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DVD Video Reviews - March 2003 Pt. 2

The Four Feathers (Special Collector’s Edition) (2002)

Starring: Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Kate Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur

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 with director Shekhar Kapur, “A Journey From Within” making-of featurette, seven featurettes (“The Sounds of East and West”, “The Battle of Abou Clea”, “The Mystery of the Desert”, “A Historical Perspective”, “The Friendship of Abou Fatma”, “A Journey of Self Discovery”, “Surviving the Prison)”, theatrical trailer, “The Core” preview trailer
Length: 130 minutes
Rating: ****

The son of high-ranking British officer, Harry Feversham is a model soldier. In addition to being both liked and respected by his friends, Harry has won the affections of, and become engaged to, a beautiful young lady named Ethne. However, when war breaks out in the Sudan, Harry’s military unit, The Royal Cumbrians, is scheduled to embark into battle. He and his comrades are to defend the British Crown from the forces of the Mahdi, a Muslim religious leader. Much to everyone’s surprise, Harry immediately resigns his commission and leaves the British army. His friends and fiancée then brand him a coward. In an effort to regain his dignity and win back everyone’s respect, Harry sets out on a solo journey to the Sudan to offer assistance to his friends in their battle against the Mahdi.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are clean with razor sharp detail. Black levels are consistently deep and dark. Colors are vibrant and warm 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 actively utilizes each of the discrete channels. Dialogue is intelligible and properly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are often used aggressively for both music and ambient sounds, and they feature several split rear effects. The low frequency effects channel contains multiple sequences with booming bass. Present in about half of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects are present in the form of light to heavy impacts and these impacts originate from both the sound effects and the music score. Purchase Here

Reference equipment used for this review: [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-]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis
Studio: Miramax
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
Extras: Sneak Peeks (Jackie Brown DVD, Pulp Fiction Soundtrack), Soundtrack Chapters, Trivia Track, DVD-ROM features, Jack Rabbit Slim’s Menu, Documentary on the film, Deleted scenes with introduction (5), Behind the scenes Montages (2), Siskel and Ebert spot, Production Design Featurette, Independent Spirit Awards, Cannes Film Festival acceptance speech, Charlie Rose Show, International trailers (5), TV Spots (13), Still galleries (8), Reviews and Articles (20)
Length: 154 minutes
Rating: ****

Pulp Fiction is the film that really put Quentin Tarantino on the proverbial map. The first DVD was one of the original DVD releases and was not widescreen enhanced, so, this special edition was what many fans had been waiting for. Although the film was only produced in the last decade, in many ways it has already become a classic. In the Siskel and Ebert show that is included on this special edition, reference is made to the effect that the script should be standard reading in film classes. Tarantino won best screenplay for the film, and many thought that it should have taken other categories as well. For as many people that latched onto the vibe of the film, there have been others who have condemned its violence and shock factor. This is not too surprising given the influences that Tarantino lists. He is clearly a film buff, and has seen enough movies to appreciate many of the techniques utilized throughout film history. The interview on the Charlie Rose show takes place during the period when the film was starting to take off. It is extremely interesting to hear Quentin talk about what he likes about film, how he creates, and his insights into the whys and hows of the success of Pulp Fiction.

Many would say that the film also helped a lot of stars back into the limelight who had fallen out of it, and also made some into superstars (e.g., John Travolta or Samuel L. Jackson). It is also noteworthy to hear the praise lavished upon Tarantino by the stars of the film—many of whom were very interested in being in the film. Some of the interviews in the documentary take place on the set of the film, while others take place in the present. Unlike some DVDs, the interviews are comprehensive and manage to cover most of the people involved in the production. There are a few deleted scenes included on the second disc that will be fun for fans to check out.

