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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - May, 2011

ARTICLE INDEX

"The Greatest Story Ever Told" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

This 1965 epic recreates the whole of Jesus’ life as told in the New Testament.  Beginning with his birth in Bethlehem, the film portrays every major event from his baptism, the gathering of the Apostles, his return to Jerusalem, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  We see in poignant detail how Jesus touched the lives of an entire people through acts of kindness and a powerful message.  The politics of the time are portrayed too as we step inside King Herod’s court, the office of Pontius Pilate and the chambers of the Hebrew elders who ultimately delivered The Messiah to his death.  Though many films have been made about the life of Jesus Christ, none has delivered this level of detail.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1965, Color, Rated G, 3 Hr 19 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.75:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Max von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Telly Savalas, Charlton Heston
  • Directed by George Stevens
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Minimal
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

When I saw the length of this movie and its five Oscar nominations, I expected something on the level of The Ten Commandments.  What I got was a very drawn-out and somber account of the New Testament.  The film meanders from scene to scene without any real build to the bigger moments.  Things finally pick up after about two hours when Jesus resurrects his friend Lazarus.  The sequence of his arrest and eventual execution is much more intense than the rest of the film.

My favorite part of watching this movie was looking for all the famous actors in the cast.  During the opening credits, which scroll slowly enough to actually read carefully, there are dozens of A-listers credited.  Some notables include John Wayne as a Roman centurion, Mark Lenard, better known as Sarek in the Star Trek franchise, Claude Raines as King Herod, Roddy McDowall and Jamie Farr as Apostles; the list goes on and on.  I even recognized Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan’s Island.  I made a sort of game of it.  You don’t see John Wayne until the 3:09 mark but trust me; his moment of camp is worth the wait!  Director George Stevens tried to make an epic but without any action, drama or even pageantry, it falls flat.  Still for fans of Biblical themes, it’s a must-watch.

Technical

Image quality is another area where my expectations were high.  After all, the film was shot in 70 millimeter – a prime candidate for reference-quality restoration.  The first thing I saw on the screen was a message proclaiming “This disc was mastered from the best available elements.”  This told me what the telecine artists had to work with was not the highest quality print.  The big downer was the film grain.  It was present throughout and at times was so prevalent, it looked like ants crawling on the screen.  The background during Jesus Crucifixion was a mass of black noise instead of the stunning landscape it should have been.  There was a bit of dirt and noticeable flicker during most scenes.  Color was the best part of the transfer.  It was rich and natural at all times and literally saved this Blu-ray from becoming a complete disaster.  Detail was generally soft as you might expect.  Dark scenes became muddy and lacked detail.  Despite the crushing, levels were not as deep as the black bars, a clear error.  By the way, the 2.75:1 aspect ratio is not a typo.  This film was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 and adapted to Cinerama projection.  I can only imagine in 1965 this must have been like IMAX is today.

The DTS-HD Master Audio encode was superb; among the best I’ve heard in a vintage film.  Though the original track is mono, the engineers did a marvelous job converting it to 5.1 surround.  The LFE isn’t used much but the surround speakers are employed to expand the music soundstage and increase the sonic envelope created by ambient effects.  Detail is superb in the many quiet scenes.  Dialog is super-clean and even pans across the front soundstage at times.  The music is among the best I’ve heard in any film.  During the opening, I was convinced it was the work of Alan Hovhaness but it’s actually from legendary film composer Alfred Newman.  Newman’s achievements are considerable.  He won nine Oscars, second only to Walt Disney.  His nominations total 45, a record shared by John Williams.  He scored for over 200 films and is considered the father of modern film music.  Many scenes have minimal sound effects and are instead propelled by this beautiful and elegant score.

Extras

Bonus features include interviews with several surviving actors, a making-of documentary from 1965, a deleted scene and the original theatrical trailer.


