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Movie Renter's Guide Number 153 - December, 2007 - Part II

ARTICLE INDEX

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Blu-ray)

POTC: At World's EndSynopsis

Just when he's needed most, Captain Jack Sparrow, that witty and wily charmer of a pirate, is trapped on a sea of sand in Davy Jones' Locker. In an increasingly shaky alliance, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann and Captain Barbossa begin a desperate quest to find and rescue him. Captain Jack's the last of the nine Pirate Lords of the Brethren Court who must come together united in one last stand to preserve the freedom-loving pirates' way of life. From exotic Singapore to World's End and beyond, from Shipwreck Island to a titanic battle, this adventure's filled with over-the-edge action, irreverent humor and seafaring myth and magic.

Specifications

    • Walt Disney
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 49 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English PCM 5.1
    • English/French/Spanish DD 5.1
    • Directed by Gore Verbinski
    • Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgard, Chow-Yun Fat, Geoffrey Rush
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Themes
  • Language: No

Commentary

I'm of mixed opinion on the third film of this franchise. The second film was fun in my opinion, but started getting a bit on the tedious side. This one takes it up a notch with a longer running time, and frankly, a more confusing storyline. There just seems to be too much going on here at times, and sometimes it is hard to follow where they are going with some of the subplots. It still has its moments though, and the end battle is one of the best ever put on screen. The production value and acting is still first rate, I just wish they would have done a bit more editing.

Technical

Dead Man's Chest is still, in my opinion, one of the best looking Blu-ray discs on the market. But its picture quality was quite a bit different from the first film. This one is far more in line with the look of the second film and carries a lot of its strengths. This is a very stylized film and because of that the type of picture we see varies a lot from scene to scene. Contrast probably shifts the most, with some of the darker scenes coming off slightly flat while some of the mixed content coming off beautifully. Colors are pushed a bit, but this is intentional. Detail is nothing short of exquisite throughout most of the film, with only a few instances that I thought were a tad soft. I did notice the slightest amount of compression noise toward the end of the film, but barely enough to even comment on. While I don't think this is quite as good as the second film for picture greatness, it is VERY close.

Disney continues its support of full resolution PCM soundtracks on this one and delivers a hell of a ride. Dynamic range is impeccable here and you get some of the most intense infrasonics I've heard in awhile. The entire soundstage is delivered full bore with great use of the surrounds and rear soundstage. Panning from channel to channel is seamless and the integration of action, score and dialogue is handled beautifully. Few soundtracks can match what this one has to offer.

Extras

Like the other two pirate's movies before it, this one gets the 2-disc bounty full of extras. On top of that, they're all in HD! There are quite a few production features that cover everything from the special effects, to the story, to locales and the actors. There are interviews, deleted scenes and an interactive look at the film that takes you out of the movie and directly into features that have to do with where you are in the film. You really get a scope of the production and how much went into making this film.



"Hot Rod" (HD DVD)

Hot Rod Synopsis

Amateur stuntman Rod Kimble has a problem - his step-father Frank is a jerk. Frank picks on Rod, tosses him around like a rag doll in their weekly sparring sessions, and definitely doesn't respect him, much less his stunts. But when Frank falls ill, it's up to Rod to stage the jump of his life in order to save his step-father. The plan: Jump 15 buses, raise the money for Frank's heart operation, and then... kick his ass.

Specifications

    • Paramount Pictures
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 27 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French/Spanish DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Akiva Schaffer
    • Starring Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Comedic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is almost one of those films where "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" comes in. This movie is just bad. The comedy is just too silly for its own good, and it feels like a blatant retread of everything that already came before it. A big dose of Napoleon, a dash of Jackass, and a smidgen of anything else that might have worked at one point or another. SNL films rarely entertain me, but this one didn't even come close. Skip it if you can.

Technical

I'm of mixed opinion on the video presentation. Color rendition is quite good and for the most part so is detail. But they stylized the picture a bit with an artificial haze of sorts that is quite annoying. It creates a bit of a flat look at times and seems to prohibit the transfer from really taking off. Since I didn't see this one in theaters I have a hard time guessing if this was intentional or not, but I can't imagine it not since it is so predominant.

