DVD Video Reviews, Part 2 - February 2002

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~~~~ All Feature Films  ~~~~

Air Force One (Superbit) (1997)q

The President of the United States has just done his best to help recover a dangerous, power-hungry individual who, left unchecked, could destroy Russian government. After making a hard-line speech to the public, he boards Air Force One, the President's private airplane, and heads off-back to the United States of America. Terrorists have another plan in mind, and with guns a blazing, they manage to take control of the plane. An unseen hero is determined to save the innocent passengers while he works away in the bowels of the airplane. The demands of the terrorists, the policies of the United States, and the passengers of the plane battle for their life, liberty, and all that other good stuff.

This is my first experience with a Superbit title, so I was expecting a fabulous picture and amazing sound. I found many scenes to have lots of noise in the picture. Since the whole purpose of this series (Superbit) is increased bit rate for both the video and the DD soundtrack, I have to assume that this noise is in the film. The video quality ranged from good to very good. Since I didn't have the original, I couldn't make a comparison. As far as the audio is concerned, there is distortion that is bothersome in a few places in the film. With especially loud dialogue such as screams and shouting, the soundtrack seems to overload and distort. There is lots of surround information throughout the film. The DTS track was slightly louder than the DD track, but it might have been cleaner/ brighter/ airier/more open. (It was hard to move the volume up and down and switch audio tracks at the same time.)

Air Force One came out around the time of Turbulence and another "plane" movie that I can't remember. Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close save this movie from what would otherwise be a forgettable film. In the end, we all know what will happen, but getting there is the fun. There are several twists and turns that make the film more interesting and increase the drama. There is tons of shooting and action that could stress some surround systems, and for others it will make perfect demo material. Don't expect to have any mind-altering experiences while watching the film, but these days, in times of increased patriotism, it is nice to have something to cheer about.

-Brian Bloom

The Third Miracle (1999)

The year is 1979, and the Catholic Church has undergone many changes since its formation a millennium ago. Frank Shore is a priest who doubts his faith after seeing some of the hard effects of religion. His job could be argued as one of the toughest around-to investigate the validity of miracles. The case he is currently assigned is a tough one. Not only is it bringing up bad memories of previous investigations-struggles with faith and belief-but opposition exists from all sides as well. As he struggles to uncover the truth, he comes closer to discovering his own belief and reuniting with the Church.

A great music score, interesting characters, good drama, an interesting plot, and strong acting help to make this movie so successful. Pace is good and elements of the storyline unfold in a natural way with past and present occurrences interwoven into a nice whole. It would be hard to watch this film and not examine one's own belief system, and empathize with the struggles of the lead roles. The bureaucracy and politics of the Church are explored, but handled in a seemingly realistic fashion-preserving the idealism in some characters, and exploring the contradictions in others.

The picture is very good with excellent color, but not looking as sharp as some of the best transfers. Also, there is very little video noise present. Sound is somewhat subdued, but fidelity is very good. The Third Miracle is a wonderful film, and definitely worth looking at.

- Brian Bloom

 The Score (2001)

The Score scores with a beautifully-cast group of actors, an ingenious story, excellent photography and sound (well preserved on this DVD), and some unexpected twists that keep the tension going throughout the story. It's a typical heist movie but then again it's not typical. Expert safecracker De Niro - who also happens to own a cozy jazz club where Mose Allison is performing (only for a few seconds) - is talked into doing "one last big job" by his fence Brando. Bassett is his stewardess girlfriend with whom he wants to settle down after the big heist. The additional footage shows many takes of an improvised exchange between De Niro and Brando at a bar. In the last one Brando throws in an off the-wall physical bit which it is satisfying to see then included in the final cut of the scene in the movie. By the way, the score for The Score was by Howard Shore. I shore didn't notice it except for the jazz excerpts.

- John Sunier

Mad Max (1980)

The time is the future, the place is the highway; and the problem is a motorcycle gang. It seems that morality is a bit twisted in the future, and human life isn't worth what it used to be. The roads are very unsafe for not only the civilians, but the law enforcement officials as well. After the death of one of the members of a nasty motorcycle gang, and an incident where a woman is raped by the side of the road, things get hot at the Hall of Justice. No one will testify that a member of the gang is involved, so he is released from captivity. More acts of terror continue, and eventually it becomes personal. A fellow policeman is put in the hospital, and Max just cannot take the injustice any longer. Max goes on a vacation with his family, and unfortunately his wife has a row with the leader of the gang. The trouble escalates tenfold, and the idea of revenge consumes Mad Max.

