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Blogs Blu-ray: ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 10:06am

Read my review of ATTACK THE BLOCK

While it's not perfect, Sony does bring a handsome transfer of this low budget production, which is destined to become a cult classic. The MPEG-4 AVC encoded Blu-ray is true to its source. The color palette is desaturated and dark due to the low light. This lessens detail in the outdoor night sequences, as well as suffers from limited pixelation, but the picture becomes richer in the brighter indoor scenes. Film grain is natural and unobtrusive. Black levels, however, are inconsistent, but shine in the inky black of the alien invaders, which are meant to look like black holes running across the screen. And boy do the glow in the dark teeth of the aliens pop.

Blogs Blu-ray: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011)

From Fox comes a beautiful transfer of Francis Lawrence's romantic ode to the circus. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a nearly perfect. The color palette is rich and nuanced. The bookend sequences, which have a heavier film grain, have a more natural tone. When the film moves to the Depression era, the saturated colors pop. The lavish red of August's ringmaster jacket. The rustic circus banners. The detail provides that virtual 3-D appeal. Look at the detail of the face of elephant and the vintage costumes. The only blaring problem is pixilation during the scene where Jacob catches the train at night. This is probably due to the scene being shot day for night and digitally rendered dark.

Blogs Blu-ray: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011)

From Fox comes a beautiful transfer of Francis Lawrence's romantic ode to the circus. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a nearly perfect. The color palette is rich and nuanced. The bookend sequences, which have a heavier film grain, have a more natural tone. When the film moves to the Depression era, the saturated colors pop. The lavish red of August's ringmaster jacket. The rustic circus banners. The detail provides that virtual 3-D appeal. Look at the detail of the face of elephant and the vintage costumes. The only blaring problem is pixilation during the scene where Jacob catches the train at night. This is probably due to the scene being shot day for night and digitally rendered dark.

Blogs PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010) (**)

Like the endless SAW films before it, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is becoming an annual Halloween tradition. The first was a clever low-budget surprise and the second is more like another Halloween tradition — the haunted house. You know the haunted house run by the local high school or amusement park. You walk slowly through dark corridors and periodically there is a scary face staring at you around a corner or someone jumps out and yells boo. There's no story only the promise of scares.

This second outing is a prequel of sorts. The events of this film take place around the events of the first, but with new characters at the center. I make this clear because if you didn't see the first film you wouldn't know what the text on the screen "60 Days Before Micah's Death" means. The new haunting victims are the sister of the first film's Katie (Katie Featherston) and her family. Kristi (Sprague Grayden, TV's SIX FEET UNDER) has just had a baby boy named Hunter (William Juan & Jackson Xenia Prieto). Soon after bringing home the newborn, strange occurrences begin, which increase as the baby gets older. Kristi's step daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim, TV's LAST MAN STANDING) believes  it's a ghost, while her husband Daniel (Brian Boland, THE UNBORN) disregards all in supernatural explanations.

Blogs CARRIERS (2009) (***)

Stephen King named this disease outbreak horror film one of his favorites of 2009. This makes a great deal of sense considering it feels like a King story. King creates tension through personality conflicts and so do directors/writers David and Alex Pastor. It's a mix of THE STAND and ZOMBIELAND, but without the laughs.

An airborne virus has killed most of humanity. A foursome scavenges what they can and avoid the infected at all costs. Danny Green (Lou Taylor Pucci, FAST FOOD NATION) is the sensible one, who conservatively sticks to the rules, even ones that do not apply in a world without a society. His brother Brian (Chris Pine, STAR TREK) is a tough guy smartass, whose maturity is limited so he likes to pick on his smart, awkward younger brother. Bobby (Piper Perabo, THE PRESTIGE) is Brian's girlfriend who seems too caring to be with him. Kate (Emily VanCamp, THE RING TWO) is Danny's girlfriend, who hasn't been with him long, but she has no other place to go.

Blogs THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) (***)

Director Daniel Stamm puts a found footage twist on the exorcism tale. A documentary crew plans to cover a fake exorcism in order to reveal how they are done. They get into a family where secrets hold the key to what they are calling possession. What is real and what is illusion is hard to tell.

Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian, TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL) comes from a long line of exorcists, but he has stopped performing them out of guilt. When asked by the filmmakers if he is a fraud, he says, "That's your word." His new mission is to expose the practice for what it is so that no child will die ever again at the hands of an exorcist. Cotton is like a flashy faith-healing TV evangelist. He loves an audience.

