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Number 146 - May, 2007

Part I

Kris Deering

 


Now Playing
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Catch & Release (Blu-ray) The Road Warrior (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Renaissance (HD DVD Import) Cruel Intentions (Blu-ray)
Dreamgirls (Blu-ray/HD DVD) The Nutty Professor (HD DVD)
Donnie Brasco: Extended Cut (Blu-ray) The Queen (Blu-ray)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (HD DVD) Happily N'Ever After (Blu-ray)

Number 146 - May, 2007 - Part I

Number 146 - May, 2007 - Part II

Movie Reviews Index

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Columbia Pictures

2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Susannah Grant


Starring: Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, Sam Jaeger, Fiona Shaw, Juliette Lewis

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Catch & Release" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Gray Wheeler just lost everything. But it could be the best thing that ever happened to her. After the death of her fiancé, Gray moves in with her late love's best friends. While Sam and Dennis do their best to cheer Gray up, Fritz doesn't seem to care. Once Gray breaks through Fritz's defenses, however, she finally sees why her fiancé thought so highly of him. As they spend more time together, Gray learns that her chances for love have not died out with her fiancé. But when some surprise guests show up on their doorstep, it'll take the love of all of her new friends to help Gray learn that life may be messy, but love is messier.

Commentary

This rather by the numbers romantic comedy (of sorts) does a decent job of keeping you interested but tends to be a bit overly sappy. I found this funny since the film actually tries to poke fun at other Hollywood films that try to be overly dramatic. Garner is decent in the lead, but I actually enjoyed the supporting cast more and felt they did a better job of convincing me of the drama that ensues. It would make an okay date movie, but there are a lot better ones out there in my opinion.

Technical

Sony has really been on a roll lately when it comes to video presentations. This is a newer film, so of course you would expect it to look pretty good, and it does. The image has a very natural film like look to it and never really creeps into that "ultra sharp realism" that we see with some other HD titles. Colors are warm and never oversaturated, and detail overall remains consistently good. While I don't think I would use this to show off HD, it is far from disappointing.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack does a great job of conveying the ambience and atmosphere of the environment, which is about all you can ask from a film like this. Dialogue always sounds natural, and the imaging is great across the main channels. Some of the film's soundtrack selections add a bit of dynamic range, but ultimately this is cookie cutter for the genre.

Extras

Extras include deleted scenes, audition footage, a production feature, and two feature commentaries.

- Kris Deering -

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Odyssey Entertainment

2006, B&W, Rated R, 1 Hr 41 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

German DTS-HD MA 5.1

English DTS-HD 5.1

 

Directed by Christian Volckman


Starring Daniel Craig, Romola Garai, Ian Holm, Kevork Malikyan, Catherine McCormack, Jonathan Pryce

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Renaissance" (HD DVD German Import)

Synopsis

In 2054, Paris is a labyrinth where all movement is monitored and recorded. Casting a shadow over everything is the city's largest company, Avalon, which insinuates itself into every aspect of contemporary life to sell its primary export: youth and beauty. In this world of stark contrasts and rigid laws, the populace is kept in line and accounted for.

Commentary

I saw some trailers and sneak peeks for this on the Internet last year and was intrigued enough to want to catch it at some point. Miramax plans on releasing this one in a few months on DVD here in the states but no word on a US HD release (it will be a Blu-ray title if it does show up). The film is entirely in black and white (with the exception of a couple shots where the character is drawing), and it has amazing visuals. The story is quite good too, but the film isn't an action spectacle or even that much of a sci-fi epic. It is more of a mystery thriller set in the future with some sci-fi tie ins. Ultimately it ends up being worth watching, but not really ground breaking.

Technical

Since this is black and white, I was worried that we may see some banding. Thankfully, I only saw it once, and it was far from distracting. The depth and detail of this image are outstanding and will put a lot of digital displays to the test. If you aren't seeing a lot of dimensionality and depth, you're display is probably lacking in contrast. My only real complaint with the image is some occasional line twitter that happens with some of the fine detail, almost as if the source material couldn't hold the detail intended or it was rendered that way. I saw this a few times. Otherwise this is a visual treat that is so good sometimes, it is distracting.

