Media

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - August, 2013

ARTICLE INDEX

"The Place Beyond the Pines" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-august-2013-the-place-beyond-the-pines

Synopsis

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a motorcycle stunt performer in the circus. During a stop in upstate New York he encounters a former fling of his, Romina (Eva Mendes). As he goes back to meet up with her again tomorrow, he discovers that he has a son, Jason, that he never knew about and is now close to a year old.

Determined to provide something for his son, he quits the circus and attempts to find work in town. Continually butting heads with Romina's boyfriend, Kofi, he turns to robbing banks with a partner to provide some income for his son. His ego begins to get the best of him as he continues to battle with Romina and Kofi, as well as running into trouble with the law.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 2 Hours, 21 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Video: 1080p, AVC
  • Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Ray Liotta
  • Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

My wife thinks I like films that are too depressing and bleak. She won't watch a lot of things with me as she'd rather not deal with that. The Place Beyond The Pines was depressing even for me. It manages to be both epic, and seemingly unending, in scope yet not delve deeply enough into the lives of characters. The film progressed much differently than I expected, and the second half was totally different than I expected it to be coming in. The acting is very good and the score does a very nice job of setting the mood.

Despite all this I couldn't become involved in the film itself. None of the characters really gripped me, and I felt detached from the whole film. The director also has an insatiable love of tracking shots. From the opening shot to many shots later in the film, it goes from a nice effect to purposely drawing attention to itself and taking you out of the picture. I can't muscle up the energy to be angry at the film, as they tried to make something very good. I just came away bored in the end. And full of despair.

Technical

A few early scenes in the film have a bit of pumped-up color, but overall the transfer is very nice. The image is crisp and detailed, and has that really clean, detailed look that comes from the Arri line of digital cameras. The soundtrack is also very effective. Surrounds are used to set mood and atmosphere, as well as deliver the soundtrack. The action sequences benefit from all 5.1 channels, but the quieter scenes also use them to draw you in. Technically this is a movie that looks and sounds great.

Extras

Deleted and extended scenes, directors commentary and DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film.


"Tell No One" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Aug-2013-Tell

Synopsis

Francois Cluzet stars as Alex, a pediatrician whose beloved wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) was shockingly murdered eight years before. As the anniversary of her death approaches, Alex begins to receive cryptic emails and a video that seems to suggest that she is alive. The discovery of two long-buried bodies at the crime scene turn Alex into some kind of Hitchcockian Everyman, implicated in a crime he could not possibly have committed. But when he makes a mad dash from the police who visit him at his office, he seems to have signed his own confession. This synopsis doesn't even begin to hint at the genuinely exciting and surprising twists, turns, and revelations that await Alex in this Chinese box of a mystery.

Specifications

  • Music Box Films
  • 2012, Color, Unrated, 2 Hours, 5 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Video: 1080p, AVC
  • Audio: French DD 5.1 w/ subtitles, English DD 2.0
  • Starring: Francois Cluzet, Kristin Scott Thomas, Marie-Josee Croze
  • Directed by: Guillaume Canet
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Yes, but in Francais

Commentary

Nothing is as it appears at first and even when the mystery is explained in what appears to be a systematic, cohesive manner; however, the 'real story' remains a puzzle until the very end. This is a brilliant little film well worth multiple viewings to fully appreciate all of the aspects of the fine acting, cinematography, direction and musical scoring. Sure , the story has been done before ala The Fugitive, but this rendition feels refreshingly different and new. The skinny female assassin in the film comes off as more plausible and scarier than any killer I can recall in a movie over the last few years. Cluzet's face reminds me of a younger Dustin Hoffman, which helped me associate better with his character. In anycase, this mystery will keep you glued to your seat. Recommended!

Technical

Lush cinematography is what greets the viewer's eyes. There is a great deal of depth and excellent contrasts with plenty of details throughout the feature. The sound depends on the track you select. I watched with the 5.1 DD English and was quite satisfied. The French (with subtitles) gives you surround sound, but will force you to read instead of watch.

Extras

Deleted scenes, directors commentary and a "making of" featurrette are included with the film.


