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Part 3 - December 2003
[Part 1] [Part 2]

Finding Nemo (2003)

Voices incl.: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Barry Humphries
Dir. Of Animation: John Lassiter
Studio: Pixar/Walt Disney
Video: 2 discs - both 1.78:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen and 4:3
Audio: THX Certified Dolby Digital EX, English, French & Spanish
Extras: Lots!: Virtual aquarium, Filmmakers’ visual commentary with deleted scenes and recording sessions, “Making Nemo” documentary, “The Art of Nemo” by the artists themselves, Exploring the Reef with Jean-Michel Cousteau and Nemo’s friends, “Knick Knack” - classic early Pixar short film, Play Fisharades with your favorite school of fish, Learning fun with Mr. Ray’s Encyclopedia, Behind-the-scenes tour of Pixar Studios for future animators, Storytime for the young, lots more...
Length: 100 minutes for feature only
Rating: *****

This is Pixar’s Beethoven Ninth! What a terrific experience in the theater and twice as much fun on a large home screen with all sorts of extras on both of the two supplied discs. Since the computer program could easily move things around as required to properly fill a 4:3 screen vs. the widescreen, those poor folks still limited to a squarish screen won’t miss important action and details with Finding Nemo. The characters are just moved in a bit from the sides of the widescreen to fit in the available screen area and there’s no need for letterboxing on any display. The transfer directly from the digital master is superbly detailed - when nearly everything is HD I doubt if there will be much of a retro feeling to viewing Finding Nemo again on standard DVD.

The story takes place on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which I had forgotten until one of the big fish calls a little fish a sheila. The selection of the voices is just perfect for the various fish personalities, and DeGeneres as Dory, the blue tang fish with serious short-term memory loss, is hilarious. Marlin is Nemo’s over-protective father and the voice of Australia’s Dame Edna becomes the voice of Bruce, the leader of the watery 12-step meeting in which the big fish testify to have not eaten a single little fish in three weeks or whatever. Nemo defies his father in approaching a powerboat and is scooped up and taken away to be put in the aquarium of a dentist’s office in Sydney. Nemo and Dory, with both resistance and finally assistance from the fish, turtle and pelican community along the way, set out to get to the dentist’s office and rescue Nemo.

An added suspenseful situation comes about there due to an attempt by all the ocean life in the aquarium to make a prison break for the ocean. This must be achieved before the dentist gives Nemo to his heavily-braced little daughter who has already killed one fish before she even got it into another tank. As expected, all the denizens of the deep get their freedom and father and son are reunited. Like all of Pixar’s efforts, this is a perfect family film which will be enjoyed on many levels by all ages with no squirming on any generation’s part. I still think Fantasia was the greatest Disney film ever, and of course Finding Nemo is not really a Disney film, but it has to be a close second. Purchase here

- John Sunier

If you’re into the creative side of MTV music videos, these unusual series of three DVDs will be just your thing...

Spike Jonze (2003)

Music Videos, Interviews, Short Films, Documentaries
Studio: PALM Directors Label
Video: 4:3 (but many are letterboxed), 2-sided disc
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: 52-page art/photography booklet with interview etc., Making of Drop with the Pharcyce featurette, Audio commentaries from several of the rock groups, 3 other documentaries
Rating: from * to ****

The hot new director of Being John Malkovitch came to Hollywood fame via music videos for punk rock groups. This is a lavish two-sided DVD with a fancy art booklet covering some of his path-breaking short films which seem to run from just what you’d expect for a punk rock group to highly creative. Some of the artists for which he created images on film are Wax, Beastie Boys, The Pharcyde, Daft Punk, Fatlip, Fatboy Slim, Weezer, The Chemical Brothers and Bjork. The cover art of the running man on fire is from one of the hip-hop groups I couldn ‘t stand to listen to so I just ran it silently. Bjork seems to get the most creative videos out of Jonze and others, and hers here: It’s Oh So Quiet is sort of like a number from a retro 50s musical and quite endearing. The big star of Feel the Pain is actor (and amazingly-accomplished hoofer) Christopher Walken, who does a dance-around-the-empty-hotel-lobby bit which ends with his flying to and fro via Peter Pan-type cables. The extras include several early short films, some of them concerning skateboarders, and three documentaries of about a half-hour length apiece. One is on a community dance group from Torrance, California who travel to New York to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards, and another on two teenage bull riders who want to be cowboys and rodeo stars. Purchase here

