High Definition Matters

High-Definition Matters #20 (17 BD reviews)

April 05, 2011 - 5:41 pm   |   By 

In this edition of High Definition Matters, I've got 17 reviews for you: Conviction, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Love & Other Drugs, and Unstoppable (from Fox); Morning Glory (from Paramount); Get Low (from Sony); Network and Hereafter (from Warner Bros.); Glorious 39 and Fair Game (from Entertainment One); The Mikado, and Amarcord (from Criterion); Mona Lisa, Pleasantville, The Last Exorcism, and The Fighter (from Alliance Canada); and Uncle Buck (from Universal).

 

I've also updated the Blu-ray release schedule which you can access elsewhere on the site.

 

 

What I've Looked At Recently

 

The title of Glorious 39, a film now out on Blu-ray from Entertainment One, refers to the generally marvelous weather that characterized summer in England as the war in Europe approached in 1939.

 

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As one gets into the film, however, the title takes on added significance as it becomes clear that although the weather may have been glorious, there was not a glorious unanimity of purpose among all the British people towards the onrushing conflict with Hitler's Germany. The Keyes family headed by the very influential but soft-spoken Conservative Party member Alexander Keyes (Bill Nighy) and his quiet, gardening-obsessed wife (Jenny Agutter) is one of historic privilege. The couple has two children of their own (played by Eddie Redmayne and Juno Temple) and a third, Anna, the eldest, who was adopted (Romola Garai). The story that Glorious 39 weaves about this family is a complex one of events that seem to revolve around Anna, including the family's involvement with a shadowy government functionary (Jeremy Northam) and the discovery of a trove of 78-rpm records that contain, rather than the music listed on the labels, secret recordings of conversations related to pro- and anti-Hitler appeasement advocates. As Anna delves more deeply in these events and struggles to understand her family's possible role in them, she finds herself increasingly isolated by the rest of the family and ultimately held as their prisoner. The film is a low-key thriller with a surrealistic air, particularly in regard to real historic events that are presented in an exaggerated, almost other-worldly fashion. At 133 minutes in length, the film plays itself out in leisurely fashion, but maintains interest throughout due to the marvelous evocation of the times and a British cast that hasn't a weak link in it. Including those mentioned above, the film offers fine work by Julie Christie, Christopher Lee, David Tennant, Corin Redgrave, and Hugh Bonneville. Stephen Poliakoff directs with assurance and without artifice from his own script - one that sports a satisfying modern-day framing sequence that accentuates the intriguing and nicely-building drama within. Entertainment One's Blu-ray release of the BBC Films production delivers overall a very good 2.35:1 image that is at its best in the numerous outdoor location sequences. Colour fidelity is impressive and saturation is satisfying. Close-ups also look very nice with fine detail well captured and skin tones and textures looking very accurate. The transfer is not completely without problems, however, as some of the night-time and more-dimly lit sequences falter in terms of sharpness and clarity. The 5.1 DTS-HD sound offers strong precise dialogue with only casual use of the surrounds to accentuate suspenseful sequences. Adrian Johnston's score complements the dreamlike nature of much of the film very effectively and is well balanced with the dialogue. English subtitling is provided. The supplements consist of a short featurette on the set-up of one of the scenes, the trailer, and almost an hour's worth of short interviews/sound bites from a large selection of the cast members and the director. Recommended.

 

Fair Game is an effective and engrossing recounting of the events involved in the public outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson by the Bush administration in response to her husband Joe Wilson's editorial article claiming that the White House falsified intelligence used to justify the Iraq War.

 