 "Dexter- Season 7" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2013-dexter7

Synopsis

Season 7 picks up right where we left off in Season 6, with Debra's discovery of Dexter's secret life as she witnesses him dispatching the Trinity killer.  Needless to say, her internal conflict machine goes into overload as she struggles with the love she feels for her brother and her duty to uphold the law.  First she tries to rehabilitate him but that experiment quickly fails.  Then she starts to understand his code, why he has to kill, and the value Dexter represents to society as she goes to greater lengths to cover up his activities.  In the meantime, Dexter is pursued by a Ukrainian mobster bent on revenge for the killing of his associate.  Joey Quinn, the eternal screw-up, falls for an exotic dancer and gets in over his head.  Angel contemplates retirement as he buys a restaurant.  And late in the season, a new killer emerges who likes to burn his victims to death.  And let's not forget Dexter's new love interest, serial killer Hannah McKay.  It's a tremendous balancing act for our hero as he wriggles from one impossible situation to the next!

Specifications

  • Showtime
  • 2012, Color, Unrated, 11 Hrs, 11 Mins (12 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC
  • Audio: English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Starring: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Every year I anxiously await the new season of Dexter, especially since I don't subscribe to Showtime!  This is without a doubt, one of the best-written, best-acted, and most creative shows on television.  Michael C. Hall is a tremendous actor; it's impossible to imagine anyone playing the part better.  The script is always beautifully crafted with a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  The story line takes you places you don't expect; twists and turns abound as the plot unfolds.  It would be easy for a vehicle like this to become formulaic, but it doesn't.  Yes, there are elements that we see every season; but it always feels fresh and new.  I was very pleased to read that the show was renewed for an eighth season.  Given the subject matter, the violence and sex are handled tastefully but this is TV for adults.  Dexter receives my highest recommendation.

Technical

Filmed in and around Miami, Dexter is always presented in the bold bright colors you would expect to see in that unique city.  This season's transfer is a cut above its predecessors in quality.  The image is noticeably sharper and punchier with perfectly natural color and deep contrast.  There is no evidence of crushing in dark material nor is there any noise or artifacting.  And, thankfully, there is no edge enhancement used.

Audio, courtesy of Dolby TrueHD, is also a bit better than season's past.  Dialog is especially improved with a much more forward presentation than before.  The excellent music returns; kudos to composer Danial Licht for a superb score.  As always, ambient sound effects are what make this show so compelling.  The feeling of immersion is strong with subtle use of surrounds and just the right amount of bottom coming from the sub.

Extras

Aside from an UltraViolet copy of Showtime's new show, Ray Donovan, there are no extras included with this Blu-ray set.  Previous seasons have also been light on bonus features but this time, no attempt was made at all; disappointing.


"True Blood- Season 5" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2013-trueblood5

Synopsis

The cliffhanger that ended Season 4 is quickly resolved when Tara is turned into a vampire by Pam to save her life.  Sookie and Lafayette have to live with the guilt of Debbie's death but they quickly find other things to worry about as Lafayette deals with his inner demon and Sookie learns more about her faerie powers.  Meanwhile, Eric and Bill are captured by the Authority and have to bargain for their lives by finding the escaped Russell Edgington.  It seems he is the leader of a movement that believes vampires should dominate the world and farm humans for food.  The Authority is trying to advance their agenda of co-existence but Russell has other plans.  By the end, the fate of the human race hangs in the balance and only the faeries have any hope of preventing armegeddon.

Specifications

  • HBO
  • 2012, Color, Unrated, 12 Hrs (12 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC
  • Audio: English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Anna Paquin, Rutina Wesley, Stephen Moyer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

For four seasons, True Blood fans have been waiting patiently to learn more about the mysterious Vampire Authority.  All we got up to now was Nan Flanagan, the PR rep who was a spokesperson for co-existence between vampires and humans.  Now we see there is a rebel movement (isn't there always?) that sees the Bible as a fallacy and believes that God is a vampire and humans are simply walking the Earth as food.  Sookie is certainly involved in the major plot arc but it isn't all about her like in seasons' past; which is refreshing.  The pacing gets off to a slow start and never really picks up as the season progresses.  And there are several sub-plots that do nothing but pull focus away from the main storyline.  One thing lacking is any sort of "last season on True Blood" or some flashbacks to remind the audience what happened in the past.  I found it very difficult to remember the particulars of Season 4 that got us to Season 5.  The unexpected plot twists are also few and far between.  And just when the Vampire Authority starts to get interesting, the focus shifts to more random gore and mayhem.  Since the show has at least two seasons to go, I hope the producers will consider taking things back to the fundamentals that worked so well in earlier episodes.  As a fan, I'll certainly add this set to my library but if you're trying the show out, stick to renting until you're sure.

