Redbelt on Blu-ray

With Hollywood making sports movie after sports movie after sports movie lately, it’s rather refreshing to see a sports movie that manages to take the focus off of the sports.

Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a respected Jiu-Jitsu master who prefers honor over glory. His martial arts studio has been having some financial difficulties, and his wife is becoming increasingly irate. One night, a random incident sets in motion a chain of events that will make a fairly entertaining movie.

Saying more would detract from the enjoyment of the film, which relies on Mamet’s clever craftsmanship and unravelling story technique to drive it forward. His trademarks are stamped all over the place, with great dialogue, a well-suited cast, and a refusal to reveal any more information at any one time than is absolutely necessary.

Ejiofor evokes the wisdom and honor needed for the lead role, and backs it up with some mad Jiu-Jitsu skills. Tim Allen is the standout supporting player, if for no other reason than he does an admirable job of playing completely against type. Regular Mamet cast members are here, too, such as Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon.

What we didn’t like about Redbelt was the ending. It’s far too abrupt (even taking his other films into account), and seems as though they decided – at the last minute – to upgrade to “the mega-happy ending.” Furthermore, in the last two minutes, more questions are created than answered. We appreciate the desire to leave a movie open to interpretation, but this seemed a little extraneous.

Despite the respect we have for David Mamet and his work, Redbelt is not a great movie. It’s good, and certainly entertaining, but now that we’ve seen it we don’t feel as though we’d ever want to see it again. One might consider it as a rental.

The Blu-ray of Redbelt is pretty solid. The video is typical 1080p 2.40:1 HD, and the audio is available in English, French or Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The picture looks very nice, with no dust or grain, and colors showing up pretty well. Every once in a while we noticed a shot that, for whatever reason, didn’t look quite as good. But overall some good work.

The audio stays pretty tame until the third act, when it really kicks into gear. The sounds of the fighters, announcers, and crowd are all meshed together perfectly, being audible but never getting in the way of the actors. There are no major volume fluctuations, either.

Extras include an audio commentary by Mamet and UFC champion/supporting actor Randy Couture, a couple of featurettes, a Q & A with Mamet, an interview with UFC president Dana White, and some fighter profiles.

Redbelt, from Sony Pictures Classics Home Entertainment
99 minutes, 2.40:1 1080p HD, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Ricky Jay, Joe Mantegna, Emily Mortimer, David Paymer, Rodrigo Santoro
Produced by Chrisann Verges
Written and directed by David Mamet

Dude, where's my car?Dude, Where’s My Car? on Blu-ray

Not since Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure have we rooted for two guys so utterly stupid. And like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dude, Where’s My Car? is surprisingly funny.

Jesse and Chester got a little too drunk last night (for shame), and they can't quite remember what they did. Naturally, today is their anniversary with their twin girlfriends, and the presents they bought are in the back of the car.

Not only that, but they trashed their girlfriends' house at some point during the night, so they're in hot water as it is. Thus begins the quest to answer the titular question.

Along the way, Jesse and Chester meet up with several people involved in their preceding excursion. There's Christie Boner, the transsexual stripper, the extremely hot chicks, the über-nerds, and even the "Super Hot Giant Alien." And somehow, the entire plot revolves around a little device called the Continuum Transfunctioner.

Once their girlfriends are kidnapped and held ransom by the nerds, they become the best boyfriends in history and set out to save their beloveds.

The nice thing about Dude, Where's My Car? is that the main characters' intentions are good. They just want to find their car, so they can give their girlfriends the anniversary presents, and get their "special surprise" in return.

The fact that the plot is completely inane only adds to the humor. There's not a single scene in the entire film in which it expects to be taken seriously. Many of the laughs come about because you can't help but laugh at how stupid these two guys are. A perfect example is the tattoo scene.

Ashton Kutcher<<(That 70's Show) and Seann William Scott (American Pie) are perfect for their roles. And the screenplay by Philip Stark is perfectly stupid. As long as you understand that this isn't a movie made to make you think (in fact, it's made to prevent you from thinking), you'll have no trouble laughing and enjoying.

The picture and sound are substandard for a Blu-ray, but better than a DVD. In fact, it looks like they took the DVD and then just recorded it onto a Blu-ray disc: it’s better, but doesn’t really look like they tried. The dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio booms during certain scenes (such as the one in the strip club and the climax) but is otherwise pretty tame.

Extras include a theatrical trailer.

Dude, Where's My Car, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
83 min, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Seann William Scott, Kristy Swanson
Produced by Wayne Rice, Broderick Johnson, Andrew Kosove, Gil Netter
Written by Philip Stark, Directed by Danny Leiner


You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (Blu-ray)

by Johnny Bray

Adam Sandler has been pretty reliable for years now. The only real stinker in his entire catalogue (that we can think of) is Bulletproof, from way back in ’96. And man, that one was bad.