"The Way Back" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Inspired by true events, The Way Back starts out in a Siberian gulag in 1941.  The inmates are mostly political prisoners and criminals.  Polish captive Janusz (Sturgess) decides to attempt escape and he manages to get a group of others to help.  Soon he, American Mr. Smith (Harris), criminal Valka (Farrell) and a few others are outside the wire and running for their lives through a ferocious blizzard.  Their plan is to make the Mongolian border to escape Communist rule; a journey of at least 1000 kilometers.  Along the way, a Polish refugee, Irena (Ronan) joins them on their quest for freedom.  When they reach the border, they discover this country too has joined the Communists.  Their only option is to keep pushing south to India.  Their greatest obstacle lies ahead as they cross the Gobi Desert.  Eventually they make it to Tibet where Smith decides to leave the group and return to the US through China.  Janusz and the rest finally reach India and in a poignant scene at the end, he is reunited with his wife after the fall of Communism in Poland in 1989.

Specifications

  • Image Entertainment
  • 2010, Color, PG-13, 2 Hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell
  • Directed by Peter Weir
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I found this film very enjoyable.  The depiction of suffering and hardship while intense is not over-the-top.  I felt every emotion as the group struggled to meet a seemingly impossible challenge – to survive a trek of over 4000 miles with little more than the clothes on their backs.  The Way Back was nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup and the scenes in the desert demonstrate why.  The actors’ sun-baked faces looked amazingly real as they trekked for weeks from one water source to another.  The determination of these people to survive as free men is inspiring to watch.  The box claims “based on true events” so I did a bit of research.  The film is based on a memoir written by Slavomir Rawicz called The Long Walk.  The investigation by director Peter Weir suggests that three men did indeed walk from a Siberian gulag to India in 1941 but that Rawicz was not one of them.  Whatever the truth is, it’s a fascinating and entertaining story; highly recommended.

Technical

The image is quite good and seems to sharpen a bit as the film progresses.  Early scenes showed a bit of softness.  There is also occasional and unnecessary edge enhancement used.  Color is natural and perfectly saturated.  A cool palette is used during all the snow scenes to great effect.  The picture never looks flat.  Contrast is excellent with some of the best night scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  During the trek through the desert, the night sky is full of bright stars and the actors are perfectly lit as they pop out from the background; good stuff.

Audio is reference quality.  Not only is there a high level of detail and clarity, the surround speakers are used perfectly to create a large sound envelope.  I really enjoyed the 3D sound environment and really felt like I was out in the wilderness.  Ambient effects added to what I would consider some of the best sound design I’ve ever experienced.  The lush orchestral score by Burkhard Dallwitz provided a great backdrop to the many scenes without dialog, when the men were simply trekking through amazingly beautiful landscapes.  Overall production design was top-notch both visually and aurally.

Extras

Bonus features are slim with only a 30-minute documentary and a theatrical trailer included.


"Mob Rules" (DVD) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

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Synopsis

A couple of criminals head to Los Angeles after a heist job had gone wrong.  It has been 10 years and they seek revenge from their partner, C-Note, that screwed them on the heist. The two blokes think they can just waltz into C-Note’s place and shake him down, but he is not one to back down. They find out the truth about their forth partner, Reggie, and how he died during the heist and what happened to the money. Like most mobster movies, there are a lot of shakedowns, people owing other people money, drugs, gun fights, and strippers.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 37 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 480p
  • English Dolby Digital
  • Starring: Lennie James, Treva Etienne, Gary McDonald
  • Directed by Keith Parmer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Mob Rules is a low budget crime drama that feels a bit like something I would see on the Independent Film Channel.  Decent acting, but the story just isn’t gripping enough to keep one interested.

Technical

It has been awhile since I have watched a standard definition DVD movie.  Blu-ray has me completely spoiled. For a low budget movie though, the quality is decent.

Extras

Interview with Cast and Crew, “Turn You” Music Video, Trailer.


"The Kings Speech" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is the second son of King George V of England. He is second in line to the throne behind his brother Edward, but with the advent of radio he often has to make speeches to the public. Unfortunately, he has been a stutterer since he was a young child and the fear of addressing a large audience practically paralyzes him from talking. He has searched out for help from numerous specialists, but to no avail.

His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) continues to look for someone to help him and comes to find Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist that takes a far more laid back, and unorthodox, approach to his treatment. Believing that there is a mental root cause to his speech issue beyond a mechanical one, and tries to get to the root of that with the Prince but is stopped in his attempts.

As Edward begins to fall for a twice divorced, married woman that the Church of England would never allow him to marry, and as Hitler rises to power and eyes taking over all of Europe, the importance of being able to overcome his inability to speak to provide comfort for his country becomes more apparent to Albert.

