Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - August, 2011

ARTICLE INDEX

"Source Code" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-july-2011-sourcecode

Synopsis

US Army Helicopter Pilot Colter Stevens (Jake G) wakes up on a Chicago bound commuter train.  The woman sitting across from him appears to know him, but Stevens does not remember a thing. The last thing he remembers is being shot down during battle.  In a panic, Stevens finds his way to the bathroom to discover he is inside the body of another man.  Eight minutes after he woke up the train explodes from a planted bomb and Stevens wakes up again, but this time inside a dark capsule.  A woman, Goodwin, in uniform begins to talk to Stevens in an attempt to bring him back into "reality".  Before he grasps what is going on, Stevens is blasted back onto the train to relive the same 8 minutes from before.  The Source Code is a miltary experiment based on quantum physics that allows a human brain to relive 8 minutes of an event, over and over.  The goal Stevens is tasked with is discovering who planted the bomb before the suspect can do even more harm to the city of Chicago.

Specifications

  • Summit Entertainment
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 3 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan
  • Directed by Duncan Jones
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Duncan Jones' previous movie, Moon, was expertly crafted so I was excited to check out his second movie, Source Code.  Although not quite as polished and thought provoking as Moon, Source Code is a very enjoyable ride. The movie is relatively short at 93 minutes, so there is not much investment required.  Jake does a pretty good job carrying he movie, but I really enjoyed Vera Farmiga's performance.  Source Code is definitely worth checking out.

Technical

Picture quality on this disc was very solid. I wouldn't put it in a reference quality category, but detail is great, colors are natural and there were no apparent compression artifacts or haloing.  The audio track had quite a bit of energy to it with some great low frequency effects and pretty good use of the surrounds.  The music was presented with a nice full soundstage as well.

Extras

Audio Commentary and a feature called "Access Source Code" which allows the user to view scene specific features and interviews.


"Amelie" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

Amelie

Synopsis

Amelie is a young girl growing up outside of Paris.  Isolated from most of society as a young child, she grows up with a very active imagination, but a bit sheltered and has trouble relating to others.  Once she grows up, she moves to Paris to work at a café, The Two Windmills.  One night while watching the news, she happens to discover a box hidden away in the wall from a boy who lived in her apartment decades before.  As she embarks on a quest to reunite the boy with his lost artifact, her life will change in countless ways.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2001, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus
  • Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Amelie is one of my all time favorite films.  A picture that is bursting with energy and creativity, full of passion and joy that never fails to bring a smile to my face.  Having watched it many times in theaters as well as on DVD, I’m happy to say that the Blu-ray version is the best version I have seen at home.  The subtitles have changed some since the theatrical release, presumably to be more accurate, though I find the flow of them to be not quite as smooth as it was originally.  A movie I really can’t recommend enough, and one that I will visit again and again.

Technical

Compared to the DVD release, the Blu-ray version is far more detailed and clear and is really a wonderful transfer.  Some shots aren’t quite as sharp as others, and in a couple I can see that the camera might have actually been slightly off-focused for a second, but overall the transfer is very good.  The special effects in some shots suffer a bit as the extra resolution shows the lack of detail in some of them, though the effects are more for artistic effect so it’s not a big distraction.

Sound is very good as well, with good detail and wise use of the surrounds.  I can’t really comment that well on the clarity of vocals as the film is in French so I was concentrating more on the subtitles, but nothing seemed to be muffled.  The wonderful score comes across more detailed than ever as well.

Extras

Amelie features directors commentary, featurettes, screen tests, and the theatrical trailer.


"Rango" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

Rango

Synopsis

When a family’s pet chameleon is suddenly stranded in the Mojave Desert, he suddenly finds himself struggling to survive from heat, hawks, and other predators.  Taking on the name of Rango, he happens upon the community of Dirt where water is precious, and in short supply.  After a series of accidents leads to his becoming sheriff and the town bank is robbed, he has to find out who stole their remaining water, and figure out a deeper mystery surrounding it as well.

Specifications

  • Paramount
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 47 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina, Isla Fisher
  • Directed by Gore Verbinski
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Though I was initially worried about the association with Nickelodeon, I found Rango to be a very enjoyable file.  It’s chock full of references to other films (Chinatown, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Star Wars to name a few) that the film buff will really enjoy.  I’d highly recommend watching the film for the whole family.

