Placed in a group home for children, peppery 11-year-old Cyril promptly escapes, unwilling to accept that his deadbeat dad has abandoned him. Rebuffed by his father, the distraught Cyril is taken in by concerned passerby...
It seems that the best films about human nature, or real topics that actually matter, are made outside the Hollywood system. I suppose anguish and inner turmoil doesn't translate into an exciting viewing experience, or one that will encourage people to pay to see the film. I understand that equation, and it makes me respect filmmakers who attempt to bring to life these rarely shown topics.
The Kid with a Bike is one such film. It sits on the top row of my movie collection right next to Kes, and that's so appropriate. Both films are about childhood, and boys who do not have a loving family environment. Incidentally, both were made in Europe.
The title reminds me of The Bicycle Thief, and I found that to be one of the most touching and realistic portrayals of a father/son relationship. The Kid with a Bike is touching in a different way.
This review contains spoilers, and reveals a similar amount of information as the trailer. If you don't want to know anything else about the story, please stop reading now.
The film is about 11-year-old Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret), who lives in a children's home. His mother isn't mentioned at any point in the story, and his father has abandoned him. The opening scenes show Cyril trying to come to terms with his situation. He doesn't believe that his father wouldn't want him, or that he would move out of his apartment without telling Cyril where he was going. Cyril is angry and aggressive, and only calms down a little when he's shown that his father's old apartment is truly empty.
During his struggles, he grabs hold of a woman. She's Samantha (Cťcile De France), and wants to help. She locates the man who bought Cyril's bike from his father, and buys it back for him. He refuses to accept that his father would sell it, insisting that it must have been stolen. He barely remembers to thank Samantha for her kindness, but races after her and asks if he can stay with her on the weekends. She says that she will call the home and try to arrange it.
Cťcile De France is not a stunning beauty, but she's an incredibly warm actress. If you saw her performance in Hereafter, you'll know what I mean. She has a way of making you believe that she is intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, and caring. This ability makes her an excellent choice for the role. We are never told why Samantha lives alone, but it partly explains why she might find it important to help Cyril. Is she looking for the kind of love that a child might offer, or does she merely empathize with his plight, and is hoping to give him the kind of love that she didn't have as a child?
Cyril is hard to like for much of the film. He's often angry, deeply mistrustful of adults, and disobedient when he doesn't get exactly what he wants. Samantha manages to arrange a meeting with his father, and Cyril finally learns some difficult truths about the man. I connected with this part of the film because I never knew my own father. Luckily, I grew up in a loving environment with my mother and grandparents. My experiences helped me to understand anger, and the need to be as independent as possible. Cyril doesn't trust adults because he can't be sure they will be there for him when it matters.
One boy in the neighborhood is keen to befriend him, but Cyril is more drawn to an older boy who is suspected of dealing drugs. He's seemingly kind to Cyril, but we know that he's simply trying to gain trust, and that his true motives haven't yet been revealed. It works to some degree because Cyril responds to actions rather than promises.
This is a film about decisions. What are Samantha's reasons for trying to help him? What does his father really want? Should Cyril keep hoping for love that he may never have from his father, or settle for the love that is being offered by Samantha? Will he ever control his anger and become worthy of anyone's love?
The Dardenne brothers ask a lot of questions and provide very few answers, but the closing scene suggests that Cyril has learned something about life, and that his future might not be as bleak as his current existence.
The Criterion package is superb, and comes with a booklet, a great transfer, and more than two hours of special features. If you are interested in the Dardenne brothers, one interview lasts 74 minutes and reveals a lot about their methods.
The Kid with a Bike is not an easy film to watch, and the payoff is implied rather than shown. However, it's a strong, realistic portrayal of childhood, and the performances do it justice. If you like to contemplate life, it's worth your time.
Lionsgate Films | 2011 | 107 min | Rated R | Region A (C untested) | Dec 20, 2011
The key players at an investment firm become entangled during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan unlocks information that could prove to be the...
A gripping drama, despite the potentially dry subject matter
*This review contains spoilers*
It's quite an achievement to make a movie about a boring subject and keep the viewer engaged throughout, but Margin Call does just that. It's a financial drama, depicting events leading up to the last stock market crash in 2008.
The movie begins with a scene showing Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) being laid off. He's in risk management for an investment company. When he's informed of the decision, he's escorted back to his office to pick up his belongings, and then made to leave the building. His phone service is immediately terminated and he's told to forget about anything he was working on as it's no longer his problem. But Dale hands a USB drive to a colleague before he leaves, advising him to be careful.
The colleague is Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), who takes a look at Dale's research when everyone else has left the office. His findings set in motion a series of events taking place over 24 hours, during which we are shown how a financial crisis might be handled.
Many scenes involve people looking at computer screens and talking about the worrying implications, but the excellent screenplay makes us anticipate what is coming next. There is a little technical jargon, but it doesn't matter if you don't understand anything about Mortgage Backed Securities. The beauty of the story is in showing the chain of command, and the way in which people respond to the unfolding events.
We see the problem being talked about by Sullivan and a junior analyst, and they decide to tell their immediate superior, Will (Paul Bettany). He then calls in his boss, Sam (Kevin Spacey). As the night wears on, a series of meetings take place. Other department heads are called in, and ultimately the man who decides the overall strategy (Jeremy Irons). Eric Dale cannot be traced, and the decision to terminate his services causes problems to all concerned.
My favorite scene involves Dale talking about his former career as an engineer. He reveals how much of a difference one man can make, and shows some of the traits which earned him his job in risk management.
The movie depicts leadership, reaction to stress, and how a strategy was devised to resolve the situation with as little damage to the company as possible. Ruthless decisions were called for and made, and the story has an undeniable ring of truth at every turn. That's not surprising when you realize that director J.C. Chandor's father worked for Merrill Lynch for 30 years.
Margin Call is a movie that's well-written, well-acted,and surprisingly gripping. It might even make you question your investment strategy. Although I loved Wall Street, I think Margin Call is my favorite story set in the world of finance.
Universal Studios | 2006 | 129 min | Rated R | Region free
| Jun 02, 2009
Four people dressed in painters' outfits march into the busy lobby of Manhattan Trust, a
cornerstone Wall Street Branch of a worldwide financial institution. Within seconds, the
costumed robbers place the bank under a...
Good heist movies can be a lot of fun, and Inside Man is one of my favorites. Why is the genre interesting? I think it's because it's fascinating to see a robbery unfold, and the particular method used. In order to keep us interested in what could be a stale topic, modern heist movies have tried to invent new ways to pull off such a crime. Inside Man is one of the most inventive that I have seen.
There are countless examples of strong entries in the genre. I'm particularly fond of The Killing, from Stanley Kubrick, which showed us how a robbery might be planned and executed. His use of a narrator was especially effective. Another favorite is Dog Day Afternoon, which is even mentioned in Inside Man. The original version of The Italian Job (1969) focuses on the getaway; Jackie Brown and Heat are more concerned with characters and the method; while more recent efforts, such as Reservoir Dogs and The Town, focus on events after the robbery has taken place.
Inside Man falls into the same category as The Killing and Jackie Brown, and it works because the method is so unusual.
The story opens with a shot of the gang's leader, Dalton Russell (Owen), advising us to listen closely to what he says. He hints at what is to come, but you might not appreciate the full meaning of his comments until you see the movie a second time. His team dresses as painters and seizes control of a bank, taking around 20 or 30 hostages in the process.
The movie doesn't stick to a completely linear structure. Instead, we see some of the former hostages being interviewed by the police after the robbery is over. This choice works well, and we gradually come to understand why Russell's gang made the hostages wear painter's outfits.
Detective Keith Frazier (Washington) is called in to negotiate with Russell in order to resolve the situation. Frazier has his own ideas about how things should be handled, and some of his decisions seem risky and unconventional. He's also an intelligent man, and quickly realizes that Russell doesn't expect his demands to be met. So why is he committing the crime?
The two other key characters are Arthur Case (Plummer), who owns the bank, and Madeleine White (Foster), who is hired by Case for a specific purpose.
I'm not going to reveal any more about the plot because it's best to see it unfold for yourself. Washington and Owen are both excellent choices for their respective roles, and each gives a memorable performance.
The movie contains a few twists, and the ultimate resolution is pleasing. I find myself returning to it often, and it always feels fresh. I'm surprised that it hasn't received more critical acclaim. If you are a fan of Washington or Owen, it's worth checking out.
In Stockholm, a girl and boy from working-class families run away from home to spend a secluded, romantic summer at the beach, far from parents and responsibilities. Inevitably, it is not long before the pair is forced to return...
One of the things I love most about Blu-ray is that films from the 50s and earlier can be brought back to life. Summer with Monika is a Criterion release, so you know that it looks as good as it can. For a 60-year-old film, the results are most pleasing.
The story is about human relationships, and how our perspectives alter as we mature. Harry is 19 when he's approached by Monika in a cafe. She's very forward and asks him if he'll take her to the cinema. After he agrees, the two decide that they need to be together. The title suggests that the relationship might not last forever, but stop reading now if you want to avoid further spoilers.
Both have boring jobs, and Harry soon follows Monika's lead after she quits. She seeks refuge with him, claiming that her drunken father is abusive, and Harry does his best to provide for her. In order to have privacy, he takes her to his father's boat and they sleep there. This is the start of an adventure in the style of a road movie, but this one involves a boat. The two sail to secluded areas and live with a certain amount of freedom. The main problem is their lack of money, but they are not above stealing in order to survive. It's like an ancient cross between Something Wild, Pierrot le fou, and Grave of the Fireflies, but nobody's life is in danger.
Things follow their natural course, with Monika eventually revealing that she is pregnant. It's here that Harry realizes that his idyllic life will soon have to end, and that the couple will need to be more responsible if they are to raise a child, but Monika hates the thought of returning to her old life. When she accepts the inevitable, their lives change. Harry's life starts to feel like Henry Spencer's existence in Eraserhead, as he is forced to find time to study, work, support his family, and take care of his baby. Monika doesn't seem ready to be a mother at all and wants her life to go back to the way it was.
One interesting sequence shows the differing outlooks of teenagers and middle-aged people. The younger couple feel that they have to rebel and escape a traditional life in order to be happy, but one of the older characters embraces the feel of the city after being away for a few days.
Bergman uses the industrial smoke and natural mist to enhance the dreamlike quality of their romance, and reinforces it by having his two characters smoke cigarettes throughout the film. This is a fairly straightforward look at young romance, and shows how society viewed people who had children before they were married. If you want to see how Stockholm looked in the 50s, this is like an historical document.
Summer with Monika won't drastically alter your perspective on life, but it's a well-told romance with plenty of realism. Fans of the film, or Bergman, should definitely invest in the Criterion Blu-ray.
The daughter of the king of the ocean, Ponyo is no ordinary goldfish - she has all the magic of the sea at her disposal. But when five-year-old Sosuke finds her near his seaside home, a special connection sparks between the two...
I am overwhelmed with emotion as I sit here contemplating what to write about Ponyo. That might sound silly, but it's true. Here is an animated film which focuses on two children who are about 5-years-old, but the story works for any adult who is open to being moved by its charming characters. To be precise, one of the children begins life as a fish, before undergoing a transformation.
Director Hayao Miyazaki is some kind of magician. If you have ever seen My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, or Princess Mononoke, you'll know what to expect from Ponyo. It's closest in feel to Totoro because of the ages of the main characters. Miyazaki's animations look like watercolor paintings rather than the 3D worlds found in Pixar's releases, but although they are less real, they have more warmth and heart than the world's second-best animation studio. I don't say that lightly.
If you're put off by the title, or the fact that the film was made in Japan, set aside those fears immediately. The Blu-ray comes with the original Japanese dub (although only in 5.1 Dolby Digital), and an HD dub from Disney for the US market featuring actors you mostly already know.
Ponyo has a special place in my heart because it is the first Studio Ghibli title that I ever bought. I had borrowed one or two before from my local library, but this first glimpse of Miyazaki's work in HD is something I will never forget. The experience begins with five minutes of action without any dialog, and the colors, imagination, movement, and sheer beauty of the animation will take your breath away. If Kubrick had made an animated film, the first five minutes might look similar.
After the initial sequence, we meet Sosuke (Frankie Jonas). He's a small boy who discovers something while he's playing by the beach; it turns out to be Ponyo (Noah Cyrus), who he mistakes for a goldfish. She's trapped in a discarded bottle, so he helps her break free. When he cuts his finger in the process, she licks the wound and heals him. Yes, Ponyo is a magical creature. The taste of human blood changes her nature. Sosuke takes care of her and keeps her in a bucket, but she is later returned to the ocean.
Ponyo's undersea world is just as fascinating as the one above. Her father, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), is some kind of wizard who makes elixirs and helps keep nature in balance. He doesn't trust humans and fears for Ponyo's safety, so he's reluctant to allow her to leave her home. What he doesn't know is that Ponyo has come to love Sosuke, and wants to transform herself into a human girl so that she can be with him.
The two most common complaints I have heard about the film are that it is intended for small children and the story is hard to follow. I have never had trouble following the plot, and I think it will work for anyone who doesn't dismiss it as being too childish without even seeing it. This is a film for parents as well as children.
Miyazaki is an incredible study of human nature and knows exactly how to depict emotion in his drawings. I would say that it's almost impossible to watch without being moved in a positive way. Like Totoro, the story takes place in a world in which people care about each other. There are no villains of any kind. The story relies on events to drive it, and it's never boring. Notice how supportive Sosuke's mother (Tina Fey) is when he tells her that he's rescued a fish and that she has turned into a girl, or the respect that Sosuke has for his elders. There are a lot of good messages here for children (and adults).
I want to mention two more scenes before I stop talking about the plot. The first is one of the purest expressions of joy I have ever witnessed in a film, and shows Ponyo running along on top of the waves as she tries to reach Sosuke. Look at the expression on her face. She only has one thought, and it's driven by love. The other scene shows Ponyo and Sosuke recovering indoors after being soaked in a storm. It's meaning might not be immediately apparent, but if you have ever been cold or wet, remember how good it felt to be warmed by a meal and a hot drink. Miyazaki includes these scenes because every human being can identify with such feelings. Instead of being bombarded by action and conflict, we are shown a world in which real things happen, and the scenes are stronger because of it.
Ponyo is a magical story. It's hard to watch without breaking into a grin, and that feeling lasts for the duration of the film. If you decide to watch it and find that it touches you in the same way, I urge you to check out Miyazaki's entire catalog if you haven't already done so.
The Blu-ray presentation is excellent. The image can't be faulted and the US dub sounds great. The only tiny criticism is that the Japanese dub is not lossless, but at least it is present for those who insist on seeing films in their original language.
Sony Pictures | 2006 | 175 min | Not rated | Region free
| Apr 28, 2009
The murder of a curator at the Louvre reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been
protected since the days of Christ. Only the victim's granddaughter and Robert Langdon, a
famed symbologist, can untangle the...
Did you see The Hunger Games and read the books because everyone was talking about it this year? How about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo three years ago? We live in a world in which hype can have a huge effect on people's behavior. It drove the Harry Potter franchise a decade ago, and I'm sure you can list other examples dating back to Jaws, The Exorcist, or even Psycho, if you are old enough. Well, in 2006, The Da Vinci Code was the must-read book and the must-see movie of the moment.
Did the reality match the buzz?
Despite grossing $758 million, it's surprising that The Da Vinci Code is regarded as a failure by so many people. One common complaint is that Tom Hanks' hair looked silly. I guess it says something about the movie if you are focusing on that aspect? I've read the book, seen the movie, bought it on DVD twice, upgraded to Blu-ray, and I have never understood all the negativity surrounding Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's novel. By the way, the novel also received a lot of negative comments claiming that the writing was terrible.
I have come to the conclusion that many of the negative comments are due to the perception that the movie is attacking religion. There is a long sequence in which we are shown an alternative interpretation of Da Vinci's The Last Supper. I won't reveal the details, but I would imagine that scene is the source of the trouble for most of the viewers who objected to the subject matter. I find it a little disturbing that people who supposedly believe completely in something can feel threatened by a story which contradicts those beliefs.
Would you avoid seeing Alien because you don't believe such creatures exist? They are stories, intended to entertain, not documentaries claiming to depict actual events. The Harry Potter franchise is not evil or damaging to children. I'm also disappointed that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was abandoned after The Golden Compass. Again, it's probably because of the perceived religious stance. We lost what could have been an incredible trilogy, but you can still read the books.
Anyway, enough of that, while I still have a few readers left.
The Da Vinci Code is a mystery and something of a treasure hunt. Robert Langdon (Hanks) is a professor who is promoting his latest book. The book deals with symbology, and explains the origin of some of the symbols and clothing that we may have encountered during our lives. Hanks is convincing in the role and we see him delivering a lecture, in Paris, at the start of the story. Before he can finish signing books for the crowd, he's approached by the French police; they claim to need his help in explaining an unusual murder, so he accompanies them to the crime scene inside the Louvre.
The murdered man is Louvre curator, Jacques SauniŤre. He's naked and has apparently arranged himself in the same position as Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. He's also left other messages, and one mentions Langdon. It's here that Langdon encounters Sophie Neveu (Tautou), who is a police cryptologist. But unlike the other police, she appears to have an agenda of her own. She teams up with Langdon and they attempt to solve the riddles left in SauniŤre's message.
Although the running time in the extended version is just short of three hours, the pacing makes the movie feel much shorter. The revelations are frequent and make the viewer feel as if they are involved in the story. It would be wrong to reveal any more of the movie's secrets because it's better if you experience them for yourself.
The story won't work if you analyze what's happening too closely. After all, it contains an albino monk (Bettany), a priest who is more concerned with money and power than religion (Molina), and a historian (McKellen) who is obsessed with the Holy Grail. When you look at the movie in that light, it's clearly nonsense, but so is the Indiana Jones franchise, and that's held in high regard by both critics and moviegoers.
The Da Vinci Code also introduced a lot of people to Audrey Tautou. She has produced some incredible work, starring in Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, and Coco Avant Chanel, but American audiences finally had the chance to see her appear in an English-language movie. If you are a fan, I urge you to give Amelie a try. However, I may be biased as I think she's the most beautiful actress since Irene Jacob graced our screens in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors Red.
The movie has a little action, but it will work better for fans of mysteries. The conclusion does leave us with a few questions, but it's quite satisfying nonetheless.
Tom Hanks had some incredible roles in the 90s, and was arguably the best actor in that decade, but we haven't seen any memorable performances from him since Cast Away (2001) and Road to Perdition (2002). His biggest successes in the last decade came as a voice actor for Pixar. Although The Da Vinci Code is far from perfect, I always find it enjoyable, and would rate it as Hanks' best role in the past ten years. Angels & Demons also features the Robert Langdon character, played by Hanks. It wasn't a box office success, so it's unclear whether The Lost Symbol will ever be made.
If you are open to preposterous stories, you might find that The Da Vinci Code is a lot better than people would have you believe. It's certainly better than National Treasure. Fans of Hanks and mysteries should take a look. Ignore the negative comments and make up your own mind.
Space... The final frontier... These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds... To seek out new life and new civilisations... To boldly go where no one has gone before!
I'm not going to give an exhaustive guide featuring a synopsis of every episode in this set. Instead, I'll be focusing on the audio and visual presentation, and the overall quality of this first season.
For those of you who might not know, Star Trek Next Generation (STNG) ran for seven seasons, spawning 176 (mainly) 45-minute episodes, and five movies featuring the crew. This first season made its debut with a 92-minute episode, Encounter at Far Point, which introduced the new crew, and gave audiences a glimpse of a new entity named Q (John de Lancie).
Before I talk about the merits of the show, there's an important piece of information that you need to be aware of if you are considering a purchase. The initial pressings contained several audio issues on three of the discs. Paramount offers free replacements without the need to send in the defective copies. In order to avoid having to do that, look carefully at the set before you buy it. Corrected copies have a yellow bar code on the back and the red Star Trek symbol on the spine.
Let's talk about the show.
I believe STNG to be the strongest of the five live action series set in the Star Trek universe, and it's not close. The original Star Trek has a certain nostalgic value and it was the first of it's kind. Voyager is enjoyable, and ranks second in my list. Enterprise is watchable, but without the same level of interest. Deep Space Nine is a show that I could never get into, despite multiple efforts.
STNG holds the top spot in my rankings because it has the best acting, the most convincing relationships, the strongest characterization, and a large number of well-written stories. However, my memory of the show proved to be imperfect. I know what STNG eventually becomes, but this first season is quite weak for the most part. I can imagine many fans of the original series giving up on this crew before STNG developed into the wonderful series it became.