I'm not sure if Mad Max  would be getting any attention as a cult classic today if it weren't for the fact that Mel Gibson starred in the film. There are many exciting chase scenes with both motorcycles and cars, but many of them seem strewn together just for the sake of action. The storyline and acting is very simplistic, leaving lots of room for the violence and other action sequences that take place.

The colors in the film have a soft quality to them, but the picture is low in video noise and generally very good. Sound is okay, dialogue is understandable, and there is even some use of the surrounds on action sequences. With Mad Max, you get what you pay for, there aren't many surprises, but the film will definitely have its appeal-not just to Mel fans, but those who enjoy a pre-apocalyptic story that eventually led to The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

- Brian Bloom

[Ed.: I found the two documentaries quite interesting watching, with details about the chutspah this director and producer had in mounting Australia's first color widescreen feature film on a minuscule budget. For example, they could only afford a real leather outfit for Gibson - all the others cops had to wear Naugahyde. Also the Aussie lore, such as a vocabulary of Australian slang, how many sheilas were seen in the film, and the fact that this is the first release with the original Australian dialog - the U.S. theatrical release had Gibson and the other actors dubbed into American English because it was felt people would have trouble understanding them! If they had just had a title at the beginning explaining the Aussie slang terms there would have been no problem at all. I also felt the editing and general production to be very well done considering the struggles and long lead time (everyone had other paying jobs) involved to make this impressive first film that led to a whole genre of apocalyptic flicks.]

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

After winning a game of cards, Jack Burton, a truck driver, finds himself hanging around an old friend while waiting around Chinatown in San Francisco to collect his money. His buddy is waiting for an old childhood love that is coming from Mainland China to become his bride. Meanwhile, an evil magician, Lo Pan, is trying to become mortal by wedding a woman with green eyes. Their paths cross, and before you know it, all heck is breaking loose while supernatural beings called "Storms" fly through the air doing Lo Pan's bidding. What do a truck driver, a local lawyer, a reporter, and a bus driver add up to? Big Trouble In Little China.
The picture was often bright with color, and was fairly sharp and smooth. Certain scenes were a little soft, but overall, the picture was very good. The DTS soundtrack was louder than the DD track, so it was hard to make direct comparisons. After adjusting for volume differences it seemed that the DTS track was more open and clean, especially on voice.

From the opening of this film we find Jack Burton talking on the CB radio to whomever will listen to him ramble while he devours a big submarine sandwich. Truth be told, I'd have to say there is more "corn" in this movie than in Iowa! But if you are looking for a little lighthearted silliness, then you won't be disappointed. There is lots of action, and some comedy as well. I was laughing at some of the dialogue and acting every couple of minutes.

- Brian Bloom

Ma Vie En Rose (1997) [My Life in Pink]

XY and XX chromosomes has nothing to do with Tic Tac Toe

This is a French Film with English subtitles.  The good news is that the subtitles are real easy to follow with enough time to see all of the onscreen action.  Thank goodness it takes the French a thousand words to say what we can say with one.

Ma Vie En Rose translates to "My Life in Pink".  This is a terrific story from the perspective of Ludovic, a seven-year old boy who believes God made a slight error when he (or she or whatever) handed out the chromosomes that determines our sex.  Director/Co-Writer Alain Berliner and Writer Chris Vander Stappen successfully presented what has traditionally been a taboo subject matter in an innocent, humorous, and natural approach.  It's impossible not to become emotionally involved with the array of characters.

The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous.  The camera angles, lighting, framing, content within the frame, rich pastel colors, sets, and music were as much an indispensable element as the characters themselves. I really liked the way the camera height mostly maintained the perspective of Ludovic.  It enabled me to be completely absorbed into Ludovic's world.  There are some wonderful dream sequences that have a fantasy storybook element that I found to be delightful and imaginative fun. 

All of the characters were well developed in a way that allowed us to be sympathetic with them although not necessarily in harmony.  This includes Ludovic's parents, friends, and neighbors.  I really felt that I understood their perspectives.