Nevertheless, he’s been releasing one or two comedies almost every year since The Waterboy in ’98, and they’ve all had their charms. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is the latest feature – one of the weakest, and it’s still pretty funny.

Sandler plays The Zohan, essentially the Austin Powers of Israel. He kicks some serious terrorist butt on a regular basis, is revered by his home country, and wants nothing more than to settle down in America as a hairdresser. Wait…what?

As everyone makes fun of his dream, The Zohan concocts a plot to fake his own death and hustle off to the new world to follow said dream. We’re certain there won’t be anyone in New York who would recognize The Zohan and threaten to uncover his secrets. Will there? Of course there will. But not before he charms the hearts of nearly everyone in the city.

It may be no Billy Madison, but The Zohan has enough gags to keep it entertaining. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for all the racial stereotypes which, if done well, are always amusing. The formula is pretty much identical to every comedy starring former SNL alumni, but that just means you don’t have to think about it too much. Just enjoy.

If you fancy a potentially-offensive comedy starring a bunch of people who know how to make you laugh, you could do a lot worse.

The Blu-ray presentation of the film is pretty solid. In typical 1080p High Defintion, everything looks nice. There are plenty of vibrant colors and the level of detail is impressive, to be sure. In fact, there’s nothing about it that detracts at all; it simply doesn’t seem to be of the quality of the best Blu-rays. Not that it needs to be.

The audio is equally impressive, as there are plenty of action sequences that make good use of the home theater system. It leaps to life during such scenes, and remains more subdued during the quieter moments. dialogue is always crystal clear (even through all the fake accents) and there are no volume fluctuations.

Extras include two commentaries (one with Sandler, Robert Smigel, Rob Schneider and Nick Swardson, the other with director Dennis Dugan), some not-too-great deleted scenes, and a bunch of featurettes.

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
117 min. 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Rob Schneider
Written by Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel & Judd Apatow
Directed by Dennis Dugan

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still on Blu-ray disc

One of the best SF movies of the 1950's, Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still" helped kick off 50's alien invasion movies on a high note.

Michael Rennie is Klaatu, an alien emissary from a kind of interplanetary United Nations, sent to Earth with an ultimatum for mankind.

He's shot and wounded when he first steps out of his flying saucer, however, which really sets the tone for most of the humans in this cold war-era tale of suspicion and futility.

But not all the humans are afraid or paranoid. After slipping out of the hospital where the military had him penned, Klaatu takes a room at a Washington, DC, area boarding house so he can study the human condition the way Jane Goodall studies chimpanzees.

Here he meets Helen Benson ( played marvelously by Patricia Neal) and Bobby (Billy Gray), a widow and her oh-so precocious son, who hit it off with Klaatu (masquerading as a Mr. Carpenter) right away - she because she needs a convenient baby-sitter and he because Carpenter has plenty of interesting and wild tales about science and nifty kid stuff like that.

While Bobby's showing Klaatu the sights of the US capital, they try to visit "the smartest man in the world" (Sam Jaffe) where Klaatu leaves a calling card guaranteed to pique the interest of the difficult-to-meet scientist. Jaffe's Professor Barnard agrees to host a meeting of the world's most influential people (other than politicians) and it looks as if Klaatu may finally get the world wide forum for his message that he insists is the only way he'll impart his words of wisdom.

But the military, aided by Helen's fiance (Hugh Marlowe), who are justifiably freaked out by a powerful demonstration Klaatu has given (at Barnard's suggestion) track down Klaatu and once again gun him down.

You can't keep a good alien down, though, and (with Helen's help) Klaatu's remains are rescued by his powerful robot Gort and he's resuscitated long enough to deliver his message - an ultimatum that mankind had better learn to live together or face extermination at the hands of the more civilized members of the galactic brotherhood (The message is basically "don't kill your neighbors or we'll kill you").

Michael Rennie is very good as Klaatu. He's warm and wryly amused by the foibles of the humans he finds around him. In fact, there isn't a bad performance here, but it's Edmund North's screenplay (based on the story "Farewell to the Master") that's the real star. It's intelligent, funny, and sobering all at the same time.

The Blu-ray disc is also very good. The 1080p picture shows its age for sure, but there are also times when it looks remarkably good, with very a nice sense of depth. The black and white, "full frame" picture is nice and sharp with good contrast. The aspect ratio is the film's original 4x3 which is as it should be. Thank goodness for non burn-in widescreen TV's these days!.

Audio is dts HD Master, and it sounds a little old - a bit shrill and thin compared to today's better soundtracks, but what can you do? But considering all that, the sound is fine.

