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Number 147 - June, 2007

Kris Deering

 


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Curse Of The Golden Flower (Blu-ray) The Sopranos - Season 6 - Part I (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
The Skeleton Key (HD DVD) Trading Places (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Coming To America (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Smokey and the Bandit (HD DVD)
Innocence (Blu-ray) Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl (Blu-ray)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (HD DVD) Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest (Blu-ray)

Movie Reviews Index

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Sony Pictures Classics

2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

Chinese Uncompressed PCM 5.1

Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Zhang Yimou


Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Curse of the Golden Flower" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai. His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress, this seems disingenuous.

For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan, her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan, the Imperial Doctor's daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress's health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums.

Commentary

This film is director by the same person that did Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The film style is very similar with its breathtaking visuals and grand production design. The film is not nearly as action packed as the other two, but the action sequences are quite impressive.

Overall, I thought the story was good, but a bit long winded. The previous films I mentioned had more going on to keep your interest, whereas this film is a bit slow in storyline but captivating in detail and visuals.

Technical

Sony delivers a pretty decent image here. Detail is impeccable through most of the film, and the gorgeous colors of the interiors of the palace are quite the treat to look at. Depth of image is also quite impressive. I did see some rather severe banding in the beginning of the film when the backdrop is obviously CG and not very well incorporated into the film. There is also a lot of noise toward the end of the film during some of the longer shots of the palace exterior when it seems like the encode has issues with the resolution. Overall, this is a very good transfer, but it comes up short of what I would consider to be reference quality.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is very aggressive, and you can tell that sound design was very important to the production. The surround soundstage is heavily utilized, with some very cool discrete channel usage throughout. The low end is very prominent with excellent extension into the infrasonic range. The soundtrack is presented in the original Mandarin dialect, and subtitles are provided in the letterboxing. The dialogue sounds very clean and distinct, and its balance within the soundstage was very good.

Extras

Extras include a production feature and a look at the stateside premiere of the film. Trailers are also included.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 44 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Iain Softley


Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Skeleton Key" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

A young woman helping care for an invalid in New Orleans finds herself caught in the middle of morbid going-ons centered around a group of Hoodoo practitioners. Hoodoo is an old African American magic that only works if you believe in it, and is different than Voodoo.

Commentary

I saw this film quite awhile ago and wasn't that impressed with it back then either. It has its share of thrills with a few well placed jumps, but overall I thought it was a bit on the slow side and my interest started to waver. For a thriller, that is not a good thing. The acting in the film is great, but it is just a slow moving story that has been done before, but better.

Technical

While I may not like the film that much, it doesn't mean I didn't appreciate the excellent video presentation from Universal. Detail is exceptionally good here, with great dimension on longer shots. Colors are rich, and the southern Louisiana backdrop has excellent color tones and rich greens. Contrast is also excellent, and darker scenes are pretty much devoid of noise.

The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is also quite good, and the sound design goes a long way to help the story maintain atmosphere and thrills. The whole soundstage is utilized fully, and the design is very immersive. All of this is balanced well, with even the dialogue coming across as natural in tone and level. 

Extras

Extras are the same as the previous DVD release and include deleted scenes, interviews, production features, and a feature commentary.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount Pictures

1988, Color, Rated R, 1 hour 56 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 1.0

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

 

Directed by John Landis

 

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Coming To America" (HD DVD/Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Eddie Murphy plays an African prince on a mission to find a bride. On a whim he decides he should take his friend and loyal subject to Queens, NY. In disguise the pampered prince relishes the chance to test his mettle in the urban wilderness.

Commentary

I guess it is Eddie Murphy month for HD! Lots of films featuring the famed comedian hitting shelves recently. This one is one of his classics, but honestly it is one of my least favorites. It has some great moments in it, but I would be content to just see it on occasion on a local cable station. With so many great Murphy titles out there to choose from, this one would be low on the list.

Technical

This ended up looking far better than I expected, given its age and budget. The image is remarkably clean on both formats, with only some of the darker sequences revealing natural film grain. Colors are a bit subdued but present the typical look of films this age. Fine detail is quite good and at times rivals a lot of the newer movies I've been seeing in HD lately.

