Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Silvertongues are those who have the amazing ability to read a book out loud and have the characters come to life. Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) was unaware that he had this amazing ability when he began reading to his baby daughter. Twelve years later, Mo, a book buyer, is visiting an old bookshop and finds a book that he has long been searching for, Inkheart. When leaving the store, Mo in intercepted by Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) who is seeking his help and warns him that people are looking for him to make him read out loud. Mo takes his daughter Meggie (Eliza Bennett) to eccentric great-aunt Elinor’s (Helen Mirren) home in an attempt to elude his captors.
The hooligans don’t take long in tracking them and taking them prisoner. While jailed, Mo explains his gift to Meggie and Elinor. He tells them how he brought the captors to life by reading Inkheart aloud and that when they came out, Meggie’s mother, Teresa (Sienna Guillory), went in. One of the villains, Capricorn (Andy Serkis), intends to keep Mo enslaved so he bring to life anything that he desires. Dustfinger helps Mo, Meggie, and Elinor escape so that Mo can put him back into the book to return to his family. The adventure continues as the group tries to stop Capricorn and save Teresa.
Based on Cornelia Funke’s bestseller, Inkheart is a surprisingly fun action adventure that offers an original story and interesting characters. The movie includes a great cast with Fraser, Bettany, Mirren, and the always-good Jim Broadbent leading the way. Young Bennett is also delightful and holds her own while working with these acting greats.
The video is presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ration of 2.4:1. The film uses a limited color palette frequent use of blacks, particularly with the bad guys, that blend together in low light situations. Textures seen in the foreground are clear, but their sharpness falls away in the background. The establishing shots in the mountains become a blur of colors. One problem comes from the poor choice by the costumer to give Fraser a corduroy jacket. When it stays on screen too long in the same shot and position, it causes a slight bit of aliasing.
The audio defaults to Dolby Digital English 5.1, but is also available as Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 as well. It is mixed rather low, and requires the volume cranked up to hear the dialogue. There is minimal surround, mainly just music with a little bit of ambiance, such as the whispers from the books. The front speakers do a good job of placement, such as a train passing by or characters shooting flames on different sides of a hallway. The subwoofer stands out during the Shadow’s appearance at the climactic battle.
The special feature offering is a bit sparse but what is included is worth watching. “A Story from the Cast and Crew” introduces the game “Tell Me a Story” that viewers can later play with friends and family. Funke starts the game by providing the first sentence of a story, the members of the cast and crew then each adds a sentence to complete the tale. “From Imagination to the Page: How Writers Write” gives Funke the opportunity to discuss the inspiration behind Inkheart. “Eliza Read to Us” is a passage from the book not in the movie read by Bennett and illustrated by Funke. There are also deleted scenes. A second disc offers a digital copy and a DVD version.
This is one of the best family films that I have seen in a long time. After making the huge mistake of taking my nephew to The Taking of Pelham 123, it was nice to watch a wholesome movie that provides exciting action with no blood, gore or cursing. It is sentimental without being overly sappy and has a story that will entertain children and adults. If you didn’t get a chance to see it while it was in theaters, make a date with your family to enjoy it now.
Written by Fumo Verde
As one who doesn’t believe in a god you would think I was sitting here with pen in hand taking notes and gearing up to trash whatever was presented to me on this DVD. Well, you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why with one simple word, truth. This archeological documentary isn’t trying to prove that what is written in the Bible is pure fact; it actually investigates how this book came to be and the history behind it.
Biblical archeologists and scholars piece together artifacts along with the written word not to defame the book but to get a clearer understanding. Like Homer’s Iliad or the writings of Tacitus the Roman historian, the Bible has historical facts, but how much is true and how much is embellished is hard to decipher. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman roam through the past from Megiddo to Jerusalem to the museums of today to seek artifacts that help put this mysterious puzzle together. Along with others scholars who have studied the people of the past, they assist in unearthing the stories that have come together and created the text know as the Bible.
Piecing together the past is like wandering through a dark cave with a cheap lighter, but with each spark the writing on the walls begins to tell the story. The journey begins with the most important biblical site in Israel, Megiddo, which is still being excavated today. Here, Finkelstein checks the written record with the record written in stone. Layers of rocks hide a city built upon a city which was built upon another city and so forth. Beneath all the dirt and rock are artifacts such as tools, pottery, and clay tablets with the primitive form of writing. These objects tell the tale of life and how it was lived at the time period for each successive city. This is where fact and the embellishments there of, collide.
