Media

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - March, 2011

ARTICLE INDEX

"Sword of War" (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-march-2011-sword-of-war

Synopsis

This is the story of the German Emperor Barbarossa (Rutger Hauer) who will stop at nothing to conquer and build his empire. He is dead set on being named the Holy Roman Emperor so he can sit at the same throne as Charlemagne.  But a young man from Milan, Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan) builds a modest army of 900.  They call themselves the Company of Death.  The Company of Death will battle Barbarossa's army at the Battle of Legnano in 1176.  This battle was a major turning point in Barbarossa's reign.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 3 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • NTSC
  • English 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Starring: Rutger Hauer, Raz Degan and F. Murray Abraham
  • Directed by Renzo Martinelli
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Suggestive
  • Language: No

Commentary

This movie is an Italian production that was done in English with Italian subtitles.  That is how it is presented on the DVD release.  The overdubbing was poorly done in many spots, lending a cheesy feel to the proceedings.  The picture and sound quality are quite good for DVD.  Consequently, many of scenes are actually riveting.  Take the siege of Milan, the catapults fired by Barbarosa were very cool.   But then the Italians returned fire with a catapult of their own, which was so totally fake it mostly destroyed the whole mood.  I was also a little confused about the circumstances that ended this battle. The acting in the movie is highly variable.  I didn't feel that Rutger Hauer provided a very dynamic performance.  But Raz Degan as Giussano was good as was F. Murray Abraham in the role of Barozzi.  It appears that the main antagonist, Giussano, was a mythological legend. There was, however, an actual Battle of Legnano in which Barbarossa was injured and thought to have died until he later emerged.  The outcome of this battle did leave Barbarossa weakened and started his decline as a ruler.  When the final battle gets under way, I would hope that you are in the mood for "a little bit of the old ultra violence" as the closing battle has bunches and bunches of bloody special effects to satiate your appetite.  It got a little too crazy for my tastes, but there are a lot of peole who will enjoy it.  Lastly, the music set the mood nicely and was very appropriate to the film.

Technical

The picture quality was very good for DVD.   There were solid blacks, good shadow detail, appropriate contrast and fine color fidelity.  There were very few obvious compression artfiacts and as a result the picture retained an significant amount of detail that showed up in everything from the trees to the costumes.  The audio also outshone the format.  The Dolby Digital track had decent bass response.  The sound was enveloping throughout, but especially so in the battle scenes.  The music is well recorded and presented with good clarity.

Extras

There are two extras on this disc: A Behind-the-Scenes Featurette and Trailers.


"The Last Unicorn" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-march-2011-last-unicorn

Synopsis

This movie is based on the book by Peter S. Beagle.  It opens with a Unicorn (Mia Farrow) hearing from a couple of hunters that she is the last unicorn in all the land.  She decides to set out and search for others of her kind.  Along the way, the Unicorn gets abducted by a wicked witch, Mommy Fortuna (Angela Lansbury) who wants the Unicorn for her travelling side show.  A budding wizard, Schmendrick (Alan Arkin), helps the Unicorn escape.  He joins her in her quest to find the Red Bull and the rest of her clan.  Throughout this fantastic adventure, she learns of friendship, love, and most importantly, her true self. Their journey through the kingdom of King Haggard is full of adventure and intrigue, like when the Unicorn meets Prince Lir (Jeff Bridges) and they fall in love.  Will her love for the Prince stop the Unicorn from completing her quest or will she be able to find and rescue the other Unicorns?

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 1982, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 33 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow and Angela Landsbury
  • Directed by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The Last Unicorn is a beloved classic to many fans out there.  For my part, I was a little too old and mature to be interested in this movie when it first released in 1982.  Now, after having just watched this new Blu-Ray of The Last Unicorn, I can fully understand why so many people love this movie. It is a great story set in a magical, colorful world of unicorns, magicians and strange beasts.  I found it easy to connect with the characters.  You really start hoping for a positive outcome as the story unfolds.  The movie also involves some humor with the butterfly (Robert Klein) and the Wizard, Schmendrick. It wasn't all good, as a number of the singing performances lacked depth on many levels.  But this didn't seriously tarnish what is otherwise a very engaging and enjoyable movie for kids of all ages.

