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DVD and Blu-Ray Reviews

Tags: film movie bluray
DVDs in the past are still very valuable and worth to preserve and collect the treasure.

The hilight valuable DVDs:

 
Megamind (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Will Ferrell
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Two-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
Haven: The Complete First Season
Emily Rose
Blu-ray Quick Guide

by Matthew Moskovciak


Blu-ray vs. DVD


In most ways, Blu-ray is fairly similar to DVD. The players look the same, the discs look the same, and even the disc menus are similar. So why pay more?Blu-ray brings three major improvements over DVD: better image quality, better sound quality, and more special features. All three are made possible by the larger storage capacity of Blu-ray, which is capable of storing 50GB of information on a single Blu-ray Disc, compared with DVDs, which can hold about 8GB.

What's better about Blu-ray?

Image quality: Superior resolution is a big part of what makes Blu-ray look great. In layman's terms, this means you'll see a more detailed image: more clearly defined strands of hair, wrinkles in clothing, etc. The technical difference is that Blu-ray's maximum resolution is 1,920x1,080 (1080p), while DVD is limited to 720x480 (480p). Beyond resolution, Blu-ray also uses better video-compression methods, resulting in more contrast and richer colors. If you like the way HD from your cable or satellite provider looks, Blu-ray looks even better. It's the highest-quality video format available today, and in some ways it surpasses the picture quality of your local movie theater, especially when shown on a good-performing HDTV or projector.
Audio quality: Audio quality is also improved. New high-resolution soundtrack formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, are essentially identical to the studio master, so you'll be hearing things exactly as the director and audio engineers intended. For more information check out the Blu-ray soundtracks section.
Special features: Blu-ray also has additional special features over DVD. The most basic innovation is the pop-up menu, which allows you to access the menu functions while the movie continues playing. Other innovations include picture-in-picture video commentary and the ability to download new content right from your Blu-ray player, although your player needs to have the right Blu-ray profile to access these features. In our opinion, the special features on Blu-ray have mostly been underwhelming and aren't a good reason to upgrade. For more information on special features, check out our detailed discussion of Blu-ray profiles.
 

What's worse about Blu-ray?

Cost: Blu-ray's main drawback is cost. Prices for players are still generally over $200 and movies cost about $25. While the one-time cost of a player isn't that bad, the cost of building up a new Blu-ray library really adds up. At least it's possible to pick and choose which movies you "buy Blu," since every Blu-ray player can also play standard DVDs.
Available titles: Another downside is that the number of titles on Blu-ray is still much smaller than DVD. There are currently about 970 Blu-ray titles available, compared with more than 90,000 (!) on DVD. Depending on your taste in movies, you may only find a few movies you actually like available on Blu-ray.
Load times: When Blu-ray first came out, load times were unbearable; it could take more than 3 minutes to load a movie. Since then, players have gotten much faster, but they still don't compare with the speed of loading a DVD. While simple Blu-ray movies can load in about 20 seconds on a good Blu-ray player, movies with complex menus still take close to a minute and a half to get to the actual movie, regardless of the player.
Portability: Lastly, if you start buying Blu-ray movies, you may get frustrated that your new movies won't work in places where you only have a standard DVD player. For example, if your bedroom only has a DVD player, you won't be able to watch the second half of your new Blu-ray Disc from the comfort of your bed. Or if you have a car with a built-in DVD player, your new Blu-ray Discs won't work there, either.
 

DVD and Blu-ray comparison



Feature DVD Blu-ray
Maximum native resolutions supported via HDMI EDTV (480p) HDTV (720p, 1080i, 1080p)
Disc capacity 4.7GB (single layer)
8.5GB (dual layer)
25GB (single layer)
50GB (dual layer)
Video capacity (per dual-layer disc) SD: approximately 3 hours SD: approximately 23 hours
HD: 8.5 or 5.6 hours, depending on encoding method
Compatible video game consoles PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360 PlayStation 3
Player prices $99 and less $170+ for Profile 1.1 players
$250+ for Profile 2.0 players
$400 for PlayStation 3
Movie prices $6 and more (retail) $20 to $28 (retail)
Number of titles available at the end of 2008 90,000-plus about 1,000
Set-top recorders available now Yes No
Copy protection/digital rights management Macrovision, CSS AACS, ICT, BD+, BD-ROM Mark
Region-coded discs and players Yes Yes

What about upconverting DVD players?

You've probably heard about upconverting (also called upscaling) DVD players. Often they'll promise to take your existing DVD collection and make it look like HD. Sounds like a great idea, but unfortunately, it's not quite true. We've discussed this issue at length before, but the main takeaway is that while it is possible for an upconverting DVD player to make your existing DVDs look a little better, they won't look like true high-definition. If you want HD video quality, you need Blu-ray.
 

