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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - September, 2013

ARTICLE INDEX

"Now You See Me" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

The Four Horsemen, a magic super-group led by the charismatic J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), perform a pair of high-tech, high-profile magic shows. First amazing audiences by remotely robbing a Paris bank while in Las Vegas, and then exposing a white-collar criminal and funneling his millions into the audience members' bank accounts, baffling the authorities. FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is determined to make the magicians pay for their crimes—and to stop them before they pull off what promises to be an even more audacious heist. But he's forced to partner with Alma (Laurent), an Interpol detective about whom he is instantly suspicious. Out of desperation, he turns to a famed magic debunker, who claims the Paris bank trick was actually a meticulously planned illusion. Dylan and Alma begin to wonder if the Horsemen have an outside point person. If so, finding him (or her) would be the key to ending the magicians' crime spree. But who could it be? Or…could it really be…magic?

Specifications

  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • 2013, Color, PG-13
  • 1 Hour, 55 Minutes
  • 2.40:1, 1080p
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
  • Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman
  • Directed By Louis Leterrier
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Now You See Me provides a good, enjoyable time. Just like the FBI agents in the film, you spend the whole time trying to keep up with what is going on and who the real targets of the magicians are. The acting is often a bit over-the-top as the actors seem to have some fun with the roles. As with almost any movie dealing with magic, you'll have to check your logical mind behind much of the time, but overall you'll enjoy yourself while you watch it.

Technical

Overall the presentation of Now You See Me is first rate. Some of the darker scenes can be a bit murky but typically shadow detail is good. All daytime and other well-lit scenes look fantastic, with bold, bright colors and great detail. The soundtrack is superb in all aspects with clear vocals, excellent use of the surrounds for ambient effects, and action sequences that put every channel to use. Overall a first-rate presentation.

Extras

A Directors Cut with 10 minutes of extra footage, director and producers commentary, deleted scenes and a pair of featurettes. DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film are also included.


 "Shadow Dancer" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

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Synopsis

An IRA operative, Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) gets caught by MI5 Officers after planting a bomb on a London train in 1993.  The lead government official, Mac (Clive Owen) explains to Collette that they have her cold on terrorism charges.  He offers her a deal - either she can go to prison for the next 25 years or so, or she can choose to become a government informant.  She decides to become an informant even though this means she will be spying on her own family, principally her two brothers.  Pretty soon, she starts to fall under suspicion with the IRA while Mac's ex wife and supervisor, Kate Fletcher (Gillian Anderson) starts making moves that puts both Mac and Collette in danger.

Specifications

  • Magnolia Home Entertainment
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 42 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen and Gillian Anderson 
  • Directed by: James Marsh
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Shadow Dancer had a limited run in US theaters as the film was of much greater interest in the UK and Ireland.  I think this is a shame because this movie is well directed with solid performances in the key parts.  This begins with Andrea Riseborough who lays down a subdued but engaging performance.  In many scenes, she speaks volumes without saying a word.  Clive Owen likewise fills his role handily as the MI5 agent with good intentions who is more than just a little out of step with the angency's leadership.  I am deducting a few stars because this movie moved along at a slow pace.  Don't get the wrong idea, I was engaged and ready for each twist and turn, it's just that the whole movie was cast with a very slow and almost depressing tone throughout.  My final recommendation is that it is a good rental opportunity. 

Technical

The flat, soft and almost washed-out image on this movie was a directorial decision and the Blu-ray faithfully passes this image quality.  For example, the colors are muted and the flat image quality subdues finer details as desired by the production crew.  I don't think you need to make a film look this bleak in order to set the right mood for a movie.  So I am giving a relatively low score for video despite that the Blu-ray may be technically precise and true to the source.  

The audio, presented in DTS-HD Mater 5.1, is much better than the Video.  Voice intelligibility is adequate, but I did have some difficulty following the dialog spoken by those with strong Irish accents at first.  This wasn't a shortcoming of the disc, I just needed to pay closer attention to their lines.  There are some gunfire and explosions, a healthy amount of surround ambiance and a well written musical score all of which are well represented by the Blu-ray disc.

Extras

This one-disc package has a smattering of Special Features.  The first feature is a short documentary called "Behind the Scenes of 'Shadow Dancer'" (8:28).  Next is "Cast and Crew Interviews" (27:28) which has full-length interviews of seven cast and crew members.  Last, there is AXS TV: A Look at "Shadow Dancer" which is a three minute behind the scenes featurette. 


Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Throughout this year, Warner Home Video has been releasing new DVD box sets as part of their 90th Anniversary. This set has some of their greatest thrillers that have earned a combined 12 Academy Awards and stars such leading men as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, Mel Gibson and more. Other releases this year have been 20 "essential" movie classics in 5 major genres: Best Pictures, Musicals, Romance, Comedies, and with this release; Thrillers.

The films included in this set are:
The Public Enemy (1931)
The Maltese falcon (1941)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
North by Northwest (1959)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Lethal Weapon: Director's cut (1987)
Batman (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Fugitive (1993)
Natural Born Killers: Director's cut (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Seven (1995)
Heat (1995)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
American History X (1998)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Inception (2010)
The Town (2010)


Total run time: 42 hours and 3 minutes

MSRP: $98 (much less on Amazon)

The DVDs are split into 2 inner cases with 10 DVDs per case. A booklet with a synopsis of each film is also included. Most of the films included the extras that were in their individual releases and few even include some movie trailers and commentaries. Needless to say, there is a lot to watch here!

Most of these movies I have already seen or even own, and some have subsequently been released in the Blu-Ray format. The quality of the transfers varies from good to excellent and it is obvious from viewing some of the older films that none of these DVDs were given the Criterion Collection treatment. If you have a DVD/BD player that upconverts well, you should be quite pleased with the overall look of these discs. Minor scratches and blemishes aside, most of these films will look very good on your big screen at home.

It really is quite amazing to see how films have developed (pun?) from 1931-2011 and this set starts with James Cagney as a gangster and ends with Ben Affleck as bank robber. Some movies have the theme of an innocent person and mistaken identity (Cary Grant in Hitchcock's North by Northwest and Harrison Ford in The Fugitive). The Batman films offer a sharp contrast in the portrayal of the Dark Knight. They all share one main attribute, though… a good guy vs. a bad guy. The old protagonist vs. the antagonist. The only thing that changes over the years is the fact that the line between these two becomes more blurred.

In summary, there isn't a bad film in the bunch. Sure, some people might have picked a different one to add/subtract from this collection, but there are enough thrills and chills to keep the most ardent movie buff happy for a long time. These films represent, not only Warner Bros. best, but some of the best film in this genre of all time. If you have some holes in your movies collection, this box set is a great way round out your collection.

The Public Enemy (1931): James Cagney made his breakthrough as the streetwise Tom Powers in this classic that defined the "gangster" movie. It also serves as a time capsule to the Prohibition Era. Watch out for that grapefruit!

The Maltese Falcon (1941): Bogart plays det. Sam Spade in this noir film about a jewel encrusted bird…and the sinister low-life villains that will stop at nothing to acquire it.

The Big Sleep (1946): Bogart is back on the case as Phillip Marlow, private eye. Following the trail of murderers, pornographers and nightclub rogues, Bogart teams up with the sultry Lauren Bacall.

Strangers on a Train (1951): Two strangers strike up a conversation on a train and devise the perfect crime. What if each murders each others victims? Without a motive, who could tie them to their crime? No problem…until one takes it seriously with deadly consequences!

North By Northwest (1959): A tanned Cary Grant gets mixed into an espionage case with more twists and turns than anyone, except Alfred Hitchcock, could devise. Chased by a crop duster airplane and sliding down the face of a president on Mt. Rushmore, this film is non-stop suspense at its best.

Dirty Harry (1971): Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) will stop at nothing to get a sniper named Scorpio, even if he has to buck "the system" to do it. With San Francisco as a back drop, this story may be one of the best police thrillers ever made. It put Eastwood on the map.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975): Sonny (Al Pacino) and his pal decide to rob a bank. All goes well until disaster strikes with the arrival of the police, crowds, cameras and even a pizza delivery man. This comedy/thriller was based on a true incident and was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Lethal Weapon: Directors cut (1987/2000): Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are two cops that have one thing in common: they hate working with a partner. However, they must work as a take-no-prisoners, machine gunning, martial arts head crackers in order to stay alive when an international heroin ring declares war on them. Great action sprinkled liberally with wit and humor.

