Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - February, 2014

ARTICLE INDEX

"About Time" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

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Synopsis

The men in the Lake family have an usual gift, the ability to tavel through time. When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) turns 21 he learns of this gift from his father James (Bill Nighy) and is told to use it for a better life. His first goal is to end his loneliness and woe a girl. Tim moves to London to become a lawyer and moves in with his father's writer friend Harry. Finding that special someone seemed like a lost cause until Tim has dinner in the dark with his best bud and he meets Mary. Time travel then comes into play when Harry's play fumbles on opening night. In an effort to fix the play's performance, Tim ends up cancelling out the event that led to him meeting his love, Mary. He finds a way to meet her again and has the ability to retry over and over until he gets it just right and she falls for him as well.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, rated: R, 2 hours 3 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
  • Directed by Richard Curtis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Richard Curtis has written some excellent films, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and his track record was the main reason for my interest in this film. I'm happy to say that Curtis has once again created magic. This is such a lovely movie that will not only make you laugh, perhaps cry, but also might make you think about life. It's really a story of how Tim learns to understand life and what it is all about. I didn't realize this until now but Domhnall Gleeson is the great Brendon Gleeson's son and he really does a wonderful job guiding this movie. Bill Nighy plays the father just how you'd expect him to, and it is totally believeable. This is not one to miss.

Technical

I have seen some stunning Blu-ray transfers lately and although there is nothing wrong with the video on About Time, it wasn't quite up to par. Color and detail were good, but contrast was lacking at times.

The dialog was balanced and clear and the movie's lovely score is played back with a big, but recessed soundstage. Good sound and fitting for this type of movie.

Extras

Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Blooper Reel, The "Luckiest" Music


"Downton Abbey, Season 4" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-february-2014-downton4

Synopsis

Season 4 begins six months after Matthew’s untimely death in a car crash. Mary is still trying to re-enter the world of the living and having to fend off potential suitors in the process. Tom Branson, the chauffer-turned-agent is working hard to manage the estate by himself and though he is accepted and loved by the Crawley’s, he just can’t seem to fit in. Young Rose MacClare, now living at Downton, has a difficult time resisting jazz and all the trappings of society before she is even presented. Below stairs, the drama continues with the sudden departure of Mrs. O’Brien. Miss Braithwaite returns as Cora’s maid and continues her pursuit of Branson. Mr. Barrow, ever the schemer, is still trying to gather as much information as he can to further his own interests. And Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are just trying to hold everything together as the world rapidly changes around them.

Specifications

  • PBS Masterpiece
  • 2013, Color, Not rated, 8 Hrs 54 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 2.0
  • Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith
  • Created by Julian Fellowes
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Brief
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This near-perfect series continues in splendid fashion pretty much where Season 3 left off. It’s 1922 now and the aristocracy is facing the decline of their fortune in a changing Europe. Characters like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are trying to uphold tradition as their employees learn more about the world and seek to better themselves. This season also includes a difficult challenge for maid Anna and Mr. Bates when she is the victim of a violent attack. And racism is explored for the first time when Lady Rose meets a black bandleader in a posh London nightclub.

As always, the production quality, writing, and acting are without peer. I’m a great fan of British period drama and this series is without a doubt my very favorite. If you enjoy this kind of fare, Downton Abbey is a must-own; my highest recommendation.

Technical

The image is sharp and detailed with just the right level of color saturation to highlight the time period without becoming too drab and flat. My main complaint is the frequent black crush which has been a component in every Blu-ray release of Downton Abbey. Dark scenes often exhibit the “floating head” phenomenon where actors’ faces float in a sea of blackness when they are wearing black clothes. Since the downstairs characters always wear black, you can only rarely see any detail in their bodies. Otherwise, the transfer is quite good with solid contrast and a nice natural color palette. The early episodes take place in winter so things look appropriately gray and cool. If the black crush were fixed, this release could approach reference quality.

It’s a shame the audio is only two channels but it is extremely clean and crisp with a nice wide sound stage. Ambient sounds are used very effectively. Viewers with a good sound system will hear lots of environmental details which increase the sense of immersion. As always, the music is first-rate. The main title melody is cleverly transformed into different variations to serve as transitional material, character themes, and mood music; very enjoyable. The score can easily stand on its own as very listenable music.