Fox has included two never-before-seen, high-definition BD exclusive features: “Gort Command!,” an arcade-style shooting gallery game and “Interactive Theremin: Create Your Own Score,” where viewers can re-score the film’s opening sequence.  There's also an exclusive First Look At The New Movie The Day The Earth Stood Still Starring Keanu Reeves And Jennifer Connelly. We skipped this, not wanting to spoil the either version.

There's a feature on the Theremin, the weird electronic musical instrument used to such good effect by Bernard Herrman, the film's composer. And, with Interactive Theremin, you can create your own score. There's a commentary by Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer, another byFilm & Music Historians John Morgan, Steven Smith, William Stromberg and Nick Redman, an iIsolated Score Track,  he Day The Earth Stood StillMain Title Live Performance By Peter Pringle,  The Making of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Decoding “Klaatu Barada Nikto”: Science Fiction as Metaphor Featurette<.

And that ain't all! Fox also piles on  A Brief History of Flying Saucers Featurette, The Astounding Harry Bates Featurette, Edmund North: The Man Who Made the Earth Stand Still Featurette, and tne new to disc Race To Oblivion:  A Documentary Short Written And Produced By Edmund North and Farewell To The Master:  A Reading By Jamieson K. Price Of The Original Harry Bates Short Story; (an audio only feature).

Fox isn't done yet: there's an Interactive Pressbook, Fox Movietonews from 1951, Original Theatrical Trailer & Teaser Trailer, Advertising Gallery, Behind-The Scenes Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Production Gallery, Spaceship Construction Blueprints, Shooting Script.


So if you're a fan of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," this is the one to buy!

The Day the Earth Stood Still, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
92 min. 1080p (4x3) , dts HD Master Audio
Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Written by Edmund H. North, directed by Robert Wise

Horton Hears a Who

Horton Hears a Who on Blu-ray Disc

This was a pleasant surprise.

We figured going in that this movie would suck big time. Don't get us wrong; we love Dr. Seuss. Some of our best friends are Dr. Seuss.

Well, okay, but the original Chuck Jones/Dr. Seuss TV production starring Boris Karloff is a desert island disc. It soars with a joy that never gets old.

The DVD we have also included an old TV version of Horton Hears a Who. While it had its moments, it wasn't fit to be on the same disc as The Grinch. The live action Grinch didn't make the cut, either, and the live action Cat in the Hat looked so awful from the commercials we didn't want to see it. We had planned on avoiding this version of Horton, too.

Then we saw the trailer on another Fox Blu-ray we were reviewing. It looked like it might still suck, but the animation and the picture quality were breathtaking. And they sweetened the offer by using The Who's "Who Are You?" in the trailer. So when the disc came we slipped it into the old PS3 and fired it up.

It didn't suck. In fact, the story of the elephant who discovers a civilization (well, Whoville) that exists on a tiny speck of dust and even though he interacts with the people there - chiefly the mayor - he can't convince his peers that he isn't crazy, won us over. It's very Seussy and the entire film looks like a Dr. Seuss book brought to life. It's remarkable.

The animation is superb, giving us creatures that are solid and textured, and the Blu-ray 1080p high definition picture leaps off the screen. And the backgrounds look like 3D rendered Dr. Seuss.

The voice talent, which includes Jim Carrey, Steve Carell and Carol Burnett, do a very good job with the script, and the dts HD Master Audio soundtrack is as rich as the visuals.

It all combines to create a family movie that feels like classic Dr. Seuss. Well done!

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 and dts HD Master Audio.

BD bonus content includes exclusive special feature “Watch Horton Hears a Who! with a Who!” and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Babylon A.D.Babylon A.D. on Blu-ray disc

Vin Diesel stars in this "raw and uncut" version of the 2008 movie about a mercenary hired to spirit a spiritual girl out of a future Eastern Europe and get her to the Big Apple.

Here's how Fox describes it: "In the darkly futuristic world of Babylon A.D., the rules are simple: kill or be killed. Hard-hitting action superstar Vin Diesel (The Fast and the Furious, The Chronicles of Riddick), stars as Toorop, a ruthless mercenary hired to smuggle a mysterious young woman from the post-apocalyptic confines of Eastern Europe to the glittering megalopolis of New York City. Hunted at every turn, Toorop spirits his charge across a nightmarish wasteland only to uncover a shocking secret that will bring the entire world to its knees. Eye-popping action and mind-blowing science fiction clash head-on in this hard-edged thriller, where the only rule is survival."