Technical

The image is quite good with bright vibrant color where appropriate and dark, muted tones during the more intense parts.  Black levels are not quite as deep as they could be and detail is just a tad soft.  Contrast is good but not great, and shows consistent depth and dimension throughout.  Some past seasons had inconsistent black levels and a bit of digital noise here and there, but that is largely solved in this latest transfer.  There was also a bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes.

Audio is on par with the other seasons' Blu-rays with a crisp and dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio encode.  The front soundstage is nice and wide with a great sense of depth and immersion.  The surrounds are used sparingly but the sub gets some time to shine here and there.  And as always, the music with its southern rock and country roots is extremely entertaining.

Extras

Bonus features are fairly extensive compared to most TV show Blu-ray sets.  Each episode has a 44-minute featurette that covers the back story and includes screenwriter interviews.  There are also five audio commentaries with principal actors and producer Alan Ball.  Episode Six features its own documentary called Autopsy that goes even more in depth.  Plus there is static content like character bios and interactive guides.  The package I reviewed contained DVD and digital copies of all episodes in addition to the Blu-rays.


"Mud" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Aud-2013-Mud

Synopsis

MUD is a timeless adventure about two boys, Ellis and his best friend Neckbone, who find a mysterious man named Mud (McConaughey) hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi. Mud tells the boys  stories about his life, including how he killed a man in Texas and how vengeful bounty hunters are coming to get him. He says he is planning to meet and escape with the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon), who is waiting for him in town. Skeptical, but intrigued, Ellis and Neckbone agree to help him. But it isn't long until Mud's tall tales come to life and their small town is besieged by bounty hunters out for blood.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2013, Color, PG-13, 2 hour 10 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC
  • Audio: English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Based somewhat loosely on the story of Huck Finn, this tale is more about a young boys coming of age than the title would suggest. Ellis has to face his parents impending divorce, get his first girl friend, maintain his friendship with his best bud and deal with adults on their terms. I kept waiting for some major reveal about Mud’s character, but he really is just a hayseed guy in a tough spot. The movie is “make or break” on the main child actor and he really delivers a strong performance. All around, the characters are quite believable and never feel forced. Though the ending is a bit predictable, the journey down this river is worth the trip. As Mud would say, “It’s a hell of a thing…”.

Technical

Overall, the picture is sharp and detailed (sand grains on the shore or Mud’s scraggly beard whiskers) with only a bit of crushing of details in the night scenes, where the picture gets grainy. The surrounds kick in during the action scenes and the music is well presented with rock-a-billy tunes that sound superb with the acoustic instruments spread out across the front of your room. Not a lot of sub action until the shoot out near the end, but boy, those  shot guns will make you jump.

Extras

Audio commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Nichols, "A Very Personal Tale: Writing and Directing Mud" featurette, "The Arkansas Ensemble: The Distinctive Characters and Cast of Mud", "Southern Authenticity: Shooting the Real Arkansas", "The Snake Pit: The Slithering Costars of Mud".


"The Muppet Movie" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Aug-2013-Muppet

Synopsis

An ambitious singing frog decides to leave his swamp and conquer Hollywood, gathering a group of friends along the way (Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and more) and bumping into oodles of guest stars making tongue-in-cheek cameos (my favorite is the tip-of-the-hat appearance by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy). Meanwhile, despicable fast-food king Charles Durning pursues Kermit, hoping to make him the spokesfrog for his Frogs-Legs restaurant franchise. Guest stars include James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Madeleine Kahn, Steve Martin, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Elliot Gould, Orson Welles, and Big Bird. Paul Williams penned the bouncy, song-filled score. You'll believe a frog can sing!