One example of this collision would be the journey of Abraham from the city of Haram to Canaan. There is no question to the fact that Abraham parted from his people and ended up in Canaan, but is it plausible he came out of Mesopotamia? To research this, Neil Silberman transverses history by reading the clay tablets, which along with the artifacts mentioned before, bring into existence a broader view of what actually was happening. From what records show migration at the time of Abraham came out of Canaan and into Mesopotamia.
Another example of this collision is Moses and the Exodus. It is true that Egypt conquered the people of Israel for it was recorded on a large stone tablet with all of Egypt’s other conquests of the time, but it is the only mentioning of the Israelites in the whole of Egypt’s written history. This is odd because Egypt only mentions Israel once where the Bible mentions Egypt about seven hundred times. Though the Bible’s timeline or what scholars consider to be the biblical timeline, may be off by a century this doesn’t mean the exodus didn’t occur, but here is where embellishments comes into play. The biblical account says 600,000 weapon-bearing men left Egypt and if you include women and children and older men, scholars translate this to being about two million people. At this time Egypt only had three and a half million people in country, so one would think two million of them just leaving would result in a huge down turn economically and socially, disrupting the Egyptian Empire drastically. Yet there is no evidence outside of the Bible to show this. Scholars know a lot about this time period and so to not even see a blip on the radar from any other cultures written record is very odd.
This DVD isn’t to prove or disprove the Bible or to mock any religious belief, but what it does do is reminds us all that any story, no matter how old or how new can be flavored by the historian who is writing it. This is a great documentary for those truly interested on the history of the Bible for it separates the known facts about the Bible from the embellished tales like the walls of Jericho. Yes, there was a Jericho, and the Israelites did take over the city, but at the time it happened Jericho had no walls and the people, afraid of the oncoming Israeli army fled the city days before it was captured. As the old saying goes, the winners write the history.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Morning Light fails to shine as bright as it should.
This documentary from Walt Disney Pictures chronicles the story of the high-tech sloop Morning Light and the fifteen young people (19 to 22 years old) vying for the opportunity to be one of the eleven crewmembers chosen to race against professionals in the 2225-mile Transpac Yacht Race from California to Hawaii.
The brain child of Roy Disney, a thirty-year fan and participant in the Transpac, has a reality television feel to it, but the editing forces the 98 minutes to play out with the shakiness of a land lubber trying to get his sea legs. The direction simply seems unclear as we jump far too rapidly from each of the fifteen participants and their various activities prior to the start of the race. Once the race begins, the focus is certainly more clear, unfortunately it is too centered on the race itself and the aspect of sailing that will only appeal to those with experience, and not enough time is spent on the people, which is where the real story is.
Morning Light does manage to create some excitement related to whether our intrepid crew will win the race, and the customary family reception will yield an emotional response from the majority of most audiences.
Luckily, this new release that hit shelves on June 16th contains enough bonus material to make the entire product worth owning. “Stories from the Sea” with host Jason Earles is mildly informative, and Earles certainly displays talent and demeanor beyond his years.
The key piece of bonus material is “Morning Light: Making the Cut” as aired on ESPN. This special contains everything that the feature documentary is lacking as it delves deeper into our story, picking up the plight of the initial thirty people chosen to compete for the eleven spots. We are introduced to the competitors, and are flies on the wall as they are put through their paces and eventually whittled down to the fifteen found in the movie. The producers, editors, and director, behind “Making the Cut” display a far superior knowledge of what makes such an endeavor successful, by focusing on the people and the dynamic that goes with such an intensely competitive situation.
Recommendation: Though you will see some repetitive footage, watching “Morning Light: Making the Cut” prior to the feature will make for a complete story that is enjoyable for both experienced sailor and novice alike. All the material found in the release make up a complete story that will be enjoyable for the whole family.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Released earlier in the year as a Deluxe Edition DVD, Paramount’s Friday the 13th Part 3 now makes its debut on Blu-ray, tying in with New Line’s home-video release of Friday the 13th (2009).
This installment centers around Chris and her friends as they make there way to her family’s cabin at where else, but Crystal Lake. Throw in some sex, some drugs, some really bad decisions combine with Jason Voorhees, his first use of the now-iconic hockey mask, (literally) eye-popping 3-D, and you’ve got Friday the 13th Part 3. While it isn’t necessarily the best in the series, it does have its merits.
The review of the Deluxe Edition DVD can be found here.
The third installment in the franchise literally comes at us this time, not only in 1080p high definition, but also in its original 3-D presentation. The 2-D version that most of us are familiar with is also on hand but it’s this special feature that, to me, trumps all others in the franchise. But before we visit this third dimension in terror, let’s discuss its more familiar incarnation.