Well, okay, that does describe the plot fairly well and it's an interesting flick with some interesting ideas and excellent production values. It has its share of clichés, unfortunately, such as the potential budding romance between Toorop and Aurora you just knew was going to happen – and it seems that one can't have a Hollywood movie these days without including some bashing of Big Business and Organized Religion, which this movie manages to do with one broad brush stroke that takes in both.

But if you can get past that, this isn't a bad 101 minutes in the home theater.

Diesel plays his part well, even showing some signs of emotion in the emotional finale. Michelle Yeoh, as Aurora's companion, is very compelling and Melanie Thierry is a believable and attractive "Virgin Mary."

There are times when the story grinds to a halt in favor of action sequences (not that we have anything against action) and the story seems more than a tad disjointed, making us wonder if there's actually a better 2.5 hour movie in here trying to get out.

The Babylon A.D. Digital Copy Special Edition is presented in 1080p widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) and features 5.1 dts HD Master Audio – and both are fabulous. The picture quality is sharp and bright and clean, with pretty good depth and plenty of nuance. Audio quality is top notch, with all channels getting a nice workout and enough low frequency effects to make your heart thump. It envelops you in the action beautifully.

Fox has even thrown in D-Box motion code, for those who have those systems.

The package comes with a bonus Digital Copy disc as well as:

  • Babylon Babies –How author Maurice G. Dantec’s novel went from page to screen
  • Arctic Escape – An inside look at the snow mobile chase
  • Fit For The Screen – A featurette about the martial arts and stunts of the film
  • Flight of the Hummers – The exciting Humvee chase is dissected
  • Genesis of Aurora – A graphic novel prequel to Babylon A.D.

There's also a stills gallery and BonusView BD features ("Scene Evolution" and "Commercials") and more.

Babylon A.D. won't go down in movie history as one of the great sci-fi epics, but it's an interesting and enjoyable flick nonetheless.

Babylon A.D., from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
101 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), dts-HD Master Audio
Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry,
Screenplay by Mathieu Kassovitz and Eric Besnard, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz

The Pink PantherThe Pink Panther on Blu-ray disc

"When a star soccer coach is murdered and his priceless Pink Panther diamond stolen, France is in an uproar. Fortunately, Inspector Jacques Clouseau is on the case. He doesn't have a clue, but for Clouseau, that's just a minor detail. With his partner, Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno), he careens from one misadventure to the next, leaving mayhem in his wake from the boulevards of Paris to the streets of New York.

Will he seduce the pop diva, Xania (Beyoncé Knowles)? Will he push Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) over the edge? Will he catch the killer and recover the diamond? With Inspector Clouseau, anything is possible."

Yeah, well that's how Sony describes this attempt to recreate the magic of the old Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers classic.

The movie tries hard, and it does have a certain amount of laughs, but the overall effect we got was an urge to view the original once again. It's too bad. While they should never have tried to recreate that magic, the names behind this production are credible and they try very hard.

Martin has the thankless job - and the nearly impossible one - of making us forget about Peter Sellers and he does pretty well, though we never forget Sellers. But Martin's a good actor and he does yeoman's service here.

The movie kicks off by introducing Clouseau through the eyes of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, outlining why the clumsy and clueless oaf was promoted and given the task of tracking down a murderer and finding the missing Pink Panther diamond.

It turns out that Dreyfus is nominated for the French Medal of Honor, and needs someone he can use as a fall guy so he can end up solving the case, taking the credit, and looking good in the process. And this is why Clouseau is brought in. He assigns Gilbert Ponton (Jean Reno) as Clouseau's chauffeur, but he's really there to keep Dreyfus informed as to what Clouseau is doing and where he's going.

There's plenty of slapstick and some decent running gags, and the entire crew do their best. In the end, the film works, and we even laughed a few times, but this is not the definitive version of The Pink Panther by any means. But it is worth a view.

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p High Definition at an aspect ratio of 1:85:1. Video quality is very good; crisp, colorful and rich it has a lucious look that, while not offering the "depth" of some discs, is still very pleasing to the eye.

The audio features Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's fine. This is primarily a dialog-driven film, but the audio is very listenable and clear.

Extras include:

    • Exclusive to Blu-ray - Code Pink: Animated Graphics-in-Picture Track
    • Audio Commentary with Director Shawn Levy
    • Optional Commentary – Deleted Scenes Commentary with Director Shawn Levy 
    • Documentary: Cracking the Case
    • Five Featurettes
    • 11 Deleted Scenes
    • Three Music Videos

    The Pink Panther, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
    93 min. 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby TrueHD
    Starring Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyoncé Knowles, Jean Reno
    written by Len Blum and Steve Martin, directed by Shawn Levy

    RevolverRevolver on Blu-ray

    If you plan to watch Revolver (and you know who you are), know now that you musn’t waste valuable energy on deciphering the plot.