Technical

The picture shows some film grain and other film-related issues, but it is generally very clean.  The colors are mostly natural, with the brightest colors coming from the characters' clothes and the Red Bull.  Check out the red cape that King Haggard wears.  It is a brilliant, bright red in this transfer.  The picture also presents the background scenery in all its stylized splendor.  On the audio side, I watched the movie with the 25th Anniversary surround mix that's encoded in DTS HD Master.  For the most part, it sounded like a stereo track with a matrixed center channel and a hall effect added for the ambience.  That's not to say it was bad, because I really liked the subtlety of the effect.  The picture and sound are definitely dated, but sufficiently engaging to support the film on a modern home theater rig.

Extras

This is a combo pack that includes a bonus DVD of the movie.  The package comes with a whole host of quality extras: "Immortal Characters" Featurette, an audio commentary with Peter S. Beagle and publisher Connor Cochran, 2010 The Last Unicorn art contest gallery, Peter S. Beagle and his work, The Tale of the Last Unicorn Minidocumentary, Schmendrick's Magical Gallery, the Original Trailer and a trailer gallery.


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

movie-march-2011-bambi

Synopsis

Virtually everyone knows the classic story of Bambi.  Bambi is a newborn fawn in the forest who begins to grow up with his friends Thumper the rabbit, Flower the skunk, and the wise Owl.  We follow Bambi from his learning to walk, to finding love, through tragedy, and his learning about interacting with man.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 1942, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 10 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD High Resolution
  • Starring: Hardie Albright, Donnie Dunagan (voices)
  • Directed by James Algar and six others
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Bambi remains a wonderful film for kids of all ages, and one that adults can watch and still see the magic in it.  Of course, Bambi does have it's well known tearjerker moment that parents have to be aware of.  My son (15 months now) isn't quite old enough to sit and watch a whole film, but he was entranced by the bright colors and wonderful animation of the film, shouting out when he'd see a bird or bunny rabbit on screen.  It's hard to find fault with anything about Bambi.

Technical

Bambi looks better than I've ever seen it look before.  Colors and bold and strong, the animation is crisp and all the detail in the animation is visible.  The soundtrack is a brand new 7.1 mix, and for a film that was originally released in mono, Disney has done a very nice job here.  It uses the rarely seen DTS-HD High Resolution lossy audio codec instead of the more common lossless Master Audio, but it sounds great overall.  I wish they had gone with the lossless codec just so we could be sure there wasn't anything we we missing.

Extras

Special Features include deleted scenes, a deleted song, Inside Walt's Story Meetings, Disney Book of Knowledge game, and more features.  A DVD of the film is also included.


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

movie-february-2011-memento

Synopsis

Leonard (Pearce) is a man with an unusual condition:  he lacks the ability to form new memories since the murder of his wife.  Anything he experiences fades from his mind within a few minutes.  He is able to remember his life before the murder.  His existence is devoted to finding his wife’s killer and exacting revenge.  He survives day-to-day by writing himself notes and carrying an instant camera everywhere he goes.  Living out of a hotel room, he gets different people to help him in his quest.  The problem is; can he trust them?  Are they truly his allies or are they taking advantage of him?  Haunting him throughout are the memories of his life before when he was an insurance investigator.  It turns out he encountered a man with the same affliction in the past.  Only time will tell if he learned from his experiences.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2000, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 53 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This was quite a unique film in my experience.  I didn’t have to try hard to put myself in Leonard’s shoes; Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction did that for me.  The entire movie plays out in reverse as each new scene pre-dates the one before.  It was a bit of a mind-job but very entertaining.  It took a little thinking for me to put things together but I was never lost in the plot.  Guy Pearce gives a superb performance and single-handedly carries the movie as Leonard.  A handful of other characters merely give him something to play off of.  Just when you think you don’t know what’s going on, the next scene gives you the needed background info.  This is definitely one to watch again as I’m sure there is more detail to pick up.  If you enjoy a thriller that makes you think, this movie is for you.  I can’t say I’ve seen another film like it.

Technical

Video quality is excellent with deep rich contrast and bold saturated color.  My only complaint is the flesh tones had a slight orange push.  Detail is reference quality with sharp textures and fine rendering of the many facial close-ups.  There a subtle and perfect amount of film grain present which adds appropriate grit without distraction.  A few scenes are shot in black and white and this too is very consistent in its high quality.