Technical

Rango might be the best looking thing I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray.  Detail throughout the film is spectacular, and the different hair and scale textures on the animals are nothing short of amazing.  If you need something to show off your home theater to friends, go ahead and reach for this disc.  The audio doesn’t disappoint either with full use of all the channels, surrounding you during action sequences and making good use of ambient sound effects with the surrounds the rest of the time.  Rango takes full advantage of everything that Blu-ray has to offer.

Extras

Rango features directors commentary, deleted scenes, some featurettes on the making of the film, as well as a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.


"Brazil" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-august-2011-brazil

Synopsis

Brazil takes place in an unnamed country, with a government that is reminiscent of Big Brother in 1984, only a bit more inept.  Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a low level employee who deals with lots of paperwork and frequently slips off into daydreams.  Often he dreams about a woman that he is to save.  When a fly causes a typo, leading to the incarceration and execution of the wrong person, he is sent out to remedy the situation.

Upon visiting the family of the deceased, he finds the woman of his dreams to be living upstairs.  As she was the one that reported that the wrong person had been arrested, the bumbling government now considers her a possible terrorist as well and is out to get her.  Of course, the real terrorist (Robert DeNiro) is still out there, and has to be found by Sam as well.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1985, Color, Rate R, 2 Hr 12 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Robert DeNiro
  • Directed by Terry Gilliam
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Summarizing a film from Terry Gilliam is an exercise in frustration, as the absurdity that springs forth from his films can best be explained only by watching them.  Brazil was originally released in the US with a totally different cut than the rest of the world, and a happy ending that Gilliam did not enjoy.  Thankfully this Blu-ray restores most of his original vision to the screen and make for a much more enjoyable film.  Brazil is a very bizarre film, but one that is worth watching.

Technical

While some shots are a bit soft, and there is a fine level of grain present for most of the film, this is pretty standard for films from the 80’s that are released on Blu-ray.  All the details of the original film seem to come across, though there are some scenes that are sharper than others.  Overall this is a nice image, but not an extraordinary one.

Audio has been upgraded to a lossless surround track, and while most of the audio is still focused on the front there is some use of the surround channels.  Dialog comes through relatively clear, and overall does a nice job.

Extras

Nothing.  Given the wonderful DVD set that Criterion has put out, it’s a shame they couldn’t license that, or have a branching version with the original “Love Conquers All” cut of the film.


"The Smurfs: A Magical Smurf Adventure" (DVD) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-august-2011-the-smurfs

Synopsis

The Smurfs are a group of small, magical blue creatures that live in the forest.  Led by Papa Smurf, they spend much of their time trying to avoid getting captured by Gargamel, the evil local wizard.  This is a selection of episodes from the original series, now presented on DVD.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 1982, Color, Not Rated, 3 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • 480i
  • English Dolby Digital Mono
  • Starring: Lucille Bliss, Michael Bell
  • Created by: Peyo
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Comic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Any child from the 80’s remembers the Smurfs, and now with a feature film coming out this summer, you can once again go back and relive the original episodes.  The show was still enjoyable to go back and watch, which was a nice surprise given that things often age poorly that are from your childhood, but it’s certainly something my son will probably enjoy watching in another year or two.

Technical

Unfortunately, The Smurfs looks like it was archived and transferred from VHS tape.  Easily the worst looking DVD transfer I have ever seen, there is an abundance of noise and artifacts and the image is just horrible.  The colors are very dull and muted as well.  Audio is better, though not overly dynamic, but it is far more acceptable than the image is.  Kids might not notice, but their parents will.

Extras

Smurf Speak and Smurftastic Moments Bonus Features.


