DVD Video Reviews, Pt. 2 - Oct. 2003

Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen enhanced for 16x9
Audio: DD 5.1 EX, Spanish DD 5.1 EX
Extras: Cast and Crew Listing, Hogwarts Year One (trailer), Theatrical Trailer, Videogame Preview, DVD ROM features, Additional Scenes (19!), Spellcaster Knowdedge, Activities (Challenges/Games--4), Gilderoy Lockhart’s Classroom, Gallery of Production Sketches, Dumbledore’s Office, Interviews with Cast (>20!), Interview with J.K. Rowling and Steve Kloves (16 minutes)
Length: 161 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Like all of the books so far, poor Harry Potter is cooped up at his aunt and uncle’s home until the beginning of the next school year at Hogwart’s—a school of magic. Foreshadowing occurs early on, as a magical house elf tries to warn Harry about attending school this year and cautions him about serious dangers that await. When strange deaths begin to occur at the school, it is up to Potter and his friends to do something about it. They discover a strange chamber that has mysteriously been opened after many years of dormancy, and now the evil within has been released. Voldermort, an evil wizard who has been attempting to come back to life, is still after Potter as well as all others who oppose him. Their struggle always comes to a temporary conclusion in both the books and films.

In case you’ve been off planet Earth and haven’t had the chance to get caught up in the media frenzy surrounding J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, this DVD is the second movie in the series. The first film was an introduction to Harry Potter and his magical friends, and although thought by many to offer good entertainment, the second film is clearly better. The focus is different and is geared a little more towards adults. Like the second book, it has a darker feel to it—the tone of the film, not the contrast! The film is relatively long, but is entertaining all the way through—I was disappointed when it was finally over and am anxiously awaiting the next installment. The picture and sound are exemplary, so this disc will not only be great for older kids, but will be useful as a demonstration disc for your surround system. The Quiditch scenes are among my favorites. Like the first movie, there is a second disc filled with extra features. Kids will enjoy some of the puzzles/games, and interviews with the actors and actresses who are mostly children. You can see why many of the additional scenes were shortened or eliminated, and it gives you more insight into the making of the film. All in all, a lot of fun and worth watching for kids and adults alike. Purchase here

- Brian Bloom

The Sure Thing (1985)

Starring: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Viveca Lindfors
Studio: MGM
Video: 1.85: 1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Pan and Scan
Audio: DD 5.1 Enhanced, DD Mono, French Mono
Extras: Audio Commentary, Trivia Track, Trailer, Best of 80s Trailer, Previews (Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap), MGM Means Great Movies Trailer, Featurettes (4)
Length: 95 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

‘Gib’ and his best buddy just graduated from high school and are off to college to further their educations. Gib is stuck in a Northeastern school where the weather is cold and so are the women. His bud is in Southern California and having quite the opposite experience. Feeling bad for Gib, he sets up a “sure thing.” A beautiful woman who will spend the night with him—no strings attached. Gib doesn’t have much money, but is determined to make his way west to discover the new frontier. It turns out that the ride he catches is with a fellow female student who has shunned his romantic/sexual advances in the past. She is off to see her boyfriend who attends school at the same university where Gib’s friend goes to school. Although they seem to be complete opposites, the long ride ahead proves to be a learning experience for both. By the time Gib arrives in California and is confronted with his “sure thing,” he has a hard decision to make.

This film is a romantic comedy that brings back feelings of early awkwardness in relationships with the opposite sex in the late teen years. John Cusack got his first major role in this film directed by Rob Reiner. The treatment and bits of style thrown in here and there keep this film out of the list of 100s of forgettable 80s films where the ultimate goal is to just get in the girl’s pants. Although there are a few silly superfluous scenes, most of the scenes are funny, and some will even make you laugh out loud. Scenes that take place on the road seemed to make me laugh the most. This film is entertaining and has some worthwhile special features including interviews with the main characters and production people that were responsible for making this film a reality.
Purchase here

- Brian Bloom

Two-Way Stretch (1960)

Starring: Peter Sellers, Wilfrid Hyde-White, David Lodge, Bernard Cribbins
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video: B&W 1.66:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Peter Sellers Bio
Length: 87 minutes
Rating: ***

A few lucky inmates at Huntleigh Prison have been living it up receiving fresh food for breakfast, light tasks at the prison, and just about every other advantage you of which you can think. This doesn’t stop them from entertaining the idea of the next big job. The plan is hatched to them from an associate who happens to be on the outside and it involves stealing a sultan’s diamonds from a military convoy and then getting back into prison right before their release the next day. This is the perfect alibi, but the plan gets more difficult when the easy-going head guard retires and is replaced by a real ball-breaker. He immediately gets them working away in the abandoned quarry, and escape looks almost impossible.