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Based on books by both Wilsons, the film gives a fairly balanced accounting of both sides, but clearly favours that of the Wilsons which is only fair as subsequent investigations clearly showed how shamefully they were treated. The first half of the film is a well-structured inter-cutting of Valerie Wilson's intelligence work in the Middle East with the Washington-based analysis and application of such intelligence. The second half is a more emotional recounting of the impacts of Valerie's outing on her and her family life. The film's overall dramatization of an alarming and shameful episode of the Bush administration makes one very angry to know how callously and ultimately unpatriotically political power can be wielded. But then that's always one possible outcome when little men (or women) are given positions of responsibility well beyond their capabilities. As a political thriller, Fair Game succeeds admirably, particularly with the added luster of its basis in fact. The Wilsons are very well portrayed by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn and the array of administration figures is well cast with David Andrews's lizard-like portrayal of the Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby notably standing out. Entertainment One Canada's 2.40:1 Blu-ray is pretty much a direct port of the Summit release in the U.S. and that means we get a high grade image that captures the film's muted look quite accurately. Facial and clothing detail is well rendered and overall contrast is great with some very deep blacks apparent. There's no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The 5.1 DTS HD Master audio track is equally impressive with all channels delivering noticeable heft when called on, notably during some of the Iraq sequences. Dialogue is well balanced with sound effects and music and always easy to understand. English and Spanish subtitling are provided. The disc is light on supplements, but the one that's present is a very good one. It's an audio commentary by the real Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson, and it's fascinating to hear their comments on both the film, their characterizations by the actors, and the events portrayed. It starts off a little slowly but ramps up as the Wilsons become increasingly engaged. Recommended.

 

After 2009's Invictus, Clint Eastwood returned to form with this past year's Hereafter - a very engrossing dissection of the possibility of an afterlife.

 

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Matt Damon, working with Eastwood for a second straight time, stars as a blue-collar American named George who has a unique gift of being able to connect to the afterlife. For him it's a curse that affects his personal relationships and after dabbling in trying to make a living from it, he attempts to withdraw entirely from the field. George's life, however, will intersect with a French journalist trying to recover from a near-death experience and a young English boy whose twin brother was killed in a traffic accident. For each of the three, the possibility of an afterlife is a question to which they seek answers each in different ways, and the film satisfying inter-cuts the three stories. It of course provides no firm answers but does offer hope, in the process delivering a thought-provoking story that engrosses throughout. The film is shot in Eastwood's normal economical fashion, making fine use of its three different locations and real recent events. One of them involves the 2004 Thai tsunami that is recreated in frighteningly convincing fashion while the London sequences factor in the 2005 bombings. As has become common, Eastwood also contributes a meditative score that complements the story nicely. The acting from the principals - Matt Damon, Cecile de France, and Frankie and George McLaren as the twins - is uniformly good. The 2.40:1 Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. is impressive. It's difficult to single out one particular aspect; there's just a real film-like feel to the image - one that conveys colours, shadows, and detail in a realistic fashion throughout. There's no sign of digital manipulation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track is equally impressive, delivering the scenes of the tsunami or the bombings with startling presence and immersion while handling the many dialogue-driven ones with clarity and balance. The English soundtrack includes dialogue spoken in French for much of the French journalist segment of the film. For that, English subtitling is provided. Unfortunately it has been placed half in and half outside the frame so that Constant Image Height setups are compromised. Otherwise, the disc also contains a DD5.1 French soundtrack and subtitling in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The supplements are twofold. One consists of nine featurettes (about ¾ hour total) available individually or as part of an In-Movie experience. All involve Eastwood's participation as various aspects of the production are addressed in an informative manner. The other supplement is the 129-minute full-length version of Richard Schickel's look at the life and films of Clint Eastwood entitled The Eastwood Factor. Highly recommended.

 

It was sure a pleasure to see one of John Candy's best comedies, Uncle Buck, announced for Blu-ray release from Universal.

 

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The super-sized Candy was one of the most beloved of comedians who died far too young at age 43 almost two decades ago. After great success with Canada's SCTV, he fashioned a fine film career with titles such as Summer Rental, Stripes, Armed and Dangerous, Spaceballs, Trains Planes and Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, Cool Runnings, and of course Uncle Buck. Many of his films were collaborations with John Hughes, including the latter. In it he plays the single, seemingly unemployed, slob Buck Russell who agrees to babysit his nephew and two nieces when their parents are called away on a family emergency. Buck's approach to meal preparation and other household tasks is a great source of amusement to his two younger charges (Macauley Culkin and Gaby Hoffmannn), but rebellious teenage niece Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) is more of a challenge. Amy Madigan also appears as Buck's long-suffering girlfriend, Chanice. The entire cast is quite good, but the film is clearly Candy's as he barges through his short stay with his young relatives, chomping on a cigar (the first step in his 5-month program to quit smoking) and driving an oil-burning, back-firing, floating sofa of a car. Aside from the mere presence of Candy, the film works because Buck is not just played as a slapstick character, but also as one with a real sense of responsibility for his charges particularly in his attempts to reign in Tia. The film works its way to a satisfying conclusion, both in the positive influence that Buck has on the family situation, but also in the ambivalent manner in which his relationship with Chanice is left. It's a great film by which to remember John Candy. Universal's 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer could have done better by the film, but it's a passable effort. Some sequences are very sharp and nicely detailed, but others particularly at night-time lose definition. Skin tones are somewhat inconsistent too. The source material is fairly clean and exhibits no excessive digital manipulation. Despite Universal trumpeting "purest digital sound available" on the back of the case, all we get is a DTS lossy stereo mix that manages decent dialogue but nothing else. English SDH sub-titles are provided. There are no supplements. Shame on Universal for not doing better by both John Candy and Uncle Buck.