Specifications

  • Anchor Bay
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 58 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Colin Firth, Geofrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
  • Directed by Tom Hopper
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The Kings Speech was the winner of the Best Picture Oscar this year, and it was a very enjoyable film. While very deliberate in pacing, it is never slow and it really sucks you in. While my vote would have gone to The Social Network, The Kings Speech is a very well made, deserving film that does a wonderful job of recreating the era of 1930’s England while telling a story that most of us had probably never known, bracketed by two stories we probably all know far more well.

Technical

As good as the film was, the picture and sound are a let down on this disc. While some shots come through with fantastic detail, there are far more that are just a bit soft, as if from an older master or too much clean up that is smearing fine details. A forehead can look totally realistic in one scene, and look like there is a thick layer of makeup hiding all the details in another. Similarly skin tones will go from perfectly natural to overly red in a single cut. It’s a shame, as some scenes seem to show what this transfer could be, but overall it is middle of the pack at best.

The soundtrack fares better, but also lacks. While this is a dialog driven film and heavily reliant on the front channels, many opportunities to use the surrounds are missed. When Albert and Logue are in an empty Westminster Abbey as he works on his speech we are only using the front of the sound stage to hear what they are saying, when the surround could be used to provide a sense of the great, large open area they are inside of. They are hardly used when at a party to provide a sense of the noise and ambiance, instead just focusing on using the front of the soundstage to provide the dialog. While everything is clear, and it’s a faithful transfer of the original soundtrack, for a movie released in the past year it’s impossible not to grade it down for failing to take advantage of the immersion they should have provided.

Extras

The Blu-ray features a commentary track, a couple of featurettes, real speeches from King George VI, and a PSA for the Stuttering Foundation.

"All Dogs Go To Heaven" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Charlie isn’t your wonderful, loveable pet dog. He drinks, he gambles, he smokes, and he cares only for himself. When his partner in crime has him killed off to no longer split their winnings, Charlie doesn’t take to the idea of going to Heaven and comes back to get back at him. However, he tries to get back at him by using a little orphaned girl, Anne Marie, and since this is a children’s film, you can imagine that he might wind up with a change of heart down the road.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1989, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 25 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Starring: Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise (voices)
  • Directed by Don Bluth
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Far from a family friendly Disney film, I’d be very surprised if All Dogs Go to Heaven could pull down a G rating from the MPAA today. Drinking, smoking, gambling and canine homicide are all around and it a film I might not show my son until he’s a bit older than when he watches some other animated films. I didn’t find it to be as parent friendly as many other kids films, but I imagine he will enjoy it once he gets the chance.

Technical

All Dogs go to Heaven has aged quite a bit since it was first released. The image is better than a DVD, but not with the sharpness and detail that the best Blu-ray transfers of animation can have. Additionally I noticed print damage (scratches and marks) during the film that detracted as well. The film might have looked wonderful when first released, but it really wasn’t cleaned up well for home.

While I couldn’t verify for certain, since this Blu-ray is only in stereo I’m going to assume that the original theatrical presentation was as well, but it really isn’t a reference soundtrack at all. Dialog comes across fine, and the songs are decent, but there is nothing amazing to show off.

Extras

The only extra is the theatrical trailer, and you can’t even save a bookmark of where you were, so if you plan to stop the movie make sure to record your position.


"Mystic Pizza" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

A sweet and sassy comedy about the bonds of sisterhood, Mystic Pizza offers the opportunity to see some solid young actors early in their careers. Three sisters of blue-collar Portuguese descent work in a pizzeria in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut. Each has her own unique romantic entanglements. One is the fast girl in town (Roberts), who falls for a rich kid but wonders if she'll ever be accepted; one is the lifelong local girl (Taylor) in love with her fisherman boyfriend (D'Onofrio) but scared of what marriage will do to their sex lives; and the youngest sister (Gish) dreams of going to Yale but during a summer of baby-sitting has an affair with a married man. Through it all each sister depends on the others regardless of the complications. It's the alluring charm of the three disparate leads that makes Mystic Pizza the tasty experience it is.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • Color, 1988, Rated R, 1 Hr 44 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, MPEG 4
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Starring: Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Vincent D'Onofrio
  • Directed by Donald Petrie
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

A poignant and light fare movie, Mystic Pizza shows its age in some of the early scenes. 80's hair, dress and music abound, but the storyline itself is good entertainment. This was the movie that launched Roberts career. One gal wants to leave this town behind while the other wants to be in love, but avoid marriage. The youngest falls for the father of the kid she is babysitting. In the end, they all remain steadfast and devoted to each other. Marriage, college, responsibility: perhaps predictable, but a good “date movie”. Wait till you see the very young Matt Damon at the dinner table!