What about my existing DVD collection?

When the home video format of choice changed from VHS to DVD, it was a rough change for consumers whose existing tape collection was slowly rendered obsolete. Luckily, that's not the case with this transition, as every Blu-ray player is capable of playing back standard DVDs. In fact, every Blu-ray player is also an upconverting DVD player, but remember the benefits from upconversion are still minimal. The bottom line is that all your existing DVDs will play in your new Blu-ray player.

Aren't disc-based movies outdated already? Shouldn't I just download or stream HD movies from Apple TV, Vudu, PS3, Netflix, or Xbox 360?

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to Internet-based movie rental services--which are beyond the scope of this guide--but in most cases, Blu-ray's biggest trump card is that it offers superior quality and the movies aren't locked to a specific device. There are exceptions, though, such as Vudu's new HDX download options, which even the videophiles at CNET admit is pretty darn good on the video-quality front. Check out our full coverage of these devices if you're more interested in being able to watch movies on a whim.

BLU-RAY REVIEWS:

 

Insidious was one of the most talked-about horror films of this year. There was virtually no horror blog or website you could visit that did not talk about the film and how scary it was. Needless to say that I was extremely intrigued when the Blu-Ray Disc of the film finally showed up on my doorstep from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Josh and Lenai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move their family into a new home, a sprawling house that seems perfect for the couple and their three children. But soon after they move in, unsettling things happen. From creaking floorboards, doors that seem to open by themselves, the house seems to have a mind of its own. Then, after a fall, their oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a coma. While taking care of the unresponsive child for weeks, the house seems to become even more brooding and Renai begins to see apparitions.

Terrified, she convinces her husband and the family moves to another house, a bright suburban home that pulls away their fears. But not long after they settled down in the new home, Renai once again sees ghosts chasing through the house. Clearly the horrors had followed them... or maybe they had brought them along.

"Insidious" sets its tone in the first few seconds of the film, even before the opening credits begin to roll. While that is a great way to start a film, in this case, unfortunately, the jump scare that is employed in those opening minutes is essentially what keeps the movie above water for the rest of its running length.

I've seen many horror films, good and bad, and to me, one of the cheapest ways to scare viewers is by setting them up with jump scares. I was surprised - and disappointed - to see that "Insidious" makes excessive use of these kinds of scares, to the point that they even become predictable. Raising the audio level incessantly during the shrill scares does very little to convince me that this was clearly the key to the movie's scare-design.

Despite these cheap antics, however, "Insidious" is a very intense film at times. While the story is moving ahead at a prodding pace, the atmosphere itself is very tight and the ominous level of suspense does keep you on the edge of your seat.

The film is featuring a solid cast that brings across the characters very believably and the film's visual style is such that it meshes it all together very nicely.

Presented in an absolutely clean 1080p high definition transfer, "Insidious" looks wonderful. The colors and the superbly deep blacks make the film a pleasure to view, as it brings out the best of the moody and sinister atmosphere.

The DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track is perfectly reproduced also with enough headroom to make sure even the inordinately loud stingers are not clipped. Dialogue is clean and clear and always understandable. As a whole, the track make good a active use of the surround channels, creating an engulfing soundtrack that enhances the sense of somethings-there that help heighten the film's atmosphere.

The release contains a few small featurettes, covering the different ghostly entities in the film, as well as some behind-the-scenes footage from the set. The main featurette called "Horror 101" is a mixed bag, featuring interviews with writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan. While generally entertaining, due to their good natures, I found it particularly interesting to hear them talk about how jump scares have been so abused in the genre, while at the same time delivering nothing more than a jump-scare-movie of their own.
Also their discussion about the fact that astral projection has never been used in horror films is not entirely correct, though it's never been called that.


As I said before, "Insidous" is a very intense film at times that is sadly hampered by the excessive use of cheap jump scares. While the movie kept my adrenaline up, I had expected more, to be honest; something that was truly scary and not merely a roller coaster set up to startle me at every turn like a Halloween attraction. In the end you have a film that is a mix somewhere between "The Exorcist" and a lot of "Poltergeist," wound up with a lot of jack-in-the-box jump scares. Nothing new, nothing spectacular or overly innovative, but definitely effective.

Still, the movie is definitely good for one viewing, so grab a copy when you see it, or rent it.

On a different note, though, how a film like this could possibly have received a PG-13 rating is beyond me and clearly shows how inept and unsuitable the ratings system has become. While not overly graphic, this film is easily capable of giving young viewers nightmares for a lifetime as a result of its creepy atmosphere and is definitely not a film for children.