Being mostly dialog-driven, the audio is not exactly the stuff of home theater demos.  It does the job well however.  Voices are clear and well-centered at all times.  The center channel mix seemed a tad hot to me but not so much that I was moved to make an adjustment.  Panning effects are quite clear and used to good effect, especially across the front speakers.  Surrounds aren’t used much but they don’t need to be.  My sub also had little to do but again, there was no need for deep bass.  Music was used sparsely but the score from David Julyan creates an appropriately dark and foreboding atmosphere.

Extras

Bonus features include director commentary, two making-of featurettes, an interview with Christopher Nolan, details about the short story that inspired the film and sketches of the tattoos drawn on Leonard’s body.


"Dances with Wolves" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-march-2011-danceswithwolves

Synopsis

During the America Civil War, Lt. Dunbar leads his troops into a victorious battle. He requests to be sent off to the western frontier where he sets up camp all alone.  Soon he has a visitor in the form of a wolf that he befriends and names Two Socks.  Dunbar also meets the local Sioux Indian tribe and discovers a white woman, "Stands with Fist" who has been raised by the tribe.  They fall in love and he becomes and honorary member of the tribe, adjusting many of his white-man ways to those of the Sioux.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1990, Color, Rated PG-13, 3 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
  • Directed by Kevin Costner
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

Dances with Wolves is, arguably, Kevin Costner's finest contribution to cinema history.  I have always loved this movie and its "epicness" in every sense - cinematography, acting, music, and, especially with this extended cut, length.  The film has great character development which leads to a very touching story.  You would have to be quite heartless to not feel something when watching Dancing with Wolves. MGM has released a beautiful blu-ray of this movie and I consider it a must own for any movie buff.

Technical

The video quality on this blu-ray is leaps and bounds above the old dvd copy I have. MGM has provided us with a very soft, but highly detailed, film-like transfer.  It feels like there is nothing between you and the movie.  The new DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is a thing of beauty. John Barry's amazing score is reproduced wonderfully as are the intense gun shots, stampeding buffalo, and subtle sounds of nature.

Extras

Pretty much the same as the 2 Disc DVD special edition, consisting of: Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Retrospective Documentary, Music Video, Gallery, Trailers, TV spots.


"For Colored Girls" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-march-2011-for-colored-girls

Synopsis

"For Colored Girls" is the first film directed by Tyler Perry that he also hasn't written himself.  Adapted from the choreopoem by Ntozake Shange, "For Colored Girls" is the interconnected story of nine African-American women who are from different backgrounds, but all have lives that intersect.  Tangie and Nyla are sisters, though now they rarely speak, and both view their mother Alice and her dedication to her church very differently.  Kelly works for social services and comes to check up on Crystal and her children, but is intimidated and scared when Crystal's alcoholic boyfriend, and the father of her children, wakes up to discover her inside their apartment.  Jo is a successful editor of a fashion magazine, though very demanding of her staff and everyone around her, and has no time for Juanita when she comes in looking for support for a free medical clinic that she has opened in the neighborhood.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 14 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg
  • Directed by Tyler Perry
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

For Colored Girls was a much darker film than I had expected.  While all of the stories do manage to come together and relate to each other, it can seem a little forced and stereotypical in many ways.  However, I also have to say that this isn't usually my type of film, and now any film that involves children and violence I really have a hard time watching.

Technical

While I found the film to be a little bit lacking, in no way is this transfer lacking.  Looking only slightly less sharp than the absolute best transfers that I've seen, For Colored Girls looks and sound fantastic.  The image is sharp, detailed, with good contrast and color and no artifacting that I could notice.  The soundtrack starts off with a nice, fully enveloping dance section and never gets worse.  Surrounds are used effectively, and the dialog is sharp and clear for this dialog driven film.

Extras

The disc contains a few featurettes and a documentary on the film, as well as a DVD and Digital copy on the second disc.


