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DVD Video Reviews - October 2002, Pt. 2 of 3

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Superbit Edition (1992)

Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Captions: English Closed Captions
Extras: Scene selection
Length: 130 minutes
Rating: ****

Centuries ago, Prince Vlad Dracula sets out on a religious battle to defend the church from Turkish enemies. With little hope of returning alive, Dracula bids farewell to his love Elisabeta. Against the odds, Dracula is successful in battle and returns home to be with her. Prior to his arrival though, she receives false information that Dracula was killed, and being overcome with grief, Elisabeta takes her own life. In a fit of rage over her death, Dracula renounces the church and is transformed into a vampire; an immortal being that relies on drinking the blood of others for sustenance.

Several hundred years pass and Jonathan Harker, a young clerk from England, is sent to Dracula’s castle in Romania to complete a real estate purchase for him. It just so happens that Jonathan’s fiancée, Mina, bears an uncanny resemblance to Elisabeta. When Dracula sees a picture of Mina, he travels to England to find her and leaves Jonathan behind trapped in the castle. Dracula arrives in England, attempts to win Mina’s heart, and drains the blood of victims along the way. However, when one of Dracula’s victims, a socialite named Lucy, is examined by a Dr. Van Helsing, Van Helsing determines that a vampire is responsible for Lucy’s illness. Van Helsing then gathers a group of men, including Jonathan who has escaped from the castle, to hunt Dracula and save Mina.

I enjoyed this film despite the fact that I am not a big fan of the horror genre. Acting was first-rate, especially that of Oldman and Hopkins, and there was minimal graphic violence and gore given the subject matter. Clocking in a little over two hours, the film moved briskly and kept my attention throughout. I would recommend this film for either rental or purchase.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are clean with razor sharp detail. Black levels are dark and there is nice contrast. Colors are deep and rich with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital artifacts - though I didn't have the non-Superbit version for comparison.

The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English DTS 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix actively incorporates all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding. The surround channels are often used aggressively, utilized for both music and sound effects, and include several split rear effects. The LFE channel is well involved in the mix, helping to bolster the music score’s ominous tone, and occasionally providing punch to the smattering of action sequences.

- Calvin Harding, Jr.

Ali (2002)

Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 2.40:1 Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Extras: trailers (Spiderman, Men In Black II, Ali)
Length: 157 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Michael Mann does not believe in making short films these days, and Ali is no exception. From the beginning of the film, we see Cassius Clay jogging through the streets at night, working out at the gym, and boxing, all with Sam Cooke singing over the video. Muhammad Ali is not free from criticism, nor he is free from politics. This film not only shows the difficulties in being the World Boxing Champion, but the difficulties of the time, and the religious, political, moral, and very personal concerns of the amazing man who has come to be known as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

The story begins in the middle, where Clay is vying for the title. Flashes of his childhood and other influences like Malcolm X are a prelude to one intense boxing match. The pace of this movie to some will be slow, but it is a methodical development of the story and legend of Ali. The viewer has to wonder if certain things have been left out, but the conspiracies, the adultery, the politics, and the meat of the man is not. Ali is not portrayed as a great icon without problems, and struggles, but quite the opposite. Will Smith can be quite an actor when he is not “hamming it up.” If anything, this film is evidence of his abilities. The style of the film is much like other Mann films, such as The Insider and The Last of the Mohicans and Heat. He doesn’t mind showing grit and drama, and that is doubly present in this film.

As the story moves from Ali’s loss of the title to his struggles with the Muslim nation to his personal difficulties, the viewer may question the direction of the film. But it is clear that Mann has chosen the time period with a particular goal in mind. There is much to learn about Muhammad Ali, and this film can only go so far. But the viewer will get a taste of many sides of Ali, and for those who are too young to remember the news reports, the talk, and the controversy, this film will help introduce the man behind the image. A particularly fine DVD picture and story make this one worth getting.