What's wrong with it? The acting in the early episodes is nowhere near as good as in later seasons. People rarely refer to each other by their first name, and it's odd to hear Troi refer to Riker as Bill rather than Will. Data uses contractions when he is not supposed to be capable of that, but such oddities become less frequent as the season progresses. Denise Crosby is totally wrong for the tone of the show and stands around grinning in early episodes. Riker spends most of his time striking a pose, rather than acting in a believable manner.
The first good episode is the fifth one in the season, Where No One Has Gone Before. It was directed by Rob Bowman, who had a hand in 13 episodes during the show's first four seasons. Bowman was also involved as producer and/or director in 92 episodes of The X Files, so I am not surprised that he was responsible for the first standout episode.
Other good entries in this inaugural season include The Battle (Bowman), Hide and Q, Datalore (Bowman again), 11001001, When the Bough Breaks, Home Soil, We'll Always Have Paris, Conspiracy, and The Neutral Zone.
Despite the faults I have mentioned, Season 1 is a must-own for fans of the series. It gives important background information about the characters, such as Picard's attitude toward children, and we see the crew gradually becoming used to each other. I mean that both in terms of the scenario on the ship, and the type of chemistry that the actors developed.
Most of you are reading this because you want to know whether the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade. My answer is a resounding yes. The show is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and it looks spectacular in 1080p. If you thought that Star Trek looked good, this will blow you away. As with the original series, Paramount has given STNG the DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio treatment, and the audio matches the excellence of the visuals.
With more than three hours of special features, STNG shines on Blu-ray. I never expected to see shows this old looking so good. You probably won't even notice the two seconds of footage that could only be presented in standard definition.
Blu-ray + UltraViolet
Sony Pictures | 2011 | 107 min | Rated PG-13 | Region A (C untested) | Jul 17, 2012
When Britain's leading fisheries expert is approached by a consultant to help realize a sheik's vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert, he immediately thinks the project is both absurd and unachievable. But...
More than a romantic comedy, but less than a serious drama
Some movies are written off because of their titles and it takes a while for them to gain an audience. Few people knew what The Shawshank Redemption was before it was released on VHS. What is The World's Fastest Indian all about? Perhaps an athlete of some kind? While other movies, such as Freedom Writers and The Reader, simply sound boring. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is in danger of being dismissed due to its title, but that would be a mistake.
Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is a fisheries expert, and he seems like a boring man. His existence is dull and safe. His relationship with his wife is one of mutual tolerance, and they do not share the same passions. He only drinks alcohol on the weekend, and only after 7pm. Nobody takes him seriously at work either, so he has little to look forward to.
Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) is a keen fisherman, but that's not an easy hobby to satisfy when you are surrounded by sand. He recruits a team to investigate the possibility of building a river in the desert, and populating it with salmon, so that he can pursue his passion for fishing. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) is given the task of recruiting Jones and anyone or anything else that might be needed to complete the project. She's in a new relationship and loves a soldier, but that is put on hold when he is called up for duty.
The movie is heavily influenced by romance. Harriet is in a hopeful new relationship, Jones is in a tired marriage, and could there even be the possibility of romance between the two with them working so closely together? The other main element is humor. The largely British cast influences the tone, and the humor is more subtle and understated than in typical North American comedies. I found myself smiling often, rather than laughing out loud. Most of the laughs come at the expense of Jones, who is set in his routines and is a quirky individual.
Jones doesn't treat the project seriously because it sounds so ludicrous, but his outlook changes when he meets Sheikh Muhammed, who is one of the most likable characters in the movie.
Blunt is not a typical beauty, but she's a good actress. I was impressed with her performances in Sunshine Cleaning and The Adjustment Bureau, and she's just as effective in this movie. She has a certain warmth and vulnerability that works well for a romantic lead. McGregor most recently caught my attention in The Ghost Writer, and he plays Jones perfectly.
However, the movie is more than a romantic comedy. The two leads are required to pull off several emotional scenes, especially in the final act.
One character who elicits laughs in every scene in which she appears is Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), who plays the British Prime Minister's aide. She's the main villain in the story and is always out to manipulate the situation in order to gain votes and positive mentions in the newspapers.
I'm not entirely sure who the movie is aimed at, but it worked for me. It won't change your life with a dramatic message that you've never seen before, but it's an enjoyable place to visit for a while.
The Blu-ray presentation is strong and the desert scenes look particularly impressive. Special features are sparse and total just over 16 minutes.
Comedy is so subjective. Some people want American Pie, The Hangover, or the latest Eddie Murphy movie, while others prefer gentle indie comedies such as Little Miss Sunshine.
What makes you laugh?
I often think about my own sense of humor and it's difficult to pin down at times. I tend to avoid cheap laughs or things done for shock value, and I admire intelligent dialogue and quirky or original takes on everyday situations. One director who never fails to make me smile is Wes Anderson. He definitely falls into the quirky category, but there is so much more to his movies than that.
Rushmore is Anderson's second movie, coming two years after his debut, Bottle Rocket. Both movies were written with Owen Wilson, and they have a similar feel. Anderson is one of those directors who appears to make movies about nothing and it's easy to sit there wondering what you just watched. But, unlike many comedies, there are deeper themes present. I usually find myself thinking about Anderson's work several days after I see the movie. That's the case this time, and it's the main reason I am writing this review.
Rushmore stars Jason Schwartzman in his first role. He plays Max Fischer, who is a 15-year-old student at Rushmore, a private school. He's there because he wrote a play in second grade and won a scholarship. Most of the students have rich parents, but Max's father is a barber and Max has to lie and claim that he's the son of a brain surgeon in order to gain acceptance.
Max is struggling at school and is informed that he'll be expelled if he flunks another class. His main problem is not one of intelligence, it's his lack of focus. He takes on so many extracurricular activities that he doesn't have time to work on his grades. We see snippets of Max indulging in each of these activities, such as beekeeping and fencing, and these snapshots give the movie a lot of charm. It reminds me of Amelie and some of Jeunet's other work in that regard.
As usual, something feels odd in Anderson's world. This effect is heightened by the dialogue. For example, Max sounds as if he is much older. He talks so seriously and it's funny that someone of that age thinks the way he does. Watch him direct Serpico for the school play and you'll see just what I mean.
The heart of the story involves an unusual love triangle. Max befriends Herman Blume (Bill Murray), who is a wealthy tycoon and former student of Rushmore. They both develop feelings for Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), who teaches at the school.
I won't reveal any more of the plot, because it doesn't really matter. All you need to know is that Rushmore is a typical Wes Anderson film. He'll surprise you at times, make you laugh, and leave you wondering how he came up with such original ideas.
I should also mention Mark Mothersbaugh, who began his association with Anderson on this film by contributing to the soundtrack. Other music used in the film includes songs by The Kinks, The Who, The Faces, and John Lennon. They all add to the nostalgic tone and fit perfectly.
Owen Wilson doesn't appear in this one, but Luke and Andrew Wilson are both involved. If you appreciate quirky comedy, Rushmore won't disappoint.
The Criterion Blu-ray offers a superb presentation. Colors are natural throughout and you'll feel as if you are standing next to the characters. The special features are also noteworthy and the highlight is a 55-minute feature showing interviews with Murray and Anderson on the Charlie Rose Show. Fans of commentaries will be happy that Anderson, Owen Wilson and Schwartzman appear on the commentary track.
If you are curious about the appeal of Wes Anderson, Rushmore isn't a bad starting point. It won't work for everyone though.
In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two young representatives from each...
Good acting and plenty of action, but light on story
The Top 5 films at the box office (worldwide) this year are: The Avengers ($1.5 billion), The Dark Knight Rises ($1 billion), Ice Age: Continental Drift ($836 million), The Amazing Spider-Man ($744 million) and The Hunger Games ($645 million). In the US, The Hunger Games ranks third behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. It's clear that comic book heroes sell, and other key elements are action and conflict. The Hunger Games aims to give us a new fantasy hero to follow after the conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise.
Does it succeed?
The movie is an adaptation of the first part of a trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, which was initially aimed at young adults. But, like the Harry Potter series, the trilogy appeals to readers of all ages. I can't comment on the quality of the books because I haven't read them, so I don't know how faithful the movie adaptation is. All I can judge is how well the story works on the big screen. The second movie in the series is set for a 2013 release, while the final part of the trilogy will be split into two movies. So, to answer my question, The Hunger Games is a resounding success as a financial venture and it's enormously popular.
Financial success is one thing, but is the movie worth your time? I guess that depends on what you find entertaining. Let me describe what you can expect.
The story opens with a glimpse into the life of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence). We learn that she lives in one of the poorest of twelve districts in Panem, and that food is scarce. She feeds her mother and sister by hunting for game in the woods and she's a gifted archer. The twelve districts hold a lottery each year to select a boy and girl to represent them. The 24 children will fight to the death and only a single victor will survive. When Katniss sees her young sister chosen, she volunteers to take her place. The chosen boy from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson).
That's all we are told about life in District 12. This is not a drama in which we learn about the struggle to live under such a regime, it's more of an action movie. The story moves on quickly and we are shown the sharp contrast between District 12 and the Capitol, where the population is wealthy and the games are seen as nothing more than a form of entertainment. Katniss and Peeta are interviewed on television by host Caesar Flickerman (Tucci). The Capitol is presented as weird and decadent, and most people look like extras from Amadeus. One character looks to be based on Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter. I had the impression that these people were weird for the sake of being weird and it didn't feel convincing.
The movie plays out like an American version of Battle Royale with elements from The Running Man added for good measure. Those in control of the game can intervene at will using computers. Sometimes they will send medicine, while at other times they will harm or kill some of the contestants. It's all a grotesque manipulation aimed at entertaining the population in the Capitol.
Director Gary Ross is a gifted storyteller, and he also has writing credits for Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit. Unlike all three of those movies, I found that The Hunger Games lacked depth. It's obvious why I am supposed to root for Katniss as she risks her own life to save her sister, but there aren't enough background details to make me connect with her strongly. It felt more like a cynical plot device than anything that was remotely real.
So, for me, The Hunger Games became something of a comic book. There is an attempt at showing group dynamics. Who will work together? At what point will they try to kill each other? Who will take their chances alone? What skills will each of the characters have? How inventive will the deaths be? But the attempt is flawed because some of the most dangerous contestants are displayed as sneering idiots, and it detracts from the seriousness of the situation. This is supposed to be a battle for survival, not a comedy?
I'm trying to give a balanced review, but some of the battles are rather silly. That's not to say that the movie doesn't have a few good moments. One alliance in particular did resonate with me and I reacted emotionally to the death of one character.
My overall impression is one of sadness. Not because of the death of some of the characters, but at what we are becoming as a society. Do we really need to see children fight to the death in order to be entertained? As with modern comedies, we are relying more on shock value than good writing. Katniss Everdeen was portrayed well by a promising actress, but original ideas were few and far between. You know almost exactly what to expect from The Hunger Games before it begins, and most events are thoroughly predictable.
The next three movies will be a huge success, I am sure, but I'm not anxiously awaiting their release. I'm glad that I avoided The Hunger Games in theaters and waited to borrow the Blu-ray from a friend. Don't label me as a prude or someone who is against violence in movies. One of my favorites is Kill Bill, but, unlike the portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, I was shown enough background to care about what happened to The Bride.
This movie does have a huge audience as I outlined at the beginning. If you are the kind of moviegoer who enjoys action, good presentation, and special effects, The Hunger Games will entertain you. You'll need to switch your brain off for a couple of hours, but movies like this do have their place. I guess that's why they get made. I am left wondering about the book and how much was left out. Don't let this review stop you from buying the Blu-ray (which looks and sounds fantastic) or checking out the movie for yourself. I'm clearly in the minority on this one.
Swedish master Jan Troell ('The Emigrants', 'The New Land') returns triumphantly with 'Everlasting Moments', a vivid, heartrending story of a woman liberated through art at the beginning of the twentieth century. Though poor and...
I'm losing count of the number of foreign films I've discovered that I would like to show to friends. Unfortunately, the vast majority would not subject themselves to a subtitled film, so this review will have to be my outlet. Maybe it will persuade one person, somewhere, to watch this wonderful film?
I first saw Everlasting Moments on cable about two years ago. Although I admired it, I felt that it dragged a little at times and I awarded it 3.5/5. I don't know whether my tastes have matured significantly since that time, but I was captivated by last night's viewing on Criterion Blu-ray.
The story tells the true story of Maria Larsson (Heiskanen), who is distantly related to members of director Jan Troell's family. It opens in the first decade of the 1900s and ends in the early 1920s. The story is narrated by Maria's daughter, Maja, and the story is based on her real memoirs.
What can you expect from Everlasting Moments?
The story shows life in Sweden approximately 100 years ago. It's a brutally honest portrayal of poverty and hardship, and how Maria found an escape from that gritty existence through her photography. We are told at the outset that Maria won a camera in a lottery. The ticket was purchased by Sigfrid Larsson (Persbrandt), and he thought the camera should be his because he bought Maria the ticket. She told him that he would have to marry her if he wanted to share it, so he did.
Sigfrid is a complicated character. We discover that he is an alcoholic, and that he also has a weakness when it comes to other women. He appears to love Maria, but he's a violent man when under the influence of drink, causing all manner of problems for Maria and their children.
Maria's life changes when she discovers the camera in a closet one day and decides to pawn it for food. She takes it to a local photography store and encounters the owner, Sebastian Pedersen (Christensen). Maria has no idea of the camera's value, but Pedersen tells her that it is a good one. In fact, he's not completely sure of its value either. He tells her that he will buy it, but that she should keep it and use it until he establishes its value. The cost of the chemicals and photographic plates will be deducted from the price when he eventually buys it. Maria begins to use the camera and discovers that she likes it. Pederson admires her work and thinks she has real skill.
Have you ever uncovered a talent of your own that you never knew you had? That is part of the magic of Everlasting Moments. We live in a world where people are very guarded and often reluctant to show anyone a glimpse of their true feelings. Most reactions we see in others in a social setting are fake to some degree. They feign interest in what you are saying and force themselves to laugh or smile. It's rare to see genuine delight, and when I see it, I remember it. It's more common to see honest reactions from children because they don't care so much about how others perceive them.
I mention all this to illustrate the power of Maria's reaction when she realizes that she has a talent for photography. It is pure magic to her and Maria Heiskanen captures that feeling and depicts it perfectly. It's so effective that I felt everything that Maria might feel and I began to connect deeply with her character and her situation.
Although Maria doesn't boast about her talent or think that it's special, she begins to draw the attention of her friends and acquaintances. Photography was not common 100 years ago, so Maria finds that some people are willing to pay for her work and commission her to do more.
Like all of my favorite dramas, Everlasting Moments takes the time to establish its characters. Maria ultimately has seven children and we learn about what is important to the older ones. Sigfrid does his best to be a good father and husband, but it's not really enough for Maria. However, she takes marriage seriously and we see that she isn't the kind of woman to cheat, even when she observes Sigfrid openly flirting with other women.
Maria develops a deep friendship with Sebastian, which develops as she visits his store more regularly. This relationship is arguably the very heart of the film. Will Maria be tempted to abandon her husband or break her marriage vows?
It's also interesting that Sigfrid is jealous of Maria's relationship with Sebastian, even though he only ever suspects that something might be going on. He conveniently overlooks the fact that he is involved with other women himself and sees it as completely insignificant. He holds Maria to a higher standard of behavior.
I won't reveal the whole story or the ending, but some of the subject matter may disturb a few viewers, even though there is no nudity or bad language. It's a realistic portrayal of Maria's life, and that inevitably leads to a few scenes that are hard to watch.
If you enjoy character studies and seeing how people might have lived a century ago, Everlasting Moments might be for you. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent and exactly what you would expect from Criterion. The special features include a look at Jan Troell's career in film (61 minutes), and two documentaries on the film and Maria Larsson's story (29 minutes and 10 minutes). There's also a 20-page book which includes an essay about the film.
Matt Weston is a rookie CIA operative frustrated with his lackluster post running a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. All that changes when his first "guest" is Tobin Frost, a renegade intelligence officer who had been on...
I almost went to see Safe House in the theater, and barely resisted the urge to blind-buy the Blu-ray, and I'm glad that I waited. After borrowing the movie from a friend, I know that I saved myself $20.
It's not that Safe House is terrible, it's just formulaic, mediocre, and badly-written.
The basic story is built around Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who looks after a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. The job involves a lot of sitting around, but he springs into action when he learns that Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a rogue CIA agent, has been captured, and will be delivered into his custody. When a recovery team, led by Agent Kiefer (Robert Patrick), is attacked and defeated, Weston is left to bring Frost in himself.
Weston is ambitious and wants to work at a more high profile location, but he's young and unproven in the eyes of his bosses. We are shown how he is regarded during an exchange involving his superiors, Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and Linklater (Vera Farmiga), at HQ.
Imagine you were given the chance to write the screenplay. How would you make it stand out from previous entries in the genre? We have seen this subject handled well in the Bourne series, and reasonably well in Salt. Safe House doesn't belong in the same class.
What's wrong with the movie? The excellent cast is virtually ignored. Instead of establishing the characters and giving them depth, we are given very little background information. The front cover promises an adrenaline rush, and that's all that we are given. If you love action movies and don't care about the plot, Safe House delivers. But if you want to know why these events are occurring, it's not exactly an important part of the mix. There's a lot of gunfire, but meaningful dialogue is at a minimum.
If I had the pleasure of directing actors like Washington, Farmiga and Gleeson, I would make use of their abilities. Washington doesn't put a foot wrong, he's just given nothing to work with. Farmiga's screen time is extremely limited, but remember how effective she was in a similar role in The Departed? Gleeson is one of a kind and excelled in movies such as In Bruges and The Guard, but his character has no depth in Safe House. I see this as a wasted opportunity.
In the Bourne movies, we see how Jason Bourne meets his girlfriend, and how that relationship becomes meaningful. When she is threatened, we feel his pain and we react. Weston's girlfriend in Safe House may as well have been a cardboard cutout, and as a result, we feel nothing when he examines their relationship.
Safe House focuses on the action element. You'll see shootouts, car chases, explosions and people running. You might even understand why all this is happening, even though it's just a by-the-numbers screenplay. The movie grossed over $200 million and you won't scream for your money back, but I wouldn't bother buying the Blu-ray unless you are an action junkie. I love the cast, but against my expectations, I'm severely disappointed by the end result. Watch Bourne again instead, or watch Anton Corbijn's, The American, as that actually has some fresh ideas.
Matt King is an indifferent husband and father of two girls, living in Hawaii, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident. The event makes him try to re-connect with his...
The Descendants (2011)
Comedy, Drama, 115 minutes
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause and Amara Miller
It took me about two minutes to decide that The Descendants was going to be my kind of film. It happened during Clooney's opening voice-over in which he observed that, just because they live in paradise, Hawaiians aren't exempt from the usual problems people face. That statement caught my attention because it's true, but it also alerted me to the possibility that the script would be both truthful and more intelligent than most.
Matt King (Clooney) is the kind of character that I can identify with. He's a lawyer and his job is more important to him than his family. He regularly travels to neighboring islands on business and hasn't had a proper relationship with his wife and two daughters for several years. When his wife has an accident which places her in a coma, Matt's life changes instantly. He has to be a father to his daughters and he's completely unprepared.
His younger daughter, Scottie (Miller), is 10 years old. Matt last took care of her when she was three. His other daughter, Alex (Woodley), is 17 and is in an institute to help her overcome alcohol and drug problems. When Matt learns that his wife will never wake up, he takes Scottie to collect Alex from the institution. Alex is drunk when he turns up and openly defies him early in the film.
Place yourself in Matt's situation for a moment. How would you attempt to console your daughters? What would help you establish some kind of connection with them? If you're all they have left, how will you make them feel as if everything is going to be all right?
Matt is annoyed with Alex because she argued with her mother the last time they spoke, but her reasoning is sound; she found out that her mother was cheating on Matt. Alex insists that her boyfriend, Sid (Krause), stays with her while she is home. Sid appears to be fairly dumb and occasionally stoned. Matt is not happy.
The story really takes off when Matt takes Sid and his daughters to a neighboring island in search of his wife's lover. Another story thread explains that Matt and his many cousins are descended from Hawaiian royalty and own a piece of land worth around $500 million. Matt is the sole trustee and must organize the group of cousins and decide who to sell the land to. A complication emerges later in the story which could have a major impact on his decision, but I won't reveal any more of the film's secrets.
I've watched Clooney develop as an actor over the past few years. He used to be criticized for "always being Clooney", but I think he's proved that there's a lot more to him. His timing is excellent and he always delivers his comedic lines well, but he has to show considerable range as Matt. Many of the scenes require him to show his feelings without the use of words. He goes through a lot of emotions during the film and pulls it off perfectly whether the situations are positive or negative. His performance is human, real, touching, emotional and understandable. I thought he should have won the Oscar for his performance in Up in the Air, but this latest oversight is a glaring error.