"Thelma & Louise" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-february-2011-thelma-and-louise

Synopsis

Thelma and Louise are two sheltered women who decide to leave their less-than-stellar mates behind and take a weekend fishing trip together.  On their way to the cabin, they have an unfortunate run-in with a man in a bar that ends in his murder.  They decide to flee to Mexico to avoid the law and thus begins their true “coming out.”  On the way south, there are a few more “adventures” and soon they are both wanted in several states.  A sympathetic police inspector tries to talk them into surrendering but it seems the FBI and many other police agencies would rather see them hanged.  By the end, the law catches up and the girls must choose their final path.

Specifications

  • MGM/20th Century Fox
  • 1991, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 9 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1
  • Codec:  AVC
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel
  • Directed by Ridley Scott
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This film is firmly in the “not my thing but surprisingly enjoyable” category.  I found it quite entertaining, especially after I got over the portrayal of every Deep South stereotype in the book.  Thelma and Louise are truly held back by the men in their lives and the set of circumstances they find themselves in is completely believable.  Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis turn in two remarkable performances.  Another actor who has a small but entertaining role is a young Brad Pitt.  He looks no older than about 16 in this film though he was 28 at the time.  His appearance is all-too-brief, but he gives a standout performance as well.  You will be rooting for the girls throughout the movie, and I did find the end a bit tragic, but all-in-all this movie comes highly recommended.

Technical

The video quality is superb and is among the best catalog transfers I’ve seen to date.  Grain is visible but not a problem.  Color is beautifully saturated and natural at all times.  Contrast is deep with excellent blacks and eye-popping highlights.  Thanks go to the telecine artists at 20th Century Fox for leaving out any unnecessary edge enhancement.  For a twenty-year-old film, detail is on par with the latest releases.  Every bead of sweat and particle of dirt is rendered flawlessly.

The audio was my only complaint here and I suspect it has more to do with the way the movie was shot than the transfer itself.  Many scenes take place in a moving convertible and the voices do sound flat and tinny as a result.  I’m sure the challenges for the sound engineers were significant.  Dialog was clear; it just had no depth or bass.  I imagine a lot of this has to do with the post-processing.  Music was an appropriate mix of orchestral interludes and twangy country music.  It fit the film’s environment perfectly; my compliments to Hans Zimmer for another superb score.

Extras

Bonus features include audio commentary by director Ridley Scott, actresses Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, and screenwriter Callie Khouri.  There is also a making-of featurette, an extended ending with commentary, deleted and extended scenes, storyboards and a music video.


"Raging Bull" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-february-2011-raging-bull

Synopsis

Raging Bull is the story of the life of boxer Jake LaMotta who had his heyday in the 1940s.  We begin in 1941 just as LaMotta has turned professional.  As he fights one bout after another, he earns the nickname “Raging Bull” and other boxers become afraid to fight him.  As we quickly see, LaMotta is a Raging Bull outside the ring as well.  His abusive behavior extends to everyone around him including his brother Joey and his wife Vicki.  He struggles to achieve a shot at the championship title but eventually he does and wins against Frenchman Marcel Cerdan.  After a brief reign, he is defeated by Sugar Ray Robinson in their sixth fight and so begins LaMotta’s downward slide.  He opens a bar and tries his hand at standup comedy but the self-inflicted damage done to his life is irreparable.  The movie fades out as LaMotta prepares to take the stage at yet another nightclub…

Specifications

  • MGM/20th Century Fox
  • 1980, Black & White, Rated R, 2 Hr 9 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • Codec:  AVC
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
  • Directed by Martin Scorsese
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I found this film extremely difficult to watch.  On one hand, it’s one of the best-crafted movies I’ve ever seen.  The cinematography and acting are simply without peer.  Robert DeNiro earned his Oscar win like no other actor I’ve ever witnessed.  His performance is guaranteed to make you hate every part of Jake LaMotta’s personality and behavior.  To say this movie produces an emotional response is a gross understatement.  That brings me to the reason for my three-star entertainment rating.  The subject matter is, for lack of a better word, disturbing.  I have rarely seen such abusive behavior portrayed in any film or TV show.  LaMotta is truly a monster in every sense of the word.  His paranoia drives him to almost non-stop verbal abuse and sometimes violent physical acts against his closest friends and family.  While Raging Bull is shot tastefully, without excess gore and violence, the emotions portrayed are so primitive and powerful; one cannot help but be affected.  The intensity of this film is not for everyone.