 

(1978)

After a long wait, John Landis' "Animal House" has finally arrived on Blu-Ray Disc, too, making the DVD and HD-DVD versions obsolete, as it presents this cult classic in high definition. But is it worth the upgrade? Universal Studios Home Entertainment has provided a possible answer to this quandary with the Blu-Ray release of John Landis' landmark 1978 counter-culture comedy "National Lampoon's Animal House."
I won't go into great detail about the movie, considering its almost mythic stature within the annals of film comedy. Suffice it to say that "National Lampoon's Animal House" represented a perfect storm of talent, vehicle and cultural readiness, as it depicted the battle between the unconventional Delta House and uber-conservative Omega House fraternities at fictional Faber College in 1962 and served it up as a hearty helping of "Duck Soup"-style anarchy for a weary - and receptive - post-Watergate/Vietnam audience. The film struck an immediate chord, turning the $3 million ugly duckling into the most successful film comedy of that time. Given its influence over the past twenty-eight years, it's hard to believe that the film was such a radical departure --- and a huge gamble on the studio's part. 

Like the HD-DVD previously, this 1080p high definition version on Blu-Ray has a lot of things going for itself, most of which can be encompassed in a single word - detail. Not only are the colors more vibrant and rich in this high definition transfer, but in comparison to the standard definition version previously released, you will now be able to see the outline of deep beard stubble on Pinto's (Tom Hulce, pre-Amadeus) face or Flounder's (Stephen Furst) mole on the slide projection of his picture. The image is that much sharper in the high definition version.

Pinto's dress coat during Frat Rush is a respectable black in the standard definition version. It is an entirely different story in high definition and its increased color resolution, as you can suddenly notice lots of iridescent speckles in the fabric. Every strand of Babs' (Martha Smith) bouffant is distinct and Bluto's "zit" impersonation takes on a whole new dimension, now that we can really see the, um, consistency. In short, what the standard definition transfer used to hint at, the high definition version finally delivers. The source print still exhibits grain, but completely in step with the original cinematography.
The DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track on this Blu-Ray Disc represents a marginally better audio presentation than the 5.1 remastered sound on the DVD. The oldies soundtrack - ranging from The Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" to DeWayne Jessie's now-legendary rendition of "Shout" — gets a little goose in clarity and aural definition from the fatter bandwidth of the uncompressed DTS track encoding. The audio is crisp, clear and you get to hear every note of Elmer Bernstein's lush dramatic score (another radical notion for the film, courtesy of Landis). 

The extras from the previous DVD version are all contained on this release. The jewel of the supplements is the 25-minute mockumentary "Where Are They Now: A Delta Alumni Update." John Landis narrates, referring to "Animal House" as a "documentary about one semester in the life of the Delta Chi fraternity." Catching up with several graduates and perfectly in step with the film's famous "where-are-they-now" ending, the "Update" finds class-stud Eric Stratton in his gynecologist's overcoat, about to administer an exam to a beautiful blonde, Babs pointing out famous tables on the Universal Studios tram and Hoover as a Baltimore PD, anxiously telling the interviewer "don't tell the others where I am."

There's also a more traditional retrospective documentary with new (as in 2003) video interviews from practically the entire cast and major behind-the-camera personnel. Running 45 minutes, the anecdotes fly fast, free - and with great affection for the movie that, for most of them, started their careers. "Did You Know That?" is a subtitle feature, providing pithy factoids about the movie. Informative, but they appear so infrequently that after a while I was anticipating the next trivia tidbit instead of watching the movie.

Also included is Universal's U-Control scene companion and "The music of animal House" feature as well as BD Live connectivity.
The high definition transfer for "Animal House" is, for my money, a marked improvement over the DVD. But is it worth buying again? Hard to say, but if having the best possible rendition of a film is your goal, I say "Go for it!" Toga, toga, toga...


(1986)
"The Name Of The Rose" is a dark murder mystery set in a monastery in Italy during the 14th century. It is a film of European origin and thus, hardly surprising, it has a very different flair than Hollywood productions. Instead of the glossy, highly romanticized appearance that American productions usually take, the film instead provides us with a gritty, edgy atmosphere and characters that appear utterly authentic.

The story revolves around William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) and his young apprentice Adso (Christian Slater), two Franciscan monks, as they visit a North-Italian monastery for a gathering and discussion of theological topics of the utmost importance. But the event is overshadowed by the death of one of the monastery's youngest Brothers. With no other explanation immediately at hand, everyone believes it was the doing of the Devil - everyone but William, that is.

To avoid calling in the inquisitor, the abbot asks Baskerville for help, hoping — against his own conviction — that theirmight be a logical explanation.

But even before Baskerville can make his first steps, another one of the brethren dies - this time leaving clear evidence of murder. In his investigations, William soon learns that the monastery seems to be shrouded in a dark secret that no ones wants to admit to, and with every new day, it seems, another body piles up.