Extras

Bonus features are brief but very interesting. There is about 35 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes information with actor and crew interviews and interesting insights into the production. Also included is a 30-second British tourism promotional spot.


"The Jungle Book" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Mowgli, only a baby, is found orphaned in a boat by the panther Bagheera. Unable to raise the child himself, he passes him off to a mother wolf that has just had cubs. She takes the child in and helps to raise him up. When the wolf pack hears news that the tiger Shere Kahn has returned, they decide they need to return Mowgli to the man village. As Shere Kahn has an appetite for humans, he is no longer safe outside the village walls.

As Bagheera works to return him to the village, they encounter the fun loving bear Baloo. Baloo explains to him the joys of living care free in the jungle; Mowgli no longer wants to return to the village. As they encounter a snake, monkeys, and finally Shere Kahn on the way back, Mowgli discovers that living the wild might no longer be safe for him.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 1967, Color, G, 1 Hr 18 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 7.1
  • Starring: Bruce Reitherman, Sebastian Cabot, Phil Harris (voices)
  • Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Implied
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The Jungle Book is the last Disney film that Walt Disney himself presided over. Despite the overriding theme of a tiger trying to eat a small child, neither of my kids found the film to be scary. Instead they are constantly entertained by the story and the animals that tell it. Even when the film is paused you get interludes teaching you the words to the songs instead of a boring screen.

Technical

The film itself has a slight windowboxing to the image. According to the IMDB the original negative is set at 1.37:1 while the intended format is 1.75:1. That is just slightly narrower than the 1.78:1 ratio of Blu-ray which accounts for this. The image itself is very clean and free of blemishes. There isn’t any dust or scratches that I noticed in my viewings. This might be due to some noise removal, as the film itself feels a bit soft. The colors are clean but not extra vibrant as you expect in modern animation. Instead it has a more muted palette but one that looks fantastic.

The mono soundtrack has been remixed into a full 7.1 channel mix that sounds very good. There aren’t the sound effects you would get from a brand new film but the songs of the Jungle Book have never sounded better than they do here.

Extras

As with most Disney animated films, a large number of supplements are included. There are multiple featurettes presented in HD and far more in SD that are ported over from the DVD release. There are previews of upcoming Disney films and when you pause the movie it plays the songs in a loop. Also included are DVD and Digital Copies of the film.


"Thor: The Dark World" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Mar-2014-Thor

Synopsis

Thor returns to battle the Dark Elves, who have returned from their stinging defeat from centuries ago to seek revenge on the people of the 9 realms. If the evil Malekith should obtain the Aether, an all powerful malevolent substance, he will destroy the universe and reshape it to his liking. Unfortunately, against Odin's wishes, Thor is forced to enlist the aid of his half brother, Loki...but Loki's motivations and loyalties remain obscure.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 2013, Color, PG-13, 2 Hr 3 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.40:1
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 7.1
  • Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
  • Directed by Alan Taylor
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

What sets Thor apart from the other Marvel super heroes is the fact that Thor is a demi-god…not a super hero. I have always felt that Thor was the odd man out in the Marvel kingdom. That fact does not diminish this movie however. If you liked the first one that was directed by a Shakespearean actor (Branagh), this sequel is bigger, badder and even more gorgeous on the big screen. Thor is a bit mellower here than the first film, but maybe he learned some valuable lessons from the first film. Loki is the really “fun” character here…in fact the movie would have lacked sizzle without him. He and Thor make an unlikely alliance that has good chemistry and adds some much needed character development. Portman and her science friends are just filler and comic relief. The villain, Malekith, is evilly good, but you never really get a sense of what makes him tick. In any case, this movie is all about action (spectacular!) and eye-candy (wowzers!) which is delivered with a fast paced story line. As always, be on the look out for Stan Lee’s cameo. As an anonymous Asgardian was over heard saying, "All hail the worthy sequel!"

Technical

The picture and sound are excellent. The cities, costumes, characters and colors are even better than the first movie. Such amazingly detailed costumes and creatures! The shadow details are never murky. Colors are bright and eye fetching. Whether explosions or swirling dirt and rocks, the whole surround system experience if fully utilized throughout the film. The dialog is distinct and well center onto the screen. The deep, subterranean rumbling bass during the explosions and battle scenes is quite intense. Make certain you do not force your feeble sub woofer to keep pace with the action…this sound can be a sub killer!