    It’s completely convoluted (as is common in Guy Ritchie’s world) and absolutely nothing will make sense until the end. Even then it’s not a completely satisfying conclusion, but by that point you’re just happy to know something…anything.

    Jake Green (Jason Statham) has just spent time in jail due to his connection to mob boss Dorothy Macha (a gloriously over-the-top Ray Liotta). Naturally, he wants revenge. But it’s how he achieves said vengeance that will be the interesting part – and the completely bizarre part.

    You can’t really summarize everything to a friendly length; nevertheless, the film is definitely Ritchie’s most ambitious. It tries to get deep and philosophical (at least metaphorically) and in some ways it succeeds. Sadly, the task of writing a movie about such an idea, and adapting it to your particular style with a properly cohesive narrative seems to have been too much to tackle. Not that we don’t respect him for trying. And not that it isn’t a mostly enjoyable flick anyway.

    The performances are entertaining enough, with Statham showing a little more range than most of us have seen before (albeit only towards the end). The aforementioned Liotta is especially fun to watch as he goes increasingly mad. Vincent Pastore and Andre Benjamin lend some credibility, and Mark Strong plays one of the coolest characters in recent memory.

    The movie’s a bit of a mishmash overall, with even some random animated bits thrown in for no reason whatsoever.

    Rumor has it the original UK version was longer and more comprehensible. We have a hard time understanding why a studio would want to take away necessary material for a different market, but we’re sure they know what they’re doing… </sarcasm>

    Anyway, it’s a bit of a different film from a director who gets nitpicked for stepping outside his comfort zone. Go in without expectations, don’t try to follow too closely and you’ll probably enjoy it well enough.

    The video quality flip-flops between being really good and average. Some scenes are excellent, with spot-on detail and very little grain or pixilation. Others seem completely missed. There’s never really much color and when there is it looks a little oversaturated. Pound for pound not a bad little transfer, but needs some work. The audio is quite powerful, with narration that comes from all sides and excellent depth.

    Extras include a commentary with Guy Ritchie and editor James Herbert, some deleted & alternate scenes, and a few featurettes.

    Revolver, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
    104 minutes, 2.35:1 1080p High Definition, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    Starring Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore and Andre Benjamin
    Written and directed by Guy Ritchie

    Quo Vadis

    Quo Vadis on Blu-ray

    It was one of the first color "cast of thousands" biblical epics, but Quo Vadis is surely no Ben-Hur. It's epic, indeed, with huge sets, terrific production values and all those extras, but despite its strengths it definitely comes off as an "epic wannabe" rather than a true big screen event.

    Part of the reason is its full frame aspect ratio, which isn't really the filmmakers' fault since the movie came out before the days of widescreen. But full frame certainly limits the film's "scope", its "vista", making it seem smaller than it would have only a couple of years later.

    Another big reason is Robert Taylor, who stars as Marcus Vinicius, commander of Rome's 14th Legion. The man simply couldn't act, at least in this film. He's surrounded by excellent thespians such as Peter Ustinov (whose performance as Emperor Nero is quite simply outstanding), Deborah Kerr, Finlay Currie  and Leo Glenn, but he can't keep up with them.

    On his return from a campaign, Marcus Vinicius falls in love with Lygia (Kerr), who is also a member of a pesky group of Christians who are a convenient scapegoat for Nero to point at to deflect public anger from his own shortcomings (one of which is his famous burning of Rome merely, according to the film, so he can have it rebuilt to his own specifications). Nero favors Marcus with a gift of Lygia (much to her freedom-loving chagrin), and through their relationship he begins to learn and understand what Christianity is all about, until eventually he becomes saved – spiritually at least.

    The "lion's share" of the movie is the final section, when the Christians are rounded up and fed to the big cats in front of cheering crowds…

    It really is a good movie, and an excellent Blu-ray, but it left us panting in impatient anticipation of an eventual BD release of the ultimate biblical epic that was Ben-Hur.

    The 1080p picture is stunning. Depth is excellent, as is color and contrast. This really works for the huge sets and detailed costumes, all of which look rich and finely textured.

    Audio is merely Dolby Digital and it's merely okay. This is not only a shame for the dialogue and sound design, but for deemphasizing Miklos Rosza's wonderful score.

    The extras are pretty good, though. We get a commentary by Filmmaker/Writer F. X. Feeney, an interesting documentary on the genesis of the film (with, ironically, music scooped from Rosza's even better score for Ben-Hur) – and Warner Brothers has restored the original overture and exit music that haven't been available for 56 years.

    You also get a teaser trailer and the theatrical trailer.

