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Number 148 - July, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


Now Playing
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Shooter (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Battle of the Bulge (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Blood Diamond (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Wild Things (Blu-ray)
Lost in Translation (HD DVD) Breach (HD DVD)
Bridge to Terabithia (Blu-ray) The Warriors (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Harsh Times (HD DVD) Ghost Rider (Blu-ray)

Number 148 - July, 2007 - Part I

Number 148 - July, 2007 - Part II

Movie Reviews Index

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Paramount

2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 5 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

 

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Ned Beatty

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Graphic

Sex

No

Language

Bad

"Shooter" (DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Bobby Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) is a retired Army sniper who got left holding the bag after carrying out his duties in Somalia, so he does not have much respect for the US Government.

Col. Issac Johnson (Glover) comes to his mountain retreat and tells him that there has been an assassination threat against the President, and that Bobby is the only one who might be able to figure out how it might be done so that it can be stopped.

Bobby reluctantly agrees, and assesses the situation for an upcoming speech in Philadelphia where the President will speak along with an African leader.

Unfortunately, the African official is killed apparently by a bad shot, and then Bobby is set up to take the fall. He escapes, and along with the help of the widow of his former sniper partner, Sarah Fenn (Mara), as well as an uncorrupted FBI Agent, Nick Memphis (Pena), sets out for payback against the government forces that set him up, and a slimy senator involved in oil pipelines.

Commentary

Movies make a statement as to how the public feels about life in general at the time they are released, and this one spells out the feelings about our government during the past few years. It ain't pretty.

I read today that a poll showed that a majority would support impeachment of President Bush now. Vice President Cheney has a 9% approval rating. Congress approval rating is not much better. The Attorney General is implicated in several lies before Congressional Committees. Presidential Advisor Lewis Scooter Libby was convicted of a Federal crime, but prison sentence was commuted by his boss, President Bush.

Shooter reflects a rather low opinion of our leaders.

Technical

Although not the High Def version, Shooter in 480p still looks good. Colors, contrast, and overall sharpness are excellent. I have gone beyond the novelty of high definition, and am back to just enjoying the program material, and this movie is really enjoyable. (JJ)

The high definition presentation is quite impressive, though highly stylized. Contrast is stark, lending to very inky blacks and bright whites. This film looks like it could be a Bruckheimer production by the photography. Colors are very bold and well saturated, and I didn't notice any compression noise at all. If there was a difference in the Blu-ray version in comparison to the HD DVD, I didn't notice it.

The audio for the high definition releases is a bit different though. Like Paramount's past titles, the HD DVD gets the upper hand with its DD+ soundtrack at a much higher bitrate than Blu-ray's standard DD track. With past releases, I haven't noticed too much of a difference, but that wasn't the case here. The HD DVD had a more authoritative lower end, and detail in the bass seemed tighter. This was very apparent in the action scenes of the movie, especially toward the end of the film. For this reason alone, I would recommend the HD DVD over the Blu-ray release for those format-neutral HD fans out there who can go either way. (KD)

Extras

Extras include a production feature, info about the military advisor for the film, and deleted scenes. The HD release also has the trailer in high definition.

- John E. Johnson, Jr. and Kris Deering-

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Cinerama/Warner Brothers

1965, Color, Not Rated, 2 Hr 49 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Ken Annakin


Starring Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Telly Savalas, Pier Angeli, James MacArthur

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Battle of the Bulge" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

In December, 1944, the Allies thought that victory was eminent, and that they could be home for Christmas.

Hitler had other plans and ordered a huge push into Belgium through the Ardennes forest.

The attack was so large, it caught US forces off guard, and they had to retreat into the middle of Belgium. The front line then bulged inward, and was thus called "The Battle of the Bulge".

The film chronicles this battle, beginning with Lt. Col. Dan Kiley (Fonda) who is a combat photographer, gathering evidence to convince his superiors, Col. Pritchard (Andrews) and General Gray (Ryan) that the Germans are about to attack. They brush his opinions off as nonsense.