Technical

The film shows considerable grain and more than occasional specks and dirt. Not enough to distract from the film, but certainly noticeable. Colors and skin tones are solid and accurate. Some scenes are bit fuzzy and soft, but overall details are good. The dialog is clear, but the movie is in 2.0, so no surrounds or subwoofer action. Overall, this is not the movie to demo for the friends on a Friday night, but worth a viewing none the less.

Extras

The only extra is the theatrical trailer in standard def, but at least it makes the movie look comparatively outstanding in BD!

"Benny & Joon" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

An oddball love story about a fey loner named Sam (Johnny Depp), who falls in love with the mentally unbalanced Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who lives in the care of her protective brother Benny (Aidan Quinn), who sacrifices his personal life for her. This 1993 story is a bit shallow, with its message that love can conquer a brand of mental illness that manifests itself in pyromania: Joon has a bad habit of going a bit around the bend and setting fires, but Sam's tender care apparently has the cure for what ails her. Depp does almost perfect renditions of slapstick routines made famous by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 38 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, MPEG 4
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Starring: Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn
  • Directed by Jeremiah Chechik
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

A somewhat dated and simplistic story about an older brother who takes care of his younger mentally ill sister. When she is on her meds, she is quirky and eccentric, but when she is off the meds…schizophrenic! Depp comes into their lives as an odd-ball Chaplin wanna-be and Joon eventually falls in love with him. Add a few tense moments and a happy ending and you have an amiable flick to watch with the wife. The Depp-Masterson love scene left me a little unsettled…she being mentally immature and all. Anyway, Depp not withstanding, this film is too slow for the kids, but the teens may find it a light romp and see Depp as an odd, comedic character. Come to think of it, he usually does play odd characters in all of his movies!

Technical

The film has good color saturation and a fair amount of film grain is present in most scenes. Most of the movie exhibits dirt and specks, but they are not too distracting. Sound is DTS-MA 2.0, but dialog is clear. Some of the music comes across with punch and vigor, but very little bass for the rest of the show. Overall PQ is sharp, but a few night scenes are grainy and murky.

Extras

Audio Commentary by Jeremiah Chechik, deleted scenes, costume design, make-up test, stunt reel, a music video and theatrical trailer.


"Material Girls" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Tanzie and Ava Marchetta are sisters who are heirs to a cosmetics fortune.  However, they live the life of a socialite, going to parties and shopping, paying little to no attention to their late father’s company or how it is run, much less the people that run it.  When a product flaw causes the company stock to tumble and their assets to be frozen, they are likely to have to sell to their main competitor to maintain their current lifestyle.  Unless they can figure out what really is happening with their company and the products it produces.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 2006, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 38 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff, Angelica Houston
  • Directed by Martha Coolidge
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

An obvious vehicle for stars Hilary and Haylie Duff, Material Girls opens with a cover of the Madonna track (Madonna’s film company actually produced the film) and unfortunately it’s downhill from there.  Despite having treated everyone around them like garbage their whole life, and taken no interest in anything or anyone beside themselves, the sisters are able to find people willing to put their careers and reputations on the line for them, and to bail them out of hard situations.

Of course, they manage to uncover a fraudulent scheme at the heart of their company that everyone else managed to miss, but a coherent plot isn’t what the Duff sisters were looking for when they signed up for this, they just wanted something to let them attempt to act and contribute a couple songs to the soundtrack.  Obviously this isn’t a movie for my age or demographic, but it leaves me happy to not have a daughter this age that I’d have to go see these films with.

Technical

Probably using an older transfer, Material Girls is fine on Blu-ray, though soft overall.  Textures don’t pop off the screen, though with the focus on fashion there is plenty of opportunity to do so.  The audio is fairly minimal as well, with the surrounds only being used for some occasional ambiance or for the soundtrack to kick in.  Dialog is fine, though not always as clear as it could be.

