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Number 145 - April, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


Now Playing
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Reservoir Dogs (Blu-ray) March of the Penguins (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
The War Within (Blu-ray) Employee of the Month (Blu-ray)
Children of Men (HD DVD) Payback - Straight Up: The Director's Cut (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Crash (Blu-ray) Layer Cake (Blu-ray)
Eragon (Blu-ray) Identity (Blu-ray)

Number 145 - April, 2007 - Part I

Number 145 - April, 2007 - Part II

Number 145 - April, 2007 - Part III

Movie Reviews Index

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Lionsgate

1992, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD ES 6.1

English Dolby Digital EX 5.1

 

Directed by Quentin Tarantino


Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

No

Language

Strong

"Reservoir Dogs" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Commentary

Tarantino's freshman effort has become a cult classic and is also his first release to see its way to an HD format. Reservoir Dogs is low budget "Indie" cinema at its best. Solid script, phenomenal cast, and great production. They made the most of what they had and delivered one of the best crime films of the 90's. A solid thriller that is still great to watch.

Technical

This is not a film with a big Hollywood budget, so I wasn't expecting much when it came to video quality. I remember when the 15th Anniversary DVD release came out, and while it didn't look bad, it didn't come close to the polished films out there. This is about the same. Detail is impressive enough, as is depth, but there is still a slight level of haze that keeps this from competing with the better HD transfers out there.

Colors are natural but slightly muted, but this fits the mood and feel of the film. The print is in good shape, but you will see an occasional nick or scratch from time to time. Compression artifacts are never an issue.

The soundtrack tries its best to steal the scene, but the balance prevents it from achieving greatness. The music selections in the film are classic and offer the most dynamics you'll get. Action scenes liven things up, but the balance of dialogue, action, and music gets muddled. Gunshots never deliver like you think they should, dialogue sounds too low, and the music is a bit too overpowering.

Extras

Extras include a documentary on the film's effect in Hollywood, a production featurette, and a factoid viewer on the film and its inspirations.

- Kris Deering -

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HDNet Films

2005, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 33 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Joseph Castello


Starring Ayad Akhtar, Nandana Sen, Firdous Bamji, Sarita Choudhury

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Themes

Sex

Brief Nudity

Language

Yes

"The War Within" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A Pakistani involved in a planned attack in New York City experiences a crisis of conscience.

Commentary

I really don't know how to feel about this film. It follows a Pakistani who appears to be kidnapped in the beginning of the film and is tortured, but for what crime or reason the viewer is never really told.

The film mainly takes place three years later when this same man travels as a stowaway into New York to meet up with a group of terrorists to bomb strategic places around New York. While there he stays with his childhood best friend and his family, and you can sense a bit of apprehension about his plan, but also disgust in what he sees in his friends and his surroundings.

My main issue is the character's reasoning. He appears quite different after his term in what appears to be some kind of prison camp, but you don't ever know why he was there or what they did (other than hurt him). You never know if he was a product of the violence or a true believer in what he was doing. A bit more character development would have made this a far more intriguing film.

Technical

The opening scenes look absolutely wretched. At first I thought there may be something wrong with my player! What you find out is the director intentionally stylized the opening sequence (and later flashbacks) to fit the mood of the film. Most of these scenes were shot with what appears to be low cost video camcorders, and the video is soft with lots of ringing.

After this, everything looks MUCH better, and it was shot in HD like all of the HDNet films we've reviewed so far. Detail is excellent throughout most of the film, with only some of the longer shots coming off slightly soft. I did see some occasional artifacts in fine detail and wonder if this was shot in 1080i and converted to 1080p for the encode or not. Blacks are slightly elevated, which hurts dimensionality in darker scenes, and I noticed a very low level interference pattern in blacks during some darker scenes. Overall, this is a pretty good looking movie, but there are definitely some problems here and there.

