Word from the Street: Hi Def Releases April 17, 2007

This week’s Blu-ray movie review includes The Dirty Dozen and the classic martial arts film “Enter the Dragon”. Our HD DVD movie review includes Feast, The Game, The Jerk, School for Scoundrels, and Smokin Aces.

The Dirty Dozen
(Warner) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, and Jim Brown

“Train them! Excite them! Arm them! …Then turn them loose on the Nazis!” That was the tag line of the ad for Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, an exciting and classic blend of adventure and action wherein we, the audience, is basically asked to root for arch-typical antiheroes who, since they endure brutal training, bond with each other and target Nazi’s in their mission to take and destroy a château in Brittany where a bunch of senior officers are holed up prior to the D-Day invasion.

This disc is loaded with features starting with The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, a 1985 sequel with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Jaeckel reprising their original roles (hope that’s not a spoiler for the original film). You also get a 30-minute documentary Armed and Deadly: The Making of The Dirty Dozen , which is a very entertaining look behind the scenes and features nice insight into Marvin’s leadership role on the set (having been a combat vet himself) and Aldrich’s direction. There’s a 47-minute documentary on the real-life exploits of 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment called The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines and a few promotional items from the period of the film’s release including Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills: Vintage Recruitment Documentary Featuring Lee Marvin and a Vintage Featurette Operation Dirty Dozen, last but not least, and not in HD, is the original theatrical trailer. Although not an HD showcase disc, this is a must have for any war film or action buff.

Enter the Dragon
(Warner) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Kien Shih, and Ahna Capri

Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon (directed by Robert Clouse) ranks in that legendary realm where cinema, reality and myth combine, over time, to mystify those who may view the actual quality of the film, as a whole, with a more critical eye. For millions of folks (I kid you not) this martial arts masterpiece was a life-changing event that altered the course of their physical or mental being… Suddenly, kung-fu (and Lee’s speciality, Jeet Kune Do) were all the rage and a wave of Hong Kong “choppy socky” films proliferated through the drive-ins and grind-houses of America (and internationally as well). The plot is simply and pretty much superfluous… simply a way to stage great tournament fight sequences and other fight scenes that are anything but generic in the way they combine grace with the short, sharp shock of a precision violence.

Aside from the awesomeness of the film itself, there’s a really good treasure trove of features here… Thank you, Warners! There’s a vintage featurette: Location: Hong Kong with Enter the Dragon an interview gallery featuring Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Cadwell and a short segment called Backyard Workout with Bruce: Vintage Home Movies and there’s the wonderfully retrograde theatrical trailers & TV spots (perfect for those wanting a better understanding of Tarantino’s love affair with the so-called grindhouse style), but wait, ahem! there’s more… Warner’s offers an enriching and engrossing 4-part documentary that includes the 30-minute long Blood and Steel: The Making of Enter the Dragon which offers plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, a nearly 100-minute long 2003 doc entitled Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey. Directed by John Little it covers, in detail, aspects of Lee’s life before and after Enter The Dragon (it’s divided into chapters: The Beginning, The Journey, The Struggle, The Game of Death and The Footage, and offers a glimpse at Lee’s last film in-production (“Game of Death” which became a disappointing posthumous release). George Takei narrates 87-minutes worth of speculation on the mystical nature of Bruce Lee’s life and the mysterious causes of his death (as well his son, Brandon Lee’s, untimely demise on the set of The Crow) called Bruce Lee: The Curse of the Dragon. Last but not least there’s Bruce Lee: In His Own Words a poignant series of old interviews and footage of Lee, the master, discussing the martial and filmmaking arts. This disc is a must have on any video collector’s shelf, and a nice addition to the growing (and growing and growing) Blu-ray library.

Feast
(Weinstein) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Clu Gulager, Balthazar Getty, Henry Rollins, Eileen Ryan, and Duane Whitaker

Pure crappy, gory fun!! No matter what some might say, this film born of an HBO series (Project Greenlight the brainchild of producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) is a feast for the gore-hound and avid monster movie fan alike. Feast directed by neophyte feature director John Gulager (son of character actor and B-movie stalwart Clu Gulager) was a risky venture from the start with a shaky script and Gulager’s directorial ineptitude often becoming grist for the mill of the HBO show, the film looked like it would be a hunk of fecal matter from the get go, but whatever one might have seen of the making of this film via the cable series, the completed film is a nice blend of horror-comedy with the blood and guts and mucus and other bodily fluids splattering a host of B and C-grade actors including punk legend Henry Rollins. Relying on low-budget, but highly effective, physical effects versus CGI, the film offers a genuine fun time (much like the similarly themed and gritty Slither). It’s definitely a rollicking popcorn flick for those who can hold the snack down. Since it’s a new film, but not an especially well-made film, the HD DVD AVC MPEG-4 transfer is nice, crisp and colorful with a range of depth and clarity at a 1080p resolution in theatrical 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio. Audio is mixed in and offering of English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround or English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround. The TrueHD mix is a feast of sound— you get a well-balanced series of screams, groans, roars, shrieks and splats! Subtitles are in English and French, while the features for this HD DVD release are a nice smattering of deleted scenes, audio commentaries with the filmmakers (playing nice as opposed to during the HBO series), a making-of featurette called Horror Under The Spotlight: The Making of Feast, another called The Blood and Guts of Gary Tunicliffe featuring the makeup effects artist and his trials and low budget tribulations on the film. There’s a short set of outtakes and bloopers as well as a short segment called Follow-up to Project Greenlight – Where Are They Now? Indeed.