This is the German HD DVD release, so the German soundtrack got the lossless encode. The English soundtrack is still quite good and has some familiar actors doing the voice work. Lip synching is a tad off, but not enough to distract much. Dynamics are quite good, and some of the sound design is quite cool. There are some camouflage suits in this that makes some trippy sounds when the characters use them, and the action scenes hold their own against most films I've seen.

Extras

All of the extras on this release are in German and not much is to be had.

- Kris Deering -

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Dreamworks Pictures

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hour 10 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Bill Condon

 

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Dreamgirls" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Based on the 1981 Broadway musical comes Dreamgirls, a story of greed, tough hate, and romance. Three young women Deena Jones, Effie White, and Lorrell Robinson desire to become pop stars, and they get their wish when they're picked to be backup singers for the legendary James "Thunder" Early. Then they're set free for leads, but Curtis Taylor and Effie's brother C.C. decide for Deena to be lead which upsets Effie.

Commentary

Hollywood is really getting into the musicals lately. That is fine, as I was a big fan of musicals when I was growing up and my parents made sure I saw plenty of them. This is based on an early eighties Broadway show and it is good, but I think the hype surrounding it may have made my expectations a bit too high. The songs didn't do much for me and came off a bit forced. I also thought the passing of time in the film wasn't represented as well as it could have been, making it hard to sympathize with the characters. Performances are pretty solid all around, but I may be the minority in thinking that Hudson's acting was not Oscar worthy. Good, but not that good.

Technical

This is the first title from Dreamworks that I've reviewed (or seen) on the new HD formats. I am happy they've finally come aboard and can't wait for them to start releasing their catalog titles (Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan anyone?)

Paramount is handling their HD titles and is doing the same thing they've done for their own titles. This includes MPEG-2 encodes for BD and VC-1 for HD DVD. I am still unsure why they are doing separate encodes, but I guess they have their reasons. Both encodes look quite good, and I really didn't see much of a difference overall. At times the HD DVD seemed to handle the darker sequences a bit better with a bit more detail, but it was tough to tell without having two monitors side by side to do comparisons. Both releases have great depth and dimension, and the colors are quite good.

While the picture quality isn't that much different between the BD and HD DVD versions, I thought the soundtracks differed enough for me to recommend the HD DVD release over the Blu-ray presentation. Paramount continues to use lossy soundtracks (making them the only one now) and limits the BD release to a 640 kbps Dolby Digital mix while giving the HD DVD release a 1.5 Mbps DD+ mix. The result is a bit more ambience and detail in the HD DVD release, especially in the musical numbers. This is a release that would have benefited from a lossless or uncompressed soundtrack, and I hope that Paramount comes around at some point to offer this with its titles. The soundstage is quite powerful in both mixes but can be a bit front heavy at times. I wasn't the biggest fan of the musical selections of the films, so I didn't enjoy the music nearly as much as some other recent musicals.

Extras

Dreamworks and Paramount have done a nice two-disc special edition here, featuring extended musical performances from the film and a performance that wasn't in the theatrical release. There is also a documentary on making the film, production features, audition footage, and early production ideas. It's a very complete package for film fans that is identical on both releases.

- Kris Deering -

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Mandalay

1997, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 27 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Mike Newell


Starring: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, Anne Heche

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Donnie Brasco: Extended Cut" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

This true story follows FBI agent Joe Pistone as he infiltrates the Mafia of New York. Befriending Lefty Ruggiero, Pistone (under the name Donnie Brasco) is able to embed himself in a Mafia faction lead by Sonny Black. Ruggiero and Pistone become tight as the group goes about collecting money for 'the bosses'.