The standard 2-D version, while still inherent with grain, is a drastic improvement on the previous Deluxe Edition DVD released earlier in the year. Again, the grain is part of the film and to ‘scrub’ this grain away would also result in losing detail. Add to that the trappings of a low-budget production taking place entirely at night, and you’ve got a film that isn’t ever going to look like the more polished studio releases of the day. Making matters worse, it was released in the early ‘80s when nobody gave a shit about film preservation, focusing more on the future of video. But I digress since who in the hell is going to watch this version when they can watch the real thing in 3-D?!!
The 3-D on the Deluxe Edition DVD was a failed attempt for anyone without a large, preferably HD-viewing area. I watched it on a standard TV and it looked awful, giving me mostly a headache if not actual nausea. It has to do more with the size of the viewing area than anything else. With that said, watching the Blu-ray experience on a true HD television is a dream come true (yes, I’ve actually dreamed about seeing this in 3-D someday).
It’s one thing to watch popcorn and juggled apples coming at you, but it’s definitely something to write home about when you’ve got eyeballs, legs, and even a doobie in your lap. Every trick works, even the ones you didn’t notice the first time around (the antenna on the TV, the knitting needle through the mouth, blood dripping from the rafters). And when things aren’t being directly projected at the screen, you can sit back and marvel at the fact that every scene has been carefully constructed for maximum effect. Technical supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff makes sure there is always a foreground and a background present, resulting in the deep focus necessary to pull of the effect. Being an extreme enthusiast of the 3-D format, I find this title to be one of the very best examples in that every shot exploits the process perfectly.
As for the Audio portion of this release, we are given an upgrade of 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless audio that unfortunately, like the recent Blu-ray of Part 2, suffers in the sound FX department. Don’t worry, the dialogue and now-classic score sound great, especially when compared with the original English mono, but I can’t help but think more should have been done with the rear channels. This of course is the same soundtrack it had in the theaters and I usually wouldn’t want it any other way but in this instance, it would have been nice to have the sound be just as alive as the picture. It’s 3-D so throw some shit at my ears too! Whatever. I could seriously watch this thing without sound and still be in total awe. For purists, there is also its original English mono soundtrack, along with Spanish and French mono.
Now those that scooped up the previous Deluxe Edition DVD probably did so just to see the film in 3-D. And I’m pretty sure, unless you already had an HD monitor, this was more than a disappointment seeing that ‘Presented in 3-D’ was its only special feature. The Blu-ray makes up for it this time out by adding a nice little round of extras that, while being somewhat brief, only sweeten the pot. Along with its original trailer there is also: “Fresh Cuts:3-D Terror” (12:42) discussing the making of the film and the 3-D process, “Legacy of the Mask” (9:33) which details the origins of the iconic hockey mask, “Slasher Films: Going for the Jugular” (7:09) which has some of the most embarrassingly pretentious remarks about the genre ever made, and “Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 3” which in keeping precedence with the other parts, I scanned through (fan-made and I’m pretty sure my dead cat could do a better job).
Looks like a no-brainer folks. Trust me, if I could find a way to make my text jump out and throttle you into making this purchase, I would. We’ve waited 25 years to see this film the way it was intended and now we finally can thanks to the advances in technology. Hopefully the success of this 3-D release will usher in the rest of the early ‘80s titles that sit in the shadows, handicapped by weak 2-D transfers. In fact, the only thing that might possibly trump 3-D Jason is 3-D Bruce (Jaws III).
Holding breath now...
Released earlier in the year on standard DVD as a Deluxe Edition (and I thought we had lucked out then), Paramount’s Friday the 13th Part 2 now makes its debut on Blu-ray, tying in with New Line’s home-video release of Friday the 13th (2009).
Released in 1981, Sean Cunningham handed director duties over to producer and longtime friend Steve Miner. The film’s prologue opens two months after the horrific events of the original and introduces Jason as he seeks revenge for his mother’s death. The story then jumps ahead five years where he takes over her role terrorizing teenagers in the hands-down scariest installment of the franchise.
The review of the Deluxe Edition DVD can be found here.
Part 2 has a widescreen 1080p presentation is a considerable improvement and even boasts a new aspect ratio at 1.78:1 (all previous releases were 1.85:1). It should be noted that there is still a considerable amount of grain present but this is to be expected with its low-budget production and almost all of its running time taking place in low-lit situations. Newbies to the format, expecting a crystal-clear image, may find this troubling but it’s exactly how the film would have looked in the theaters. With grain comes detail and needless to say, it’s never looked better.
