DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD-Video Reviews, Part 2 of 3


Published on February 1, 2004

 

Pt. 2 of 3 - Jan/Feb 2004

[Part 1] [Part 3]

One Night With Blue Note (2/22/85 & 2003)

With Art Blakey, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Stanley Jordan, Charles Lloyd, James Newton, Michel Petrucciani, Jimmy Smith, Cecil Taylor, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr., Tony Williams & others
Studio: Macrovision/Blue Note Records
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Japanese, French, Spanish
Extras: Francis Wolff photo gallery, Blue Note album-cover art gallery
Rating: *****

I find this the best jazz concert video since CBS-TV’s The Sound of Jazz back in the days of black & white TV. The special occasion for this historic all-star reunion concert at New York’s Town Hall was to celebrate the re-launch of the Blue Note label after years of inactivity. It had been purchased by EMI in the 70s but not much done with it. Bruce Lundvall was the new CEO and wanted to produce a concert bringing back the past giants of jazz who had been central to the label, plus new artists just signed up – such as Stanley Jordan. This was it, and it proved a huge success.

The concert was shot on film and shortly after made available on VHS tape, but the program used closeups almost exclusively and the sound – being VHS – was of course terrible. A completely new master was made for this DVD, going back to the original film and working on the original digital stereo sound to warm it up and enhance it for 5.1 playback. The results are superb in every way. Among the musical highlights for me were Joe Henderson in his own Recorda-Me, James Newton on flute in Little B’s Poem, Stanley Jordan’s unique self-taught guitar-fingering style in closeup on Jumpin’ Jack, and Jimmy Smith rockin’ the B3 with Lou Donaldson’s alto in the latter’s own Blues Walk. The concert is brought to a high-tension conclusion by Cecil Taylor tearing up the ivories for 12 minutes with his Pontos Cantados. This filmed concert is to modern jazz what The Last Waltz is to rock.The Francis Wolff stills in the extras gallery are classics – you have surely seen these glorious black and white studies of the performers – mostly in Rudy Van Gelder’s home studio. They were a mainstay for Blue Note LP covers and are available in two coffee table books.

Selections: Cantaloupe Island, Recorda-Me, Little B’s Poem, Bouquet, Jumpin’ Jack, Summertime, Moanin’, Sweet and Lovely, Appointment in Ghana, Tone Poem, Blues Walk, The Jumpin’ Blues, Scratch My Bach, Pontos Cantados.

- John Henry


Chris Botti and Friends – Night Sessions: Live in Concert

Studio: Columbia Music Video
Video: Full Frame 1.33
Audio: PCM Stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital
Running Time: 85 minutes
Extras: Interviews, Video Profile, Photo Gallery, bonus 5.1 audio only track
Rating **1/2

Chris Botti is a native of my state of Oregon. He plays what many listeners would consider smooth jazz. This album was done on December 1, 2001 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angles. Botti’s haunting minor key trumpet playing has been compared to the introspective side of Miles Davis. On this album he has:

Shane Fontane on guitar
Harvey Jones on keyboards
Karen Teperberg on drums
Jon Ossman on bass
Everett Bradley on percussion

Shawn Colvin and Sting sing guest vocals on two cuts each. The numbers on the album are: Lisa, Streets Ahead, Miami Overnight, In The Small Wee Hours, All Would Envy, Alone in the City, Regrooveable, Easter Parade, Why Not, The Facts About Jimmy, Steps of Positano, Moon Over Bourbon Street, and Blue Horizon. The 5.1 audio only track is Through an Open Window.