The audio is presented in both DTS-HD and Dolby Digital 5.1. I viewed the film using the DTS track and had the player extract the core DTS 5.1 mix. This is a pretty subdued mix that plays on subtlety and ambience. Dialogue is always clean, and the front soundstage has a very nice "alive" feel to it. Surrounds are used on occasion to convey the sense of space, and I did notice some discrete effects here and there.

Extras

Extras include a look at some other HDNet Blu-ray offerings and a feature commentary during the film.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2006, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 50 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron


Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Brief Nudity

Language

Yes

"Children of Men" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

In 2027, in a chaotic world in which humans can no longer procreate, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea, where her child's birth may help scientists save the future of humankind.

Commentary

This is by far one of the most powerful dramas I've seen and easily one of the best films of last year. Its disturbing and sorrowing look at a possible future combines amazing performances with a story that will leave you completely unsettled. A must see.

Technical

I had the opportunity to see this movie in a very nice DLP cinema during its theatrical run and was impressed with the level of detail. The HD DVD looks every bit as good, with incredible fine detail and dimension, as well as a very contrasty appearance.

Blacks are incredibly deep, and the image has a photorealistic feel to it that few HD presentations can match. Film grain is evident at times but adds to the mood of the film. I was extremely impressed with the level of depth the image had. Coupled with the photography style used, the film gives you the utter feel of being in the moment, which further enhances the mood.

Universal has delivered a powerful and engaging DD+ soundtrack with this one. The soundstage is extremely open, with excellent spatial cues in every direction. Bass is extremely deep and reminded me a lot of the cool subtle cues we heard in Saving Private Ryan at times. Dialogue is clear and balanced well with the onscreen action, and dynamics will give you a jolt quite a few times throughout the film. An impressive display of sound design.

Extras

Universal has continued its "U-Control" support and offers a feature video commentary with the director, as well as a cool look at all the ads you see throughout the film in their entirety. You also get a documentary on the film, some production features, deleted scenes, interviews, and the SD DVD presentation on the flipside.

- Kris Deering -

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Lionsgate

2005, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-ES 6.1

English Dolby Digital EX 5.1

 

Directed by Paul Haggis


Starring: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Crash" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Several stories interweave during two days in Los Angeles involving a collection of inter-related characters, a police detective with a drugged out mother and a thieving younger brother, two car thieves who are constantly theorizing on society and race, the white district attorney and his irritated and pampered wife, a racist white veteran cop (caring for a sick father at home) who disgusts his more idealistic younger partner, a successful Hollywood director and his wife who must deal with the racist cop, a Persian-immigrant father who buys a gun to protect his shop, a Hispanic locksmith and his young daughter who is afraid of bullets, and more.

Commentary

This Best Pictureģ winner is still one of the most powerful films I've seen in years. There isn't anything I can say bad about this film. The stories are all gripping, moving, and awakening. The cast is terrific with some of the most emotional evoking portrayals you will ever see. Epic filmmaking.

Technical

Make no mistake, this movie never really looked good. The film is shot to the mood of the story, coming off a bit noisy and a bit somber. Colors always appear a bit de-saturated, and most of the film has a bit of a cold look. Banding is noticeable in this one, and compression noise (dithering) is apparent a bit more than I would like to see for a film of this stature. Hopefully Lionsgate will revisit this one again at a later date and put a bit more into the video presentation.

The soundtrack holds up a lot better than the video. Lionsgate has included a DTS-ES discrete mix and a Dolby Digital EX track. Both sound very good, but I would give the edge to the DTS mix. It is a bit more enveloping, with better spatial cues. Dynamic range is impressive, and it is easy to get lost in the depth of the soundstage with the score. Dialogue sounds natural and is balanced well with the rest of the soundtrack. Surrounds keep you in the film, with nice discrete cues and a good mix of ambience.

Extras

Hate to say it, but there are none.

