Word From the Street: March 13, 2007

daniel-craig-eva-green-james-bond-casino-royale-5First, a major correction: Last week’s blog stated that a certain series of Blu-ray releases were slated for last week, March 6th. Apparently, my spell checker doesn’t check for stupidity, so that got sent out and published, and of course, the date should have been March 13th. I also forgot to add ” The Holiday” to that week’s release schedule (well, I argue, it’s a forgettable film). Please ignore the idiot behind the curtain… he means well, and is housebroken, but apparently his editor doesn’t parse his material, so there.

In any case, here we have yet another solid week of Blu-ray releases. Aaannnd, we have, yet again, a terminally weak week for good ol’ Charlie Brown… er, I mean that sad-sack, but wonderfully loveable format we call HD DVD.

Casino Royale (Sony) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Daniel Craig, Eva “Amazingly Hot” Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Judi Dench

Casino Royale is a surprisingly great action film that offers a new Bond mythology for a new generation of fans, but respects the Bond of Fleming even more than the last spate of films in the series. The Blu-ray disc is a fine transfer, but not a knockout showcase disc. It offers MPEG-4 compression with a theatrical widescreen ratio, 2:40:1, at 1920x1080p… resolution is nice, not too sharp and the color pops. The disc offers a nice PCM 5.1 surround mix isn’t muddy as with some action films where gunfire gets buried in the rumble of an explosion, it’s a warm mix and the dialogue is fully discernable (French and Spanish surround tracks are offered as well).

Extras are pretty light for such a cool film that was critically and commercially successful. However, you get the hi-def 27-minute featurette called Becoming Bond, a pretty good look at how Daniel Craig took on the role in the face of intense fan pressure. James Bond For Real is not exactly what you think but rather covers the eye-popping stunts from the film; Bond Girls Are Forever, hosted by a former Bond-girl, Maryam D’Abo, and a music video from former Soundgarden (current Audioslave) singer Chris Cornell.

The Holiday (2006) (Sony) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Eli Wallach and Jack Black

A rom-com with a Christmas touch from director Nancy Meyers. Two dissimilar women with similar guy-problems find each other through a home exchange website… and switch lives. Implausibly enough, without knowing too much about each other, they agree to swap homes for the holidays and suddenly live different lives by finding new romance with (as usual) troubled men. Jack Black plays against type, while Kate Winslet does a decent job with formulaic material. Cameron Diaz and Jude Law are less interesting as the other couple and it’s always good to see Eli Wallach acting in any film, let alone a rom-com. The Sony Blu-ray offering is of high quality with a nice, pristine transfer. The video is offered in anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio that shows no compression artifacts, dull colors or loss of detail. The audio is uncompressed PCM 5.1 (English/French) or Dolby Digital 5.1 with very nice surround highlights throughout. The extra features are rather slim with an unremarkable director commentary (the guest commentary is mostly by the production designer and editor… and also composer Hans Zimmer), a featurette entitled Foreign Exchange: The Making of The Holiday.

Hoosiers (MGM) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, and Sheb Wooley

The Blu-ray release offers a classic, latter-day Dennis Hopper role that garnered him a Best Supporting Actor nomination as a rather complicated town-drunk. It’s a great family film, truly inspiring and very well acted (Hackman is terrific in the role of Coach Norman Dale). The movie is considered a classic by the Library of Congress and has been preserved as part of the National Film Registry… a pretty good indication that it ought to be part of your hi-def library, too. However, a strong caveat in that this is not the world’s finest transfer (though the aspect ratio is Scope-style 2.35) and, therefore, this is not a showcase disc for your system. I doubt this will double-dip due to its age, and all other tech specs are hi-def class: 5.1 DTS HD audio and Dolby Digital 4.0 (English) with mono tracks (French/Spanish). Subtitles are in French/Spanish. Disc offers the original theatrical trailer (standard quality) and hi-def trailers for other Blu-ray releases. It’s a rather sad release considering that standard DVD offers a real nice 2-disc collector’s edition that features the 1954 Indiana High School championship game that directly inspired the film among other cool features. You would think a Blu-ray release would garner the same kind of care and attention on distribution, but you’re outta luck on this street release.

Layer Cake (Sony) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Daniel Craig, Tom Hardy, Jamie Foreman, and Sally Hawkins

More Daniel Craig… this time in a crime thriller that cuts through many layers of the cocaine underworld. Craig is a mid-level cocaine trafficker, a real man-with-no-name who finds himself getting sunk deeper and deeper into Britain’s gangland drug trade. Matthew Vaughn directs Craig, the future James Bond, and gets some nice performances from his cast in addition to the brutal action sequences involving some vicious Serbian drug dealers who what their Ecstasy stash back. The film has crackerjack dialog (though British slang can be hard to understand, that’s what English subtitle tracks are for) and pacing and blows those lame Guy Ritchie Brit-gang movies out of the water. The transfer is an anamorphic widescreen release in 2.40:1 ratio with compression a bit low-end yet still offering pretty good video quality for hi-def. Audio is PCM 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 (English/French) with subtitles in Chinese, English, French, Korean, Thai, Portuguese, and of course Spanish. But it’s the English subtitles you may need to unravel the dialog being spoken since it’s not exactly the Queen’s English. Features include commentary by the director Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly from his book of the same name. There is also a brief making-of featurette, a music video, and a Q&A session from cast and crew in England. There’s a few storyboard comparisons and best of all, two alternate endings with commentary. All-n’-all a nice package for what could have been an obscure film had Craig not hit it big with Bond.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Fox) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, and Adam Brody

While I’m not a huge fan of high-concept, star-driven vehicles (and yes, this is a vehicle that moves at roughly 500 mph), I can safely say, this one ain’t so bad. Of course, for now it’s largely remembered for the off-screen **cough** rumors **cough** of a romance between stars Pitt and Jolie… Now that we know they’re kinda serious and working hard to save the planet, the high-concept wind has kinda gone out of this pic’s sails. Not to say it still isn’t a fun romp with a wicked little sense of humor, it is… and not to say the action or acting are shabby in any way—they’re most certainly not. It’s just not a great film that submits to any sort of analysis. This is really War of the Roses with higher firepower and a sicker view of matrimony. No matter what my feelings about the flick’s content, I always feel a big, dumb action movie (or those rare big, smart action movies) deserves a crisp a/v transfer that blasts my eyeballs and shakes my eardrums… But, as this disc was unavailable, I only can give you tech specs. What we get here is a widescreen, 2.35:1 ratio transfer with DTS 5.1 sound (English) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish/French/English). Features include a director’s commentary with Doug Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, another commentary featuring producers Lucas Foster and Akiva Goldsman, and ANOTHER commentary with editor Michael Tronick, production designer Jeff Mann and visual effects supervisor Kevin Elam. Had enough of the commentaries? Well then you get a few deleted scenes, but that’s about it. Subtitles in English y Español.

Hasta la vez próxima, mis amigos!

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Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson enjoys knife throwing, growing exotic mosses, and that warm spot where the sun shines through the corrugated box. Christian also writes for Gadget Review. You can also find Christian on Google+, and Twitter.

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