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

movie-august-2011-unknown

Synopsis

Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, who awakens after a car accident in Berlin to discover that his wife (January Jones) suddenly doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Ignored by disbelieving authorities and hunted by mysterious assassins, he finds himself alone, tired and on the run. Aided by an unlikely ally (Diane Kruger), Harris plunges into a deadly mystery forcing him to question his sanity, his identity and just how far he’s willing to go to uncover the truth.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 53 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Codec: MPEG-4
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger
  • Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I loved Neeson in Taken, where as a frantic father searching for his abducted daughter, he became an unstoppable force of nature. I found this action flick to be bogged down with a leaded script and a slow to develop storyline. The ending seemed to be "duct taped" on and lacked originality or credibility. Action scenes were few and far between as well. Does anyone not know that Frank Langella is always the baddie? However, the appearance and acting of Bruno Ganz as a retired East German spy-turned-private investigator, Ernst Jurgen, is wonderful to watch. So although not a horrible movie, after seeing it, I felt I had seen all of this before.

Technical

Picture quality is top notch. Dark scenes are detailed and never murky. I saw no artifacts creep into the film, not even aliasing during the action sequences. Sound was also very good with clear dialog and the requisite booming explosions during the car chase scene. I only wished the movie had a more memorable soundtrack with more punch. The plot could have used more punch.

Extras

Liam Neeson: Known action hero, Unknown: What is known?, and commentaries.


"Your Highness" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-august-2011-your-highness

Synopsis

The valiant Prince Fabious (Franco) has is bride-to-be, Belladonna, stolen by the evil dark wizard Leezar.  Fabious has always been the number one son, performing bravely in quest after quest, while his younger brother Thadeous (McBride) has led a lazy life of luxury.  Thadeous’s time to prove himself has finally arrived with the kidnapping of his brother’s fiancee.  Along with a team of knights they embark on a journey to save Belladonna. Along the way they meet a rogue warrior who is set upon finding vengeance for her family that were murdered by Leezar.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2011, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman
  • Directed by David Gordon Green
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

When I first saw the trailer for this movie I instantly wanted to see it.  It looked like a movie with a lot of potential.  Then Your Highness came out in theaters and was not received well, scoring 26% at Rotten Tomatoes.  This low score ruined my desire to see the film in the theater and greatly lowered my expectations.  Well this is one time I do not remotely agree with the masses.  Your Highness is an excellent silly comedy and my wife and I were thoroughly entertained by it.  It’s raunchy and tasteless and I “highly” recommend it.

Technical

The detail present in this transfer is excellent.  Textures are crisp and clean, yielding excellent dimension to the image. The only drawback I notices were some high black levels, which had a bit of a blue tone to them and exhibited some crushing. 

The sound mix for Your Highness was a pleasant surprise.  Surround effects were used well without being a distraction from the wonderful sounding presentation of the movie’s score by Steve Jablonsky.

Extras

Deleted Scenes, An excellent Gag Reel, The Making of Your Highness, Perverted Visions outtakes, and Audio Commentary.


"The Blues Brothers" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2011-blues-brothers

Synopsis

Elwood Blues meets his brother Jake as he is released from prison.  On their way home, they visit the orphanage where they grew up to find it on the verge of closing due to unpaid taxes.  Jake and Elwood promise to raise the money, legitimately of course.  After a visit to the Triple Rock Baptist Church, they embark on a “mission from God” to resurrect their rhythm and blues band.  They manage to round up everyone and after an interesting gig at Bob’s Country Bunker, they land a booking at the Palace Hotel Ballroom where they can make the $5000 in one night.  Unfortunately, the entire Illinois State Police and an irate country music band are waiting for them.  After the concert, they escape with the cash facing a 106-mile drive back to Chicago and the Assessor’s Office.  Following one of the greatest car chases in cinema history, Jake and Elwood pay the taxes, save the orphanage and wind up right back in the slammer where the movie began.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1980, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  John  Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson
  • Directed by John Landis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

While the above synopsis tells the plot of the film, the real show here is the music.  Sure, the story is fun and the gags are classic slapstick but the musical numbers are the real meat of this movie, which is one of my all-time favorites.  Performances by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and Ray Charles are now legendary in movie lore.  The production itself is over the top from beginning to end.  It seems as if no expense was spared in the musical numbers which employ hundreds of extras.  And the car chase!  Few action flicks can boast the sheer volume of automotive wreckage wrought by The Blues Brothers.  And did I mention the brief but memorable appearances by Twiggy, John Candy (“we’re in a truck!”) and Carrie Fisher?  After you watch the Bluesmobile trash a mall, you’ll never shop the same way again.  This movie is loaded with tasty nuggets and the only way to see them all is to buy this disc and watch it over and over again.  I have done this for years with the DVD and now I have a shiny new Blu-ray to enjoy!