What I really liked about the film was the character development. We see Matt grow as expected, but I was stunned by the development shown in Alex and Sid. They both have more to them than meets the eye and I ended up liking both characters tremendously.
The conclusions that Matt reaches by the end of the story seem plausible and fit well with his development as a father and as a responsible adult. I might have reached the same conclusions if I were placed in his shoes.
You'll definitely laugh during The Descendants and you may even be moved to tears.
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won the Oscar for their adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings' book and it was thoroughly deserved. It's rare to witness a film with such intelligent writing. The characters and situations are always believable. If you were in their position, you might find yourself behaving in the same way.
The Descendants is my favorite film of 2011 and, in a few years, I suspect many will wonder why it didn't win for Best Picture when we find out whether The Artist has lasting appeal.
Mavis Gary, a writer of teen literature, returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart. When returning home proves more difficult than she thought, Mavis...
Jason Reitman's first full-length feature was Thank You for Smoking and he followed it with Juno and Up in the Air. All three films are among my favorites and I was eager to see Young Adult in theaters. I consider Juno and Up in the Air to be just about perfect, so expectations were sky high.
Diablo Cody won the Oscar for her Juno screenplay, but Young Adult is very different in tone. Juno MacGuff was extremely likable, but Mavis Gary (Theron) is anything but. She's selfish and doesn't consider anyone worthy of her time. She barely functions as an adult and is in all likelihood an alcoholic. The title refers to the fiction she writes for the teen market, but her series has run its course and she's writing the final installment.
When she receives an email showing that her ex-boyfriend, Buddy (Wilson), is married and has recently become a father, all she can think about is going to her old home town to win him back. The fact that he is happily married is a minor convenience. After all, she has baggage too.
Mavis makes the trip back to Mercury, Minnesota and calls Buddy. They arrange to meet the following evening so she visits a bar on her own the first night she's in town. It's there that she runs into Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), who had the locker next to her in high school. He was the victim of a hate crime in school because a group of thugs thought he was gay. It turns out that he wasn't, but it's left him unable to walk without using a crutch.
Matt becomes an outlet for Mavis and he's used as a device to show the audience how deranged Mavis really is. She's not shy about announcing her intentions to wreck Buddy's marriage and steal him away. Matt casually informs her that she's mentally ill. The two form a kind of friendship which is aided by Matt's ability to brew alcohol and her need to talk about Buddy and stay permanently drunk.
As you can tell, Young Adult isn't a typical comedy. Most romantic comedy has a likable woman pursuing a man, with the two ending up together and living happily ever after. This film is more of a character study than a traditional comedy. You'll laugh at Mavis because she's so outrageous and completely clueless about the negative impact she has on other people. You'll never really root for her, but something makes you want to see what she is going to do next.
There is some small ray of hope for Mavis at the end of the film. She may not achieve what she sets out to do, but she does have an epiphany about her depressing existence. As usual, Reitman and Cody come up with a few surprises. Whatever you think of Mavis, you'll probably agree that the film is well-made and intelligently written. Some of the observations are funny, while others are sad, but they all fit the characters and feel authentic.
Theron does a good job of appearing unlikable. We even see how Mavis transforms herself from a virtual zombie who can barely function into a woman attractive enough to get Buddy's attention. Mavis might not be a woman that you will like or recognize, but she's never boring. Oswalt's portrayal of Matt is vital and the film wouldn't work without it. He's funny, but his acting ability also gives him a convincing vulnerability. He's very honest about his flaws and he's a character that is easy to like.
On first viewing, I gave Young Adult 4/5. After two further viewings, I'll raise that to 4.5/5. It doesn't have Ellen Page or George Clooney to help place it among my absolute favorite films, but I'm very happy to own it.
The Blu-ray presentation is very good. Detail is strong and I didn't detect any weak points. The audio does exactly what it is supposed to, but the film is driven by dialogue and you won't be blown away by the sound. if you liked the film in theaters, the Blu-ray is worth picking up. With an audio commentary and more than an hour of special features, it's a good overall package.
The Big Lebowski (Comedy, Crime)
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi
The Big Lebowski is essentially about mistaken identity if you care about the plot. Jeffrey Lebowski is known to his friends as The Dude (Bridges) and a gang of criminals pay him a visit thinking that he's another Lebowski who happens to be a millionaire. After they urinate on his rug, he seeks out the millionaire to claim compensation.
The millionaire's wife goes missing and the gang asks for a million dollars in ransom. The Dude is chosen as the courier.
That's about it. The plot is incidental; this is a movie about a way of life.
The Dude hangs out with two of his bowling buddies, Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi). Walter is a Vietnam veteran who has anger management issues; Donny hardly says a word and is told to shut up every time he tries to make a comment.
The Dude is a mellow kind of a guy. He shops in his robe, gets high, and talks like he's permanently stoned. Walter is a mystery to him because he is so easily annoyed. When a competing team puts a toe over the line during a bowling game, Walter pulls out a gun and insists that it is marked down as a zero. It's a league game after all.
The movie doesn't take itself too seriously and can be classed as a comedy more than anything, but the style of comedy may be different to the type you are used to. Many of the jokes are clever and subtle, and it's rare for the humor to be aimed too low.
Watching The Big Lebowski is an experience. You're never quite sure what it is or where it is going. The plot elements aren't very important, but everything adds up and provides a reason for the characters to do what they do. It's the sort of movie where nothing happens, but you find yourself thinking about it days later.
Fargo and No Country for Old Men are exceptional movies from the Coen Brothers, but many fans would argue that The Big Lebowski is better. I'm not among them, but it amuses me and I'm glad to finally own it on Blu-ray.
Although the Blu-ray is a vast upgrade over the DVD, I'm a little disappointed with the overall look. Colors are much improved and everything looks brighter and cleaner, but the VC-1 presentation could have been better. Fine detail is present in a few scenes, but is lacking for the most part. Faces in particular seem badly defined. It just about earns a passing grade, but don't expect to be dazzled.
The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds great. The songs carry a lot more weight than in previous releases. Dialogue is clear throughout and the predominantly front-heavy mix blends well with the action. No complaints about the sound.
Worthy Adversaries: What's My Line Trivia - A game for one or two players in which you have to supply missing dialogue from The Dude and Walter.
An Exclusive Introduction (4:40, SD)
The Dude's Life (10:08, HD)
The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (10:26, HD)
Making of The Big Lebowski (24:35, SD)
The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story (13:53, SD)
Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude (4:20, HD)
Jeff Bridges Photo Book (17:30, HD) - Bridges took shots while filming and explains them here.
Photo Gallery (3:25, SD)
U-Control: Three features with PiP, text and a profanity counter.
The Music of The Big Lebowski
Mark It, Dude
The Big Lebowski is a typically quirky effort from the Coen Brothers. While not their very best work, it deserves a place in your collection. Bridges and Goodman excel in their roles and hold the whole thing together. The Blu-ray presentation enhances the experience, but not quite as much as I had hoped. The packaging is good and there's plenty of behind the scenes information if The Big Lebowski is your kind of film.
Warner Bros. | 1999 | 188 min | Rated R | Region free
| Dec 01, 2009
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is the head of the block guards during the 1930's at
Mountain Correctional Facility. Through his many years of watching men live and die
faith and sanity has deteriorated. He is...
Another masterful Stephen King adaptation from Frank Darabont
The Green Mile (Drama, Fantasy)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan and David Morse
Watching a Darabont movie is like entering another world. He takes his time with the story and the development of the characters. Don't expect fast cuts and short scenes; each film is a work of art that is meant to be savored.
Before I talk about the film, I have to mention a funny story. Stephen King decided to write the book in a series of six installments. King was inspired by Charles Dickens, who also liked the serial novel format. I found the first installment in a supermarket and kept the receipt. It listed the item as "Two Dead Girls" for 99 cents. It's amazing what you can buy in supermarkets these days.
The Green Mile is set in a Louisiana prison, but, unlike The Shawshank Redemption, the inmates can only interact by talking and never leave their cells to mingle. Each prisoner is condemned to death and is awaiting a meeting with Old Sparky, the electric chair.
The story is narrated by Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer and Tom Hanks), the head warder, and the vast majority of the story is told through the use of flashback and is set in 1935. He explains how he met a huge black prisoner named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). Coffey is a simple man and seemingly gentle despite his size, but he was found guilty of murdering two little girls. His behavior doesn't do anything to suggest that he was capable of such an act.
Coffey has a secret, but I can't reveal it here without ruining the movie. His nature becomes apparent about an hour into the film and it changes everything.
The story revolves around Edgecomb's role in running the prison and how he reacts when he finds out Coffey's true nature. Prison life is fairly quiet, but Edgecomb has to deal with an annoying warder called Percy Wetmore. We are told that Wetmore has connections and so the other warders have to tolerate him or risk losing their jobs. Another thing that upsets Edgecomb's routine is the addition of a new prisoner, 'Wild Bill' Wharton (Sam Rockwell), who likes to make as much trouble as possible.
One part of the story concerns the appearance of a mouse. The reaction of the individual warders reveals something about their own nature and it's a brilliant plot device. Unfortunately, I can't say anything more about the mouse without ruining the story.
The Green Mile isn't what it seems. It begins like a hard-hitting drama, but things change as we discover more about the characters. In the end, the story is about trust and belief. It's very powerful and some of the characters do extraordinary things. The warders, with the exception of Percy, are a close-knit group. They demonstrate the kind of trust that can only occur between close friends. The stakes are high and the story is compelling.
I'll say no more about the plot other than that the conclusion is very satisfying.
Darabont draws strong performances from every member of the cast. Hanks is superb as usual, but the story wouldn't work without Michael Clarke Duncan's performance and his Oscar nomination was well deserved. I could mention at least 15 actors who played their role to perfection. Darabont was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay and the film deserved all of the recognition it received. The mouse should have won an Oscar.
The film has a couple of disturbing scenes, such as one of the executions, but is generally a series of character studies. You'll be sucked into the story because of what the characters do, rather than for any special effects or shocking scenes. The story has a lot of heart and will stay with you long after the credits roll. At 189-minutes, many will be wary of watching the film. Don't let that put you off. Good films never feel too long, and this is a very good film.
The VC-1 transfer looks very good for the most part. Detail in close-ups is exceptional and, apart from a few soft scenes, detail is generally strong throughout. Black levels are problematic on occasion. Darabont uses plenty of dark shots using blacks, grays and browns. Sometimes, shadows obscure some of the detail. I'm very happy with the upgrade, but it could have been slightly better. Owners of the DVD will be relieved that the Blu-ray comfortably contains the entire film, so you won't have to flip the disc over as you did with the DVD.
The English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is quiet and I found myself increasing the volume by 10 decibels over my normal level. Once that adjustment was made, everything sounded clear. It's a dialogue-driven film, but the surrounds do play a part when required. Listen to the sound of the mouse running across the floor and you'll hear the fine detail in the mix. One electrocution is particularly noisy and you'll feel like it's happening right in front of you. I couldn't detect any imperfections in the track at all.
The extras all appear in standard definition:
Commentary by Director Frank Darabont
Walking the Mile: The Making of The Green Mile (25:30)
Miracles and Mystery: Creating The Green Mile (1:42:54) - If the commentary and "Making Of" features weren't enough, here's an in-depth look at every aspect of making the film. It's split into six parts if the running time seems daunting:
Stephen King: Storyteller
The Art of Adaptation
Acting on the Mile
Designing the Mile
The Magic of the Mile
The Tail of Mr. Jingles
Deleted Scenes (3:38) - Two scenes which didn't make it into the film.
Michael Clarke Duncan's Screen Test (8:26)
Tom Hanks' Makeup Tests (5:30)
The Green Mile is a film about hope, trust, friendship and the power of belief. It's a stunning achievement and the story never feels boring despite the long running time. I give it a spin every three months or so and am always glad to visit that world once again. Anyone who enjoys good acting, master storytelling and emotional drama would probably find a lot to like in this film.
The Adjustment Bureau (Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller)
Directed by George Nolfi
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie
I almost went to see The Adjustment Bureau at the theater, but generally negative reviews made me decide to wait for the Blu-ray release. The same was true of Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, also starring Matt Damon. I'm going to have to trust my instincts more because I found both movies entertaining.
So why the negative reviews?
What do you expect from a Matt Damon movie? His biggest role was as Jason Bourne in the hugely successful trilogy and I think he's expected to be an action hero in every role he plays. That's simply not the case. The man can act and he has a lot more to offer than some give him credit for. The marketing for The Adjustment Bureau is selling it as an action movie, but it's actually a love story with a science fiction element. The front cover shows Damon and Blunt running. They do run in the movie, but that's not the point of the story.
This is not an action movie.
David Norris (Damon) is running for Senate and he's losing. He meets Elise (Blunt) in a bathroom and they kiss. A brief conversation influences his concession speech and he decides to be completely honest with the assembled crowd. This is not typical behavior for a politician. The entire meeting was arranged without his knowledge just for the purpose of influencing his speech.
We are introduced to four men in suits and hats. They look like the Men in Black. What is their origin and why and how are they trying to influence events? One has an assignment to delay Norris by making him spill coffee on his shirt, but he fails to intervene in time. As a result, Norris walks into his office and sees the men altering the memories of his colleagues. He runs, but is quickly caught. They make him promise to keep their secret. They also demand that he drops any interest in Elise as the two aren't supposed to be together.
Norris isn't ready to give up on Elise and feels strongly attracted to her. He searches for years and eventually tracks her down. The Adjustment Bureau fails to anticipate his resourcefulness and level of determination. In order to prevent the relationship, other methods are tried to tear the two apart. Norris is given some strong reasons to walk away from Elise. Will they be enough, or will his attraction toward her prove to be too strong?
Philip K. Dick wrote the short story on which the movie is based. He was also responsible for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which resulted in Blade Runner being made. I'm not saying that the Adjustment Bureau is on the same level, but it's certainly a thought-provoking story worthy of your time.
Think about fate and predestination for a moment. Do you live your life thinking that every step has been mapped out? If that were the case, why bother to do anything? Do you think that your overall destination has been decided, but it's up to you how you get there? That would at least give your actions some meaning. Or do you think that everything is random and there's no reason or purpose behind anything we do? The Adjustment Bureau raises similar questions. You might be able to predict how the movie ends, but the fun is experiencing the journey.
Emily Blunt has good chemistry with Damon and the casting was spot on. She had to learn how to look like a ballet dancer for the part and she was utterly convincing in the role.
I love the Bourne movies, but I'm a fan of Damon's acting in general. It dates back to Good Will Hunting and Rounders. In fact, I've rarely seen Damon disappoint. Hereafter and The Adjustment Bureau will stay in my collection and I'm happy to own them. If you give The Adjustment Bureau a try without expecting an action movie, you might end up enjoying it as much as I did.
While most recent releases use the MPEG-4 AVC codec, The Adjustment Bureau uses VC-1. The result isn't bad, but I've seen more striking presentations. Grain is moderately thick and detail is average. Many of the scenes have an intentional blue tint, but colors are otherwise accurate. I wouldn't complain about the picture quality, but it's far from exceptional.
The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a good job for the most part. Dialogue is clear, apart from in noisy settings when it's not supposed to be. When Norris is talking to the crowds of people, the atmosphere seems realistic and sounds are separated well. There are no gunshots or explosions, but the sound quality is good throughout.
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director George Nolfi.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:54)
Labyrinth of Doors - A Google Map allowing you to explore various parts of New York. Each door offers a small feature; normally under a minute long. It's a lot of work to navigate through everything and the reward doesn't seem worth it.
Leaping Through New York (7:36) - Showing the wide range of locations used during the shoot.
Destined to Be (4:51) - Damon and Blunt talk about the casting process and their characters.
Becoming Elise (7:08) - How Blunt learned how to become a dancer for the role. Acting can be hard!
The Adjustment Bureau asks some interesting questions. It's well-acted and kept my interest for the 106-minute duration. The mystery element and slow exposition have the effect of placing the viewer in the same situation as David Norris, and it works effectively. If you go in with the right expectations (not anticipating explosions and constant action), the story has a lot to offer.
Predictable, but a fun ride with great presentation
Rio (Animation, Adventure, Comedy)
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Starring the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and George Lopez
After seeing a trailer for Rio, I wasn't expecting much when I finally sat down to watch the movie. The trailer consisted of animals shrieking or screaming and performing stupid moves such as dancing. I also dislike that every scene has to be punctuated with a blast from the subwoofer. I chose to watch your trailer and you're going to hold my attention for two minutes, so you don't have to blast noise at me to keep me watching. I'll decide whether something is interesting or dramatic by myself, thanks. That's becoming a huge annoyance.
Anyway, let's get back to the movie.
I love the way Rio opens. There are birds everywhere and they are happily dancing. The colors are very striking and I don't think I have ever seen a more colorful movie. Birds and other animals seem to cover most of the colors in the spectrum and the look of the movie is appealing throughout.
Blu (Eisenberg) is a tiny young macaw and he's captured during the opening scene. We see him rescued by a girl named Linda (Leslie Mann), and he's completely happy as her pet for the next 15 years. The two share a bond and it's a heartwarming relationship. Their world is turned upside down when an ornithologist begs her to take Blu to Brazil as he's thought to be the last male of his species. Linda is reluctant, but eventually agrees.
The two fly to Rio and Blu is introduced to Jewel (Hathaway), his prospective mate. Jewel is more concerned about escape and can't understand why Blu tolerates humans. The two are left overnight to begin their courtship, but a boy steals them and sells them to a gang which deals in rare birds.
The remainder of the story shows what happens as Linda tries to find Blu. She initially rescued him before he learned how to fly and it becomes clear that he still hasn't discovered how it's done. Blu is aided by a variety of other birds as he attempts to find Linda. The gang enlists minions to find Blu and Jewel, resulting in a number of fights and chase scenes.
Rio lacks the heart of Pixar movies, but it does have some redeeming qualities. The story is far from original and it's not difficult to guess the entire plot after a few minutes. Despite that, some of the scenes are quite charming. It's fast-paced and doesn't contain any dull moments. I imagine younger children being captivated by Blu's adventures and the color scheme and ever-present Brazilian music is more than enough to hold their attention.
I enjoyed the story. Yes, I knew what was going to happen, but I found the characters quite likable. The animation becomes more detailed as the story progresses and some of the scenes contain incredible detail. The music is catchy and will be burned into your brain if you're not careful. This movie won't change your life, but it's an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.
The most obvious thing about the picture quality is the excellent use of color. The transfer boasts a variety of appealing colors and will capture your attention. The backgrounds seem a little unfinished in the opening scenes, but that's a stylistic choice and not a fault of the presentation. Later scenes, such as those in the Carnaval, are full of detail. You can clearly make out feathers and hairs on the various animals, and some of the scenery looks spectacular. This is a feast for the eyes and shouldn't disappoint anyone.
The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix matches the excellent video quality. The opening scene hints at what is to come and features a pounding Brazilian beat with a multitude of birds singing and squawking. Dialogue is clear throughout the movie and background sounds are frequently worked into the mix.
The extras are all presented in full HD:
The Fruit Stand (1:29) - A deleted scene in which the animation is unfinished.
Explore the World of Rio - An interactive map with four locations to explore.
Saving the Species: One Voice at a Time (24:49) - The best of the features includes comments from the cast and crew.
The Making of Hot Wings (8:02) - Talking about some of the music used in the movie.
Boom-Boom Tish-Tish: The Sounds of Rio (13:30) - A more in-depth look at the music.
Carnival Dance-o-Rama - Learn various dance moves.
Welcome to Rio Music Video (1:37)
Taio Cruz - Telling the World Music Video (1:54)
Rio de Jam-eiro Jukebox (8:34) - Includes five songs from the movie.
Postcards from Rio - Create your own postcards.
The Real Rio (9:31) - Cast and crew comment on the real place.
Theatrical Trailer (2:26)
Digital Copy "How To" (3:35)
Trailer (1:32), Nigel Mashup (2:17) and Exclusive Clue Video (0:28)
Rio is fun to experience at least once. It's suitable for the whole family, but children will probably get the most from it. The Blu-ray presentation is wonderful and makes a slightly above average story a lot easier to enjoy.
Disney / Buena Vista | 2003 | 111 min | Rated R | Region free
| Sep 09, 2008
Four years after taking a bullet in the head at her own wedding, The Bride emerges from a coma and decides it's time for payback... with a vengeance! Having been
gunned down by her former boss Bill and his deadly squad of...
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Action, Crime)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu and Daryl Hannah
I'm a big fan of Chungking Express and remember reading that Quentin Tarantino cries when he watches it because he loves it so much. That's how I feel when I watch the two Kill Bill movies. Within three minutes, I hear Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) and I'm transported into another world. It reminds me of what I'm in for. Every choice that Tarantino makes, from story, to dialogue and music, is absolutely perfect. I feel like he made this film with me in mind.