Eventually, the group become big time when Black himself becomes a boss, all the while Pistone collects evidence. However, the trials and tribulations of the undercover work become more than Pistone can bear. His marriage falls apart, and to top it off, the mafia suspect a mole in the organization. The real dilemma is afforded to Pistone, who knows if he walks away from the Mafia, Ruggiero will be the one punished.

Commentary

I've seen this one several times, and I always enjoy the strong performances by Pacino and Depp. I also enjoy the fact that Pacino doesn't play his typical part in this and comes off as a person who can actually make mistakes. Donnie Brasco does a great job of conveying how hard it must be for undercover agents in this field of work and making relationships with the people you know you eventually have to take down. Depp is brilliant as always and steals the show a bit from Pacino, despite his great performance too.

Technical

Didn't really know what to expect from this one in terms of video. I've seen this film plenty of times but don't recall it looking anything close to outstanding, but that is the case here. The image is generally bright, especially in some of the more tropical locales in the film, and detail and depth are excellent all around. Some of the darker scenes in the movie have some natural film grain, but nothing that distracts much. Fine detail is far better than what I would expect from a film of this age (I know, ten years is SO old isn't it).

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is consistent with Sony's track record of open, airy, and dynamic soundtracks. The soundstage is very realistic and nothing comes across as forced or out of place. Dialogue is completely natural and balanced well with the rest of the soundstage, and dynamics can pack quite a punch in the action scenes.

Extras

Extras include an interview with the real Donnie Brasco, a production feature, trailers, and a photo gallery.

- Kris Deering -

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Focus Features

2004, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 48 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Michel Gondry


Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

A man awakes disheveled. Impulsively, he skips work, heading instead to the shore. On this chilly February day, a woman in orange, hair dyed blue, chats him up. She's Clementine, he's Joel, shy and sad. By day's end, he likes her. The next night she takes him to the frozen Charles River. After, as he drops her off, she asks to sleep at his place, and she runs up to get her toothbrush. Strange things occur: their meeting was not entirely chance, they have a history neither remembers.

Commentary

This is a brilliant film in my opinion and one of the best freshman efforts I've seen from a music video director. The story is instantly relatable and the characters are outstanding. Carrey and Winslet do some of their best character work ever, and Gondry's visual style lends to the rich dream-like feel and emotion of the film. I highly recommend this one for dates or when you're just looking for a great film to watch.

Technical

I saw this quite a while back on cable in HD and thought the image was decent overall. I am pretty much under the same impression here, although the image is quite a bit better on the disc due to the lack of compression artifacts that riddle HD broadcasts.

Contrast is superb in this film, and the punch of the colors makes for quite an enjoyable visual experience. Detail is quite good, but not quite as good as some of the more polished films available in HD. Film grain and some digital noise are present through most of the film, so don't expect an extremely clean presentation.

The 5.1 DD+ mix is fun and uses the full soundstage rather well. The film is a tad front heavy when it comes to mixes, but the surrounds do add some interesting bits throughout the film. The sound design is as quirky as the production design and adds a lot to the overall experience. Dialogue always sounds very natural, and the imaging with the onscreen picture is excellent.

Extras

All the extras of the special edition DVD are here, including a production feature and inside look at the making of the film, deleted and extended scenes, interviews, a feature commentary, and the Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene episode.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1981, Color, Rated R, 1 Hours 35 Minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Stereo

Spanish Stereo

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Stereo

Spanish Stereo

 

Directed by George Miller

 

Starring Mel Gibson

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"The Road Warrior" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

A former police officer is now a lone wanderer, traveling through a devastated Australia after a nuclear war, looking for the now-priceless petrol. He is none too pleased when he finds himself the only hope of a small group of honest people running a remote oil refinery. He must protect them from the bike gang that is terrorizing them while transporting their entire fuel supply to safety.

Commentary

This is the sequel to the Indie hit Mad Max and the film that probably sparked Gibson's epic career. I saw this countless times as a child and I still enjoy it today. The premise is nothing new, but the execution still holds up well. The stunt work was phenomenal given the budget and I still love the script. It's a solid catalog favorite that is easily recommended.