Blogs PUSS IN BOOTS (2011) (**1/2)

Part of what made SHREK 2 work was the addition of Puss in Boots to the franchise. It's not surprising that he would get his own film. Unfortunately some of the sharpness the character brought to that film has been declawed for this one. The irreverent take on fairy tales is gone. In its place — cat jokes.

Blogs PUSS IN BOOTS (2011) (**1/2)

Part of what made SHREK 2 work was the addition of Puss in Boots to the franchise. It's not surprising that he would get his own film. Unfortunately some of the sharpness the character brought to that film has been declawed for this one. The irreverent take on fairy tales is gone. In its place — cat jokes.

Don't get me wrong the cat gags are the funniest bits, but they don't have the layers that made the first two SHREK films special. In this origin story, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas, DESPERADO) is cast as an orphan who becomes blood brothers with fellow orphan outcast Humpty Dumpty (Zack Galifianakis, THE HANGOVER). They are in search of the magic beans of legend. The duo continuously get in trouble until one day Puss gets a taste of being a hero and vows to go straight. Bad blood forms and Puss is wrongfully believed an outlaw. Years later he is reunited with Humpty, who now has a female feline thief sidekick named Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek, DESPERADO). Humpty wants to put their past behind them and work together to steal the magic beans from the notorious murderers Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thonrton, SLINGBLADE & Amy Sedaris, STRANGERS WITH CANDY).

Blogs LIKE CRAZY (2011) (****)

You know that feeling of new love that is somewhere between joy and pain? That is the rare feeling that this film captures. Like the whiskey its characters drink, it is drunk on love. Like an alcoholic after a bender, the young couple takes breaks, but the smell of their intoxicating lover makes them uncork the bottle and guzzle the burning liquid again. Is it good for them? Are they in too deep? Can they ever recover? Can a drunk ever live on the occasional sip? Does it taste the same when they sober up and reality comes into play?

Jacob (Anton Yelchin, STAR TREK) and Anna (Felicity Jones, THE TEMPEST) are our young lovers. She, a British citizen, is in the States studying and meets him in class. Too shy to approach him directly, she puts a long letter on his car. He calls and tells her that she isn’t a nutcase as she feared she might come off. They click from the start. After graduation, she must go home because her visa is about to run out. But during a romantic trip to Catalina Island, she decides to just stay the summer. When she tries to come back later, she can’t.

Blogs ANONYMOUS (2011) (***1/2)

Roland Emmerich is best known for destroying the world in films like INDEPENDENCE DAY, GODZILLA, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012. This period political thriller is the furthest from his other work as any film he has done. It’s also easily his best film. Do I believe in its central premise that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays? Not any more than I believe that Shakespeare based ROMEO AND JULIET one his own love affair with a noble woman who dreamed of acting.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, JULIA), the stage was seen ripe with sedition. The problem was that the queen loved plays, so her handlers William Cecil (David Thewlis, HARRY POTTER) and his hunchback son Robert (Edward Hogg, 2004’s ALFIE) had to tread lightly in their censorship campaign. Amid this backdrop, Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, NOTTING HILL), the son-in-law of William Cecil, writes plays in secret. After watching the work of Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto, BRIGHT STAR), the nobleman, who is wasting away his inheritance, commands the playwright to stage his work under the writer’s name. Unwilling to take the risk, the opportunistic actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, SHAUN OF THE DEAD) begins to claim he is the author of such works as HENRY VI, MACBETH and HAMLET.

Blogs ANONYMOUS (2011) (***1/2)

Roland Emmerich is best known for destroying the world in films like INDEPENDENCE DAY, GODZILLA, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012. This period political thriller is the furthest from his other work as any film he has done. It’s also easily his best film. Do I believe in its central premise that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays? Not any more than I believe that Shakespeare based ROMEO AND JULIET one his own love affair with a noble woman who dreamed of acting.

Blogs Blu-ray: WINNIE THE POOH (2011)

Disney proves once again why Blu-ray is so great for animation. This 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the new WINNIE THE POOH feature shows off the richness of the hand drawn animation. Line quality is detailed throughout. The watercolor backgrounds are painterly. Colors range from the subtle to the striking primaries used for Pooh's shirt for instance. Blacks are inky and consistent. Digital compression issues are nonexistent. The picture is about as flawless as it can get.