Extras

Included are a commentary, mini film featuring an interview with the “Mandarin” in prison, deleted scenes and alternate takes and commentaries. A digital copy is also included.


 "Dallas Buyers Club" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

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Synopsis

This movie is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Dallas area roughneck, electrician and rodeo cowboy.  Played by Matthew McConaughey, Ron is a strongly homophobic individual who lives life on the edge.  He gets the wakeup call of his life one day when he is unexpectedly diagnosed with the HIV virus.  The doctors give him a 30-day death sentence.  Ron is determined to prove them wrong, but it is the mid 80's and there just aren't any proven treatments available.  This is when he takes matters into his own hands by combining forces with others through a "buyers club" and proceeds to seek treatments from all around the globe. 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 57 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto
  • Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

McConaughey famously lost a bunch of weight for this role and it makes his performance all the more beleivable.  But don't think this is the only part of his job here that makes it all work.  McConaughey's acting is truly excellent throughout and he really deserves the accolades he has received in the press.  That alone is reason enough to see this movie and yet it goes deeper.  He has a way of shaping a film and bringing out the best in the other actors.  So in this case we find strong performances from the supporting cast, most notably from Jared Leto, who plays his faithfull sidekick, Rayon, and Jennifer Garner who plays a doctor at the local hospital.  I was moved by this David and Goliath tale that reminds us of the discriminatory and selfish practices of the CDC and FDA of the day.

Technical

The video quality on disc was somewhat variable with most indoor scenes having muted colors and limited pop while outdoor and daylight scenes tended to have much greater dynamic range with a wider color gamut.  Some of the darker scenes suffered from a preponderance of grain.  I did not detect any compression artifacts, problems with blown out whites or crushed blacks.  All in all, this was a solid presentation that was apparently true to the filmaker's intent.  

The audio quality was also solid and I could hear most every whisper or shout at the appropriate levels to make them quite beleivable.  I also enjoyed the solid bass that showed up with gunshots, the sound of car engines and most impressively in the music at the nightclub scenes.  As with the video, the audio holds up its end but wasn't flashy in any particular way.

Extras

This 2-disc set comes with the Blu-ray and a DVD.  Also included are streaming codes for HD Ultraviolet and iTunes.  The set set includes just two on-disc extras - Deleted Scenes and "A Look Inside Dallas Buyers Club".


 "Gravity" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-february-2014-gravity

Synopsis

Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and flight specialist on her first shuttle mission.  The sotry opens with her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) in the middle of a spacewalk repairing a satellite.  They are suddenly alerted that a Russian satellite has exploded in orbit, hurdling a trail of debris right at them.  With no time to react, they can only watch as the shuttle is destroyed.  The debris also takes out the rest of the crew wnd numerous communications satellites so Bullock and Clooney are left alone in spece with very limited oxygen supplies.  That's when the real fun starts. 

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2013, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 31 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris
  • Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is an amazing work of cinematic art that had me on the edge of my seat throughout.  There were some points where I questioned the physics of space and the efficacy if the characters' abilities to move about, but that did not detract from the film in any meaningful way.  I was entertained and plugged in the entire film and the acing was top notch just as much as the special effects.  I predict Bullock will get Best Actress this year but the Best Picture award will probably go to "12 Years a Slave".  Be that as it may, "Gravity" gets my highest recommendation for the entertainment and as demonstration material for your system. 

Technical

The picture quality on disc is first-rate.  I got the 2D Blu-ray to review and the detail was amazing.  This is a movie that could have been plagued with black crush but I didn't see any signs that would have me beleive I wasn't getting all I could get from the picture.  Some of the digital effects were not entirely convincing, but I still give this one 5 stars.  

The audio is equally impressive.  Since I've never been on a spacewalk, I can't comment about the accuracy of the various sounds at play (some deep bass impulses sounded more than a little trumped up), but the entertainment factor was high.  The effects were enveloping and were seemingly true to each environment.  Meanwhile, the music was pulse-poundung, clean and open.  

Extras

This is a two-disc set with the Blu-ray, a DVD and a Digital HD Ultraviolet code.  The extensive on-disc extras are some of the best I've see - Gravity: Mission Control (behind the scenes documentary), Shot Breakdowns, Aningaaq: A Short Film by Jonás Cuarón and Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space.