Technical

I can't even count the number of times I've seen this film over the years. Many times as a child alone (that may be bad or good depending on how you look at it). But I've never seen it look close to this good. Warner has done an outstanding job restoring this film, and the print looks to be in tremendous shape. Detail is FAR better than I would have expected from a film of this age and budget.

The image has incredible depth most of the time, and the fine detail in the characters and in the cars is really unbelievable at times. The print does have some wear to it, and film grain is noticed on occasion, but I don't think you could ever expect it to look this good.

The soundtrack is the same for both formats and a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the video. The balance of sound seems to be off a bit, with dialogue being quite a bit lower than the action and Foley effects. This is distracting in the action scenes, which pretty much dominate this type of film. The sound design is dated, so don't expect too much range in the lower end.

Extras

Both versions have an exclusive commentary with the director and cinematographer, as well as an introduction by Leonard Maltin. The trailer is also included.

- Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

1999, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 37 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Roger Kumble


Starring 
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Cruel Intentions" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Kathryn makes a bet that her step-brother, Sebastian, won't be able to bed Annette (a virgin, who wants to wait until love). If he loses, Kathryn gets his Jaguar; if he wins, he gets Kathryn.

Commentary

This is an above average teenage sexual angst film that borders on being REALLY good, but has a few faults that limit it overall. I hate Selma Blair's character in this film, and the whole subplot that involves her drags the film down in my opinion, making it goofier than I think it needs to be. This drowns out the seductiveness of the story and makes it hard to establish the sexy mood the film is obviously trying to achieve.

The young cast is good, but at times some of the acting is a bit dramatic and overdone. While this isn't a bad movie, it is a far cry from the better sexy thrillers out there.

Technical

The transfer here is a bit too inconsistent for me. There are times when the quality of the image and level of detail are outstanding, only to have the next scene come off washed out and soft. The outdoor sequences during the day are definitely the highlight and exhibit excellent color reproduction and detail.

Some of the color in this film borders on oversaturation but manage to convey pop without noise or bleeding. Compression does not seem to be much of an issue, as nothing really stood as being distracting.

The audio presentation is what I would expect from a film like this. The PCM soundtrack conveys atmosphere nicely, but the soundstage is not as open and airy as most of the films I've watched lately. Dialogue always sounds natural, though I did notice a few lip-synching issues throughout the film that may be a result of poor ADR. Dynamics only shine with the few musical selections of the film, like most movies of this nature.

Extras

Like The Guardian, Buena Vista has included an interactive window experience that allows you to see different parts of the production and interviews while the movie is playing. This is all done in a way that lends to the theme of the film and is pretty good for a supplement. You also get some deleted scenes and extended scenes, as well as some shortcuts to scenes for demos.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1996, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett-Smith, James Coburn, Dave Chappelle

 

Directed by Tom Shadyac

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Themes

Language

Mild

"The Nutty Professor" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Sherman Klump is an incredibly fat and good-hearted man. He is a college professor on the verge of a breakthrough in DNA restructuring when he meets an admirer of his, named Carla, who is a teacher new to Klump's college. He is enamored, but is frustrated by his tremendous bulk. He then decides to test a formula on which he's been working on himself. He is then transformed into the lecherous swinger, Buddy Love, and romantic complications ensue.

Commentary

I don't know what everyone saw in this film, but it grossed a lot of money for Universal and rekindled Murphy's career in a lot of ways. I imagine Universal decided to bring this out to cash in on the recent release of Norbit, but I don't think that film did quite as well as this one did. I love the effects work in this movie, but the comedy just didn't do much for me. The fact that Murphy plays most of the characters was also distracting at times, but he pulled it off quite well.

Technical

The print condition of this release seems to be quite good, lending to a very detailed and very punchy image. Colors are very pronounced and give you a real visual treat most of the time. There are plenty of scenes in this film that I would gladly use for demonstrating crisp HD video. Some of the longer shots don't fare as well though, and become a bit smeared in detail and depth. This is probably a limitation of the filming style, but it is something I noticed on several occasions during the story. The print is quite clean, and I only spotted a hint of compression noise here and there.

