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Number 151 - October, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


Now Playing
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Surf's Up (Blu-ray) Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
Becoming Jane (HD DVD) Elizabeth (HD DVD)
Masters of Horror - Season One - Vols. 1 & 2 (Blu-ray) Evil Dead II (Blu-ray)
The War (HD DVD) The Replacement Killers (Blu-ray)
Underworld (Blu-ray) What Dreams May Come (HD DVD)

Number 151 - October, 2007 - Part I

Number 151 - October, 2007 - Part II

Number 151 - October-2007 - Part III

Movie Reviews Index

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Columbia Pictures

2007, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 25 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

French/Spanish DD 5.1

 

Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck


Starring: Shia Labeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Surf's Up" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Surf's Up is an animated feature that goes behind the scenes of the high-octane world of competitive penguin surfing. The film profiles Cody Maverick, an up-and-coming surfer as he enters his first pro competition. Inspired by his hero, a legendary wave rider named Big Z, Cody leaves his family and his town of Shiverpool, Antarctica, to travel to Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off.

Cody believes that winning will bring him the admiration and respect he desires. But when he unexpectedly comes face to face with a washed up old surfer named The Geek, Cody begins to understand that the greatest champion isn't always the one who comes in first.

Commentary

When the trailers for this came out, I wasn't very enthusiastic about seeing it. My daughter asked to go though, so I made the trip. I am really glad I did. I really liked this one. The comedy is great, the characters are great, and I thought the approach and execution were really original. Instead of just another penguin movie, you get a funny inside look at penguin surfing in this mock-documentary. The animation is incredible, and the film has lots of heart. Perfect family fun!

Technical

Having seen this in the local cinema I had a little bit of a heads up on what to expect visually. I think people will be on the fence with this one because of the style choices the filmmakers went with.

Personally, I loved it. They went for a documentary look and mimicked lots of different filming styles, complete with their flaws. But they pull it of perfectly.

So what you get isn't the normal super crisp and punch digital animation. Instead you get some soft focus, scan lines, film wear and tear, the whole bit. There are moments when the full power of the animation comes through, but it isn't that often. I think this transfer captures the intent of this film perfectly, but some may be disappointed depending on their expectations coming in.

Sony has included two different high resolution audio options. There is a 16-bit PCM soundtrack and a full 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Honestly, there wasn't much of a detectable difference if any at all, but I'm glad to see Sony supporting full resolution lossless soundtracks. This film's sound design isn't as aggressive as some of the other animated films out there, but it's fun. The soundtrack is more rock/pop based, and that livens things up a bit. Some of the big wave riding toward the end of the film has some great dynamics and low bass, and the rear soundstage is pretty active most of the film.

Extras

Some great extras here. The highlight is the HD presentation of the Academy Award winning animated short film The ChubbChubbs. This was included way back in the day on the Men In Black DVD. On top of that you get the new sequel, The ChubbChubbs Save Xmas, which is funny but not quite as good as the original. Also included are some commentaries, production features such as a look at making the animation, a pinball game, a music video, and some themed fun features for the kids.

- Kris Deering -

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BBC Films

2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD 5.1

 

Directed by Julian Jarrold


Starring Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Themes

Language

Mild

"Becoming Jane" (HD DVD Import)

Synopsis

The year is 1795, and young Jane Austen is a feisty 20-year-old emerging writer who already sees a world beyond class and commerce, beyond pride and prejudice, and dreams of doing what was then nearly unthinkable marrying for love.

Naturally, her parents are searching for a wealthy, well-appointed husband to assure their daughter's future social standing. They are eyeing Mr. Wisley, nephew to the very formidable, not to mention very rich, local aristocrat Lady Gresham, as a prospective match.

But when Jane meets the roguish and decidedly non-aristocratic Tom Lefroy, sparks soon fly, along with the sharp repartee. His intellect and arrogance raise her ire then knock her head over heels. Now the couple, whose flirtation flies in the face of the sense and sensibility of the age, is faced with a terrible dilemma. If they attempt to marry, they will risk everything that matters family, friends, and fortune.

