Blu-ray movie review for May 29, 2007. This week’s Word from the Street includes reviews of these new releases: Basic Instinct, Chris Botti Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests, Curse of the Golden Flower, Weeds: Season One.
Basic Instinct (Lionsgate)
Featuring: Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn and George Dzundza
I wouldn’t consider this a classic necessarily; save for the fact it was an influential movie for its time and still retains an effective atmosphere of campy silliness throughout. The lurid psycho-sexual drama of obsession, murder and lesbian sex still holds up, more or less, but it’s hyper-sexuality (now seeming almost tame) and late 80’s feel make it almost a goof on a repeated viewing, rather than the masterpiece some claim it is. Director Paul Verhoeven’s done better work (though he’s still a pretty whacked out visionary whose taste for high-camp is nearly unparalleled in mainstream cinema), but let’s face it… the film belongs to Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas, and it’s a classic pairing that evokes the film noir relationships of the past and the tech noir sexuality of the retro-future.
The Blu-ray disc is a pristine transfer, definitely an improvement over the many standard-def releases in the past few years. The video in widescreen ratio 2.35 at 1080p resolution, is not particularly saturated, but for the most part it’s sharp, crisp and clear offering fans of the interrogation sequence a much nicer view of Miss Stone’s, er, um… talents. The audio mix, compressed and offered in either Dolby Digital EX 5.1 or the more robust DTS HD 5.1 is nice, favoring the lush musical cues with warm overtones and nice handling of the dialog (subtitles are in English and Spanish). Video features are a mix from the past standard-def releases… a little bit of this, a little bit of that, but still not completely comprehensive.
You get a documentary on the making of the film called Blonde Poison as well as a montage comparing the TV version to the theatrical Version Cleaning Up Basic Instinct (a nice way to see how the MPAA once thought, and heck, still thinks about regarding human sexuality). There’s a very informative audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and DP Jan De Bont, but sorely missing is any commentary from writer Joe Eszterhas, which really ought to be here. Instead you get second audio commentary with feminazi (I couldn’t resist) and ahem—“Noted Author” Camille Paglia that gives insight into why we, as an audience, really dig lesbian sex. Some storyboard comparisons, the original screen tests and a theatrical trailer round out the rather lightweight extras… as probably the definitive release of this film, there should be more here.
Chris Botti Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests (Sony BMG)
Featuring: Chris Botti, Sting, Gladys Knight, Jill Scott, Paula Cole and Burt “Mr. Smooth” Bacharach
Filmed in 2005 at the Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles, this video highlights Chris Botti, trumpeter and composer. Backed by a full orchestra and musician friends such as Sting and Paula Cole, Botti plays selections from his albums When I Fall In Love and To Love Again. Jazz has rarely been smoother. The Blu-ray release (most of the stuff here was broadcast on PBS) features Botti performing:
• Someone To Watch Over Me
• When I Fall In Love
• A Thousand Kisses Deep
• What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?
• Good Morning Heartache
• My One And Only Love
• The Look Of Love
• Cinema Paradiso
• Pennies From Heaven
• Are You Lonesome Tonight?
• Lover Man
• My Funny Valentine
• Why Not
• One For My Baby**
• Bows (Credits)
The Blu-ray disc features a “you are there” 1.78 ratio widescreen video transfer in lovely 1080p resolution. The audio is offered in gloriously uncompressed PCM 5.1, though if you desire you can certainly find lower quality mixes to suit your home theater configuration. Audio is also offered in DD 5.1 surround and DD Stereo (2.0). Extras include Behind the Scenes: Chris Botti Live and The Musicians as well as an Interview with Chris and a Chris Botti & Sting Introduction to Sting’s version of “Message In A Bottle” with Chris Botti’s band. **Included is an extra song “One For My Baby,” not seen in the PBS special.
Curse of the Golden Flower (Sony)
Featuring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li and Jay Chou
From director Zhang Yimou (Hero and House of the Flying Daggers) comes an amazingly gorgeous martial-arts period piece with a woefully complicated plot regarding intrigue, deception and absolute power during the annual Chysanthemum Festival and set during the Tang Dynasty. The always impressive Chow Yun-Fat plays Emperor Ping an emperor who must strive to maintain his power amidst a family struggle to usurp his rule. The Blu-ray release features a nice, vivid transfer (Widescreen, 2.35 ratio in 1080p resolution) that captures all the exquisite detail of Zhao Xiaoding’s cinematography. The audio mix is just as incredible; however, it’s suggested viewing this film with English subtitles (also offered in French) and letting the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround soundtrack in Mandarin Chinese play for the duration of the film. The dubbed English offering in DD 5.1 surround (also in Mandarin) simply does not do the film justice. Features on the disc are light but included Secrets Within a making-of featurette and a segment on the Los Angeles film premiere.
Weeds: Season One (Lionsgate)
Featuring (season one): Mary-Louise “Total Hottie” Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin “Mr. Subliminal” Nealon and Romany Malco
Season one of this Showtime original show (the second season arrives on Blu-ray around July 24th of this year) features Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin, a recently widowed suburbanite who really, really wants to retain her upscale lifestyle while offering her children a chance to continue on in with their schools and friends. She does this by way of dealing marijuana to the locals of Agrestic, California and meets a whole new class of neighbors in the bargain. The ability to compartmentalize one’s life (much like on the superior The Sopranos offers a smarmy take on the “affluent-poor” or those seeking to maintain a high-gloss lifestyle despite delving into less savory occupations and obsessions. It’s a truly well-written show with a top-notch cast (much like other cable shows including Sopranos, The Wire, and FX’s The Shield this is an gang of actors having a great time with their well-developed characters). Needless to say, I’d love to see how this show approaches the medical marijuana issue rather than use it as a simply a legal ruse.
In any case, the video transfer is quite good, as it should be for this type of release. The widescreen 1.78 aspect ratio (standard def is pan and scan 4:9) transfer in 1080p resolution offers plenty of detail and good color saturation. The episodes and extras are spread out over two discs allowing for a booming DTS 6.1 mix (in English only as is the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix, subtitles in English and Spanish). Audio levels are good with discernable dialog and music balancing nicely. The extras are an interesting lot with Smokey Snippets, a question and answer session between actor Romany Malco trading points on pot with so-called “experts.” There’s a “Marijuana Mockumentary” called Smoke and Mirrors that offers more weedy humor and six audio commentaries with cast and crew. Interestingly the disc really takes it’s pro-pot stance to the limit with a navigational segment called Agrestic Herbal Recipes. Yup! These are honest to goodness (and I do mean goodness) marijuana recipes that ask you to provide an herb of your choice as a special, added ingredient. But wait you stoner! There’s more! There’s also a bit of Showtime original content called Special on Suburbia that gives insight into the planned super-communities of the land beyond the merely urban and a music video if you haven’t drifted off yet on the couch with a frozen Twinkie stuck in your mouth. Puff, puff, give!