On the audio side, Part 2 boasts a new 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless upgrade and, while being an improvement on previous releases, it still could have used a little more work in the rear channels. The dialogue and score come across fine, a significant improvement to anyone that’s only heard it in its original mono form, but the sound FX channels are considerably weak. Again, it was a low-budget film and I’m sure that the intended sound design was little more than “crickets” or “heavy thunder”. With that said, I’d rather have what is here than a soundtrack with stock sound FX added. Other sound options on this Blu-ray are its original English Mono, along with Spanish and French Mono.
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray format brings nothing new to the table as far as extras go. All extras from the standard Deluxe Edition have been carried over and as the only plus, all but one are now presented in HD. These include “Inside Crystal Lake Memories,” “Friday’s Legacy: Horror Conventions,” “Lost Tales from Camp Blood Part 2,” “Jason Forever” (not in HD), and the original theatrical trailer.
Considering the fact that there is nothing new in the name of extras, purchasing this release may seem like double-dipping to some. But if you’re either a fan of the format or just a fan of the franchise, there’s little doubt that the presentation is the best it’s ever looked and therefore a justified purchase. I recommend it without hesitation and consider us extremely lucky that the franchise is getting the Blu-ray treatment this early in the game.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Written by Hombre Divertido
It’s easy to get into He’s Just Not That Into You.
Yes, Hollywood can still make successful character-driven films with smart dialog. No animation, no special effects, no explosions, just a good story told well.
He’s Just Not That Into You, written by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein, hit theatres on February 6th, 2009, and was the surprise of the post Oscars/Pre-Summer Junk Dump Season. Since you may have missed it as few venture out into that barren cinematic wasteland that is February, now is the time to catch this fun flick on DVD.
This 129-minute romp includes a talented ensemble cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Scarlett, Johansson, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Justin Long. Though slightly skewed too far to one side, “He’s Just Not That Into You” takes an in-depth look into relationships and respective success and failure. We want different things, with different people, and no one knows what the other is thinking. Should relationships be this hard? Should watching others struggle through them be this enjoyable? It is simply because, though we may not relate to all these people, we do relate to the situations. That is a reflection of good writing, and one might have to go back as far as The Big Chill to find people we enjoy this much who are talking about things we care about.
From a young woman out to find love being mentored by the all-knowing bar manager, to the puppy dog clinging to the hottie who really wants the married guy who thinks he may have made a mistake, to the guy who just doesn’t want to get married to the woman he loves, to the women in relationships they just can’t figure out due to a myriad of reasons including the growing relationship reliance on technology, this film has it all.
Someone should write a book. Oh, wait, they did. Inspired by a Sex in the City episode written by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo and based on their book, this film reaches levels of enjoyment that Carrie and her clan only wish they could bring to the big screen.
Yes, not all the performances are on the same level. Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Connelly give performances that are limited in dimension through most of the film, and the transition made by Justin Long as he goes from the cool dating mentor, to frantic heartsick puppy may be beyond his young capabilities, but the majority of the cast give fine performances in what are all essentially supporting roles. In most cases we end up wanting more of the people we saw the least of, and less of those we saw the majority of.
Though there is little offered as Special Features in this new release, the additional scenes are surprisingly enlightening and entertaining. In most cases we can usually see why scenes are indeed left out of a film, and with He’s Just Not That Into You boasting a running time of over two hours, an argument can certainly be made for the cuts made, but the insights on parental influence found in these scenes were entertaining and well acted. Adding commentary by director Ken Kwapis, who did a fine job of utilizing his stacked cast within a well-paced tale, makes sitting through the extra scenes again well worth the investment.
Recommendation: This is a great film to watch with friends and a surprisingly pleasant addition to any collection. The story and the dialog are the stars here, and well worth your time.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Penn & Teller’s Bullshit is the one reason I still have Showtime. Here is a real reality show, and I’m not talking crybaby drama of who slept with who’s who. There’s no magic tricks revealed, just the bullshit that clogs are everyday view of what is going on in the real world around us. Past seasons have dealt with such wackiness as aliens abducting people to the truth behind the Ouiji boards (we all know that stuff is bullshit), to other subjects like “The Business of Love” and my favorite “the War on Drugs”. This is the only show I’ve seen that confronts these matters head on and brings people the real truth, whether they want it or not.
Two DVDs make up season six with episodes that include “New Age Medicine,” “NASA,” “Dolphins” and a whole host of others that will make yearn for more truth. One of my favorites of this season is “The War on Porn”. In this episode P&T show us that the only people at war with the porn industry are religious groups and feminine activists.