Commentary

My wife has been bugging me to go see this in theaters as it is still making its rounds here in the states. Thanks to the beauty of HD DVD's region free stance, I imported this title from the UK using Amazon. With movie ticket prices what they are today, it didn't cost much more than going to the evening show and having some snacks (heck, it may have been cheaper!)

The film doesn't bring anything new to the table and plays out a lot like the movies that have been adapted from Austen's novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice. The scenery is gorgeous though, and the acting is quite good. Fans of the genre would probably do well to catch this one in their local Cineplex or pick it up like I did.

Technical

The HD transfer is encoded in VC1 and looks very good most of the time. The photography is gorgeous, and the lush English backdrop provides plenty of eye candy. Contrast and depth are also first rate. Fine detail is everywhere, especially in the outdoor scenes, and makes for some nice showoff material. I did notice some minor macroblocking in two different sequences (both were very dark), but other than that, this is a very good-looking HD DVD.

The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD and is good for the genre. Ambience is probably the best aspect, and the soundstage is rich with it. Dialogue can sound a bit forward at times, but never too distracting. Dynamic range wanders a bit, but this isn't material that I was expecting much from.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, some production features, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery.

- Kris Deering -

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Starz

2007, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 49 min/ 2 hours 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1

1080i

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English DD 5.1

 

Directed by Various


Starring Various

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Masters Of Horror - Season One - Vols. 1 & 2" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

These two volumes encompass six episodes of the critically acclaimed Starz horror series. Directors John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, William Malone, Dario Argento, Lucky McKee, and John Landis all contribute some truly creepy tales.

Commentary

I'm a big fan of horror movies, and most of these directors are favorites of mine. I'd heard about this series for some time now but never had the chance to watch it (I don't have Starz).

Seeing them in HD and on Blu-ray was a great treat. All of the stories are solid, though some are better than others. Some of the more sexy ones start going off in some weird directions in Vol. 2,  But I must say the production value is far better than I expected from a cable series. Fans of horror would be remiss to not check these out.

Technical

Both volumes are presented in 1080i, just like they were presented on StarzHD. The image quality is solid overall, though slightly soft at times. Remember that your overall image quality will vary depending on the playback device you are using as not all displays or Blu-ray players handle 1080i properly (especially converting to 1080p or 720p).

The films have a video look to them, meaning they are a bit smoother than film-based content. Contrast is good overall, and detail is never an issue. I doubt fans of the show will be disappointed.

The audio presentation is what I expected from a cable TV series. Atmosphere is very good, and the different scores bring lots of fun to the table. I especially liked the one for Cigarette Burns on Vol. 1, it reminded me a lot of Carpenter's early scores for some of my horror favorites. Dynamics are a bit limited, but I imagine that had to do with budget. Both volumes have uncompressed PCM soundtrack options, which was surprising and a nice touch.

Extras

Extras are pretty much the same on both volumes. Each short film has a feature commentary with either producers, directors, or stars of the film.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1994, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 6 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Jon Avnet


Starring Kevin Costner, Elijah Wood, Mare Winningham, Lexi Randall

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The War" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Vietnam War vet Costner must deal with a war of a different sort between his son and their friends, and a rival group of children. He also must deal with his own personal and employment problems that have resulted from his Vietnam experiences.

Commentary

This is one of those gems of a film that hardly ever gets brought up. I saw it quite some years ago and fell in love with it, and I was overjoyed to see it released on HD DVD. It's a touching film on family and the struggle to keep it going despite hardships. A must-see for film fans in my opinion. Note that this is not the series of the same title that has just started on PBS, which is by Ken Burns.

Technical

Universal does a very good job with the video transfer on this one. Colors are really good, and quite vivid. Detail is solid throughout, though the film is slightly softer than some of the newer movies being released on HD. The print seems to be in really good shape, and I didn't notice much in terms of noise or artifacts. One of the better looking catalog releases I've seen from Universal lately.