If the viewer is familiar with Reservoir Dogs, then this film can be seen as an extension of the style of that film, while being superior in many ways. Character dialogue is quite natural, so hearing hit men talking about foot massages or the subtleties of fast food menus in Amsterdam is believable. There are scenes of great violence, but they take very little screen time, and are suggestive rather than graphic. There are three main stories that are intertwined and cut up so that they are presented in parts not necessarily in chronological order. Not only does this help provide drama, but keeps the viewer’s interest throughout the film. So what is the film about? The idea was to take common, recurring themes in older films and present them in an entirely different fashion. The first story involves taking out the boss’s wife and resisting the urge to get involved with her and at the same time trying to keep her out of trouble. Story number two is about a boxer that is supposed to throw a fight and doesn’t. And the last story is about a couple of hit men who have to take care of business. The stories are about common people going through their daily lives--albeit, in some uncommon situations. There is not much that is common about this film, which makes it a must-view for anyone interested in the state of film in the last decade. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Flashback (1990)

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Kiefer Sutherland
Studio: Paramount
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French Stereo
Extras: None
Length: 107 minutes
Rating: **1/2

This film opens with a pleasant montage of advertisements and other representations of consumerism, health trends, and other related fads of the late 1980s set to the music of Big Audio Dynamite. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really live up to these auspicious beginnings. In many of the movie reviews, the storyline is a small part in what really matters in the film. In the case of Flashback, describing the plot would almost be reason enough to pass on seeing the film. Sure, there is a message in here about “being your own person,” but the ideas of fighting strong beliefs and doing what is right are trashed by the ending where we see the icon of rebellion become just another yuppie sellout. The movie is not completely without redeeming moments, one of which strikes a chord in my mind: a crowd of people pause and stop to reflect upon the words of Huey Walker, the escapee, who speaks of the wrongs pushed upon the unknowing masses by the government. At times the serious parts of the film appeal to the side of oneself that might be responsive to feeling sympathy for the characters. That feeling is soon enough set aside and left empty, manipulated, and just plain unaffected.

The story begins with a tale of Huey Walker, a major protester in the ’60s who escaped from the law. During a speech by Spiro Agnew, Walker supposedly unhooked a train car and left the Vice President while the train was supposed to pull of in a nice little political stunt. John Buckner, a man who is not who he seems, is the young FBI agent who is in charge of returning Walker to Spokane. Coincidentally, the airport is fogged in so they can’t take a plane—and by the way, since when is fog reason for airplanes not to take off and land? Anyway, they take a train and sure enough, Huey escapes again. Walker gets Buckner drunk and impersonates an FBI agent. The plan goes awry and the real Buckner gets mistreated in jail. When he threatens to turn in the Chief, he must become a fugitive to save his own life. It comes down to a hippy and yuppie value clash. They both begin to learn each other’s past and the roles of the characters start to reverse. In the end, the cool rock ‘n’ roll music was the most memorable part of the film. Perhaps I am just too young to “get” it. Purchase Here

- Brian Bloom

The Importance Of Being Earnest (2002)

Starring: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench
Studio: Miramax
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, French, Audio Commentary
Extras: Sneak Peeks (The Importance of Being Earnest Soundtrack, Pinocchio, Kate & Leopold, An Ideal Husband, Mansfield Park, Project Greenlight), The Making of the Film, Behind the Scenes
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: ***

This film is adapted from the work of Oscar Wilde, so it tends to play a little bit like a stage play in terms of its dialogue and situational comedy. Jack Worthing, an orphan who was adopted by an older gentleman (who has long since passed away), has a nice comfortable existence in the country—comfortable, but boring. In order to escape to the city, he has fabricated a story of a brother Ernest who needs his constant assistance. In the city, he is known as Ernest, and is considered quite a playboy. Although he houses a beautiful ward in his country home, he is smitten with the lovely Gwendolen. His friend in town, Algy, is quite the prodigal bachelor. In fact, Algy owes money all over town and is in need of an escape himself—perhaps to the country? Because Jack does not have social status that Gwendolen’s family requires, he is forced to leave the city without his love. Algy is up to no good and goes back to Jack’s country abode while claiming to be Mr. Worthing’s scandalous brother. He finds a few surprises when he arrives. Namely, he is supposed to be deceased. Also, Jack’s ward is in love with him. The two fake Ernests are about to meet their match when the two women whom they love attempt to determine who the real Ernest is, and they are soon to understand the importance of being earnest.