Uma Thurman was born to play the role of The Bride. I'm still not sure how she managed to keep a straight face as she spoke the dialogue.
It took me five years to bother seeing Kill Bill because I don't embrace things with senseless violence. The movie suggests extreme violence, but shows hardly any of it, just the result. The cuts are convincing and have the same effect as if you had seen the violent acts. I expected Thurman to prance around with a samurai sword, hacking people to pieces. In fact, she pretty much does, but there's so much more to the story.
First of all, she makes me care. Her back story makes her actions seem justified, but I also feel pity for O-Ren Ishii (Liu) when we see what happened to her when she was a child (brilliantly portrayed anime style). The film uses a number of tricks such as stills, black and white, slow motion, silhouettes, changing aspect ratios, and extreme close-ups. The pacing, humor, drama and action all seem to be woven together perfectly.
Kill Bill is a simple story of revenge. We learn in the opening scene that The Bride was shot in the head at her wedding rehearsal and spent four years in a coma as a result. The story isn't linear, so the first person we see her kill is actually second on her Death List. Although it reveals that she successfully killed O-Ren Ishii by showing a line through her name, none of the tension is lost when we are shown their epic battle.
We see The Bride recover from her coma and visit Japan in search of O-Ren Ishii. There's a great scene involving Sonny Chiba and we eventually see The Bride hunt down O-Ren Ishii and her minions. The showdown is approximately an hour long and it's intense. Thurman looks like she can handle a sword and stunt double Zoe Bell handles the more difficult scenes.
It's hard to think about the film without using the word perfect. The battle involves dozens of fighters as The Bride hacks her way through the obstacles standing between her and O-Ren Ishii. The contrast between those scenes and the final fight is stunning. Instead of being surrounded by a noisy mob, The Bride and O-Ren fight in a quiet setting. It's a very effective transition.
I always watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 after seeing Vol. 1 and think of it as one long film. If you think that the characters feel incomplete, the concluding volume fleshes them out and makes them seem a lot more real. This first installment contains most of the action and fans of that genre should be happy with the result.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 looks fantastic on Blu-ray, even though it was released in 2008. Detail is strong throughout, whether the image is in color or black and white. Colors are rich and accurate and black levels won't disappoint. I detected slight aliasing in one scene, but the overall presentation makes the film one of the best-looking live action films yet released on Blu-ray.
The lossless English: LPCM 5.1 mix matches the excellent video quality. There's a lot going on and it's all separated well and presented accurately. Whether it's the sound of swords clashing during the intense battle scenes, dialogue, feet crunching on cereal, or Daryl Hannah whistling the theme from Twisted Nerve, you'll hear everything clearly.
The extras are all presented in standard definition:
The Making of Kill Bill (22 minutes) - A decent feature with Tarantino and some of the cast and crew.
The 5, 6, 7, 8s Musical Performances (6 minutes) - Two songs from the band featured in the film.
Trailers - Six trailers for Tarantino's films.
As I said at the start of this review, Kill Bill is so good that I'm close to tears within three minutes. It's full of action and thrills, good music, and some of the funniest dialogue I have ever heard. I find myself watching both parts more than anything else in my collection and love every moment each time I give it a spin. It's guaranteed to make me grin for four hours. If you like action and intelligent humor, I challenge you to name a better movie.
Millennium Media | 2010 | 106 min | Rated R | Region A (locked) | Jul 26, 2011
A family is torn apart when Annie, their fourteen-year-old daughter, meets her first boyfriend online. After months of communicating via online chat and phone, Annie discovers her friend is not who he originally claimed to be....
An important film and one of the best of 2011 so far
Trust (Drama, Thriller)
Directed by David Schwimmer
Starring Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Liana Liberato and Viola Davis
Millennium Media | 2010 | 106 min | Rated R | Released Jul 26, 2011
Director David Schwimmer is best known for his portrayal of Ross on Friends, but Trust shows that he's also a talented director. The film deals with rape and it's a subject close to Schwimmer's heart. He's on the board of directors of the Rape Foundation for the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica. His passion for the subject shows in the sympathetic way he handles some potentially awkward scenes.
The story focuses on a 14-year-old girl named Annie (Liberato). She's a typical teen on the surface, worrying about how she is perceived at school and hoping to be popular. Like most children in today's world, she spends a lot of time on the Internet and using her phone. We are frequently shown her text messages on the screen and the replies she gets. Her closest online friend is Charlie, who claims to be two years older than her. He gives her good advice and she trusts him.
As the story progresses, Charlie reveals that he's 20 years old; then he amends that to 25. When he shows up without warning to meet her in the mall, she can see that he's closer to 40 than 25. Although she's initially dismayed, Charlie manages to gain her confidence. She gets in his car and the pair end up in a hotel room. The inevitable sexual encounter follows.
When Annie tells her friend what happened, her friend feels compelled to tell the school principal the story. The police and FBI are called in and investigate the sexual assault. Annie doesn't see it that way and thinks that she's in love with Charlie and that he understands her. Annie's parents, Will (Owen) and Lynn (Keener), are shocked that their daughter has been raped by a sexual predator. Will starts doing some research of his own and finds out that several sexual offenders live close to his family and he's appalled.
The film deals with the reactions of Annie's family and her friends at school. The situation is affecting her relationships with everyone and tearing her parents apart. Will is consumed by the knowledge and it affects his marriage, work, and his relationship with Annie. Clive Owen is at his best and shows that he has considerable range. Keener is always good and she's also convincing.
Annie's character is the most important role and Liberato pulls it off superbly. She shows her vulnerability and innocence, but also her determination, and she's convinced that she knows better than those trying to protect her. We see her in therapy with Gail (Davis), and the two are utterly convincing. Schwimmer has assembled a cast that is more than up to the task of handling the controversial subject matter.
I have gone into a lot of detail, but I'm leaving a lot of things out as I don't want to reveal all of the film's secrets.
This isn't a typical Hollywood story where everything is wrapped up neatly. The issues are real and some characters and relationships suffer permanent damage. What matters is that this story is told. The Internet is a wonderful resource, but there will always be those who seek to use it to exploit other people. Hopefully, some parents and teens will see the film and increase their awareness of potential dangers.
When I watch Trust, I'm reminded of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. The two films were shot fifty years apart and the world is a very different place today, but there are similarities. An Education also deals with similar issues and was set in the same time period as Lolita, but Trust provides a timely update in a world in which technology has advanced dramatically.
Put yourself in Will's position and think about what you would do. Trust is a gripping emotional drama with an important message. I found myself captured by the story after a few minutes and I couldn't look away from the screen. Fans of emotional dramas set in the real world will probably appreciate Schwimmer's thought-provoking cautionary tale.
Trust looks a little disappointing on Blu-ray. The colors appear accurate and the image is clean and bright, but detail isn't up to the standard expected of a modern release. Facial details are lacking and the entire image looks soft for most of the running time. It's not exactly bad, and likely won't be distracting, but there's certainly room for improvement.
Trust is a story that's driven by dialogue and it comes across clearly. The English TrueHD 5.1 mix delivers a competent track that is suitable for the mood of the film.
The additional features appear in HD.
The Story of Trust (16:44) - The cast and crew talk about the film.
Interviews with Cast and Crew (13:43) - Repeats much of what was said in the opening feature.
Behind the Scenes (3:19) - Showing a few scenes being filmed.
Trust does a lot of things well. Schwimmer makes some good choices and draws good performances from the excellent cast. The pacing feels right and the importance of the story gives the film additional weight. Liberato's performance is well worth seeing and seems incredibly real. Fans of Clive Owen's action roles might not enjoy this as it's a totally different type of film. If you like emotional drama, Trust is worth your time. The Blu-ray presentation is a little disappointing, but doesn't detract from the story.
At the time of writing, Amazon.com's price is just $13.99.
Source Code (Thriller, Sci-Fi)
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright
Director Duncan Jones has had an impressive start to his career. Moon (2009) saw Sam Rockwell turn in a very good performance and Source Code has built on that success. Jones has attracted a wonderful cast and the $32 million budget allows for a more spectacular presentation. Moon reminded me of older classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Source Code feels like a modern story.
The movie is a thriller with a strong science fiction element, but it also plays like a mystery. The opening scene shows Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) on a train in Chicago. When he sees his reflection in the window of the train, it's not him. Christina (Monaghan), the woman in the opposite seat, calls him Sean. A few minutes later we see the train explode and Stevens wakes up alone in a chamber of some kind.
Jones shows us everything from the viewpoint of Stevens, so we only gradually come to understand the situation. Stevens is part of an experimental project which enables him to inhabit the body of somebody else. The project is led by Dr. Rutledge (Wright) and Colleen Goodwin (Farmiga).
They can only communicate with Stevens by using a camera and a computer screen. He's told that he must find out where the bomb is and uncover the person responsible for planting it. He can't avoid the explosion, but the information could prevent a future disaster involving the bomber. He can only inhabit the body of Sean for eight minutes at a time. So we see Stevens trying to gather information. Each time the train explodes, the pattern resets and he tries again. It's like a blend of Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap.
We have a race against the clock to prevent further terrorism and that keeps us on the edge of our seats. There's also the chance of romance between Sean and Christina, as well as great special effects. Comedian Russell Peters provides most of the comic relief. This package has plenty to keep us hooked. At the outset I expected one of the twists to be that Sean turns out to be the bomber, but I was wrong. Couldn't Stevens simply take over the body of the bomber on his next visit once he found out who it was, or does the technology only allow you to access people who are "compatible" with you?
Put yourself in that position for a moment. If you were a train passenger tasked with uncovering the identity of a bomber, how would you proceed? Would you be polite to total strangers as you questioned them? How about contacting the guard and explaining the situation? Whatever course of action you choose, the train will explode in eight minutes (unless you locate and disarm the bomb). That allows Jones to break the established rules somewhat. If the pattern resets each time, he can do anything. Sean can be rude, engage in criminal activity, or follow incredibly dangerous courses of action. He could even kill or be killed. That makes the movie less predictable than most.
I won't reveal what does happen, but hopefully I've described the situation well enough for you to know whether you'll like the movie.
The movie raises some serious themes such as how the line between right and wrong can become blurred. In a sense it also deals with the issue of slavery, just as Moon did.
Jones has produced another interesting idea and turned it into a thrilling story. The four main actors turned in good performances and the whole thing worked well for me. I'm a fan of the whole Groundhog Day concept and enjoy Run Lola Run for the same reason. There have also been episodes of The X-Files and Star Trek Next Generation dealing with the same concept.
I detected slight aliasing on a couple of overhead shots of the city, but it's only there for a second or two. Colors look bright and clear, although red tint is slightly enhanced in facial shots. Detail is strong throughout, especially in close-ups. This is a pleasing transfer and exactly what you would expect from a recent release.
There's a lot going on in Source Code and the English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track handles everything well. The explosions carry real weight and the ambient effects, such as coffee spilling, are easy to detect. The dialogue is clear throughout and the score adds to the atmosphere of the movie.
Audio Commentary with Director Duncan Jones, Writer James Ripley and Actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Access Source Code - A PiP feature including comments from cast and crew as well as trivia and expert comments on time travel. While the navigation was a little annoying, the features offer plenty of information once accessed.
I don't think it matters whether the plot is airtight; it's a piece of entertainment. This is a movie that can be enjoyed as an action thriller, but it could attract others due to the science fiction or romantic elements. For those that like to think, the science fiction elements definitely provide food for thought. I enjoyed Source Code in the theater and am happy to finally have it in my collection. The Blu-ray presentation is worthy of the excellent story.
A thousand years after a global war, a seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind remains one of only a few areas still populated. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaa, the people of the Valley are engaged in a constant...
Miyazaki's first masterpiece looks good on Blu-ray
Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind (Animation, Action, Adventure)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf
When it comes to animation, my favorite director by far is Hayao Miyazaki. If you have read my Top 20 animated list, you'll see how often his name appears. Studio Ghibli has been responsible for many good films, but Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind was actually released in 1984, just before the studio was founded. It remains Miyazaki's most ambitious work because of its epic scope.
Nausicaš is set approximately a thousand years in the future when pollution levels have threatened to destroy life on the planet. The land is dominated by the Toxic Jungle which is filled with poisonous plants. The jungle is protected by giant insects and other creatures.
We meet Nausicaš (Lohman) early in the film when she discovers a discarded ohm shell. Ohms are giant creatures which seems wiser than any humans they may encounter. Nausicaš recovers one of the parts of the shell and takes it home. Ohms are not always calm and their eyes grow red with rage when they are angry. Nausicaš helps save Lord Yupa (Stewart), a master swordsman, from an enraged ohm.
Yupa knows Nausicaš well and has a present for her; a small fox squirrel which she names Teto. Her first encounter with the creature shows us her true nature. She says that there is nothing to fear, but the fox-squirrel bites her. She makes no move, but simply repeats that there is nothing to fear. It stops biting and licks the wound. It's such a touching scene and gives a hint at how Nausicaš interacts with strangers later in the story. She's an easy character to love.
Nausicaš's life is peaceful. She lives in the Valley of the Winds where everyone works together in harmony farming the land. Although her father is the king, princess Nausicaš doesn't put herself above other people. She lends a hand repairing machinery or whatever else is needed. Her people love her; especially the children. For any parent thinking of showing the film to their children, Nausicaš is a good role model.
The film has quite a few battle sequences, but they are brief and involve misguided people who think their causes are just. I think Miyazaki is showing us what could happen if we continue to pollute and exploit the planet without giving any thought to the future. It's a common theme in his stories and is more prominent here than in later films.
Unlike any other animated film I have seen, Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind shows us a vast world. We explore some of it and see Nausicaš discover secrets about the world and the creatures inhabiting it. She has a way with animals and insects and seeks solutions that avoid killing any kind of creature. She seems to empathize and realize how to stop seemingly wild creatures from attacking. People around her are frequently amazed by her actions.
The film shows the futility of war and the power people have to change their lives by thinking about their course of action. So much happens in the two hour running time that the film seems to move at a breakneck pace. There is always something happening, whether it's action or a discovery of some kind.
Joe Hisaishi is again responsible for the music, and it's one of the best scores he has ever produced. There's a particular scene with a piece of music using children's voices which has me in tears every time. I'm not sure why, but the music is powerful and fits the scenes perfectly.
I know I haven't revealed much of the story. That's because I want you to discover the secrets for yourself. Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind reminds me of scenes in Avatar and Star Wars, but the story is arguably more powerful than both. If you have seen other titles from Hayao Miyazaki, be aware that this contains more adult themes than most. That said, it can and should be enjoyed by the whole family.
If you have seen any of Miyazaki's films, you'll know that his animation style looks nothing like modern studios such as Pixar or Dreamworks. He's an artist in the true sense of the word and the frames of the films look like watercolor paintings. It's been 27 years since the film was released, so the animation style looks a little dated. Some of the supporting characters in crowds won't move, but the overall effect is still wonderful. Disney has delivered another great transfer. Colors improve dramatically over the DVD version. Some scenes look slightly soft, but that's partly due to the animation style. This doesn't look like Up, Ratatouille or Rango, but detail is strong and any Miyazaki fan will be delighted with the result.
The film comes with three audio mixes. Disney failed to provide a lossless Japanese option for Ponyo, but purists will be happy to see the Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track included this time. Other versions include English and French: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Although a 5.1 mix would have been welcome, I'm not disappointed by the options on offer. Dialogue is clear throughout, while battle scenes pack a considerable punch. Ambient sounds such as wind in the valley come across well, as does Joe Hisaishi's score.
The additional features are split between the BD and the DVD.
As with other Miyazaki films, Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind includes the option to view the entire film with the original Japanese storyboards. It's interesting to see how Miyazaki's original sketches developed.
Enter the Lands of Ghibli gives the viewer the option to click on characters from some of the other films. There's not a huge amount of content, but it's nice to see.
Behind the Studio: Creating Nausicaš (12 minutes, HD) - A brief feature which includes thoughts from Miyazaki.
The Birth Story of Studio Ghibli (28 minutes, SD) - A TV documentary from Japan talking about Studio Ghibli's origins.
Behind the Microphone (8 minutes, SD) - The American cast is shown recording some of the scenes and talking about the film.
Original Japanese Trailers and TV Spots (8 minutes, SD)
Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind includes a lot of themes and elements that we have come to expect in a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but it's more epic in scope. Like Avatar, this makes me feel like I am stepping onto another world. Unlike Avatar, the dialogue isn't dumb in any way. I like Nausicaš as a character because her intentions are always good. She sees the best in everyone and is a positive force. The whole experience makes the film one I love to revisit and it's always rated among my favorite animated titles. Disney's Blu-ray presentation does the film justice and is highly recommended as a story that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Limitless (thriller, mystery, sci-fi)
Directed by Neil Burger
Starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish
20th Century Fox | 2011 | 105 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Jul 19, 2011
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
English SDH, French, Spanish
Single Blu-ray Disc
Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a loser. He looks like he sleeps on the streets and his girlfriend is his main source of income while he struggles to write a novel. He lives in a seedy apartment and is more likely to be eating pizza and drinking alcohol than working on his book. His girlfriend (Cornish) finally decides it's time to leave, but Eddie's life is about to change for the better.
In a chance meeting with Vernon, the brother of his ex-wife, Eddie is offered a pill. He's suspicious because Vernon was dealing drugs the last time the two met. After thinking about it, Eddie decides that life can't get much worse and takes the pill. Within 30 seconds, he starts to feel different. The color palette changes from dull and muted to bright and clear and represents the change in Eddie.
We are told that we use a fraction of our brain on a daily basis. The pill is supposed to enable us to use one hundred percent of our brain. Eddie finds that he can think clearly and work out solutions to difficult problems. He writes a book in four days without pausing to think how the plot should progress and his editor loves the result. We see him learn how to play piano and become fluent in the Italian language.
Eddie feels like he suddenly knows everything.
It's interesting how a positive mental attitude can change your life. Instead of living like a slob, he cleans his apartment. Then he focuses on ways to use his intelligence to make enough money to permanently change his life. His new confident attitude attracts the girlfriend who dumped him. Eddie's life is starting to look pretty good.
After making the news with a series of shrewd investments, Eddie attracts the attention of Carl Van Loon (De Niro). Van Loon is an ambitious businessman who craves money and power. He has no time to waste on losers, but gives Eddie a chance to impress. He reminds me of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.
Eddie's main problem is securing a regular supply of pills. He also has to adapt to their effects and discover a way to moderate his reaction. Like any drug, there are side effects to deal with. I won't reveal anything else, but the plot is more complicated than I have made it sound.
The movie is advertised as an action thriller and Rolling Stone describes it as a "Full-tilt adrenalin rush." Although there some action scenes, I wouldn't describe it as an adrenalin rush. There are chase scenes, but the focus is on Eddie's fortunes and there's always an element of mystery. I found it enjoyable because I wanted to see what would happen next, but I rarely found myself sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation.
The acting is good across the board. Cooper pulls off his role well. He's serious when he has to be and whimsical in the lighter scenes. De Niro doesn't get a great deal of screen time, but his scenes are memorable. Cornish is effective as Eddie's girlfriend.
I found Limitless to be an enjoyable way to spend 105 minutes. There are two versions included on the Blu-ray; the theatrical and the unrated extended version. There is only a few seconds difference in running time between the two.
Limitless looks very good on Blu-ray. Detail is strong throughout, although we see more during scenes where Eddie is feeling the effects of the drug. Contrast and brightness are boosted during such scenes. Although the other scenes appear drab by comparison, there's good detail and no problem with the transfer. Most viewers will be pleased with the look of the movie.
The English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is more than adequate. The action scenes are limited, but the track delivers when needed. Dialogue is crisp and clear and I didn't detect any problems with the sound. The commentary track uses English: Dolby Digital 2.0.
The additional features all appear in full HD.
Audio Commentary with Director Neil Burger.
A Man without Limits (4:29)
Taking it to the Limit: the Making of Limitless (11:38) - It would have been nice to see a more extensive feature.
Alternate Ending (5:14) - I prefer the original ending, but it's nice to see another possibility.
Theatrical Trailer (2:25)
Limitless has a few plot holes, but it works as a piece of entertainment. Cooper does a great job as Eddie and you'll want to see him succeed. It's hard to pin down the genre as it includes mystery, drama, action, sci-fi and comedy, but it's more of a thriller than anything. I didn't see the film in the theater, but I'm glad it found its way into my Blu-ray collection. It won't change your life, but few people will regret seeing it.
Lost Highway (drama, mystery, thriller)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty and Robert Loggia
The DVD release from Universal Studios claims a 2 hour 25 minute running time, but that's actually a printing error. Both that and this Blu-ray version clock in at 2 hours 15 minutes. All of the original DVD scenes are intact.