Technical

The image is quite good and imparts a vintage feel with its prevalent film grain and black & white presentation.  Detail is not razor-sharp, nor is it meant to be.  This is a tough gritty movie and the image suits it perfectly.  My only complaint – edge enhancement.  I will continue to dock a star for this because it’s totally unnecessary.  Every display has a sharpness control.  If a viewer wants edge enhancement, he need only tap on his remote.  No telecine artist should be including this artifact in their transfer.  Contrast was rich and deep and the Blu-ray looked especially nice when I switched over to a 5500K color temp.  Doing this warms up the grayscale nicely and gives the film a vintage look that increases dimension and vibrancy.

Sound quality was below average.  The balance between voices and environmental effects seemed tipped away from the voices to the point where I had to increase the volume substantially to understand the dialog.  Despite the lossless encode, the entire soundstage was narrow and compressed-sounding.  Perhaps Mr. Scorsese was going for a period newsreel atmosphere but I don’t think it added to the presentation.  No original music was created for Raging Bull.  Only the opening and closing of the film had a Wagner-style overture played by a symphony orchestra.

Extras

The bonus features are quite generous.  First off, there are three commentary tracks with Martin Scorsese and various cast and crew members.  Four new featurettes are included covering the making of the film.  There is an appearance by Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show from 1981.  Then we have a four-part documentary on the history of the real Jake LaMotta.  Finally in addition to original newsreel footage of LaMotta’s title bout, there is a shot-by-shot comparison of Robert DeNiro versus Jake LaMotta in the ring.  Also included in the box is a DVD version of the film. There is also a making-of featurette, an extended ending with commentary, deleted and extended scenes, storyboards and a music video.


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

movie-march-2011-skyline

Synopsis

It was supposed to be a simple birthday weekend in Southern California. But when sunrise arrives two hours early in the form of a haunting light from an unknown source, a group of friends watch in terror as people across the city are drawn outside and swept into massive alien ships that have blotted out the L.A. skyline. From tankers to drones and hydra-like extraterrestrials, the aliens are inescapable and seemingly indestructible. Now, it will take every survival instinct the group has to elude capture in this riveting, action-packed sci-fi adventure starring Eric Balfour (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Donald Faison ("Scrubs") and Scottie Thompson (Star Trek).

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Eric Balfour, Donald Faison
  • Directed by Greg Strause and Colin Strause
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The first two thirds of this movie are boring with bad acting. The last third is the most ridiculous ending I have seen in years (and I have seen my share of bad endings, too). The lines are cliched and the few minor sub plots are inane. Is the middle of an alien invasion a good time to be mad at your boyfriend for sleeping with your best friend? The plot is simple: aliens come to Earth to turn us into zombies and, yes, eat our brains. When the “hero” has his brain eaten, he takes over the alien’s body somehow and rescues his pregnant girlfriend. Oh drat! I spoiled the ending for you. You know a movie is bad when you keep checking your e-mail on your phone during the action scenes. Avoid this lame movie as it is a no-brainer...in the bad sense.

Technical

As bad as the movie plot and acting were, the picture quality was pretty good. The picture had that “blown out" look in the out door scenes and the darker scenes looked grainy with grey shadows. Nothing special here. The audio, however, was very good with lots of surround fly-overs and explosions. Bass was very prominent with the soundtrack and battle scenes. Very good fidelity and the dialog was clear, even though silly.

Extras

Commentaries and trailers.


"Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-march-2011-lesmiserables

Synopsis

Nearly 30 years ago, Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables was transformed into a musical adaptation by French composers Schönberg and Boublil. Les Miz is one of the longest running and most successful musicals in history. This concert Blu-ray was filmed at London's O2 arena and takes Les Miz to epic new heights.  