Chris Cunningham (2003)

Studio: PALM Directors Label
Video: 4:3 (but many are letterboxed)
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: 52-page art/photography booklet with interview etc., Making All Is Full of Love featurette, 3 commercials, 2 video installations, bleeped version of Windowlicker
Rating: from * to ****

Cunningham trumps even Jonze in the bizarre visual concepts department for his music videos. Some of his own drawings in the art book are really disgusting, but his Madonna video here (Frozen) was I thought the best of the eight from such performers are Bjork, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Leftfield, Portishead and Autechre. It has a sort of gothic/arabic stance with compelling images of her black dress folds turning into fierce dogs or birds. The Bjork video uses a pair of female robots and the making-of featurette demonstrates how the Icelandic vocalist had to hold her head in exactly the same position as the robot dummy while singing so that her facial features could be mapped onto the dummy’s blank face. Windowlicker was filmed on Venice Beach and Cunningham got to go wild with his trick of putting different heads on bodies - in this case rough-looking bearded men’s heads on voluptuous female bodies in bikinis. The dialog of the two main black characters is so full of profanity that MTV refused to air the video, but there is a bleeped version on the DVD that is even funnier than the original due to the continuous beeping going on. This video must be seen to be believed; not for the faint of heart. Purchase here

Michel Gondry (2003)

Studio: PALM Directors Label
Video: 4:3 (but many are letterboxed), 2-sided disc
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Extras: 52-page art/photography booklet with interview etc., 75-min. Film “I’ve Been 12 Forever,” Over a dozen “Stories and Things” incl. commercials, concert footage, short films
Rating: from * to ****

I found this music video director the most enjoyable and creative of the three, without the sometimes cruel streak found in the other two. The French filmmaker has a lot of fun with images and music - his brain seems to be stuffed with bizarre visual concepts that he is able to bring to fruition. I didn’t have time to watch all of his I’ve Been 12 Forever documentary but it looks like a kick and expresses very well his cracked philosophy. One of the short films (Three Dead People) reminded me of the Mr. Bill series, and in Pecan Pie Jim Carrey drives his bed into a gas station for service and then roars out again. Some of the older short films are a bit juvenile, but there are more music videos here than on either of the other two director’s DVDs. They include six videos for Bjork, six for Oui Oui, two for The Chemical Brothers, and one for The Rolling Stones. The front cover photo is from one video created entirely with Lego pieces. Bjork’s Joga is mostly zooming over wilderness areas without trees - perhaps in Iceland? A different Bjork video has her playing a grand piano whose sounding board has become a pond with fish in it. Another features multiple appearances of the same two performers and their instruments in normal city backgrounds, with the dopplegangers timed closely to the rhythms of the music. The stereo tracks of all three of these DVDs decode very well to a surrounding effect using ProLogic II. Purchase here

- John Sunier


Anger Management (2003)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.33:1 Pan and Scan
Audio: DD 5.1, French 5.1
Extras: Trailers (Anger Management, Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights, As Good As It Gets, Daddy Day Care, S.W.A.T., Hollywood Homicide, Mona Lisa Smile, Mr. Deeds, Radio, Peter Pan), Bloopers Reel, Featurettes (2), Deleted Scenes (4), Do you have anger problems?, Audio Commentary
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

Dave is a quiet reserved type who represses his anger and aggression. He doesn’t realize it until the quirky Dr. Buddy Rydell gets him arrested in a flight across country and his happy existence seems to slip away. After a court ruling, he is forced to attend an Anger Management course and overcome his so-called problem. He doesn’t quite understand how his life changed before his eyes, but he is doing his best to stay within the rules even when he believes they are unfair. His first day in therapy is quite an eye-opener, and the viewer gets to meet most of the interesting characters in the film. The plot thickens when it appears that Dave’s entanglement with these people is more than he can handle and causes a rift with his girlfriend. He isn’t sure whether his doctor is helping him, hurting him, or out to get his girlfriend! He has no choice but to abandon his fears and confront all the people who are important to him.