The soundtrack isn't quite as impressive as the visual display, but this has more to do with the sound design and recording limitations of the time. Like most films this age, the fidelity overall seems a bit limited, and the dialogue sounds edgier than I prefer. Imaging overall is very front heavy, but the music in the film livens things up a bit. I didn't detect much difference between the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions despite the higher bitrate used for the HD DVD release.

Extras

Extras include some production featurettes, music features, interviews, and a photo gallery. The trailer is also included in HD.

- Kris Deering -

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I.G. Cinema Selection

2004, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

Japanese Uncompressed PCM 7.1

Japanese DTS-ES Discrete 6.1

Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 EX

 

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


Starring:

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Innocence" (Blu-ray Import)

Synopsis

In the year 2032, Bato, a cyborg detective for the anti-terrorist unit Public Security Section 9, investigates the case of a female robot - one created solely for sexual pleasure - who killed her owner.

Commentary

The sequel to the hugely popular Ghost In The Shell film, Innocence takes Bato through an investigation of new developments. The film is largely hard to follow as it drifts into some pretty bizarre territory, but its depth and production design still make it a joy to watch. Fans of the original may be disappointed with the lack of action in comparison to the first film, but the production design has been stepped up considerably, along with the story's depth.

Technical

I picked up this disc from Japan as it is not available here in the states yet. This is an expensive disc to import, so casual fans may want to wait for a domestic release before getting it. The image quality is quite good, but not really a big step up from the already impressive DVD release currently available. The animation style doesn't lend to the remarkable nature that so many CG animated titles have, but the details are still impressive.

My only real complaint about the encode is the obvious banding that creeps in from time to time. This was a problem on the DVD release as well, and I hope it is something that will be addressed before a stateside HD release comes out.

The audio would be the main reason for fans of the movie to invest in this import. You are given several options, with the highlights being a discrete 7.1 uncompressed Japanese mix and a DTS-ES discrete mix. English subtitles are available so no worries there.

The sound design of this film has always been outstanding, and there are several scenes that I've used as demo material for years now. The uncompressed mix is the peach of the bunch and has excellent dynamics and atmosphere. The surrounds play a big role in the presentation, and you won't be disappointed with how they are rendered here. Unfortunately my SSP will not accept a full 7.1 soundtrack (few do), so I wasn't even getting the full benefit of the surround channels as they were intended.

Extras

Extras appear to be the same as the Japanese DVD release.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2005, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 13 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Judd Apatow


Starring Steve Carrell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Andy Stitzer has gone 40 years without "doing it." Now his pals are making it their mission to help him score . . . fast! Can he survive their hilariously bad advice? Will he land in the arms of the way-too-experienced or the way-too-drunk? Or can he find true love where he least expects - from a gorgeous grandmother?

Commentary

I was not expecting to care for this one much the first time I saw it, but I was pleasantly surprised. The film's comedy is great, and Carrell nails the part perfectly, making it that much better. Sure most of this is pretty stupid sex humor, but it does a great job with it.

Technical

This is a pretty big letdown for video. It is probably the worst HD DVD title I've seen yet in regards to edge enhancement, which is blatantly obvious throughout most of this film and very distracting. That is definitely something I don't miss from the DVD days and thankfully it hasn't been much of an issue on any HD format yet.

The image has a hard look to it that reminds me of an upscaled DVD more than a good HD presentation. Fine detail is decent, but it is obvious that some kind of processing has been done to the image, making it look processed. Unless you are a big fan of this film, I would probably hold off for a better transfer later down the road.

The audio is what you'd expect from a film like this. The music selections are really the only thing that get the soundtrack going. Dynamics are okay, and spatial imaging is about average for the genre. Dialogue sounds good enough though, and imaging across the main channels is excellent.

Extras

Another U-Control release for Universal. You can access interviews, production footage, and commentary while playing the film. All of the extras from the DVD release are also included.

- Kris Deering -

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HBO

2006, Color, Rated TV-MA, 12 Hours

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Blu-ray:

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by Various

 

Starring Edie Falco, Robert Lier, Michael Imperioli, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Tony Sirico, James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"The Sopranos - Season 6 - Part I" (Blu-ray/HD DVD )

Synopsis

An innovative look at the life of fictional Mafia Capo Tony Soprano, this serial is presented largely first person, but additional perspective is conveyed by the intimate conversations Tony has with his psychotherapist. We see Tony at work, at home, and in therapy. Moments of black comedy intersperse this aggressive, adult drama, with adult language, and extreme violence.