Specifications

  • Disney Home Entertainment
  • 2013, Color, PG, 1 hour 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video: 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC
  • Audio: English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: The voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

If you see one Muppet movie in your lifetime, make it this one. I found the humor and songs to be far superior to the last one that was released a few years ago. The cameos are hilarious, as well, though youngsters may wonder who any of them are. The film has held up well for its age and, of course, the characters are ageless to begin with. This movie will make repeated viewings a joy and not a chore. The meriad one-liners will keep the adults smiling throught the feature, too. This movie is dedicated to all of the "kids" that dream big.

Technical

The film was blemish free and I did not notice any aliasing or artifacts, even in the dimly lit scenes. A few shots were a bit softly focused, but the movie as a whole was very colorful and richly detailed. The details reveal the Muppet “materials”, but that adds to the charm. Great workmanship! And who could ever forget Kermit riding a bicycle? How did they do that? Film grain can be heavy at times, but this was common for 80’s movies.

Extras

A sing-along (frog-e-oke), Jim Frawley’s extended test footage, featurettes and Doc Hopper’s commercial are all included. And being a Disney film, movie trailers as well.


"Charlie Chan Collection" (DVD) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Charlie Chan Collection

Synopsis

In 1926, a movie was produced, called The House without a Key. It was a murder mystery, with a police detective named Charlie Chan working on the case. It was based on a book of the same title, written by author Earl Derr Biggers. The movie was a hit, and more stories followed, which were turned into a series of movies that spanned four decades, with numerous stars playing the title role. They began with Asian actors (playing Chan) starting in 1926, and then Caucasian actors, beginning in 1931. These included Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters. They are all basically "B" pictures, but very entertaining if you are a fan of the 1940's film era. However, in those days, racism was rampant, and that is why white actors played Chan in the 1930's and 1940's. The racist overtones are laid on heavily with the African American actor Mantan Moreland playing Chan's chauffeur, Birmingham, who always is afraid to go into the scenes of crime, especially at night, and in one case, Chan's son Tommy (Young) tells Birmingham to climb through a window at night to catch a burglar, because, "You will be harder to see in the dark". But, what is, is, and what was, was. Racism is still a disease that permeates every culture, and the US movie industry is no exception. Fortunately, such things would never make it past censors these days, as being, "politically incorrect".

There are four movies in this collection, and even though I am a big fan of Charlie Chan films, I had never seen these four. Frankly, the mastering is so good, having them on Blu-ray is not even necessary (but I won't complain if they put them on Blu-ray). I would urge the producers to put out all of the films in a complete collection, rather than just four.

The titles of the films in this collection are Shadows over Chinatown, Shanghai Chest, The Golden Eye, and Docks of New Orleans. All who-dunnits, with different twists. I think Warner is using these four as a test run to see if the series will sell, and if so, I would hope that the nearly four dozen Chan movies will come out on DVD or Blu-ray. Either way, I will sign up to get them when they are released.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 1946, 1948, B&W, Not Rated, 1 Hr/each (4 Movies)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Video: MPEG-2 (Standard Definition)
  • Audio: English, Dolby Digital Mono
  • Starring: Sidney Toler, Roland Winters, Victor Sen Young, Mantan Moreland
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras: None
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The House without a Key actually existed (as a home) in Honolulu around 1900, and the book that struck the match for the Chan films was based on a mystery surrounding that house, and on a real Honolulu police detective, Chang Apana. In its place now is the very fine hotel, the Halekulani, in which my wife and I have stayed when in Honolulu on vacation. Actually, it's not the hotel that brought us there, but the food in a restaurant a few doors down, called "Duke's". The namesake of the establishment was a famous athlete who won several gold medals in the Olympics. My favorite dish there is a fish called "Opah", which has a smoky, yet very mild flavor, and which has been breaded with panko flakes, parmesan cheese, and crushed macadamia nuts, then sauteed in butter and lemon. In fact, it is the most often ordered dish that the restaurant serves.

Technical

The image quality is spectacular for DVD. But, it is not Blu-ray, so a rating of 4 stars.

Extras

None.