    Quo Vadis, from Warner Home Entertainment
    174 min. 1080p full frame (1.33:1), Dolby Digital mono
    Starring Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Leo Glenn and Peter Ustinov
    produced by Sam Zimbalist
    written by John Lee Mahin and S. N. Behrman, directed by Mervyn LeRoy

    Enemy at the Gates

    Enemy at the Gates on Blu-ray

    There've been World War II films that focused on Americans, British, Canadians, Germans, Japanese and others, but other than threats in Hogan's Heroes about Germans soldiers who screwed up being banished to the Russian front, we can't think of another Hollywood reference to that major scene of WWII conflict before Enemy at the Gates.

    Jean-Jacques Annaud's movie features an all-star and is set in 1942, when the Nazis are invading Russia. Under the leadership of Nikita Kruschev (Bob Hoskins), the good people of Stalingrad are doing their best to turn back the invaders, but things aren't going well. And they're depressed and in much need of some heroes to lift their spirits and help give them the strength to fight on.

    Then along comes Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), an expert sharpshooter who appears able to pick off an enemy with astonishing ease. Vassili's heroic deeds on behalf of mother Russia become legendary - thanks to his best friend, political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), whose life was saved by Vassili's skill. And Vassili appears unstoppable – a shadowy figure who strikes fear into the hearts of German soldiers who never know when – or from where – his next bullet will come.

    Clearly, the Nazis need to stop Vassili, so they bring to the task their best sniper: Major Konig (Ed Harris). This sets up a climactic "battle" between the two sharpshooters in the burning and bombed out buildings of Stalingrad.

    It's a compelling story, well acted and filmed, and with very good special effects. We enjoyed it very much. Naturally, there's a love interest, in this case it's Tania Chernova, a fellow Russian solder played by Rachel Weisz, whose charms cause both Vassili and Danilov to fall in love with her – and which also causes a falling out between the two friends.

    The Blu-ray of Enemy at the Gates is also very good. The 1080p picture is sharp and clean, with good color and nice depth. The audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD and it's very dynamic – just what you want in a war movie. All the channels are used well, enveloping you in the wartime action, and you get good concussion from the low frequency effects channel.

    Extras include the theatrical trailer (in HD), deleted scenes and the fairly interesting featurettes "Through the Crosshairs" and "Inside Enemy at the Gates."

    Enemy at the Gates, from Paramount Home Entertainment
    131 min. 1080p widescreen, Dolby TrueHD
    Starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Bob Hoskins
    written by Alain Godard and Jean-Jacques Annaud, Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud

    Year One

    Year One on Blu-ray disc

    Harold Ramis has made some pretty good movies during his career, from Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day.

    Year One doesn't come close, unfortunately. Kind of a comic "Quest for Fire," Year One starts Jack Black and Michael Cera as a pair of early men, an unlikely duo which, after being exiled from their tribe because Black's character ate of the forbidden fruit, set out on journey through the ancient world. Along the way they meet various Old Testament characters, including Abraham, Cain and Abel, and practically everyone seems to converge on Sodom for the last section of the movie, a city about to be smitten by the hand of God for its evil ways – though in this flick it seems more like Las Vegas than the pure den of evil portrayed in bible stories.

    The Blu-ray contains both the theatrical and an unrated version on the one disc, though we didn't find too much titillation on the unrated version. But the 1080p picture quality is good, nice and sharp and colorful, with pretty good depth. Audio is dts HD Master Audio – which makes us think Sony may be moving away from its typical Dolby TrueHD tracks – is also good, dynamic and with good surround.>

    Blu-ray exclusives include “Year One Cutting Room,” which lets you create your own video using clips and music from the film, and then inflict it on others via BD-Live. This assumes you can stand to go through the movie more than once, of course.

    The disc also includes the newest BD-Live feature from Sony Pictures: movieIQ, which lets you access real-time trivia information about the cast, crew, music and production, all without – unfortunately – having to leave the movie. The Blu-ray disc also features cinechat, with which you can send on-screen instant messages to unsuspecting friends.

    More conventional extras include an audio commentary with director Harold Ramis, Jack Black and Micheal Cera, deleted scenes, extended and alternate scenes, an alternate ending, "Line-o-Rama", a gag reel, making-of featurettes and more! 

    It isn't enough to save the movie, however.

    Year One, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
    97/100 minutes, 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), dts HD Master Audio
    Starring Jack Black, Michael Sera, Oliver Platt, David Cross,
    Produced by Harold Ramis, Judd Apatow and Clayton Townsend
    Written by Harold Ramis & Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg, directed by Harold Ramis


    Hamlet on Blu-ray

    Doctor Who meets Captain Jean-Luc Picard in this Royal Shakespeare Company production of the tale of the melancholy Dane.

