Blu-ray Capsule Reviews - May 2009 *T3 Added!!

Here at DVDTimes we’re always striving to cover as wide a range of titles on each format each month as possible, but with only a handful of regularly active Blu-ray reviewers we currently have to turn down a lot of the review copies that are offered for us. So, in order to try and boost our coverage, we’ve decided to try out a Monthly Review feature where we can write up capsule reviews of the titles we would ordinarily have passed on. Not as technical as our standard reviews, they will nonetheless aim to give you all pertinent information you could want.

We are anxious to hear your feedback on this feature, if it’s well received then the aim is to keep updating this page as newer releases reach us this month, then in June we will start a new article and add to that as titles come in. Now, I can’t stress this enough: These capsule reviews are not replacing our usual, more technical reviews, they are purely a means for us to cover titles that otherwise would’ve been passed on by our reviewers. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this feature and please, please leave us your comments!

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

With Terminator: Salvation due to hit UK screens ‘tis the season for cash in releases! Terminator 3 had some massive shoes to fill when it came out in 2003, but it turned out to have a tiny pair of hobbit hoofs. In Terminator 3 an adult John Connor struggles with the idea that Judgement Day was never fully prevented, and that he is destined for greatness. This is confirmed when Connor ends up running for his life with old acquaintance Kate Brewster as an all new Terminator comes back through time ready to eliminate a number of key members of the future resistance. This time round the mechanical hunter is a sexy blonde “Terminatrix” called the T-X, and she’s pitted against the good old bargain basement T-101, who has also been sent back to play bodyguard. Terminator 3 is a practically note-for-note clone of Terminator 2, the narrative seems rather routine and the action sequences have a sense of Deja Vu about them. It feels like it was conceived as a project to highlight how much more filmmakers can do with CGI in the new millennium, but ironically director Jonathan Mostow ends using CGI so frequently and pushes it to breaking point by using human models, that T3 looks dated just five years later! It’s a shame as the non-CGI effects work from Stan Winston is truly excellent.

Terminator 3 has two things going for it: The first is that Arnie is as good as ever as the T-101 and the part is generally well written, adding a healthy dose of light humour and self-mockery whilst staying true to the character from T2. The second is that the production values are very high, there are explosions on top of explosions involving everything from helicopters to police cars, fire engines and even a big crane. Ordinarily this would help make up for the utterly derivative plot, but Mostow’s direction completely compromises just about every set piece. Using poorly framed close ups and edits that are so short very few shots last longer than 5 seconds, you end up with so much information with so little clarity being thrown at you that some impressive stunt sequences end up feeling matter of fact. You don’t have time to take it all in, it’s simply there you go... and on to the next. The characters are quite dull as well, John Connor isn’t a techno-savvy leader type as all the prophetic speech would imply, he’s a big sappy wet drip of a man who has nothing to do when the action kicks in. This is why T3 ultimately fails, when the most interesting character is an emotionless robot and the action spectacle isn’t that spectacular, what are you left with? A distinctly average sequel!.

The Disc: As with Terminator 2, T3 was shot in Super35 and if you want a damn good example of how that film format should look in High Definition then this transfer is it. The print is almost pristine and grain is kept down to a relatively soft layer. Image detail is very satisfying, Super35 films for me never look “pin sharp” so don’t go looking for that pristine digital look that you find in popular Blu-ray demo discs, as that was never in the image to begin with. If sharpening filters have been used then you can’t notice them; some very slight EE can be seen when you zoom into the transfer but you can’t see this in a standard viewing. Contrast and brightness levels are generally bang on, T3 is not the brightest of films, most of the film is set at night and the daytime sequences generally look under-exposed which is reflected in the look of this transfer. Black levels are excellent and shadow detail is strong. The colour scheme is a little muted and generally “cool” so again you’re not going to see colours that pop off the screen with vibrancy, but what you will see is very solid colour reproduction that looks very natural, with neutral skin tones. Compression is excellent, there’s no noticeable digital noise whether it’s in the colours or blacks.

