"Moonrise Kingdom"

October 2012

Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson Creates a Storybook World on Blu-ray

Universal 62123585
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
*1/2

Starting with Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson has created a string of movies very unlike typical Hollywood films. They deal with real issues but in a storybook way. All of his films offer subtle humor through warm, often wacky characters we can root for. In a way, the movies are like contemporary fairytales. Throughout his various projects (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox among them), Anderson has emerged as a director with a refreshing vision.

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"Les visiteurs du soir"

October 2012

Les visiteurs du soirLove Conquers All on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 626
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
**1/2

Extras
**1/2

I'd never seen Les visiteurs du soir (1942) before this Criterion Blu-ray. I doubt that many others have -- or if they did, they saw it only on badly transferred videocassettes where it could scarcely make a good impression. Director Marcel Carné's Les enfants du paradis (1945) has received much attention, with some calling it the greatest film ever made. Les visiteurs du soir, meanwhile, has been pushed to the background.

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"Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures"

September 2012

Indiana JonesIndy Cracks His Bullwhip on Blu-ray

Paramount 11111024234
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Many of the great adventure trilogies and quadrilogies have been released on Blu-ray, but we've been waiting for Indiana Jones to show up with his signature fedora and bullwhip. Now Paramount has released all four films, and all is right with the world. As far as action-adventure movies go, anyhow.

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"Titanic"

September 2012

TitanicA Titanic Home-Theater Experience on Blu-ray

Paramount 14680
Format: Blu-ray, DVD

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
*****

Extras
****1/2

Director James Cameron's Titanic is available on home video in two four-disc packages. The 3D set is Blu-ray all the way, presenting the 3D movie on two discs, the 2D movie on one disc, and the copious extras on a fourth disc. The 2D set, which is the one I received for review, presents the 2D movie on one Blu-ray Disc, the extras on another Blu-ray, and the 2D movie on two DVDs.

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The Rescuers: 35th Anniversary Edition (The Rescuers / The Rescuers Down Under)

August 2012

The RescuersDisney Double Feature Succeeds on Blu-ray

Disney Blu-ray 109274
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

I don't know whether it has to do with spies within the video industry, phases of the moon, or just plain old coincidence, but there seem to be certain days that serve as bull's-eye release dates for every studio that produces Blu-ray Discs and DVDs. August 28 is an example, and it presents a dilemma for me, since I must pick one title a week to cover. So I'll briefly tell you that Universal's Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein is still a lot of fun and one of the best black-and-white transfers ever, and Battleship proved an unexpected fantasy-adventure of great worth. I should also mention that The Pirates! Band of Misfits, though it boasts an astonishingly crisp HD transfer, is the first Aardman film that hasn't floated my boat. Arrgh!

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"The Hunger Games"

August 2012

The Hunger GamesSuspenseful Fantasy Adventure Receives Excellent Blu-ray Treatment

Lionsgate
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Extras
****

The nation of Panem rose from what used to be North America, which war has all but destroyed. The new government, in a massive crowd-control effort, seeks to distract citizens with an annual Hunger Games ceremony in which a male and female teenager from each of the nation's 12 districts compete to the death. The last remaining contestant will be the victor. The others will be mourned.

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"Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax"

August 2012

The LoraxSeuss Story Expanded for a Colorful Blu-ray Experience

Universal 61120933
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
*****

Sound Quality
****1/2

Extras
***1/2

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.
-- Dr. Seuss

The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss's more somber stories, a cautionary tale that pits corporate greed against nature. It's green to the core, so much so that it has caused quite a bit of controversy since it was published in 1972. The story places the Once-ler against the Lorax (voiced in the movie by Danny DeVito). The latter is a small orange creature with a huge yellow moustache. He's the spirit of the forests who speaks for the trees, whereas the Once-ler is a guy who sees a profit in selling Truffula Tree foliage. The Once-ler ignores the Lorax's warning, only to remember it when the trees are all gone and there is only one seedling left.

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"High Fidelity"

July 2012

High FidelityA Tale of Vinyl and Requited Love Looking Sharp on Blu-ray

Touchstone 109815
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

John Cusack has made many an awful movie tolerable by displaying a winning personality and contributing an impeccable performance. Hot Tub Time Machine comes to mind. But in 2000 he fronted this charming comedy and first-rate film as a most appealing leading man. Cusack plays Rob Gordon, the owner of a dingy, dirty, yet dynamic record shop. Rob is a likable guy, but he has trouble with women and relationships. Laura, girlfriend number six (Danish blonde Iben Hjejle), is in the process of breaking up with him to go live with Ian "Ray" Raymond (Tim Robbins with a pony tail!).

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"Down by Law"

July 2012

Down by LawA Loveable, Offbeat Film with Heart and Perfect Widescreen Picture Composition

The Criterion Collection 166
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Down by Law has stood the test of time to become an offbeat masterpiece. Director Jim Jarmusch pulled it off by casting two musicians (John Lurie and Tom Waits) and an Italian comedian then unknown in America (Roberto Benigni), using black-and-white photography by Robby Müller, and location shooting in New Orleans with its surrounding swamps. Though it has a plot, Down by Law is more of a character and mood study than a narrative film.