- Brian Bloom

Dragonfly (2002)

Starring: Kevin Costner, Joe Morton, Kathy Bates
Studio: Universal
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, French 5.1, Commentary track
Extras: Spotlight On Location, Deleted Scenes (2), Author’s Near Death Experience, Trailer, Production Notes, Cast and Filmmakers, DVD Rom Features, Previews (Family Man, Apollo 13, Patch Adams, K-Pax), and Scorpion King Trailer
Length: 1 hour 45 minutes
Rating: ***
Joe and Emily are two devoted doctors who have a deep love and very special connection between them. Even while Emily carries Joe’s child, she continues her selfless work in a far-away country. Due to extreme political conditions, all the people must vacate the area. The weather is bad and the bus in which she is traveling goes off the road. After a long search, it is apparent that she has died along with the other passengers. Joe is terribly affected by the death of his love, although he trudges on in the hospital trying to save other patients who may have a chance. After a time, he is still haunted by the death of his wife and begins to imagine that she is trying to contact him in various ways.

Emily was always very fond of dragonflies, and he begins to see them everywhere. When he moves on to look after some of Emily’s terminally ill patients, a new element of the story is introduced. Due to very poor health, it is not uncommon for the children to medically “die,” and then be revived by the doctors and nurses. He discovers that some of the kids claim to see his wife during these periods and draw or paint images of dragonflies. Joe becomes even more convinced that his wife is trying to contact him. His seemingly irrational behavior forces Joe to take a vacation from work, or lose his job. Not satisfied with the current situation, he embarks upon a journey to see if he can recover his wife’s body and find out what is going on. In a spectacular effort to discover the truth, Joe risks his own life and finally comes to find an answer that is most surprising.

This film really tries to get you into idea of near death experience, and the feeling that there is more than what we know and understand out there. The movie is just too uneven and unfocused at times to really draw the viewer in. Costner’s character is not as believable as we’d like, or maybe there are just too many things going on in the film. The flashbacks and some of the scenes seem too contrived and fit too well into the story. Even the ending, though not entirely anticipated, comes off as a bit corny. Picture and sound were good. If you like tragedy films with happy endings, then you will like this one.

- Brian Bloom

Monsoon Wedding (2002)

Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz
Directed by: Mira Nair
Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Captions: English Closed Captions
Extras: The Making of Monsoon Wedding featurette, Director  commentary, Scene selection
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: ***

Through an arranged marriage, the daughter of one family in Delhi is being wed to the son of another Indian family. Multiple festivities are taking place over a four-day period and will culminate in the exchanging of the wedding vows. Both the bride and groom’s extended families are arriving for the festivities. It would seem to be a perfect occasion, but that is hardly the case. The bride is reluctant to get married because she is still sleeping with, and has feelings for, a much older married man. The bride’s cousin is harboring a deep dark secret about a well-respected uncle in the family. The wedding planner is charging a fortune and delivering sub-par service. For all of these reasons and more, there is considerable doubt whether the wedding will take place.

Winner of Best Picture at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival and praised by many top film critics, I wasn’t as enamored with this film as were seemingly many others. The dialogue was very difficult to understand at times and it was much more of a drama than a comedy. While by no means a terrible film, I would recommend it as a rental before considering it for a purchase. [Put me down as one of those enamored ones...Ed.]

The video quality of this DVD is average. Images are clean with adequate detail. Black levels are satisfactory and there is decent contrast. Colors are accurate with saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is generally good with the only major defects being a couple of jittery frames.

The overall audio quality is above average with the English DTS 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix favors the forward channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and properly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are fairly active and are utilized for music and some ambient sound effects. The LFE channel is tight and most prevalent in the upbeat music soundtrack.

- Calvin Harding Jr.

House Of Games (1987)

Starring: Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna
Directed By: David Mamet
Screenplay: David Mamet
Video Format: 1.85 Widescreen, 1.33:1 Standard
Audio Options: DD Mono, French, Spanish
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Extras: Trailer
Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
Category: Drama with twists
Rating: ***1/2

A successful psychiatrist is riding the success of her new book, but the answers to the big questions of her life are not forthcoming. As she gets closer and closer to discovering the ailing of her patients she begins to wonder why she bothers. In an effort to make a difference for one of her patients, a compulsive gambler, she seeks out a mysterious man at the House of Games. This place of con men and mind games fascinates her, and she ends up being the pawn in a game of the man she seeks. She discovers a desire to learn more and the intrigue of it all becomes an obsession. She decides to write a new book on the confidence game and study the world of cons. As she gets deeper and deeper into the world of the con men, it becomes difficult to decide whether she is a partner or a patsy. Back and forth we go trying to figure out who is on whose side. In the end it seems she may finally get what she is after—a little bit of comfort and control.