As for audio we have a very nicely balanced English Dolby TrueHD5.1 track that has deep punchy bass and crisp and clear dialogue. The dynamics are very strong and the soundstage is given an expressive workout in the action sequences, with some excellent use of the rear channels. Extra Features seem to have been lifted from the DVD release as they’re all in standard definition, you have a rather standard set of production featurettes, the best of which is an interview with Todd Mcfarlene on the design and production of the official T3 figurines. There are also two very interesting audio commentaries, one with Mostow and the entire primary cast (all recorded separately) that focuses on the actor’s experiences on the film, and an individual commentary with Mostow that is more technically oriented, but no less engaging.


Film: 5/10
Runtime: 109mins
Release Date: 25th May 2009
BD Region: ALL

Video: 9/10
2.43:1, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p

Audio: 8/10
English Dolby TrueHD-5.1, English Audio Descriptive DD5.1, Italian Dolby TrueHD-5.1,

Subtitles:
English*, English SDH, Italian*, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish
* Included on Extra Features
Extras: 7/10
Commentary by Director Jonathan Mostow, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, and Kristanna Loken
Commentary by Director Jonathan Mostow
Documentary (13m:02s)
Storyboards (03m:55s)
Dressed to Kill (02m:11s)
Toys in Action (07m:04s)
Sgt. Candy Deleted Scene (01m:51s)
Terminal Flaws: Gag Reel (03m:02s)
Making of the Video Game (08m:57s)
Trailers (05m:23s)
TerminatorVision: Picture-in-Picture Experience

Screenshots: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05


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Frost/Nixon

Although now known to a whole generation of UK TV viewers as the lovably sardonic host of Through the Keyhole, the defining moment of his career will always be the 1977 interview with Richard Nixon that made journalistic history by eliciting an iconic moment of contrition from a notoriously impertinent fallen leader. Compulsive biodrama writer Peter Morgan turned the story of how this interview came to be into a successful play in 2006, which has now been given the Hollywood treatment by Ron Howard: king of the misty-eyed biopic. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their roles from the play and while they couldn’t be more physically distinguishable to their real life subjects, provided completely believable and rounded character portrayals of the men. Howard’s film is riveting in the first hour when it is setting up mock docu-interviews with the men working behind the scenes in Frost and Nixon’s camps, along with the dramatisation of the technical and financial preparations needed to handle a man who has evaded blame for a series of corruption charges.

It loses steam in the second hour when the focus switches to the recording of the interview itself. This is when the boxing metaphor really comes to the forefront and the narrative takes on a more generic “underdog” structure, where a naive interviewer battles it out with a fiercely duplicitous opponent and defies the odds to forge victory in the face of adversity (If you’ve seen any sports film, you know the drill). It’s as subtle as a hook to the mush, there’s a montage in the final act where Frost - reinvigorated by a call to arms from Nixon - starts researching his subject afresh that is so obvious in its intentions that it really should’ve had The Eye of the Tiger playing over it. This sort of “big stakes” tone is appropriate for a film like Apollo 13 because no matter how you spin the real events, they will always be about life and death. No matter how you spin a boxing match, the combatants are always risking their lives in that ring. The Nixon interview never had these stakes, worst case scenario was that Nixon would‘ve taken the money and revealed nothing, and Frost’s career would take a hit. In the film, Frost is putting his entire financial security on the line by risking millions of pounds of debt, is the story of the real interview so dull that Morgan and Howard had to result to such uninspiring melodrama? Regardless of my disappointment in that, Frost/Nixon remains an engaging biopic and easily the best thing Howard has produced since Hanks told Huston he had a problem!

The Disc: A cracking hi-def transfer and solid DTS-HD audio are joined by a short but worthwhile selection of extras. Deleted scenes last over half an hour and there’s an involving Making Of that’s just under 25 minutes – not to mention an enthusiastic technical audio commentary from Ron Howard. The rest of the featurettes are distinctly shorter, but still manage to contain a lot of information. As this is a Universal disc there’s also some interesting interactive extra footage in the form of the U-Control feature.