Unwilling to believe William's rational deductions, the abbot is eventually calling the inquisitor Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham) to find the one ridden by the devil, committing these murders, and put an end to the mystery.

But Baskerville and Gui have a history, as the two collided vehemently when Baskerville opposed the inquisitor's fanatic, unfounded views. And once again, Baskerville is in complete disagreement with the inquisitor's so-called findings. Will he be able to solve the murders before the High Inquisitor arbitrarily burns someone innocent at the stake?

Like a good Sherlock Holmes story, "The Name Of The Rose" is filled with little clues and wonderful deductions that are not immediately evident but reveal themselves as the plot progresses. It makes "The Name Of The Rose" a great guess-along film as the mystery slowly unravels. The highlight of the film is, of course, the entrance of the inquisitor, masterfully played by F. Murray Abraham, whose fanatic ignorance must make every thinking man sick. Without even the slightest grasp on reality, his presence increases the suspense of the film immensely as time is running out for William Baskerville and Adso to solve the case. Sean Connery gives a suave performance as William of Baskerville and is wonderful to watch, as ever, as he pieces together the puzzle under the admiring eyes of his apprentice - a 16-year old Christian Slater.

Warner Home Video is presenting "The Name Of The Rose" in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format on this release in a 1080p high definition transfer. The image is generally clean and mostly without grain. The movie's cinematography is deliberately dark with incredibly deep shadows to heighten the brooding atmosphere of the monastery and the lack of most artificial lighting in the 14th century. Unfortunately it is evident in this high definition transfer, that the image is not always properly focused. In a number of shots you will notice that the background is actually focused, reveling in full detail, while the characters acting in the foreground are somewhat blurry and soft. This is a production issue of the original film and has nothing to do with the Blu-Ray transfer, though the high definition transfer brings out this shortcoming much more than the DVD version did.

In terms of the transfer itself, the disc restores the film's atmosphere perfectly, as we see gaping black hallways and countless dark nooks in each of which the answer to the mystery - or death — could await. The Blu-Ray Disc renders these blacks absolutely solid and without problems.
The DVD contains a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is making good use of the surround channels. Not aggressive by any means, the surround field is mostly used for ambient effects to give scope and size to the images and locations, and to heighten the suspense level ever so slightly with various subtle effects. Dialogues are very clear and are never drowned out. "The Name Of The Rose" features a score by James Horner that perfectly suits the film's purpose and oftentimes appears almost understated but extremely effective.

Warner Home Video has also added a few extras to this release, including a commentary track by director Jean-Jacques Annaud, in which he goes into great detail about the production of the film, as well as some historical aspects of the story. Annaud is very conversational in his tone, which adds to the commentary, making it a very exciting and informative excursion into the realms of making this particular movie.

The commentary track is nicely complemented by a "Photo Video Journey," a featurette in which Annaud takes various behind-the-scenes photos from the production of the movie and tells the stories surrounding these moments. Once again, Annaud's conversational manner makes this a great addition as he recalls some great moments and memories.

The promo featurette "The Abbey Of Crime" is a documentary that was produced originally to promote the film when it launched in theaters. It does contain some insight but is for the most part, really just a promo reel that is supposed to get you excited to see the film - which it does, I admit.

I've always considered "The Name Of The Rose" a very under-appreciated film that never seems to have found its audience. Perhaps its because of the slow, deliberate way the story builds, maybe it is because especially US-audiences have no direct affinity to a 14th century culture - though they should be more than familiar with religious fanatics. All I can do is tell you that this is a film that is well worth exploring, and the pay-off as the mystery comes to a conclusion is more than making up for the movie's slow exposition. Highly recommended viewing!




(1998)
Paul W.S. Anderson is the director behind films such as "Event Horizon," "Resident Evil," "Death Race" and as such knows a thing or two about action films. In this film, "Soldier," he is teaming up with Kurt Russell for a fiery science fiction action spectacle. Being a blend somewhere between "Escape From New York" and "Rambo", "Soldier" contains some cool imagery that is now available on Blu-Ray Disc from Warner Home Video.

"Soldier" sets up a great premise by introducing us to a hospital nursery where a number of babies, crying to be cradled, are taken away by unmoved, stiff, uniformed military personnel. It creates a strong contrast between these different generations of human beings, and immediately gets you interested in what's about to happen. The children are then raised, deprived of all warmth and human emotion in military surroundings, perpetually brainwashed and conditioned to be emotionless and unwavering. Brutal physical training finally trims their physique into shape, until in their early twenties, these children have become the ultimate war machines.