David Lynch is my favorite director, although Quentin Tarantino isn't far behind. Lynch appeals so much because his films create worlds with a distinct feel. He's very precise and chooses the exact sound or image needed to complete his vision. When I watch Mulholland Dr. or Blue Velvet, my normal world ceases to exist; it's pure escapism. For that reason, I chose to import Lost Highway from Germany. Who knows when we'll see a North American release?
All of Lynch's films are challenging. He rarely uses a linear plot structure and the line between what is real and what is imagined is usually blurred. Lost Highway is one of the most difficult films to interpret, but it can still be enjoyed even if you don't fully understand everything on the screen.
The film opens with the image of a road. We're traveling down it at night to the sound of David Bowie's I'm Deranged. This was not a frivolous choice and is a major hint at what you can expect to follow. This is a film about madness. In fact, I believe it is a look inside the mind of a killer. Think about how difficult that is to achieve.
There are thousands of films about killers, but how many of them show the true motivation for murder? Lost Highway hints at motivation and gives an idea of how such a person might think. That's one reason why the plot is such a mess. Insane thoughts wouldn't always follow a logical pattern.
We see a glimpse of how Fred (Pullman) and Renee (Arquette) Madison live. He's a musician and fears that his wife is being unfaithful. He wants to go out, but she prefers to stay home. When he calls, she doesn't answer and his suspicion grows. The next morning, she discovers a yellow envelope outside the front door. There's no address or note, but it contains a video showing the outside of the house. Another envelope shows up the following day and this time it shows Fred and Renee asleep in bed. The police are called in, but don't discover anything out of the ordinary.
Fred tells the police that they don't own a video camera. In fact, he hates them because he likes to remember things his own way rather than how they happened. That's another clue that we can't rely on anything shown from Fred's viewpoint.
One of my favorite scenes happens early in the story. Fred and Renee go to a party and Fred talks to a weird looking man. The man informs him that they previously met at Fred's house and that he's there right now. That sounds crazy, but the man gives Fred a phone and tells him to call him at the house. The man appears to answer. He says that Fred invited him and he never goes where he's not wanted. As it's impossible to be in two places at once, this clearly represents something else. I think the man represents Fred's emotions. He's suspicious, jealous and angry.
A third tape shows Fred standing over Renee's corpse. Remember that he hates video cameras because they show what happened? I think Lynch is saying that what happens on video is Fred's reality and everything else is unreliable. There's further proof of this when Fred is arrested for the murder of his wife.
All of these events occur in the first 40 minutes of the film. From that point on, things start to get really weird. If I were to analyze every scene it would ruin the film if you haven't seen it, so I'll stop there. All I can say is that events take a dramatic turn and initially seem impossible. But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
Mulholland Dr. also deals with identity and blurred reality. The two films are similar in feel in many ways. We see actors playing dual roles and we are not always sure whether any events are real. The film works as a collection of interesting scenes, but it's even more effective when you realize what is being portrayed. I won't pretend to understand everything and I am not sure I am supposed to.
The choice of music perfectly matches the mood. We hear from Rammstein, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, Lou Reed, This Mortal Coil, and many others. The whole thing is held together by Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score.
The acting is very good. Pullman pulls off Fred's nervous demeanor perfectly and Arquette is suitably mysterious. I particularly liked Robert Loggia's performance and he oozed menace every time he was on the screen. Robert Blake as the Mystery Man sent shivers down my spine and he didn't always seem human. As well as a cameo from Marilyn Manson, watch out for a glimpse of Henry Rollins as a prison guard.
I enjoy all of Lynch's films. While Lost Highway doesn't quite hit the heights of Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet, it's still among my Top 25 from any genre. It won't appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy experiencing unsettling worlds, this might work for you too.
The DVD looks soft and I wasn't expecting Lost Highway to look very good on Blu-ray, but I was in for a surprise. Concorde Video has produced a wonderful transfer. Detail is exceptional for most of the film and I didn't detect any print damage or dirt. There were a few very infrequent white speckles, but I'm thrilled with the look of the Blu-ray. I can't imagine any future releases looking any better. The film is region free, but the special features are PAL. So you can watch the film in all its glory, but you won't have an image during the special features unless you use a region B or region free player. For the record, the Blu-ray includes chapters.
The Blu-ray defaults to German: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 so you'll need to use the pop up menu to change to English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It's a great track and displays the atmospheric scenes very well. This is a lively soundtrack, but the quieter scenes also benefit. The overall presentation is excellent. German subtitles are optional rather than forced.
The PAL special features appear in standard definition. German subtitles are optional.
Making Of (9:28) - This isn't a typical making of feature. We're shown snapshots of Lynch directing a few scenes, but he doesn't talk to the camera. You'll see how he works, but don't expect him to explain his decisions.
Interview with David Lynch (4:53) - Lynch talks about Pullman and Arquette and how their acting ability helped the film.
The region free Blu-ray version of Lost Highway from Concorde Video is well worth your money and it's unlikely that future releases will produce anything better. It's available from Amazon Germany, but I acquired mine from Grooves Inc. for around $17 delivered. Give them a try if you're interested in importing the film. It won't appeal to everyone, but hopefully my review will help you decide whether it's for you. It's one of the best titles I have added in 2011.
Rango (animation, comedy, adventure)
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy and Ned Beatty
The Blu-ray includes the 107-minute theatrical version and a 112-minute extended version.
Rango (Depp) is an aquatic chameleon who is trying to discover his purpose in life. He lives alone in a tank until the car it is being transported in hits a bump and gives him his freedom in the desert. His journey begins when he discovers an armadillo and is told to visit the nearby town of Dirt if he wants to find water. He's given a ride by Beans (Fisher), who owns land in the valley and drops him off in town.
Rango begins the movie as a liar who is unsure of his capabilities, until dumb luck elevates him in the eyes of the locals and he starts to believe in himself. He represents hope as the townspeople struggle to find the water they need to survive.
The first part of the story is not particularly encouraging. It moves at a frantic pace and initially relies on characters being hurt, and belch or fart jokes for comic relief. But things eventually settle down and the story starts to work. It references many movies from the Western genre, including True Grit and High Noon. Some scenes pay tribute to other movies such as Star Wars.
The story is simple, but the setting and design of the characters is extremely detailed. There's also a wealth of voice talent in the supporting cast, including Ray Winstone, Harry Dean Stanton, Abigail Breslin and Timothy Olyphant, as well as the main cast.
The dialogue isn't typical and a lot of it won't be easily understood by children. The characters mention chromosome pools, paradigm shifts and aquifers. Rango, in particular, is very articulate. It's quite refreshing to see this kind of thing in an animated movie. Maybe some of the kids will ask their parents to explain terms they don't understand. Even though some of the dialogue is complex, the story is easy to follow.
The movie is a mix of fast-paced action, dumb jokes, clever jokes, battle scenes and quiet moments in which Rango contemplates his existence. There are problems to be solved, misunderstandings and traditional themes of good versus evil. One of my favorite elements is the use of a mariachi band, composed of four owls, documenting Rango's tale through the use of various songs.
I won't reveal any more of the plot, but I found Rango to be an enjoyable ride. The first 30 minutes had me worried because of the pacing and the dumb jokes, but things improve significantly in the last hour. I often have problems adjusting to the style of North American animation after seeing one of Hayao Miyazaki's films, and I viewed Spirited Away a few days ago. Once I accepted that Rango was a totally different style; I started to enjoy it more. It's not perfect, but it's well worth your time.
If you've ever seen a Pixar movie on Blu-ray, you'll have an idea what to expect from Rango. I couldn't detect a single fault. Colors are striking and detail is exceptional. All of the backgrounds seem properly finished and add depth to the image. When you see Rango's face at the start of the movie, it looks like he's in the room with you. Clothing, skin, scenery and water are all displayed perfectly. This is a presentation that shows off the Blu-ray format wonderfully. Nobody will be disappointed with the look of the movie.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track doesn't disappoint either. There's a lot going on throughout the movie and the lossless audio handles everything well. Some of the battle scenes are particularly loud, while other scenes rely on music for maximum effect. The rear speakers are used frequently and I didn't detect any faults in the mix. The image will dazzle you, but you'll be happy with the sound too.
The additional features are all presented in full HD.
Audio Commentary (Extended version only) with Director, Gore Verbinski; Head of Story James Ward Byrkit; Production Designer Mark "Crash" McCreery; Animation Director Hal Hickel; and Visual Effects Supervisor Tim Alexander.
Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History (48:52) - A two-part feature consisting of The Stage is Set and Now we Ride. Learn about how the movie was made and see the evolution of the characters.
Deleted Scenes (8:27) - A brief look at 10 additional scenes which will seem very familiar if you watched the extended version of the movie.
Real Creatures of Dirt (22:15) - Showing real desert creatures such as snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and armadillos.
Storyboard Reel Picture-in-Picture (theatrical version only)
A Field Trip to Dirt - An interactive digital model which allows you to ride through the town and look around.
Theatrical Trailer (2:27)
DVD Copy (digital copy on disc)
Rango is a fun way to spend almost two hours. Although some of the dialogue is complex, the movie is suitable for the whole family and has something for everyone. The blend of action and humor works well overall and the animals make interesting and memorable characters. The Blu-ray is just about perfect and Rango immediately ranks among the best presentations the format has to offer.
Optimum Home Entertainment | 2008 | 94 min | Rated BBFC: 12 | Region B (locked) | Jun 23, 2008
After a rough break-up, Elizabeth sets out on a journey across the U.S., leaving behind a life
of memories, a dream and a soulful new friend; a cafe owner--all while in search of
something to mend her broken heart....
My Blueberry Nights (drama, romance)
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
Starring Jude Law, Norah Jones, David Strathairn, Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz
The first thing to mention is that My Blueberry Nights is not yet available on Blu-ray in North America. This review refers to the Region B UK disc.
In the opening scene, we are introduced to Jeremy (Law), who runs a diner in New York. He's originally from Manchester, England, but seems at home in his surroundings. He knows people by what they eat. Elizabeth (Jones) is a customer who is asking whether her boyfriend has been in the diner. Jeremy confirms that he was there and had dinner with another woman.
The two begin to talk on a regular basis. Elizabeth leaves her keys at the diner so that Jeremy can give them to her boyfriend. He listens to everything she says and is part friend, part psychiatrist and part restaurant owner. The two share a bond of sorts and he also reveals details of his own previous relationships. He keeps her keys in a jar with countless others and Elizabeth learns that he knows the story behind each set.
Jeremy also talks to her about food, explaining what sells well and what doesn't. He offers her blueberry pie and ice cream and mentions that the blueberry pie is often untouched at the end of the day. There's nothing wrong with it, but people just make other choices. I think Wong Kar-Wai is comparing people to food with that observation. There's nothing wrong with Elizabeth or Jeremy, but both are alone.
The camera on the diner wall serves as Jeremy's diary. He likes to watch the recordings at the end of the day to see what he's missed. Wong Kar-Wai's camera doesn't miss anything. When Jeremy and Elizabeth are talking, we see them from afar. There's often a counter or something in the way of the camera so that we feel like voyeurs, spying on an intimate conversation. Other notable techniques include the use of vivid colors and the blurring of motion, as well as slow motion and images which are sped up. Wong Kar-Wai uses the same techniques in other films such as Chungking Express and Fallen Angels.
Without declaring anything, it becomes obvious that Jeremy and Elizabeth care about each other. But Elizabeth seems wary of relationships after her recent experiences and decides to take some time to think about what she really wants. She works in various bars and diners and eventually winds up in Memphis. It's there that she meets Arnie (Strathairn), who drinks in her bar. She listens to Arnie, talks about her dreams and gives him advice. I like Strathairn's performance and consider him one of the most interesting characters in the film. Is it a coincidence that Elizabeth becomes someone who will listen to people's problems, just as Jeremy did with her?
Elizabeth writes to Jeremy regularly, but never reveals her address or phone number. He misses her and tries randomly calling bars and diners to find her. Later, he decides to send postcards, and ends up sending hundreds.
Elizabeth rarely stays in one place for long and has a series of adventures. The most prominent one happens when she encounters Leslie (Portman), who plays poker for high stakes. Elizabeth learns more about herself as the film progresses, especially from Leslie.
Will Elizabeth and Jeremy ever meet again? I won't reveal that here.
Norah Jones did a great job on her acting debut. The story is stylish, intimate and a little unconventional. If you like other Wong Kar-Wai films, you'll almost certainly like this. Ry Cooder's score is incredible and perfectly matches the mood. There are some other well-placed songs, especially the two haunting numbers from Cat Power. If you're a fan of Cat Power, look out for a cameo appearance by Chan Marshall.
Optimum's Blu-ray presentation looks great. The stylized color scheme is striking and the detail strong. There are no obvious problems such as dirt or print damage. The film looks clean and almost perfect. Any blurring is purely intentional and a regular occurrence in Wong Kar-Wai's films.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivered everything I hoped for. Although the film is primarily a dialogue-heavy story, the use of music enhances the atmosphere. Cooder's guitar is wonderful and the other songs all come across well. You won't have to strain to hear any of the dialogue and I couldn't detect any faults in the mix.
10,279 Miles Since Hong Kong: My Blueberry Nights - A good "making of" feature with cast and crew.
Cannes Press Conference - Director Wong Kar-Wai and actress Norah Jones face the Cannes media.
Character Study - A short piece featuring comments from cast and crew.
My Blueberry Nights will appeal to lovers of film for its interesting use of color and unusual camera angles. It's a romance of a sort, but less conventional than most. Some of the discussions will stay with you if you're the sort of person who analyzes what you have just seen. Fans of Wong Kar-Wai shouldn't hesitate. If this is your first Wong Kar-Wai film and you liked it, Chungking Express is well worth checking out. I consider it his masterpiece.
Universal Studios | 2006 | 110 min | Rated R | Region free
| May 26, 2009
A futuristic society faces extinction when no children are born and the human race has lost the
ability to reproduce. England has descended into chaos, until an iron-handed warden is brought
in to institute martial law. The...
Children of Men (sci-fi, drama)
Directed by Alfonso Cuar√≥n
Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor
If you have ever seen The Road, or 28 Days Later, you'll recognize the look of Children of Men. It's set in the future in a world that looks familiar, but it's dirtier, grittier and less safe than the world you're used to seeing.
The movie is set in Britain in 2027 and Theo Faron (Owen) learns through a newscast that the world's youngest person has died at the age of 18. Doesn't that sound odd? Have you ever heard a report that sounds anything like that? It immediately alerts us to the fact that something is wrong. We find out that all humans are infertile and no child has been produced for more than 18 years.
If people are no longer born, how long would it take for the world's existing population to die? What would happen to those already here, knowing that they will be among the last of their species?
Theo visits his friend, Jasper (Michael Caine), who hides away in a house in the woods. Illegal immigrants are everywhere and government messages urge people to report them. Theo is abducted early in the story by Julian (Moore) who is his former lover. Movement within the country is restricted and she wants Theo to obtain transfer papers so that her group can take a young woman, Kee, to the coast and safety.
It's a brutal existence and Theo eventually finds himself as Kee's only hope. She's one of the most important people on the planet, but only a small group of people know why. Theo guards her to the best of his ability and attempts to get her to safety using a contact of Jasper's to help them. He accepts help whenever it's offered.
Some of the street scenes would be more at home in a war movie. It seems that the military regularly clashes with civilians and every group has an agenda. It's a crazy existence where law and order is virtually non-existent, and it would be frightening to experience. Do the people have any goals at all that don't involve killing and stealing what they can from others? The military prefers to shoot first and ask questions later.
It impresses me that even though the world is a chaotic place and full of danger, the plot remains coherent. The audience is never in doubt about Theo's intentions; just his ability to succeed. The resolution won't make everyone happy. It's not clear what will happen in the future. This is a snapshot showing one key event in a seemingly hopeless situation. When it's all over, we are left with hope, and that's enough.
Although the setting is grimy, the presentation is clean and detailed. The desolate world is often presented in shades of gray, but that's no fault of the transfer. Blacks are clearly defined and colors are accurate. Scenes shot in the forest look vivid and full of detail. I didn't detect any noise or print damage and the overall look is very pleasing.
There aren't many scenes in which the action dominates, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix rises to the occasion when it has to. An early explosion is startling, while the sound of bullets zipping past in the final act is effective. The mix is a little front-heavy, but everything works and it sounds effective. There are quite a few songs included in the mix and that's where the presentation really shines.
The additional features all appear in standard definition:
Deleted Scenes (2:22) - Three additional scenes that add very little to the story.
The Possibility of Hope (27:16) - Philosophers talking about the future and what will happen if we pursue our present course.
Children of Men Comments by Slavoj Zizek (5:44) - Explaining the background scenes and themes in greater depth.
Under Attack (7:36) - Director Alfonso Cuar√≥n and some of the cast and crew talk about how one of the best action scenes was shot using a single take.
Theo & Julian (4:40) - Owen and Moore talk about their characters. Julian was the reason Theo got involved and we learn how he's considered an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances.
Futuristic Design (8:38) - Describing the differences between the decay of existing infrastructure and new technology such as car styles.
Visual Effects: Creating the Baby (3:06) - Deconstructing a scene to show how special effects are used.
Alfonso Cuar√≥n directed arguably the best of the Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and he's created a thought-provoking movie. One of the things that struck me is the level of detail involved in predicting the future world without children. His world is believable and I found myself nodding at some of the details. It's a brutal place to visit, but a rewarding experience. The Blu-ray presentation is very good and fans of the movie or Clive Owen shouldn't hesitate to pick it up.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1994 | 117 min | Rated R | Region A, B (C untested) | Jan 11, 2011
Shy Londoner Charles meets American Carrie at a friend's wedding and enjoys a one-night stand with her. The next time they meet, again at a wedding, Carrie is accompanied by a rich fiancť, leaving Charles heartbroken. Nevermind,...
Four Weddings and a Funeral (comedy, romance, drama)
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Simon Callow and James Fleet
Four Weddings and a Funeral was released in 1994 and was a breakout role for Hugh Grant. If you have seen Notting Hill, Love Actually or the Bridget Jones movies, you'll know that Grant plays similar characters in every movie. Writer Richard Curtis wrote all of those screenplays and understands what Grant can do. He typically plays eloquent characters who are a bit confused about what they want in life. He has great comic timing and plays his roles with a lot of charm.
The movie opens with Charles (Grant) late for a wedding. We see him dash around with his flatmate, Scarlett, and drive like a maniac to reach the church on time. He's the best man, but he's forgotten to bring the rings. This opening sequence is pretty funny and sets the scene well.
Almost all of the action takes place at the four weddings and the funeral mentioned in the title. We are introduced to Charles and his friends, and they appear at every wedding. Tom (Fleet) is one of the richest men in Britain, but is clueless about women and doesn't have a girlfriend. He's amusing and harmless and reminds me of Colin Firth's character in Love Actually. Gareth embraces life and throws himself into any situation without stopping to worry whether he's making a fool of himself, while Matthew is his lover.
The story is full of good observations about human behavior. If you have ever been to a wedding, you'll recognize the types of character portrayed in the movie. Some are there because they genuinely want to be, but others tag along as an excuse to get drunk or to seek romantic partners of their own. Some are touching and others are embarrassing or annoying.
At the first wedding, Charles encounters Carrie (MacDowell). He likes her instantly and changes his plans so that he stays at the same inn. They have a romantic moment, but it quickly ends when Carrie announces that she has to return to America.
The rest of the movie shows meetings between Charles and Carrie at each of the weddings. Their situations change each time, but it's clear that they like each other. Charles runs into previous girlfriends continually, but considers marriage as something to be avoided for the most part. In contrast, Gareth thinks marriage is a good way to get out of a boring conversation.
Charles has a brother, David, who is deaf and communicates through sign language. That sets up a few of the funnier scenes when Charles lies about what David is saying. Another interesting character is Father Gerald; a young priest played by Rowan Atkinson. Most American viewers will know him as Mr. Bean, but he's appeared in numerous movies of this type as well as Blackadder, which was a TV series also written by Curtis. Father Gerald isn't a very good priest, but he'll probably make you laugh.
The movie succeeds because the characters are believable and similar to people we have encountered in our own lives. It's easy to identify with the main characters because the story rings true. It's above average in terms of romantic comedies and also works as pure comedy. Even if you don't care about Charles and Carrie, there's plenty to smile at. I wouldn't rate Four Weddings and a Funeral up there with Love Actually, but it's worth seeing.
Unless you bought Target's exclusive version in January, this is the first time you'll have had the chance to see Four Weddings and a Funeral on Blu-ray. The result is a clear upgrade, as you would expect, but it's not a stellar transfer by any means. The movie is plagued with minor scratches and dirt throughout the 118 minutes. The image is soft at times and clarity never threatens to dazzle the viewer. Colors are accurate, but a little subdued. I briefly considered a 3/5 rating, but I think most of the presentation deserves the extra half point. Fans of the movie should buy it, but temper expectations.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is more than adequate, but this isn't the kind of movie that makes full use of sound. It consists of dialogue-driven scenes for the most part, although the surrounds do add depth in the wedding reception scenes. I thought I detected minor sync issues in a couple of places, but they were brief.
