Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - October, 2010

ARTICLE INDEX

"The Thin Red Line" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-october-2010-thin-red-line

Synopsis

The Thin Red Line follows the men of C Company as they charge into the battle of Guadalcanal. In particular, the movie focuses on Witt (James Caviezel) a Private who has gone AWOL and is living with the locals and experiencing life as if for the first time. In the beginning of the movie a patrol boat spots him and his friend and locks them up in the brig.   Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nolte) leads C Company into a fierce battle with the Japanese. Throughout the movie, the thoughts of the men of C Company are further explored through the use of narration and beautiful cinematography by John Toll.


Specifications

  • Criterion
  • 1998, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 50 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sean Penn, James Caviezel, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte, George Clooney, John Travolta
  • Directed by Terrence Malick
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic War
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I remember seeing The Thin Red Line in the theaters with a group of friends and immediately upon exiting the theater we began comparing it to another World War II movie that came out earlier that year - Saving Private Ryan.  Both are fantastic movies with great casts and directors, but they take completely different approaches to a film about war.  Private Ryan was all about the visceral impact and intensity of war and the bonds of trust built between the soldiers.  Spielberg's approach was one of realism and in-your-face action.  He wanted you to feel what those men were put through, whereas, I feel Malick stepped back a bit and wanted the viewer to scruitize what war really is and what good does it do.  How war affects nature and everyone around it. The action is also very intense and graphic like Private Ryan, but its shot with such delicacy and beauty compared to Spielberg's grainy, muted, and dirty style.

I've enjoyed The Thin Red Line every time I have watched it, but seeing it represented in such high quality here on this new Criterion Blu-Ray has made it even more enjoyable. It's a movie everyone should watch at least once, and if you are a fan, it is a must buy.

Technical

Reference Quality. Inky blacks, natural, lush colors, and loads of fine detail make this fresh new transfer impeccable and a top notch demo disc.  The quiet subtle sounds of nature balance perfectly with the explosiveness of war.

Extras

Commentary track with production designer Jack Fisk, producer Grant Hill, and cinematographer John Toll. Features about the actors, the amazing score my Hans Zimmer, editing, outtakes and several more. A great collection of extras for an important film.


"The Darjeeling Limited" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-october-2010-darjeeling-limited

Synopsis

The Darjeeling Limited is about three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) who reunite on a train travelling through India. The three brothers haven't seen eachother since their father's funeral. They are headed to see their mother (Anjelica Huston) and to experience "spiritual self-discovery," according to Francis.  Jack has written a short story that parallels his life, although he denies that, and he ends up meeting and hooking up with one of the train's stewardess'.  The brother's fight over who was their father's favorite, while throughout the movie there are flashbacks to the moments before their father's funeral. During which, the brothers decide to stop and pick up their dad's porsche from a repair shop.

Specifications

  • Criterion
  • 2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston
  • Directed by Wes Anderson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The Darjeeling Limited is a character and dialog driven movie and not much really happens. This may turn many viewers off, but the performances by the cast, witty dialog, and beautiful direction make this movie exceptional.

Technical

Excellent video quality based on a Spirit 4k Datacine transfer approved by Director Wes Anderson.  Sound Quality is excellent as well.

Extras

A bevy of extras are presented in this Criterion edition, that truely lives up to the Criterion name. The short film "Hotel Chevalier", a prologue to The Darjeeling Limited, is also included.


"American Beauty" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-september-2010-american-beauty

Synopsis

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is stuck in a rut.  He hates his job, doesn't relate to his wife anymore, and his daughter seems to openly spite him.  Next door, a new family moves in, with a military Dad, Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), his wife, and their son, Ricky.  Through an encounter with Ricky at a cocktail party, and with one of his daughters friends, Lester starts to snap out of his mid-life malaise and see the world through fresh eyes once again.

Specifications

  • Paramount
  • 1999, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning
  • Directed by Sam Mendes
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

American Beauty came out during a great year for movies (1999, which also featured Fight Club, Magnolia, Boys Don't Cry, The Insider, Being John Malkovich, Elexction, and more) and wound up as easily my favorite film of that year.  Having not seen it in a long time I wasn't quite sure how it would hold up a decade later, but I found it to once again be consistantly entertaining.  The script still is full of humor and bite, and the acting performances are all around fantastic.  Being able to watch it once again in high definition was certainly a treat.