Prisoner Jean Valjean is released on parole and finds home with the Bishop of Digne who helps reform Valjean into a new man. Valjean goes off to become a wealthy factory owner where  he promises to look after the daughter of a dying worker named Cosette. Meanwhile, Paris is in a state of rebellion as General Lamarque, a man with sympathy for the poor, is sick and dying. Cosette falls in love with one of the rebelling students, Marius.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2010, Color, Not Rated, 2 Hr 50 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.78:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Roger Allam, Alun Armstrong, Samantha Barks, Alfie Boe, Rebecca Caine
  • Directed by Nick Morris
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex:  No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is an excellent presentation of the Les Miz musical and is definitely worth checking out for any fans.  Since no one has yet to make a movie musical of Les Miz, this is about as good as you can get for watching at home.  Wonderful songs like "I Dreamed a Dream" will have you rewatching this Blu-ray more than once. The only real downfall of this production is Nick Jonas as Marius. Nick Jonas, of the Jonas Brothers. Need I say more?

Technical

The picture and audio quality on Les Miz: 25th Anniversary its all-around pretty good. I don't think I will use it to test out gear, or to demo the home theater to friends, but the presentation is very nice for a Live recorded show.  I thought the vocals sounded a bit empty and distant in the sonic presentation, and would have liked a bit more body to the actor's voices.

Extras

One short featurette, Commentaries and trailers.


"The Miracle Maker" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-march-2011-miracle-maker

Synopsis

The greatest story ever told comes to life in spectacular clay animation. Featuring the voices of an all-star cast, Christ's ageless tale unfolds around the story of a family seeking help for an ailing daughter. When they cross paths with an extraordinary carpenter named Jesus, the family's faith is put to the test as the father is torn between allegiance to the king and the desperate need for the miraculous powers of God. Don't miss this opportunity to witness firsthand the power and the glory of the kingdom of heaven in your own home.

Specifications

  • Lions Gate Studios
  • 2000, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • Codec: VC-1 / DVD digital copy included
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: The voices of Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, et al.
  • Directed by Derek Hayes and Stanislav Sokolov
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This animated feature-length life of Jesus boasts a stellar pedigree. Originally a BBC: Wales production, it showcases the voices of some of Britain's finest actors: Ralph Fiennes as Jesus, Miranda Richardson as Mary Magdalene, Richard E. Grant as John the Baptist, and David Thewlis as Judas. The lovely score is by Oscar winning Anne Dudley, who scored "The Full Monty" (Oh, the irony!) . A lot of expense has gone into the Claymation-like animation which was filmed using a technique from Russian puppetry. The flow of the story is a bit disjointed, but covers several of the miracles ands main teaching points of Christ. The story bounces between stop-action and cell animation (cartoon) with good effect. A bit too simple for holding an adults attention and too complex for very little children, this film would work well for 7-13 year olds.

Technical

Picture quality is a bit on the soft side, though the BD is much better than the included DVD. Colors are muted and flecks of dirt and spots occasional crop up throughout the film (the film being 11 years old). Sound was dialog driven and intelligible with easily recognizable British and Irish accents. A pleasant flute musical score adds to the overall storyline. Not much for the sub and surrounds to do during most of the film, but that is to be expected. I must admit, I was impressed with the amount of action going on in many of the scenes. Crowded city streets teemed with moving people and animals. Though not as smooth as a Tim Burton film, these animators were kept busy!

Extras

"Making Of" documentary, Audio Commentary with producer & director, “It is Written” interactive game relating movie scenes to Bible scriptures, “Learning From Jesus” interactive game, reinforcing messages conveyed in the movie, Storyboard to Film comparison & Short Animated Bible Films from The Miracle Maker animators.

Commentaries and trailers.


"Rain Man" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

Rain Man is the kind of touching drama that Oscars are made for--and, sure enough, the film took Academy honors for best picture, director, screenplay, and actor (Dustin Hoffman) in 1988. Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic savant whose late father has left him $3 million in a trust. This gets the attention of his materialistic younger brother, a hot-shot LA car dealer named Charlie (Tom Cruise) who wasn't even aware of Raymond's existence until he read his estranged father's will. Charlie picks up Raymond and takes him on a cross-country journey that becomes a voyage of discovery for Charlie, and, perhaps, for Raymond, too. But what began as an unsentimental journey for the Babbitt brothers becomes much more than the distance between two places. It's a connection between two vastly different people and a poignant, profound and powerful film.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.33:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise
  • Directed by Berry Levinson
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

An interesting story that is more about Cruises’ character development than Hoffman’s. The film avoids most of the usual clichés and sappy sentimentality. Hoffman really nailed Raymond’s role and his Oscar was well deserved for his portrayal of someone who does not communicate with the world in the same manner as most people. Charlie (Cruise) was well cast as well, as it seems easy for him to play the role of the rich brother who gets saddled with an autistic savant older brother. Raymond is better off at the end of the film, but Charlie has done the most “traveling” by the time the credits roll. Poignant and touching, yet not overly mushy, Rain Man is a must have for movie lovers. What ever happened to Judge Wapner?