 

I was happy for the opportunity to return to 1998's Pleasantville for the first time since its DVD release 10 years ago.

 

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It's a thoughtful movie that recreates the 1950s TV sitcom in the form of a fictional such program called Pleasantville - a black and white town à la Leave to Beaver and Father Knows Best where everything that happens is expected and pleasant. Moms run the house and dads come home to dinner on the table and contented kids around it. David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are 1990s high school age siblings who find themselves transported back in time and space to Pleasantville after a strange TV repairman gives David a replacement TV remote. They take on the personas of Bud and Mary Sue, the two children of Pleasantville's central TV dad and mom, George and Betty Parker (William H. Macy and Joan Allen), but their presence in the town starts to have profound implications. David is happy to play along as Bud, but Jennifer is quickly bored with being Mary Sue and she introduces sexual knowledge that rouses emotions both good and bad among Pleasantville's youth with the result that their images change from black and white to full colour. The emotional revolution begins to spread to the adults, particularly the mild-mannered soda shop operator (Jeff Daniels) who becomes enamored of painting and Betty Parker who finds herself no longer satisfied by her restrictive motherly role. Soon the once pleasant town is fractured by confrontations between the black and whites and the coloureds. Pleasantville is very much a Gray Ross creation as he wrote, produced and directed, presenting the film as basically a parable on the story of the Garden of Eden and the introduction of temptation. It's an ambitious project that satisfies on all counts. The acting is uniformly excellent throughout with particular pleasure to be found in Joan Allen's nuanced transformation. In addition to the principals, look for solid work from J.T Walsh as the town's mayor in what proved to be his last film. The effective introduction of colour into a monochrome world was done by shooting in colour originally, scanning the film digitally at 2K, and then removing colour frame by frame as needing by the progression of the story. Alliance Canada has released the film on Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 image that is very pleasing indeed. Monochrome sequences offer a nicely graduated gray scale with very good contrast and blacks that are acceptably deep. When colour does start to be introduced into the monochrome world, those colours look vibrant whether primaries or secondaries. Overall, the image looks quite clean and modest grain is evident virtually throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track provides clear, crisp dialogue that's strongly centred with only occasional directionality. Surround action is limited to some sports-oriented sequences and a few involving crowds, but is effective on those few instances. Randy Newman's pleasing score is nicely highlighted. Spanish and Portuguese tracks and English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles (among others) are included. The Blu-ray ports over the same extras from the previous New Line DVD: audio commentary by Gary Ross, isolated score track with commentary by Randy Newman, a half-hour making-of documentary called The Art of Pleasantville, Fiona Apple performing an "Across the Universe" music video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and the theatrical trailer (none of the latter three in HD). Recommended. The Blu-ray is available in the U.S. from New Line (via Warner Bros.).

 

"The Mikado" is usually considered the most successful of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations - 14 comic operas that the pair produced between 1871 and 1896.

 

