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DVD Video Reviews - December 2002 Pt. 2

The Sum of All Fears (Special Collector’s Edition) (2002)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates
Directed by: Phil Alden Robinson
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English and English closed captions
Extras: Audio commentary by Director Phil Alden Robinson and Cinematographer John Lindley, audio commentary by Director and Novelist Tom Clancy, “A Cautionary Tale” featurette, 5 Visual Effects featurettes, theatrical trailer, scene selection
Length: 123 minutes
Rating: ****

Based on the Tom Clancy novel, The Sum of All Fears finds CIA agent Jack Ryan again being called into action by the U.S. Government. Ryan, a specialist in Russian political history, is summoned by the Director of the CIA to offer insight and advice regarding the new leader of Russia, President Nemerov. This assignment becomes even more critical when the CIA suspects that three Russian scientists are in the process of developing an unsanctioned nuclear device. The President of the United States and his staff further believe that Nemerov is the man behind this clandestine nuclear operation. Ryan, however, believes otherwise and must uncover the truth before tensions escalate into a possible World War III.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are crisp and well detailed. Black levels are consistently dark. Colors are rich and accurate with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack’s mix makes good use of all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and intelligible. The surround channels are, on occasion, aggressively utilized for both music and ambient sounds, and they also employ some split rear effects. The low frequency effects channel contains several sequences with explosive, powerful corrupt.

- Calvin Harding Jr
.
The Best of Ernie Kovacs (2001)

Studio: White Star
Video: 4:3 B&W TV kinescopes & film
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Extras: Interviews with Kovac’s associates, Edie Adam’s impersonation of Marilyn Monroe
Length: Six hours on two DVDs
Rating: ****

I’m dropping this at the end of the music DVDs because one of the many parts of Kovacs’ genius was creating on-screen visuals in sync with various pieces of well-known music (or making them well-known via his sketches such as the Nairobi Trio). His syncopated office always cracks me up - file cabinets drawers opening and closing in rhythm to the 1812 Overture, unattended coffee makers steaming, telephone switchboard lights flashing to the music, that sort of low-budget visual creativity. I especially loved his use of less hackneyed music that I already had discovered, such as Kurt Weill tunes. The 62 separate classic Kovacs bits on these two DVDs remind those of us who saw some of them originally and those who only know Kovacs as a distant early television personality that his offbeat humor was completely original in its experimental attitude toward the new electronic toy of TV. Lots of TV that came later owed him a great debt.

Among his fondly remembered bits here are his excessively poetic poet Percy Dovetonsils, his silent Eugene, the wonderfully zany Nairobi Trio, the gorillas dancing Swan Lake, the many short scenes involving a pretty girl in a bathtub and various things rising out of the suds, the sketches involving steam baths and cigars (two of Ernie’s favorite things in the world), and his parodies of various TV and movie fare such as Westerns and quiz shows. The anthology also slips in a portrait of the man and his career, which ended tragically in a car crash. Excerpts from his final show are included here. The old kinescopes are remarkably good quality, but I noticed that some of the cleverest visual bits involved the sort of frame-accurate quick editing that TV couldn’t do, and you can see the splices in the film footage that is used, for example, to get perfect sync between the change of shots and the beat of the music. You should watch this on the small screen of your computer or portable TV in order to get the best nostalgic video display of Kovacs’ visual magic.

- John Sunier

Change of Habit (1969)

Starring: Elvis Presley, Mary Tyler Moore
Studio: Universal
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 2.0 Mono
Extras: Trailer, Cast and Filmmakers (6), Production Notes
Length: 93 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Change of Habit is the last film that Elvis Presley made not including his concert films. He plays an inner city M.D. who knows when to stay out of trouble and manages to work in a few tunes into his busy schedule at the free clinic, going around to the locals, and losing his staff due to poor conditions. Sisters Michelle, Barbara, and Irene are determined to take part in a most curious experiment. They are to leave the convent and abandon their identities as nuns in an effort to blend in with townspeople and work as nurses to help out in the community. The doc is all about having a good time and there is a little personality clash when the sisters try to do their work.

Video quality is extremely natural although somewhat dated in comparison to films of today. But color is very natural and video noise is low. Audio is nothing to test your surround system with, but sounds fine. Elvis manages to work in a few tunes that are very catchy and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been bopping my head to “Rubberneckin’” while writing this review. If you have seen Presley act before then, you shouldn’t be in for a surprise. Moore is not delivering one of her finest performances, but there is clearly something very appealing about this film. It has something for everyone: a little comedy, a little romance, a little drama, and a lot of fun.