Note: I should point out that the disc kept crashing my computer whenever I tried to play it in PowerDVD v8, so there may be some authoring issues with some PC setups. It played fine in my Sony S350 BD player.

Film: 7/10
Runtime: 121mins
Release Date: 18th May 2009
BD Region: ALL

Video: 8/10
2.36:1, VC-1, 1080p

Audio: 8/10
English DTS-HD5.1, German DTS-5.1, Spanish DTS-5.1

Subtitles:
English*, Dutch*, Spanish*
* Included on Extra Features
Extras: 7/10
Commentary with Ron Howard
Deleted Scenes (30m:27s)
Discovering Secrets: The People and Places Behind the Story (13m:18s)
The Making Of Frost/Nixon (22m:57s)
The Real Interview (07m:27s)
The Nixon Library (06m:21s)
My Scenes
U-Control: The Nixon Chronicles
U-Control: Picture in Picture

Screenshots: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05


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Bride Wars

I only sat down to watch this because I mistakenly thought it was called McBride Wars and quite fancied the idea of Chi and Danny McBride duking it out to see who is the better tubby comic supporting player! Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play the titular brides, lifelong best friends: Liv and Emma, who as impressionable young saplings were guests at an ideal June wedding in the Plaza Hotel and have held onto that dream for themselves ever since. When they receive proposals within days of each other it looks like the dream is on for a wedding in the first and last week of that month, but a mistake in the booking places both ceremonies in different suites at the same location on the same day. With both women refusing to have a duel ceremony and refusing to give up their dream wedding, the stage is set for relationship meltdown and an hilarious war of the bitches – at least that’s the plan. Bride Wars is more like Bland Wars, a rather witless script and plotline that covers just about every comic observation about weddings that has ever been committed to celluloid. Perhaps the film should’ve been titled Clichéd Wars? (Yes I’ve got a theme going here).

Characterisation is particularly one-sided, Liv is the aggressive high-powered one, Emma the sensitive soul who has compulsive need to please all those around her. When the gloves come off, Emma’s inner-extrovert springs to life, years of pent up wallflowering to Liv comes out and strikes with a vengeance. That’s the sole character arc in the film; the writing is so routine that everyone else, including Liv, is exactly the same person at the end as they are at the beginning. There’s also a distinct lack of creativity in the denouement; a conflict in one of the relationships crops up completely out of the blue in the final act to allow a solution in the finale – perhaps the film should have been called Convenient Wars? Performances from the two leads are pretty solid, although both actresses have more talent than this film allows for. Hudson’s been coasting in these safe, formulaic comedies for years now but Hathaway has actually attempted to challenge herself as an actress. I can only hope that Bride Wars is not her first step in the journey back towards The Princess Diaries. I know I’m entirely the wrong sex to be discussing the merits of Bride Wars, and I know that your average female viewer isn’t nearly as particular as men when it comes to comedies, but I still can’t see anyone being all that impressed by this. As a late minute casual rental or home box office purchase it might fit the bill, re-watch value is zero.

The Disc: An undemanding film has been given a rather lavish audio-visual presentation from Fox, with a transfer that seems very faithful to the original theatrical presentation, and a DTS-HD audio track that has enough life in it to handle the film’s more outrageous moments. There’s not a tremendous amount of extra features for such a recent release, nor is the content inspired in any way. The most worthwhile feature is probably the Something Old, Something New setting that enables pop ups of wedding trivia during playback of the film.

