Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Upcoming Blu-ray releases August 1-6




US Blu-ray releases

August 2

Adrenaline Rush – The Science of Risk
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts (Limited Edition)
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts Season One
Better Off Dead
Braveheart / Gladiator
Casshern Sins: Complete Collection
Coming to America / Trading Places
Conan the Barbarian (Extended Cut)
Conan the Destroyer
Copycat
Defiance / Enemy at the Gates
Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
Exporting Raymond
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (25th Anniversary Packaging)
A Fistful of Dollars
For a Few Dollars More
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Part 5
The Godfather / The Godfather Part II
Heart: Live
Hell’s Kitchen: Season 5 – Raw and Uncensored
Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook
The Magnificent Seven
Marvel Knights Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. / Iron Man: Extremis
The Name of the Rose
Outside the Law
The Perfect Game
Return of the Seven
Rifftrax: Live! House on Haunted Hill
Rifftrax: Live! Reefer Madness
Rio
Sands of the Kalahari
Sheryl Crow: Live
Shutter Island / Primal Fear
Sleepers
Soul Surfer
Spy Kids
Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams
Spy Kids 3: Game Over
Stake Land
Truth Be Told
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Season Two
Wayne’s World / Wayne’s World 2
Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking


Canadian Blu-ray releases

August 2

Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts (Limited Edition)
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts Season One
Better Off Dead
Black Sheep / Tommy Boy
Braveheart / Gladiator
Coming to America / Trading Places
Conan the Barbarian (Extended Cut)
Conan the Destroyer
Copycat
Defiance / Enemy at the Gates
Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
Exporting Raymond
A Fistful of Dollars
For a Few Dollars More
The Godfather / The Godfather Part II
Heart: Live
Ironclad
The Italian Job / Shooter
Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook
Last Night
The Magnificent Seven
The Name of the Rose
Outside the Law
Return of the Seven
Rio
Scenic Routes Around the World: Africa
Scenic Routes Around the World: Asia
Scenic Routes Around the World: Europe
Scenic Routes Around the World: Far East
Scenic Routes Around the World: The Pacific
Scenic Routes Around the World: South America
Sheryl Crow: Live
Shutter Island / Primal Fear
Sleepers
Soul Surfer
Stake Land
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Season Two
Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking


UK Blu-ray releases

August 1

Across the Line: The Exodus of Charlie Wright
The Company Men
Faster
Hobo with a Shotgun
Inhale
Janacek: Jenufa
The Lavender Hill Mob (60th Anniversary Edition)
Limitless
The Silent House
Submarine
Super
Turnage: Anna Nicole
The Twilight Zone: Season 3
The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell
Various: Achucarro & Rattle - Nights in the Gardens of Spain
WWE Extreme Rules 2011


Australian Blu-ray releases

August 1

Legends of the Fall

August 3

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
The Guns of Navarone
Just Go With It
Never Let Me Go
Robot Chicken: Star Wars Special 3

August 4

Big Jake
Defiance
Downton Abbey: Season One
Grindhouse
Hop
The Lincoln Lawyer
A Man Called Horse
Once Upon a Time in the West
Primeval: The Complete Series Five
Rio Lobo
Top Gear: The Complete Season 15


French Blu-ray releases

August 2

Blue Crush 2
The King of Fighters
Space Battleship Yamato
Stake Land
Thor: Hammer of the Gods

August 3

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Just Go With It
Titeuf
Titeuf 3D

August 6

I Am Number Four

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trust: An important story and one of the best films 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

Video:
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio:
English, French: TrueHD 5.1
English, French: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles:
English, French

Disc:
Single 25 GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4/5

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 captivated 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.

Video Quality 3.5/5
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.

Audio Quality 4/5
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.

Special Features 2/5

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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Source Code: Duncan Jones builds on the success of Moon


Source Code (Thriller, Sci-Fi)
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright

Summit Entertainment | 2011 | 93 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Jul 26, 2011

Video:
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles:
English SDH, Spanish

Disc:
Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc
Bonus View (PiP)

The Movie 4/5

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.

Video Quality 4.5/5
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.