The Game
(Universal) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and James Rebhorn

One of David Fincher’s dark, but lightweight efforts (up there with Panic Room) The Game is well-acted and annoying as hell at times, but then I guess that’s the point… to experience what Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) feels throughout the course of the film, the frustrations of not knowing what’s real and what’s simply part of the manufactured reality of Consumer Recreation Services’ elaborate game. Penn and Douglas do an admirable job of helping the audience suspend disbelief throughout the 135 minute running time, but the game (the event, the twisty plot and the movie as a whole) eventually wear thin and the end result is a morality tale of getting back in touch with the heartwarming things that matter most. Bleah. It’s not a rewatchable film like Fincher’s excellent Se7en and current Zodiac (even his over-the-top documentary on the whine of the North American male, Fight Club, is compellingly rewatchable). In any case, the HD DVD disc gives a very nice widescreen ( 2.35) video transfer in 1080p… blacks are black but there’s a depth to the image that doesn’t hide the finer details. Audio is offered in English/Spanish Dolby Digital Plus while subtitles are in English and Spanish. No features other than the original theatrical trailer (standard-def), but that’s part of the game I gather… the game of making money off the consumer with a cut-rate disc.

The Jerk
(Universal) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Jackie Mason and Catlin Adams

One of the all-time classic stupid comedies… one of those gems you can pop into your hi-def player anytime, especially when you’re feeling down and get a the relief of a good, honest chuckle from low-brow, but pure, entertainment. Martin plays complete idiot Navin Johnson, adopted son of poor, black sharecroppers (though he doesn’t know it, duh!) and this is mainly his rags-to-riches story… a road to discovery that will lead him to finding out what his “special purpose” is for, lead to love and lead to an invention of a product that, soon enough, brings him misery as much as joy. The film is simply a framework for Martin (early-era, wild-and-crazy-guy Martin) to showcase his talents with the result that the film that, for all it’s claim to ignorance and ode to low-brow humor, often finds a wry, intelligent charm in its characters and situations. There’s a few choice quotes (“The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”) and plenty of laughs, none of them as mean-spirited as in today’s coarse comedies, but still funny as heck! Hi-def just simply isn’t made for many older releases that were never high-points of cinematography and sound to begin with, not when a Discovery nature series blows many movie releases out of the water in terms of sound quality and vivid hi-def video quality. Here, with this HD DVD release, we get a standard, but colorful widescreen release ( 1.85) in 1080p. Audio quality is also plain-jane for hi-def, but at least compares admirably with the standard DVD release. You may notice a little more dynamic highs and lows in the Dolby Digital Plus mix (English) but not much. There’s a French track in Dolby Digital Stereo, but nothing for you Spanish speakin’ folks unfortunately unless you like comedy in subtitles (English, French and Español). Special features include Learn How to Play “Tonight You Belong to Me” a four segment feature that teaches you how to play the song from the film, on ukulele, of course. There’s an extended gag from the film that’s played for extended laughs called The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova and then there’s a theatrical trailer and some navigable production notes. This is a primary disc for your comedy library, hi-def or not.

School for Scoundrels
(Genius) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, and Michael Clarke Duncan

A lightweight feature from Todd Phillips that’s essentially an updating of the 1960 British film… it’s a social satire on class rivalry and Thornton does his best with the role of Dr. P (Dr. Potter in the original) also known as Dennis Sherman, a teacher of lifemanship who guides the flunky Roger (Jon Herder) through the rigors of getting the upper-hand of his contemporaries. But the film’s a failure, and it’s not really funny at all (see The Jerk for similar gags done better). The video transfer done with an AVC MPEG-4 codec offers 1080p resolution (supplemental material is at 480p/MPEG-2) in a 1.85 aspect ratio. Audio is sharply defined for dialog clarity in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English). There’s an English/French track in Digital 5.1 Surround and subtitles in the same. Special features include audio commentary from director/writer Todd Phillips and writer Scot Armstrong, a short gag reel, an alternate ending take and a cheap Making of You Didn’t See on TV featurette. There’s also, zzzzzzz… a theatrical trailer

Smokin’ Aces
(Universal) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Piven, Alicia Keys and someone named Common

As a follow-up to his intense cop-flick Narc, director Joe Carnahan has gone where many others have gone before in this Tarantino-inflected crime-actioneer. With plenty of disposable, one-dimensional characters, but a very sharp, vivid look to the film, audiences have been down this violent-hipster path before with quasi-director Guy Ritchie at the helm. Where Narc was taut and genuinely thrilling, Smokin’ Aces is bloated and insincere in its efforts to generate thrills. The convoluted story and quirky characters don’t register for a nearly two hour drama and the result is a film that is irritating for the duration, but then mostly forgettable (even during the shoot-’em-up finale), and should end up being a frequent rerun on Spike TV. The HD DVD video is tack sharp and vivid in 1080p resolution at 2.35:1 widscreen. Audio quality is well spread out… dialog, gunfire and squealing tires all sounded pretty darned good in Dolby Digital Plus (English only, you also have a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English as well). Subtitles are in English, Spanish, French. The special features revolve around two commentary tracks, one featuring writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen, the other with writer/director Joe Carnahan, rapper/actor Common, as well as actors Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer. There’s 18-minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes (including some outtakes) and the original “Cowboy Ending” of the film. The interactive features include items such as “The Line-Up” (a gallery of characters and the actors who play ’em), “The Big Gun” (featuring a glimpse inside director Joe Carnahan’s hipster-violent world and brain), and finally there’s “Shoot ‘Em Up: Stunts & Effects” which highlights the gunfights and slick stunt work of the film. Yay!

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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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