Meanwhile, Col. Martin Hessler (Shaw) is assigned the task of leading the Nazi charge into Belgium and prepares his men for battle.

The German attack ultimately was foiled, not by Allied military strength (the Allies were outnumbered and outgunned by the German Tiger tank), but by simply running out of fuel.

Commentary

I remember seeing this in the old Cinerama days, on the huge screen at the Cinerama theater. It was shot in 70mm UltraPanavision, at an aspect ratio of 2.55:1. 1965 was only about a decade into the wide screen movie era, and in those days, movie production often included scenes to show off the wide aspect ratio, such as having two people talk to one another from the far ends of the picture. Bulge has that. They also liked to have scenes with the camera on the front of an airplane or moving train, giving the audience a roller coaster thrill effect. Bulge has that too.

Unfortunately, Bulge is rather ponderous, relying more on the numerous big stars and the fact that Cinerama was very popular, rather than having a good script. Even though we know the outcome of the story, since it is historical, there could have been more surprises and shocks to keep us awake. Even at 2 hours and 49 minutes, some scenes were deleted from this release.

Technical

I had the Blu-ray version for review, and the picture is incredibly sharp, leading me to believe they took the high def image from either the camera negative or a 70mm print. Color is excellent as well. Nothing like a large film area for delivering a great picture.

The sound shows the age of the movie. However, Cinerama productions had multi-channel sound, so this old movie has discrete 5.1 that was native to the original (actually there were 6 tracks).

Extras

These include a commentary by the director and James MacArthur, and two features about how the movie was made.

- John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Warner Brothers

2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 23 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

Dolby Digital 5.1 English/French

 

Directed by Edward Zwick


Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Arnold Vosloo

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Strong

"Blood Diamond" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Amid the explosive civil war overtaking 1999 Sierra Leone, two men join for two desperate missions: recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value and rescuing the fisherman's son, conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces ripping a swath of torture and bloodshed across the alternately beautiful and ravaged countryside.

Commentary

This is a great film that I regret not seeing in theaters. An outside look at one of the many struggles in Africa, the film centers on the fighting and dying going on for the rough diamonds found throughout the land. DiCaprio gives an outstanding performance as a smuggler who uses a mine worker to find a large diamond while masquerading to help him find his son. The production value and story make this a great film and a nice addition to any movie lover's library.

Technical

I was a little worried what the image may look like on this one as it is a bit long and with the lossless soundtrack and boatful of extras, so I thought that the picture might suffer. Thankfully that is not the case.

This is a stylized film, and there are moments when the image doesn't retain that razor sharp feel that most of the close-ups and tighter shots have, but the detail and depth are excellent. Blacks are a bit elevated, which hurts contrast, but color rendition is excellent, as is fine object detail most of the film. I did notice slight banding in some of the "white outs" but they weren't much of a distraction

It is nice to see Warner finally supporting lossless soundtracks on their Blu-ray releases. It is a shame they didn't start doing this sooner. Both of these releases have very dynamic soundtracks that impact the most of the surround soundstage and the low end. Despite the active soundfield, dialogue and nuances are preserved nicely, giving it a nice balanced feel overall.

Extras

Extras are the same on both releases as far as production features, they are just presented differently. The HD DVD uses the IME feature we've become so used to, allowing you to see the content during the feature film. It is also encoded in VC-1 and a bit cleaner than what we see in the Blu-ray supplements. The HD DVD also goes further in adding online support, a new feature for the format, where you can download more content, including maps, and participate in online polls. Unfortunately, I am unable to plug my player into the web, so I was unable to take full advantage of this feature right now.

- Kris Deering -

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Mandalay Entertainment

1998, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English/French Dolby Digital 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

 

Directed by John McNaughton


Starring Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Theresa Russell, Denise Richards, Kevin Bacon

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Wild Things" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In south Florida, a high school counselor is accused of rape by a manipulative rich girl and her trailer trash classmate. The cop on the case begins to suspect a conspiracy and dives into an elaborate and devious web of greed and betrayal to find the truth.