- Kris Deering -

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20th Century Fox

2006, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 43 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Steffen Fangmeier


Starring Ed Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Eragon" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In his homeland of Alagaesia, a farm boy happens upon a dragon's egg - a discovery that leads him on a predestined journey where he realized he's the one person who can defend his home against an evil king.

Commentary

I have several friends who have read this book, the first of the Inheritance Trilogy, and loved it. The author was in his late teens when he wrote this first installment, which is even more impressive.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from under-production, poor character development, and a poor pace for a rich storyline. Instead of developing an epic story with rich characters, the studio decided to rush through with only a sprinkle of character development, leaving you with no care at all for their fate and barely a glimpse of what the story should be. It is like the Cliff Notes version of a film that could have been great, especially considering the cast.

Technical

Fox has opted for a MPEG-2 encode with this one. I am not sure what their overall plan of action is for Blu-ray. They've been very inconsistent on what video compression format they've used, and their recent trend of delaying or postponing their titles is unsettling. Eragon may be one of their only day-and-date releases on Blu-ray, and the source print seems to be in fine shape.

Detail is lacking a bit considering its age, and I couldn't help but feel that the image had been either run through a filter or scaled in some way. There was just the finest amount of haze that prevented the detail we've seen from so many other new films.

Contrast is quite good though, and image depth is solid throughout. Some of the CG work doesn't blend well with the standard photography, but thankfully the dragon sequences are quite nice.

If there is one thing Fox has been consistent on, it's their high quality audio presentations. Like all of their releases so far, this one includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. It has its aggressive moments, and dynamics can be quite impressive at times. The soundstage is always rich, and the soundtrack makes the most out of the entire soundstage, with very active surrounds and aggressive use of the subwoofers. Imaging never falters, especially in the mains. Overall, this is a solid audio presentation that only falters in sound design, not presentation.

Extras

Extras are limited to the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Brothers

2005, Color, Rated G, 1 Hour 20 Minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Luc Jacquet

 

Narrated by Morgan Freeman

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"March of the Penguins" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

This is a look at the annual journey of Emperor penguins as they march, single file, to their traditional breeding ground.

Commentary

It's hard not to love this Academy Award winning documentary that paints a completely new picture of the incredible lives of Emperor Penguins. Narrated brilliantly by Morgan Freeman, the film covers the cycle of life in Antarctica from the march to the mating grounds, to the long wait with egg in tow that the males endure. This is by far one of the most amazing stories of survival I've ever seen. Anyone who ever thinks they have it rough in this world could learn a lesson or two from our fine friends down south.

Technical

I wasn't that impressed with the visual style of this release. The imagery has a softer feel to it, unless you're dealing with extreme close-ups. Some of the film looks like it was shot using digital hand cameras that don't match up with the resolution of the main photography. Underwater sequences display obvious banding, but most of the feature is devoid of compression artifacts.

It is hard to tell how much of the issues you see with this film are inherent in the photography style. What looks almost like ringing is apparent quite a bit, especially in longer shots, around the penguins as they march along. Contrast is decent, but the harsh lighting takes its toll on occasion and hurts depth and dimension. Don't expect the visual splendor that most Discovery HD or IMAX presentations give.

Didn't really expect much on the audio side. This film has a wonderful narration by Morgan Freeman, and the tonal balance of his voice sounds perfect. The film's subtle score is also a welcome addition to the mood of the story. I imagine this is a harsh environment for setting up microphones, but the production team did an outstanding job, even at the worst of times. All of the moans, calls, and chirps of the penguins are captured wonderfully, and the editing does a good job of making the most of them.

Extras

Extras include some production features, a National Geographic special, a Looney Tunes cartoon, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Lionsgate

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

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD ES 6.1

English Dolby Digital EX 5.1

 

Directed by Greg Coolidge


Starring 
Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, Dax Shepard, Andy Dick, Tim Bagley

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Humor

Language

Mild

"Employee of the Month" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

For years, Zack Bradley has been working hard at hardly working at the local Super Club. That's until a hottie named Amy becomes the new cashier. After discovering she's willing to date the next guy to become "Employee of the Month", Zack takes on current titleholder in a super-smackdown to see who will win the honor - and Amy's heart.