Adam Sandler is back in yet another Adam Sandler film. When Adam’s in a film there is no doubt it’s a Sandler movie—you know the type. If you like his stuff (Punch-Drunk Love excluded because it is outside the mold), then you will like this movie as well. The addition of some star actors like Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Heather Graham, and many more add a level of class that you may not have expected, but that are clearly welcome. The humor is fairly consistent, and although some of the scenes are predictable, others are not. In either case, laughter is sure to come at one point or another. Scenes with the Anger Management group are some of the funniest in the film. Nicholson is completely immersed in his role and it is easy to comprehend why he is one of the best actors working today. Don’t expect a new outlook on life to come your way after viewing this film, but you won’t regret the hour and a half spent watching it Purchase here

-Brian Bloom

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (Special Collector’s Edition) (1989)

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, David Warner, Laurence Luckinbill
Directed by: William Shatner

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English and English Closed Captions
Extras: Audio Commentary by William Shatner and Liz Shatner, Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, The Star Trek Universe featurettes (“Herman Zimmerman: A Tribute”, “Original Interview: William Shatner”, “Cosmic Thoughts”, “That Klingon Couple”, “A Green Future”), production featurettes (“Harve Bennett’s Pitch to the Sales Team”, “The Journey: A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary”, “Makeup Tests”, “Pre-Visualization Models”, “Rock Man in the Raw”, “Star Trek V Press Conference”), 4 deleted scenes, production gallery, storyboards, 2 theatrical trailers, 7 TV spots, hidden gag reel, scene selection
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: ***

When a kidnapping occurs on Nimbus III, the Planet of Intergalactic Peace, the crew of the Enterprise is sent there to negotiate the release of the hostages. The kidnapper turns out to be a Vulcan named Sybok, who also happens to be Spock’s half-brother. Sybok then hijacks the Enterprise and its crew setting a course for the planet Sha Ka Ree. It is on Sha Ka Ree that Sybok believes that he will find God. While not regarded by many as one of the stronger entries in the Star Trek movie voyages, this is by no means a bad film. The Final Frontier has a compelling religious storyline but it falls a little flat mostly because the film lacks a key standout component such as a charismatic villain (i.e. Khan in Star Trek II) or very funny, contemporary humor (i.e. Star Trek IV).

The video quality of this DVD is very good. Images are crisp with sharp detail. Black levels are consistently dark throughout. Colors are radiant and deep with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or digital artifacts. The overall audio quality is also very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack’s mix does an admirable job of incorporating all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is clean and natural sounding. The surround channels are moderately active, used for both music and ambient sounds, and even include several split rear effects. The low frequency effects channel is adequate but does not command a strong presence. Present in about one-third of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects are in the form of light to moderate impacts and they originate primarily from the sound effects. Purchase here

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF; Projection screen- Da-Lite 106” Da-Snap; DVD player- V, Inc. Bravo D1; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC America Venturis; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- www.bettercables.com ]

-- Calvin Harding Jr.


Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Complete Sixth Season (1997-1998)

Starring: Avery Brooks, Michael Dorn, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Terry Farrell, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Cirroc Lofton

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English Closed Captions
Extras: “Mission Inquiry: Far Beyond the Stars” featurette, “Crew Dossier: Julian Bashir” featurette, “24th Century Wedding” featurette, “Crew Dossier: Quark” featurette, “DS9 Sketchbook: John Eaves” featurette, photo gallery, Section 31 Hidden Files, Indiana Jones DVD trailer
Length: 1,176 minutes
Rating: ****