Technical

Image quality is decidedly average which I attribute to the very grainy print used in this transfer.  The original was shot on 35mm but it seemed more like 16mm given the level of grain which is present throughout.  The Blu-ray stays faithful to the original with a touch of edge enhancement being the only video-related flaw.  Color and contrast are first-rate with rich saturated flesh tones, deep blacks and excellent shadow detail.  Overall resolution is a bit soft but again that goes back to the original.  Perhaps a digital cleanup would have ruined the gritty look which is so appropriate to the many scenes of Chicago’s less-affluent neighborhoods.  This Blu-ray is certainly an improvement on the DVD version.

I rode a bit of a rollercoaster with the soundtrack before I even put the disc in the player.  When I ripped open the mailer, I saw on the back of the box “DTS 5.1 Surround.”  What, no lossless encode?  I was crestfallen.  This was the upgrade I had most looked forward to.  Upon opening the box, the disc label proclaimed DTS-HD Master Audio.  Yay!  Unfortunately, I discovered this only refers to the bonus material!  The film’s sound codec is indeed lossy DTS.  Before you light your torches and sharpen your axes for a trip to Universal Studios, let me tell you, the sound is quite excellent.  No, it’s not the crystal-clear detail found in most uncompressed tracks but it is presented at a very high bitrate.  The musical numbers sounded fantastic and are a huge improvement over the DVD release.  The dialog sounds somewhat processed and compressed but this is no better or worse than other films of this vintage.  The detail is there when it’s needed most, during the music.

Extras

Extras are extensive and include a one-hour making-of documentary, a 10-minute retrospective on John Belushi and a 15-minute featurette that has more recent interviews with cast and crew members.  The disc includes both the original theatrical cut and an extended version which adds 15 minutes of previously deleted material.


"Chocolat" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2011-chocolat

Synopsis

One windy day, a strange woman and her daughter come to a little French village to open a special chocolate shop.  They are immediately shunned by the ultra-conservative mayor, Comte de Reynaud (Molina).  Slowly but surely, Vianne (Binoche) wins the town over one person at a time.  To further complicate the mayor’s fight against immorality, a group of drifters arrives by boat led by the pirate-like Roux (Depp).  After she takes in village outcast Josephine (Olin) things really start to heat up.  Events come to a head when Josephine’s husband sets fire to the drifters’ boats.  The mayor, in his rage, breaks into the shop.  He tries to destroy the displays but when he accidentally gets a taste of one of the treats, he too is won over and finally admits defeat.  Easter arrives and the cloud of conservatism is lifted as life finally returns to the village.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2000, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp
  • Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Sensual
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is a delightful movie that has a little something for everyone.  While it won’t hold the attention of the youngest children, it is a family film that will appeal to a broad range of tastes.  The principal actors are all strong and give superb performances.  Judi Dench as the grumpy grandmother is especially entertaining.  And you will roll on the floor laughing as Alfred Molina covers himself with chocolates and other confections when he destroys Vianne’s window display.  There are plenty of other funny bits involving the local priest, the townspeople and even a cheeky little dog.  I do recommend having some chocolate on hand when you watch this because a craving is inevitable!  Highly recommended.

Technical

Image quality, while not reference-level, is a vast improvement over the DVD release.  The main thing I noticed was the veil of gloom and murkiness was finally lifted.  The film is fairly grainy and that combined with what seems to be an ever-present mist made the DVD look flat and lifeless.  This Blu-ray has a vibrancy and depth that I found very pleasing.  Contrast and color are excellent even if sharpness and detail fall a bit short.  Overall, I was quite happy with the picture.

Sound is clear and detailed at all times thanks to the DTS-HD Master Audio encode.  Dialog is crisp and easy to understand at all volume levels.  The music is particularly enjoyable with a mix of guitar and violin.  The score has a mid-twentieth century European pub feel that fits the story perfectly.  My hat’s off to composer Rachel Portman.