Todd (Kurt Russell) is one of them and, having fought countless battles, he has seen all facets of war and death under the hard command of Captain Church (Gary Busey). One day, a new, supposedly better breed of "Soldiers" is ready to enter the arena, lead by their preposterous officer, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs), who is challenging Church's men to fight his new ultimate warriors. Both officers pit their best men against each other, and after an exhausting contest and a fierce confrontation, Caine607 (Jason Scott Lee) claims victory over the presumed dead Todd. Todd is unceremoniously becoming part of society's trash and dumped on a remote planet that is used as a giant junkyard.

In this environment Todd tries to survive and encounters a peaceful community of people who manage to survive in the hostile environment of this planet. All of a sudden completely stripped of everything that made his life worth while, and stripped of all superior direction, Todd has to face a life that is completely new to him. He has to deal with people that have emotions he doesn't understand. While this scenario would lend itself to a great study of human character and nature, director Paul Anderson sadly decides to simplify the film confronts Todd with his own past straight-forwardly. Instead of portraying Todd's change and attempts to adapt to his new surrounding, he treats us to a few minutes of compassion, a few overly sentimental moments, until within the next minute, he opens the throttle to the action once again. The squad of new-breed soldiers is ordered to the exact same planet Todd is on, for a strategic training. With the instruction to simply kill everything in sight, in order to avoid paperwork, the men start attacking the innocent and defenseless civilians. To save their lives, Todd becomes a one-man army and ultimately faces off against Caine607 once again.

"Soldier" contains a number of cool visual images, especially for its time. From the harsh and cold interiors in the military camp, to the deserted plains of the junkyard planet, the film is sure to please the eyes. The post-apocalyptic production design is working very effectively and especially the trash warrens suggest a scale of friendly homeliness amidst the steel junkyard and the hostile geographic surroundings. Unfortunately, the script could have used some clean-up to rid the production of its dialectic in the middle part, and clichés that sometimes break the illusion.

Stoic and without much dialogue, Ken Russell portrays the emotionless Todd quite well. It is a part somewhat reminiscent of his well-known Snake Plissken character in John Carpenter's "Escape From New York", essentially showing us a survivalist against all odds, who is not a friend of many words, and doesn't give away any of his feelings. He is once again the hero and anti-hero at the same time, coming from a dark background with the ultimate anticipation to save the day. Not really an innovative approach, but with Russell in the lead, it is nevertheless a formula that still works pretty well.

All in all, "Soldier" is pure adrenaline action cinema. It doesn't answer questions, it raises them and leaves them dangling. It doesn't really solve conflicts, it eradicates them. It doesn't establish dimensional characters, but much rather cuts them out and pastes them in the film. "Soldier" is what we have come to expect from Hollywood action movies. Shallow in the narrative, easy on the intellect, and straight-forward in its approach, it is a film that dazzles the mind and numbs the senses.

Warner Home Video have released "Soldier" on this disc in a clean 1080p high definition transfer that is absolutely clean and without blemishes. The image revels in detail and despite many of the atmospherically lit interior shots and the murky underworldly scenes on the trash-planet, the transfer always maintains all the shadow detail you could ask for, giving you an image with plenty of definition. The picture is sharp and well defined with strong colors and well saturated hues. The color reproduction on this release is absolutely faithful and nicely reproduces the harsh cold tones in the film's beginning, as well as the more sandy color schemes used later perfectly.
"Soldier" contains a very well produced DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio soundtrack. As you would expect from an action movie of this time and age, the soundtrack has very good spatial integration, making good and aggressive use of the split surrounds. It also has very good bass extension below 25Hz and especially during the heated battle scenes, this should give your subwoofer quite a bit of work to handle. The disc also contains an interesting audio commentary track with director Paul W.S. Anderson, co-producer Jeremy Bolt and co-star Jason Isaacs.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has a knack for atmospheric imagery, but regrettably, always seems to struggle with his stories, dishing out films that look great but are flat, overly formulaic and predictable from beginning to end. His films never seem to live up to the intense thrills he tries to create, and rather scratches the material's surface, only to make way for more visceral effects and a large number of clichés.

I am saying this not to turn you off the film, but to get your expectations right for this film. "Soldier" is a self-glorifying hero-saves-the-day movie with big explosions and beautiful images, but no depth at all. As a popcorn movie for its visceral sakes and action elements, it clearly delivers the goods well paced, well staged and with some impressive visuals.

 
The Eagle (2011)

It went mostly unnoticed in theaters, presumable because the lack of big star power and a largely unfamiliar director simply made it very hard for the studio to get people into theater seats. It is too, bad, really, because "The Eagle" is a quite wonderful film that deserves to be seen. Fortunately for all of us, it is now available on Blu-Ray from Universal Home Entertainment.