In the documentary, the actors praise the writing and wit of the original text by Wilde and discuss their immense respect for the other actors in the movie. The adaptation is not entirely successful in presenting the story in a stageless setting. It might have been the style of the dialogue and pretentious sound of it, or the nature of the material itself that loaned this feeling. But, that should not be a deterrent for viewing the film. There is quite a lot of light, dry humor that pulls the film out of what would have been a very ordinary state. Its appeal may not be widespread, but for those who like stagy, literary pieces in historical settings, this film will be enjoyed. The acting is good and both the picture and sound are solid. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Vocal Talents: Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers, Jason Scott Lee
Studio: Disney
Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, French, Spanish
Extras: Sneak Peeks (Jungle Book II, Country Bears, Atlantis: Milo’s Return, 101 Dalmations II, Inspector Gadget II, Stitch’s New Movie, Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney World, Kim Possible), THX Optimizer, Hawaii-The Islands of Aloha, Create Your Own Alien Experiment Game, Follow Stitch Through the Disney Years, Hula Lesson, Young Voices of Hawaii, Behind the Scenes with Wynonna, Music Video Performed by A-Teens, The Look of Lilo & Stitch, Animating the Hula, On Location With the Directors, Deleted Scenes (3), Theatrical Teaser Trailers (4), DVD-Rom features.
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

There is no doubt that Disney films are adapting to the times. Gone are the stories about prince and princess and in their places is a young girl in a broken home and an escaped genetic experiment. A mad scientist has designed what he considers the perfect destructive being and is sentenced for prison by the Galactic Council. His creation, experiment 6-2-6, is to be banished to an asteroid. Unwilling to accept his fate, 6-2-6 decides to escape. He steals a spaceship and manages to crash land on Earth on an island in Hawaii. The aliens are intent to arrange for his destruction, but Earth is a “protected wildlife preserve to help repopulate the mosquito community.” The evil genius that created 6-2-6 along with the expert on Earth are sent down to arrange for his capture. Things don’t go as planned and 6-2-6 manages to infiltrate a Hawaiian family. There, he struggles with his destructive nature and the love he is given by Lilo (pronounced Lee`-lo) who has adopted him and named him Stitch. Lilo and her sister (who is her guardian) have their own problems. A social worker is intent on separating the two, but not if Stitch and the other aliens have anything to do with it.

The story stresses the value of friendship, family, and loyalty. The good characters have faults, but in the end, they do the right thing, and the one “bad” character gets what he deserves. Their actions lead to a happy ending for all involved, and prove that overcoming hardships is a part of life. The animation in the film uses extensive watercolor in the backgrounds much like those in Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, and Bambi. In conjunction with Chris Sanders’s round and puffy designs, a friendly environment evoking the rich, lush and beautiful scenery of the Hawaiian Islands is created. Special care was taken with Hula dance scenes as it was felt to be of extremely important cultural significance. The animators observed Hula dancers and used their motions as models for the designs. A big emphasis on storyboarding helped to plot the course of the final production. The film uses music by Elvis along with music with a distinctive Hawaiian flavor. Like all Disney films, Lilo & Stitch preach important moral lessons, but the film manages to appeal equally to both young people and adults. It is definitely worth a look. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Mostly Martha (2002)

Studio: Bavaria Film/Paramount
Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in German
Subtitles: English
Extras: None
Length: 106 min.
Rating: *** 1/2

Rolling Stone called this German film of last year “the tastiest film about food and sex since Big Night.” Actually both subjects are secondary to this story of the head chef at a fancy restaurant who has no time for anything else or anyone else. Martha’s life has to change when she is forced to look out for her sister’s eight-year-old daughter. She also resists the inroads a new Italian chef is attempting to make into her kitchen and her life. There’s some humor of the big smile sort but more tsuris than laughs. One of the delights of the film is the selection of music on the soundtrack. One prominent song is Via con me by the irrepressible Paolo Conte, who I’d heard of but never had actually heard. Now I’m a big fan, and even reviewing his CD with that tune in our jazz section this month. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Gothic (1986)

Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson
Directed by: Ken Russell
Studio: Pioneer/Artisan
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital
Extras: None
Length: 87 min.
Rating: ***