Paramount delivers a lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack on this one and overall it's pretty good. The sound design isn't much but the 80's rock soundtrack does deliver some nice atmosphere, good bass and extension in the soundstage. Dialogue is the key player though and timbre and balance is great.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, trailers, some production features, deleted and extended scenes and some outtakes.



"Mr. Bean's Holiday"  (HD DVD Hybrid)

Mr. Bean's Holiday Synopsis

Mr. Bean can't believe his luck when he wins a camcorder and an all-expense-paid vacation to the French Riviera. But during his train journey to the south of France, he falls face first into a series of mishaps and fortunate coincidences, all of which are caught on camera and far-fetched enough to ensure his own makeshift entry into the Cannes Film Festival!


Specifications

    • Universal
      2007, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 30 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Steve Bendelack
    • Starring Rowan Atkinson, Emma De Caunes, Willem Dafoe
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Mr. Bean delivers some good old fashion family fun on this one. Laughs are a plenty and the backdrop is gorgeous. My 4 year old daughter even had a great time. Some may not find it as entertaining as we did, I know a lot of people that don't care for the Mr. Bean skits, but fans of the character should definitely give this one a whirl.

Technical

Universal has delivered a solid visual presentation here. Detail is excellent, and I love the balance of colors. The lush country sides of Europe make for some great eye candy and there is a lot of detail here to soak in. Some of the video camera shots are a bit on the soft side, but that is what you'd expect from a handycam. The rest of the footage is brilliant.

The soundtrack is presented in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and is fun overall. This isn't an exciting soundtrack by any means, but I liked the balance of score and atmosphere. The random soundtrack selections also add some nice kick and presence to the mix. Surrounds come into play more than I expected for the genre, and do a nice job of filling the soundstage and creating a realistic soundstage.

Extras

This web enabled disc allows you to go onto Universal's HD portal and download trailers and some extras featurettes. There are also deleted scenes and a few different looks at the character.



"AC/DC Live at Donington"  (Blu-ray)

AC/DC Live at Donnington Synopsis

When AC/DC came crashing through the gates of Castle Donington in August of 1991, they were headlining their third "Monsters Of Rock" festival at the fabled venue. They proceeded to assault the massive audience with a two hour set chock-full of their greatest hits, and an over-the-top visual spectacle that included firing cannons, the hells bell and a giant inflatable Rosie. Filmed in 35mm Panavision with 26 cameras (including a helicopter), AC/DC Live At Donington is one of the greatest live concert documents of all time.

Specifications

    • Columbia
      2007, Color, Unrated, 2 Hr
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • 1080p
    • English PCM 5.1/2.0
    • English DD 5.1
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I've been a fan of AC/DC for over half my life and it's always nice to go back and visit some classics. This concert has most of their bigger hits, though I can think of some I would still like to hear. But fans won't find much to complain about with this long set.

Technical

This is a hard one to judge after just reviewing the new Dave Matthews Blu-ray a few weeks ago. The video pales in comparison to that presentation, but given the age of this concert and how it was shot, this isn't bad at all. Colors are a bit of a mixed bag, with some obvious bleeding and a slightly washed out look. Detail is good for the most part, but don't expect fine object detail to match some of the newer videos out there. For a concert 15 years old, this looks pretty nice.

The audio presentation is always the most important thing with a concert and this Blu-ray release does an admirable job. I won't say it is perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. My biggest issue is the hard panning of the instruments. Instead of a natural and cohesive soundstage, the guitar is hard panned to the front right speaker, and it's a little dominant in the mix. The drum kit is a bit weak on the lower end, but the detail is there. Vocals sound great, these guys always sound amazing live unlike most of the bands out there. Personally I prefer the stereo mix a bit more as it seems a bit more balanced, but I did like the presence the surround mix brings.

Extras

Extras include footage of individual members through selected songs, a feature commentary with band members and a discography.



"Jin-Roh"  (Blu-ray)

Jin-Roh Synopsis

10 years have passed since war changed the face of Japan, a Japan which now burns with the fire of civil unrest. Fueled by rampant crime and poverty, a well armed anti-government group has risen amongst the people; with the intent of stopping the government through its terrorist plots. To combat this group, an elite group of heavily-armored soldiers was formed, trained like dogs, these men were to combat the growing unrest with extreme and severe prejudice; these men were the Capitol Police. However, when Constable Fuse, a member of the Capitol Police hesitates to kill a young courier, he is forced to face his own humanity and ultimately decide - is it better to live as a chained dog?