The special features are all presented in standard definition and were included on the DVD version of the movie.
Commentary with Director Mike Newell, Producer Duncan Kenworthy and Writer Richard Curtis.
In the Making (7:45)
The Wedding Planners (29:48) - A longer look at how the movie was made.
Two Actors and a Director (5:41) - Explaining how Grant and MacDowell were chosen for the lead roles.
Deleted Scenes (4:02) - Six brief scenes.
Promotional Spots (3:26)
Theatrical Trailer (2:08)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a lot of fun, and works well for fans of British humor. Grant and MacDowell play their roles well. The Blu-ray offers a reasonable upgrade and is worth adding to your collection if you're a fan of the movie or if you like romantic comedies. The price is very attractive at the moment and is readily available for under $12.
Before becoming a CIA officer, Evelyn Salt swore an oath to duty, honor, and country. She will prove loyal to these when a defector accuses her of being a Russian sleeper spy. Salt goes on the run, using all her skills and years...
Salt (action, crime, mystery)
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Salt is full of action and includes an air of mystery. The opening scene takes us back two years and we see Evelyn Salt (Jolie) interrogated in North Korea. She's in pretty bad shape after being beaten, but refuses to talk, even when a tube is forced down her throat and gasoline is poured in. She's eventually released as part of a prisoner exchange and returns to work as a CIA agent. This all happens at the start of the movie and sets up what is to come.
The final thing I'm going to reveal is an encounter with a Russian defector. She's selected to interview him and discovers that there's a plan underway to substitute certain Americans with Russians. They become sleepers who will eventually act on behalf of Russia. He informs any agents who might be listening that Evelyn Salt is the name of one such agent.
Salt has a decision to make. Which of her colleagues can she trust? Should she stay and answer the accusations? Would it be better to run and try to prevent other sleeper agents from fulfilling their purpose? She decides to run and most of her colleagues see it as an admission of guilt. We're placed in her position and it's one with no obvious solutions. It has the same feel as the Bourne movies, with confusion surrounding her identity.
The CIA isn't happy that she evaded capture and sends agents to bring her back. This results in a huge chase scene in which Salt makes some unlikely decisions. If you're a fan of action movies, this is where the story really takes off. The first chase scene happens on a highway and sees Salt making improbable leaps between moving vehicles to evade capture.
Jolie looks capable of making some of the jumps, and we see her continually revise her plan as she flees her pursuers. The story keeps us guessing about the level of her involvement and we can't be sure what her motivations are. She's resourceful and uses her intelligence in order to predict the moves of her pursuers and discover the motivations of the Russian group.
If you enjoy movies such as Taken, Wanted, Bourne or Die Hard, this is your kind of story. The first adrenalin rush comes early and we rarely have time to breathe. There is a plot, although it's secondary to the action. This is a movie that entertains because of its pacing and spectacular chase scenes. There's not a great deal of thought required, but you will see that everything makes some kind of sense if you think about what you have just seen. Well, it makes as much sense as the average James Bond movie.
If you want to see Jolie running around, climbing, jumping and engaging in hand-to-hand combat, grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride. The loose ends are tied up neatly and the conclusion is satisfying. The acting is convincing, although Jolie never has to show the range of emotion that she achieved in Changeling. Schreiber and Ejiofor are always good and both play their roles well.
It's hard to fault the look of the movie. Colors appear natural and detail is strong. There's a fine layer of grain and the picture has considerable pop. I felt like I was in the middle of the action. Sony has delivered another great transfer.
There's a lot happening on the screen and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track handles everything that's thrown at it. Chase scenes sound incredible, while scenes involving explosions and gunfire have the appropriate impact. Dialogue doesn't suffer either, and the surrounds are active throughout the duration of the movie. The score adds to the action scenes and completes the experience. You won't have any complaints about the presentation.
The additional features all appear in full HD.
Spy Cam: Picture-in-Picture - The movie includes three cuts and this feature is only available on the theatrical version.
The Ultimate Female Action Hero (8:05) - Showing some of the stunts that Jolie performed.
The Real Agents (12:33) - Former spies talk about their experiences.
Spy Disguise: The Looks of Evelyn Salt (5:26) - A look at the various appearances Jolie used in the movie.
The Modern Master of the Political Thriller: Phillip Noyce (9:15) - Noyce explains why he has good insight into the life of a spy, and describes how he tries to capture the attention of the audience.
Salt: Declassified (29:47) - A thorough "making of" feature that goes into more depth about some of the things covered in the other features.
"The Treatment" Radio Interview with Phillip Noyce (27:12) - Elvis Mitchell interviews Noyce.
Salt is a well-crafted spy movie that's heavy on the action, although there are a couple of twists in there too. Jolie looks the part and is convincing in her role and the supporting cast does a great job. If you want to be thrilled for 100 minutes without having to think too much, this will get the job done. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent and the special features contain a wealth of additional information if you're curious.
Mother and Child (drama)
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson
In the special features, director Rodrigo Garcia describes Mother and Child as "a drama for grown-ups" and he's exactly right. The film is aimed at people who enjoy emotional drama, and examining the connections between people. While I was watching, I found myself comparing the structure of the story to 21 Grams and Babel, only to find that the director of those films, Alejandro GonzŠlez IŮŠrritu, was listed as an executive producer.
The film follows three story arcs and ultimately brings them together.
The most interesting character is Karen (Bening) who had a baby girl when she was 14 and gave her up for adoption. We see how she cares for her own mother and puts her life on hold because of her. But on some level, she wonders what happened to her own child. She mentions in the opening minutes of the film that her daughter's birthday is coming up and she'll be 37.
We then see Elizabeth (Watts) applying for a job as a lawyer. She mentions that she was adopted and that her mother had her when she was 14. Her potential employer, Paul (Jackson), is impressed by her honesty and credentials and she gets the job.
A third woman, Lucy (Washington), is unable to have children of her own and is desperate to adopt. We see her and her husband interviewed by a nun to see whether they are a suitable couple.
The story shows how Karen and Elizabeth have been affected by never knowing each other:
Karen devotes her life to looking after her mother and working as a geriatric nurse. She has never been married. Her maid has a little girl and Karen resents having her show up at her house. It seems that she has distanced herself from children and resents people who have children in their lives. Her own loss was an event that she has never recovered from. She's abrupt and sometimes rude to people and ensures that she never gets close enough to men to develop any romantic feelings. Everything she does is designed to protect herself from any potential pain in the future.
Elizabeth is fiercely independent. She seduces Paul and is the dominant partner when they have sex. She's also happy to pursue married men and makes a move on one of her neighbors. As we learn more about her, it becomes clear how she's been affected by never knowing her mother. I won't reveal those details because it would ruin the story. She regularly moves around from one place to another and seems unwilling to be tied down. Although she has a lot of ambitious goals, they have to be achieved on her terms. She's not a very nice person, but maybe it's not completely her fault.
Lucy is willing to do almost anything to become a parent. She meets a young girl who wants to audition her to decide whether she's a suitable foster parent for the child she plans to give up for adoption. Some of the questions disturb her, but she answers them honestly. Her husband doesn't appear to be as enthusiastic about the process, but Lucy persists.
That's the setup. I can't give away anything else without ruining some of the surprises. All three women experience events which change them. Karen undergoes the biggest change and grows as a person throughout the story.
I made a point of seeing the 10 Best Picture nominations last year and enjoyed them all, but I would rank Mother and Child above five of them. The acting is strong across the board and I'm a little surprised that Bening wasn't nominated for this role rather than for her role in The Kids Are All Right. Mother and Child wouldn't work without her performance. We see her accepting her situation, reacting when an event changes it, and ultimately transforming herself into a different person. She shows a vast range of emotions and, although I greatly admire American Beauty, this might be her strongest performance to date.
Watts, Washington, Jackson and Jimmy Smits also turn in good performances and I believed in everything they did. Those that I haven't mentioned were great too.
I didn't hear a word about the film during its limited theatrical run. The marketing just didn't exist as far as I saw. I understand the reasoning and know that the audience for an emotional drama is small and growing smaller every year, but it pains me to see films like Mother and Child ignored. Will they eventually cease to be made so that we can have more sequels? Probably so. But I'll try to do my part and highlight those worthy of attention.
Mother and Child was shot digitally, but it doesn't detract from the overall look. Detail is strong and I didn't detect any flaws. There are a few releases with better picture quality, but this is right up there and you won't have any complaints.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does exactly what it is supposed to do. It's a quiet story, driven by dialogue, but everything sounds clear. The ambient sounds add to the experience, but don't expect your speakers to receive much of a workout. It's just not that kind of movie.
All of the additional content is presented in full HD.
Deleted Scenes (3:43) - Three short scenes that didn't make it into the film.
Creating the Family Tree (13:39) - Director Rodrigo Garcia talks with some of the cast and crew and explains how the film came to be made.
Universally Connected (15:37) - An extension of the previous feature, but going into greater depth.
Mother and Child was one of the best dramas released in 2010. Anchored by a stellar performance from Bening, none of the acting disappoints. The title sounds boring and hardly anyone bothered seeing it, but fans of emotional drama shouldn't miss this one. There are quite a few surprises and deeper connections between some of the characters that I didn't mention for fear of spoiling the film. If action is your thing, give this a miss.
Disney / Buena Vista | 2007 | 111 min | Rated G | Region A (locked) | Nov 06, 2007
A rat named Remy dreams of becoming a great French chef despite his family's wishes and the
obvious problem of being a rat in a decidedly rodent-phobic profession. When fate places Remy
in the sewers of Paris, he finds...
Ratatouille (animation, comedy, family)
Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Starring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm and Janeane Garofalo
Remy (Oswalt) is a young rat with an enhanced sense of taste and smell. When he saves his dad from eating food laced with poison, heís given a job as food tester for the whole colony. Remy quickly becomes bored with the job and dreams of better things. After seeing a TV cooking show, he decides that he would like to be a chef. Unfortunately, heís almost killed by the TVs owner and the entire colony is discovered and forced to leave her house.
Remy is separated from his family and talks to an illustration of Gusteau, the TV chef, because heís alone and thereís nobody else to talk to. When he discovers Gusteauís restaurant, he finds that he knows the function of every member of the staff. Remy gets into trouble when entering the kitchen, but he adds ingredients to the soup and the customers love it. Heís discovered when trying to leave and Linguini (Romano), the kitchen boy, is told to kill him. But the worried look on Remyís face stops Linguini in his tracks and he realizes that Remy fixed the soup. The two decide to work together.
Although Remy can be understood by other rats, thatís not the case with humans. Instead, he uses gestures to communicate and is very expressive. His tiny shrugs and nods are easy to understand. Quite by accident, Remy discovers that he can control Linguini by pulling at strands of his hair. The two practice at home and come up with a plan to do the same at the restaurant. He hides under Linguiniís hat and continues to prepare food by controlling him.
The story is well thought out and quite complex in places for an animated film. The 111-minute running time is necessary to show everything in detail. The streets of Paris look real and itís clear that the Pixar team researched the setting thoroughly.
Linguini is trained by Colette (Garofalo) and starts to develop feelings for her, but itís Remyís skill that wins the approval of the restaurantís customers. Linguini is deeply resented by the Head Chef (Holm), who knows that Linguini is Gusteauís son and the restaurantís rightful owner. The problem is, Linguini doesnít know that.
The film is full of peril, chase scenes and humor, and has a little action. The characters are well developed and Remy is easy to like. Itís challenging to make a rat appear friendly and lovable, but Pixar somehow pulls it off. Remy is always happy and smiling and chooses to walk upright on two feet. I think that was done to make him appear more like a human and less like a rat. Heís also very particular about cleanliness and washes his paws before preparing any food.
The restaurant eventually captures the attention of food critics and is visited by Anton Ego (Peter OíToole), who is the most famous critic of them all. Heís hard to impress and had written off Gusteauís as insignificant years ago, but decides to see why itís become relevant again. One of my favorite scenes happens in the restaurant when Ego takes his first bite of food, but Iíll let you discover what happens for yourself.
The film has a lot of important messages. It shows us that itís wrong to steal and that family is important. But most of all, itís about following your dreams. Remy is a rat. How can he possibly become a chef? Even if he did, how could he succeed? I imagine that children watching the film could be inspired by Remyís achievements. Maybe a few will grow up wanting to be chefs, and they are rarely out of work.
I canít watch the film without thinking about Hans Landaís speech in Inglourious Basterds where he asks Perrier LaPadite what his reaction would be if a rat entered his home. How would that differ if a squirrel were to enter? Itís true that humans often have a problem with rats, and many of us actually fear them. Itís quite an achievement to invent a rat that we like and root for as he attempts to live out his dream.
All of Pixarís movies are worth owning, but Ratatouille just edges out Up as my favorite. If they ever decide to do another sequel, I hope that we get another story about Remy. Itís aimed at older audiences more than the likes of Cars and A Bugís Life, but children will still be able to enjoy it.
Well done, Pixar.
Ratatouille looks fantastic on Blu-ray. You can see the individual hairs in Remyís fur and the way it beads when he gets wet. The colors are striking and the sheer amount of detail in background scenes tells you all you need to know. This is a reference quality presentation that's ideal for showing off your home theater.
The lossless LPCM 5.1 track is full of subtle detail and delivers well during all of the louder scenes. Although thereís very little traditional action, your system will receive a full workout during chase scenes and when Remy is trying to avoid being captured. The sound has good depth and youíll hear the surrounds highlight quieter effects such as vegetables being chopped or background conversation in the restaurant. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and thereís really nothing that falls short of perfection.
Lifted (5:02, HD) Ė One of my favorite short films from Pixar.
Your Friend the Rat (11:16, HD) Ė Remy and Emil talk about the history of rats in an amusing way.
Gusteauís Gourmet Game Ė Control Linguini and help him meet incoming orders.
Fine Food and Film (13:54, HD) Ė Director Brad Bird and chef Thomas Keller talk about some of their ideas for the film.
Deleted Scenes (15:06) Ė Three scenes that were removed before they were finished.
Deleted Shots R.I.P. (3:12)
The Will (2:48) Ė With composer Michael Giacchino, featuring an alternate score for one of the scenes.
Remembering Dan Lee (3:00)
There are also five Easter eggs. Press the left button on your control while in the main menu. It works for the top or bottom item.
Ro-Dead Commercial (0:12, HD)
Yes! Shots (1:06)
How to Pronounce Ratatouille (0:55)
Líecole Culinaire DíPixar (1:02)
Producer Plays Trombone (0:50)
Pixar has produced some wonderful films and all are worth owning. The Blu-ray presentations are all just about perfect and Ratatouille is no exception. The film has heart and warmth and is a fun place to visit. It doesnít have the constant action of some titles, but the story is gripping throughout. Adults will be pleasantly surprised at the depth of the story, although very small children may lose interest. That would be a shame, because I rank it as Pixarís best, and thatís saying a lot.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox live an idyllic home life with their son Ash and visiting young nephew Kristopherson. But after
12 years, the bucolic existence proves too much for Mr Fox's wild animal instincts. Soon he slips back into his...
Fantastic Mr. Fox (animation, adventure, comedy)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Michael Gambon
Wes Anderson's films are traditionally quirky and full of complex themes, and his adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox is no different. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's animated (stop motion); this material is not targeted at children.
When we join the story, Mrs. Fox (Streep) is telling Mr. Fox (Clooney) that she's pregnant. The two proceed to rob a chicken farm and narrowly escape capture. Mrs. Fox makes him promise to look for other work now that they are about to become parents. Mr. Fox agrees and finds a job writing a newspaper column.
Mr. Fox settles down in his new life, but always regrets giving up his old ways. He's also tired of living in a hole in the ground and wants a better home for his family. He goes to see Badger (Murray), who advises him about properties for sale in the area. Fox wants a house near three local farms, but Badger suggests that the neighborhood is too dangerous. The local children even have a rhyme about the farmers:
Boggis, Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean
Fox is aware of the danger, but yearns for his former chicken-stealing days. As Anderson regularly reminds us, these are wild animals. Fox can't deny his nature and buys the new house so that he can be close to the three farms.
His decision goes directly against his promise to his wife and that was his first mistake.
There's a lot of humor in the film, but it's generally quite subtle. The family sits down to eat dinner and they eat like wild animals. The food is gone in seconds. Their son, Ash, is moody and craves attention from his father. He spits on the floor when he's angry or disappointed and he clearly has problems. When his cousin Kristofferson comes to stay, the situation worsens. Fox seems to favor Kristofferson over his own son and compliments him constantly.
Forget that we're dealing with animals for a moment and think about the story. If that happened in a regular movie, we would be dealing with a typical family drama. Husband and wife break promises and have trust issues, while their son is being raised by parents who don't understand him. This is not the kind of story that small children would understand, although some of the scenes are funny and contain action that would appeal to a child.
Fox enlists the help of Kylie Opossum and the two steal chickens from Boggis. The action is typical animated fare and the way the two sneak around is funny. They lace blueberries with a sedative to get past the dogs and the way the dogs react is also funny. They successfully steal from Bunce and plan to stop once they steal cider from Bean. For the final robbery, Ash wants to come along. Fox won't let him, but allows Kristofferson to take part. He seems to have very little idea that such a decision could hurt his son's feelings.
The robberies are fun to watch, especially when the animals wear bandit hats. It reminds me of the robbery in Bottle Rocket when the participants decide to wear similar hats even though their victims have already seen their faces.
Ash yearns to be an athlete and wants to emulate his father's success at Whack-Bat (a game which parodies cricket). Kristofferson is a balanced individual who regularly meditates and knows karate. Ash is extremely jealous of his cousin and his ability to win his father's approval.
The three robberies annoy the farmers, so Bean (Gambon) decides to organize the trio and plans to kill Fox. This is where the film starts to take on a more serious tone. Mrs. Fox discovers that her husband has been lying to her and scratches his face in a fit of temper. This scene annoyed one of my friends who expected the film to be lighthearted and suitable for the whole family. Mrs. Fox acts like the wild animal she is. There's another scene in which one of the animals is maimed. Although it's presented in a humorous way, it could disturb people.
The remainder of the film deals with the three farmers finding ways to threaten the existence of Fox and his friends. They escape by tunneling deeper, but face the threat of starvation if they don't find a solution. Some of the other animals resent Fox for putting them in such a dangerous situation.
There's considerable peril which could worry small children, and a lot of humor which would probably fly over their heads. It was only given a PG-rating, but be aware that not every child will like this harsh world. The animals are true to their nature.
The reason I like the film so much is the style of humor. Like Bottle Rocket and The Darjeeling Limited, the characters speak with a sense of irony or sarcasm and most of the humor is tongue-in-cheek. It feels similar to Tarantino or the Coen brothers at times. There's no swearing, but every character uses the word "cuss" in situations in which they would normally swear. I found that particularly funny. One animal questions why a ransom note was made using words cut out of a magazine when everyone already knew the identities of the kidnappers. That's also funny to me. The missions all have elaborate titles and remind me of the way Tarantino uses chapters in his stories.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is an exercise in style. Mr. Fox himself is very stylish, dressing smartly and using his trademark whistle when he thinks he's being clever or cool. Clooney was a great choice for the part and the other actors all do a good job too.
The story is essentially about a dysfunctional family and shows how Ash attempts to come to terms with his existence. Will Mr. Fox eventually become a better father? Will Ash grow up and take responsibility for his own actions? Do Mr. and Mrs. Fox strengthen their marriage, or will the trust issues tear them apart? There's a lot going on beneath the surface.
The look of Fantastic Mr. Fox is virtually flawless. The frames were shot digitally with a high quality camera and the detail is superb throughout. You can see every hair on the puppets and the stitches in their clothing. Some scenes look deliberately flat when shot from a distance and the color palette is full of brown and yellow tints, but that's all intentional too. I didn't spot any errors in a single shot and the presentation looks as good as anything I've seen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has its moments, despite the quiet nature of the film. Most of the story is driven by dialogue, but there are occasional bursts of sound in scenes involving music or explosions. The rear speakers aren't used prominently, but there's no cause for complaint overall.
The features were all shot in high definition.
Making Mr. Fox Fantastic (45 minutes) - A six-part feature which can also be viewed all at once. Topics include the look of the film, how it was adapted from the book and how the puppets were made. There's an in-depth look at the filming process and a look at the actors behind the voices. The final segment shows Bill Murray talking to some of the animators.
A Beginner's Guide to Whack-Bat (1 minute)
Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl (3 minutes) - Touching on the main points shown in the opening feature.