A seven-year old boy named Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne) feels an error was made at birth.  He was supposed to be a girl.  He's determined to live life as a girl in spite of his parents, Hanna (Michèle Laroque) and Pierre Fabre's (Jean-Philippe Écoffey), dismay and objections.  Ludovic's seeks mental refuge with his grandmother and in a world of fantasy and magic, which is based on Pam, a Fantasy TV show.  Ludovic's behavior causes a rift between his parents, neighbors, and friends.

There are a couple of great outdoor block party scenes that involve the family and neighbors that are a lot of fun.  It became an arena of tension and humor.  I think the best line that sums up Ludovic's confusion was when he asked his sister Zoé (Cristina Barget), "Am I a boy or a girl?"

This was a terrific film that really arouses my curiosity as to the source of reference of the writers.  You just don't come up with details such as this from thin air, or do ya? Picture quality was excellent.  It was sharp and very detailed.  Colors were accurate, deeply saturated, with excellent black levels.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 was extremely active with excellent clarity.  No Bonus Materials or Special Features.

- Bob Brown     [Reprinted with permission from Amateur Home Theater site.]

Man on the Moon (1999)

Is this guy for real?

The opening shot may seem a little strange but it pretty much captures the essence and oddities encompassing the late Andy Kaufman.  Kaufman states a line in the film to his manager George Shapiro (Danny DeVito) that pretty much sums up the core of his persona.  " I'm not a comedian, I don't do jokes, I don't even know what's funny, I'm a song and dance man."  Defining Andy Kaufman is as strange as the guy himself.  Who knows what he was?  His own parents couldn't figure him out.

Man on the Moon chronicles the life of Andy Kaufman.  His rise and eventual fall were  flawlessly captured by Jim Carrey.  His portrayal and likeness of Kaufman was uncanny.  He didn't act like Andy Kaufman, he was Andy Kaufman.  I remember Andy Kaufman's heyday.  I always liked watching his performances, or should I say antics?  I remember watching him on Saturday Night Live, The Improv, varieties, and a whole bunch of other shows.  I never knew what was real and what wasn't.  As a matter of fact I'm a little embarrassed to admit, I had no idea that the wrestling shtick with Jerry Lawler was a put on until this movie.

He appeared on such shows as Taxi, Saturday Night Live, Fridays, Merv Griffin, The Improv, Championship Wrestling, David Letterman, and more.  He also had an ongoing character that was his alter ego named Tony Clifton.  This was an amazing rendition of a washed-up lounge act.  Clifton was verbally abusive, crude, and obnoxious with his audience.  The important thing was to get a response out of the audience, even if it was hostile.  The Tony Clifton character was created in collaboration with Kaufman's long time friend, writer, and partner Bob Zmuda (also played Tony Clifton), played by Paul Giamatti.

I remember watching Kaufman on an improv comedy TV show.  He walked out onstage with an armful of wet laundry in his hands.  He completely ignored the audience.  He took the laundry and placed it in a dryer that was on the stage.  He began drying his laundry.  He then started his act, which had nothing to do with the laundry, as if this was completely normal behavior.  It was bizarre behavior like this that left you completely baffled while simultaneously compelled to watch everything he did.  There was a level of discomfort when observing his behavior and an odd compelling desire to keep watching it.  It was not important to Kaufman if he was liked or disliked. The most important thing was the experience.

Man on the Moon does a great job of giving us an insight into the world of Andy Kaufman.  Most of the shtick, from what I can remember, appeared to be very accurate.  The exact dialogue between the shtick I'm sure it is suspect.  The combining of multiple characters to create one (a form of compression) is very common.  It's a way of placing 20 pounds of air (dialogue) into a five-pound tire.  This technique is necessary; otherwise the movie would have to be 20 hours long.

Production values were excellent.  This was beautifully shot and edited.  The camerawork did not upstage Kaufman or the story.  The music by REM fit perfectly at capturing the mood and feel of the onscreen action.  Check out the Bonus Materials in the Menu for isolated music videos of two REM songs.

You should enjoy Man on the Moon quite a bit, even if you never knew who Andy Kaufman was prior to this movie.  For those of us who knew him, it was a real treat revisiting Kaufman's world.  I found myself smiling throughout and actually laughing out loud several times.  The announcement of his death due to a rare lung cancer had us wondering if this was another one of his practical jokes.

Picture quality was excellent.  It was sharp and detailed from beginning to end.  Colors were accurate, well saturated, and black levels were excellent.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 sounded mostly like 2.0.  Sound clarity was excellent.

- Bob Brown      [Reprinted with permission from Amateur Home Theater site.]


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