Blogs Blu-ray: WINNIE THE POOH (2011)

Read my review of WINNIE THE POOH

Disney proves once again why Blu-ray is so great for animation. This 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the new WINNIE THE POOH feature shows off the richness of the hand drawn animation. Line quality is detailed throughout. The watercolor backgrounds are painterly. Colors range from the subtle to the striking primaries used for Pooh's shirt for instance. Blacks are inky and consistent. Digital compression issues are nonexistent. The picture is about as flawless as it can get.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn't as dynamic as the picture, but that's the nature of the film rather than the quality of the mix. Dialogue, music and sound effects are mixed clearly. The rear speakers are chiefly utilized for the music. The LFE track is used minimally, but effectively when needed such as the Backson sequence. Directionality is subtle as bees buzz or Tigger bounces across the soundscape. Ambience brings in the sounds of the Hundred Acre Wood across all the speakers.

Blogs MARGIN CALL (2011) (***1/2)

J.C. Chandor's debut feature dramatizes the 2008 economic meltdown. You don't need to know what derivatives or equity swaps or mortgage-backed securities are to understand what is going on. But if you do know, you'll know how much the film gets right. This isn't a film filled with boardroom conspiracies like Oliver Stone proposed in WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS; this is a story of survival and how ugly that can be.

Set at a historic investment firm, not too far removed from Lehman Brothers, layoffs have started. Downsizing. On his way out Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci, THE LOVELY BONES) hands his underling Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto, STAR TREK) a Flash drive with what he was working on and says, "Be careful." Peter is a new risk analyst; he's a trained rocket scientist, but the pay on Wall Street is much better. He spends the night looking over the data and what he finds isn't pretty.

Blogs TROLL 2 (1990) (BOMB)

Sometimes you find a film that is a comedic treasure. Each line is hilarious. Scenes build one on top of each other increasing the level of entertainment. Right when you think it can't outdo itself it does just that. That is this film. However, it's supposed to be scary so it does so with sheer awfulness.

Seth (Robert Ormsby) tells his grandson Joshua (Michael Stephenson) a horrifying fairy tale of a young man who dresses a lot like Peter Pan that is seduced by a beautiful freckled girl. He should have known something was wrong when he saw that those freckles are clearly painted on. The girl is in cahoots with goblins who make green ooze flow out of the young man's pores. The tale is a warning to the young boy who is going on vacation in the country with his family. Of yeah, grandpa is also dead.

Blogs A SERBIAN FILM (2011) (**1/2)

Is this the most disturbing film ever made? Many have said so. A great deal depends on what you bring to it. A fan of extreme cinema might find it less provocative than say someone who sticks to PG inspirational films. It contains graphic depictions of rape, necrophilia and pedophilia. Many of the concepts are some of the vilest ideas I've ever seen in any film. It stands in infamy with the likes of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SALO. But is it simply exploitation or something more?

Milos (Srdan Todorovic) is a retired porn star that has settled down in a simple domestic life with his beautiful wife Marija (Jelena Gavrilovic) and adorable young son Petar. His former co-star Lejla (Katarina Žutic) offers him a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on an art porn film for the auteur Vukmir Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic). The money would set up Milos and his family for life, but he worries about the secrecy surrounding what he will have to do.

Blogs Blu-ray: A SERBIAN FILM (2011)

Read my review of A SERBIAN FILM

Invincible Pictures isn't a top distributor, but one wouldn't know that from the picture quality of this release. As ugly as the subject matter of the film is, the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is not ugly at all. The flawless RED camera cinematography is captured with striking clarity. Details pop to the point of giving the picture increased depth. Desaturation of color is intentional to go along with the grim subject matter. So when it gets bloody the crimson reds are striking.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack is less impressive because it's not 5.1. However, for 2.0, it does the job. It's hard to say exactly how clear the dialogue is because it's Serbian. The metal score and brutal sound effects are aggressive. The soundscape does a good job shaking the viewer just as much as the disturbing imagery.

Blogs A SERBIAN FILM (2011) (**1/2)

Is this the most disturbing film ever made? Many have said so. A great deal depends on what you bring to it. A fan of extreme cinema might find it less provocative than say someone who sticks to PG inspirational films. It contains graphic depictions of rape, necrophilia and pedophilia. Many of the concepts are some of the vilest ideas I've ever seen in any film. It stands in infamy with the likes of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SALO. But is it simply exploitation or something more?

Blogs Blu-ray: A SERBIAN FILM (2011)

Invincible Pictures isn't a top distributor, but one wouldn't know that from the picture quality of this release. As ugly as the subject matter of the film is, the AVC encoded 1080p transfer is not ugly at all. The flawless RED camera cinematography is captured with striking clarity. Details pop to the point of giving the picture increased depth. Desaturation of color is intentional to go along with the grim subject matter. So when it gets bloody the crimson reds are striking.