Commentary

This is the unrated edition of this sexy thriller, but those looking for some more hotness may be in for disappointment. This new cut is more interesting, but mainly because it fleshes out the characters and story better. There is a bit more sizzle in the famous pool scene, but that is about it in the sex department. Still a solid thriller though.

Technical

This has always been a bit of a softer film, and the current release is no exception. Close-ups look quite good though and reveal plenty of detail. Colors are a bit more washed out than I would have liked, but I imagine it had to do with the fierce light they shot in.

Color balance wavers from scene to scene and can be distracting at times. Overall detail is similar. I also thought the image looked a bit shaky at times, so much so that I thought it was a frame rate problem, but varying the frame rate from 24p to 60p never changed a thing. Oh well.

The soundtrack is quite good, and I love the score in this one. It is playful and engaging and makes great use of the soundstage. Discrete sound effects are used more often than you would expect for this type of film, and there are some decent dynamics at times. Dialogue is consistently clear for the most part, but at times seems a bit boxed in.

Extras

No extras here.

- Kris Deering -

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Focus Features

2003, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Sofia Coppola


Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Lost in Translation" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Bob Harris and Charlotte are two Americans in Tokyo. Bob is a movie star in town to shoot a whiskey commercial, while Charlotte is a young woman tagging along with her workaholic photographer husband. Unable to sleep, Bob and Charlotte cross paths one night in the luxury hotel bar. This chance meeting soon becomes a surprising friendship. Charlotte and Bob venture through Tokyo, having often hilarious encounters with its citizens, and ultimately discover a new belief in life's possibilities.

Commentary

I've never understood all the hype with this film. Sure it is good, but the story isn't anything new. What it is though is a nice look at characters in a foreign environment and finding common ground. The love element is a bit too easy though, as I think any two normal people would find themselves in a situation like this given the chance.

Technical

I saw this on D-Theater and never really thought much of it, and this is more of the same. It doesn't look bad per se, but it isn't very impressive. Contrast wavers a lot, and depth isn't all that great. It has the look of rather used film stock, but I do like the colors. While I can't imagine it being improved upon much in the video department I doubt it will woo anyone.

The soundtrack isn't bad and has some nice atmosphere. The hustle and bustle of Tokyo is delivered nicely, and I thought the dialogue was recorded pretty well. Not much in terms of dynamics, but it has ambience and nice tonal balance

Extras

Extras include an interview with Murray and the director, a behind the scenes feature, and some deleted scenes.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 51 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p/480p

 

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Billy Ray


Starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Kathleen Quinlan

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"Breach" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Inspired by true events, Breach is a gripping and intense thriller that takes you deep inside the halls of the FBI for a top-secret investigation to uncover the greatest leak of classified information in the history of US Intelligence.

Commentary

I've been to countless training sessions on espionage and sat through LOTS of training on Agent Hanssen during my time in the military. This film depicts the events leading up to his arrest and sheds light on the young agent in training that helped nab him.

Performances are excellent across the board, especially from Cooper, and the pacing is excellent. Those looking for a great true-life thriller should check this one out.

Technical

Since Breach is such a new film, I was expecting more from this one. My biggest gripe is the edge enhancement that is so readily apparent throughout the movie. This is something I would expect from a DVD, but not from HD DVD. Studios, please don't let this turn into a trend. Detail is decent through most of the film though, and contrast excels.

The soundtrack is good for a thriller but not as exciting as some of the more action packed titles in the genre. Surrounds do a nice job of conveying space, and the front soundstage is nice and open. Dialogue sounds natural, but some of the ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) is off and distracting.

Extras

Universal uses the HDi capabilities of the HD DVD format for this one and gives you its U-Control features for behind the scenes footage and commentary while watching the film. There are also deleted scenes, production features, an inside looks at the FBI, and the true story of Robert Hanssen.