Now, some might say this show doesn’t give a fair chance to the opposition when presenting their argument. Bullshit! The people who P&T interview for their show know full well what to expect when this episode airs. So when the woman who will tell us in one breath that watching pornography will lead us to child porn and murder, and in the same breath tell us that there is “no good study” or scientific data which will back up her said statement, then of course I must laugh when these comic magic men rip on her and make fun of everything she says. Why? Because what she is saying is bullshit and to present your ideas as facts with out any scientific way of proving it, then yes you are to be laughed at. Don’t get them wrong, P&T believe everybody should be allowed to voice their opinions in our democracy, but when one group is out to “destroy” the livelihood of another group with false statements built as a façade to hide the real truth, then bullshit must be called, and this show does just that.
“Being Green” was one of those episodes that changed my mind about global warming. I followed the crowd when Al Gore spoke and believed carbon taxes would set us straight, until P&T warmed away the bullshit. They aren’t saying that global warming isn’t happening, but they did put it into a bigger perspective. The Earth’s climate has changed numerous times in the last billion years and it will keep on changing. Are we as humans moving it along faster? Possibly, but that data is still being tested and reviewed. The one thing for sure is our Earth has gone through some super-extreme climate changes, which killed almost everything that has ever lived, and it will continue to do so. We call it, and it is what I firmly believe in, evolution.
This show brings the evidence for both sides of whatever argument into play and they let the interviewees debate each other in a non-combative way where there isn’t a bunch of talking heads yelling at each other and bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator. Each side gets a chance to discuss what they believe to be the facts that will support their stance. Penn and Teller bring all this into focus under a comical light and let you the viewer decided for yourself whether something is real or bullshit.
Friday, June 05, 2009
The first thing that jumped to mind after seeing Defiance was that it was not at all what I expected. Instead of an action-packed film about a man who ran an underground railroad during World War II, it ended up being more of a wilderness survival movie.
Four brothers find themselves on the run from the war when Germany invades their country and begins slaughtering the Jews. Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) and his brother Zus (Live Schrieber) return to the family home to check on their parents and siblings. When they arrive, they find that everyone has been slaughtered with the exception of their two younger brothers Asael (Jamie Bell), and Aron (George MacKay).
Having nowhere else to go, the four head into the nearby forest where they have spent many hours over the years. But they aren’t the only ones who seek refuge in the forest. As more and more Jews flee persecution, they come to the Bielskis for safety. Slowly their group, or Otriad as it is called, begins to grow.
Tuvia finds that he cannot turn anyone away, while Zus wants to turn them all away. Not only is there not enough food for everyone, but Zus is more interested in taking out his revenge on the Germans and the Russians who sold out their family.
There are a few really good action scenes in the film, like when Tuvia goes to the home of the officer who killed his parents and returns the favor, and the ending battle with a tank.
Unfortunately, the action is few and far between. The rest of the film is mostly about building shelters, rationing food, and surviving illnesses. There are a few entertaining discussions between intellectual types as the Ortriad struggles to become a community. A few romances begin to develop, but they are based more on the need for survival than they are love. It is interesting to see how these people managed to survive several years and cope with adversity, but it plays out pretty dry. Even the lead character, Tuvia, is a little dull.
The one character that brings life and some measure of excitement to the film is Zus. He is bold, full of bravado, and steals every scene he is in. This same brashness causes some conflict between the two brothers and results in Zus leaving to join the Russian army. The Russian army is a ragtag group of fighters themselves, who will take anyone with a gun. They welcome Zus and the handful of men he brought with him, but end up treating them like second-class citizens because they are Jewish.
The overall feel and look of the film is excellent. Everything appears authentic, and the special effects are not overdone as they are in a lot of films. It has a gritty earthiness and is worth seeing because of its historical significance and the simple fact that the Bielskis manage to save 1,200 people. While this might make for a good television program on the History Channel, it just doesn’t quite have enough energy to make for a successful motion picture.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
1. Directory Commentary by Edward Zwick.
2. "Return to the Forest: The Making of Defiance" features behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew.
3. "Children of the Otriad" -Tuvia and Zus’ children and grandchildren speak about the stories they heard and talk about what kind of men the Bielski brothers truly were. It’s nice to see what the real Bielskis looked like and what became of them after the war. The stories that the children tell are a nice addition to the DVD, and make their adventures seem even more important knowing that the 1,200 people they helped to survive now have 19,000 descendants.
4. "Bielski Partisan Survivors" - a short black-and-white montage of recent photographs of the surviving members of the Bielski Otriad, taken in November of 2008