Extras

A commentary track, music video, featurettes, and the original trailer are included.


"De-Lovely" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

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Synopsis

This is the story of Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) viewed as a retrospective where Porter is an old man in a theater working with, Gabe (Jonathan Pryce), a producer who is audtioning talent for a production of Porter's life story.  Apparently, Porter is dead since the actors cannot see or hear him.  Different chapters in his life then trigger flashbacks that present the bulk of the  story line and character development.  It is an interesting perspective that puts the audience in a melancholy mood.  Porter's wife and public love interest is played by Linda Lee (Ashley Judd).  Although he marries Lee, you find out soon enough that Porter is bisexual and this aspect of his life is a major plot element in this biopic.  Lee knows of his infedelities but simply asks for his discretion.  He agrees at first but later consistently defies this commitment.  Another unique part of this production are the performances of many Cole Porter standards by several current artists: Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 2004, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 5 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master, Spanish Dolby Surround and French 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Starring: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce
  • Directed by Irwin Winkler
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Suggestive
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This movie surprised me with its progressive and unique narrative.  I remained interested in everything that was happening on screen throughout most of the film.  Porter is portrayed as a complete scoundrel and Kline does an excellent job filling the role with just the right amount of whimsy.  Linda Lee, as played by Ashley Judd, shows amazing restraint, love and patience.  Judd impressed me the way she embraced her role. 

I did not find the individual performances by the modern masters to be anywhere near as fulfilling as I had hoped.  They were presented in short clips and the performances were quite variable.  I did, on the other hand get goose bumps in the scene where Porter helps the singer with "Night and Day".  Later, the special effects were not very convincing in the scene where Porter gets thrown from a horse and ends up with a pair of severely broken legs that nearly crippled him for the rest of his life.  He endured a lot of pain in his recovery.  This movie takes you on an emotional journey with Porter and Lee travelling the globe and responding to a wide range of life experiences. 

Technical

This a modern production and the picture and sound quality reflect that fact over this Blu-Ray disc.  The video is properly mastered so most scenes really pop off the screen, even night and indoor scenes.  There is a ton of sumptuous detail in the picture with excellent film-like qualities (i.e., film grain and cadence).  The DTS HD Master audio is commensurate with the overall production as well.  The bass could be lean at times and the singers' voices were a little subdued in a few of the songs. 

Extras

This disc has two commentary tracks - one with Director Irwin Winkler and male lead Kevin Kline, the other one features Winkler and Writer Jay Cocks.  There are two short fearturettes - The Making of De-Lovely and The Music of De-Lovely.  It has two "Anatomy of a Scene" sketches - Be a Clown and Love for Sale.  Finally, there are deleted scenes, an alternate ending and the original theatrical trailer.


"Teen Wolf" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

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Synopsis

Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is your normal high-school student.  He plays basketball, has some odd friends, and wants to date the popular girl.  However, Scott has a real whopper of a secret: he’s actually a werewolf!  When his secret comes out, Scott must deal with a meteoric rise in popularity while keeping the wolf’s ever-growing ego in check.   Forced with losing his identity, Scott must make a choice – be himself or the Teen Wolf.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 1985, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English Mono DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Michael J. Fox, James Hampton, Susan Ursitti, and Jerry Levine
  • Directed by Rod Daniel
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Suggestive
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

As a child of the 1980s I may be a bit biased, but I love this movie.  The story is simple, but carries a strong message – remain true to yourself.   The characters are varied and entertaining, particularly Stiles (Jerry Levine).  Michael J. Fox plays the role of Scott with tremendous believability, which really makes this movie shine.   While this is not a deep or complex film, it moves along well and will keep you entertained for its entire 92-minute run-time.

Technical

Despite the AVC encoding at 38 MBPS, the picture quality on this Blu-ray is not very good.  Overall picture quality is barely better than DVD.  There is a haze over the image most of the time and there is a tremendous amount of dirt, speckles, and other assorted grime on the source print.  I’m really disappointed that MGM didn’t give this release a bit more attention, as the film deserves it.  On the plus side, the colors are pretty accurate and natural looking.  The Mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also a disappointment.  There is little dynamic range and due to the mono nature of the soundtrack, there is absolutely no surround or LFE usage.  Again, why couldn’t MGM spend a little more time on this?  At least dialogue intelligibility is good.