Audio Quality 4.5/5
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.

Special Features 2.5/5

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.

Overall score 4/5 

Click here to see where Source Code ranks among my Top 20 science fiction movies.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Directed by David Yates
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman and Maggie Smith

Warner Bros. | 2011 | 130 min | Rated PG-13 | Released Jul 15, 2011 (Theaters)

The Film 4.5/5

I’m a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. I have read all of the books and own the first seven movies. My favorite in the series is the Prisoner of Azkaban, while I rate Deathly Hallows Part 1 as the weakest entry.

It seems that Part 1 moves slowly and contains too many insignificant scenes. In contrast, this final installment feels a little rushed. It runs about two hours before the credits start to roll and tries to cram in the final showdown, while tying up as many loose ends as possible. Some of the threads are resolved using rather clumsy exposition and deserved more screen time. My final quibble involves the use of quick cuts to increase the sense of action. The story was good enough to do that on its own and I didn’t feel that it was necessary to turn some of the scenes into something resembling Bourne.

Although the movie isn’t perfect, it’s still a fine way to end a thoroughly enjoyable franchise.


I can’t imagine that this final entry will be seen by many people who avoided the first seven movies, and that’s a good thing. The story picks up right where Part 1 ended and introduces us to many of the characters from the first seven movies. It wouldn’t have much impact as a standalone movie and it’s not supposed to. I’m interested in seeing the two final parts together to see whether Part 1 works better. In fact, I’ll watch all eight movies when the final Blu-ray is released.

The story follows Harry, Ron and Hermione in their search for the remaining horcruxes. The first hunt is a spectacular affair which is heavy on the special effects and action. I’m aware that many viewers will not have read the books, so I’m not going to spoil anything. If you read the final book, you’ll be aware of which sequence I’m referring to. 


For anyone who complained about the absence of scenes involving Hogwarts in Part 1, much of the action takes place at the school in this concluding part. What struck me is how different Hogwarts looked when we were first introduced to the world of Harry Potter. Gone are the vibrant colors and whimsical interactions with ghosts or paintings. Instead, be prepared to enter a dark setting. I mean that literally as the setting is extremely dim for about 95 percent of the movie; think Gotham City for a comparison.

Another thing that I noticed is how much the acting has improved. The main characters were around 11 years old when the franchise was born, so they are about 21 now. Radcliffe held his own in scenes involving some of the best British character actors of their generation. Watson and Grint played their parts well, and it’s a tribute to the original casting that the franchise has developed as well as it has.

It should be noted how important some of the supporting actors are to the success of the franchise. Can you imagine anyone other than Alan Rickman as Snape? His story is one of the most interesting in the series and sees a fitting conclusion. I’m also fond of Maggie Smith’s portrayal of McGonagall and love her role in the final installment. You’ll see actors that have appeared infrequently given a little recognition, and they deserve it.


I watched the movie with a large audience made up of children and adults into their sixties. Although the sense of evil was always present and the setting was dark, the audience found plenty of scenes worthy of laughter. It’s a truly entertaining movie.

The movie might have improved if 30 minutes were added so that everything felt less rushed, but it could have affected the tension if we were given more chances to breathe. The sense of scale reminded me of some of the battles seen in Lord of the Rings. Replace Voldemort’s minions with orcs, and there were quite a few similarities.

Fans of the Harry Potter franchise, and I am among them, will be pleased with the way everything is wrapped up. After a disappointment in Part 1, the conclusion was worthy of the story created in the first seven movies. To see who lives, who dies, and what happens to the survivors, you’ll have to check it out for yourself. I thoroughly recommend the experience.

The Blu-ray release should be spectacular, despite the grim setting. The explosions and battle scenes will rock your home theater.

Return to index of every review on the site.