Things start looking up and due to the wisdom of their associate (who has been visiting them regularly at the prison under the guise of a vicar), their escape is ready to go. With one of the man’s mum and another’s fiancé in tow, the plan is well executed. The men even manage to get back ready for their release. Unfortunately, the bungling head guard is still out to get them, and it looks like he may have found them out. The search begins for the three men and their newfound treasure is accidentally displaced. What to do except go after it!

This film is predominantly a comedy and although the laughter is not constant or of the fall off the couch type, the film manages to be quite entertaining as a mixture of keystone cops and what you’d expect from early filmic British comedy. And that tune that gets played throughout the film is infectious. For a constrained yet funny British comedy, look no further. Purchase here

-Brian Bloom

Hoffman (1970)

Starring: Peter Sellers, Sinead Cusack
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Trailer, Peter Sellers Bio
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

The lovely young Ms. Smith is forced to rendezvous with her boss, Mr. Hoffman. He has some information about her fiancé that is quite damaging, so without his knowledge he has blackmailed her to stay with him for one week. She comes out of necessity and is determined to take care of business. But her will is not that strong and she almost leaves, only to be reminded by Mr. Hoffman of the consequences. As the days pass, both begin to learn what makes the other tick, and what was at first repulsion or dislike changes entirely. Mr. Hoffman is not the monster he seemed to be, and Ms. Smith is not the impudent innocent either.

The film starts out like a game of cat and mouse where Sellers is the sophisticate in control while Cusack’s character is frightened and desperate. Thus the tagline, “Hope never dies in a man with a good dirty mind.” The story soon changes as we discover Mr. Hoffman’s torturous game is revealed to be a seduction, and a hopeful one at that. What was thought to be an expression of his feeling of humiliation of his rejection of his ex-wife with the intention of sexual domination is only his desire to love the young Ms. Smith and to win over her affections. Both leads’ performances are quite convincing and Sellers exhibits his usual ability to change his personality like a chameleon. Although the end may be a stretch in terms of believability, it is the ending we all have hoped for throughout the film. Purchase here

-Brian Bloom

Nazca Blades of Fate – Episodes #1-3 (2000)

Vocal Talent: Kenichi Suzumura, Takehito Koyasu, Megumi Hayashibara
Studio: Pioneer
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame, Animated
Audio: Japanese DD 2.0, English DD 2.0
Extras: Image Gallery
Length: 75 minutes
Rating: ***

Kyoji is late on his way to a Kendo competition and manages to run into a pretty young woman and knock her to the pavement. Their lives will soon be intertwined, but not until later do we find out how. After apologizing profusely, he runs off to the event only to witnesses an amazing display that he will never forget. As his sensei competes with another man, Kyoji sees what he believes to be a hallucination—an age-old warrior who swings a real sword and hurts his opponent. Apparently, his master has awakened an ancient spirit who is at battle with other characters in the story whom he begins to enlighten with their true identities. Kyoji begins to feel the transformation taking place within himself. As he learns more history surrounding the Incas, he realizes the need to travel to South America to find out what is going on. The truth of his master’s and his nature is discovered, but what will he do?

This DVD contains three episodes in the Nazca series: Those Who Awaken, Reunion In The Andes, and Meeting Of The Sleeping Souls. I didn’t realize this at first and was somewhat disappointed when the disc ended without any resolution to the story. The development of the plot takes its time, and after the first episode, we only have a small gist of what is to unfold. Each episode is self-contained in a way, but they also rely heavily on the knowledge of what has happened in previous episodes. Animation is quite good and the music is fair—a somewhat eclectic mix for this type of material. I watched the film in Japanese, but the dubbed English is okay. Some of the words chosen for the dubbing conflict with the words in the subtitles, and since I don’t speak Japanese I couldn’t tell which is true to the original. The pace is a bit slow which wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if a little more subplot development had occurred. There are a few characters that are introduced and seem like they may be important, but they hardly end up with any screen time. Picture is good but not outstanding, and is 1.33:1. This disc is hard to recommend unilaterally, but anime fans will not likely be too bothered by the reservations I had. Purchase here