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The stories were mainly fashioned as absurdist commentaries on British life and politics, though sometimes with exotic settings such as Japan, the one used in "The Mikado". In 1939 the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted the Gilbert & Sullivan works for over a century, for the first and only time granted filming rights to "The Mikado". The result was a transatlantic effort that utilized American director Victor Schertzinger and singer Kenny Baker along with an otherwise British cast and crew and filming at Pinewood Studios outside London. Despite some pruning and rearrangement of the story and musical numbers, the flavour of the source material does shine through in this 1939 filmic The Mikado. There is no effort to open up the material as many film versions of stage plays do, rather there seems to have been a conscious effort to convey a theatrical feel to the presentation a decision that works to the absurdist material's favour. The decision to employ Technicolor turns out to be a crucial one as it allows the film to highlight the fantastic costumes and some exceptional production design by Marcel Vertes. Criterion has brought the film to Blu-ray in a very appealing full frame transfer (in accord with the original theatrical aspect ratio). Working from a 35mm interpositive as source material, the two most obvious characteristics of the transfer are the colour fidelity and the cleanliness. The colours are not as vivid as the most saturated Technicolor images, but they are bright and capture the rich variety and juxtaposition of colour tones in costuming, scenery, and skin-tones very well. There is modest grain apparent throughout. The only mis-step of consequence is some inconsistency in sharpness. The LPCM uncompressed mono sound conveys dialogue and music quite well, but some minor hiss and crackle can still be heard in the background. English SDH subtitling is provided. Criterion has managed to assembly quite a good suite of supplements, with all visual ones being in HD. Included are video interviews with director Mike Leigh (whose film Topsy Turvy dealt with the original genesis of "The Mikado") and with Gilbert & Sullivan scholars Josephine Lee and Ralph MacPhail Jr. There is also a deleted song sequence for "I've Got a Little List", four NBC Radio audio excerpts for musical numbers from two modernized versions of "The Mikado" staged on Broadway in 1939, and an 18-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien. An easy recommendation for Gilbert & Sullivan fans. Others may wish to try a rental first.

 

Any film that has trains in it can't be all bad, and if it's 2010's Unstoppable, it's quite entertaining indeed. The film, directed by Tony Scott, has a simple premise.

 

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A runaway train transporting deadly toxic chemicals is headed for Scranton, Pennsylvania where a sharp bend in the track is almost certain to cause a derailment in a densely-populated area. Only two men can stop it - a veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) and a young conductor (Chris Pine) who are manning another train on the same line. There's nothing particularly novel in the film, but it's very well executed by Scott who builds suspense effectively and orchestrates some tense action sequences. (But what's with the excessive and unnecessary camera movement?) Both Washington and Pine are likeable in their roles even if the combination of grizzled, no-nonsense veteran and fresh-faced, has-to-prove-himself newcomer is as old as the hills. The trains are filmed lovingly and there's some great footage of turntables, railroad yards, and level-crossing train passages to go with plenty of shots of trains roaring along under full throttle. The story was inspired by real events although if some of the decision-making depicted in the film is at all indicative of what really happened, one wonders why there aren't more train accidents. Fox has brought Unstoppable to Blu-ray with an impressive 2.40:1 image that's crisp and clean. Image detail is very good both in fore- and background. Colour fidelity appears accurate with the Pennsylvania countryside looking quite lush and verdant. Mild grain is evident while evidence of digital manipulation is minimal. Not surprisingly, the disc excels in its 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track. When you've got trains rumbling across the screen, you've got the perfect reason for aggressive sound and this mix offers it in spades. A totally immersive and LFE-laden experience that is easily one of the best of its kind. French, Spanish, and Portuguese DD5.1 tracks are provided as are subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The supplement package is nicely comprehensive too. The main items are two audio commentaries (one with Tony Scott alone and a second with Scott and writer Mark Bomback discussing all the aspects of film-making that shape the final script) and a half-hour making-of featurette that's a cut above the usual back-slapping EPK effort. Also included are three shorter featurettes focusing on specific aspects of the production and the original theatrical trailer. This is the sort of film that's bread and butter to video rental places. For train enthusiasts, it's an easy purchase recommend.

 

Get Low took over ten years to get made as the filmmakers struggled with studio support and financing, but I'm sure glad they persevered because the result is an engaging film that offers something a little different.

 

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The film title refers to its main character's expression for being buried. That main character, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), feels that his time is near and decides that he'd like to have a living funeral party for himself before he actually dies. He enlists the help of local undertaker Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) and assistant Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black) to make it happen. Felix, who has lived alone in the Tennessee backwoods for over 40 years, wants to have people invited to the funeral party who will tell their stories about him. His hope is that the process will help him to deal with secrets in his past life including one that involves old flame (and recent widow) Mattie (Sissy Spacek). For the most part, Get Low is a low-key film that lovingly invokes its small-town, Depression-era setting. It's a character study that evokes real people and provides a satisfying explanation of Felix's past. Robert Duvall delivers an intriguing and affecting performance of the haunted Felix character and Bill Murray continues his string of fine performances. The film stays long in the memory and will bear repeated viewings. Sony's 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer is superb. With Georgia standing in for Tennessee, exterior colour fidelity and detail is exemplary. The pristine image delivers accurate skin tones, beautifully textured costuming, and excellent contrast throughout highlighted by very deep blacks. The video is matched by the 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track which deliveres uniformly clear dialogue well balanced with the sound effects of the occasional more active scenes. The evocative score by Jan Kaczmarek is very nicely conveyed. A nice package of extras includes five short featurettes (mainly addressing different aspects of the production) and the theatrical trailer (all in HD). There is also a very informative and entertaining audio commentary, with director Aaron Schneider, producer Dean Zanuck, and actors Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek all contributing. Highly recommended.