This movie is much better than you’d expect. It tends to draw you in and hook you just like the main character gets hooked. Crouse is an actress whose name may not ring any bells, but she has been in many good films and television programs over the years. She tends to be a little stiff and unsure about her acting at times, but it doesn’t really detract from the fun of the film that is due to the well thought out plot. That is where the skills of Mamet are most present. Direction and scene development help to focus the viewer on style and preoccupy one with elements that will prove important later on. Everything is tied together nicely, and once the film pace picks up after the introduction it goes easily towards the culmination, and what may seem to be an unusual conclusion.

If you are fond of good storytelling and plots that turn and twist a bit, then you will enjoy this film. The action is sparse but effective, and each character is interesting in one way or another. There is a little audio hiss and audio becomes marginal in some scenes, but otherwise audio and video are fine.

- Brian Bloom

Real Genius (1985)

Starring: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Pan and Scan
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Trailers (Hook, Jumanji)
Length: 106 minutes
Rating: ***
What could be better for a 16-year-old brainiac than an invitation to enter into a special study program (at Pacific Tech) under the tutelage of one the most respected scientists on lasers of the day? Young Mitch is in for more than he bargained for and discovers that even in a school filled with other geniuses, he may not be socially accepted. He is a hard worker, though, and determined to become a success even through some difficulties with other students including a prank by a few jealous rivals. Meanwhile, his mentor, professor Hathaway, is busy in bed with the military that have their own plans for the laser once it has been developed. The discovery of the real use for the kids’ research may come too late, and the clock ticks as they try to stop what they have wrought.

The 1980s were definitely an interesting time for film. There were many teeny movies made with a similar formula. This one is: A young geeky outcast kid is looking for acceptance, and needs to grow up at the same time in a away from home school setting. Meanwhile, there is some evil plot by the government to take advantage of the students, and it is up to the kids to stop them! This film is definitely an attempt at a comedy, and it may evoke a couple of smiles occasionally, but cannot compare to the work done by Val Kilmer in Top Secret. If you have a fondness for these types of films, then it is definitely one of the more tolerable ones, and will not offend, although it might not make your top 10 list either.

- Brian Bloom

The Hustler (1961)

Starring: Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Jackie Gleason
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen B&W
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: THX Optimizer, trailers (2), Previews (Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, Hombre), Behind The Scenes Still Gallery, Audio Commentary, The Inside Story, How to Make the Shot (5), Trick Shot Analysis (same as previous but integrated into film)
Length: 135 minutes
Rating: ****
Is it a dramatic story about the ups and downs of a pool shark or the tragic consequences of romantic entanglements? Eddie Felson could be one of the best. He goes from town to town with his partner winning a game here and there and enjoying the fancy hotels, expensive meals, and women. But his real goal is to beat the legendary Minnesota Fats at the billiards table. He’s young and has panache; he’s got talent and knows how to use it. But it takes more than talent to truly be the best. This is the lesson that Eddie is on his way to learning. At a real low in his life he meets a lovely woman—someone he cannot only enjoy for her sexuality and womanhood, but a woman he can grow to love. At best they are a dysfunctional couple, at worst, downright dangerous to each other’s own well being. The combination soon will become explosive when the third wheel arrives. He is a man who isn’t a player in the typical sense, yet controls the game. The final judgment will not only take place at the billiard table but on the gaming table of life as well.

Considering the fact that Paul Newman never played pool before this film, it is hard not to be enraptured during the gaming sequences. It is his presence on-screen, along with the supporting actors and actress, which creates the whirlwind environment in the darkened pool halls and inside the souls of men. Newman virtually glows on the screen, compelling you to watch his every move, to empathize with his character, to feel his pain and elation, and ultimately comprehend who he is, and who he can never be. The music fits very well with the content of the film, and the extras help build the viewer’s appreciation for the excellence on and off-screen. If you’ve seen The Color of Money and liked it, then it will be hard for you not to love this film. Highly recommended.

- Brian Bloom

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