Batman (1989): Tim Burton's take on the Dark Knight mixes some funny moments with dark styling. Jack Nicholson's Joker is delightfully insane and Michael Keaton's attention is divided by his love interest, played by Kim Basinger. Check out that crazy looking Batmobile!

Goodfellas (1990): Joe Pesci still gives me nightmares! This story about wiseguys was named one of the best 100 films of all time by the American Film Institute. Wonderful performances by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino. Bad guys never looked so good while doing wrong.

The Fugitive (1993): Harrison Ford plays a wrongfully accused wife murder in this action packed film shot in the Windy City. Can he find the one-armed killer in time to avoid the manhunt lead by Tommy Lee Jones?

Natural Born Killers: Directors cut (1994): A visually stunning and wickedly fun poke at media obsession with infamy and violence by director Oliver Stone, this film has married killers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) portraying notorious killers in the lime light. Also starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey Jr. and Rodney Dangerfield.

Shawshank Redemption (1994): Based on a Steven King story, this movie captures the triumph of the human spirit like no other movie before. Tim Robbins is sent to Shawshank prison for life, for a crime he did not commit. The story is full of surprises, but the best one is saved for the ending. Morgan Freeman plays a "lifer" that knows the ropes around the prison.

Seven (1995): Yes, it should be spelled with an upside-down 7…Two cops (Brad Pitt and Freeman) must stop an ingenious killer that is using the 7 Deadly Sins to dispatch his victims. David Fincher provides the film with a visually creepy feel to it. By the stunning ending, the suspense almost leaves you suffocated. This is a genuinely terrifying flick.

Heat (1995): Pacino and De Niro square off as cop vs. criminal in this fast paced thriller. Val Kilmer and Jon Voight round out this cat and mouse tale of a bank heist that pits a master criminal with a master cop. Trust me, things heat up!

L.A. Confidential (1997): Three cops (Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce) in a 1940's setting must wend their way through a labyrinthine plot rife with politics, ambition, drugs and vice…with a bit of romance and humor. This is one of my all time favorite cop movies. I can watch this movie again and again.

American History X (1998): Before he played the HULK, Ed Norton portrayed a charismatic white supremacist that lands in prison for a hate crime murder. After serving his time, he must try to stop his younger brother from a similar fate. This film really shows the tragic consequences of racism. Norton is powerful in his presentation.

The Dark Knight (2008): Nolan's brilliant re-boot of the Batman story. With a masterful performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman may have met his match. This film is a delightful contrast to the early work in this collection. Boy have times changed…for the better!

Inception (2010): Nolan's take on stealing secrets from another persons dreams, this film mixes sci-fi with gun play and action. Stealing from dreams is easy, compared to planting an idea in a dream. I had to watch this film twice, just to wrap my mind around the plot. This film is worth multiple viewings, anyway.

The Town (2010): Ben Affleck's homage to his roots in Charlestown, this is a story of a gang of bank robbers that must dodge the FBI while planning on robbing Fenway Park. Great action and performances abound as Affleck produces and directs this film on familiar streets for me, a New Englander.


 "Star Trek Into Darkness" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

After running afoul of his mission directives again and again, Captain Kirk finds himself relieved of his command. At the same time rogue agent John Harrison is blowing up the Starfleet Archives in London. After the attack on the archives, Harrison attempts to ambush the starship commanders and kills Admiral Christopher Pike in the process.

After Harrison escapes to the Klingon home of Kronos, Captain Kirk regains control of the Enterprise in order to seek him out and extract revenge for the killing of Admiral Pike.

Specifications

  • Paramound
  • 2013, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 12 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg
  • Directed by: JJ Abrams
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I’ve seen most of the Star Trek films, but I’m not a diehard Trekkie or anything. When I saw the reboot of Star Trek in 2009 I found it to be a well done, more serious take on the original story. Now with a second film that draws inspiration from the prior films I am a large fan of what JJ Abrams is doing with this franchise.

It manages to remain true to the original series and movies but without being confined by them. The acting, aside from the slightly hammy Admiral Marcus, is very good overall. Effects and visuals are fantastic and the story is great. Highly recommended.

Technical

Star Trek has been a reference disc since it was released and Into Darkness will remain the same. Visuals are picture perfect with no banding or other issues to be seen. The opening scene has wonderful red and yellow hues that really stand out. Skin tones are nice and clear, though when the director wants a bit of a red push in a bar scene it is there. The picture is so sharp you can even slightly make out Spock’s real eyebrows hidden under makeup in a couple of scenes. Fantastic.