Technical

The picture quality is better than the last release on DVD, though this film was not remastered for BD. Some softness and DNR scrubbing can be seen in places, but overall colors are natural and warm. Surround sound can be a bit artificial and echoes in the rears too much, but again, not to the point of distraction. Not much deep bass here, either.

Extras

The Journey of Rain Man – A Retrospective Documentary & Lifting The Fog: A Look At The Mysteries of Autism.


"The Switch" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Best friends Kassie (Aniston) and Wally (Bateman) meet one day for lunch where she announces her plans to conceive a child.  After finding a suitable donor in Roland (Wilson), she throws a conception party where she plans to “do the deed.”  Wally comes to the party and proceeds to drink about 10 cocktails too many as he tries to talk Kassie out of her plan.  He then manages to accidentally destroy Roland’s “offering” and is left with no choice but to replace it with his own.  The next day he remembers nothing.

Kassie has her baby and moves away from New York but after her new son Sebastian (Robinson) turns six, she returns to find Wally just the same as she left him.  Of course, the child looks just like him and even has many of his mannerisms and neuroses.  Wally finally remembers the events of the conception party and must find a way to come clean with Kassie.  Meanwhile, she has become attracted to Roland and he to her.  Just as he is about to propose, Wally tells all in front of Roland’s family and all their friends.  The ending is a happy one however as Wally and Kassie finally progress beyond friendship bound together by their endearing son.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2010, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 41 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  2.35:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson
  • Directed by Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: No

Commentary

I’ve reviewed enough films now that I didn’t expect to like and did, that this will be the last time I say “I found this movie surprisingly enjoyable.”  My mind will be more open from now on!  Though it had the feel of a romantic comedy, there wasn’t much romance until the end and the comedy was used sparingly.  Yet, the film worked extremely well.  The story was engaging and never dragged, and the acting was superb from all players.  Aniston and Bateman gave top-notch performances as expected but the real show-stealer was eight-year-old Thomas Robinson as Sebastian.  Not only is he impossibly cute, his acting skills are quite considerable.  He commanded every scene he was in with comfort and ease.  He used adult words as if he had been born speaking that way.  To say I was impressed with him would be an understatement.  Overall, the movie worked because it had just the right balance of talent, good direction and an interesting plot.  Highly recommended.

Technical

Image quality was very good with sharp detail and no obvious edge enhancement.  Color was a bit on the cool side except in the outdoor scenes at night when the warmth of the streetlights was evident.  Overall, I would have liked to see just a bit more saturation.  Contrast was decent with just slightly elevated black levels apparent.

Audio was clean and clear at all times.  Dialog was always crisp though a tad over-processed in that the environmental cues were downplayed.  Conversations sounded the same whether they took place indoors or out.  The musical score by Alex Wurman mixed transitional phrases with pop songs for a nice backdrop to the film.  There was little for the surround speakers to do and no use was made of the LFE channel.

Extras

Bonus features include deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes featurette and a blooper reel.


"Last Tango in Paris" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Paul (Marlon Brando) is an American living in Paris who's wife has recently committed suicide.  Wandering the streets of Paris in despair, he meets a young engaged woman (Maria Schneider) who is looking at renting the same apartment that he is.  They proceed to have the first of many anonymous sexual encounters, with Paul demanding that their encounters remain totally anonymous, down to not even knowing their names.  Their affair continues in the apartment until Jeanne arrives one day to find that Paul has packed up and moved out.  However she encounters Paul on the street later, discovering that he wants to start anew with a real relationship, including names and losing the background of anonymity, which is not what Jeanne has in mind for them.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1972, Color, Rated NC-17, 2 Hr 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider
  • Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  Yes
  • Sex:  Extreme
  • Language:  Yes