 

The one thing that really sticks in one's mind and remains long after the film is over is the impact of Bob Hoskins' work in 1986's Mona Lisa.

 

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Yes, the film's dark British atmosphere and its marvelous depiction of the seamy sex trade is typically that of director and co-writer Neil Jordan, and we get nice performances by Michael Caine as an oily criminal kingpin and a reined-in Robbie Coltrane as a quirky friend of Hoskins'character. It's, however, Hoskins' working class hood, George, whose uncultured ways are tamed by the exotic and cunning call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) and who eventually falls in love with her that brushes all else aside. George, just out of jail after taking a fall for the Caine character, has virtually none of the social graces, dresses as though colour blind, and is prone to violent fits of temper, yet there's a sensitivity there, apparent in his increasing concern for Simone's welfare. He's a character that we come to care about very much despite his dodgy past and uncertain future. Hoskins' stolid demeanor and everyman look are perfectly suited to George and he makes the most of that advantage. Image released the film on Blu-ray last year and now Alliance Canada has made it available north of the border. The releases are identical. The 1.85:1 Blu-ray image only occasionally looks like HD. Some scenes are very crisp and nicely detailed, but most of the time everything looks somewhat soft and little better than standard DVD. Dark interior and night-time scenes are even rather murky at times. Colours fare pretty well in terms of fidelity throughout, although skin tones seem a little over heated. The film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio is a little disappointing as it seems to be focused across the fronts virtually exclusively. An immersive experuience is thus lacking, although what we do get is at least well balanced with some front directionality. A French mono track and English SDH subtitling are also provided. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended as a rental.

 

We actually got lucky last year with two romantic comedies that offered enthusiastic and likeable portrayals and familiar situations that at least provided a few fresh angles. One succeeded admirably while the other deserves marks for a good if uneven try. The films in question are respectively Paramount's Morning Glory and Fox's Love & Other Drugs.

 

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Morning Glory is a total delight throughout because its cast appears to be really enjoying their roles and the script allows each of the main characters to shine both alone and in concert with the others. Rachel McAdams stars as Becky, a TV show producer who finally gets her big break - the opportunity to resurrect a failing morning show in New York. Her task is not an easy one, given the self-centred and disparate show regulars she has to deal with. Chief among them is the current show anchor Colleen nicely played by Diane Keaton who agrees to go along with Becky's rather far-out ideas, but balks at the prospect of new co-anchor Mike (Harrison Ford). Mind you getting Mike himself to cooperate is difficult since he views himself as a pure newsman and believes morning shows are about everything but news. Harrison Ford has tried comedy before to rather mixed results, but he seems very comfortable here and comes off as well in a comedy as he has since the days of Working Girl over 20 years ago. Rachel McAdams is the heart of the film and she provides a warm and energetic performance that makes even the most familiar plot elements seem fresh and engaging. The film is well paced at a length of 1¾ hours. It offers no serious insights or pretensions, setting out merely to entertain in a lightly comedic, unself-conscious manner and succeeds admirably. Paramount's 2.40:1 Blu-ray transfer is seriously good - offering a sharp, very nicely detailed image that has a richly film-like feel throughout. All the positives that go along with that - light grain, natural colour, excellent contrast - and none of the negatives - digital smoothing, edge effects - are present. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track offers clear dialogue and a muted ambience that captures the big city setting effectively. The supplements consist of an audio commentary by director Roger Mitchell and writer Aline Brosh McKenna, and a deleted scene. Love & Other Drugs has a running time of only 5 minutes more, but seems 15-20 minutes longer. That's because it loses its momentum at about the 2/3 mark, slipping into a dramatic arc that compromises the earlier breezy material. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a Viagra salesman for Pfizer, who falls hard for the free-spirited Maggie (Anne Hathaway) who's suffered from stage one Parkinson's disease. Everything goes well for the pair and the film until Jamie has to attend a convention in Chicago. Maggie goes along, but sits in on a seminar for Parkinson's sufferers that hits both her and eventually Jamie hard, throwing their relationship into serious doubt. The shift in tone is unexpected; the film's and the audience's moods are altered; and though the two stars tackle the more somber tone forthrightly, the upbeat ending that inevitably comes now seems artificial rather than the naturally happy outcome that we would otherwise be quite content to see. Despite this lapse, the work of Gyllenhaal and Hathaway is so good and natural (both clothed and unclothed) throughout that the film is worth a visit. On the supporting side, look for some nice though too brief work by George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jamie's parents. The less said about Josh Gad's obnoxious efforts as Jamie's brother the better, though. Fox's 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer offers pretty much the same high quality as that of Morning Glory's, both video and audio. It's perhaps just a tick behind on the video side due to a few soft-looking shots. Both films offer a number of other sound tracks (including DD5.1 French and Spanish ones) and subtitles including English, French, and Spanish among others. Love & Other Drugs offers some deleted scenes, four featurettes (in HD), and the theatrical trailer as supplements. Morning Glory is warmly recommended for purchase while Love & Other Drugs is suggested as a rental.