Well, it’s Ken Russell. It that enuf said? The year is 1816 and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Shelley’s fiancee Mary and her stepsister plus a friend of Byron’s are confronting their various fears during a story night in a big villa in Switzerland. Russell is just the director to go over the top to capture these horrifying visions and dreams that chase the characters thru the night. It’s certainly far classier than your average horror oater. The events inspired Mary Shelley to later write her classic Frankenstein and Byron’s friend Dr. Polidori to write The Vampyre, which was the basis for the Dracula myth. The music score is by Thomas Dolby. Images are bit contrasty and not the highest resolution but passable.Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season One (1993-1994)

Starring: Avery Brooks, 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: “Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning” Featurette, “Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys” Featurette, “Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season One” Featurette, “Secrets of Quark’s Bar” Featurette, “Alien Artifacts: Season One” Featurette, Deep Space Nine sketchbook, production photo gallery, Section 31 Hidden Files
Length: 908 minutes
Rating: ****

Following hot upon the heels of Paramount Home Entertainment’s successful launch of the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series in 2002, The Complete First Season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine makes its DVD debut on February 25, 2003. The remaining six seasons of DS9 are scheduled to be released throughout the 2003 calendar year. The outer packaging for Season One is a clear plastic slipcase that houses an inner tri-fold with the six discs centrally stacked like pages in a book. Each DVD features different artwork and the set’s insert color is red. Season One’s memorable episodes include: “Emissary” the 90-minute pilot that features an appearance by Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard; and “Q-Less” where John de Lancie reprises his popular role as the omnipotent Q. The entire 20 episodes from the 1993-1994 season plus the multiple special features are spread out over six discs. (Disc One: Emissary, Past Prologue, A Man Alone. Disc Two: Babel, Captive Pursuit, Q-Less, Dax. Disc Three: The Passenger, Move Along Home, The Nagus, Vortex. Disc Four: Battle Lines, The Storyteller, Progress, If Wishes Were Horses. Disc Five: The Forsaken, Dramatis Personae, Duet, In The Hands Of The Prophets. Disc Six: Special Features).

The video quality for Season One is very good and a strong starting point for the remainder of the DS9 box sets yet to come. Images are crisp with fine detail. Colors are vivid and rich with fully saturated hues. Black levels are consistently dark. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or digital 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 slightly favors the forward channels but is otherwise nicely balanced. Dialogue is intelligible and natural sounding. The surround channels are active and are used for both ambient sound effects and the music score. The quality and quantity of tactile sound effects varies amongst episodes, ranging from fair to excellent. Tactile effects are light to heavy impacts and originate both from the sound effects and music score. Purchase Here

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Microsoft Xbox; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires-]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (2002)

IMAX feature narrated by Kevin Spacey
Studio: Big Picture/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3 full screen
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 with English, French or Spanish narration
Extras: None
Length: 41 min.
Rating: ****

There have been at least three film and video presentations on the 1914-16 British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Some consider the extraordinary true adventure to be the greatest survival story of all time. Their ship, the Endurance, was intended to make its way deep into the frozen continent, but it became trapped in pack ice which eventually expanded and completely crushed it. All 28 men survived for nearly two years in the frigid Antarctic while Shackleton and two others journeyed to the nearest settlement for help. The official photographer for the expedition, Frank Hurley, had plenty of still and 35mm motion picture film and presented a remarkable photographic record of the expedition. This enables all of the documentaries on the event to make use of this original photography in part. Blowing up the historical black and white images to the full IMAX screen size wouldn’t look very good, so the producers of this IMAX feature first shot impressive new footage of Antarctic scenes and re-creations of the original expedition, and then for some of the story superimposed the original B&W footage at normal movie-screen size over it. Spacey’s narration is gripping, and the DTS 5.1 surround is demo-quality - adding greatly to the silent footage shot in 1914-16. The surrounding sounds of the violent storm at sea are so realistic as to verge on causing queasiness in even the non-seasick-prone. This is probably one of the most successful IMAX presentations to date. Although one would think a great deal is lost in the reduction from the world’s largest film format and screen size (plus 40 or more surrounding speakers) down to a standard DVD, a feeling of the wide-angle views and sounds of the IMAX version does come thru on the DVD. It should preserve even more of the experience when a hi-def DVD format is a reality. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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