Universal decided to give this one a full lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. I am really hoping that this is a continuing trend from Universal and that we'll see this across the board from here on out. Not that their DD+ soundtracks were lacking, but it is nice to see support for lossless sound. This film has a nice balance of atmosphere and score, and even has some moments of impressive dynamics. Since it is more of a drama than anything else, don't expect too much for this 5.1 mix. Dialogue sounds natural enough, and the balance of the main soundstage and voices is quite good.

Extras

No extras on this one.

- Kris Deering -

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Screen Gems

2003, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr 14 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English/Italian Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English/French/Italian DD 5.1

 

Directed by Len Wiseman


Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Underworld" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In the Underworld, Vampires are a secret clan of modern aristocratic sophisticates whose mortal enemies are the Lycans (werewolves), a shrewd gang of street thugs who prowl the city's underbelly. No one knows the origin of their bitter blood feud, but the balance of power between them turns even bloodier when a beautiful young Vampire warrior and a newly-turned Lycan with a mysterious past fall in love.

Commentary

I've always been a fan of this film and its style. The plot is good enough for an entertaining ride, but its visual style and production are what lock you in (and Beckinsale in leather I suppose). This unrated cut fleshes things out a bit more, and of course the gore goes up a bit. A welcome addition to the Blu-ray library.

Technical

The Superbit version of this film was one of the DVDs I used quite often for demonstrations. The Blu-ray steps it up even more with an obvious increase in detail (especially fine detail) and contrast. This is a dark film, but the image has an amazing sense of depth and dimension. Displays with a higher ANSI contrast are in for a real treat with this one. An exceptional transfer from Sony.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is a testament to dynamic range and will no doubt be used for plenty of demos. The shootouts are full of intense low bass and lots of cool discrete surround activity. The sound design really lends to the overall style of this film, and the rock-based soundtrack keeps things lively throughout. Absolutely no complaints at all here.

Extras

These include a feature commentary, deleted scenes, a collection of production features, storyboard comparisons, and a music video.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner

2007, Color, Unrated, 3 Hr 33 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English DD+/DD 5.1

 

Directed by Oliver Stone


Starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Strong

Language

Yes

"Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Torn by the war between his parents, Alexander left Greece to face massive armies in Persia, Afghanistan and India - and was never defeated.

This film is now available is an all new and completely unrated version of Oliver Stone's epic story, loaded with nearly 40 minutes of additional never-before-seen footage. Restructured and expanded into two acts with one intermission, Stone's vision is delivered the way he originally conceived and intended it to be.

Commentary

Needless to say, this is a LONG movie. I never saw the theatrical cut, but I did see the director's cut of this film on DVD before I saw this version. I must say this is better, though it is a lot longer. The story itself is epic, but can be slow at times. The battle sequences are massive and Stone shot them in a way to at least be manageable.

Characters are fleshed out a bit more in this cut, and I thought they took some of the focus away from Alexander's sexuality a bit compared to the cut I saw before. The final battle near the end of the film is much more brutal, with some of the most graphic violence I've seen in a film in quite sometime. While I would call this the best version I've seen, it isn't a movie I would watch very often, if at all again.

Technical

This is one of the best transfers I've seen from the high def formats so far. Detail is exceptional, and the image has a crisp quality that is quite impressive. During the opening battle, there is a lot of dust in the air and lots of fine details in the armies, but I never once saw the image break up from the massive amount of detail, and banding was never an issue. Contrast is excellent and even blacks are noise-free, regardless of the light levels. Colors are vivid, and stylizing is evident, especially in some of the gore. Overall, a dazzling job by Warner.

Warner stuck with a standard DD+ and Dolby Digital track for this one, encoded at 640 kbps for both releases. Personally, I think they need to start including higher resolution soundtracks on their releases across the board, especially with their Blu-ray releases, as they are not coming close to tapping out the available bit rate. Don't get me wrong, the audio presentation here is excellent, with no obvious limitations in spatial quality or dynamic range, but it would be nice to see them take full advantage of what these formats can deliver, especially at these prices.