- Brian Bloom


Men In Black II (2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition) (2002)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson, Tony Shalhoub, Rip Torn
Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, and English Closed Captions
Extras: Director’s audio commentary, alien broadcast, 7 trailers, “The Chubb Chubbs” CGI animated short film, Serleena animatic sequence, alternate ending, blooper reel, 7 creature featurettes, Will Smith music video, 5 multi-angle scene deconstructions, Special Delivery: MIIB Orb (9 featurettes), theatrical one-sheets, filmographies, DVD-ROM content, scene selection
Length: 88 minutes
Rating: ****

Serleena, a renegade Kylothian monster travels to Earth and takes the physical form of a lingerie model. She is here in search of a power source called “The Light of Zartha” and Serleena is destroying everything in her path until she acquires it. Meanwhile, Agent Jay of the MIB has been struggling to find a new partner ever since Agent Kay retired. However, when Agent Kay appears to be the only key to finding this Light of Zartha, he is brought out of retirement. Once again pairing up with Agent Jay, the two set out to stop Serleena and save the world from destruction.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are crisp and razor sharp. Blacks are deep and dark. Colors are vivid and rich with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix actively utilizes all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is clear and natural sounding. The surround channels are often aggressive, used for both music and ambient sounds, and include multiple split rear effects. The low frequency bass is powerful and robust. Present in about one-half of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects appear as light to heavy impacts and originate from the sound effects and music score.

Reference equipment used for reviews: [Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF Projection screen- Da-Lite 106” Da-Snap; DVD player- Pioneer Elite DV-37; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Cables and Wires- Bettercables.com]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

The Big Picture (1989)

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, J.T. Walsh, Teri Hatcher, Martin Short
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Fullscreen
Audio: DD 2.0(?)
Extras: Trailers (The Big Picture, America’s Sweethearts, Mr. Deeds, The Sweetest Thing), Filmographies (6), Deleted Scenes (3), Audio Commentary
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This film may have just slipped past many who might have appreciated it. Both Michael McKean and Christopher Guest (directing) wrote the screenplay for the movie along with Michael Varhol. Much like Spinal Tap poked fun at the music industry, The Big Picture hits hard at Hollywood and the people of the film industry. Nick Chapman is a promising new director who just won an award for his short film. A bigwig studio representative, Alan Habel, approaches him to help him make “the big picture.” Nick has an idea for a black and white film set in the snow which seems a bit unorthodox to the movie people, but doesn’t stop him from trying to get it made.

As he starts to get deeper into the business and make more contacts with industry people, it seems his personal relationships begin to suffer. At first, he is quite a humble guy, but soon his girlfriend and his close cinematographer buddy fall by the wayside. The success he’s found with his career seems to be at an all-time high until it all comes crashing down when Habel is dumped at the studio. He has to come to terms with the fact that his project is dead and he is in ruin. Chapman can’t even get a job as a waiter and is doing odd jobs to stay off the street. After coming to terms with who he isn’t, he starts to reconnect with his old friends and come to peace. He takes a job to make a music video for an upcoming band and before you know it, the phone is ringing--everyone wants him.

This film is full of wonderful cameos, fantasy scenes, silly student videos, and mostly purposely overdone stereotypical scenes about Hollywood that are guaranteed to elicit a chuckle or ten. Everyone is this film is great in their respective roles. Martin Short plays Nick’s agent and is hilarious in every scene he is in. Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the scenes she is in as a fellow student of Chapman. Teri Hatcher is undeniably magnetic in her role as a wannabe starlet. The audio commentary sheds a little light on some of the scenes and impetus behind the script. Kevin Bacon doesn’t always provide the meatiest bits, but does help propel the conversation forward with Christopher Guest. Sometimes there is nothing going on and they are just watching the film along with the viewer. It seems that Guest is obsessed with Hatcher’s body and body parts to the degree that Bacon talks about his shoes over a particular scene—comedy in itself! If you enjoyed movies like The Player, and other work by McKean and Guest then put this one on your list. It is sure to provoke laughter even if it is understated.