When the Emperor Hadrian sent a legion of 5,000 men into the northern parts of unapeaced Britain in 120 AD, all 5,000 soldiers disappeared, presumably killed by the warrior tribes of the North. With them disappeared their standard, a golden eagle, the symbol of Rome's power.

20 years later, young Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is determined to find out what happened to the Ninth Legion, the Golden Eagle and most importantly his father, who lead the soldiers into the battle. He takes a command post in a garrison on the border to the wild north and tries to find a way to restore his family honor and return the Eagle to Rome.

Soon after being posted, the garrison is attacked and in an act of incredible valor, Aquila manages to save his men. He is discharge honorably from the army and once more, his desire to restore his family honor seems unattainable. That is, until one day, he decides to set out into the untamed North on his own, accompanied only by his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), a young man who speaks the Gaelic tongue of the locals.

When I first inserted "The Eagle" into my player I expected a Roman spectacle, with many battles, huge crowd scenes, gladiator fights, glorious views of Rome, and such. I could not have been more wrong, because as it turned out, "The Eagle" is a very intimate character film that replaces Roman architecture with the breathtaking vistas of the Scottish Highlands. While there are battle and a gladiator scene, you never have the sense of the bombast that other movies typically generate. Instead, you have a film that is very deliberate in focusing on one man's personal quest.

In addition to the hauntingly beautiful landscape shots, the film also sheds a remarkable light onto the cultures of the British north. Many viewers will be surprised by seeing how tribal the inhabitants of these lands used to be. Unlike the settled city dwellers, these tribes lived off the lands, sparse as it was, and off what the ocean surrounding them had to offer.

Presented in a 1080p high definition, the movie offers a pristine look, free of blemishes or defects, without any noise or grain. The level of definition in the transfer is meticulous, rendering images that are incredibly sharp and detailed. The transfer's solid black levels make sure shadows are reproduced perfectly, giving the image remarkable depth at all times. Add to it the balanced highlights and the faithful colors, and you have a presentation that makes the best of the movie.

A DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track complements the movie. The track is aggressive and makes constant use of the discrete surround channels. Despite it being character driven, there is a lot going on a times, as crowd and furious battle scenes take one end of the spectrum while quiet scenes with incredibly ambient sound effects make up the other. Dialogues are well integrated, making this a fully balanced and active audio presentation.

The Blu-Ray Disc features both the theatrical and an extended cut of the film. In addition you will find an alternate ending and a selection of deleted scenes on the disc.

A making-of documentary is also included, as well as a commentary track featuring director Kevin Macdonald. Macdonald, who also directed acclaimed movies such as "The Last King of Scotland" might not be a household name, but he has proven that he has a hand for character-oriented movies that also offer strong dynamics and action. I am sure we will hear more from this talented man in years to come, and I am certainly looking forward to it.

A Digital Copy is also included, along with BD Live and pocketBlu features.

"The Eagle" surprised me. It was not the film I expected. It was actually better. Filled with great imagery, a fascinating storyline and character dynamics that will keep viewers intrigued, this movie gets everything right and definitely deserves to be seen. Check it out when you have the chance.

(2010)
 I don't know about you, but I will watch anything about sharks. To me they are some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet, some of the most perfected alpha predators, as they glide silently through the depths of the ocean. When Universal Home Entertainment sent over the Jean-Michel Cousteau documentary "Sharks" this way on Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray 3D, it was a non-brainer for me to take a closer look.

 Trying to cover a wide array of different sharks, the film begins with a look at sand tiger sharks and from there continues on to visit a series of reef shark species before going into the deep blue of the open ocean.

 Jean-Michel Cousteau has been following in the footsteps of his father, Jacques Cousteau, who was one of the first nature filmmakers to bring the life of the world's oceans onto people's television screens, for many years. Upon watching "sharks," however, I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed, if not to say disappointed.

 The reason for that is that I felt there were a couple of things wrong with this film. While the footage of animal life beneath the sea is nice, it is also unimpressive. Starting with the sand tigers in waters so murky that you can't even see the entire animal does very little to highlight the elegance of the creatures. While the quality of footage improves over time, it is sorely lacking the hook that draws viewers in entirely, keeping them mesmerized at the beauty of the oceans.

 The other issue I had was the narrator. Not only does the voice-over feel horrible detached and stilted, to make matters worse ,the narrator actually pronounces some less common fish names incorrectly. As a result, the narration always keeps viewers at a distance, never drawing them in or intriguing them.

 The next big issue is the music. While the style of music might be perfectly suitable for the film, it is unfortunately so loud that it completely drowns out the narration. Whoever created the mix didn't seem to understand that the ambient music is supposed to be, well, ambiance, and should not take over the feature presentation.