    David Tennant plays said Dane, and plays him very well in this updated production that dresses the cast in modern duds and brings ol' Elsinore into the 21st century.

    Patrick Stewart also turns in an excellent performance as Cladius, Hamlet's nasty uncle who offed Hamlet's dad (the ghost of whom is also played by Stewart) and married Hamlet's mum (Penny Downie) almost while Dad's corpse was still warm.

    The story is well known, so we aren't going to rehash it, let alone hash it again, here - but this 2009 production, directed by Gregory Doran, treats the story not only as Shakespeare's epic tragedy but also as more of a thriller - quite a feat since everyone who'll watch it undoubtedly knows exactly what's going to happen.

    Ah, yes, it's murder most foul at its fairest.

    Well, kind of. We found the updating intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying. The idea of a closed circuit camera system monitoring the castle was kind of neat, for example, but would perhaps it not also make it unnecessary for Polonius (Oliver Ford Davies) and Claudius to hide their asses behind an arras to eavesdrop?

    Also interesting was the director's decision to have Tennant's Hamlet address the audience - by looking into the camera - during soliloquys.

    Here's how the package describes this production:

    "No recent stage production in Britain has attracted the excitement and nearly unanimous critical praise as this Hamlet. Tennant's interpretation was recognized as defining the role for a generation, and Stewart’s complex Claudius won the Olivier award, Britain’s highest stage honor. In this specially-shot screen version, filmed on location rather than in the theater, Tennant and Stewart reprise their roles. Dynamic, exciting and contemporary, it breathes new life into Shakespeare's greatest play."

    So there. And we agree with this blurb for the most part. But our biggest problem was with the updating - the setting and the costumes were updated but Shakespeare's words weren't. This is completely understandable, of course, but it made for a real disconnect as these modern people go around spouting the flowery, 400 year old language of the Bard.

    At the risk of being accused of sacrilege, we wonder what it would have been like if the dialogue had been updated as well, so the people spoke the way people today do. 'Twould be interesting to see.

    Anyway, that aside, this is a fine version of the famous play and it's very enjoyable. Perhaps the updating will make it more palatable for modern audiences who might find older versions such as Laurence Olivier's a tad forbidding.

    The Blu-ray itself looks great. It's only presented in 1080i, but the picture quality is very good indeed. Blacks are nice and deep, colors are vivid and the image is very detailed.

    Audio is PCM stereo, so forget about any surround effects unless you access them youself through your home audio system assuming it has such capability.

    The Blu-ray also includes an audio commentary track with Gregory Doran, Sebastien Grant and Chris Seagar and a very interesting "making of" documentary.

    Kelly's EaglesClint Eastwood Doubles the WWII Action on Blu-ray

    Clint Eastwood was busy cementing his acting credentials in the late 1960's, having come off his career-making "Man with No Name" spaghetti westerns and he was tackling a wider variety of roles as this double feature from Warners showcases.

    These outings weren't always successful – as Paint Your Wagon shows – but that wasn't necessarily Eastwood's fault.

    Part of this expanding of his action chops was undoubtedly to branch out from the westerns in which he'd made his name in TV and earlier films, move into other genres. Perhaps this is why we find him in two very different World War II films here, one of which is kind of an action comedy and one of which is a classic type of thriller.

    Kelly's Heroes is the kind of action comedy - kind of a "Not-so-dirty Dozen" with its tongue in its cinematic cheek. It follows a bunch of U.S. army fellows on an unauthorized mission to steal a fortune in Nazi gold. Co-starring Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor and with Donald Sutherland as a real "Oddball", it tries too hard to be funny and, in the end, doesn't really work very well.

    It comes across now as kind of a 1960's generation - the anti-Vietnam war type - look at the "good war".

    Where Eagles Dare, however, works very well in the context of a 1960's action thriller. Oh, sure, it's a bit hard to swallow the heroes never running out of ammo and their plan always going strictly to plan – even when it doesn't – but it's still a smart Alistair MacLean adventure that gives us some gripping excitement – especially when they're fighting atop a large mountain tram's gondola car.

    Eastwood stars as an American army Ranger, an assassin recruited by British Commando and spy Richard Burton to infiltrate an isolated German mountaintop castle and rescue a captured American officer before he can be tortured into spilling the beans about upcoming Allied operations.

    In typical MacLean tradition, you're never really sure who's a good guy and who isn't – though the final unmasking is pretty anticlimactic.

    Both movies were directed Brian G. Hutton which, beyond the presence of Eastwood, may be the hook for putting these two discs into one package. Hutton apparently left the industry in the 1980's and became a plumber, though neither of these films is so bad as to cause one to think he couldn't get work – or that he may have gotten run out of Hollywood.