Specifications

    • Bandai Visual
      1999, Color, Rated R, 1 hour 42 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • 1080p
    • Japanese PCM 5.1/2.0
    • English DD 5.1
    • Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

It's been a few years since I've seen this anime classic. Oshi is always known for his more political based story lines and this is no exception. Those looking for an action film may be a bit disappointed. Sure there is some nice action sequences, but this is more of a message film and the drama is well written. The animation is also quite good and still one of Production IG's best.

Technical

The 1080p presentation is far better than any DVD presentation I've seen of this film to date. I was surprised just how good it looked. Colors are a bit muted, but this film had an intentionally drab look to it to compliment the storyline. Detail in backgrounds is excellent and there is a complete lack of noise, film wear and compression. This transfer has gotten me really excited to see some more classic anime!

As good as the video presentation was, the audio takes it up a notch further. The uncompressed PCM mix is quite engaging and makes spectacular use of the rear soundstage. This film has impressive sound design and all of the action and onscreen mayhem is balanced well from channel to channel. Dialogue is natural in timbre and imaging is solid.

Extras

Not really any extras on the disc itself but this nicely packaged offering includes a 20 page booklet with a new interview from the director as well as a 522 page storyboard book. I'm sure there are some collectors that would love to add this to their shelves.



"Pathfinder"  (Blu-ray)

PathfinderSynopsis

The heroic story of a young Norse man raised by Native American Indians who wages a personal war against the Vikings that barbarically raided his tribe.

Commentary

This film was announced for theaters several times only to be held back. When it was finally released it spent a very short time at the Cineplex. Having now seen it, it's easy to say why. The premise of the story is good enough, but they don't develop anything. You don't care a whole lot for the characters and the short storylines only seem to do enough to bring you to the next hack and slash action scene. Nispel definitely kept to the formula of stylization that he used with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it didn't work out quite as well with audiences this time.

Specifications

    • Fox
      2007, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 47 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • 1080p
    • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    • Spanish/French DD 5.1
    • Directed by Marcus Nispel
    • Starring Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Ralf Moeller, Clancy Brown
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Technical

Fox delivers a pretty solid video presentation here. This is VERY contrasty film, with overdriven whites and deep, dark blacks. Shadow detail is excellent, but I did notice some noise in the white levels at times. Whether this was from the stylization or from the codec running out of juice is anyone's guess. I saw some light banding in some of the opening sequences, but it didn't seem to be the norm. Fine detail is excellent most of the time and dimensionality was quite good. Thought I wouldn't call it a reference transfer, there is some great material for testing out your display's contrast abilities.

The soundtrack is delivered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is an aggressive mix of bass and sound design. Like most of the DTS-HD mixes, this one has a very enveloping quality to it. The soundstage is rich with detail and plenty of discrete surround effects. Bass is rich and deep and adds a lot to the ominous sound design. The action never seems to spoil anything else in the film. Dialogue is balanced well and the imaging in the main channels is superb. A solid presentation from Fox.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, deleted scenes, production features, a running fact track, and a look at actor Clancy Brown.



"A Mighty Heart"  (HD DVD)

A mighty HeartSynopsis

After her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, is kidnapped by terrorists, Mariane heads a desperate search for clues in a frantic race against time to locate her missing husband.

Commentary

Angelina Jolie is in top form in this disturbing true story of a journalist who is kidnapped by terrorists after the Afghanistan war. Instead of the typical story of the husband's unfortunate events, you see the tale through the eyes of the wife and loved ones as it unfolds. In an age where we become so numb to world events like this, you get a glimpse of how hard life can be for those caught in the struggle. A very powerful film.

Specifications

    • Paramount Vantage
      2007, Color, Rated R, 1 hr 48 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French/Spanish DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Michael Winterbottom
    • Starring Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Archie Panjabi, Will Patton
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Technical

The video transfer here is a bit of a mixed bag, but never comes off as bad. You can tell they used different types of film stock for the film ranging from hand held cameras to standard film. At times the image can be a bit edgy with faint halos around fine objects. Detail wavers a tad but normally stays pretty good. Colors can be a bit of a wash as well, but considering the environment I think they did a good job. This isn't a film to go into thinking you're going to get some great image, but it never disappointed.