Three eccentrics, Zack, Jack, and Roberto (Waits, Lurie, and Benigni), end up in a New Orleans jail. After a long period of getting to know each other, they decide to escape together and they take off across the Louisiana swamps, where one of them finds the American Dream. The three are oddballs in spades. Zack is an alcoholic ex-disc jockey who is conned into driving a stolen car across town and parking it in a new location, not knowing there's a dead man in the trunk. Jack is a pimp, but an unusual one who never hits his girls. Roberto is a lost Italian tourist who carries a notebook of American slang phrases in his pocket, and he's prone to using the wrong phrase at the wrong time.

The casting couldn't be better. Musicians Waits and Lurie were well known at the time, but not for their acting abilities. A musician himself, Jarmusch enjoys this type of potentially risky casting. This movie also marked the first American appearance of Roberto Benigni, whose shtick was still fresh and had yet to become a tiresome parody of itself. Taken as a trio, the stars are charismatic and appealing.

Cinematographer Müller films everything with flair and assurance. A lot of movies have used the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but only a handful seem to have really needed widescreen. In shot after shot, Müller’s work fully justifies that choice. This movie might well serve as a model on scene composition.

Criterion already had a very good DVD of this movie in its catalog, but the Blu-ray improves on it with a virtually pristine black-and-white picture containing great detail and perfect contrast. The mono audio soundtrack is alive and clear with lots of presence, and the music and dialogue are perfectly balanced. About 25 minutes from the end I remembered that the movie isn't in stereo, much less surround, and I didn't miss those elements at all. The extras are carried over from the DVD release, which includes, most importantly, an in-depth interview with Müller. There's also a Jarmusch-directed music video for Tom Waits's cover of Cole Porter's "It's All Right with Me." If anyone gets this, let me know. It left me scratching my head.

Down by Law is off the beaten track, but just about anyone can enjoy it. Its fugitive-escape narrative is tempered at heart with a kind humor that's more gray than black. Everyone in the technical departments, both the original artists and the transfer team, proves that an indie film doesn't have to look and sound bad to be successful. Rent first, but I have a feeling you'll want to buy it soon after, as Down by Law holds up well to repeated viewing.

Be sure to watch for: Chapter 4 finds Zack on a trash-littered street corner with a poster on the right and the connecting street on the left. Look at the depth of field and the composition, which make the best possible use of the widescreen aspect ratio. The shadow composition and detail are also impressive.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

"Yellow Submarine"

July 2012

Yellow SubmarineThis Blu-ray Restoration Is a Resounding Success

Apple 50999621 46098
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
*****

Extras
****

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines
So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found a sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine

The famous Beatles song conjures visions of colors both intense and unexpected. We all know that submarines aren't supposed to be yellow, but the one in this animated classic is, in different shades too, and with red piping. The new 4K Blu-ray transfer, meticulously cleaned up by hand, frame by frame, abounds with vivid, eye-catching colors that pop in HD.

The plot is simple. The Blue Meanies have invaded Pepperland, home of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and brought a monochrome look to a once colorful world. Since they bear an uncanny resemblance to the members of the band (being really one and the same), the Beatles are brought to Pepperland aboard a yellow submarine in order to save the day. On the way to their destination, they pass through various seas and undertake different adventures. These mostly serve to set up performances of some of the Beatles' best songs.

Everything is colorful, even the villains. The Blue Meanies have dark blue bodies; stockings that are striped red, orange, and yellow; and blue faces with prominent red lips, yellow teeth, and lolling red tongues! We learn in the extras that these nasty folks were originally meant to be red, but a copyist accidentally colored them blue and the look stuck. Overall the movie paid tribute to the psychedelic craze of the '60s and broke new ground for animation. It now stands as a milestone in the history of animation, a rock-solid production that's just as entertaining today as when it was released.

Yellow SubmarineThe restoration is a revelation in many ways. The picture is free from any dirt or grit, except for two brief moments of shimmer during part of the "Sea of Holes" sequence. It is beyond reproach, state of the art, a real knockout. The sound, which is just as impressive, is presented in the original mono, PCM stereo, and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. In the DTS-HD mix the voices are crystal clear, the instruments solid, and the imaging exceptionally imaginative. Sounds emanate not only from the rear but also from different places on the side of the soundfield, where there are no speakers in my 5.1 system! In fact the vocals, dialogue, and sound effects never seemed to be coming from any speaker at all, but from pinpointed locations spread around the 360-degree field.

The extras include an in-depth commentary with production supervisor John Coates, with an ending bit by designer Heinz Edelmann; a period featurette; the original trailer; storyboard sequences; original pencil drawings; and more. Also included are reproductions of transparent animation cells of each of the four Beatles, collectible stickers, and a beautifully designed booklet with a forward by Pixar's John Lasseter.

Yellow Submarine on Blu-ray is a disc that can be enjoyed over and over for its entertainment value, but for those with serious home-theater systems it is a must as a demonstration disc. Play "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" or "Eleanor Rigby" and watch everyone's eyes light up as they're seduced into rapt attention. It's destined to be one of the discs of the year when awards time rolls around.

Be sure to watch for: Chapter 5: Sunrise in London reveals more and more shadow detail as the sun rises. Loud toots from factory whistles and we're into "Eleanor Rigby" in the best mix I've ever heard, even better than that on the newly mastered CDs.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

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