The audio is just as good. Fully immersive with powerful bass and incredibly clear. It has everything you want in an action film soundtrack.

Extras

The different versions of Star Trek at different retailers have different special features. Mine contained a few featurettes and DVD and Digital copies of the film. Getting all the features will require you to buy many, many copies of the film for some reason.


 "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim MIlton

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Synopsis

Disney's 1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh may be the last word on (animated) Pooh because it so faithfully honors the first word on Pooh, penned in the 1920s by British storyteller A.A. Milne. Gently paced, subtly humorous, and blessedly understated, this adaptation reflects Walt Disney's original vision to develop the beloved British bear for a wider audience. The film is essentially a collection of the original Pooh shorts that span from 1966-1974, "The Honey Tree," "The Blustery Day," and "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too." These storybooks are presented in seamless "chapters," narrated by the timeless Sebastian Cabot.

Specifications

  • Disney Home Entertainment
  • 2013, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hrs 14 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.33:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring the voices of Sebastian Cabot, Bruce Reitherman, Jon Walmsley, and Timothy Turner
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This all time classic has been cleaned up and given a loving treatment by Disney. I like the fact that they combined several shorter stories and placed them in this single “book with several chapters” approach. It makes the movie long enough to enjoy, without becoming too long to hold the young ones attention. Perhaps it is just me, but the only character that feels out of place is Tigger. He seems a bit too boisterous when compared to the others. But then again, what little kids wouldn’t want to bounce around as if their tails were made of rubber?

Technical

The picture is quite clean, with only a few scenes looking like they received a digital scrubbing. The very opening, with the live objects in the playroom looked a bit fuzzy with a lot of film grain. That said, the actual cartoon looks great. The sound is a bit front loaded, but the blustery day winds swirl around with the surrounds. A nice feature is whenever you pause the film, it automatically kicks off the “intermission” with interactive features. A honey of a film for the 3-6 year old crowd.

Extras

  • Disney Intermission: With Hundred Acre Wood activities, Pooh Play-Along: Play along with Pooh and his friends, Classic Animated Short: "A Day for Eeyore", Making Of Featurette: "The Story Behind the Masterpiece" , Winnie the Pooh Theme Song: Performed by Carly Simon , Five "Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" Shorts.

 "The Iceman" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

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Synopsis

This movie is based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer and strongman for the DeCavalcante crime family of Newark as well as other crime families from the New York area.  Nobody knows exactly how many people Kuklinski murdered in his lifetime and the estimates range between 100 and 250!  This movie spans the Iceman's career from his first contract killings in the 1960's up to his eventual arrest in 1986.  During this period, he juggles his assasination job with his family life so effectively that his wife and kids didn't even know what he did for a living.   

 

Specifications

  • Millennium Entertainment
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 45 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, James Franco, Ray Liotta and Chris Evans
  • Directed by: Ariel Vromen
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I was not vey familiar with Kulkinski before watching this movie.  The movie stimulated my interest and so I have read up on him.  He came from an abusive family - one of his brothers actually died due to injuries he suffered from a beating at the hands of their father.  This upbringing made Kulkinski a monster who killed not only for a living, he killed for the thrill (and for "practice") as well.  He even claimed to have killed Jimmy Hoffa.  Michael Shannon does a very remarkable acting job in portraying this troubled and complex character.  Kulkinski's wife, Deborah, is deftly played by Winona Ryder.  She plays it soft and gentle so you fear for her in every scene with Shannon, even when he isn't acting crazy.  This movie has an intense and unseamly vibe throughout which keeps you on the edge of your seat.  I just wished for more character development, more of a back story and a more thorough narrative of the events at hand.

Technical

The image quality of this dark and intense film has been tweaked to fit the tone the director intended.  This means that the picture is dark and somewhat colorless.  There is some grain in the image as well.  The 1080p transfer is faithful to this objective.  Blacks are solid but the image on the whole doesn't pop because the dynamic range is subdued.  

The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD which is becoming rare these days.  The music, dialog and action effects are all clean and balanced with a good, realistically immersive 5.1 sound field. 

Extras

This is a single disc package with two notable Special Features - The Making of "The Iceman" and "The Iceman" Behind the Scenes.  These are decent length, entertaining features that are sadly mastered in SD.