Technical

While American Beauty looks better than it ever has at home, it isn't as good as I had hoped it would be.  Early on in the film we are treated to close-ups of Kevin Spacey and Mena Suvari, and there is certainly more detail than before.  However, we can't make out the fine detail on Kevin Spacey's forehead as you can on the best transfers, nor the texture on the dancing outfit that she is wearing.  It certainly looks good, just not great, and not as good as I was hoping for.  The soundtrack fared much better, as it did a very good job bringing me into the film, with good use of the surrounds for ambient sounds and effects, as well as clear dialogue from the center channel.

Extras

This Sapphire Series release features audio commentary from the director and screenwriter, trailers, a featurette on the making of the film, and a longer, in depth feature with the cinematographer that describes the process of going from storyboards to filming a scene.


"Beauty and the Beast" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-october-2010-beauty-beast

Synopsis

Beauty and the Beast is about a young, handsome prince who is fooled by an old ugly woman that offers him a rose in exchange for a night of shelter. However, she turns out to be a beautiful enchantress and when he refuses to take her in, she curses him. The prince is turned into a hideous beast and all his servants are turned into enchanted clocks, pots, candlesticks and so forth. The curse will last till his 21st birthday unless he can find someone to love and whom will love him back.  A young woman Belle is portrayed as a bit odd, but she is physically beautiful.  The town hunk, Gaston, decides he is going to make Belle his wife, but Belle will have nothing to do with the mean, selfish Gaston.  Belle's father is a crazy old inventor who has little respect with the town. One day he gets lots in the woods and stumbles upon the cursed castle where the Beast lives. The Beast locks Maurice up until Belle comes looking for him and asks the Beast to take her prisoner and let her sick father go.  Slowly, Belle starts to discover the man that lives behind the Beast and they fall in love.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 1991, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG4
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Voices of: Paige O'hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury
  • Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Beauty and the Beast is a true classic and Disney has done a wonderful job with this Blu-ray release. A must buy.

Technical

Disney has done a phenomenal job cleaning up and restoring Beauty and the Beast. The image is so crisp and clear that you can really see the detail in the hand painted backgrounds. A beautiful and flawless transfer.  The new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track sounds great as well. By far the best I have ever heard this movie's wonderful score by Alan Menken sound.

Extras

Included are both the original theatrical release and the special extended edition cut featuring "Human Again." Commentary tracks, sing-along, and featurettes about the music, story, and making of. Definitely a lot of good material for fans.


"Fringe Season 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-october-2010-fringe

Synopsis

FBI Agent Olivia Dunham finds herself investigating very strange and bizarre cases that involve an area called “fringe science.”  Assisting her are junior agent Astrid Farnsworth (Nicole), Peter Bishop (Jackson) and a kooky but brilliant scientist recently released from a mental institution, Dr. Walter Bishop (Noble).  It turns out Dr. Bishop and his colleague Dr. William Bell experimented with many questionable theories during their younger years and managed to unleash or at least learn of some pretty weird science.  Some cases involve people with un-natural abilities or strange medical conditions.  Others center around mysterious creatures or never-before-seen technology.

Season Two begins a larger story arc involving a parallel universe and attempts by people on both sides to travel between worlds.  We learn that Olivia has certain abilities previously unknown to even herself.  By the end of the season a full-fledged war is brewing between forces from both universes and even some of the main characters are not what they seem.  Even the elusive Dr. Bell (Leonard Nimoy) makes an appearance to warn of the coming conflict.  While Olivia and her colleagues try to unravel the plot, Peter has his hands full keeping his father in line and focused on the tasks at hand.  The last few episodes set up a tremendous cliffhanger that will make you salivate for Season Three!

Specifications

  • Fox/Warner Brothers
  • 2009, Color, Not Rated, 16 Hrs 8 min (22 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  Not Specified
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Starring:  Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole and John Noble
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  Yes, and gore
  • Sex:  No
  • Language:  No

Commentary

I lamented the demise of the X-Files in 2002 both for the ending of the series and the downward spiral in quality of the last couple of seasons.  When I first heard about Fringe, I thought it would be a simple clone of the concept but I was pleasantly surprised.  Even though there is a distinct “monster of the week” element to the show, the main characters are quite different than Scully and Mulder.  Dunham is a hard-nosed FBI agent who actually has an open mind as she works to prove herself.  Anna Torv does an excellent job in the part.  She is especially adept at hiding her Australian accent.  John Noble plays the exceedingly eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop.  His expertise is crucial to the solving of the team’s cases.  After spending 17 years in a mental institution he is slowly adapting to the real world and developing a new relationship with his son.  He and Joshua Jackson, as Peter Bishop, have an on-screen chemistry that makes their relationship totally believable.