    Each movie is presented on a separate disc, both in 1080p (2.35:1) and with dts HD Master Audio, and both couldn't be more different. And, wouldn't you know, the better movie has the worse HD treatment!

    Kelly's Heroes looks great, overall, with a nice and sharp picture that shows fine detail  and even good depth in places. Colors are rich and clean. Likewise, the audio is clean and clear, quite dynamic and very listenable.

    The only extra on this disc is the theatrical trailer, however.

    Unfortunately, as far as Where Eagles Dare is concerned, you might as well watch the DVD. The HD picture is grainy and dirty and while there are some places where it looks pretty good, overall it's a real waste of the Blu-ray medium. Maybe part of this is due to the extensive special effects – there's lots of 1960's vintage blue screen work, for example (and the HD format makes it stand out) – but even the interior shots aren't up to snuff. It's a real disappointment.

    Audio isn't much better. With all these explosions we'd hope for a more dynamic sound track, but this one is rather tame.

    Where Eagles Dare does have some interesting supplemental material, though, including a vintage featurette "On Location: Where Eagles Dare" which is pretty interesting. You also get the trailer.

    We're aren't convinced to recommend these for additions to your Blu-ray library, but they're both worth a rental at least.

    Where Eagles Dare, from Warner Home Entertainment
    155 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), dts HD Master Audio
    Starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure
    Written by Alistair MacLean, Directed by Brian G. Hutton

    Kelly's Heroes, from Warner Home Entertainment
    143 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), dts HD Master Audio
    Starring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O'Connor and Donald Sutherland
    Written by Troy Kennedy Martin, directed by Brian G. Hutton

    What's Up, Doc?What's Up, Doc? On Blu-ray disc

    No, it isn't "Whither health care"; rather, it's pretty well the epitome of screwball comedy homages.

    Peter Bodganovich conceived the story, produced and directed this live action Looney Tunes cartoon starring Barbra Streisand as Bugs Bunny and Ryan O'Neal as Elmer Fudd. Except that Streisand is Judy Maxwell, daughter of a judge who's bounced from college to college because mayhem tends to follow her, while he's Howard Bannister, a fuddy duddy – appropriately – intellectual with about as much life experience as Sheldon Cooper from "Big Bang Theory."

    He's a musicologist in San Francisco with his shrew of a fiancé Eunice Burns, played marvelously by Madeline Kahn, to possibly receive a grant to continue his research in how early man made music with rocks. Alas, the rocks he wants to use for his demo are in a plaid overnight bag, which happens to be identical to Judy's (for whom it's a suitcase), a spy's (it contains classified documents) and a rich woman's (for whom it holds her valuable jewelry).

    Naturally, the bags get switched, repeatedly, turning the threads of their respective owners into a tapestry of slapstick and silliness that's rarely pulled off so successfully and memorably.

    I saw this movie on its first theatrical run and it has stayed with me. I don't think it's quite as  funny now as it was in 1972, but it's very nearly a desert island disc regardless of that. I love its silliness, unpretentiousness, the terrific performances by its ensemble cast, and how it truly does come across as a live action Warner Brothers cartoon – much like "Shoot –em Up" did, though What's Up, Doc does it more wit and a lot – a LOT – less violence.

    Streisand was at the height of her success then, and she's really good. She's funny, sexy and Bogdanovich uses her legendary singing voice well. And her chemistry with O'Neal is great.

    It ain't subtle but it's clever and it's a lot of fun. Highly recommended.   

    The Blu-ray is a decent presentation. The 1080p picture is at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and though it does display quite a bit of grain in places, overall Warners has done a decent job of bringing this yukfest to the high definition disc. Some shots are rather soft, but overall the picture is very sharp, with fine detail visible easily and very nice color.  

    The audio is strictly mono. It's a dts-HD Master Audio presentation and I'd have loved to have seen, er heard, what they could do with a surround restoration, but I can live with that And the mono track is pretty good. Dialogue is nice and clean – which is handy since Streisand delivers her lines like they're coming from a machine gun – and her singing sounds very good.

    Extras include a pretty lifeless commentary by director Peter Bogdanovich and there's a scene-specific commentary – though not many scenes – in which Streisand adds a few words.

    "Screwball Comedies... Remember Them?"  is a non-HD featurette that gives some behind-the-scenes stuff of the cast and crew. Despite the title, it isn't a look back at the great screwball comedies of the ages.  

    You also get the theatrical trailer.

    What's Up, Doc? from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment
    94 min. 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), dts HD Master Audio mono
    Starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neal, Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendleton, Sorrell Booke, Michael Murphy and Madeline Kahn
    Written by Buck Henry and David Newman & Robert Benton, directed by Peter Bogdanovich


    Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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