Extras

Bonus features include a making of featurette, a documentary about the costumes, a production design featurette and deleted scenes.


"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-august-2011-fast-times-at-ridgemont-high

Synopsis

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a look at kids in a high school during their senior year.  Brad (Judge Reinhold) works at a burger joint and drives a nice car and fancies himself as perhaps being deserving of a better girlfriend than he currently has.  His sister Stacey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works at a pizza joint in the mall and jumping back and forth in relationships, including one with Rat (Brian Backer), who works at the movie theater in the mall.  Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is a stoner who rubs the history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) the wrong way, and can’t seem to take life seriously at all.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1982, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Directed by Amy Heckerling
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless) and written by Cameron Crowe, I came into Fast Times at Ridgemont High very excited, as I had never seen it growing up.  Unfortunately, I found the movie to not be touching, or really that funny, or relatable at all.  Characters are painted with a very broad brush, and I don’t think I saw a parent of any of the actors the whole time.

Most of the characters are just clichéd stereotypes that don’t bring much to the film, or are in a few scenes and then disappear again with growing or changing.  I came in to the film with high hopes, but those were quickly dashed.  The more I thought about the movie after watching it, the more disenchanted I became, especially with a plot line in the middle of the film that treats abortion as a ho-hum decision and not a bigger deal that it would be for a high school student.

Technical

The transfer on Fast Times was very inconsistent.  Some scenes looked very nice, with very low noise and a lot of good detail for a film that wasn’t a high budget production almost thirty years ago.  Other scenes would features crushed shadow detail and lots of film noise and be fairly soft in comparison.  Overall the transfer is fine, though not outstanding, but an upgrade from a DVD copy.

The soundtrack fares better with good use of the all channels when it comes to the soundtrack, and clear dialogue for the rest of the film.  The surrounds come into play sometimes during other film scenes, but most of the film is anchored in the front aside from the music.

Extras

Directors and Writers commentary, a retrospective feature, and the original trailer are included.


"Mars Needs Moms 3D" (3D Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Adrian Wittenberg

movie-august-2011-mars-needs-moms-3d

Synopsis

An alien race on Mars uses nannybots to raise their infants but needs women subjects from Earth with good mothering abilities to program the robots.  Milo's (Seth Green, Seth Dusky) mom (Joan Cusack) is a perfect candidate as she is observed as frequently struggling with Milo and is successful at getting him to do his chores or eat his vegetables.  On one night when Milo almost thinks he would be better off without a nagging mom, the alien race comes to Earth to kidnap her.  Milo witnesses the spaceship begin to take off and manages to climb on board before it leaves the Earth.  After landing, Milo barely escapes the spaceship by listening to advice from Gribble (Dan Fogler) who he soon meets on the surface of Mars.  Gribble informs Milo of the details of the alien race and reluctantly shows Milo the calamitous fate that will come of his mother after the aliens are done using her for programming their nannybots.  Milo, realizes that he must embark on a mission try to save his mom at all costs and pursuades Gribble to offer any help he can.     

Specifications

  • Disney/Buena Vista
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4 - MVC
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD MA 7.1
  • Starring: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler, Mindy Sterling, and Seth Dusky
  • Directed by Simon Wells
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Very Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This film uses a unique style of animation.  All of the main action in the film from the characters is taken from motion capture and is then rendered on a computer.  This is much different then a traditional 3D animation that uses 3D modeling and animators to decide on the movement of the characters.  This technique proved to be very interesting and gave the film the ability to use computer generated images to create its 3D effects while retaining a more life like human appearance.  Computer animation has much more diversity in varying the 3D effects than live action filming does due to the limitation of live action productions needing to preset their two camera angles and depth, before filming a scene.  The downside to computer animation is that the characters look cartoonish and not always lifelike despite the talent of the animator.  At first, Mars needs Mom's style of animation looked a little strange and almost creepy to me, but by the end of the film I felt it served the purpose of succesfully adding the human element to an animated sci fi adventure.  The 3D effects in this film are very good.  While almost every scene has tasteful uses of depth and there is good separation between objects there are more than a couple scenes that stand out where the 3D effects really enhance the scene by adding the effects necessary to envoke an appropriate feeling.  One example is the sequence where Milo has seconds left to save his mom from a death contraption and is desperately running towards his Mom along the surface of Mars. Mars needs Moms is one of the first films that is successful at crossing over into a new hybrid style of animated film and it has a good delivery of a far fetched story.  The story proceeds with good pacing and is effiicient in delivering it's message.  Mars needs Moms overall presentation and clever 3D effects make it one of the best 3D Blu-ray releases currently available and definitely an enjoyable family picture.  