 Presented in 1080p high definition, the image quality of the release is very good throughout, with a high level of detail, rich colors — the blues in particular, as you might have expected — that never show any banding artifacts or limitations. Rich in texture and with good contrast, the images a very pleasing throughout. I have not been able to examine the 3D presentation on this release.

 The film includes DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio tracks in a number of languages. While the quality of the track is fine, as I pointed out earlier, the mix is not, creating a very unbalanced presentation as a whole.

 "Sharks" is good enough to watch, but you can get a better look at sharks during the Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week," to be honest. This film, while nice,is unspectacular and unimpressive on the whole, making for little more than a one-time viewing.

 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Clint Eastwood is a man of many talents and as an actor he has become absolutely iconoclastic in two very different genres. His action-thriller Dirty Harry character is still one of the toughest cops around, and his portrayal of the Man Without Name remains one of the most memorable Western heroes. Nevertheless the actor and director never really treaded in the same paths, repeating himself too often. Ever so regularly he plays with the genres he prefers to work in, and adds new facets to characters he played before. "Absolute Power" is such an example in the thriller genre and "Unforgiven" is clearly the one in which he almost reversed the perception of his best-known Western characters. But even "The Outlaw Josey Wales," which he made a long time before maturing to do "Unforgiven," is also a perfect example for the progression in Eastwood's work and how he bent genre stereotypes and expectations to create movie that surprise as much as they surprise. Although he conjures up the image of the lightning fast gunslinger once again in this film, this time around he has a name, a heart and true motivations, all three elements hardly found in the spaghetti westerns that made him the star that he is.

Helplessly, farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) has to watch as his wife is raped and killed and his little son is burned to death inside the family's house, when ravaging red-leg soldiers invade and destroy the family idyll out of nowhere, during the Civil War. Josey, the only survivor of the massacre becomes an avenger and joins a band of Southern rebels who keep up the fight against the Yankees and oppose the newly founded union. Slowly however, their time seems to come to an end. The troops of the new United States Of America hunt down everyone who does not swear an oath to serve and protect the country.

When his rebel companions decide to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey becomes one of the last outlaws of the West. With the army in his back, he tries to escape their reach and flees deep into Indian territory, but a group of soldiers keep hunting him relentlessly. The only way to put an end to this hunt is to oppose them, but that turns out to only leverage the price on his head and attracts bounty hunters from across the country.

In this seemingly hopeless situation, Josey Wales meets Lone Watie (Chief Dan George), a Cherokee Indian, who himself is rather disappointed by the way the American government treated him. Together they try to find a way to safety and peace where, hopefully, the rest of the world will forget about them.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" might look like one of Eastwood's early European Westerns by the cover, but it soon becomes evident that this gunslinger has more heart and identity than his previous characters. Establishing a strong motivation for Josey within the first few minutes of the film, Clint Eastwood's character is always sympathetic. No matter what he does, no matter how bad he becomes and no matter how cold he acts, the viewer can always relate to him. Not only does it make the character more believable, it also creates a much stronger moment of drama when Josey seems to lose ground to the posse that hunts him.

Eastwood's rooted and natural play also adds immensely to the character's overall credibility. It always surprises me how comfortably Eastwood seems to handle the different tasks on his films. He is doing a great job directing his movies and capturing the essence of what viewers want to see, while he also routinely puts in great performances as one of the leading characters in his own movies.

But also in other areas the film hardly works with established clichés, as his early films did all too easily. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" is one of the few films of its time that portrayed Indians as a soulful people who have lost their ground and most of their hope. Not only does the film away with the gruesome image of the bloodthirsty Indian killing sprees, it actually establishes proud and honest characters like Ten Bears and Lone Watie. In fact, Lone Watie has some of the funniest and veritable lines in the entire film. He becomes Josey's conscience and helps driving the story home.

Just as in his other Westerns, the photography plays a very important role in this film. Panoramic shots establish a feeling of grandeur. Using colors efficiently, the film contains some spectacular framing techniques that vastly increase the visual impact the film has on the viewers. At the same time, atmospheric interior shots and efficient use of backlit photography creates a strong visual contrast between characters, almost serving as individual visual cues for each of them.

Clint Eastwood's films are classics and it is great to see them treated with the respect they deserve. Warner Home Video has created a beautiful high definition transfer of the film for this Blu-Ray release to mark the film's 35th Anniversary. The image is absolutely clean and clear, without any blemishes or notable grain. The level of detail is wonderfully bringing to life all the subtle nuances of the production and photography with incredible definition and sharply defined edges. Night time shots are bold and feature deep shadows but never break up in any way or fashion.
"The Outlaw Josey Wales" contains a DTS track that works quite well. It is not nearly as aggressive as modern mixes, but still makes decent use of the discrete surround channels and creates some active surround effects. Although the soundtrack is quite old, it never sounds thin as many other tracks of the time and also doesn't exhibit the often found artificially sounding dialogs.
Jerry Fielding composed the engrossing score for "The Outlaw Josey Wales". It is a score that is as complex as it is intriguing. Fielding oftentimes uses dissonance to add drama to the film's scenes without ever overstating them, always keeping the texture at a level that works almost subliminally. He also uses percussion instruments a lot as the basis for his score and makes efficient use of the traditional instruments to create a feel of the great outdoors.