Commentary

Part one of the last season finds its way to HD. The Sopranos is without a doubt one of my favorite shows of all time and probably one of the greatest TV productions ever. HBO has decided to lengthen the last season of this popular show and broke it into essentially two seasons. The first part of this is presented here. Like the seasons before it, there is plenty going on, and it looks like HBO is going to do everything to wrap this one up in grand fashion.

Technical

This show airs in HD on HBO and I've managed to catch it a few times that way over the years. The presentation here is a step up in both detail and consistency. None of the compression artifacts that seem to plague cable broadcasts are here, and it seems to have removed the sheen that comes with that. This provides better color, contrast, and detail overall. While I wouldn't say this looks better than feature films do, it is one of the best looking TV shows I've seen.

In a rare move for Warner (they did the HD release for HBO) you see an obvious improvement for Blu-ray owners with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack. The HD DVD release has a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track. While the HD DVD sounds perfectly fine, I was more impressed with the atmosphere and range of the Blu-ray track. Both have their limitations though. You can tell some dubbing has been done during production, and the dialogue isn't always consistent because of this. The dubbing doesn't happen much, but its quite noticeable when it does. The musical selections sound outstanding on both releases. If I had to recommend one over the other, I would definitely lean toward the Blu-ray release for the improvements in audio.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary with the creators and some of the cast.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount

1983, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 46 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital 1.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 1.0

Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

 

Directed by John Landis


Starring 
Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Trading Places" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

The fun begins when the rich and greedy Duke Brothers wager a bet over whether born loser Valentine could become as successful as the priggish Winthorpe if circumstances were reversed. The Dukes have the money to make this happen, but when Valentine and Winthorpe catch on, they arrange for a rich and riotous payback!
 

Commentary

This is one of Murphy's earliest films and certainly one of his funnier movies. This film has a great supporting cast, and despite being a bit silly overall, the story is quite entertaining. Glad to see Paramount dipping this far into their vault this early on.

Technical

This is another solid looking transfer from Paramount here on both formats. Like Coming to America, I was surprised how well this film has held up. Detail overall is better than expected and more in line with what you would normally expect from a newer film. Colors are natural, though slightly subdued, but the image is crisp and dimensional. I did see some very slight compression, but it was the same with both releases, leading me to believe it was in the master used for the separate encodes.

The audio is what you'd expect from a comedy. The focus is mainly on the dialogue of the film, which is natural in tone and volume in relation to the rest of the soundtrack. The musical selections of the film are the only thing that open up the soundtrack from the center channel.

Extras

Extras are identical on both releases and the same as the special edition DVD. This includes some production features, deleted scenes, interviews, and trivia.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1977, Color, Rated PG, 1 hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed

 

Directed by Hal Needham

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Themes

Language

Mild

"Smokey and the Bandit" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

The Bandit has taken on his craziest haul yet: a trailer full of Coors beer. If he can deliver the goods from Texas to Atlanta within forty-eight hours, he'll be $80,000 richer. Hilarious mayhem ensues, however, when the Bandit falls for a runaway bride. As they push toward Atlanta, the two have to evade Fields' vengeful father-in-law, Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice. The stakes get higher and the car chases more frenzied in this hysterical romp through the American highways.

Commentary

Can't count how many times I saw this growing up, and I still love it. Good old fashioned no-good fun. I was really happy to see Universal add this to their slate of HD titles. Fans of shows like The Dukes of Hazard or films like Cannonball Run (crossing my fingers that one will come out soon) will enjoy this one.

Technical

Didn't really expect much going into this one. I've seen this film on several different formats and I've never been really impressed with the look of the film. This HD release is by far the best I've seen the film yet, but it isn't exactly gorgeous eye candy. Color and clarity have their moments though, and there are times I was genuinely impressed with the detail and depth. Film grain is a bit on the high side, and colors can be a bit washed out at times, but I doubt fans of the film will complain about this presentation.