I find the music on the album appealing and appropriate for relaxing late at night. The song “Regrooveable” is a departure from the rest of the album; it has a definite funk rhythm. The video quality of the disc is hampered by a dark stage, strong cross lighting and smoke. The picture at times is fairly good and at other times washed out. The sound of the backup instruments is very good for Dolby Digital. I feel the sound of the trumpet could be a lot better. A mike is mounted at what looks like 10 inches or so from the bell of the trumpet. If you would listen to a trumpet from this distance, it would blow you ears out. The 5.1 surround does a good job giving some room acoustics ambience to the trumpet’s sound from the sides and rear of the room. There is however no sound of a real trumpet playing on a stage coming from the front channels, and the sound has very little brass timbre to it. I use to play the trumpet and I am used to hearing a real trumpet in a real space. It is difficult to find a trumpet recording that sounds like a real trumpet. Dolby Digital compression robs the music of some of its impact and crispness. The 5.1 audio only track has probably the best sound on the album, although it has instruments too heavily mixed in the surrounds for my taste. My favorite tracks on the disc are the vocal tracks. This album may not be audiophile quality sound, but is worthwhile for the music.

– Clay Swartz

Rush In Rio (2003)

Studio: Coming Home Studios/Anthem Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby 5.1, Stereo
Extras: Documentary, “By Tor & The Snow Dog” cartoon, Live Performance from 1965 of “Anthem”
Length: 170 minutes
Rating: ***

The rock trio (Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart), spent 2002 touring North and South America. The DVD was recorded and fimed at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on the final night of the tour in front of a crowd of approximately 60,000 people. The three-hour concert is kind of like a greatest hits performance with songs spanning the entire 30-year career of the band. The documentary is filmed by longtime Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan, and includes band interviews and other concert footage. The entire documentary is about an hour long, so you are sure to get some interesting information on the group, as well as an idea of the difficulty and enormity of a tour of this size. There is no doubt that the band is in top form and can still really rock. The crowd roars their approval non-stop, and it is easy to get sucked into the music.

The video is widescreen and well done, but this disc is similar to the other concert discs I’ve viewed of late in terms of the editing. There are 22 cameras at work during the concert, and there are quick cuts staying only one or two seconds between shots. If this is not a bothersome thing, then the rest of the concert is sure to be enjoyable. One of the coolest things on a concert DVD I’ve seen so far is the multi-angle option available on YYZ, O Baterista, and La Villa Strangiato. On the top of the screen is the concert video and below it are four smaller screens with different angles that are selectable. There is about a two-second lag between the top video and the selection, but the music continues seamlessly—super cool!

Songs included (on disc 1—entire concert): Tom Sawyer; Distant Early Warning; New World Man; Roll the Bones; Earthshine; YYZ; The Pass; Bravado; The Big Money; The Trees; Free Will; Closer To The Heart; Natural Science; One Little Victory; Driven; Ghost Rider; Secret Touch; Dreamline; Red Sector A; Leave That Thing Alone; O Baterista; Resist; 2112; Limelight; La Villa Strangiato; The Spirit of Radio; By-Tor and the Snow Dog/Cygnus X-1/Working Man.

-Brian Bloom


The Italian Job (Special Collector’s Edition) (2003)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham
Directed by: F. Gary Gray

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 5.1
Subtitles and Captions: English and English Closed Captions
Extras: Five featurettes: (“Pedal to the Metal: The Making of The Italian Job”, “Putting the Words on the Page for The Italian Job”, “The Italian Job – Driving School”, The Mighty Minis of The Italian Job”, “High Octane: Stunts from The Italian Job”), six deleted scenes, trailer, previews
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: ****

Charlie Croker and his team of five professional thieves (John, Handsome Rob, Lyle, Left Ear and Steve) pull off the perfect crime in Venice with their reward being $35 million dollars worth of gold bars. Steve has plans of his own however, and steals the gold away from the rest of the gang. A year passes before Charlie can track down Steve who now resides in LA. After devising a plan to steal back the loot, Charlie and an updated team set out to get their revenge.

This is a smart, witty action flick. The acting of the ensemble cast is solid with especially strong performances from Edward Norton and Seth Green. Norton’s character is easy to despise with his cocky, underhanded demeanor while Green’s character provides all of the comic relief as a brilliant but awkward techno-geek. Worth watching more than once for its action scenes alone, I highly recommend this film. [When a problem comes up in the band’s plans for the second heist, Wahlberg says “We’ll just do it like they did in the Italian Job.” he refers to the original Michael Caine film which we reviewed here last issue...Ed.]

The overall video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are pristine with razor sharp detail. Colors are rich and accurate with nicely 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 intelligible and securely anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are moderately utilized for sound effects and the music score as well as containing a handful of split effects. The low frequency channel delivers deep, powerful bass to the film’s explosion and action scenes. Tactile sound effects are present in roughly one third of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to heavy impacts from both the sound effects and music soundtrack.

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- www.bettercables.com ]

- Calvin Harding, Jr.

The Medallion (2003)

Starring: Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Sands
Directed by: Gordon Chan

Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French
Captions: English closed captions
Extras: Producer and editor feature-length audio commentary, 15 deleted scenes, four theatrical trailers
Length: 88 minutes
Rating: ***

Hong Kong cop Eddie Yang is working with Interpol agents Nicole and Watson to capture an evil criminal named Snakehead. Snakehead has kidnapped a young boy with the power to resurrect the dead. After Eddie dies protecting the boy, the boy brings him back to life through the use of a magical medallion. When Eddie comes back from the dead, he discovers that he has supernatural powers and is immortal. Eddie uses these new powers to try and foil Snakehead’s plot to take over the world. Overall, I would rate The Medallion as a middle-of-the-road Jackie Chan film. It is better than say a Rumble in the Bronx but not quite as good as the Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon/Knights movies. The Chan-Evans comedy pairing in this movie does not produce as many laughs as the Chan-Chris Tucker or Chan-Owen Wilson pairings of the aforementioned films, but The Medallion certainly delivers all of the frantic action that Jackie Chan fans have come to expect.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are clean with fine detail. Blacks are consistently deep throughout. Colors are warm and accurate with well saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack does an admirable job of incorporating all of the discrete channels into the mix. Dialogue is crisp and securely and firmly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are moderately active, used for both music and ambient sounds, and include several split rear effects. The low frequency bass is tight and adds some punch to the upbeat music soundtrack. Present in about one-third of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects appear as light to moderate impacts that originate both from the sound effects and the music score.

- Calvin Harding, Jr.

Thunderball (1965)

Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi
Studio: MGM
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, French Mono
Extras: Audio Commentary (2), Still Gallery, Documentaries (2), Thunderball Featurette, Trailers (3), TV Spots (5), Radio Spots (10)
Length: 130 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

Bond is back in another exciting 007 film. While the legendary spy is recuperating in a spa, trouble is brewing nearby. It seems that the evil organization Spectre has been plotting to hijack nuclear warheads and demand a huge sum from the English government. Time is about to run out, but Bond is hot on the trail of a gentleman who appears to know more than he lets on. Although the man’s companion seems primed to give up some information, contact with her is incredibly dangerous. From sharks to hitmen to beautiful Spectre operatives, Bond has more than his hands full in this film. The film is full of excitement both above ground and under water, and as is true of the early Bond films, is worth the time.

Considering the fact that this is a single disc DVD, it contains a good amount of extras. The documentary on Bond was an interesting opening into the early years of the James Bond character. The actual name of the character was taken from the author of a book. Fleming, as a way to calm his nerves during his first marriage in 1943, created the character itself. Much of the debonair qualities we associate with the character can be somewhat attributed to the director, Terence Young. David Niven was Fleming’s first choice for Bond, but Connery, who is quite the opposite of the man, was chosen instead. At the time of Thunderball, the Bond mystique was at a highpoint, and magazines and books alike had covered the great 007. Some of the film production aspects are quite interesting, especially on the film score. Shirley Bassey’s song at the Jump Club, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is noteworthy, but the execs objected to not having the title in the song, so Dionne Warwick sang “Thunderball.” Tom Jones was brought in to sing the title, and it became hugely popular. There are so many items of merchandise from the film you’d think it was made today! Definitely worth the price of admission.

-Brian Bloom

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Starring: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas
Studio: MGM
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, Spanish mono
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Documentary on the film, Q’s Lab (look at Q and gadgets), Audio Commentary by Cast and Crew, Film about special camera work on the mountain, 5 TV spots, 7 Radio Spots and Interviews, Stills Gallery.
Length: 142 min
Rating: **1/2, *** if you are a Bond fan

After Sean Connery decided he didn’t want to do another Bond picture, the producers were scouring the world for the next James Bond. Lazenby was discovered from a TV commercial, and the rest is history (or more completely discussed in the documentary about the film). The plot of this movie is not dramatically different from almost every other Bond film. Bond finds himself in pursuit of the evil group Spectre, but gets involved with a woman along the way. After several near-death encounters and a few sped-up action scenes, our hero is none the worse for wear. Most of the movie takes place in the Swiss Alps with a couple of scenes in London and elsewhere. Will Bond resign from Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Does James find his true love? Will he marry her this time?? All questions answered after the film…

Although quite long, the movie is not bad. Telly Savalas performed impressively as the bad guy, and otherwise there were good performances all around. Like the other Bond re-releases, this disc is filled with extras that shouldn’t disappoint. If you had to choose only a few Bond films to own, this probably wouldn’t be the first choice, but it is one of the most even from start to finish.

Brian Bloom

Big Trouble (1985)

Starring: Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Beverly D’Angelo, Charles Durning
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Trailers (Cheap Detective, I Spy, Murder By Death)
Length: 93 minutes
Rating: **1/2

A middle-class insurance man, Leonard Hoffman, struggles with the problem of having to send his three talented children to an expensive university, Yale, all at the same time. He wants what’s best for them, but when it appears that his boss won’t be much help to finance their education, he is at his wits end. However, there is a light at the end of a dark tunnel. He is approached by a young wife of an older gentleman (who she explains is in bad health and doesn’t have much longer to live). He sells them a huge amount of insurance that has a double indemnity clause—if the man falls off a train and dies, the policy pays double. The plan is hardly fool proof, and things just begin to get interesting as the man appears with his wife demanding the money pretending to be an attorney. Needless to say, the insurance company is skeptical of the whole situation and suspects foul play. The story continues and gets stranger and stranger. It seems there is no way for Hoffman to get himself out of Big Trouble.

With the star power present and direction from John Cassavetes this should have been a tremendous film. In all likelihood, most people probably don’t even remember this movie. Aside from the implausibility of the storyline, the comedy falls short of expectations. There are some elements of screwball comedy, but the supporting plots seem to fall by the wayside. As the story changes at the end, it seems that it is merely tacked-on to pull everything all together into a conclusion. Although the video was fine, the sound is strictly mono and won’t stress your sound system. Near the end of the film, I was reminded of a bad episode of the Three Stooges where the bumblers end up becoming the heroes. This film is so lightweight it is on the verge of drifting away. Take this one at your own risk.

-Brian Bloom

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Complete Seventh Season (1998-1999)

Starring: Avery Brooks, Michael Dorn, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 fullscreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English Closed Captions
Extras: “Ending An Era” featurette, “Crew Dossier: Benjamin Sisko” featurette, “The Last Goodbyes” featurette, “Crew Dossier: Jake Sisko” featurette, photo gallery, Section 31 Hidden Files, Indiana Jones DVD trailer
Length: 1,173 minutes
Rating: ****

Deep Space Nine is a space station orbiting the planet Bajor. Under Federation control, Commander Benjamin Sisko and his crew operate Deep Space Nine. The space station is a valuable commodity in that it is positioned in close proximity to a wormhole. This wormhole provides rapid travel for spaceships to distant locations in space. The mission of the Deep Space Nine crew is to serve as host to interplanetary travelers throughout the quadrant while simultaneously protect the station from hostile takeover attempts by rival alien species. Memorable highlights from the seventh season include “Image in the Sand” where the character of Ezri Dax is introduced; “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” in which the DS9 crew takes on a Vulcan baseball team; “The Emperor’s New Cloak” where the Grand Nagus is held hostage by Alliance members of the Mirror Universe; and the two-part season finale “What You Leave Behind” where the on-going war with the Dominion ends in a climatic confrontation. The entire 25 episodes from the 1998-1999 season plus the special features are spread out over seven discs. (Disc One: Image in the Sand, Shadows and Symbols, Afterimage, Take Me Out to the Holosuite. Disc Two: Chrysalis, Treachery Faith and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558. Disc Three: Covenant, It’s Only a Paper Moon, Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak. Disc Four: Field of Fire, Chimera, Badda-Bing Badda-Bang, Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges. Disc Five: Penumbra, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Strange Bedfellows, The Changing Face of Evil. Disc Six: When It Rains…, Tacking Into the Wind, Extreme Measures, The Dogs of War. Disc Seven: What You Leave Behind (Parts I & II), Special Features).

Season Seven’s video quality is very good. Images are unblemished with fine detail. Colors are deep and robust with fully saturated hues. Black levels are consistently dark throughout. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or 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 favors the forward channels. Dialogue is intelligible and securely anchored in the center channel. Surround channels are moderately utilized for both ambient effects and the music score. Tactile effects appear as light to moderate impacts originating from sound effects and the music.

Reference equipment: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC Venturis; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- www.bettercables.com ]

– Calvin Harding Jr.

Legally Blonde 2 (2003)
Starring: Sally Field, Regina King, Reese Witherspoon
Studio: MGM
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, French 2.0, Spanish 2.0
Extras: Audio Commentary, Blonde Ambition (doc on film), Deleted Scenes (7), Gag Reel, Music Video: “We Can” by LeAnn Rimes, Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery, Interactive Quiz, Theatrical Trailer, Soundtrack Spot, SIMS Trailer
Length: 95 minutes
Rating: **1/2

This movie has cute written all over it: from “Bruiser Woods” (Elle’s dog) barking demands and funny quotables in the DVD menu, to the pink DVD case that the movie comes in. Elle Woods is back in this sequel to the enjoyable first film, Legally Blonde. Elle is about to get married and who better to attend the wedding than the parents of her beloved dog, Bruiser. With the aid of a private investigator, she tracks Bruiser’s mother to an animal testing facility. After an unsuccessful attempt to bribe the scientists to retrieve the dog, she decides to enlist the aid of her law firm. Undaunted by their lack of conviction in the matter, Elle decides that she must go to Washington and fight for the rights of all the animals who are in the clutches of the animal testing folk. Like the first film, she doesn’t quite fit in with the crowd, although she manages to use her old sorority house membership to propel her into the office of one of the senators. Her struggle is a tough one, but what would a fairytale be without a happy ending?

The silliness present in the first movie was at an acceptable level that made the comedy much more enjoyable than in this picture. There are scenes that seem to be at a pre-teen level as far as the comedy goes, which didn’t help the cause of the film. It was hard to know if the filmmaker’s even believe in the animal rights subplot that the film is primarily based on, or whether they just needed a silly gimmick to make the film fly. Although there isn’t a problem with acting, and Bob Newhart was a delight to see in the film, the old jokes that made me laugh in the first film just didn’t do it in this time around. A lot of the older characters come back to give support to the main character, but end up just adding more over-the-top silliness. It wasn’t unpleasant, only a little strained, especially in parts. Consider this one as an appetizer only.

-Brian Bloom

 

[Continue on to Part 3 of DVD Reviews]




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