Go to Home Page

Go to Index for All Movie Reviews.

 

Movie Renter's Guide
 

Number 143 - February, 2007

Part II

Staff

 


Now Playing
Divider

Windtalkers (Blu-ray) Poseidon (HD DVD)
Chicago (Blu-ray) The Sentinel (Blu-ray)
The Tailor of Panama (Blu-ray) The Usual Suspects (Blu-ray)
The Wicker Man (2006) (HD DVD) District B13 (Blu-ray)
Babel (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Hollywoodland (HD DVD)

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part I

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part 2

Number 143 - February, 2007 - Part 3

Movie Reviews Index

Divider

MGM

2002, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 14 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by John Woo


Starring: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Peter Stormare, Mark Ruffalo

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Windtalkers" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Two U.S. Marines in WWII are assigned to protect Navajo Marines who use their native language as an unbreakable radio cipher.

Commentary

John Woo's World War II film has been around for awhile and was unfortunately overlooked a lot when it arrived in theaters. The film centers on the contributions of Native Americans to our fight in the Pacific where code breaking was becoming rampant.

Like most of the other war movies of the last decade, this is a gritty and rather disturbing look at combat with no expense spared on the horror and violence associated with it. If you missed it in theaters or DVD this would be a great opportunity to see it for the first time. I only wish MGM would have chosen the Director's Cut rather than the theatrical release for the HD version.

Technical

This is one of the more average looking titles done by Fox (for MGM) on Blu-ray. The image has a very film-like look (meaning a bit softer) that doesn't have that eye candy appeal that many seem to want from HD. Depth and detail are definitely there, but there is also an obvious haze of sorts over most of the image, especially in longer shots. Contrast is also lacking a bit. I didn't see anything in terms of compression artifacts though, which is always a plus.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is VERY aggressive and has some of the most startling dynamics I've heard on the format yet. There are literally times that some of the action made me jump. The low end is very pronounced but also very clean. Surrounds are used aggressively in the action sequences and really draw you in to the horror of the moment. A solid sound presentation!

Extras

No extras are included on this release.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Miramax

2002, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 53 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Uncompressed PCM 2.0

 

Directed by Rob Marshall


Starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Themes

Language

Mild

"Chicago" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn't going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920's Chicago.

Commentary

I might be the only person I know who doesn't like this film that much. Don't get me wrong, I love musicals, but I just didn't like the stage production feel of this one. If I wanted to watch a stage production I would have gone to the Broadway show. I wanted them to make an actual film out of it, similar to what we saw with Moulin Rouge or Phantom of the Opera. So the production design killed it for me and once that happens it is hard to find any other glowing points. The musical numbers are great, and I thought the acting was solid, but I just can't get over the props and locales!

Technical

This is one of the more inconsistent transfers I've seen in HD so far. At times it can look really good: great contrast, nice depth, solid detail. But other times it looks REALLY noisy and flat. I understand that low light photography will naturally add grain structure to an image, but if you go up to the screen and look at the noise here, it isn't film grain. Most of it is a blocky mess. Too bad, as most of this film looks really good.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is delivered in full 24/48 resolution and sounds REALLY good. The musical numbers have tons of presence and dynamic range, and sounded better than I remember them every sounding on DVD or in the theater. Music lovers will adore this presentation. The rest of the soundtrack is equally impressive, with clean and natural dialogue and a nice sense of atmosphere throughout most of the film.

Extras

Plenty of supplements here. Included are some deleted scenes, commentary, production features, a look at the stage production transition, and interviews.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Columbia Pictures

2001, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.0

English Dolby Digital 5.0

French Dolby Digital 5.0

 

Directed by John Boorman


Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"The Tailor of Panama" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

John LeCarre's spy thriller is brought to the big screen. A British spy (Pierce Brosnan) is banished to Panama after having an affair with an ambassador's mistress. Once there he makes connection with a local tailor (Geoffrey Rush) with a nefarious past and connections to all of the top political and gangster figures in Panama.