Blogs MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) (***1/2)

Wayward souls are often the prey of sociopaths. They either turn into victims or accomplices or something in the middle. Cult leaders from Charles Manson to Jim Jones have used the veneer of family and community to twist people's minds into believing terrible things. They make it too scary to leave. The outside world becomes foreign. So how can one cope if they do get away?

Blogs MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) (***1/2)

Wayward souls are often the prey of sociopaths. They either turn into victims or accomplices or something in the middle. Cult leaders from Charles Manson to Jim Jones have used the veneer of family and community to twist people's minds into believing terrible things. They make it too scary to leave. The outside world becomes foreign. So how can one cope if they do get away?

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, PEACE, LOVE, & MISUNDERSTANDING) is such a young woman. She flees from Patrick (John Hawkes, WINTER'S BONE) a much older man who leads a family of young men and women on a rural farm. She doesn't really know where she is. The other members follow her. Watts (Brady Corbet, 2007's FUNNY GAMES), one of the members, finds her at a diner and tells her to come home. He doesn't force her, but the impression that if she doesn't something bad will happen to her is strongly implied.

Blogs SUBMARINE (2011) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 12:14am

Coming of age films are common, but one like this one is uncommon. Outcasts are so often the central character. That’s the case here, but this isn’t your nice blameless outcast. He’s selfish and cruel and real. It’s like a British RUSHMORE.

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, JANE EYRE) tells us from the start that this is his biography. He even explains where Wales is for American audiences. Oliver is a bit of an outcast. He is smarter than the other kids, but as self aware as any teenager. Maybe even less so. He wants to have sex and believes that Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige, BALLET SHOES) is his best chance. However, his awkward eagerness doesn’t really help his cause. Lucky for him Jordana is more forthright than he expects and isn’t into grand gestures of affection.

Blogs JASON X (2001) (*)

I've seen bits and pieces of this over the years since it came to cable. Some of the pieces I caught impressed me, because it seemed the whole thing was a spoof of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, as well as space horror films like ALIEN. Now that I have seen the film from start to finish, I have come to the conclusion that it is trying to make fun of the series, but the problem is that it was written like one of those late-night softcore spoofs.

In the prologue, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder, HATCHET) has been captured and is set to be cryogenically frozen, because he can't be killed. He gets loose in the facility and Rowan (Lexa Doig, TV's ANDROMEDA) lures the killer into the freezing chamber and accidentally gets frozen along with him. Apparently Earth was doomed with or without Jason on ice because in the future humans live on Earth II. An education mission is sent back to Earth to check it out, discovering Rowan and Jason and taking them back on the ship to thaw them out.

Blogs Blu-ray: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011)

I've been reading a lot of reviews of this Blu-ray release hating the darkness of it, but then saying that it's part of the film. When reviewing the quality of a transfer the only thing to really take into account is the intent of the filmmakers and has that been brought to the home entertainment experience. With Disney's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the fourth PIRATES film, they have done this masterfully. Yes, some of the early scenes are dark and mysterious, but that was director Rob Marshall and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski point. Even in the darkness you can relish in the inky blacks and remarkable detail. It has been described as smoky, which is true, but nothing is lost. When the film sails into the day, the details jump from the screen in the clothing and sets. The color palette is muted, but uber natural, which provides some of the visual awe. Digital anomalies are minimal. There is some faint digital fuzziness in the darker scenes and edge enhancement ringing can be found if you're looking for it.

Blogs Blu-ray: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011)

Read my review of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

I've been reading a lot of reviews of this Blu-ray release hating the darkness of it, but then saying that it's part of the film. When reviewing the quality of a transfer the only thing to really take into account is the intent of the filmmakers and has that been brought to the home entertainment experience. With Disney's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the fourth PIRATES film, they have done this masterfully. Yes, some of the early scenes are dark and mysterious, but that was director Rob Marshall and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski point. Even in the darkness you can relish in the inky blacks and remarkable detail. It has been described as smoky, which is true, but nothing is lost. When the film sails into the day, the details jump from the screen in the clothing and sets. The color palette is muted, but uber natural, which provides some of the visual awe. Digital anomalies are minimal. There is some faint digital fuzziness in the darker scenes and edge enhancement ringing can be found if you're looking for it.

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