation to Spooky Island. Not knowing that the others have also been invited, they show up and discover an amusement park that affects young visitors in very strange ways. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby soon realize that they cannot solve this mystery without help from each other.

Commentary

This is another film cashing in on the TV remake boom that seemed to be never ending. While it wasn't a complete disaster, it is still far from great. Fans of the original show would probably be more than happy with it since it follows the rather cheesy style of the original series almost perfectly.

Technical

This is a film that looked pretty good on DVD already, so you kind of had to expect it to look good in HD. Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD releases look identical as they are from the same VC-1 encode. Detail and dimension are excellent, and the color resolve is superb. This is a film that is full of eye candy and would be a great one to show the benefits of HD if it weren't so hokey.

I did notice a bit more noise in the image than I would have preferred. Some of it looks like subtle film grain, but at times it starts to border on just noise. Hard to say without seeing a master, but it was there just enough to be a bit intrusive.

The 5.1 soundtrack is also the same for both formats and can be fun. I did hate the music soundtrack though. Leave it to studios to come up with some horrible pop-riddled takes on older songs, yuck. Outside of that though the soundtrack is very lively with nice range and surround presence. Dialogue sounds clean and imaging across the main channels is excellent.

Extras

Extras include some games, behind the scenes features, commentaries, and production features.

- Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

2006, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 26 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Roger Allers and Jill Culton


Starring: Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Gary Sinise, Debra Messing

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

No

"Open Season" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A grizzly bear named Boog, domesticated by a park ranger, Beth, helps deer friend Elliot escape from the mullet-sporting hunter, Shaw. When the animals escape to the forest, the pair become lost just as hunting season begins, made worse by the fact Boog doesn't know how to survive outside of his beloved ranch. Elliott and Boog develop a strong bond not only between themselves but also with the wild animals and attempt to drive the hunters out of the forest.

Commentary

Open Season is a fun family film that continues the trend of ho-hum animation releases that rely more on their impressive animation than impressive storylines. The humor is better than a lot of what I've seen recently though. This is the first feature length film from Sony's animation outfit, and the quality of the work is impressive. I thought the backgrounds were a bit chintzy, but the overall effort was quite good.

Technical

This is Sony's first Blu-ray release to use an newer video compression codec. Open Season uses AVC rather than the typical MPEG-2 transfers seen on their other Blu-ray releases. Whether this made any real difference at all is unknown though since we never saw this one using MPEG-2 and animation tends to be easier to compress. Regardless, Open Season is a delight to watch and one of the most impressive animation presentations I've seen yet. The color palette is wonderful, and definition is superb. The foreground images have amazing dimension to them and texture and detail are amazing.

I saw this film in theaters in IMAX 3-D, and while this presentation isn't quite as deep or detailed, it is VERY close. I did notice a smidgen of banding in a few parts, but I doubt anyone would even notice it unless they were looking specifically for it.

The uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack is pretty good, but not quite to the level of the video. I am always excited to hear new animated offerings, and it gives the sound designer complete control over what you'll hear. Some of the best sounding films I've ever heard have been animated releases. While I wouldn't rank this one way up there, its sound design is satisfying, and the presentation here is decent. Dynamics aren't as aggressive as some animated films I've seen, and the surround soundstage is a bit underused. The voice work is quite good and never distracting, a problem I find with a lot of animated films.

Extras

All of the extras from the DVD release are included, such as games, behind the scenes features, deleted scenes, a feature commentary, and a sneak peek at Surf's Up.

- Kris Deering -

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The Weinstein Company

2006, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Paul McGuigan


Starring: Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Stanely Tucci, Ben Kingsley

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Lucky # Slevin" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

A case of mistaken identity lands Slevin (Josh Hartnett) into the middle of a war being plotted by two of the city's most rival crime bosses: The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Slevin is under constant surveillance by relentless Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci) as well as the infamous assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and finds himself having to hatch his own ingenious plot to get them before they get him.

Commentary

I saw this on a whim in theaters and ended up really enjoying it. Reminds me a bit of Tarantino's work, but has enough going for it that it doesn't come off as a rehash of something else. The twists are good, and the cast is excellent. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it yet.

Technical

The Weinstein's are quickly becoming the most consistently good studio in regards to picture quality. Again they deliver a nicely detailed HD presentation that has plenty of things going for it. Dimension is excellent, and contrast is dead on. Film grain is apparent at times, and there were a few moments that I thought the image could have been a bit sharper, but overall this is an excellent transfer.

Unfortunately, this is the only film in the newest batch from The Weinstein Company that doesn't get a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Pity, I think I would have enjoyed it here the most. The DD+ soundtrack is still great though with plenty of dynamics and fun. The soundtrack does a great job of filling in the voids, and some of the action of the film really opens up the soundstage and the bottom end.

Extras

Extras include two commentaries, production features, interviews, the trailer, and more.