Trailer (2 minutes)
Fantastic Mr. Fox has a lot of intelligent humor and subtle charm and it's clearly aimed at adult audiences. I wouldn't rule out showing the film to children, but be aware that wild animals sometimes show their true nature and their world can be brutal. I'm a fan of Wes Anderson's work and this met all my expectations in terms of style and humor. It's one of the most complex and unusual animated titles I have seen and recommended for fans of subtle humor. The world is an interesting place to visit and the film is a lot of fun if you go in with the right expectations.
Unknown (drama, mystery, thriller)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger and January Jones
Unknown's plot is extremely simple once you know a key piece of information, but that's not revealed until late in the movie. As a result, you'll find yourself confused and having to guess what's really going on. On first viewing, Unknown is full of mystery and puts the viewer in the position of the main protagonist, Martin Harris (Neeson). Like Memento, the story keeps letting us see events in a new context and their meaning changes as a result.
Harris flies into Berlin with wife Liz (Jones) for a biotechnology conference. He's one of the speakers. While getting into a taxi at the airport, he leaves behind a briefcase containing his passport and vital documents. Does that seem like the act of a man with the supposed intelligence of Harris? He notices that it's missing when they arrive at the hotel and jumps into another taxi while his wife checks in. There's no signal for his phone (really) so he can't explain his actions.
The taxi is involved in an accident and plunges into a river. The driver, Gina (Kruger), pulls him out and then runs off leaving him in the hands of the medics. He wakes up in hospital and all he can remember is his name and that he's married to Liz, who doesn't know where he is. The doctor tells him that he's been in a coma for four days.
Luckily, he sees a story about the conference on TV in his room and remembers that he's supposed to be attending. It shows the hotel where he was supposed to check in. How convenient. After checking out and going to the hotel, he sees his wife at a reception. The problem is she says that she doesn't know him. She even introduces another man as her husband, Martin Harris. The hotel security men throw him out. Are you confused yet? Is he really Martin Harris? Is everything we are seeing just some coma-induced dream? Is he crazy?
The story continues with Harris trying to prove his identity. He finds Gina and she agrees to help him. He also phones a friend in the US who he knows can confirm his identity. His memories slowly start to return and he notes everything he can remember. One piece of information tells him that he has a meeting arranged with Professor Bressler, who he communicated with by phone and email for a while. Maybe Bressler can confirm his identity? It wouldn't explain his wife's actions, but it would be a start.
I won't reveal any more of the story because it would ruin the mystery, but it contains a few glaring plot holes. The exposition is also laughable at times and assumes that the audience is pretty dumb. My favorite example is: "So that's got all your secrets in it, right?"
You might be wondering why I gave the movie such a high score if it's full of so many plot holes and stupid dialogue. The reason is it somehow works. Neeson is such a good actor that he pulls it off. I found myself actually caring about his predicament and wanting to see him resolve it. Most of the supporting cast does a great job too and I was especially impressed with Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella.
Did you see the movie posters advertising the theatrical run? It showed Neeson holding a gun and looking ready to take on the world. In short, it was marketed as Taken 2. If you buy the movie on the strength of that image, you may be disappointed. Neeson doesn't touch a gun at any point in the movie. There are a couple of car chases and scenes full of action, but this is nothing like Taken. Neeson does get into a couple of fights, but this is more a mystery than an action movie. Fans of Taken might like Neeson enough to enjoy this too, but be aware that the two movies are very different.
I found myself invested in the story, even though I could see that parts of it were contrived or even ludicrous. Neeson plays it dead straight and is believable in his role. Kruger did a good job as his sidekick. I've watched the movie twice now and will be happy to watch it again despite its flaws.
I have no complaints about the picture quality. Fine grain is present throughout and detail is always strong. I detected one slightly noisy image in a dark scene, but that's a minor quibble. Colors look accurate and the presentation is clean and bright. You'll be very happy when you see it.
The movie starts quietly, but gradually increases in volume as the action rises. Dialogue is always clear, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really starts to shine when we see the car crash. The action scenes in the final act all benefit from heavy use of the surrounds and you'll feel like you're in the middle of the action. The audio presentation is flawless.
There are two HD features which run for a total of nine minutes and the content of each overlaps with the other. I hoped for much more.
Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero (4:33) - Brief interviews with the cast and crew about the making of the film.
Unknown: What is Unknown (4:24) - Similar in content to the opening feature, but it's more of an extended advertisement and appears to have been shot before the movie was released.
I'm not sure what Unknown is supposed to be. There are too many holes for it to be a serious drama or compelling mystery, but there's not really enough action for it to fall into that genre. If you go into it with the right attitude, you'll probably enjoy it. I had fun watching it the first time and enjoyed seeing it on Blu-ray. For fans of Neeson, it's worth adding to your collection. For action fans, it could fail to meet expectations. The Blu-ray presentation certainly won't disappoint, but there's very little in the way of special features.
20th Century Fox | 1976 | 111 min | Rated R | Region A (locked) | Oct 07, 2008
A staid U.S. ambassador (Gregory Peck) switches his wife's (Lee Remick) baby with an
orphaned boy when their child is stillborn. As the boy grows, disaster surrounds him, beginning
with the suicide of his nanny, and as the...
Relies on suspense, rather than gore or special effects
The Omen (horror, mystery)
Directed by Richard Donner
Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and Billie Whitelaw
Modern horror movies are very different from films such as The Omen. Released 35 years ago, the movie wasn't gory and certainly wasn't a slasher movie. It relied on creating suspense and tension and was in the tradition of Hitchcock. The characters have proper motivations for their actions and we are shown what those motivations are. It justifies some of the difficult choices made by Robert Thorn (Peck) as he learns the truth about his son.
Director Richard Donner's next movie was Superman, but The Omen, was easily the biggest project of his career at that point. Peck's involvement proved to be a huge draw and the remainder of the cast was happy to join the project.
The story opens in Rome. Thorn is the American ambassador and his wife, Katherine (Remick), is giving birth in hospital. The doctors tell him that his baby has died, but offer him another baby who lost its mother during the birth. Thorn reluctantly accepts, but hides the fact from his wife. Thorn is made ambassador to Britain and the family relocates to London. Things seem normal until Damien is five years old, when his nanny commits suicide at his birthday party.
Father Brennan, a priest from Rome, pays Thorn a visit. He claims that Thorn must take communion and accept Christ if he is to fight the son of the devil. Thorn dismisses him as a lunatic.
A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Whitelaw), shows up at the house to take care of Damien, but the Thorn's realize that neither of them arranged it. She is allowed to keep the job and tells Damien in private that she's there to protect him. He smiles. The Thorn's take him to church against the wishes of Baylock, but he throws a fit and they abandon the trip. He's visibly shaking at the thought of entering the church.
Thorn realizes that Damien has never been ill for a single day in his life and considers it odd. Baylock starts to take over the running of the house and allows in a black dog which seems to be another guardian for Damien. Thorn tells her to get rid of it, but she never does.
Nothing has really happened up to this point. Donner gives us clues that there's something weird about Damien, but it's all speculation. We don't actually see him do anything, but things happen to others around him. This is developed when Damien and his mother visit Windsor Safari Park and the animals act scared and run away from the boy. Now both parents are suspicious of Damien.
Father Brennan sees Thorn again and insists that Thorn's wife will die if he refuses to hear what Brennan has to say. He only wants five minutes. Thorn reluctantly agrees to listen, but Brennan sounds crazy once more, insisting that Damien isn't human and must die. Thorn still isn't convinced, but reads about Brennan's mysterious death in the newspaper the following day. Katherine is convinced that Damien is evil and that he's not her child.
Brennan claimed before he died that Katherine was pregnant again, and that she would lose the baby and then her own life. When Thorn learns that she is in fact pregnant, he begins to think about everything that Brennan has said. He teams up with a local photographer who has more information about Brennan and the two begin to look into Damien's origins.
It's incredible how little action there is throughout the movie. Donner relies on the audience's imagination and keeps building suspense. There's very little blood in the story and Damien hardly does anything to suggest that he's evil. Any problems he causes could be genuine accidents. Baylock is a more sinister character and does take direct action when she thinks that Damien is threatened.
The one thing that doesn't quite ring true is how quickly Damien's parents come to consider him evil. The bond between parent and child is usually strong enough for parents to love and forgive their children. Imagine telling any parents that their child is evil or the son of Satan. The likely reaction would be anger and the parents would defend their child against such a crazy accusation. In this instance, both parents come to the same conclusion. Why are they able to see that Damian is evil? Robert does eventually question the logic when he's ultimately tasked with killing the child, but it seems too late to be authentic.
The journey to uncover the truth sees Thorn visit two other countries as he tries to piece together Damien's past. We meet some unusual characters along the way and there's a little more action when he searches for the identity of the child's real mother.
The story has a resolution of sorts, but The Omen eventually became the first part of a trilogy. The other two movies never matched the suspense of the first and didn't attract any actors on Peck's level. Peck was excellent as Thorn and the most interesting part of the story was seeing how he approached the problem.
The opening shots are weak and lacking in definition. Some shots are intentionally soft, but the movie is grainy and the colors subdued for the most part. Things pick up in the second half when we see more outdoor scenes. It's hard to pin down the quality because it varies so much. Some shots seem barely above DVD standard, while others border on impressive considering the age of the film. It's obviously as good as it has ever looked, so worth picking up if you are a fan.
Jerry Goldsmith won an Oscar for best original score and the demonic singing adds a lot of atmosphere to the story. It sounds impressive on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as do some of the more subtle sounds such as gravel crunching underfoot. The track is front-heavy and a little quiet, but it does the job. I did watch it at a slightly higher volume level than most movies, but clarity was good once I had the level sorted out.
With over three hours of special features and three commentary tracks, you can satisfy your curiosity about the movie. It's a comprehensive package.
Commentary - Three different tracks.
Isolated Score Track (5.1 Dolby Digital)
Richard Donner on The Omen (14:36)
The Omen Revelations: Bonus View with Trivia Track
Introduction by Director Richard Donner from 2006 (1:55)
Deleted Scene: "Dog Attack" (1:26)
666: The Omen Revealed (46:34)
Screenwriter's Notebook (14:51)
An Appreciation: Wes Craven on The Omen (20:17)
The Omen Legacy (1:41:37)
Curse or Coincidence? (6:19)
Jerry Goldsmith on The Omen Score (17:41)
Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
The original part of the trilogy remains one of the best horror movies ever made, but it won't appeal to everyone. The pacing will seem slow by today's standards and the story relies on suspense, characterization and acting ability, rather than gore and special effects. Well worth seeing if you want to see how the genre has developed over the past four decades.
Paramount Pictures | 2007 | 122 min | Rated PG-13 | Region free
| May 22, 2007
Hilary Swank stars in this story about a teacher in a racially divided school who gives her
students what theyíve always needed - a voice. Swank plays Erin Gruwell, the real-life teacher
at Long Beachís Wilson High who...
Freedom Writers (drama, biography, crime)
Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton and Scott Glenn
It's unlikely that many people know about Freedom Writers. The title makes it sound boring; how can writing be an exciting spectacle? The other problem is the first 30 minutes of the movie. It's almost exactly what you would expect and covers familiar ground. There's a chance it would lose viewers who think that the whole movie is going to be predictable.
The movie opens with riot scenes in Los Angeles and we hear a brief narration from one of the key characters, Eva (April Lee Hernandez). It shows her father being wrongly-convicted of a crime. This event confirms in her mind that she is right to hate all white people (as the cops were white) and anyone from another culture. She's a member of a gang and happy with her role in life.
Then we meet Erin Gruwell (Swank), who is a first-time teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School. She teaches English and is naive about what she'll face in the classroom. She believes that none of the rules apply to her because she cares, and that she can succeed where everyone else has failed. She thinks she can change the world. The movie is based on a true story and the real Erin Gruwell is interviewed for the movie's special features.
Gruwell's first day is a rough one. The desks and books she has to work with are old and falling apart and a fight breaks out during her first lesson. The class is divided into groups: there's one white kid and groups of black, Latino and Cambodian kids. They hate each other and don't want to sit near anyone not in their ethnic group.
How do you go about breaking down those boundaries? It's no different outside the classroom. There's division and hatred everywhere.
Gruwell starts to think of ways to connect with the kids. She starts by trying music, thinking it could unite them. Then she changes the seating arrangements and breaks up the groups. Some of the students stop attending.
There's an incident in a local store one night in which Eva witnesses a murder. Her culture requires her to lie and blame someone else. The resolution is an important part of the movie, but I won't reveal it here.
So we're 30 minutes into the story and all we have seen is a fairly predictable setup. But stick with it. This is where things start to improve. The power of the story is in the methods Gruwell uses to unite these kids. A drawing is passed around in class, showing a kid with big lips. Everyone laughs, apart from the target of the joke. Gruwell is outraged and compares the drawing to the drawings of Jews made by the Nazi's, calling the Nazi's the greatest gang of all time. She mentions the Holocaust and someone asks what it was. She's shocked and discovers that only one student has heard of it.
Think about that for a moment. How would you try and connect with people who had such limited knowledge? Their immediate world is dangerous and that's all that they care about. Living another day is a little victory for them. She asks anyone who has been shot at to raise their hand and almost everyone does.
Next class, she tapes a line in the middle of the classroom floor. She makes a game of it by asking people to step up to the line if they answer yes to a series of questions. The questions become increasingly serious: Do you know someone in a gang? Who has lost someone to gang violence? More than one? Some have lost four or more. The different ethnic groups step up to the line and stare at those opposite them. These people do have something in common after all.
Her colleagues won't let her give the kids new books because they will likely destroy them, but Gruwell takes a second job and buys them anyway. She gives each student a journal, on the condition that they write in it every day. She won't read it unless they give permission, but there's a secure cupboard to put it in if anyone does want her to read what they have written. Her husband isn't happy that she's taken a second job and is sick of hearing about what she does at school.
Parents' night arrives and nobody shows. She's about to leave, but checks the cupboard first. It's full of journals. We are gradually shown the stories behind many of the kids and what they have to live with each day. It's probably the first time they have ever opened up to anybody. The stories are powerful and feel real. She gains a deeper understanding of her students.
The kids are awed when she presents them with new books. Then she arranges a school trip, but has to take a weekend job to finance it herself. Her husband is even more unhappy. The trip is to a museum commemorating the Holocaust. Her father goes with her and the kids all behave. The museum experience touches them deeply when they see how many died. Many of the victims were just a few years old. It's important for them to see where their actions might lead and how misguided their reasoning is. She definitely makes a connection.
I have found that if you give someone with a bad reputation a chance to be a better person, they usually respond positively. That's exactly what happens in Freedom Writers.
It would be wrong of me to outline the entire story, but I wanted to go into enough depth to describe just how powerful and important this movie is. Gruwell achieved something significant, and you'll see the impact she had if you watch the movie. Her methods have been widely introduced in schools throughout America.
It's incredible to see what can be achieved when people work together instead of wasting their time hating others. Racism is one of the biggest problems in today's world. Although there have been improvements, there's a long way to go. What is the answer? It's easy to say that the problem is too vast to ever be eradicated, but people like Gruwell have made a tiny dent by refusing to give up.
How do you unite the entire world when it's divided by wealth, religion and politics? I'm not sure it will ever happen, but almost anything would be possible if it could be done. Maybe if the human race was threatened by malevolent aliens and was forced to work together? It has to start somewhere. What better place than in schools? It's not easy because patterns of behavior become ingrained and older generations pass on their beliefs to their children.
Swank was superb in the role of Erin Gruwell. I'm always impressed by her acting, but I think this is my favorite role of hers. Freedom Writers is an uplifting film and inspires hope and change. The actors playing the students had very little experience and were chosen because their lives were similar to those depicted in the movie. I think they did a great job and a few will go on to better things.
I think I've watched Freedom Writers four times this year. Don't be put off by the title or the first 30 minutes. If you like drama, this is one of the best you're likely to see.
The Blu-ray was released in 2007, but it looks pretty good. The image is damage-free, bright, and has good detail throughout. It doesn't match some of the recent releases, but there's no reason to complain about the picture quality.
The dated Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds about as good as a compressed audio track can. Music is heavily featured and comes across well. Dialogue is clear and the surrounds are frequently used during scenes portraying conflict. Don't avoid this release just because it doesn't have lossless audio.
All of the special features are in standard definition with the exception of the theatrical trailer.
Commentary with Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank
Deleted Scenes (11:01) - There's a few good scenes which should have made it into the film. One is a class trip to see Schindler's List and kicks off a sequence which ends in a restaurant. It shows how supportive Gruwell's father became.
Making a Dream (5:25) - Showing how the main theme song was created and how the movie affected the creators.
Freedom Writers Family (19:21) - Director and cast talking about the script and how their trip to the Museum of Tolerance helped them bond.
Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story (10:03) - Director, cast and crew are joined by the real Erin Gruwell and talk about the situation in Long Beach.
Freedom Writers is a rewarding movie for anyone who likes emotional drama. Swank and the young cast draw you in and it's hard not to empathize with their situations. This should be mandatory viewing in schools and would be a valuable part of any lesson plan for teachers. It's also an important movie with a strong message. Just viewing it could have an impact on the way you view the world and make a tiny difference in the fight against racism. I hope that you give it a try.
The Blu-ray is out of print, but still easy to track down. Don't wait too long to pick it up if you end up liking the story.
The Fighter (biography, drama, sport)
Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams
It's not easy to make a movie about boxing. The fights have to look realistic and there's the problem of the plot.
Rocky won three Oscars and tells the story of an underdog who overcomes the odds. That's the obvious feel-good storyline that will suck in most viewers. Then there's Scorsese's Raging Bull, with two Oscars, which some regard as the best movie of the 80s. Clint Eastwood bravely showed the dangers of boxing in Million Dollar Baby and the movie scooped four Oscars.
So there's clearly plenty of interest in boxing among moviegoers. Is The Fighter in the same league as the three boxing movies mentioned above? What could it possibly do that hadn't been done before? The Academy liked it, nominating it in seven categories and awarding Oscars to supporting actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, but why should you watch it?
Like Raging Bull, The Fighter portrays real events, showing the lives of brothers Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Bale). The movie also has strong characterization. This is not a story focusing on boxing; it's a story about how the dynamic in Micky's family influences his career.
Early in the movie, we get a feel for how things will develop. Dicky is the focus of attention and completely overshadows Micky in every situation. Alice (Leo), their mother, clearly favors Dicky. She barely acknowledges anything that Micky says. The family group is completed by Micky's sisters who always seem to be shouting and trying to attract attention. The result is utter chaos when the whole family appears together on-screen. Instead of shouting even louder to make himself heard above the din, Micky tends to keep quiet. I adopt the same strategy when I'm in a room full of people that don't have any interest in what I'm thinking.
Dicky is famous in Lowell, Mass. for once knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard, but at 40, his dreams of a comeback have little chance to become a reality. He spends his time smoking crack and is unreliable. He's supposed to be training Micky, but often fails to show. Dicky and Alice arrange Micky's fights and match him with an opponent who is 20 pounds heavier. Micky takes a beating and loses his fourth fight in a row.
Micky's fortunes improve when he dates Charlene (Adams), who works in his local bar. She's intelligent, brutally honest, and actually seems to care about what he thinks. Micky's family hates her, but she's strong and stands up to their abuse. When Dicky is arrested and jailed, Charlene persuades Micky to work with a new manager. He is matched against weaker opponents and starts to win. His career quickly improves and he is given the chance to face tougher opponents for more money.
It's here that the movie starts to show real character development. Micky's confidence grows and he starts making more of his own decisions. Alice vows to be a better mother. The biggest change of all concerns Dicky. Prison changes him and he avoids drugs and starts to train. He wants to leave prison a better man and be a positive influence on Micky's life. There's a huge power struggle when he's eventually released.
All of the main actors turn in good performances. Wahlberg trained four years for the part because the movie was continually delayed. Bale portrays Dicky well and it's hard to argue with his Oscar win (although Geoffrey Rush gave a great performance in The King's Speech). Leo was annoying throughout, but that's the whole point. Her character was supposed to be the main cause of conflict. Adams did well with her limited role, but it was too small to merit serious Oscar consideration. She'll have better roles than this.
The boxing scenes look real and were filmed using HBO crews. Although he didn't say much, Wahlberg looked like a boxer.
What is the movie really saying? Is it showing us that it's never too late to change? Is it asking us to question choices between career, family and romantic partners? Is it saying that you should never give up on your dreams? It touches on many themes.
The transfer is strong in every department, displaying the gritty world of The Fighter accurately. Detail is good and colors look natural. This is a drab world, but it seems full of life. Take a look at bricks or clothing and it's easy to see intricate details.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix matches the picture quality. Some of the song choices were inspired and I particularly enjoyed hearing The Breeders' Saints included on the track. All of the songs sound strong and affect the mood. This is a noisy movie, whether it's a family argument, a bar scene, a street brawl or action in the ring. The surrounds will get a good workout and place you right in the middle of the action.