 

The Last Exorcism is presented in the style of a documentary in which a slick-talking evangelist (Reverend Cotton Marcus, played by Patrick Fabian) is being profiled.

 

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The centrepiece of the filming is to be one final exorcism that he is going to perform, his having had a crisis of faith and being now willing to reveal some of the trickery that goes on behind his so-called exorcisms. Cotton and the camera crew travel to Louisiana where they are confronted with a situation involving a sweet-looking girl, her wild-eyed father, and strange brother - one that proves to be far more evil than the routine situation they had expected. The film starts off rather promisingly with an engaging performance from Fabian, but eventually degenerates in style and content to a pastiche of other horror films such as The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist, Children of the Corn, and so on. Its first misstep is to mention The Exorcist film, and with that in mind, we start to draw comparisons much to the detriment of The Last Exorcist. Its second half is a litany of cheap scares, head-turnings, vomit, blood, and the usual inexplicably bad decisions by the main characters. Toss in an incredibly bad ending and annoyingly excessive use of shaky hand-held camera work that some directors feel compelled to use in the guise of presenting reality and you've got a product whose home video incarnation provides an excellent opportunity to save money. Alliance Canada's 1.78:1 Blu-ray presentation is hit and miss. Daytime sequences look nicely rendered with a degree of depth and good facial and texture detail, but night-time shots look murky at times. Colour intensity is similarly afflicted. A 7.1 DTS-HD Master audio track graces the disc and is underutilized particularly in terms of surround activity. LFE are isolated and dialogue directionality even more so. A French sound track and English and Spanish subtitles are provided. The supplement package seems like overkill, providing three audio commentaries, a making-of featurette, audition footage for the main cast members, and a teaser and theatrical trailer. A DVD copy of the film is included. Alliance's release duplicates that of Lionsgate in the U.S..

 

I recognize Amarcord's reputation as one of Federico Fellini's more accessible films, but it doesn't work for me.

 

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It's a film that attempts to satirize the director's youth by presenting it as a carnival-like depiction of the people and events of a provincial Italian seaside town during the fascist period. There is an apt comparison to be made with Fellini's I Vitelloni, a film he made 20 years earlier in 1953. The town depicted there and the people in it and events that affect them seem real. There is a continuity to the story that entrances. In Amarcord, characters are too often mere caricatures, and events, despite being presented as those occurring as the seasons of one year pass, feel disjointed and contrived more for their effect as spectacle than as parts of a narrative flow. It's a film that is less than the sum of its parts, amusing though some of those parts may be depending upon your reaction to Fellini's obsessions with mis-shapen people, bodily functions, and women's rear ends and breasts. Despite the film's shortcomings, there are few to worry about in Criterion's Blu-ray presentation of it. The 1.85:1 transfer is an improvement over the 2006 2-disc DVD presentation, offering a clearer, sharper image and better consistency of colour. Colours do appear accurate though muted in vibrancy. There is ample grain in evidence, and some edge effects are apparent at times. The LPCM mono sound is in good shape, with clear dialogue unaffected by hiss or crackle. Nino Rota's engaging nostalgia-inducing score is well conveyed. English sub-titling is good and an English dubbed sound track is also included. The supplement package is an extensive one, duplicating what was provided on the 2006 DVD release though all now in HD (though not all progressive). The key items are a very good documentary on Amarcord featuring Fellini and an audio commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke. Highly recommended for Amarcord fans. Others new to the film should try a rental first.