Upcoming Blu-ray releases July 25-28




US Blu-ray releases

July 25

Bach: Orchestral Suites No.1, 2 & 3 / Tripelkonzert
Beethoven / Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
Bruckner: Symphonies No. 7 & 8
E!
Element
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Gustav Holst: Planets
Johann Strauss: The New Year’s Concert in Vienna
Lucid Dream
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor 'Resurrection'
Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 25 & 39
Mozart: Symphonies No. 40 & 35
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Boris Godunov, Night on Bare Mountain
Space or Dream of Life
Spatial Dynamics
Subspecies
Tchaikovsky Overtures: Romeo and Juliet / 1812
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies No.5&6
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Concertos for Double Orchestra
Wagner: The Best of Overtures & Preludes
The Way to Paradise

July 26

Angel Beats! Complete Collection
Another Take On Catherine
The Blues Brothers
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Dante’s Peak
Donnie Darko (10th Anniversary Edition)
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
Grieg / Thommessen: Veslemoy Synsk
High and Low (Criterion Collection)
Ironclad
Justice League: Season Two
The King of Fighters
Leon Morin, Priest (Criterion Collection)
Life During Wartime (Criterion Collection)
Matrimony
Monamour
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Red Planet
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale
Soldier
Source Code
Source Code / Knowing
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series
Supernatural: The Anime Series
Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame
Trust
The Twelve Kingdoms, Part 1: Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Various: Achucarro & Rattle - Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Various: Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra The Salzburg Concerts
Winter in Wartime
WWE: Greatest Stars of the New Millennium

July 28

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - The New Dimension of Sound Series
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 


Canadian Blu-ray releases

July 26

200 Mph
2012: Ice Age
Almighty Thor
Angel Beats! Complete Collection
Big (Extended Edition)
Bloodrayne: The Third Reich
The Blues Brothers
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
Dante’s Peak
The Day After Tomorrow
Devil Dog: Hound of Hell
Donnie Darko (10th Anniversary Edition)
The Five Deadly Venoms
Grieg / Thommessen: Veslemoy Synsk
High and Low
Independence Day
Justice League: Season Two
Last of the Mohicans
Little Miss Sunshine
Man on Fire
Monamour
National Lampoon’s Animal House
The Other Man
Red Planet
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale
Say Anything
Scary Movie 4
Shark Week: The Great Bites Collection
Shark Week: Restless Fury
Sideways
Soldier
Source Code
Speed 1
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series
Supernatural: The Anime Series
Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame
Trust
The Twelve Kingdoms, Part 1: Shadow of the Moon, the Sea of Shadow
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Various: Achucarro & Rattle - Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Various: Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra the Salzburg Concerts
Winter in Wartime
WWE: Greatest Stars of the New Millennium


UK Blu-ray releases

July 25

American Graffiti
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Chocolat
Cry-Baby
Dazed and Confused
Elvis Costello: Spectacle Season 2
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Hillsong: Live
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
The Lincoln Lawyer
Middle Men
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Scream of the Banshee
Went the Day Well?

July 26

Romantic City: London


Australian Blu-ray releases

July 25

Taxi Driver

July 26

Dazed and Confused

July 27

American Graffiti
Animal House
Apocalypse Now (Collector’s Edition Metal Slipcase)
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
Ever After
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Ladyhawke
Platoon
The Rite
Soldier Blue
The Thin Red Line
Tigerland

July 28

The Way Back (In the Frame review)


French Blu-ray releases

July 26

The Adjustment Bureau
Red Eagle
Red Eagle / Watchmen

July 28

Escaflowne: The Movie
Tributes - Pulse




Monday, July 18, 2011

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Miyazaki's first masterpiece

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Animation, Action, Adventure)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf

Disney / Buena Vista | 1984 | 118 min | Rated PG | Released Mar 08, 2011

Video:
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio:
English, French, Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles:
English, English SDH, French

Discs:
50GB Blu-ray Disc
DVD copy

The Film 5/5

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 Nausicaä 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.

Nausicaä 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 Nausicaä (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. Nausicaä 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. Nausicaä helps save Lord Yupa (Stewart), a master swordsman, from an enraged ohm.

Yupa knows Nausicaä 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 Nausicaä interacts with strangers later in the story. She’s an easy character to love.


Nausicaä’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 Nausicaä 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, Nausicaä 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, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind shows us a vast world. We explore some of it and see Nausicaä 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. Nausicaä 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.