Extras

Extras on this disc are pretty light. Included are the original trailer for the film and a trailer for MTV’s new series “Teen Wolf.”  At least both are in HD.


 "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

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Synopsis

Now that Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is a successful lawyer, she has time for the important things in life, like planning her wedding.   Elle has decided that she absolutely must invite the mother of her dog Bruiser to the wedding and hires a private detective to track down the missing pooch.  When Elle finds out that Bruiser’s mother is the properly of a cosmetic testing company, she decides to head to Washington, D.C. to help push a bill through Congress that will outlaw animal testing.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 2003, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, and Jennifer Coolidge
  • Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

If the plot line in my synopsis above hasn’t clued you in already, this was a really weak storyline.  While the original “Legally Blonde” had a certain charm to it that made the film somewhat enjoyable, this sequel is just a flop.  While the plot of the first film pushed the borders of believability, “Legally Blonde 2” flat out crosses those boundaries.  Even a solid acting job by Reese Witherspoon can’t save this over-the-top flick.

Technical

For a relatively recent movie, this Blu-ray disc looks pretty bad.  Contrast and saturation appear to have been pumped up, yet the picture still looks flat and lifeless.  There is a yellowish tinge to the image and high-level details are often washed out.  It is very hard to spot any details in the picture, (such as the detail in Elle’s clothes) which leads me to believe that a lot of digital noise reduction (DNR) was used on this transfer.    The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is barely average in my book.  While dialogue is clear enough, dynamics are compressed and there is little use of the LFE and surround channels.  Even the music in the soundtrack seemed flat to me.

Extras

There are a fair number of extras included on this disc, but little worth watching.  Included on this disc is a commentary with a few of the supporting actresses, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a LeAnn Rimes video, and the original theatrical trailer.  There are also the following featurettes: “Blond Ambition,” “Pretty in Pink,” Stars and Stripes, Never!,” Hair Apparent,” “Elle’s Anthem,” “Puppy Love,” and “Bruiser’s Outtakes.”


"Much Ado about Nothing" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-may-2011-much-ado-about-nothing

Synopsis

This is a Shakespearian comedy by the great master played on the silver screen by a modern day all-star cast.  The principals are two pairs of lovers Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) and Beatrice (Emma Thompson).  Claudio and Hero are sweet and innocent young lovers while Benedick and Beatrice are jaundiced toward love.  Claudio is able to connect with Hero with the help of his friend Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon (Denzel Washington).  After Claudio and Hero become engaged, but before their wedding day, they decide to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love.  Benedick and Beatrice had heretofor been in the midst of a sort of cold war.  The trick works and Benedick and Beatrice start developing an interest in one another.  Then the villian of the story, Don John (Keanu Reeves), who is  Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, plots to ruin the wedding between Claudio and Hero.  The rest of the play is is a rollicking comedy with lots of twists and turns which culminates in a celebration of two weddings.

Specifications

  • MGM Studios
  • 1993, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Robert Sean Leonard, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington and Kate Beckinsale
  • Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

Kenneth Branagh produced, directed and wrote the screenplay for this film.  He also did a terrific job assembling a star studded cast and telling this tale by William Shakespeare in a context that is accessible to a modern day audience.  He also has the second best performance in this movie as Benedick.  I would give the best performance of the show to his then real-life wife Emma Thompson as Beatrice.  In any event, the movie is mostly bright, cheerful and curiously engaging throughout.  Branagh was able to coax excellent perfomances from the cast in the most unlikely places.  Michael Keaton as Dogberry is a hoot as an example.  And Branagh was so good, he even eked out a respectable performance from Keanu Reeves, certainlty the least likely classical actor in the bunch.  I found Kate Beckinsale to be cute as a button with just the right amount of innocence, a far cry from her more chiseled performances to come later.  This part as Hero was Beckinsale's first really big break as an actress. 

Technical

This is another above average transfer of an MGM Studios catalog title.  The picture was film like with very good contrast.  Daylight scenes really poped with natural color - even the greens looked natural.  The master print had some scratches and dirt that show through clearly on this Blu-ray.  The audio is also above average, even though it was mastered in stereo.  Voices are transparent with no hint of chestiness or, worse yet, nasality.  The music was surprisingly expansive and tangible while the environmental sounds were very convincing.