Film: 4/10
Runtime: 89mins
Release Date: 18th May 2009
BD Region: B+C

Video: 8/10
1.85:1, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p

Audio: 8/10
English DTS-HD5.1, English Audio Descriptive DD5.1, Spanish DTS-5.1, German DTS-5.1, Russian DTS-5.1, Ukrainian DTS-5.1

Subtitles:
English SDH*, Spanish*, Subtítulos Básicos, Danish*, Finnish*, German*, Begleitender Text, Norwegian*, Russian*, Russian Text, Swedish*, Ykpaihcbka, Ykpaihcbka Tekct, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian.
* Included on Extra Features
Extras: 4/10
Something Old, Something New and What That’s Gonna Cost You
Deleted Scenes (07m:04s)
Improvisations (02m:47s)
Meet Me at the Plaza (06:47s)
The Perfect White Dress (04m:37s)
In Character with Kate Hudson (02m:14s)
In Character with Anne Hathaway (03m:22s)
Man Den (04m:13s)
Maid of Honor (04m:23s)
Amanda-Cam (04m:14s)

Screenshots: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05


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Seven Pounds

If the idea of Will Smith spending two hours acting ambiguously and whimpering a lot sounds like an appealing prospect, then his latest film: Seven Pounds is going to be right up your alley! Big Willie plays Ben Thomas, a slightly bi-polar IRS agent haunted by a tragic event, who is spending his days making altruistic gestures in the lives of a series of people. His pet project is Emily Posa, a woman with a congenital heart defect and rare blood type, which pretty much guarantees she’s buggered, but Ben sweeps into her life and uses his IRS discretion to freeze her medical debt and sets himself up as her emotional benefactor, rekindling the romantic desires her illness has put a block on, but breaking through the bottled up anguish in Ben’s heart is a difficult prospect. Words cannot describe how interminably pretentious Seven Pounds is. Think Alejandro González Iñárritu meets Paul Haggis and multiply the self importance by ten thousand and you might get the idea of the tone of this film.

I actually didn’t mind Big Willie’s previous collaboration with Gabriele Muccino: The Pursuit of Happyness, because despite all the soapy melodrama it told a life-affirming story about a charming man, played by one of the most charismatic stars in Hollywood. Ben Thomas is almost completely charmless, in a desperate attempt to evoke suspense from a wafer-thin plotline, we have to sit through a seemingly endless sequence of cryptically vague scenes where Ben’s internal anguish and hesitation spews out in the form of antagonism and aggressiveness towards his best friend and the subjects he’s trying to help. The conflict is far from understated and it’s painfully obvious what Ben is attempting to do and how he plans to do it, so why does it take almost two hours before the details are revealed? Will Smith’s performance is equally overstated, he spends most of the film with his eyes squinted and chin quivering because of all the CONFLICT his character is feeling, he loathes himself and part of him wants others to loathe him, but he also wants to be saved. The dilemma! After two hours of this drivel, I was feeling like I needed to be rescued as well.

The Disc: Almost as luscious as Sony’s work on Casino Royale, Seven Pound’s transfer falls just shy of that standard because of slightly inconsistent black levels - the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is equally impressive. Almost all the extras can be watched in less than an hour, so most are quite superficial; the Creating the Perfect Ensemble feature is about the most substantial. Gabriele Muccino’s commentary is very technical and dry, which means it can serve the dual purpose of also curing insomnia.

Film: 2/10
Runtime: 123mins
Release Date: 25th May 2009
BD Region: ALL

Video: 8/10
2.40:1, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p

Audio: 8/10
English Dolby-TrueHD5.1, English Audio Descriptive Service DD5.1, German Dolby-TrueHD5.1, Italian Dolby-TrueHD5.1

Subtitles:
English*, English SDH, German*, Italian*, Danish, Dutch*, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish
* Included on Extra Features
Extras: 5/10
Commentary with Gabriele Muccino
Seven Views on Seven pounds (03m:40s)
Creating the Perfect Ensemble (12m:56s)
The Box Jellyfish: World's Deadliest Co-star (04m:58s)
Emily's Passion: The Art of the Printing Press (08m:44s)
Deleted Scenes (02m:04s)
Trailers (13m:50s)

Screenshots: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05


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