- Brian Bloom

The Core (Widescreen Collection)(2003)

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Woodard, Bruce Greenwood, D.J. Qualls, Richard Jenkins, Tcheky Karyo
Directed by: Jon Amiel
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0
Subtitles and Captions: English with English Closed Captions
Extras: Commentary by Director Jon Amiel, ten deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary, “To The Core and Back: The Making of The Core” featurette, deconstruction of the visual effects segment, three trailers (“Timeline”, “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” and “The Adventures of Indiana Jones”)
Length: 134 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

When a top-secret government experiment called “Project Destiny” causes the Earth’s inner core to stop rotating, the planet is placed on a course to destroy itself within months. In order to save mankind from destruction, a team of six scholars and scientists board a subterranean vessel and travel to the center of the Earth. Racing against time, the team plans to detonate several nuclear devices in hopes that the resulting explosions will jumpstart the core and reestablish the planet’s protective electromagnetic field.

The overall video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are unblemished with fine detail. Colors are vibrant and warm with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or 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 incorporates all of the discrete audio channels. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding. The surround channels are aggressively utilized for sound effects and the music score as well as containing several split effects. The low frequency channel is moderately active and delivers thunderous, deep bass to the film’s action scenes. Tactile sound effects are present in about one half of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to heavy impacts from both the sound effects and the music soundtrack. 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 DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- ]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Hook (Superbit Collection) (1991)

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
Captions: English closed captions
Extras: Scene selection
Length: 144 minutes
Rating: ****

What would happen if Peter Pan grew up and forgot who he once was? Such is the storyline of the movie, Hook. Peter Pan, a middle-aged lawyer who now goes by the name of Peter Banning, has no time for family or fun because of his work. When Peter takes his family to England for a business trip, his two children are kidnapped by Captain Hook and taken back to Neverland. Still unwilling to accept the idea that Captain Hook is behind the abduction, Peter is taken to Neverland by Tinkerbell. Upon arriving, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys have three days to help Peter regain both his memory and magic in order to save his children.

The video quality of this Superbit DVD release is excellent. Images are spotless with fine detail. Blacks are deep and consistently dark. Colors are vibrant and pure with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English DTS 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix incorporates a nice balance of all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and intelligible. The surround channels are moderately active, used for both music and ambient sounds, and include a handful of split rear effects. The low frequency bass is, at times, palpable and has the greatest presence in John Williams’ well-crafted musical score. Present in about one-quarter of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects appear as light to moderate impacts and originate both from the sound effects and the music soundtrack. Purchase here

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Valley Girl (1983)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Deborah foreman, Elizabeth Daily (aka EG Daily)
Studio: MGM
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Pan and Scan
Audio: DD 5.1, DD mono, French mono
Extras: Audio Commentary, Video Commentary, 80’s Trivia Track, Featurettes (20 years later, Conversation with Cage and Coolidge, The Music), Music Videos (I Melt With You, A Million Miles Away), Storyboard to Film Comparison (3)
Length: 99 minutes
Rating: ***

Valley Girl is an 80s Romeo and Juliet story where the principal characters come from opposite ends of Los Angeles—one from the valley and the other from the city. Randy is a bit of an outcast who is convinced to crash a party in the valley with his friend. While there, he sees a girl whom he had admired on the beach earlier. After that chance meeting, their relationship blossoms and they both deal with the difficulty in being from opposite sides of the street. Julie already has a preppie boyfriend, but she’s not sure he’s the right one. Her friends are against Randy from the start—he’s a punk rocker. In the end they both discover that there is nothing wrong with being different and against the odds they can still triumph.

One of the things that people often remember about the film (and in some ways makes it really special) is all the good New Wave 80s music, including live performances inside the film. One of the featurettes is devoted to the importance of the music inside the film and gives lots of good background information including interviews with Peter Case (Plimsouls), Richard Blade (KROQ radio DJ), Josie Cotton, Robbie Grey (Modern English), Nicolas Cage, EG Daily, and Martha Coolidge (director) among others. There are some really fun extras that are worth checking out, and if you know the film by heart, you may want to turn on the audio, video, or trivia commentary. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, I can really relate to many of the characters; for everyone else it may seem over the top. Let me just say, quite the contrary. So if you’ve been wanting for a little “bitchin’,” “fer sure,” “awesome,” “tubular,” or “gag me” action, then you know where to find it! Purchase here

-Brian Bloom

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