The tailor also has a huge debt, and a wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), who works for the Panamanian president. The mission is to learn what the President intends to do with the Panama Canal. But what the two do is concoct a tremendous fictional tale about former mercenaries who are ready to topple the current government and are willing to work with Britain and the US to do so.

Commentary

This is a film that I was never really able to get into. It's a political thriller set around the Panama Canal and its impending release from US control. Brosnan is good in it, but very Bond-like in his ways. Rush is definitely the standout though and does a great job as a political turnkey parading as a tailor to the elite politicians of the area. The movie is good, it's just not great. If you like political intrigue though, you may want to give it a look.

Technical

The HD presentation is decent but has its quirks. This is one of the first films I've seen with an obvious amount of edge enhancement in it. Whether this was done to sharpen up the look of the film or was inherent to the master is unknown. It does make the image a bit hard at times on my display, but thankfully it wasn't there all the time. Detail is preserved through most of the film, but contrast is a bit lacking at times. Depth is good, but the inconsistent contrast does flatten some scenes out a bit more than I would have liked. Print wear is seen on occasion but is generally unobtrusive.

The 5.1 uncompressed PCM soundtrack is good but a bit on the tame side. This is a thriller, but don't expect a lot of action or dynamics. Dialogue sounded a bit off at times with inconsistencies in timbre. Imaging was great across the mains but the surrounds don't do much more than subtle ambience.

Extras

Extras include a commentary, interviews with the cast, an alternate ending, and trailer.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Warner Bros

2006, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Neil LaBute


Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ellen Burnstyn, Leelee Sobieski

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Wicker Man (2006)" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

While recovering from a tragic accident on the road, patrolman Edward Malus receives a letter from his former fiancÚe Willow, who left him years ago without any explanation, telling that her daughter Rowan is missing. Edward travels to the private island of Summerisle, where Willow lives in an odd community that plant fruits, and she reveals that Rowan is actually their daughter. Along his investigation with the hostile and unhelpful dwellers, Edward discloses that the locals are pagans, practicing old rituals to improve their harvest, and Rowan is probably alive and being prepared to be sacrificed.

Commentary

This is a remake to a pretty popular horror film from the early eighties. I never saw the original so I don't have any basis for comparison. I wasn't that impressed with this film though. For one, it isn't nearly as intense as the trailers make it out to be and it can be a bit boring at times. The ending is also very anti-climactic, which is always a bad thing with this type of film.

Technical

Warner delivers a very good HD transfer with this one. Since this is a newer film, it definitely had the advantage of a great film element to master from. I didn't notice anything in terms of print wear or film grain. The image has great dimensionality, and the detail is consistently good throughout. While this doesn't have the "looking through a windowr" effect that some HD transfer do, it certainly has a gorgeous film-like quality to it. The only thing keeping it from getting a 5 was some obvious blocking in blacks during one part of the film.

The audio side of the house does have some minor differences between the Blu-ray and HD DVD release. The HD DVD version has a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack included, while the Blu-ray release is limited to standard Dolby Digital. This is one of the few TrueHD soundtracks that I just wasn't that impressed with. The soundtrack is very front heavy, and ambience isn't anywhere near the degree I would expect from a film like this. Surrounds are used occasionally, but not creatively. Fidelity doesn't seem to be improved between the TrueHD soundtrack in comparison to the standard Dolby mix, so either release should be fine for the end user. (I did not receive a Blu-ray version for review so comparison points are based on the TrueHD soundtrack compared to the DD+ version, which should be the same as the DD track on the Blu-ray release.)

Extras

Extras include a commentary with the director and cast and the trailer

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Paramount

2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 23 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu


Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Babel" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Through a series of misunderstandings, interweaves the unfortunate circumstances of a Moroccan, an American, a Mexican, and a Japanese family. A Moroccan family acquires a rifle to protect their goats. An American woman, on a bus tour with her husband, is accidentally shot, which is in turn grossly exaggerated by the press who are quick to label the incident as a "terrorist attack".