- Kris Deering -

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Tristar Pictures

2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 2 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Ryan Murphy


Starring Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Gwyneth Paltrow

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Running With Scissors" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Young Augusten Burroughs absorbs experiences that could make for a shocking memoir: the son of an alcoholic father and an unstable mother, he's handed off to his mother's therapist, Dr. Finch, and spends his adolescent years as a member of Finch's bizarre extended family.

Commentary

I know this is based on a very popular novel of the same name, but for the life of me I couldn't get into this film. The characters are WAY out there and WAY too dramatic for my tastes. The situation is so bizarre that I had a hard time keeping my interest in it. It also doesn't seem to go anywhere worth going. I will admit though, the casting is excellent.

Technical

This is one of those films that doesn't necessarily look bad in HD, but it doesn't necessarily look great either. It is one of the run of the mill types that has moments here and there but nothing that really stands out. It definitely has that natural film look that convinces you that you are in a movie theater though, which I like.

The image can be a bit soft at times but never enough to be overly distracting. Dimension is good, but again, not great. Colors are excellent, with plenty of saturation and no real noise to speak of.

The uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack does a good job with what it has. This is a dramatic film that doesn't do much in the sound design department. Dialogue sounds fine though, and the musical selections in the film were a lot of fun.

Extras

Extras include a production feature, an interview and look at the story, and a production documentary.

- Kris Deering -

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Lionsgate

2006, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 27 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

 

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor

 

Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Dwight Yoakam

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Crank" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Chev Chelios is a professional assassin working for the West Coast crime syndicate. Chev's girlfriend Eve doesn't know what Chev does, and Chev is planning to quit the crime syndicate so he can spend more time with her. But things get very bad when he learns he has been injected with a poison called "The Beijing Cocktail" by his rival Verona, which will kill him if his heart rate drops. Trying to stay alive, Chev sets out to find answers as well as protect Eve, and get his revenge on those who have betrayed him before the poison kills him.

Commentary

I caught this one on the last night it was in theaters for the very last showing. I don't know if I was just out of it for awhile but I swear I never saw a preview or anything for this film before it was released. Glad I caught it though. This is pure guilty fun. Sure there is no real plot here, and violence is turned up a bit, but the intensity and momentum of the film are a bit intoxicating, and the humor is great (though REALLY dark). Statham does a great job keeping the intensity of the film focused, and he is perfect in both his comedic timing and action. A fun, very adult ride.

Technical

When I saw this at the theater, I was anxious to see how it would translate to an HD format. The film is shot with a variety of different media and you can tell the end result was tweaked. Lionsgate has captured that perfectly here with a richly detailed and just captivating transfer. Sure you'll see some ringing and digital artifacts, but I saw the same thing in the theater. You'll also see some of the best detail, dimension, and color that are on either HD format. A superb HD presentation.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is a powerhouse of sound design and playfulness. The sound is literally a character here, whether it be the hard hitting rock/punk mix or the intensity of the sound effects that pull you into the story. The rear soundstage is extremely aggressive, and the bottom end of this film could definitely put some subs out of commission. Like the video side, this is one of the best presentations I've seen in HD so far!

Extras

Extras include a picture-in-picture commentary (requiring another complete encode of the film), family friendly audio version (hilarious!), production features, and more.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2005, Color, R, 2 Hr 15 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Ang Lee


Starring 
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Linda Cardellini, Anna Farris, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams, Randy Quaid

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Brokeback Mountain" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

This is a raw, powerful story of two young men, a Wyoming ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 sheepherding in the harsh, high grasslands of contemporary Wyoming and form an unorthodox yet life-long bond -  by turns ecstatic, bitter, and conflicted.

Commentary

I didn't see this one in theaters and really didn't know what to expect with all of the whoopla surrounding it. I guess even in this day and age people are jaded about seeing any kind of homosexual themes. But that isn't what this film is about. Instead you have a well made film about two people who fall in love but have to keep it sacred because of the time and place that they live. As their lives continue, they are constantly battling with their urge to be with each other yet balance their "normal" lives. It's a great film that is beautifully shot and uncompromised in its message.

Technical

Universal delivers a solid presentation here. The cinematography and gorgeous setting of the film are definitely the highlight. Wyoming doesn't even look this good in real life (at least what I've seen!). Colors are lush, and depth is excellent. I did notice some spots that seemed a bit softer than they needed to be and were just enough to take me out of the film. Other than that, this was a winner of a transfer.

The 5.1 DD+ soundtrack is also quite good. The score is probably the highlight as it compliments the mood perfectly. Dialogue sounds natural with no signs of strain. The front soundstage is very open and airy and really conveys the openness of the locales. Dynamic range isn't much of a deal here except for one sequence in a lightning storm that really kicks it up a few notches with tremendous presence and bass.

Extras

Extras include some interviews and production features along with a look at the success of the film in the industry.

- Kris Deering -

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Touchstone

2005, Color, Rated R

1 hr 41 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin

 

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Casanova" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Heath Ledger plays the fabled romantic as a man who, after failing to win the affection of a particular Venetian woman, strives to discover the real meaning of love.