Commentary

I didn't have high expectations going into this one, and I'm glad I didn't. Sure, there are some pretty funny parts in the story, but it pales in comparison to work comedies like The 40-Year Old Virgin or Office Space. Dane has his moments, and the supporting cast offer some laughs, but most of the time the film seems a bit desperate for humor, or trying too hard to be romantic.

Technical

Since it is a new film, you can reasonably expect a pretty solid transfer. This one doesn't disappoint, but it seems a bit on the soft side for what it is. Some darker films come off a bit soft (normally from lack of contrast), but this is a fairly bright film. Despite that, it seems to have a level of haze that prevents the really fine details from shining through. Color rendition is good and a step up from what we would see on DVD, but the lack of pop keeps this one from really impressing.

Lionsgate has been delivering some really solid audio presentations on Blu-ray, and this one is another winner. The genre doesn't lend much to sound design, but the film does a good job of balancing the sense of space in the uber-mart with the poppy soundtrack.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, a bunch of short production features and gags, deleted scenes, and some trailers for other Lionsgate Blu-ray releases.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount

2007, Color, Unrated 1 hr 30 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Lucy Liu

 

Directed by Brian Helgland

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Payback - Straight Up: The Director's Cut" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

In Brian Helgeland's new Director's Cut of the film, Mel Gibson portrays Porter, a career criminal bent on revenge after his partners in a street heist pump metal into him and take off with his $70,000 cut.

Bad move, thugs. Because if you plan to double-cross Porter, you'd better make sure he's dead. Porter resurfaces, wading into a lurid urban underworld of syndicate kingpins, cops on the take, sniveling informants, and deadly gangs. Porter wants his money back.

Commentary

I've been anxious to see this since I heard rumors about it last year on some Internet sites. Payback wasn't a huge box-office success, but I really enjoyed it. It was refreshing to see such an anti-Hollywood film that wasn't afraid to have a bad guy lead and rather straightforward brutal violence.

This new cut is similar in a lot of respects, but the ending has completely changed. I personally prefer the other version, but this one is still quite entertaining. Think of it as a leaner version with no narration. It isn't spelled out quite as much as the theatrical cut, but it also makes Gibson's character a bit less likeable. Definitely worth seeing if you were a fan of the original version.

Technical

Paramount has done a great job with this picture. I didn't see any appreciable differences between the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions. The image has a very stark look to it, with excellent contrast. Colors are always a bit muted and have a bluish/gray tinge to them. Detail is excellent throughout, and the depth of the image is impressive from beginning to end. Fine film grain is apparent through most of the film and does waver in severity, but it actually lends to the feel of the story.

The soundtracks are slightly different for the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases. Paramount continues to favor HD DVD in this regard by offering a 1.5 Mbps DD+ soundtrack, while the Blu-ray release features a 640 kbps Dolby Digital soundtrack. The difference aurally is fleeting though. There is a bit more atmosphere on the HD DVD side, lending to a more cohesive soundstage. Dynamics are slightly more impressive with the HD DVD as well, but not by a large margin. Neither soundtrack will disappoint, and the action of the film delivers plenty of dynamics for action soundtrack enthusiasts.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, two production locale features, a look at making the new cut, and a interview with the director.

- Kris Deering -

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Sony Pictures Classics

2004, Color, Rated R, 1 hours 45 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Kenneth Cranham, George Harris, Sienna Miller

 

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Layer Cake" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A successful cocaine dealer, who has earned a respected place among England's Mafia elite, plans an early retirement from the business. However, big boss Jimmy Price hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy's old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. Complicating matters are two million pounds' worth of Grade A ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect, and a whole series of double crossings.