Technical

The video quality of Mars needs Moms 3D is spectacularThere is excellent use of contrast with varied levels of lighting and deep rich blacks.  There is a wide use of color in this film with some scenes being very subtle and other scenes offering a very full range of bright vivid colors.  The 3D effects in the film are nearly flawless with only a few scenes with all but the smallest degree of crosstalk visible.  The audio performance of this film is excellent and the DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track delivers an excellent experience with effective use of surround and LFE channels.  The soundtrack on this film is fun and fits in well with the story.  

Extras

Extras include deleted scenes including a 3D sequence, a featurette about the martian language, a gag reel with Seth Green, and a featurette on the full motion capture used in the film. 


"The Big Lebowski" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-august-2011-the-big-lebowski

Synopsis

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) lives a relaxed, strange life.  He walks around in his bathrobe, drinking white Russians, and bowling in his league with Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi).  When he’s mistaken for a millionaire also named Lebowski and a stranger pisses on his rug, he goes to the other Lebowski looking for compensation.

Turned away at first, he is drawn back into this circle when Bunny, the wife of Lebowski, is kidnapped and he needs someone to help get her back.  The Dude is recruited to make a money drop to get her back, but once he involved Walter in this mess, everything gets a bit messed up.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1998, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 59 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
  • Directed by Joel Coen
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Coming off of their largest commercial, and critical, success with Fargo, if the Coen Brothers were like other directors they might have played it a bit safer, but that’s not what they do.  The Big Lebowski is a strange, bizarre, wonderful film that has only seen its reputation grow over time.  Immensely quotable, suitable for continually viewing it again, and full of unforgettable characters and moments, The Big Lebowski is a wonderful film and a pleasure to now have on Blu-ray.

Technical

Overall the picture in The Big Lebowski is very good, but you can tell there is a bit of noise reduction present at times.  Foreheads and other areas of skin that should have some fine wrinkles or imperfections present and usually a little too smooth, but overall most textures are still very good.  Colors are vibrant and bold, and contrast and black level are both very good overall.  This is the best that Lebowski has looked at home.

The lossless soundtrack provided to The Big Lebowski is also a winner overall.  Though a lot of the movie is dialog driven, there are a good number of scenes that make use of the full surround effects and they come through very nicely.  Dialog is also nice and clear, bringing across the rambling nature of the film very well.

Extras

Packed in a nice Digibook case with a trivia game, a lot of featurettes and retrospective features, many of which are far more interesting than the usual PR pieces on a disc, photo gallery, and a digital copy.  However, there is no commentary track, which would have been great to hear.


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

movie-august-2011-paul

Synopsis

Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are two nerds from the UK who travel to San Diego for the annual Comic-con Convention.  After Comic-con, they rent a motor home and set out on a tour of America's historic UFO sites.  Along the way, they are witness to a night time single-car crash.  When they stop to render aid, they are surprised to find that the driver is a bona-fide extraterrestrial named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan).  Since his car is ruined, Paul asks Graeme to give him a lift to his destination.  Graeme agrees and the whole troupe sets off on a wild road trip all the while being pursued by federal agents (Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, et al.) and the gun toting father of a woman they kidnapped from a trailer park.  Will they be able to get Paul back to his mother ship after more than 60 years in human captivity?