 

Network is the 1976 television satire that merely continues to improve with age. With a devastating skewering of the ratings obsession that at times paralyzes TV creativity courtesy of a wonderful Paddy Chayefsky script and a powerful cast that delivers top-notch performances right across the board, the film is one of those experiences that excites no matter how many times you've seen.

 

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Peter Finch's Oscar-winning performance as the newsman who announces that he's going to kill himself on air is the most recognizable one ("I'm mad as hell, and…") and Faye Dunaway also scored an Oscar, but for my money it's William Holden who deserves the acting honours with a thoughtfully powerful take on the fired news department head who takes up with the woman (Dunaway) who effectively forced him out. Holden is an actor whose body of work over some 40 years looks better and better all the time. Network has already appeared on DVD three times (an early edition from MGM, a reissue under the Warner Bros. label, and a 2005 2-disc special edition from Warners). Now we have Warners' 35th anniversary Blu-ray release, looking crisper and offering better detail than the last DVD edition. There's a modest feeling of dimensionality, but best of all the film's noticeable grain character has been retained while reducing the murky nature of many of the scenes. The DTS-HD lossless mono track is very effective in delivering the dialogue-driven film with clarity and some forcefulness. French and Spanish mono tracks and English, French, and Spanish subtitling is provided. The supplements (duplicating those on the 2-disc DVD) begin with a thorough audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet who speaks continuously throughout the film and delivers a vast array of information on all aspects of the production. Lumet has an engaging speaking style that enhances the commentary experience. The most impressive supplement is a six-part making-of documentary that lasts almost an hour and a half in length. Individual sections focus on writer Paddy Chayefsky, the film's casting, the sequence in which the Peter Finch character speaks his famous line ("I'm mad as hell…"), the film's rehearsal process, camera and lighting issues, and reflections from Walter Cronkite. Other supplements include a fine hour-long edition of "Private Screenings" in which Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne interviews Lumet, a vintage interview of Chayefsky on Dinah Shore's TV show, and the original theatrical trailer. Very highly recommended.

 

I must admit that I started to watch Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps with some trepidation. Returning to the same ground of a highly successful film some 20 years later often smacks of desperation on the part of a filmmaker or an actor intent on recapturing past glory.

 

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In this case it's to some extent both - director Oliver Stone and actor Michael Douglas. Fortunately, the sequel has a rather good script that captures the market fallout of the recent economic upheavals very well, from both a company and individual point of view. Gordon Gekko (Douglas) is out of prison and seeking a way back into the action he used to command. He finds a way in via young trader Jake (Shia LeBoeuf) enamored of the potential of alternate energy sources and Jake's fiancé who happens to be Gekko's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Douglas is in good form as Gekko and there's some solid support from Josh Brolin as a Wall Street manipulator. LeBeouf and Mulligan are both less persuasive in their roles and this diminishes the impact of the Gekko family feel-good aspects of the story. The latter, however, are easily outweighed by the film's portrayal of the Wall Street environment and the financial machinations behind market downturns and attempts to manage their results. The result is a thoughtful piece of entertainment on balance (plus a nice opportunity to see 95-year-old Eli Wallach still very effectively in action). Fox's 2.35:1 Blu-ray presentation is an impressive complement. Colour fidelity is noticeably good, and image depth and detail are excellent in both day and night sequences. The absence of any significant evidence of digital manipulation adds to the very film-like experience. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track focuses on delivering the strongly centre-rooted dialogue with strength and clarity. Surround activity is confined to muted ambient effects that create some realistic settings, particularly in the busy trading rooms. French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks are included as is subtitling in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The supplements are highlighted by a typically packed, informative, and insightful audio commentary by Oliver Stone. There are also a roundtable discussion between Stone and the main cast members, a 5-part making-of documentary (50 minutes), deleted scenes (30 minutes with optional commentary from Stone), and the theatrical trailer (all in HD). Recommended.