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney Pictures

2007, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English/French/Spanish DD 5.1

 

Directed by Gabor Csupo


Starring Josh Hutcherson, Annasophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Bridge To Terabithia" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Jesse Aarons trained all summer to become the fastest runner in school, so he's very upset when newcomer Leslie Burke outruns him and everyone else. Despite this and other differences, including that she's rich, he's poor, and she's a city girl, he's a country boy, the two become fast friends. Together, they create Terabithia, a land of monsters, trolls, ogres, and giants, and rule as king and queen. This friendship helps Jesse cope with the tragedy that makes him realize what Leslie taught him.

Commentary

The posters for this (and even the cover art really) made me think that this was a CGI film at first. I almost wonder if that was intentional. The film is based on a young adult novel that is quite old, and this isn't the first crack at it as a film.

Overall, I think Disney is successful here though. Rather than rely on branding, bad humor or their trademark channel actors, they do a good job of drawing you into the characters and not dumbing down the story.

The cover makes this look like a fantasy film, and it is a little, but the fantasy element is very brief. Overall, this is a touching story with good performances, and which is geared for the whole family.

Technical

This transfer is quite good, with excellent depth and a natural film-like look. I wouldn't say it was razor sharp, but it isn't lacking in detail at all. Color is spot on, but some of the CGI doesn't blend as well as bigger budget films. I did notice some image smearing toward the end as a result of the special effects, but otherwise not much to complain about here.

The soundtrack can be very dynamic at times and does an excellent job of creating mood and atmosphere. Surrounds are used nicely throughout the film ,with some interesting discrete effects. The low end is there when its needed, especially in the troll sequences.

Extras

Extras include a feature on the special effects, a production feature, and a music video.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount Pictures

1979, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 33 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English DD/DD+ 5.1

French/Spanish Mono

 

Directed by Walter Hill


Starring Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"The Warriors" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

A battle of gigantic proportions is looming in the neon underground of New York City. The armies of the night number 100,000; they outnumber the police 5 to 1; and tonight they're after the Warriors - a street gang blamed unfairly for a rival gang leader's death. This contemporary action-adventure story takes place at night, underground, in the sub-culture of gang warfare that rages from Coney Island to Manhattan to the Bronx. Members of the Warriors fight for their lives, seek to survive in the urban jungle, and learn the meaning of loyalty.

Commentary

I spent most of my childhood in the eighties, and my family watched A LOT of movies. For some reason this one never saw the light on our VHS player. But it is a popular film among my film lover friends, so I was excited to see it for the first time with this Ultimate Edition.

Overall, I think the movie was good, though not the classic I was hoping for. The tempo of the film was good enough and I never got bored, but at the same time, the action was a bit tame, especially for its R rating, and the characters didn't do too much for me. I am sure fans of the film will be MORE than pleased with this release, but I don't know when I'll be popping this one in the player again.

Technical

Wow, if only every movie I get in for review from the late seventies looked this good! Paramount has done a tremendous job with this presentation. The print condition is outstanding, and detail and pop are up there with the better new release films I've reviewed. If this title did have just a smidgen of blocking in blacks during some moments of the film, I would have probably given it a solid 5 for video. An outstanding job on this one on both formats!

The soundtrack doesn't hold up quite as well. While not bad, it shows its age and budget. Dynamics are a bit weak, and I just got that tinny sound that you hear so much in soundtracks from this time period. Synth-based rock makes up the majority of the score, and like all synth from that time period, it sounds mid-heavy. Dialogue also sounds a bit forward and not as natural as most modern day soundtracks.

Extras

Extras include an introduction by the director, production features, and the original trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Crave Films

2005, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 56 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English DD 5.1

Spanish DD 2.0

 

Directed by David Ayer


Starring Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Themes

Language

Strong

"Harsh Times" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

In South Central Los Angeles, the unbalanced, deranged and neurotic ex-Ranger Jim Luther Davis meets his best friend Miguel 'Mike' Alonzo to drink beers and smoke joints. Jim is expecting to join the LAPD and to marry his Mexican girlfriend Marta, while Mike is being pressured by his mate Sylvia to find a job. When Jim is refused by the police department, he becomes furious and begins a series of violent actions until he is called by a federal agency and assigned to work in Colombia.