The extras are all presented in full high definition:
Commentary - Director David O. Russell gives his thoughts on the movie and the reason behind some of the choices.
The Warriors Code: Filming The Fighter (29:57) - A good "making of" feature.
Keeping the Faith (8:33) - The real Ward and Eklund families talk about boxing.
Deleted Scenes (16:53) - With optional commentary.
Theatrical Trailer (2:32)
DVD (with digital copy)
The Fighter isn't an easy movie to watch. That's not because it is bad; it's a reflection on the subject matter. It would be hard to exist within such a chaotic family unit and it's actually painful to experience at times. The setting is drab and gritty and it's not a particularly pleasant journey. That's all intentional and is a compliment, but it's not exactly fun to experience. If you like drama, character development and boxing, you'll love The Fighter. If you just want boxing action, there are a few better options. Russell has crafted a good film worthy of its Best Picture nomination.
127 Hours (drama, biography, adventure)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring James Franco, Clťmence Poťsy, Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara
Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars and many of his team return for 127 Hours. I'm always impressed at the variety of Boyle's subject matter. He's not afraid to tackle crime, drama, comedy, romance, horror or science fiction. This time he gives us a film based on a true story, dealing with events in the life of Aron Ralston.
Ralston likes adventure. He's seen climbing and canyoneering in Utah and it's clear that he loves what he does. The events took place in 2003 and the title refers to the amount of time he was trapped in a canyon. Although that's a bit of a spoiler, it's the way he approaches the situation that makes this film a gripping story. Like Apollo 13, the drama depends on his actions rather than the known outcome.
There's a scene near the start of the film in which Ralston reaches up into a cupboard. He touches a Swiss Army knife, but fails to retrieve it. That simple failure causes him a lot of trouble.
We see Ralston reach the canyons and set off on his bike. When he crashes, we briefly consider the fact that he's out there alone, but he's able to continue. I think Boyle used the scene to prepare us for Ralston's eventual accident.
Ralston meets two girls and we start to learn more about his true nature. He guides them to their destination, but by a route that isn't marked on the map. It leads to a scene in which the three deliberately drop into an underground pool of water. Boyle uses the scene as a contrast to those in which Ralston is trapped. Instead of being surrounded by water, he'll soon be relishing every single drop.
The girls invite him to an upcoming party and eventually part ways. He travels on alone and soon suffers his accident. A loose boulder is dislodged when he steps on it and tumbles down a crevice after him, trapping his arm in the process. It's here that the film really starts. In fact, the title is displayed on the screen 17-minutes into the story to prove that point.
What would you do if you were trapped, alone, and running out of food and water? Ralston tries anything he can think of. Brute force is his first thought, but he tries just about everything before considering his final options. Franco's acting is excellent throughout and he deserved his Oscar nomination.
It doesn't sound like much of a visual feast, does it? A man trapped in a canyon. But Boyle uses all the tricks he can think of to make things interesting. We see a variety of unusual camera angles, such as a shot from the bottom of Ralston's flask while he's drinking. Boyle also zooms out to show the overall predicament and the surrounding terrain.
Going 127 hours with hardly any food or water also means that Ralston is prone to dreaming or hallucinating. We also see flashbacks of his childhood and some more recent memories. He has a video camera with him and makes messages for his parents. Some are serious and others aren't.
It's a brilliantly conceived way of telling the story.
Can there be anyone who doesn't know Ralston's ultimate solution? I won't mention it in case it ruins the experience. A few of the scenes may be hard to watch for some viewers, but it would ruin the story if I mentioned which ones.
Boyle uses a variety of cameras and the picture quality depends on the source. When we first see the Utah scenery, the presentation is reference quality. Detail is strong and colors striking. But other scenes, shot with the cameras used in Slumdog Millionaire, are often dimly-lit. When Ralston uses his video camera, the image is deliberately grainy and washed-out. So this is a mixed bag, but the high rating is given because I think it's largely presented the way Boyle intended.
Most of the film takes place when Ralston is alone and so quiet scenes dominate the film. But when there is noise, it's heightened. The clink of metal on rock, running water, or the movement of insects is all clearly defined in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I enjoyed A.R. Rahman's score and it matches the scenes well. There's a sense of adventure while Ralston is exploring, and more intense themes when he's trapped and trying to break free.
The special features are all presented in high definition:
Commentary by Director Danny Boyle, Producer Christian Colson and co-writer Simon Beaufoy.
Deleted Scenes (34:13)
Search and Rescue (14:51) - Meeting some of the people involved in the rescue, as well as Ralston, his friends and family.
127 Hours: An Extraordinary View (35:30) - Easily the best of the features. Boyle shows the set and explains how some of the scenes were shot. Franco gives his take on how Boyle approaches things.
Short Film: God of Love (18:46) - An Oscar-winning short from the same studio, but not otherwise connected with 127 Hours.
BD Live Exclusive (3:53)
I saw five of the Best Picture nominations in three days, including three in one day. The first of those three was 127 Hours and I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to seeing it. But I was hooked within 15 minutes and it proved to be one of the best films of 2010. I would rank it in my Top 5.
Franco has to carry the film in the way that Will Smith does in I Am Legend and Tom Hanks does in Cast Away. I like all three because it makes me feel like I'm sharing their predicament. Unless you are squeamish, 127 Hours is a great film with plenty of replay value. This was my fourth viewing and I'm very happy with this Blu-ray presentation.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | 1996 | 98 min | Rated R | Region free
| May 12, 2009
Jerry Lundegaard is a car salesman in Minneapolis who has gotten himself into debt and is so
desperate for money that he hires two thugs to kidnap his own wife. Jerry will collect the
ransom from her wealthy father, paying...
Fargo (drama, crime, thriller)
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi
The first time I watched Fargo, I didn't know what to expect. After multiple viewings, it's still hard to pin down exactly what the film is. There's a bizarre plot focusing on Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) who works for his father-in-law's car dealership. Without ever learning why, we are told that Jerry needs money. His plan is to hire two men he has never met to kidnap his wife. He'll pay them $40,000, but he'll tell his father-in-law, Wade, that the ransom is $1,000,000. It's a simple enough plan.
Jerry's true nature is revealed early in the film when he openly lies to a customer. The two men he has hired are Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare). Buscemi plays the same type of character that he played in Reservoir Dogs, talking continually, whining and cracking jokes. Stormare barely speaks, but springs into action when he feels the situation demands it.
The plot unfolds with Jerry trying and failing to borrow $750,000 from Wade for a business opportunity. Carl and Gaear make their way into town and eventually get around to abducting Jerry's wife. It's here that Jerry's plan starts to go wrong. A cop pulls over Carl and Gaear while they have Jerry's wife tied up on the back seat of the car. Carl fails to recover the situation so Gaear kills the cop and a couple of witnesses.
After the triple-murder, the third main character is introduced. She's Marge Gunderson, a pregnant Police Chief. It's 33 minutes before her character appears, but it seems like she holds the film together. While appearing a little slow and dorky, she's actually highly-intelligent and intuitive. She quickly reconstructs the crime scene and realizes how the triple-murder happened.
Marge's intellect means that she's respected by the officers she works with, but her seemingly normal demeanor isn't threatening and the people she interviews are caught off guard. She also gives the film balance during the scenes with Norm (John Carroll Lynch), her husband. They have a wonderful relationship and each accepts the other for exactly what they are. The contrast between Marge's life at home and the way she performs at work is startling.
Jerry receives a visit from Marge at work, but manages to deflect her questions and she leaves without suspecting him. Later, we see a crucial scene where she meets an old acquaintance from school. He blatantly lies about his life and Marge leaves with a sense of unease. It's a reminder that people don't always tell the truth and she decides to visit Jerry again.
One of the funniest things about the film is Jerry. He's pretty dumb and almost every word that leaves his mouth is a lie. But Macy talks about the character in the special features and notes that Jerry never gives up. One disaster follows another, but he always revises his plan and believes that he can pull it off. It's interesting to see what he'll try next.
The film's supporting cast is full of intriguing characters. Wade insists on delivering the ransom money himself and that's exactly what someone with his personality would do. Marge interviews some hookers who spent an evening with Carl and Gaear and there's a funny exchange: She learns that one of the men was kinda funny looking. She presses for more information and is told that he wasn't circumcised. The film is full of this kind of dark humor.
There's quite a bit of violence, but it is confined to short bursts. I counted seven murders in all, but the quirky humor and tongue-in-cheek presentation never make the violent scenes too jarring. This is a film that should be viewed as a dark comedy more than anything.
Marge's closing monologue is simple and effective; it asks us to contemplate why people commit crimes and puts things into perspective somewhat. McDormand won an Oscar for her performance and thoroughly deserved it. Macy was also nominated and the film's screenplay was given another Oscar.
Roger Deakins' cinematography perfectly captures the desolate scenery and the Blu-ray presentation is pleasing to the eye. Detail is strong, and the ever-present grain is never too heavy. There are a few white speckles at the beginning of the film, but the image quickly improves. The upgrade over the DVD is easily worth the price of the Blu-ray.
Although there's a lot of dialogue, the supporting sound effects are an important part of the film. It's particularly evident when the characters walk in the compacted snow and we hear a pleasing crunch. When shots are fired, they ring out clearly. Most of the track is front-heavy, but that's where most of the action is. The violin used in the score is particularly effective.
The features are all presented in standard definition.
Commentary with Director of Photography Roger Deakins
Minnesota Nice Documentary (27:47) - The Coen brothers and main cast talk about the film, likening Minnesota to Siberia with family restaurants. Learn what the actors thought of their roles and how they enjoyed working with the directors.
Photo Gallery - Stills from the shoot.
Theatrical Trailer (1:58)
TV Spot (0:31)
American Cinematography Article - A series of stills discussing the work of Roger Deakins.
Fargo is an odd film. It grabs your interest early and slowly increases the tension as the story unfolds. You'll see a glimpse of what life might be like in small-town America, and you'll laugh. The Coen brothers have made some very good films and a couple of great ones. This falls into the second category. The Blu-ray presentation is a good upgrade and I strongly recommend the film itself.
Juno is a teen facing an unplanned pregnancy by her classmate Bleeker. With the help of her best friend Leah, Juno finds her unborn child a "perfect" set of parents: an affluent suburban couple, Mark and Vanessa, longing to...
Juno (drama, comedy, romance)
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons
Juno was nominated for four Oscars, winning for best original screenplay (Diablo Cody). It was a competitive year with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood dividing six of the major categories between them, but Ellen Page was unlucky not to win in her category. Shot on a budget of $7.5 million, it made $143 million in the USA alone and a further $88 million worldwide.
Director Jason Reitman was also responsible for Up in the Air in 2009, which, along with Juno, dealt with subjects in which I had very little interest. But Reitman's mix of drama and comedy works well in both movies and the witty dialogue drives both.
Juno is funny throughout, but it's never dumb comedy and it never resorts to gross humor. The story works because we care about the characters and their one-liners fit both their personality and the situation. In short, it feels real. Many comedies assault the viewer with a stream of contrived jokes and it falls flat (for me at least).
Juno MacGuff (Page) is 16 and newly-pregnant. We are shown a flashback showing how it happened and who the father is. It turns out to be one of her best friends, Paulie Bleeker (Cera). After telling him, she decides that an abortion is the best course of action, but she changes her mind following a visit to the clinic. She's a smart girl and feels capable of making her own decisions, eventually deciding that adoption may be the best thing for her and the baby.
She finds potential parents in an ad and then has the task of telling her father (Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney) that she's pregnant. This is where the movie first defies our expectations. Instead of anger and shock, her parents are calm and accepting. They even joke about the situation when she reveals the father. It's so refreshing to see supportive parents rather than the usual stereotypes.
Her father wants to go with her to meet the prospective foster parents, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Bateman). Vanessa desperately wants a baby and is skeptical that Juno will honor the agreement, while Mark is more relaxed about everything. He bonds with Juno when she sees his guitar and they end up singing together.
Juno keeps in touch with the couple and forms a friendship with Mark because of their common love of music and movies. I particularly like this sequence because I'm passionate about both subjects and know the power of sharing and talking about such things. It's the main reason that I write about movies. Mark introduces her to Sonic Youth (my favorite band) and Juno shares some of her classic rock and punk albums. It seems that the two might enter into a more serious relationship.
Her stepmother teaches her about food supplements and defends Juno when she goes to the hospital and is insulted by the ultrasound technician. It's further evidence that she'll be supported in her choices all the way.
Bleeker's face lights up every time he sees Juno. Cera plays the part well and doesn't go over the top. It's a quiet and understated performance, but he makes it clear that she's special to him. She suggests that he date a different girl, but is angry when he does. The two have a showdown and it again becomes clear that they really feel something for each other.
There's a touching scene in the shopping mall where Juno encounters Vanessa and sees her playing with a little girl. We see Juno forming the opinion that Vanessa will make a good mother. The scene develops with a meeting between the two in which Vanessa talks to Juno's belly.
Her arrangement with Vanessa and Mark is threatened by one occurrence and we wonder how everything will turn out. I won't reveal that here, but it's a good resolution.
Another great scene involves a chat between father and daughter. It's a potentially life-changing talk played perfectly by Page and Simmons. It sets into motion events that shape Juno's immediate future. Simmons is so talented. If I were a writer/director, one of the first things I would do is create a starring role for Simmons. He's made his mark with supporting roles, but has so much more to offer.
As for Page, what a remarkable talent. She carried such films as Whip It and Hard Candy, and had a major supporting role in Inception. At 24, she has most of her career ahead of her and I'm excited to see how she develops. She's already capable of showing so much emotion and her comic timing is perfect. It will be fun to see what happens over the next decade.
One important component of the movie is the soundtrack. Kimya Dawson contributes nine of the songs in the film and they fit the mood and Juno's character perfectly. There's a well-placed Kinks song and bands such as Cat Power and Belle & Sebastian also fit the mood. The highlight is Sonic Youth covering the Carpenters' Superstar, and it's an important part of the plot.
Juno isn't a film that will appeal to everyone. Some argue that the dialogue isn't realistic, but I found it so. Who is it aimed at? Teens? Women? Pregnant girls? Many will write it off as falling into one of those categories. That would be a shame because it has a lot more to offer. I'm a 48-year-old man and I found it utterly charming, refreshing, intelligent and genuinely funny.
There's a chance it may upset some people because it turns a serious situation into an amusing comedy. Is it saying that it's acceptable to be pregnant at 16? How would you feel as a parent who faced a similar situation? How would you feel if you were a pregnant teen and didn't receive that kind of support and understanding from your parents? I would hope that it can be taken for what it is; a fictional situation. It's more about how the characters react to the situation than anything else.
For such a low-budget movie, the look is surprisingly good. The transfer is clean and free from damage, colors are well-represented and detail is good in the vast majority of scenes. I can't quite justify a 4.5, but it's certainly worth a 4. Don't expect a visual feast and you should be pretty happy with the overall look.
Juno is a dialogue-heavy movie that's quiet for the majority of its running time, but the sound still plays an important part. The songs are presented well and when sound is called for, such as in amplified effects in the clinic waiting room, it comes across convincingly.
It's rare that I watch a movie and immediately tackle all of the special features, and even rarer to watch them again on subsequent viewings. Juno is an exception. I like this world and the quality of the extras makes it worth seeing them more than once, even though they are all in standard definition.
Commentary with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody
Deleted Scenes (20:23) - It would be great to see an extended version of the film at some point and most or all of these scenes would fit well. My favorites include Juno singing a song about Paulie in a bar and her real thoughts about Sonic Youth.
Gag Reel (5:11)
Gag Take (1:57)
Crew Music Video (3:12) - A song featuring members of the cast.
Screen Tests (22:35) - See how Page, Cera, Thirlby and Simmons earned their roles.
Way Beyond "Our" Maturity Level: Juno-Leah-Bleeker (8:59)
Diablo Cody is Totally Boss (8:35) - Showing how Cody went from blogger to writing the screenplay.
Jason Reitman for Shizz (8:08) - Showing how Reitman came to direct the movie.
Honest to Blog!: Creating Juno (13:01) - Reitman, Cody and some of the cast talking about how the movie came to be made.
Fox Movie Channel presents world premiere...Juno (5:26)
Fox Movie Channel presents Casting Session: Juno (7:51)
Watching Juno is like spending time with an old friend. It's warm and familiar and makes me grin throughout. I would like to see Juno at 26 to find out how her experiences and decisions shaped her life. If you like quirky, intelligent humor and good acting, Juno will probably work for you too.
True Grit (western, drama, adventure)
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Brolin
True Grit was nominated for 10 Oscars, but failed to win any. Jeff Bridges was unlikely to win after finally being recognized a year ago, but Roger Deakins (cinematography) and Hailee Steinfeld (supporting actress) were particularly unlucky to lose.
Iím generally not in favor of watching remakes, or Westerns, but this one is worth it. The Coens donít make bad films. The acting is superb and thereís just the right balance between action, drama and humor.
The story is narrated and told from the viewpoint of Mattie Ross (Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl who wants to hire someone to catch the man who killed her father. After hearing the qualities of the potential candidates, she approaches Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). Heís a one-eyed drunk with a reputation for getting the job done. Perhaps she wanted someone with the same strength of character as her own?
One of the best scenes in the movie comes early. Mattie argues with a horse trader, wanting compensation for a horse of her fatherís stolen while under the traderís care, as well as a refund for four ponies her father bought. This is where we see that Mattie, although young, is intelligent and capable of looking after her interests. The trader meets most of her demands and is relieved to see her leave.
Cogburnís character is revealed when he gives evidence in court. Itís clear that heíll kill if necessary, and that he thinks itís often necessary. After another negotiation, Mattie secures his services to search for Tom Chaney (Brolin), her fatherís killer.
The other main character is LaBoeuf (Damon), a Texas Ranger who has been tracking Chaney for another crime. He wants to team up with Cogburn as both have the same goal, but they are unable to convince Mattie to stay behind and the trio end up together.
The dialogue doesnít follow that of traditional Westerns. The characters are generally well-spoken and intelligent and donít use contractions. This has the effect of making the dialogue sound formal and more important. Some of the accents are thick, but youíll soon get used to it.
After an argument with Cogburn, LaBoeuf departs and leaves Cogburn and Mattie to fend for themselves. They look for shelter and find a shack occupied by two men. Cogburn finds out some valuable information to aid the search and learns that Chaney has joined a gang which is due to arrive at the shack. Cogburn and Mattie hide and wait for them to show up.
LaBoeuf later rejoins the pair and the main action occurs when the trio meets the gang. Mattie proves her worth and both Cogburn and LaBoeuf have important parts to play in the conflict. Cogburn is not always drunk and proves very capable when the situation calls for it.
While not as quirky as other Coen films, True Grit contains plenty of humor. The dialogue is fast and the wits of the main characters are sharp. Each has some memorable lines. There isnít a huge amount of action. Itís more about the setup and the dynamic between the trio. We see more of the journey than the eventual confrontation. It has the effect of making the story well-rounded and thereís enough background information for us to feel like we know the characters by the end of the movie.
The conclusion jumps forward 25 years and we are shown what happens to the characters. It's a good way to end the story.
The Texas and New Mexico locations look stunning in this presentation and colors are bright and well-defined. Fine detail is exceptional and you can clearly pick out patterns in the dirt and see individual pieces of straw. Grain is barely visible in the majority of scenes, but thereís no loss of detail. Paramount has delivered a wonderful transfer and I canít think of a better-looking live action movie.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track also shines. Whether itís horses galloping, insects, wind or gunfire, everything sounds the way it should. What really impresses me is the depth of sound in quieter scenes. There is so much detail. The excellent dialogue is well-defined and thereís nothing to fault in the audio presentation.
There are just over an hour of additional features on the release and all are in full HD:
Mattieís True Grit (5:13) Ė Telling the story of Steinfeldís audition, her preparation for the role and working with the Coen brothers.
From Bustles to Buckskin Ė Dressing for the 1880s (8:02) Ė Interviews with the costume designer and some of the cast.
Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western (4:41) Ė Explaining the choice of guns used by the main trio.
Re-Creating Fort Smith (11:20) Ė Showing how the set was put together.
The Cast (5:25) Ė Interviews with Bridges, Damon, Steinfeld, Brolin and Barry Pepper.
Charles Portis - The Greatest Writer You've Never Heard Of (30:54) Ė An extensive look at the career of writer Charles Portis.
Cinematography (2:57) Ė Roger Deakins talks about some of the shots in the movie.
There should be an Oscar for best Blu-ray presentation. True Grit would certainly be nominated. If youíre a fan of the film, youíll be delighted with the whole package. The crew researched the time period thoroughly and the result feels authentic. I would recommend this even if youíre not a fan of the genre