 

So, does the title of the film The Fighter refer to Micky Ward, a stepping stone for other fighters who finally gets the shot he's always wanted, or to his brother Dicky who had his shot and is now addicted to crack, but still thinks that a comeback is possible at age 40?

 

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The answer could be either, but it doesn't really make any difference which of the two it is. Both men are fighters both in the ring and out, struggling with an oppressive family in Mickey's case or with drugs in Dicky's. The Fighter has the same heart as that of another fine boxing film, Rocky, but a more realistic and intense story to bear that heart. The film is superbly acted, particularly by Christian Bale as Dicky in a thoroughly entrancing performance, stylistically far removed from most of Bale's other work and with almost the same transformative physical adaptation to a role that Bale displayed in The Machinist. The effort merited the Oscar that Bale received, though it could just as easily been as Best Actor rather than Best Supporting Actor given the amount of screen time. Mark Wahlberg is top billed as Micky and he too delivers an engaging effort in trying to define a man struggling to come to grips with a suffocating family and a sibling relationship with Dicky that has as many negatives as positives. He's physically right for the role too, having devoted himself to a regular workout regime over four years leading up to filming. Melissa Leo as Micky and Dicky's controlling mother and Amy Adams as Micky's girlfriend are both very well cast, while the actors who make up Micky's strange, shrieking sisters are an odd lot indeed. Director David O. Russell has taken a real-life story with many familiar boxing elements and managed to make the whole seem fresh, partly because it's a story about a family that has to be seen to be believed. Certainly one of the best films of 2010. Alliance Canada's 2.35:1 Blu-ray release (available from Paramount in the U.S.) is excellent. The level of image detail evident is uniformly impressive from facial features to costume textures to the interior and exterior locations of the Lowell, Massachusetts setting. Light grain is evident throughout and evidence of digital manipulation is minimal. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track is equally impressive. It excels during the fight scenes with a thoroughly immersive experience that makes you feel you're right in the crowd watching the fight. Generally the film's other elements - dialogue, street noises, pop music soundtrack - are equally well handled in terms of dynamicism and balance. A French DD5.1 track and English and French subtitles are included. The disc has a nice suite of extras including a wide-ranging audio commentary by the director, a good making-of documentary (30 minutes), a short featurette in which the real-life brothers discuss their family's boxing background, about a quarter hour of deleted scenes with optional director commentary, and the theatrical trailer (all of the latter four in HD). A DVD copy of the film is included on a separate disc. Highly recommended.

 

Conviction is an inspirational true story based on the pursuit of righting a wrong caused by a legal system gone astray.

 

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The story is rooted in family, specifically two close siblings, Betty Anne and Kenny Waters, whose relationship is fractured when Kenny is accused, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he says he didn't commit. Betty Anne vows to prove her brother's innocence and have his conviction overturned. Conviction is basically about her struggle to do so including going to law school and becoming a lawyer, and pursuing the forensic evidence that she is convinced will aid her case. The success of any such inspirational film as this is very much dependent on how convincing the actors are, or in this case how much conviction they demonstrate. Fortunately both Hilary Swank as Betty Anne and Sam Rockwell as Kenny are up to the task. Swank is particularly good, delivering her best performance in several years. Rockwell is effective although the Kenny he gives us is not a particularly warm or likable guy. One of the film's best performances is given by Melissa Leo as an over-zealous police officer who allows her desire for a conviction to over-ride proper due process. Overall the film is an engrossing experience, but not one likely to demand repeated viewings. Fox's 1.85:1 Blu-ray presentation looks quite good. Detail is very pleasing, but overall sharpness is degraded by a few soft sequences. Colours appear accurate with flesh tones looking very impressive. Modest grain is evident throughout and there's no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio track is unremarkable. Dialogue is crisp and strong, nicely centred with little directionality. Surround activity is very limited. French and Spanish DD5.1 tracks are provided as well as English and Spanish subtitling. The only supplement is a short discussion between director Tony Goldwyn and the real Betty Anne Waters. Recommended as a rental.

 

Barrie Maxwell

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Adam Jahnke

The Twin Peaks Blu-ray set is one of the most beautifully packaged home video sets I have ever seen.

by Adam Jahnke