Deep Space Nine is a space station orbiting the planet Bajor. Under Federation control, Commander Benjamin Sisko and his crew operate Deep Space Nine. The space station is a valuable commodity in that it is positioned in close proximity to a wormhole. This wormhole provides rapid travel for spaceships to distant locations in space. The mission of the Deep Space Nine crew is to serve as host to interplanetary travelers throughout the quadrant while simultaneously protect the station from hostile takeover attempts by rival alien species. Memorable highlights from the sixth season include “Far Beyond the Stars” where Sisko begins having visions of his DS9 crew as 1950s Americans; “You are Cordially Invited” in which Worf and Dax are wed; “Profit and Lace” where Quark undergoes a temporarily sex change; and the season final “Tears of the Prophets” where Dax is murdered. The entire 26 episodes from the 1997-1998 season plus the special features are spread out over seven discs.

(Disc One: A Time to Stand, Rocks and Shoals, Sons and Daughters, Behind the Lines. Disc Two: Favor the Bold, Sacrifice of Angels, You are Cordially Invited, Resurrection. Disc Three: Statistical Probabilities, The Magnificent Ferengi, Waltz, Who Mourns for Morn? Disc Four: Far Beyond the Stars, One Little Ship, Honor Among Thieves, Change of Heart. Disc Five: Wrongs Darker than Death or Night, Inquisition, In the Pale Moonlight, His Way. Disc Six: The Reckoning, Valiant, Profit and Lace, Time’s Orphan. Disc Seven: The Sound of Her Voice, Tears of the Prophets, Special Features).

The video quality for Season Six is very good. Images are clean with sharp detail. Colors are warm and dark with nicely saturated hues. Black levels remain uniformly deep throughout. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix favors the forward channels. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding. Surround channels are reasonably active and are used for ambient sound effects and the music score. The quality and quantity of tactile sound effects vary amongst episodes, ranging from average to excellent. Tactile effects appear as light to moderate impacts originating from sound effects and the music. Purchase here

Reference equipment: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC Venturis; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- www.bettercables.com ]

-- Calvin Harding Jr.


The Italian Job (1969) Special Collector’s Edition

Starring Michael Caine, Noel Coward
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: Panavision enhanced for widescreen 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1; restored English mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: 3 Making-Of Documentaries, Commentary by Producer Michael Deeley and orig. author Matthew Field, Deleted scene, Orig. theatrical trailer, Re-release trailer
Length: 99 minutes
Rating: ****

The release of the new re-make of The Italian Job prompted me to request the DVD of the original, which probably was reissued to also coincide with the new version. Although the new version continues the shenanigans with the Mini-Coopers, the location has been changed and the soundtrack was such junk I couldn’t stand to listen to it so skipped the film. The music for the original was by Quincy Jones and has a couple of original songs which tie into the story smoothly, unlike so many Hollywood film songs. Don’t see how this original could possibly be improved upon. It starred a young and dashing Michael Caine and was the last film made by Noel Coward. Directed from his lavish prison cell by criminal mastermind Bridger (Coward), Croker (Caine) organizes his band of thieves to take on the mafia, the police, and an unbelievable traffic jam in Turin in order to rob a shipment of gold bullion. Being as they’re British criminals no guns are used, and the chase scenes with the scurrying Minis ineffectively pursued by the Fiats are really a kick.

Other standouts in the cast are Rossano Brazzi as a Mafia leader and Benny Hill as the computer brains of the operation (he confuses the traffic light coordinating computer for Turin to create the needed traffic jam). The stories of the actors in the documentaries about the filming are fascinating, such as the fact that when the museum agreed to allow “machines” to go up and down their palatial staircases they had no idea that these machines were going to be racing Mini-Coopers! The image quality is first class and while the 5.1 track doesn’t make much use of the surround it is clean and most everything is intelligible in the dialog. I had seen this in l969 and had forgotten what a real cliff-hanger of a conclusion it had! Seems to me a sequel should have been the answer to the original film instead of a re-make - to let us find out how Croker gets his crew off the cliff without croaking. Purchase here

- John Sunier
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