Creator JJ Abrams promised “no aliens” when he conceived Fringe.  The story arc is instead about a parallel universe.  As we learn more, it’s obvious that there is something big in the works.  By the end of Season Two, things both come to a head and set us up for the future.  This story element is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen.  The concept is certainly not new having been explored on the various Star Trek series.  Fringe presents it in a whole new way.  Instead of characters trying to alternately avoid or interfere with events “on the other side,” Fringe creates a conflict between the two.  Agents from both universes believe they are enemies and try to subvert each other with stealth rather than an all-out confrontation.  Season Three is airing now and has set several episodes solely in the parallel universe.  If you like any kind of science fiction, you will love Fringe.  It will appeal to all tastes from the hardcore sci-fi nut to the casual entertainment seeker.  I highly recommend adding this set to your library.

Technical

I’ve always been impressed with Fox’s broadcast HD quality and these Blu-rays are equally well-done.  Fringe has a film-like look and feel that very few TV show discs can match.  Color is nicely saturated with a very natural look.  Color temperature varies from warm to cool depending on content and is always appropriate to what’s happening on screen.  Flesh tones are accurate with excellent detail in the actor’s faces.  Some CGI effects show softness but by and large, they’re in the same league as many movies.  Dynamic range is very wide with inky blacks and nice bright highlights.  I sometimes saw crushing of detail in darker scenes but it was not bothersome.

Inexplicably, Fox only includes a lossy Dolby Digital sound track on this release.  It’s too bad because it’s of pretty good quality.  The depth and detail are there but somewhat veiled and flat thanks to the compression.  Music comes across nicely but again, its full potential is not reached.  Like most TV shows, the sub and surrounds are not used much.  It’s a shame to say this release “sounds good for Dolby Digital” because it deserves better.

Extras

Bonus features are decent with the inclusion of four episode commentaries by members of the cast and crew.  There are documentaries on production and the science behind what is seen on the show.  A tour of the lab set is available with John Noble as host.  Also included are deleted scenes and a 3-minute gag reel.  Finally there is an extra episode from Season One that was inserted without announcement into the Season Two broadcast run.  Since it breaks the flow of the story, the disc set wisely leaves it out of the sequence.  It is there to enjoy on disc 4.


"Psycho" (1960) (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Psycho

Synopsis

Marion Crane (Leigh) is a bored office staff member and decides on the spur of the moment to take $40,000 in cash and leave town instead of depositing the money in the bank as she was instructed. She heads west towards California to meet her lover, Sam Loomis (Gavin), and stops as night approaches, at the Bates Motel.

Norman Bates (Perkins) runs the motel, and takes care of his ailing mother who lives in a dark house behind the motel on a hill.

Norman is a psychopath, and ruins Marion's plans of running away with Sam and the money. The body is dumped in a swamp behind the motel.

Sam becomes worried when Marion does not show up, and Police Detective Milton Arbogast (Balsam), who has been informed of the robbery, tries to find her. When he does not return, Sam and Marion's sister Lila (Miles) decide to find her themselves.

What they find at the Bates Motel is movie history.

Specifications

  • Shamley Productions
  • 1960, Black & White, Rated R, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam
  • Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

Finally, this classic motion picture from the twentieth century is available on Blu-ray. It was made at a time when cheap B movies were the rage. Hitchcock decided to make one himself, and the studio wouldn't fund it, so he paid the production costs. Big mistake on the studio's part.

Technical

The transfer is superb, but it is obvious that there is wear and tear on the original that cannot be erased. Interestingly, we have been watching Psycho all these years at full frame, when the theatrical release had the top and bottom soft matted to 1.85:1, so the disc version actually shows less image than the old versions shown on TV. You can't do much with an old mono sound track, but they try their best.

Extras

There is a ton of stuff here, and rightly so. Besides The Making Of, there are In the Mirror's Shadow, Hitchcock Interview, The Shower Scene, The Psycho Archives, Behind the Scenes, and a Commentary with Stephen Rebellow (author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho).