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 44 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan and Jason Bateman
  • Directed by Greg Mottola
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I found this movie only slightly above average for a comedy.  Much of the material is pretty banal, bordering on the infintile.  Though I generally enjoy base humor like this, "Paul" is stilted by the overly gratuitous use of swear words.  I also got my fill of homophobic jokes early on with this one.  And I'm sure any devoutly religious person would probably find this movie repulsive.  I still give it 3 stars for entertainment because of some excellent performances by Rogen, Kristen Wigg, Jason Bateman and the principals, Pegg and Frost.  Rogen as the alien delivers the most hilarious lines in the movie - many of these lines may slip past you if you aren't paying close attention.  So, even though a majority of the plot elements are predictable and I can think of several more fulfilling endings, this movie is a solid rental for those interested in a light diversion from their daily grind.

Technical

The video presentation is helped by being composed of mostly brightly lit scenes throughout.  The film does have a few night scenes with excellent highlights and average shadow detail.  I found that the motion capture technology behind the alien Paul was quite well done.  On the audio side, the voice intelligibility and naturalness is first rate.  The few scenes with action-oriented sound effects were acceptable if a little muted at the frequency extremes.

Extras

This two-disc package comes with the Blu-Ray, an anamorphic DVD and a Digital Copy.  There are tons of Special Features:  Between the Lightning Strikes - The Making of Paul; 8 separate Behind the Scenes Featurettes; a blooper reel; The Evolution of Paul - An Inside Look at How Paul Became a Living, Breathing Alien; Simon's Silly Faces - Simon Pegg Makes an Assortment of Wildly Funny Faces for the Camera; Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild? - Find Out About the Legendary Sci-fi Writer from the Characters in Paul; a Feature Commentary with Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader and Nira Park; Photo Galleries; Storyboards and Posters.


"National Lampoon's Animal House" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-august-2011-animal-house

Synopsis

It is Pledge Week at the mythical Farber College and two incoming freshman, Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) are interested in pledging one of the fraternities on campus.  The fact of the matter is that they are just not up to the standards of the better fraternities.  Fortunately, Dorfman a/k/a "Flounder" is a legacy at the raucous Delta Tau Chi House. Follow their escapades as they pledge Delta and take on the Omegas who help Dean Wormer (John Vernon) in his bid to undo the Deltas by way of the "double secret probation" they have been placed under.  With much of the film's tone being set by the Delta's spiritual leader, Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi), you can once again relish in all the madcap toga parties, food fights and other amazing stunts.  Nobody is safe from the action, not even Dean Wormer's own promiscuous wife (Verna Bloom).

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1978, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: John Belushi, Tim Mattheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Tom Hulche, Stephen Furst, Kevin Bacon and Donald Sutherland
  • Directed by John Landis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I cued up this Blu-Ray late one night just to get a quick feel for the quality of the restoration and transfer.  As you may have guseed it, a little under two hours later as I watched the closing credits roll by I was only just beginning to rise up from a major nostalgia experience.  I just couldn't help myself.  This movie is so chock full of great moments; moments than defined whole acting and directorial careers.  Many of these moments have also become cultural phenomena in our Western society.  I like that the movie plays much like a stage show adapted for the silver screen. 

It can certainly be expected, but it is nevertheless interesting how John Belushi receives top billing on the cover.  The way I remember it, he was simply an amusing bit character who provided additional comedic relief (of the slapstick variety, no less).  But he was the central figure in many enduring images from the movie.  Still you must not forget all the other great characters here - Dean Wormer, Flounder, Otter, Pinto, Professor Jennings, Babs, Boon, Neidermeyer, etc., etc.   And Animal House has great music with featured guests Otis Day and the Knights.

Technical

I went back and watched this Blu-ray again when I was in a more alert mental state.  I have subsequently reduced the Video rating by 1 star.  There is abundant film grain.  The image has ample detail in facial close-ups.  The colors are solid and natural.  The black levels are very inky with frequent crush in the shadows.  The image is marred with too much edge enhancement which obliterates detail in long shots.  The audio sounds dated but has decent transparency on the musical score.  Dean Wormer's loud, cranky voice was particularly well reproduced.  The various sound effects are where the age of this work is most apparent.

Extras

This disc has a typical array of Special Features: U-Control Scene Companion, U-Control The Music of Animal House, The Yearbook - An Animal House Reunion, Where Are They Now? - A Delta Alumni Update, Scene It? - Animal House and the Theatrical Trailer. Storybords and posters.