- Brian Bloom

Spider-Man (Widescreen Special Edition) (2002)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, and English Closed Captions
Extras: Two audio commentaries, factoid track, branching web-i-sodes, Chad Kroeger and Sum 41 music videos, 11 TV spots, 6 theatrical trailers, filmographies and character files, “HBO Making-of Spider-Man” featurette, “Spider-Mania: An E! Entertainment Special” featurette, “Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century” documentary, director and composer profiles, screen tests, costume and makeup tests, outtakes reel, 4 still galleries, Activision game tips, DVD-ROM content, scene selection
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: ****

When mild-mannered student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he develops superpowers including the ability to climb buildings and sling webs. Donning a costume and a secret identity, Parker becomes “Spider-Man” and puts his newly formed powers to use fighting crime and protecting citizens from harm. However, Spider-Man is put to the test when an insane villain called “The Green Goblin” begins wreaking havoc on the city with his high-tech weaponry and gadgets.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Despite the film’s overall soft quality, images are clean and demonstrate fine detail. Blacks are consistently dark. Colors are rich and accurate with well saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. Outside of the action sequences, the soundtrack mix favors the forward channels. Dialogue is crisp and intelligible. The surround channels are occasionally aggressive, used for both music and ambient sounds, and include several split rear effects. When employed, low frequency bass is powerful and robust. Present in about one-third of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects appear as light to moderate impacts and they originate from the sound effects and music score.

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Major League (1989)

Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, Bob Uecker
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0 Surround, French DD 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English
Captions: English Closed Captions
Extras: Scene Selection
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: ***

After the owner of the Cleveland Indians passes away, his beautiful widow inherits the team and becomes the new owner. She wants to move the team from Cleveland to Miami because of the wonderful individual perks for her that will come with the move. The only catch is that in order to be released from current contracts; the team must draw less than a certain number of fans. In order to ensure that indeed happens, the new owner assembles the worst group of coaches and players that she can find all in hopes that they lose as many games as possible. Among these players is a washed-up catcher with bad knees, an ex-con pitcher who is visually impaired, and a third baseman who is more concerned with cashing a paycheck than with catching ground balls. Initially, the team is every bit as bad as the new owner had hoped, but when the team finds out what she has been plotting, they rally together to make a run at respectability and maybe even a pennant.

The video quality of this DVD is very good. Images are clean and colors are accurate with well-saturated hues. There is nice contrast and dark black levels. Picture defect mastering is near perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is above average with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix predominantly favors the forward channels. Dialogue is intelligible and natural sounding. The surround channels are active but are mostly relegated to ambient sound effects (like crowd noise) and the music score. Tactile sound effects are present in about one third of the DVD’s chapters. Tactile effects are in the form of light impacts that originate both from sound effects and the music score.

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Y Tu Mamá También (2002)

Studio: Good Machine Int./MGM
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English
Extras: Both unrated and R-rated versions
Length: 1 hr. 45 min. (Unrated version)
Rating: ****

This recent sizzling Mexican film is basically a road movie concerning an older beautiful woman and two over-eager teenage boys. The erotic story line captures the viewer’s interest from start to finish, but director Cuaron frequently juxtaposes little reality elements of life in Mexico today that make it much more than sexy entertainment. One of the two boys is from a wealthy family in which the father is a probably dishonest politician, the other boy is from a lower middle class home. This also creates interesting relationship complications. The married woman’s seemingly irresponsible behavior is suitably motivated by her dire situation which we don’t fully understand until the conclusion. Cinematography and general acting and production are on a very high level. If you don’t mind the strong sexual content you’ll find this a provocative and satisfying view.

- John Sunier

20 Million Miles to Earth (l957, 2002)

Dynamation Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: The Harryhausen Chronicles, Featurette on Dynamation, Trailers
Length: 83 min.
Rating: ***

Harryhausen was a pioneer of special effects animation, and this is one of his films that I hadn’t known about. Not many sci-fi extravaganzas take place in Italy and involve Venusian (not Venetian) monsters, so this one is special. It has the rocketship crashing into the sea, the strange alien life form that starts out tiny and cute but grows steadily to gigantic size, the mustering of all sorts of military forces to meet the challenge of the monster’s wreaking Godzilla-style havoc, and finally the feeling of sympathy for the monster when he is finally cornered in a high place and falls to his death like King Kong. It’s not nearly as cheesy as some of the sci-fi oaters of this period, and the two documentaries in the extras are fascinating. Turns out Harryhausen began his interest in animating monsters in his teens and with the aid of his parents created some quite professional-looking film footage which is shown. I’ll bet he would be dismayed to see how special effects specialists today can sit and push buttons for awhile to create more believable creatures than he did by slaving under hot lights, endlessly moving objects a couple frames at a time and keeping careful track of every move to avoid ruining the shot with the lights out or his hand in the shot.

- John Sunier

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