Video Quality 4.5/5
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.

Audio Quality 4/5
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.

Special Features 3/5

The additional features are split between the BD and the DVD.

As with other Miyazaki films, Nausicaä 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 Nausicaä (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)

Nausicaä 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 Nausicaä 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.

Overall score 4.5/5

Return to index of every review on the site. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Limitless: Everything is possible when you open your mind

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:
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles:
English SDH, French, Spanish

Discs:
Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc
Digital copy

The Film 4/5

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.

Video Quality 4.5/5
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.

Audio Quality 4.5/5
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.

Special Features 2.5/5

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.

Digital copy

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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lost Highway: Journey into the mind of a killer

Lost Highway (drama, mystery, thriller)
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty and Robert Loggia

Concorde Video | 1997 | 135 min | Rated FSK-16 | Released May 05, 2011

Video:
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio:
English, German: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles:
German (optional)

Disc:
Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4.5/5

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.

Video Quality 4.5/5
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.

Audio Quality 4.5
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.

Special Features 1/5

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.

Trailer (1:46)

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Upcoming Blu-ray releases July 18-23



US Blu-ray releases

July 19

Amelie
Beauty and the Beast (Criterion Collection)
Belly of the Beast
Best of Travel: South Africa
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyz n the Hood
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Chocolat
Desert Flower
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One
Gungrave: Complete Series
Hellraiser: Hellworld
House of the Rising Sun
Limitless
The Music Room (Criterion Collection)
NHL Stanley Cup Champions 2011
Nowhere to Run
Peep World
Potiche
Red Sox: A Decade of Champions
The Reef
Rifftrax Live! House on Haunted Hill
Rifftrax: Live! Reefer Madness
Shark Week: Restless Fury
Sweeney Todd / Sleep Hollow
Take Me Home Tonight
Tekken
Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series


Canadian Blu-ray releases

July 19

10,000 BC Steelbook
2001: A Space Odyssey Steelbook
300 Steelbook
After Life
Batman Begins Steelbook
Beauty and the Beast (Criterion Collection)
Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World
Bitch Slap
The Blues Brothers
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyz n the Hood
Crack in the World
The Dark Knight Steelbook
The Departed Steelbook
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One
Fearless / Unleashed
Goodfellas Steelbook
Gun
Gungrave: Complete Series
Hannie Caulder
Heat Steelbook
I Am Legend Steelbook
Largo Winch: Ultimatum
Life During Wartime
Limitless
The Matrix Steelbook
The Music Room (Criterion Collection)
NHL Stanley Cup Champions 2011
Ocean’s Thirteen Steelbook
Perrier’s Bounty
The Runaways
Steve Morse: Sects, Dregs & Rock N Roll
Stunt Man
Superman Returns Steelbook
Survival of the Dead
Sweeney Todd / Sleepy Hollow
Sword of War
Tekken
Torchwood: The Complete Original UK Series
Triage
V For Vendetta Steelbook
What Doesn’t Kill You


UK Blu-ray releases

July 18

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Anuvahood
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Blue Crush 2
Carmen
Cars Life 2
Casshern Sins: Part 2
Coast: Series 6
Country Strong
Deep End
Deep End Collector’s Edition
The Eagle
Faster
Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
The Funhouse
Legends of Flight 3D
Magic of Flight
Requiem for a Village
The Round Up
A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures
Verdi: Aida
World War II: 360
Xam’d: Lost Memories – Collection 1

July 22

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


Australian Blu-ray releases

July 20

Carlos the Jackal
The Warrior’s Way

July 21

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
An Idiot Abroad
The Mechanic
The Millennium Trilogy
[REC] 2
The Reef
Sword of War


French Blu-ray releases

July 19

Assault Girls
Nude Nuns with Big Guns
Patiala House
Run Bitch Run!
Samourai Avenger: The Blind Wolf
Volcanic

July 20

127 Hours / Into the Wild
American Virgin
Avant l’aube (The Night Clerk)
The Big Bang
Hitler est kaput!
Le Marquis
Red Hill

July 23

Drive Angry 3D
True Grit (In the Frame review) / No Country for Old Men