The same couple's children accompany their long-time caretaker to Mexico to attend her son's wedding, where upon re-entering the United States face problems. A Japanese widower confronts difficulties in communicating with his deaf-mute teenage daughter who craves human contact.

Commentary

I am a big fan of the director's past efforts (21 Grams and Amores Perros), and because of the rather large hype factor that has gone into this film (Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominations), I may have had exceedingly high expectations. Overall, I enjoyed this film, but it wasn't as enjoyable as his previous films were for me. The tale is a bit on the slow side, but the dramatic effect is undeniable. Performances all around are excellent, but the editing could have been a bit more polished. While I would definitely recommend the film, I would have to recommend a rental since repeated viewings would not be likely.

Technical

Babel is delivered on HD DVD and Blu-ray with completely different encodes from the same master. The HD DVD uses AVC while the Blu-ray version uses MPEG-2. Both do a seemingly good job as I've seen enough of this film in theaters to know that it is intended to be a bit on the grainy side. The differences between the two presentations are fleeting, though I might give a slight edge to the HD DVD in terms of fine detail. There were a couple of scenes that I did A/B comparisons with and I saw a tiny bit more dimension with the HD DVD version, but it was VERY small. Babel can be a bit on the soft side at times and contrast overall isn't very compelling, which makes the image a tad flat. Detail in close-ups is very good though, and the lack of compression artifacts and edge enhancement is refreshing compared to most DVD transfers I've seen.

The audio presentation is also different between the two formats. The HD DVD gets a 1.5 MBps DD+ soundtrack while the Blu-ray release is limited to 640 kbps DD. Since the BD version is on a BD-50 I am surprised that Paramount has not included at least an uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Despite the differences in soundtrack presentation, I didn't notice any difference in presentation. Babel isn't really a compelling piece of sound design, but it does have a marvelous score that really adds to the tone of the film. Even the subtle guitar plucking comes over wonderfully with nice decay and dynamics. Some of the club scenes in Tokyo lend to the dynamics of the film and provide some nice low end presence. The soundtrack is very front heavy overall, which is a bit disappointing in some of the club and city scenes.

Extras

The only extra included is the theatrical trailer

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Warner

2006, Color, Rated PG-13

1 Hr 38 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen

 

Starring Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Mike Vogel

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Poseidon" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

While ringing in the new year aboard the cruise ship Poseidon, a giant wave crashes into the ship and flips it upside down. A ragtag group of survivors realize their only chance is to make their way to the deepest bowels of the ship, now at the top, if they are going to have any chance of getting out.

Commentary

This is yet another big budget Hollywood remake of a classic calamity film. I heard a lot of really bad things about this version before I watched it, so I was really expecting a horrible film. Luckily it wasn't too bad. Sure it won't win any awards, but as a popcorn film it succeeds in keeping things interesting and providing enough action to impress most thriller fans. While I don't think I would recommend buying it, it is definitely worth a rent.

Technical

Warner has done a great job with this transfer. The master seems to be in impeccable condition, so detail and depth shine. There were a few brief moments where banding was noticed, but that is the only thing keeping me from giving this a perfect 5. I was really impressed with the level of detail, even in longer shots throughout the film.

Poseidon gets the full blown Dolby TrueHD treatment,  and like most big summer action films, this one is a lot of fun. The sequence where the wave hits the boat could definitely be used to show the might of your home theater surround sound setup with aggressive use of the surround soundstage and subwoofers. Ambience throughout the film is excellent, with subtle cues throughout in all channels. Dialogue is never hard to understand no matter how loud the action gets, which is always nice. Overall, this is a great soundtrack.