Commentary

I saw this movie when it was originally released on DVD a few years ago and liked it. I have to laugh at Sony's obvious ploy at redoing the cover art to cash in on Craig's recent Bond role. Anyone looking at this movie should realize that it's anything but a Bond film. Craig plays a somewhat "straight laced" coke dealer who is gearing up for his exit from the world of crime, only to be thrown to the wolves by the higher ups in the game. This is a solid crime thriller, and it is interesting to see Craig in the role that probably solidified his casting call for Bond. Definitely worth checking out.

Technical

This is a pretty solid offering from Sony. The video does have its moments of softness, but it may stem from the raised black levels, affecting contrast. I've seen this a lot with HD recently. Colors are consistently good, with some rather eye popping moments that reveal amazing color clarity and detail.

The image has a very film-like look to it, but I found some of the camera judder annoying at times. I watched this one using the 1080p24 output of the Sony BDP-S1, and some of the panning scenes early on were still pretty bad. This is at no fault of the encode, just merely an observation.

The soundtrack is quite aggressive and can sneak up on you at times. Dynamics are impressive, and viewers should be cautioned not to crank it up too high early on. Like most of the PCM soundtracks I've heard on Blu-ray, there is an admiral quality to the sense of soundstage. Everything feels very open. Legacy soundtracks from the DVD days had a more directional feel to them that you probably wouldn't have noticed much if you didn't get this kind of experience. The narration from the main character is balanced well with the film, and dialogue overall sounds very natural.

Extras

Extras include deleted scenes, a pair of alternate endings, a feature commentary, an interview session, and a production feature.

- Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

2003, Color, Rated R

1 hr 30 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

German Uncompressed PCM 5.1

German Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: John Cusak, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Rebecca DeMornay

 

Directed by James Mangold

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Identity" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Strangers from all different walks of life: a limo driver escorting a movie star, parents with a young son, a cop transporting a convict, a prostitute, a young couple, and a motel manager, are caught up in a nasty rainstorm, stuck at a motel in desolate Nevada.

Soon they realize they may be at the motel for another reason, when one by one, they start getting killed. As tensions flare and fingers are pointed, they have to get to the bottom of why they're there. Meanwhile, in an undisclosed location, a psychiatrist is trying to prove the innocence of a man accused of murder in an eleventh hour trial. How these two through-lines are related can only be found in Identity.

Commentary

Identity is a good thriller that provides nice chills and even better twists. Now I am not saying this is A+ list like Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, but it rises way above the below grade norm. At first there were instances that made it come off like a "slasher" movie, but that was quickly dismissed as the film continued on.

I donít want to say much more since this story's twists would be given away and that is the reason the film succeeds. I recommend anyone who watches this movie to know as little as possible about it before going in, because it will be a lot better that way.

Technical

Sony has encoded this one in AVC, a trend I would love to see continue with this studio. The master seems to be in excellent condition. The image has a great sense of detail and depth. Compression noise would definitely be an issue with a DVD transfer, but that is not the case with the BD release. Contrast is superb and lends to the dimensional feel of the image. This is a very dark movie, and it holds up quite well, with no blocking and only the slightest hint of banding on some occasions.

The BD-50 disc and AVC encode most have afforded Sony some space, because this disc has two uncompressed soundtracks: the original English track and a German soundtrack. Not really sure of the logic in that as German is not a very prevalent second language for a US release, but maybe this film did exceptionally well in that country. Nevertheless, this is a superb example of moody sound design and intense dynamics. The tone of the soundtrack is very ominous, and the thunderstorm provides a superb backdrop for soundstage and low end. Dialogue is balanced perfectly into the mix and is never drowned out by the ambience or action in the film. I loved this soundtrack on DVD, and it is even better on Blu-ray!

Extras

Extras include a director's commentary, deleted scenes, some storyboard comparisons, and a production feature.

- Kris Deering -

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