"Dazed and Confused" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-august-2011-dazed

Synopsis

This story deals with a group of friends on the last day of high school, 1976. Good-natured football star Randall "Pink" Floyd navigates effortlessly between the warring worlds of jocks, stoners, wannabes, and rockers with girlfriend and new-freshman buddy in tow. Surprisingly, it's not a coming-of-age movie, but a film that dares ask the eternal, overwhelming, adolescent question, "What happens next?" It's a little too honest to be a light comedy. But it's also way too much fun to be just another existential-essay-on-celluloid.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey
  • Directed by Richard Linklater
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I graduated from high school in 1975 and I remember some of the characters portrayed in this film. It’s a wonder that we all survived! The movie has no plot, per se, and simply follows the lives of several teens starting in the afternoon when school lets out for the summer and all night till dawn. Great music, great cars and some touching moments make this almost a remake of American Graffiti…only for the 70’s. What fun to see Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck before they hit it big! Beware: there is prevalent drug usage and swearing that gives this movie an R rating. What’s the matter with kids these days…err…back then?

Technical

The print holds up very well in this transfer with plenty of fine detail (and film grain) and contrast. Colors are bold and only upon occasion does the film get a bit soft in wide shots. The dark outdoor scenes are crisp, with little noise. This was a film I was concerned about getting digitally scrubbed, but that is thankfully not the case here. The sound is very good with plenty of tunes from the 70’s played "loud and surround". Even the subwoofer kicks in from time to time. (For those willing to wait, Criterion Collection will be releasing this film shortly. I expect that release will trump this one from Universal).

Extras

Deleted scenes (SD), featurette "The Blunt Truth" and some tasty retro public service announcements.


"Jane Eyre" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-august-2011-jane-eyre

Synopsis

This movie is the newest adaptation of the classic 1847 novel by Charlotte Bronte.  It is the story of an  orphan, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) who suffers mental and physical abuse from her foster family as a young child.  She later goes to school at the Lowood Institution where she gains an academic education but suffers further abuse and alienation.  Upon leaving Lowood, she finds work as a governess at Thornfield Hall.  Here, she works under the direction of the keeper of the Estate, Alice Fairfax (Judi Dench).  The aloof and brooding master of Thornfield, Rochester, is played by Michael Fassbender.  Rochester and Jane eventually form an emotional bond, but secrets buried in the walls of the estate will create a rift in their relationship.  When the secret is revealed, Jane dejectedly flees the estate, wandering through the moors penniless until she happens upon a family that offers to take her in.  She is able to find steady work as a school teacher.  Will she ever return to Thornfield Hall to bring closure to her emotional connection with Rochester?

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 1 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench
  • Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This novel has been adapted to film, TV and stage many times over the years.  So I was interested to see if this production would be able to offer a new spin on the claasic tale.  Being the most recent Jane Eyre adaptaion, the movie benefits from high quality, modern production values.  The locations, sets, set pieces, hair and makeup are all just spot on for the period and the plot.  This is the story of a young woman exploring her inner feelings and a sense of independence in the early stages of the Victorian Era.  And the movie focuses primarily on that plot element while eschewing much of the abuse of her early years that was so deftly written in to the original text.  I thought this was a bit of a missed opportunity as her early years lends important context to her adult life.  I still applaud the Director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, for an all around fine directorial effort nevertheless.  I did wish for more fire and chemistry between Jane and Rochester and I think they tried a little too hard to give Jane an outwardly demure personality.  In the end, I found this film to be engaging, brooding, melancholy and, above all else, entertaining.

Technical

The picture offers deatil galore with a misty, melancholy look.  This look became a little washed out in some scenes so I deducted one half star on the score.  The audio track has lots of clean high frequency energy in environmental sounds - bells, sibilants, birds, the crack of a fire place.  The audio also has a wide dynamic range but is hampered by what I call a "movie" sound where familiar sounds like foot steps or knocks on doors have overly thick bass harmonics.

Extras

This disc includes the following special features - Deleted Scenes, A Look Inside Jane Eyre, To Score Jane Eyre: Cary Fukunaga and Dario Marianelli Team Up, The Mysterious Light of Jane Eyre and a Feature Commentary with Director Cary Fukunaga.