Meanwhile, Mike gets a dream job, making Sylvia happy. Jim invites the weak Mike and their friend Toussant to spend the weekend in Mexico.

After some incidents, Jim returns bringing 20 kg of marijuana to Los Angeles, leading to a tragic end.

Commentary

Christian Bale is quickly becoming one of my favorite character actors. If you look at his film history, he has done such a great job of being flexible and experimental in his roles. This is no exception. Bale plays a war veteran haunted by his days as a special forces assassin and on the trail to finding a normal job and life. Unfortunately those days of killing have affected his psychological state and he is having a harsh time getting back into normal society.

Living in downtown LA isn't helping either. Drugs, violence and guns play their role over the few days, and he brings his friends into a downward spiral that can't have a happy ending.

Technical

The Weinstein Company has been a bit slow in their HD DVD rollout, but I'm glad to see that they are at least releasing titles. This one doesn't seem to benefit much from a high definition transfer though and doesn't look much better than an average upscaled DVD. The film has a soft look, with lots of film grain and noise. Colors are also all over the place, leading to an inconsistent look throughout the presentation. Contrast is good though, and detail overall is better than I would expect a DVD to have with my screen size.

The soundtrack is delivered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, a format I'm glad that more studios are supporting. With these new formats available, lossless and uncompressed soundtracks should be the norm for audio. This film has a pretty bass heavy hip hop soundtrack that does a great job of providing plenty of low end goodness. Dynamics are also very impressive in the action scenes, with plenty of atmosphere, surround activity, and dynamics. Dialogue is always clean, and imaging in the main soundstage is well balanced. A far better presentation in this department than the video.

Extras

Extras include a production feature, deleted scenes, a feature commentary, and a trailer gallery.

- Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

2007, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 03 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

French DD 5.1

 

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson


Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliot, Peter Fonda

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Ghost Rider" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Johnny Blaze was only a teenaged stunt biker when he sold his soul to the devil. Years later, Johnny is a world renowned daredevil by day, but at night, he becomes the "Ghost Rider". The devil's bounty hunter, he is charged with finding evil souls on earth and bringing them to hell. But when a twist of fate brings Johnny's long-lost love back into his life, Johnny realizes he just might have a second chance at happiness - if he can beat the devil and win back his soul. To do so he'll have to defeat Blackheart, the devil's nemesis and wayward son, whose plot to take over his father's realm will bring hell on earth - unless "Ghost Rider" can stop him.
 

Commentary

I'm not really feeling the comic book spin-off genre right now. For every good film, there are about four or five bad ones. Unfortunately, I would put this more in the latter category, though I have seen worse. It just seems like they go out of their way to create a moment rather than a film. Lots of spit and polish, but not much substance. The bad guys are also uninspiring. You do get some great CG eye candy though, and it does a good job of showing you how cool these new HD formats can look and sound.

Technical

Gorgeous image by Sony here. Plenty of detail, contrast, and depth. I was really impressed with how the colors looked through most of the film and how good fine detail was in the tighter shots. Some of the CG was outstanding and really a showoff point for the film, but some of it looked a bit cheesy and distracted a bit. Overall though, this is some great eye candy that I'm sure will be used to show off systems quite a bit.

The audio is presented in two next generation flavors: uncompressed PCM and Dolby TrueHD. This is only the second release from Sony that has this and I still think a single full resolution soundtrack in either format would be the preferred choice for most enthusiasts and early adopters. Nevertheless both flavors deliver, and this film spares no expense on the sonics. Dynamics are quite impressive, though this film doesn't have the sound design of some other high budget soundtracks. There is plenty of action though, with impressive use of the surrounds and the low end. When comparing the two soundtracks, I did notice a bit of difference, but not nearly enough to choose one over the other. The bass on the TrueHD soundtrack seemed a tad tighter, but the atmosphere in the PCM soundtrack seemed a bit more realistic and open. But I think most fans would be pleased with either.

Extras

Some good extras here including some making of documentaries, new footage, and two commentaries.

- Kris Deering -

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