The audio presentation is about average for a comedy. The music lends to the most to the overall range and atmosphere. Dialogue sounds very natural, with nice imaging across the main channels, and the surrounds are used quite frequently to enhance the overall presentation.

Extras

Trailers are included but that is it.

- Kris Deering -

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Miramax

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 hour 43 Minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Helen McCrory

 

Directed by Stephen Frears

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Queen" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

The Queen is an intimate behind the scenes glimpse at the interaction between HM Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair during their struggle, following the death of Diana, to reach a compromise between what was a private tragedy for the Royal family and the public's demand for an overt display of mourning.

Commentary

I was excited to see this one, as I had heard a lot of positive buzz on it and Mirren's Academy Award win. The film follows the Royals and the new Prime Minister through the Princess Diana tragedy and the rather unpopular handling by the Queen. The story presents the events from quite a few different perspectives and it makes it easy to understand how different opinions could have been reached by the British public during the events.

Mirren is superb in the role, and her supporting cast is excellent. While I don't think I would recommend a purchase, the film is worth seeing in my opinion.

Technical

Buena Vista has encoded this one using VC-1, a rare move on their part, as they've been favoring AVC quite a bit lately. The image has quite a few swings in it, making a score very hard. Blocking was quite evident on a handful of occasions, especially in solid colors, which is a rare distraction nowadays. Detail can be outstanding at times with some of the shots looking like they were probably shot with HD cameras. This is a good and a bad thing, as some shots almost looked overprocessed, like the actors were in front of green screens and not in a natural environment. Film grain pops in when the lighting gets darker, but brighter scenes are extremely clean and detailed. Overall this isn't a bad looking image, but it seemed like a bit more polish could have helped out the end result.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is good, and about what you would expect from a drama of this type. Dialogue always sounds good, with nice imaging across the mains but the overall sense of ambience is on the low side.

Extras

Extras include some trailers and two separate commentaries. There is also a production feature on making the film.

- Kris Deering -

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Lionsgate

2007, Color, Rated PG, 1 hour 27 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Paul J. Bolger

 

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Andy Dick, George Carlin, Sigourney Weaver

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Happily N'Ever After" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

An alliance of evil-doers, led by Frieda, looks to take over Fairy Tale Land. But when Ella realizes her stepmother is out to ruin her storybook existence, she takes a dramatic turn and blossoms into the leader of the resistance effort.

Commentary

This is a different take on the fairy tale genre but similar enough to Shrek to make you feel that its been done before. The plot centers mainly around the Cinderella story, but this time the wicked stepmother takes over Fairy Tale Land due to some loose lips and shenanigans of two wizards helpers.

Overall, this is geared for a much younger age, and I doubt many adults would enjoy it. The animation is also far simpler than we've seen from most big budget films and reminded me more of what we see on TV nowadays.

Technical

The animation style is really only a small step above most of the computer animation you see on The Disney Channel lately, so don't expect too much eye candy. I was quite impressed with the dimensionality of the image though. The characters do look very 3-D, and the color is exquisite. It seems the animators had some issues with some of the detail, as line twitter, moiré, and jaggies are noticed more often than I would like. Banding is also evident from time to time. Like most digital animation, there is plenty to ogle, but there is also a lot to leave you wanting.

The sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio as well as standard Dolby Digital. The sound design overall is decent, but nothing too exciting. Animation is usually a lot of fun when it comes to sound, since the producers have a clean slate to start with. This one tries pretty hard, but the mix is inconsistent most of the time. The balance of onscreen action and music is quite poor. The music sounds like it is barely there in some of the more exciting sequences and almost distracts from the film. Bass is clean and deep, but is a bit over pronounced.

Extras

Lots of extras here from Lionsgate. There are some deleted scenes and an alternate ending. There are also some production features that lend insight into the making of the feature. A director's commentary and some games are also included.

- Kris Deering -

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