The DD+ soundtrack is also better than I was expecting and holds up pretty well for its age and budget. Surrounds are used more than I would expect them to, and add a bit of excitement to the overall experience. Dialogue sounds good, but at times is a bit on the harsh side. Fidelity overall is decent, but dynamic range isn't as impressive as most modern day films. Considering the age of the film though, this is a nice presentation from Universal.

Extras

Extras include a making of feature and a tutorial on CB lingo.

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney

2003, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hours 23 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush

 

Directed by Gore Verbinski

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Mild

"Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

This swash-buckling tale follows the quest of Captain Jack Sparrow, a savvy pirate, and Will Turner, a resourceful blacksmith, as they search for Elizabeth Swann. Elizabeth, the daughter of the governor and the love of Will's life, has been kidnapped by the feared Captain Barbossa. Little do they know, but the fierce and clever Barbossa, along with his crew, are under an ancient curse, doomed for eternity to neither live, nor die. That is, unless a blood sacrifice is made, and guess who that might be.

Commentary

Just in time for the new adventures, Disney releases both of the first two Pirates movies to Blu-ray in their most impressive editions yet. The first film is still my favorite (and I've seen all three), and the most satisfying of the trilogy in my opinion. The action, pacing, comedy, and characters are all done perfectly, and I could never expect another film based on an amusement park ride to do so well. A must-own in my opinion.

Technical

I was never really that impressed with this film on DVD. The image had a lot of edge enhancement, and I thought a lot of the detail and contrast was lost. Not the case here. The image has incredible detail and depth. Color rendition is excellent, and I was floored by the level of fine detail that is conveyed at times. Unfortunately, there is some slight banding in some of the backdrops (namely fog), and I thought whites were a bit overdriven, giving the image an unnatural look at times and an appearance of clipping.

The uncompressed soundtrack is delivered in full 48/24 resolution (a trend I wish the other studios would follow) and is primo demonstration material. The sound design is superb, with excellent atmosphere, range, and dynamics. All of the action is balanced perfectly in the soundstage, and there are some impressive panning and discrete surround effects.

Extras

This two-disc set features all the extras from the special edition DVD set plus some new Blu-ray features. There is a look at the history of pirates and some impressive menu design too. Be wary though, these Pirates discs have been having playback issues on a lot of players, so be sure yours has the most recent firmware!!

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hours 30 minutes

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Gore Verbinski

 

Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Bill Nighy

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Charming rogue pirate Captain Jack Sparrow is back to wreak hilarious havoc on the high seas. Jackís got a blood debt to pay: he owes his soul to Davy Jones, ghostly Ruler of the Deep. You will get caught up in the whirlpool of Jackís misadventures as he schemes to avoid eternal damnation by seizing the fabled Dead Manís Chest.

Commentary

The second Pirates movie upped the ante in terms of production, but I didn't find it quite as enjoyable as the first. I don't know why, but I guess it is a bit slower and at times a bit too goofy for its own good. The special effects are outstanding though and the character Davy Jones is probably one of the most impressive uses of CG I've seen to date. That said, this is still better than most Summer blockbusters and a fun ride.

Technical

This film looks a bit better than the first Pirates movie on Blu-ray and is one of the best HD presentations I've seen. I would definitely put it in my top five. There is just nothing to complain about. Depth and detail are outstanding, and I never saw any compression issues. Contrast is quite a bit better than the first film, and I never saw any issues with whites like I did with the first one. A reference transfer.

The sound presentation is also top notch and a great piece for demos. Dynamic range is exceptional, and the use of the surround soundstage is one of the best I've heard to date. Bass is, for lack of a better word, CRAZY on this release and the bottom end has definitely been ramped up in comparison to the first film. Nevertheless, everything is balanced well, and imaging remains tight throughout the film, culminating in one of the best soundtracks you'll find on these next generation discs.

Extras

Like the first film, this disc is giving a lot of players issues because of the advanced features found on it. That is too bad, as it is a bit of a pain to update most Blu-ray players. All of the extras from the DVD release are included here, as well as a new high-def game based on the one in the film. This was fun, but a bit hokey. The menus are pretty cool though, but take a while to navigate, since Disney has not opted to let you skip them or the previews.

- Kris Deering -

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