Extras

This disc has just two extras - The Making of Much Ado About Nothing and the original theatrical trailer.

Included on this disc is a commentary with a few of the supporting actresses, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a LeAnn Rimes video, and the original theatrical trailer.  There are also the following featurettes: “Blond Ambition,” “Pretty in Pink,” Stars and Stripes, Never!,” Hair Apparent,” “Elle’s Anthem,” “Puppy Love,” and “Bruiser’s Outtakes.”


"The Green Hornet" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

Playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) becomes the new publisher of Los Angeles' "The Daily Sentinel" after the sudden death of his father. Britt's party life is about to change when he and his driver and kung fu expert, Kato (Jay Chou), stop a robbery. With the help of Kato, Britt starts a new career of fighting crime as the masked superhero "The Green Hornet".

Specifications

  • Sony Pictures
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 59 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2:40:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz
  • Directed by Michael Gondry
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This movie is nothing more than a “bromance” with some action scenes interspersed throughout. Why they decided to throw Diaz in, I’ll never know. Seth’s character is so inane and shallow, that no “real” girl would fall for him. There is no chemistry between the two at all. How does a wise-cracking, obnoxious bumbler with no fighting skills and no super power suddenly clean up the mean streets of L.A.? Perhaps Rogen can team up with Jim Carey as Superman. Now that could be funny! Chou provides both the brains and the muscle for this film, but I wish the director knew where he wanted this Black Beauty to go. The ending left me saying, “Really?"... Other than that, I enjoyed the movie.

Technical

Generally a stellar picture with sharp images, inky blacks and solid colors. Even the night scenes looked good with minimal banding or moiré effects. Sound was excellent as well. Lots of explosions and whizz-bang for the sub and surrounds. Dialog is clear, even if silly. Most of the CGI comes off well except for the parachute scene at the end.

Extras

Lots of extras (over compensating, perhaps?):PS3 Theme, Jay Chou Audition, Double Barrel, The Green Hornet Cutting Room, Filmmakers' Commentary, "Awesoom"-Gag Reel, "Trust Me" -Director Michel Gondry, Writing The Green Hornet, The Black Beauty: Rebirth of Cool, The Stunt Family Armstrong, Finding Kato and The Art of Destruction.


"Thor, Tales of Asgard" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-may-2011-thor

Synopsis

The story begins with a teenaged Thor pining for some real adventure.  He decides to team up with his brother, Loki, and pursue the greatest adventure of them all - finding the Lost Sword of Surtur.  So Thor and Loki stow away on a sky ship captained by The Warriors Three.  Of course, the Warriors Three discover the interlopers and agree to join forces with them on their quest.  All the while Thor did not request or receive permission from his father, Odin, who is very skeptical that Thor and Loki can survive the wilds of the nine realms.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2009, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 17 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p, AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Rick Gomez, Tara Strong and Matt Wolf
  • Directed by Sam Liu
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is not a movie about the war-hammer-wielding adult Thor. Instead, this movie covers a chapter in Thor's life as a teenager. Many people may be turned away in hearing that, but that would be unfortunate as this movie is an interesting perspective on the Thor legend. For example, in the long range plot narrative Thor and Loki become arch rivals. This movie does a very good job setting the stage for that forthcoming story twist.

I thought the sword would be like one you might find in an RPG game. You know the kind where you use fire to defeat ice or ice to beat fire? Well, surprise, the prize sword is some sort of crazy WMD. And let that be a mild warning for people who are are especially concerned with violence: this movie has some pretty graphic scenes. In the end, this movie reminded me of a better than average Saturday morning cartoon from my childhood, only with very nice audio effects.  

Technical

This movie is presented in 1080p and the quality of the Blu-ray transfer would appear to far outstrip the quality of the source material.  That is to say that it looks good - nice sharpness with very little line twitter which supports solid colors and decent blacks even though the art work is not very detailed.  The audio is surprisingly expansive if not particularly dynamic or impactful.  Still, the music is pleasing and the dialog is crisp and clear.

Extras

This is a two-disc set with a Blu-ray and a DVD included.  Extras include the featurette "Worthy: The Making of the Tales of Asgard", two audio commentaries and a bonus Marvel episode, "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes".  The DVD includes all the same features and is anamorphic.