Extras

Warner has gone all out on the extras for this release and include a complete in-movie experience. This includes a look at the special effects, interviews, and commentary. There are also some production features, a documentary on rogue wavers, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

20th Century Fox

2006, Color, PG-13, 1 Hr 48 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Clark Johnson


Starring 
Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Sentinel" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

When a White House Agent is murdered, Garrison is framed and blackmailed over an affair with the First Lady Sarah Ballentine. He is relieved of his duties, but Garrison won't stop trying to prove his innocence and save the life of the President. While attempting to uncover the person behind it all, he comes into confrontation with his protegÚ, Agent Breckinridge.

Commentary

When I saw the trailers for this one in theaters I wasn't very excited about going back to watch it. Like so many films nowadays, the trailer just seemed to give up too much of the plot. Now having seen it I can say that the trailer didn't give away too much and the film is actually a decent ride. The movie plays by the numbers overall, but has enough action to keep you interested.

Technical

You can pretty much expect a newer film like this to look quite good on HD. The benefit of a new master and film element almost assures that the film will look pristine. This is an extremely clean transfer that has a lot of pop in terms of color rendition and contrast. Depth is excellent, and detail is consistently solid. My only complaint is some softness that creeps in from time to time on longer shots.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is quite good and makes full use of the 5.1 soundstage. Surrounds are used far more than I would expect from this type of film and lend not only to the action but also to the atmosphere. Dynamics are impressive at times, even when the action isn't going. Imaging across the front is excellent, and dialogue sounds natural, despite some obvious ADR goof ups.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, deleted scenes, some production featurettes, a trivia track, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

MGM

1995, Color, Rated R

1 hr 46 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro

 

Directed by Bryan Singer

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Strong

"The Usual Suspects" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Police investigating an exploded boat on a San Pedro pier discover 27 bodies and $91 million worth of drug money. The only survivors are a severely burned and very scared Hungarian terrorist and Verbal Kint, a crippled con-man. Reluctantly, Kint is pressurized into explaining exactly what happened on the boat. His story begins six weeks earlier with five criminals being dragged in by New York police desperate for suspects on a hijacked truck and ends with the possible identification of a criminal mastermind.

Commentary

Before Bryan Singer ever made a name for himself with the highly successful X-Men franchise and Superman Returns movie he was a breakout director with The Usual Suspects. This is a film lover's kind of movie with great characters, cast, and twists. I have a hard time thinking that there are still people out there who haven't seen this one, but if you haven't, you should.

Technical

I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting much from this transfer. I don't think I've ever been impressed with the visual style of this film, and I've never seen an impressive transfer for it on DVD. The Blu-ray release is quite good, though I wouldn't categorize it as great. Detail is much better than I was expecting, but softness starts to kick in as the shots get longer.

Depth and dimension are better than expected and far better than what I've seen on DVD from this film. Contrast is lacking a bit overall, which contributes to a somewhat flat look at times compared to most newer films.

The DTS-HD soundtrack is also good, but the budget of the sound design limits what the soundtrack can ultimately do. Dynamics are okay, but presence overall is thin. Dialogue sounds a bit unnatural in terms of tonality, and spatial cues are few and far between. The score delivery is good and probably the highlight of the overall presence on the soundtrack.

Extras

The only extra is the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Magnolia Home Entertainment

2005, Color, Rated R, 1 hours 24 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD ES 5.1

French DTS-HD ES 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

 

Starring: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle

 

Directed by Pierre Morel

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"District B13" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In the near future, the worst ghettos of Paris, France are literally walled off, and among the worst is District B13. Controlled by the ruthless crime lord, Taha, a young righteous punk named Le´to is determined to bring him down. When the boss retaliates by kidnapping his sister, Lola, a rescue attempt by Le´to is destroyed by betrayal that gets him arrested and Lola kept in the clutches in Taha.

Six months later, a crackerjack undercover cop named Damien is given a urgent mission: a neutron bomb has been stolen by Taha in District B13 which has an automatic timer function engaged and set to detonate in less than 24 hours. Now with time running out, Damien and Le´to must work together to find and stop the bomb, but there is far more to this crisis than any of the field players realize.