Commentary

This is one of those films that plays it a bit too by the numbers. The story is interesting enough, but the problem is, it is too light hearted. I would have enjoyed this a lot more if it were designed more for an adult audience and had a far more serious tone. Instead, it comes off a bit too whimsical and silly.

Technical

This is the second VC-1 encoded title I've seen from Buena Vista, and this is definitely the better of the two. The sheer amount of detail in this transfer is astounding and comes close to the jaw dropping images of King Kong. This is one of the few films that gives you that "looking through a window" sense of being there. Depth is excellent and contrast is pretty solid through most of the film. Some of the indoor scenes are bit noisier, probably due to the light conditions, but other than that I couldn't find a single thing to nitpick.

The uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack is good, but nothing to write home about. Dynamics are impressive at times, especially during some of the Carnivale scenes. The film's soundtrack is fun and has the same air of playfulness that the movie has. Dialogue is clean and natural, and imaging is always solid. There is a nice sense of space throughout most of the film, especially given the locales.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, production features, a short film about Venice, and scene access for demos.

- Kris Deering -

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MGM

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hours 18 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jean Reno

 

Directed by Tony Bill

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Flyboys" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

The adventures of the Lafayette Escadrille, young Americans who volunteered for the French military before the U.S. entered World War I, and became the country's first fighter pilots.

Commentary

I didn't have very high hopes for this one when I got it in for review. The film didn't do very well at the box office, and I never heard a good word about it. While I don't consider it a great film, it wasn't half bad. The story takes awhile to develop and that seems to slow down what is intended as an action film of sorts. The problem is the characters never flesh out completely. While I don't know how much I would recommend a purchase on story alone, it is easily worth a rental.

Technical

Fox proves yet again that even legacy codecs like MPEG-2 can still deliver in spades when they need to. Flyboys was shot digitally, and the image quality is amazing. Fine detail, depth, color rendition, and dimensionality are all first rate. I can't begin to say how many times I was taken back with the sheer detail and crispness of the onscreen image. A reference HD presentation all the way.

Once again we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Unfortunately, we are still not seeing any products that can decode it. Luckily the legacy full bit rate DTS soundtrack is still quite good. Surrounds are used more aggressively than any film I've seen in recent memory. Imaging is terrific throughout the film, especially in the dogfights. Dynamic range is quite good, but I thought the low end could have been used a bit more. The dogfights in Pearl Harbor had a bit more ferocity, and I was hoping to hear something more along those lines.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary with the director and producer, some deleted scenes, some historical recounts, and the trailer in high definition.

- Kris Deering -

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Touchstone Pictures

2006, Color, Rated PG-13

2 hr 19 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.0

English Dolby Digital 5.0

French Dolby Digital 5.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.0

 

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward

 

Directed by Andrew Davis

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Some

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"The Guardian" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

The US Coast Guard version of Top Gun with a little An Officer and A Gentleman thrown in: an aging USCG rescue swimmer's team is killed in a horrific rescue mission. Immediately prior to this terrible event, his wife also announced that she cannot take any more.

His first love is always the rescue mission. This leaves him an obviously emotional wreck. His commander gives him a choice: quit or take a position as an instructor at the USCG training facility in Louisiana.

Reluctantly he takes the position. Moving into the school, he immediately increases the 18 week curriculum that routinely fails half of the people that attend. Here he meets a young man with unlimited potential, but with some secret that seems to hold him back as a team player.

Commentary

I went and saw this one in theaters and came away liking it far more than I thought I would. While it does play a bit to the "our guys are badder than your guys" military back and forth, it doesn't dwell on it too much. Costner gives a solid performance and still remains a bit underrated as he's come out of the limelight. I still really enjoy his films and in my opinion a lot of his choices have become better over the last year (Open Range is a great example). Kutcher is a bit by the numbers but not nearly as bad as I thought he would be given his previous roles.

Technical

This movie looked good in the theaters, so I had a sneaking suspicion it would look great on Blu-ray as well. I was definitely right. Being a new film, it is almost devoid of any print wear, and the image is impeccably clean. Detail is excellent throughout and almost hurts the presentation in some ways because the CGI work isn't nearly as good as most of the bigger budget films out there. I did see some minor banding in the underwater scenes, which prevents me from giving this a reference score, but I doubt anyone will be disappointed with this presentation.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is delivered in full 24/48 resolution, a feat only Buena Vista seems capable of doing so far on Blu-ray. Dynamic range is tremendous throughout the film, especially in the rescue sequences in open ocean. Imaging is excellent across the main channels, and there is an impressive amount of ambience in the rear soundstage as well. Dialogue is always clean and natural.

Extras

This is one of the first Disney releases to feature interactive supplements. You can choose how you want to watch the film in the beginning - either with or without the extras inserted. There is a Q&A session, commentary, production features, alternate ending, and deleted scenes.

- Kris Deering -

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