"The Great Gatsby" (2013, Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Gatsby

Synopsis

In this movie of the same name, Baz Luhrmann has taken on the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a writer and bond trader that lives in a small house on long island.  He just happens to live next to a mysterious individual, Jay Gatsby, who no one seems to know much about, except that he throws incredibly lavish parties. Across the water lives Tom Buchanan and his lovely wife, who is also Nick's second cousin, Daisy. Nick gets a first-hand account of Tom's affair when they travel to the coal district for a party with his mistress and friends.  Soon after, Nick is invited to one of Gatsby's fabulous parties where he finally meets the man.  It turns out Gatsby's only goal in life is getting back is true love, Daisy, from the unworthy Tom.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2013, PG-13, 2 hr 23 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Video: 1080p AVC
  • Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Carey Mulligan
  • Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Some
  • Sex: Light
  • Language: Some

Commentary

From the very opening scene, even in a flat two dimensions, you could tell this movie was filmed in 3D. Baz is very deliberate in his use of multiple viewing planes, scaling in and out of the computer generated mansions of Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. Gatsby did not receive much praise by critics or its audiences.  So what is wrong with the film?  For one, the look is oddly artificial. Much of this movie features some degree of digital manipulation and I think it hurts this classic tale.  I had a hard time being sucked into the artificial world Baz has created. The pacing felt off as well. Scenes would drag on and pull the movie back instead of pushing it forward.  However, the movie does do a couple things well. The acting by this impressive cast was solid and the music score was very good as well.  

Technical

Image quality on The Great Gatsby was superb.  The brilliant, vibrant colors jumped off the screen, while image contrast added plenty of depth to the 2D image.  The 5.1 DTSHD-MA track was located mostly in the front three channels, but usage of the surrounds was effective in it's subtleness.  Bass was low, powerful and clear.  The lovely score by Craig Armstrong was one of the best aspects of this movie.

Extras

The Greatness of Gatsby - 9 minute look at Fitsgerald's novel, Within and Wtihout - 9 minute behind the scenes with Tobey, The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby - 12 minute look at the music, Gatsby Revealed - 30 minute production feature, The Jazz Age - 16 minutes, Razzle Dazzle - 16 minutes, Fitzgerald's Visual Poetry - 7 minutes, Deleted Scenes - 14 minutes, 1926 Gatsby Trailer


"Return to Neverland" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Aug2013-Neverland

Synopsis

Wendy’s very practical and no-nonsense daughter, Jane, begins the adventure of a lifetime when the infamous Captain Hook whisks her away to the enchanted island of Never Land. It’s up to Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys to help Jane believe in faith, trust and pixie dust. With the first-ever Lost Girl at his side, will Peter Pan finally defeat Hook and his swashbuckling band of pirates?

Specifications

  • Disney Home Entertainment
  • 2013, G, 1 hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Video: 1080p AVC
  • Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Voices of Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Kath Soucie, Harriet Owen
  • Directed by: Robin Rudd n
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Never
  • Language: No

Commentary

Starting out in London during the blitz, I was expecting a cheap direct-to-video flick from Disney to cash in on an old classic. The thrust of the movie was basically about not growing up too fast and having loosing faith. With a few songs and some decent story writing, I was actually impressed with the hand drawn cell (and minimal CGI) animation on the screen that were faithful to the original story. Perhaps due to PC policing, the "injun's" were left out of this sequel. The croc with the clock was replaced by an octopus (not sure why). Ultimately, your kids from ages 4 to 10 will no doubt be thrilled with this movie, which looks and sounds wonderful on the big screen and the run time is just short enough to keep their interest to the end. This movie is safe, clean and chock full of pixie dust!.  

Technical

The hand drawn cells look marvelous on the screen with eye popping colors and wonderfully deep black levels. I saw no artifacts or compression issues, just solid, colorful objects. The soundtrack is broad and expansive in DTS-HD 5.1, not that you kids will care, but the music is gorgeous. The CGI was kept to a minimum so the “old school” artists could work their Disney magic, yet again. Overall, the animation is a bit more "herky-jerky" than the original, but still retains that delightful, hand-drawn look.

Extras

Movie previews of up coming releases, Pixie 'movie shorts”, and a DVD/digital copy are supplied. Warning: No iTunes copy here. Someone at Disney should walk the plank for that!