Paramount includes a full lossless Dolby TrueHD mix on this release but like the image, it's a mixed bag. The soundstage is quite open and there is never a sense of limitation by the production but this film doesn't have a lot of thrills to it. The score is effectively moody and adds a lot to the film. Dialogue is always clean and detail and there is more going on in the surrounds than I would expect from a film like this.

Extras

Extras include a production feature, a message from the foundation of Daniel Pearl, a feature on the committee to protect journalists, and the theatrical trailer.



"The Hills Have Eyes 2"  (Blu-ray)

The Hills Have Eyes 2 Synopsis
With even more blood, guts and gore than its shocking predecessor, this chilling sequel picks up two years after the ill-fated Carter family was attacked by cannibalistic mutants in the New Mexico desert. Now a group of National Guard trainees on a routine mission find themselves up against the same blood-thirsty freaks. But this time, the mutant patriarch isn't just looking for a quick bite - he needs female breeders to continue his family line!

Specifications

    • Fox Atomic
      2007, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 29 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    • French/Spanish DD 5.1
    • Directed by Martin Weisz
    • Starring Michael McMillian, Jacob Vargas, Flex Anderson, Jessica Stroup
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Strong

Commentary

The remake of The Hills Have Eyes was a bit of a hit or miss for me. I was excited to see the French director responsible for Haute Tension involved, but ultimately it was only mildly satisfying for a horror remake. This new film is a completely different beast and frankly, a complete waste of time. It follows the lead of a lot of "shock" horror we've been seeing lately with just enough plotline to get you to the next grisly scene. The characters are so dumb you almost want them to get slaughtered and there is no real sense of tension or fear when you watch it. Honestly, I am actually surprised this hit the theaters and didn't just end up as a straight to video B-Horror film.

Technical

While I thought the movie was horrible there is no denying how great the video transfer looks. Fox delivers yet another gorgeous HD transfer with sensational depth and detail. At times the amount of detail actually hurts things a bit. You notice some of the green screen effect a bit more and make-up effects are easier to spot. Contrast is exceptional and I was impressed continually by the dimension of the image. If you are a fan of this film, I can't imagine it looking much better.

The audio presentation is also exceptional. The mix is very open and takes full advantage of the surround soundstage. Lots of creepy discrete effects from the surround channels and plenty of ominous bass to help with the mood. Dynamics are excellent and there are a few "gotcha" moments that will probably make a few people jump. If only the movie was as good as the presentation!

Extras

There are some surprisingly good features on this film. Deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel, a look at the graphic novel, a production feature and an interesting Fox channel special with Wes Craven. Considering how much I didn't care for the film, I was surprised by how good the extras were.



"Die Hard Collection"  (Blu-ray)

Die Hard CollectionSynopsis
The entire franchise comes to life in high definition with this box set. Watch John McClane go through hell and back in Die Hard, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengence, and Live Free or Die Hard.

Specifications

    • 20th Century Fox
      1988/1990/1995/2007
      Color, Rated R/PG-13(DH4)
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    • English/French/Spanish DD 5.1
    • Directed by Various
    • Starring Bruce Willis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Strong

Commentary

I've always been a fan of this series and I was elated to see Fox release all four films for the holidays. What could possibly be a better present or stocking stuffer! Each film brings fun to the table and even the weakest one is better than most of the action films delivered these days. Kudos to Fox for releasing this set this early in the format.

Technical

As expected each film delivers a slightly different visual experience. Since the series started nearly twenty years ago (yes, it has been that long) the quality of each transfer differs. Die Hard looks a lot like the D-Theater release. Detail is better than the DVD by a long shot, but this is still a slightly softer looking film by today's standards. There is also some stylization that adds a bit of lens styling to it. Colors are somewhat muted, but certainly not distracting. Fans of the film will probably be quite pleased with realistic expectations.

The second film is probably the weakest in my opinion. Not to say that it doesn't look good, but I thought it could look a bit better. Detail isn't as impressive given the material as the first one and doesn't hold a candle to the follow ups. Thankfully there is no compression or ringing thought.

The third film looks substantially better than the first two and more in line with what we've been seeing from most of the newer titles out there. Fine object detail is excellent and depth of image is great. This was a horrible looking DVD so the differences from there are enormous and well worth the step up.