Commentary

Luc Besson has put his name to a lot of small budget action films over the last few years. Some of them have done really well (The Transporter), but some have been more on the obscure side (Taxi, District B13). That doesn't mean they aren't fun though.

District B13 is somewhat reminiscent of Carpenter's Escape from New York, without quite the scope and budget. The ghettos have been quarantined off from the rest of the city and gangs have overrun them. The action in this film is a lot of fun and this is really the Hollywood premier of David Belle and his free running sport Parkour. Parkour is a combination of gymnastics and martial arts and is basically a style of getting from one place to another as fast as possible, regardless of the obstacles. This style was also featured in the new Bond film. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of it over the next few years.

Technical

The HD presentation of this film is far better than the previous SD DVD I saw. Detail overall is quite good, with a nice sense of dimension and contrast. Depth could be a bit better, but I didn't expect too much from a film of this budget. There were times when some slight banding was noticeable, but they were few and far between. Darker scenes could be a bit noisier than some may like, but represent what we typically see from most films.

The audio is presented in its native French or a dubbed English version. I always prefer the original language track and this is no exception. The problem is, this film has subtitles for the hearing impaired instead of standard translation. That means you get descriptive text as well for background noises and such. This is REALLY annoying. I don't have any problem with subtitles for the hearing impaired, but they are unnecessary if all you want is dialogue translation. Aside from that gripe Magnolia has done a great job with this soundtrack presentation. There are plenty of dynamics and aggressive use of the surround soundstage. The frantic soundtrack provides lots of bass and adds to the intensity of the onscreen action, with lots of panning and synth based effects.

Extras

Extras include a making-of feature, extended fight scene, and some outtakes.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

Focus Features

2006, Color, Rated R

2 hr 7 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins

 

Directed by Allen Coulter

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Some

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"Hollywoodland" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Playing Superman on TV brought aspiring film actor George Reeves stardom, but it also held him back as far as more serious acting roles went. When 45-year-old Reeves was found dead in his home in 1959, his death was ruled a suicide, and attributed to the b-level frustration. The result of a single bullet wound, Reeves's death caused controversy in and around Hollywood, where popular theories related his death to either his starlet fiancÚe, Leonore Lemmon, or his famously ongoing and unique relationship with Toni Mannix, the wife of mob-connected MGM head Eddie Mannix.

Hollywoodland explores Reeves's life and tragic end from the perspective of Louis Simo, a private investigator hired by Reeves's mother shortly after his death.

Commentary

Old Hollywood murder mysteries are always pretty interesting. This one is unsolved, and debate still rages on whether Reeves was murdered or committed suicide. The film points the finger in both directions and provides enough insight to make you think it could have been either. Most of the evidence in either direction is circumstantial.

The casting here is great, and the film plays at a good pace, with enough going on to make it pretty enjoyable. I don't think I would recommend purchasing the film though, as repeat plays probably aren't in the cards, but a rental would be worthwhile.

Technical

Hollywoodland is a gorgeously filmed movie. The image has superb contrast and detail. This is one of those crisp images that anyone who loves great video can appreciate. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its issues. This is one of the first HD DVDs I've seen with obvious compression artifacts. There are quite a few scenes throughout the film with blocking in the backgrounds and some obvious banding. I was actually surprised by the level of the artifacting as it has become very rare with these next generation formats. Thankfully, this was contained to only a handful of scenes, and the majority of the time, the image is spectacular in depth, detail, and dimension.

The audio is presented in 5.1 DD+ and the sound design is in line with what you would expect from a film like this. Atmosphere is sustained throughout the film, with subtle ambient cues and a nice wide front soundstage. Dynamics are good, but this isn't a film with a lot of reasons to use it. Dialogue sounds natural, and the voices stay locked to the images on screen. A fitting presentation for the film.

Extras

Since this is a HD DVD Hybrid release, you get the standard definition presentation on the flipside. Also included are some production featurettes, a feature commentary, and deleted scenes.

- Kris Deering -

Divider

 

ę Copyright 2007 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