Extras

Extras include an introduction by Oliver Stone, two feature commentaries, a full length documentary on making the film, and some production features. The theatrical trailers are also included.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1998, Color, Rated R, 2 hrs. 4 mins

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Shekhar Kapur


Starring Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Elizabeth" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

England, 1554. Young, passionate Elizabeth Tudor comes to the throne amidst bloody turmoil. Among her courtiers are the venerable Sir William Cecil, her lover the Earl of Leicester, the imperious Duke of Norfolk, and her advisor Lord Walsingham. She must learn to weigh her counsel carefully and ignore her private yearnings if she is to keep her crown - and her head.

Commentary

Elizabeth is a profound film that was one of my favorites the year it came out. Production, acting, story, everything just dead on. I am extremely excited about the upcoming sequel that will be released later this month. I'm glad to see Universal release this gem on HD DVD right before the sequel hits the big screen.

Technical

Universal has delivered a very solid video presentation with this one. The cinematography is another highlight of this film and the HD DVD captures the scenery and detail beautifully. Colors are very natural, and the image has a very film-like quality that could easily trick you into thinking you are at the local Cineplex.

The print is in excellent condition. Contrast and shadow detail are excellent, and film grain is preserved perfectly. Noise picks up a bit in the darker scenes, but this is a side effect of the film stock used. Minor ringing is noticeable at times, but never distracting.

Another Dolby TrueHD soundtrack from Universal for this catalog release. The 5.1 mix is quite good, and it's full of detail and textures. The score is beautifully composed and fills the entire soundstage nicely. Dynamics are quite good, especially given the genre. Dialogue can be a bit forward at times, but otherwise this is a solid audio presentation by Universal.

Extras

Extras include a sneak peek at the upcoming sequel (can't wait!!), a making-of feature, a historical feature, and a commentary by the director.

- Kris Deering -

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Anchor Bay

1987, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 24 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English DD 5.1

 

Directed by Sam Raimi


Starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Evil Dead II" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Ash, the sole survivor of The Evil Dead, continues his struggle with the forces of the dead, with his girlfriend Linda. The two discover a mysterious tape recorder and hear the voice of Professor Knoby reciting passages from the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead.

Little do they know that the professor's words are powerful enough to invoke a spell that unleashes the spirit of evil alive in the remote forest surrounding them. Watch in terror as the plot sickens and the supernatural demons invade the cabin on a gory crusade for human victims. In desperation, Ash attempts to escape his horrific fate by battling with the gruesome ghouls with the help of some unexpected visitors.

However, he discovers that he is no match for the unspeakable creatures lurking behind every door, and waiting beyond every corner.

Commentary

I remember when this film hit theaters. I was in elementary school, and the poster was REALLY creepy looking. Unfortunately the movie is anything but. I know this film series has a cult following, but I never got into the campy side of it. Any real attempt at being scary or creepy is completely killed by the over the top silliness of it. Even as a horror fan, I don't think I can recommend this one very highly.

Technical

This transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. Considering the production value and budget this film was shot on, the image looks pretty good. It is almost completely devoid of noise, dirt, and cuts, meaning the master is in good shape, and I thought the depth of image was quite good at times.

The problem is fine detail. There was a THX version on DVD that I got for review quite a few years ago that had more detail, and this release doesn't look like it used that same master. This master looks to be the same as the "Book of the Dead" addition that came out on DVD quite awhile ago (man there were a lot of DVD editions of this film!) Maybe we'll see this one a few more times in HD as well, and hopefully we'll see a version using the more detailed master.

The uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack is a nice addition, but again this is a film shot on a limited budget, so don't expect too much. The soundtrack is a bit on the bright side at times, and dynamic range is a bit limited. Surrounds are used quite a bit though to add to the mood of the film, regardless of how campy it might be. Dialogue always sounded off to me, regardless of which version I watch, and this is no exception. While it does sound a bit more refined than the DVD versions, it isn't anything to boast about.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary with the director, star and some production staff, a film fact feature, some production features, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

1998, Color, Unrated, 1 hour 36 mins

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English/Italian Uncompressed PCM 5.1

 

English, French, Italian, Hungarian DD 5.1

 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua


Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Mild Themes

Language

Yes

"The Replacement Killers" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

After he betrays Mr. Wei, the ruthless crime boss who hired him to avenge his son's death, professional killer John Lee, goes on the run. Enlisting the aid of beautiful document forger Meg Coburn, Lee attempts to return to his family in China before they are victimized by his betrayal.

But Wei's army of "replacement killers" is hot on his trail, and now both he and Meg are targets of their impressive firepower. With both sides fully armed and determined to fight to the death, an ultra-violent shootout breaks out when they finally face off against each other.

Commentary

It's been a long time since I've seen this film,and I was surprised that this was directed by the same guy that did Training Day. It's a great shoot-em up that reminds me a lot of some of John Woo's earlier films before he started doing movies here in the US. The gun fights borrow a bit from Woo's previous works and a little bit of Robert Rodriquez's films too. Overall, though this is a fun action story.

Technical

I was getting a bit discouraged in the opening club scene with this release. Contrast was lacking and the image was a bit on the dull side. But after that, things look REALLY good.

Sony delivers another solid catalog release here with great detail, color, and contrast. The image has excellent depth and dimensionality, and you would never think it was an older film, given the quality of the elements. Detail is consistently good, even in the darker scenes (with the exception of the opening credits of course).

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is good, but not quite as impressive as the picture. The sound design is a bit dated, but the balance and atmosphere are rich and immersive. Dynamics are nice, but didn't blow me away. The soundtrack has some interesting song selections though, including some nice tracks from The Crystal Method that I enjoyed. Dialogue sounds natural and is balanced nicely with the rest of the mix. No slouch, but I've heard better.

Extras

Extras include a production feature and a look at Chow Yun-Fat's Hollywood debut.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1998, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Vincent Ward


Starring Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra, Max Von Sydow

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"What Dreams May Come" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

After Chris Nielsen dies in an accident, he tries to remain close to his beautiful mortal wife, Annie. With the friendly spirit assigned to guide him, he begins to adapt to his new state of being in a setting that can only be described as heavenly. But when his distraught wife takes her own life, she is banished to an eternal damnation. Chris vows to find her so they can share eternity together, but no one has ever succeeded in rescuing a soul from such a horrific fate.

With the help of his heavenly friends, Chris sets out on the most perilous and harrowing journey of his life, or afterlife: a quest for everlasting love that will take him to hell and back!


Commentary

This is a beautifully crafted, though a bit disturbing look at death and family. It nearly set a new benchmark for special effects and their use to add to production design. The film is very sad though and is tough to watch more than once. The story is excellent, and the casting is dead on, but replay value is definitely more of a personal taste.

Technical

Seeing as this won the Academy Award for best visual effects, you'd expect a pretty rock solid video transfer. Universal doesn't do a bad job, but this catalog film doesn't hold up quite as well as the newer films out there in terms of detail and depth. The special effects still hold up very well, but the image has a bit of a dark cast to it, and film grain can almost be a bit overly intrusive, making the image a bit too noisy.

Detail is hit or miss. At times it can be very nice, but some of the effects work blurs things out. Colors are bit subdued, but I don't remember what the film looked like originally to compare. Overall, this is a decent-looking HD release, but I was hoping for a bit more.

The DD+ 5.1 mix is good and has some impressive moments of dynamic range. Dialogue is balanced well with the rest of the mix and is the focal point of the soundtrack in my opinion. Ambience is captured well, and the surrounds are used very well to add to the atmosphere, especially once the film moves more into the land of the dead.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, production features, an alternate ending, and photo gallery.

- Kris Deering -

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