I've already reviewed the fourth film and this is the same, a reference transfer.

Audio is also a bit varied throughout. Obviously sound production has improved quite a bit over the years and you get a real sense of that throughout these discs. Still dynamics weren't bad, even with the first film. The biggest variance was probably with the dialogue, which was a bit thin in the earlier films. Surrounds are used aggressively in all of the films and each fills the room nicely. The second film is the only real issue here. It is not properly encoded. For one, it is not a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack as advertised, and it would not play correctly on the players I had on hand. I could overcome this on some by switching to bitstream but others had to decode internally. Hopefully Fox will look into it and remedy the situation at some point. The highlight of the set is the fourth film, which is one of the best soundtracks I've heard this year.

Extras

Rather than releasing bare bones editions of each film to compliment the the day and date fourth film, Fox has actually added some nice supplements to each film. All include feature commentaries and you will find a nice selection of production features, interviews, deleted scenes, extended scenes, TV promos, trailers and more. Nice to see a studio take notice of the films that built a franchise rather than just including them in the mix.



"Masters of Horror Season 1 Vol. 3&4"  (Blu-ray)

Masters of HorrorSynopsis

Masters Of Horror: Season One, Volume Three includes: Incident On And Off A Mountain Road - Don Coscarelli directs the grisly stunner about a young woman hunted by the backwoods maniac called "Moonface." Dance Of The Dead - Tobe Hooper invites you inside a post-nuke nightclub where a depraved MC entertains the murderous masses. Pick Me Up - A trucker who kills hitchers, a hitchhiker who murders drivers and a tough woman looking for a ride all come together in this twisted thriller from director Larry Cohen.

Masters Of Horrors: Season 1, Volume IV includes: Imprint - This infamous episode directed by Takashi Miike was considered so disturbing that cable television refused to broadcast it. Homecoming - Joe Dante directs the season's most provocative episode in which dead troops return from the war to vote in the next Presidential election. Haekel's Tale - The erotic hungers of the undead come alive in this chilling shocker directed by John McNaughton. Chocolate - Director Mick Garris' acclaimed tale of obsession, murder and psychosexual hunger.

Specifications

    • Anchor Bay/Starz
      2007, Color, Unrated, 2 hour 9 min/ 4 hours 22 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/li>
    • 1080i
    • English PCM 5.1
    • English DD 5.1
    • Directed by Various
    • Starring Robert Englund, Fairuza Balk, Henry Thomas, Matt Frewer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Strong

Commentary

Anchor Bay returns with two more volumes from its popular Starz series. Being a big fan of horror, and most of these directors, I was anxious to see the rest of this series. Personally I enjoyed these volumes a bit more than the first two, though there were some weaker episodes. Some standouts include Imprint, Dance of the Dead, Homecoming and Chocolate. I was hoping a for a bit more from Haekel's Tale since it was written by Clive Barker, who is one of my favorite horror writers. The production value on all of the short films is quite good, especially Miike's Imprint, which I guess was too much for even Starz to broadcast. It reminded me a bit of Ichi The Killer in its level of violence and probably isn't fit for the timid. Fans of this genre would still be remiss to not at least give these a rental and die hards would do well to add them to the library.

Technical

The video presentation is pretty much consistent from what I saw with the first two volumes. At times the image can be quite impressive with decent contrast and nice detail, but there are moments when the image lacks dimension a bit and flattens out. Some of this is a byproduct of the photography style though and each film is different. This release is a bit different from standard Blu-ray releases since its encoded in 1080i, so the end picture result may rely more on what your playback chain is than the authoring. While this isn't the best looking show I've seen on HD yet, there is little to complain about.

The soundtracks are all presented in uncompressed PCM and quality varies a bit. Luckily even the weakest episode is still a strong presentation. Dynamics are always solid but some tracks fill the soundstage a bit more than others, delivering a more satisfying experience. Highlights include Tobe Hooper's and Takashi Miike's shorts. Both deliver great soundstage use and dynamics. Considering the fact that these were made for cable, I am quite impressed by just how good the sound design and presentation is.

Extras

All of the episodes include a feature commentary. There are also some highlights from other Anchor Bay/Starz Blu-ray releases.