"The Expendables" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

The Expendables

Synopsis

After a successful mission off the coast of Somalia, in which The Expendables - a group of mercenaries - rescue hostages from pirates, they are offered another job by someone named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in a cameo role) which involves going to an island in the Gulf of Mexico and assassinating a vicious dictator, General Garza (Zayas).

So, off they go, The Expendables, led by Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Crews), and Toll Road (Couture).

When they get there, they realize that a drug dealer, James Munroe (Roberts), who is also an ex CIA agent, protects General Garza so that he can continue with his drug operations. The job description for The Expendables has expanded to get rid of both of them.

To complicate matters (there is always a complication), Barney takes a liking to General Garza's daughter, Sandra, who detests what her father and Munroe have done to her people on the island. After a firefight that must have cost half the production budget, the island is turned over to Sandra who will restore democracy to the people.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate - Stage G Films
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 43 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Giselle Itie, Bruce Willis, David Zayas, Terry Crews, Randy Couture
  • Directed by Sylvester Stallone
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The film is entertaining for a couple of reasons. One is that Stallone knows what the audiences wants to see when they go to the theater to watch one of his movies. Secondly, there are multiple stars here with martial arts capabilities.

Technical

The video quality is superb, and the DTS-HD Master Audio handles the dynamic pyrotechnics very well.

Extras

These include Commentary by the Director, Inferno: The Making Of, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, From the Ashes, and BD-Live.


"Predators" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Predators

Synopsis

A group of people with varying backgrounds, mostly violent, are dropped onto an island, provided with weapons, and discover, to their horror, that they are prey to the Predators. Now, you may remember what the original Predator looked like. Well, these guys are an order of magnitude up on the Nasty scale. They look like a combination of the Preditor and the Alien, with huge teeth instead of tentacles.

Along the bloody path to survival, the group meets Noland (Fishburne) who explains that the Predators bring creatures from other planets so they can hunt them and sharpen their skills. He also tells them that the first generation Predators are feuding with the latest generation, and that to escape the island, the group should help the original Predators, including one that is being held captive and who might lead the group to a ship that can take them all away from this terrible place.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 47 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 28 Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Gogginsa
  • Directed by Nimród Antal
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

One more last gasp in the Predator series. In the last one, it was Preditors vs. Aliens. Now the Preditors have features of both. Hey guys, it's time to put Preditors to rest and tap into your creativity brain centers. Let's have something original.

Technical

The picture quality represents an excellent transfer, and the DTS-HD Master Audio delivers an eerie jungle environment.

Extras

These include Commentaries by Robert Rodriguez and Nimród Antal, Moments of Extraction, Crucified, Evolution of the Species, The Chosen, Deleted and Extended Scenes, and The Fox Movie Channel Presents Making a Scene. A digital copy is also provided for loading onto your Video iPod.These include Commentary by the Director, Inferno: The Making Of, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, From the Ashes, and BD-Live.


"Splice" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Splice

Synopsis

Drs. Clive Nicoli (Brody) and Elsa Kast (Polley) work for Newstad Pharma, splicing genes to produce blobs of living tissue that will be used to design medicines for treatment of diseases.

They both want to take the process further and splice human genes, but the company director refuses, so they take their skills to an organization called Nucleic Exchange Research and Development, where they work secretly.

The result is something that resembles a human, but is not quite what they expected. They name the creature Dren (Chaneac).

Of course, Dren grows up, and very quickly becomes dangerous, especially with that stinger you can see in the cover art. What Dren wants, Dren gets, and now Clive and Elsa must find a way to destroy what they created. Self preservation is certainly in Dren's genes, and she doesn't make it easy. In fact, she becomes a he. And with that tossed into the mix, we have the makings of a sequel.

 

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 44 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
  • Directed by Vincenzo Natali
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Naturally, there is a political message here, namely, stay away from human gene splicing and cloning. The movie is a combination of Alien and The Bride of Frankenstein, but less entertaining.

Technical

The picture quality is superb, and the DTS-HD Master Audio delivers a modest surround experience. I have to say that the only times I have every really experienced an excellent surround sound movie is when it is 7.1. In those cases, the producers go out of their way to really use all the surround channels. Most 5.1 surround sound in movies has been disappointing.

Extras

There is only one featurette: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice.