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DVD Video Reviews - September 2002, Pt. 2 of 3

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Monster's Ball (2002)

As many of us often realize, racism is not dead. The time is now and the place is the deep South. A white man and his son work for the state and there is about to be a big execution of an Afro-American on death row. Their relationship is not exactly what you would call a healthy one. In contrast with the hard and cold personality and the racist tendencies shown by the father, the son is quiet, considerate and a genuine good person. The constant pressure put on him by the family is too much for the son and as the execution gets closer it only gets worse. In a strange coincidence the father manages to befriend the widow of the condemned man, also Afro-American. His feelings of pity soon grow into much more. In a matter of time, he realizes that his racist beliefs that are ingrained in him are no match for the warmth he feels for her. This union is not only difficult for him, but for all those around him.

Many I've talked to have very strong positive opinions of this film. There is no doubt of the many messages it is trying to get across and the interracial relationship portrayed might be not be too dissimilar from the reality for some in this situation. The film tries to tackle big issues and in many cases succeeds. The acting is believeable and Halle Berry won an Academy Award for Best Actress in the film. I guess part of the disappointment for me was the lack of involvement. Elements of the story were presented as pieces to help put together the characters and divine their true selves. In some cases the characters were too contrived while in others they just did not have enough development and/or interest. The film is very somber and that in itself makes it difficult to empathize fully. The pace is slow from beginning to end although the movie never drags. I believe that some people will feel a great connection to the mileau of the movie but I did not and this made it hard to enjoy as thoroughly as I had wished to. There is much extra footage from the production of the film- some of which are quite humorous. This movie was a somewhat mixed bag to me but might not be to others. Excellent picture quality even though many scenes are dimly-lit, and the 5.1 sound is effectively used.

- Brian Bloom

Agnes of God (1985)

The infant of a young nun (Tilly) is found strangled in her quarters at the convent. An investigator (Fonda) is called in to determine the woman's mental health. What starts as a not-so-routine investigation turns into a quest for the truth and a test of faith. It seems that strange incidents have occurred prior to the final event and it is not clear whether these events might be extremely religious in nature. The innocence of the young nun confounds Fonda's character, while all those who speak of Agnes have many nice things to say. The Mother Superior (Bancroft) is not always helpful and the reasons why just add more pieces to the puzzle. When it gets closer to the conclusion, we are not sure what happened. It is only at the very end when the viewer really feels that he or she can understand what has occurred.

The material in this film is quite powerful, as are its implications. Fonda's character is not only on a mission to find out what happened, but is also trying to rediscover her faith. There is no way you could think that Agnes of God is a typical Hollywood film, and that is one of its strong points. It really gives off a feeling of seclusion mirroring the feeling of the seclusion in the convent. The performances of the three main actresses are so strong that it is hard not to fall into the film's spell. At times, the scenes are scary- not in the sense of horror, but in the ability of the film to connect you to the characters. A classic.

- Brian Bloom

The Time Machine (2002)

Alexander, a visionary scientist who is spurred forward by the loss of a loved one, invents a machine that enables him to travel back and forth through time. When his efforts to travel back in time to prevent the death of his girlfriend fail, Alexander opts to travel forward in time for help in his quest. When an incident actually propels him 800,000 years into the future, Alexander discovers that humans have evolved into two distinct groups, the hunters and the hunted. The hunters are an ape-like species that live below ground (Morlocks) and the hunted are the humans that live on the surface. Alexander now finds that he is in a battle not only to save himself, but also to save mankind from extinction at the hands of the Morlocks.

I have not read the novel by H.G. Wells on which this book is based, nor have I seen the original version of this film. [Ed.: I have and it's better, but the special effects are much more sophisticated this time around.] As such, I can't say whether or how much this current film version varies from the original storyline. However, this might make me better suited than most to evaluate this movie on its merits alone. The plot was interesting and had seemingly endless potential but I felt that this potential wasn't capitalized upon as Alexander actually did very little traveling through time. While it doesn't offer any deeply profound messages or leave one feeling intellectually stimulated, it was still a great deal of fun and there were some great visual effects to behold. Probably best described a big-budget popcorn flick, The Time Machine is worth checking out as a rental.

Reviewed upon a 106" Da-Lite projection screen via a Studio Experience Cinema 17SF DLP projector (http://www.studioexperience.com), the video quality of this DVD is very good. Images are crisp and finely detailed. Black levels are deep and there is solid contrast. Colors are rich but favor the darker-side with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital artifacts.

The overall audio quality is excellent with the English DTS 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix actively incorporates all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and intelligible. The surround channels are often used aggressively, utilized for both music and sound effects, and include several split rear effects. The LFE channel sees plenty of action, adds depth to the music score, and provides considerable thump to the action sequences.

- Calvin Harding Jr.


Shallow Hal (2001)

Hal is relentless skirt chaser who, as the title of the movie implies, is shallow. His shallowness results from his inability to look beyond the physical characteristics of a woman and into her inner beauty. Everything changes for Hal when he runs into self-help guru Tony Robbins. After listening to Hal's shortcomings, Robbins leaves Hal with a mind altering suggestion that makes him only able to see the inner beauty of a person. Thus, a physically unattractive lady with a beautiful soul would look like a supermodel to Hal despite not appearing that way to anyone else around him. When Hal later meets what he sees through his eyes as the most beautiful woman in the world, in actuality she is a 300+ pound gal. Hal's best friend Mauricio at first can't understand what his buddy sees in this new lady, but later figures out that Hal is under some type of spell. Mauricio sets out to break the spell but in doing so may ruin Hal's chance to find true love.

Shallow Hal was directed by the Farrelly Brothers, the same guys who directed There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene. I loved the former of those two films but thought the latter was sub-par. To me, the quality of Shallow Hal as a film falls somewhere between Mary and Irene. It is primarily a sweet love story with a couple of funny gags mixed in. It didn't have as many funny moments as Mary but its overall humor is at a higher level and is definitely cleverer than the lowbrow slapstick stuff of Irene. Shallow Hal is worth at least a rental and probably even a purchase if you are a Farrelly Brothers fan.

The video quality of this DVD is very good. Images are clean and well detailed. Black levels are consistently deep and dark. Colors are vivid and bright with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is near perfect with no major flaws or digital artifacts.

The overall audio quality is above average for a comedy picture with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix favors the forward channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and clear. The surround channels are quite active, utilized for both music and sound effects, and even include a handful of split rear effects. There are a couple of great sequences with deep bass that give powered subwoofers opportunity to rumble but for the most part bass is relegated to the music soundtrack.

- Calvin Harding Jr.


The Patriot ­ Superbit Deluxe Edition (2000)

This film takes place in South Carolina in 1776 and follows Benjamin Martin, a legendary war hero, and his close family through their difficulties in dealing with the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The British have begun to take hold of the surrounding land, and many colonists are being recruited for the war effort. Martin is the sole provider for his family and chooses to stay with them. His son has very different ideas, and soon joins the cause against Benjamin's wishes. When the war is virtually in his backyard, Martin is forced to take a more active role in the protection of his family, and those whom he loves. With his superior gun fighting and tactical skills, Martin is an asset to the military, and helps to bring about the outcome we all know well from our History classes. The message of the film, according to one of those heavily involved: "The only way to protect your family, is to protect the family of all men."

This disc is one of the first to be released as a Superbit Deluxe Edition DVD. This means that you no longer have to give up the special features (like previous editions) in order to get the best sound and video quality that Columbia thinks they can offer. Instead, there is a second disc that holds are the extra features. The picture quality of the film was quite good and you could easily see film grain. Colors were excellent and artifacts were low if present at all. The sound was very impressive whether you listen to the Dolby Digital track or the DTS track. I did not have the original to compare, but if you like this film then I don't think you can go wrong with this edition.

- Brian Bloom


Hollow Man ­ Superbit Deluxe Edition (2000)

In a government laboratory below ground, several scientists are working on a formula that will allow a man to become invisible. Tests have been made on animals, but there is still a problem finding the solution that will make the animals visible again. Finally, the breakthrough occurs, but there is the possibility the funding will be stopped. In a dangerous attempt to further the research, the head scientist takes the formula himself. Unfortunately, the other scientists are unable to get him to become visible again. The thrill of invisibility starts to go to his head and he begins to do things that are not exactly moral. As time passes, he starts to become mad.

This movie is a special effects horror thriller. I suppose I was expecting a science fiction film, but when people started getting killed, it was obvious which direction the film was taking. The picture and sound are up to high standards in this higher-resolution version, but I can't really say the same for the content of the film. After watching some of the extras, I have great respect for the special-effects people as this area of the film was very impressive. There are tons of extras, so if you are into special effects, no doubt it is worth checking out all of these sections in detail. The acting wasn't terrible, the story was involving, the special effects were effective, but this movie just couldn't pull itself out of the "blah" category.

- Brian Bloom

Victor Victoria (1982)

Set in Paris in the 1930s, this film tells quite an interesting comedic tale. A woman of wonderful vocal talent is reduced to auditioning at nightclubs to put food on her table. She is about to be tossed out of her apartment and hasn't eaten in days. As luck would have it, she runs into an older crooner who has a plan to restore them both to the lifestyle they only dream about at the present. The storyteller manages to poke fun (and embrace) homosexuality and offer up a delightful character-a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. As "Victor" becomes a star, both Victoria and her companion struggle with her interest in an admirer of her performance-one who is certain that he is really a she! In the end, they both have to face the music and let their true selves shine through.

One funny scene follows another, and immediately one is drawn to the characters in this film. The story is lively and fun, and flows at a quick pace that propels the viewer forward and deeper into the lives of the characters. We learn that the entire film was made on one large soundstage, and sets and lighting provide a warm and affectionate atmosphere by way of the commentary that helped illuminate the production aspects of the film. This movie is a keeper.

- Brian Bloom

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