A brand new commentary track, featuring Eastwood biographer Richard Schickel, is included on this disc as he elaborates upon the movie, its production, the background and many other aspects in quite some detail. While scholarly in nature, the track nonetheless remains light enough to entertain.

Also included is a brand new featurette called "Clint Eastwood's West," along with two vintage featurettes that were released previously, "Hell Hath No Fury" about the making of the movie, and "Eastwood in Action." All of them offer additional insight into the background of the film, as well as Clint Eastwood as an actor and director.

The movie's theatrical trailer is also included. This release is a Blu-Ray Book and as such, you will also find a magnificent 32-page full color booklet in the release, featuring still images and publicity shots as it looks back at the movie and Eastwood's career with a series of essays.
The disc also contains a number of background information and liner notes as well as an unbelievably large number of trailers I gave up counting them after I had reached 14.

You can never have too much Eastwood, I say, and I will always cherish a release of any of his films. Presenting "The Outlaw Josey Wales" here in high definition with cool extras and the wonderful booklet, makes this a definite collectible for me and probably many other fans. With this release, you just can't go wrong.



The Rite (2010)

Every couple of years a film about exorcism appears that tries to fill a gap that has been created by the massive boots that William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" has left for filmmakers to fill since 1973. Just like no one really tackles shark movies successfully, no one can do a movie about exorcism without immediately inviting comparisons. Nonetheless, "The Rite" looked like a promising candidate and I took a look at the film when it arrived on my desk.

Michael Kovak(Colin O'Donoghue) does not want to continue his father's business as an undertaker. Since everyone in his family is either an undertaker or a priest, he decided to become a priest instead. However, lack of faith and his ever-present questions for truth make him a bad theology student. Just as the young man made up his mind to resign from priesthood, he is approached by his superior who suggests Michael take a course in exorcism, a profession that was desperately needed by the Church since possessions were on the rise.

Unconvinced, Michael attends the lectures at the Vatican, still filled with the same doubts when Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) suggests he visits Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Father Lucas, as it turns out is a practicing exorcist who has dealt with driving out demons for over 30 years. will he be able to convince Michael of the existence of good and evil?

To say "The Rite" is a rip-off of "The Exorcist" would be going to far, but it is quite evident that the movie certainly does riff on the themes established by William Friedkin's horror classic and even copies certain story elements, such as the priest experiencing a loss of faith who is put on the spot and has to drive out the devil, or the guilt of abandoning a parent, for not being there when the parent dies, being haunted by the pain, the old, experienced exorcist who is torn between fits of faith and questioning God following success and failure in his profession.

Fortunately, "The Rite" dos not go as far as copying things such as the spinning head or the pea-soup spitting — in fact it mocks it at one point — but still, the imagery presented during the exorcisms, the trash talk, the physical manifestations of the demon etc. are all there.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the movie's quiet tone, the questioning of the subject matter. Never trying to be sensational, the film slowly builds all the way to the predictable but nonetheless powerful finale. For me it is the way how the story was told that made it intriguing and not so much the story itself.

Warner Home Video is presenting "The Rite" in a 1080p high definition transfer on this disc and as expected, the film is absolutely clean and free of blemishes. The imagery in the movie can get very dark and contains a bit of noticeable grain in certain scenes, all in order to create a sense of grittiness and urgency. It works very well and again and again I found myself admiring the beautiful cinematography of the movie. Overall, the definition of the transfer is masterfully restored, giving you a full high definition treat with plenty of detail to boot.

A DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track accompanies the film that is powerful and balanced. With active surrounds, the film will startle you on occasion but will never get annoyingly loud. The balance in the mix is always maintained, making for a great presentation. Solid bass extension and clear high ends make sure every detail is transparent and clearly coming through.

Among the extras on the release you will find additional scenes, as well as an alternate ending.

Seeing as the movie was inspired by true events — or so they claim — you will also find "Soldier of God" on the disc, a featurette about the Father Gary Thomas, whose life events have inspired the movie. Also included are eye witness accounts of actual exorcisms.

"The Rite" brings nothing new to the table, really. It dabbles in the same field as every other movie on the subject since "The Exorcist," but I found this film nonetheless intriguing and entertaining, so check it out if you see it somewhere.


This post first appeared on VHS & DVD Review, please read the originial post: here

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