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High Definition Movie Releases May 8th, 2007

This Week’s Word from the Street includes Blu-ray movie reviews for Catch & Release, Donnie Brasco (Extended Cut), Dirty Dancing, and Revenge (Director’s Cut). HD DVD releases the 1965 classic WWII film Battle of the Bulge.

Catch & Release (Sony) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Juliette Lewis, Fiona Shaw, Sam Jaeger and Kevin Smith

Newly widowed Grey (Garner) finds herself left at the altar due to the untimely death of her fiancé on a bachelor party weekend… turns out he wasn’t everything he seemed, with secrets involving an old lover, her son and a crapload of money. With the help of his friends, she’s able to piece her life back together (and, posthumously, her ex-fiancés as well). The cookie-cutter title just about says it all… if you like your romantic comedies tepid and tempered by weepy drama, you’ll really dig this one (the acting is above-par for this genre). Kevin Smith’s in it too, and he’s not silent here. It’s a first time directorial effort for Susannah Grant, who probably gleaned a few tips from Smith in the process of making the film. You can kind of get that idea from the two commentary tracks one with Smith and Grant and one with Grant and cinematographer John Lindley.

The hi-def quality of the transfer is superb for the most part— very bright, crisp and nicely saturated in a 1080 progressive resolution at an aspect ratio of 2.35 widescreen. Audio is offered in PCM 5.1, and is a pretty good mix with dialog nice and clear, but with good ambient tones throughout all channels. There’s an English/French track in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well. Subtitles a-plenty, with: English, French, Spanish, Portugese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. There’s a making-of featurette, some deleted scenes and an audition reel segment.

Dirty Dancing (Lionsgate) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Cynthia Rhodes, Jerry Orbach, and Jack Weston

Patrick Swayze makes burning passion and “dirty” dancing look easy, while Jennifer Grey makes you believe in Baby, with her family difficulties, including then taboo subjects of abortion and her own coming-of-age confusion that leads ultimately to love and her own independence as a young woman. This was (and in many ways still is) the de-facto romantic classic for teen girls, at least until Titanic overshadowed it in the 1990’s and is a must-have for any video library; however, the hi-def release, being a single disc effort with a ton of features (add to this those features are all in hi-def resolution) means the transfer is a bit sub-standard for hi-def with plenty of grain and faded color apparent, but also a certain lack of crispness (though touted as a re-mastered 1080p transfer (it is), it’s simply as good or a bit better than the standard-def release’s image in my opinion [note, the standard-def 20th anniversary releases, subsequent with the Blu-ray, is a 2-disc effort with the video spread out on a single disc with commentaries… hence my slight dissatisfaction with the Blu-ray release).

It’s widescreen, of course, in it’s theatrical release 1.85 aspect ratio. On the other hand, there’s a like, totally powerful audio mix that’s outstanding. Nobody puts this audio mix in the corner… you get all the benefits of the popular 80’s soundtrack in both the uncompressed PCM 6.1 surround mix (all channels sound impressive, with dialog mixing nicely with the music) and the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix. Both tracks are in English only. As for the features, you’ll have the time of your life going through them all including

Donnie Brasco: Extended Cut (Sony) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Anne Heche, Bruno Kirby, Michael Madsen, and James Russo

Based on the true story (with inaccuracies here in there) of FBI agent Joe Pistone and his memoir of years spent infiltrating the New York’s Bonnano crime family as “Donnie Brasco,” this film is a truly excellent actor’s picture… a film worth savoring for Depp and Pacino’s performances (and heck, Anne Heche is outstanding here as Pistone’s wife, Maggie… nerves frayed by her husband’s risky business as a mole within the Mafia). Pacino underplays the role… no Hoo-ha! here, thankfully. Pacino gives a fully nuanced character role, with all the method shadings of a man who feels oppressed by fidelity to old traditions and his own murderous past. Depp simply rises above the material, as always and becomes a believable FBI agent who gets lost in the role of Donnie Brasco… it’s almost a meta-performance and simply sublime. Mike Newell’s direction is pretty straightforward, and the film features Bruno Kirby, always a fave of mine, and now sadly missed (hey, fuggedaboudit).

The disc is a nice looking 1080p Blu-ray release in 2.35 widescreen and offers deep black levels and nice color saturation from a pristine print throughout the feature. The audio is offered in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround and DD 5.1 (English only, Subtitles are in English and French). One question remains about this disc and that’s where did the extra 20-minutes of extended cut footage come from? It’s not quite necessary, it seems more like filler, and who knows if Newell signed off on this version… it’s mostly dramatic scenes between Depp and Heche, as well as a restaurant scene. The special features are not exclusive to Blu-ray as the box would have it, rather you get some older items from the prior standard-def release including a short on the : Brasco: Out From The Shadows which features an insightful interview with the real-life Joe Pistone, and a making-of featurette. There’s some theatrical trailers and a photo gallery/scene montage.

Revenge: Director’s Cut (Sony) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn, Madeleine Stowe, and Sally Kirkland

This is a truly lame, early 90’s effort from director Tony Scott and man, it’s very weak stuff. I find Tony Scott to be one of the more annoying action directors, capable of reducing an the brains of the audience to liquefied goop, a guy who’s constantly quoting one action cliché or another when he’s not creating new ones himself. Gotta admit, I thought The Hunger was cool stuff, but aside from Top Gun and possibly True Romance, I generally find his hyper-kinetic style of filmmaking to be irksome to sit through, and the “director’s cut” of Revenge adds nothing to an already insipid affair.

The hi-def release for the Blu-ray format is pretty good looking, in 1080p, 2.40 widescreen. Nothing to complain about image-wise, but nothing to shout out about either. The sound is fairly kick ass… how could it not be in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (DD 5.1 is offered as well with subtitles in English and French). There’s an audio commentary with Tony Scott. A fluff-piece on the making-of called Obsession: The Sex and Violence of Revenge and some theatrical trailers for other pics. Features are not in hi-def… avoid this one until it hits the cut-out bin and when you’re truly hard up for a good action thriller.


Battle of the Bulge (Warner Home Video) (HD DVD)
Battle of the Bulge stars Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw and Robert Ryan in this classic recreation of a last-ditch Belgian front offensive that Nazi Panzer forces launch. This offensive could be the one that turns the tide of WWII. Directed by Ken Annakin and originally released in 1965.

HD DVD appears to have released Battle of the Bulge, although there are conflicting reports about it’s availability. Amazon allows you to “Add to Cart”, so it seems it is being shipped in the HD DVD format. The Blu-ray release is scheduled for release next Tuesday, May 15.

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