Commentary

I saw Last Tango in Paris over a decade ago, and despite how well done I found the film, I hadn't wanted to revisit it much since then because of the rawness of the emotion expressed.  Paul is someone who has been wounded to his core, devastated by the death of his wife, and wants to keep an air of detachment around himself and his relationships to avoid that pain again.  Jeanne is in a relationship, but one that lacks the raw physicality of her relationship with Paul and leaves her unsatisfied in that aspect.  As Paul's attachment to Jeanne grows, even without knowing her name, he begins to want to reach out for that emotional connection that he had been trying to avoid, but Jeanne already has that in her life and is looking to satisfy other needs, which Paul has been fulfilling.  It's a very compelling story, but one that can be hard to watch over and over with all the emotion inside it.

Technical

Presented in it's original 1.85:1 ratio, and shot by Vittorio Storaro, Last Tango in Paris looks much better than I had expected it to look.  It seems as though the majority of shots are done with natural lighting, and for the most part they look very impressive.  Grain is readily apparent throughout the film, but it is natural and not distracting.  Detail is often very good, though some of those interior shots can look a bit softer than the exterior ones due to the lighting.  Overall, it is a very nice presentation of the film with only a few minor bits of print damage.

The audio is a 2.0 version of the original mono track, and in a mostly dialog driven movie, it comes across very clear.  Ambiance and other sounds are mostly non-existent due to the nature of the film, and overall the track does a very nice job.

Extras

The original trailer is included, and nothing else.


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

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Synopsis

This is the story of a 37-year-old widow, Loretta Castorini (Cher), who decides to re-marry after having lost her husband some years earlirer in an accident.  So she accepts a marriage proposal from a man she doesn't truly love, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello).  When Johnny must leave Brooklyn and travel to Italy to watch over his dying mother, Loretta decides to meet up with Johnny's estranged brother, Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), who works in a local bakery.  Loretta wants to get to know her future husband's brother and possibly facilitate a reconciliation, but she finds herself helpless to resist the power of the moon as well as the power of true love.  This movie received six major Oscar nominations in 1988 and deservedly brought home three of the Oscars - Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Original Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley).

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 1987, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, and Danny Aiello
  • Directed by Norman Jewison
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Suggestive
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I really enjoyed seeing this film again after many years.  I love the way the theme of a Super Moon weaves through the story, bringing out intimate feelings between the characters and causing all sorts of lunatic behavior in the Castorini family.  Once the plot gets up and running, the interplay among the characters and their infidelities provide ample comedic fodder.  The story is self-propelled from the moment we meet Ronny all the way up to the closing credits.  Certainly Cher and Olympia Dukakis (who plays Cher's on-screen mother, Rose Castorini) put up excellent performances in the movie.  Cher plays it cool and understated most of the time while Dukakis delivers some of the funniest, most memorable lines of any romantic comedy ever.  I felt that Nicolas Cage was overly melodramatic in his opening scene but as the story unfolds, Cage works his way into the role and plays the character with a ton of heart.  My biggest criticism is that his handicap and it surrounding circumstances are not quite as morose as they are made out to be.  Now, 25 years later, we have another Super Moon.  I wonder what events the new Super Moon may trigger this time around?

Technical

Moonstruck is presented in 1080p on this 50 GB Blu-Ray.  The print that was used for the transfer looks generally pretty clean and tight throughout.  Some dust, dirt and scratches show up here and there.  Also, the black levels are not as rock-solid as a new release and I saw some compression artifacts from time to time.  But the film grain is intact and the colors are natural and properly saturated.  Also, the resolution in the picture is first rate for a movie that was originally shot in 35mm with moderately soft focus.  The audio is particularly captivating with fine ambience effects that are nearly as good as a new release in many scenes.  The msuic from La Boheme sounds a little forward in the upper mids, befitting the movie's era.  More care could have been taken to balance the effects, the dialog and the musical score.  Nevertheless, my overall impression was that the  technical presentation is very nice.

Extras

Extras include an enlightening audio commentary by Cher, Director Norman Jewison and writer John Patrick Shanley.  The disc also contains two informative and entertaining shorts.  The first is the documentary, Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family.  The other is the featurette, The Music of Moonstruck.