Tag Archives: Blu-ray Reviews

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Rent Final Broadway Performance

Blu-Ray Review: Rent - The Fina Performance
Blu-Ray Review: Rent - The Final Performance

For a show that I claim to hate, I have somehow managed see the show at least three times – not on broadway, though. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I hate almost all the characters because they are whiny, pretentious and self involved. But the high points outweigh the story. After all of these years, I still love all the big songs like Take Me or Leave Me, Seasons of Love, One Song, I’ll Cover You and La Boheme. The show had it’s final Broadway performance last September and the folks at Sony Home Video captured the moment on a beautiful Blu-Ray package. The picture and audio is sharp and clean, that I feel like I’m in the audience. The final performance brought back a lot of the stars from the original production (who were also featured in Movie version) including: Idina Menzel (Maureen), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel), Adam Pascal (Roger), and Tracie Thoms (Joanne). It made watching the final performance sort of bitter sweet.  I wish all Broadway and Theater shows put their performance on DVD and especially Blu-Ray. Yes you can’t beat the experience of seeing a show live, but hey, live shows on Broadway are outrageously expensive – $200 – $400 and they sit there and wonder why revenue is down. This Blu-ray really brings the performance home and actually makes me want to catch Rent the next time in NY, oh wait… The whole point of this performance is, its the curtain call.  One of the cool little special features is an 8 minute Curtain Call with the original cast doing a surprise appearance singing Seasons of Love. The Camera pans around to all of the people in the audience crying and I’ll admit it, it got to me.

Again, let me reiterate, I hate all the characters in this production, not a single sympathetic one. Sure we’re supposed to feel for Angel, but when we’re introduced to her, she sings happily about some old rich woman paying her to kill her neighbor’s dog. Right away, I hated her. Not to mention the song is stupid and terrible – crass, commercialized pop drivel – the same thing the show espouses against. The only one who I thought was sympathetic was Benny because all of his former “friends,” completely turned on him when Benny decided to try and make something of himself. He was bending over backwards to help these people, let them stay Rent free for a year, tried to work out a compromise so he could build his condos and he got “spit” in the face for his efforts even tho their condos were as good as the coal harbour condos for sale I once saw in a website. The show tries desperately to make him the bad guy and the symbol of “greed,” and “commercialism,” but he wasn’t.

The Blu-Ray extras include –

The Wall (HD, 6 Minutes) – A short featurette about the back staged Wall of the Theaters. It’s just the camera panning over the names with an instrumental version of “I’ll Cover You” in the background, pretty nice and kind of moving, because again, you realize this is it, another NY Institution is gone.

  • Rent The Final Days on Broadway (HD, 36 Mins) – A 36 minute documentary on the last days of Rent.
  • Casting (HD, 7:50) – A discussion with the Casting Directors about the show.
  • Jonathan Larson PSA (HD, 5:53) – A short PSA about Rent creator’s Jonathan Larson’s Foundation.
  • Trailer
  • The Final Lottery – (HD, 9 Min) – About the final Lottery for people trying to secure tickets for the final performances. Apparently, they gave away tickets to the first two rows for $20.  And it’s something they did from the beginning, which was a cool gesture.  It’s one of those “secret” things that NY Insiders know – and I spent half a year living there and never knew.
  • BD-Live – Lame

There’s nothing wrong with these featurettes, they are excellent (except BD-Live, ugh) but they don’t do anything to truly showcase or distinguish the Blu-Ray format from regular DVDs.

Conclusion

As I write this review, I’m starting to convince myself that the characters really aren’t that bad, what sells the show for me are the high points. They still resonate today, all of these years later and it’s sad to know that Rent’s gone from Broadway. It just seems like one of those things that would always be there. This Blu-Ray does a perfect job of capturing those final moments. But I have to say, I’m really annoyed that Sony didn’t include Digital Copy on this disc or really take advantage of any of the interactive features. Yes the picture and audio are fantastic, but Sony are the creators of the Blu-ray format so they have a special obligation to make every one of their discs be a showcase – especially when they expect people to pay a premium price for it. The Blu-ray retails for $38.95 and the Regular DVD $24.95.  Both will hit the streets, February 3, 2009.

Grades –

  • Movie – B
  • Picture – A
  • Audio – A
  • Features – C

Final Overall Grade – Bc

BLU-RAY NEWS: Best Blu-rays of 2008

BLU-RAY NEWS: Best Blu-rays of 2008
BLU-RAY NEWS: Best Blu-rays of 2008

2008 started off great for Blu-ray backers when they won the non-war with HD-DVD.  We consumers expected this fight to last awhile but was surprised when it barely lasted a year. I was firmly on the HD-DVD side of the fence. They had clear standards, when you purchased an HD-DVD disk you knew what to expect in terms of features. I also thought that competition would be good for consumers. Plus the the Blu-ray group still didn’t have a handle on what should be standard and what shouldn’t be. Then they finally released the profile 1.1 spec which included picture in picture and Ethernet ports as standard features on all players. Later in the year they issued the 2.0 spec which brought along BD-Live.

At the time of the announcement I wrote one of my patented screeds saying how it would be bad for consumers, that prices of Blu-ray disks were way too high and that, without competition, there was no way they would come down. Of course my screed made the Internet rounds and I was ridiculed and lambasted on popular websites like the AV-Forums, but guess what – I was right. Exactly what I predicted would happen, did happen. The price of players didn’t go down, the cost of movies actually went up and you have Netflix charging an extra buck to cover their Blu-ray costs.  I mean really, $39 for Superbad?

Even though they released a lot of new feature enhancements, most of the major Hollywood studios are content to just release HD catalogue films with very little additional features that take advantage of the format. It amounts to nothing more than double dipping and for this privilege they are charging $10  – $15 more and they wonder why consumers aren’t jumping on the BD Bandwagon.

Continue reading BLU-RAY NEWS: Best Blu-rays of 2008

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Death Race takes Pole Position, Michelle’s Take!

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I skipped Death Race when it was in the theaters earlier this year, it’s not because I didn’t want to see it, I just ran out of time and these days if you don’t see a film on opening weekend it’s long gone by week two or three. Which is a shame, because after watching it, I’m surprised it didn’t do better. It’s a solid mid-tier action flick, that at times takes itself way to seriously for the material. Jason Statham is actually really good in this and man did he get ripped. At first I thought the muscles on his back were CG.  There’s not a lot of fighting as most of the action takes place in the Death Race a grueling 3 Day Race where prisoners are forced to race to the Death. The big dog in cellblock is Warden Hennessey played with fierceness by Joan Allen. When she struts into the Prison Yard, you see the fear and respect the Prisoners have in her. Director Paul W.S. Anderson really gives this film the grit that it deserves, but like I said, it’s almost too serious, I would have liked a little levity.

As with all Anderson HV Releases, this Blu-ray has some really cool features. It’s one of those showcase discs that includes everything the format offers. Picture and Picture commentaries? Check. Audio Commentaries? Check. BD-Live? Check. Boatload of HD Features? Check.  For specifics we have:

  • Start Your Engines: the Making of Death Race – 20 Minutes (HD)
  • Behind the Wheels: Dissecting the Stunts – 8 Minutes (HD)
  • Feature Commentary with Paul W.S. Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt
  • Universal’s U-Control interactive remote thing that lets you control when and where your Picture and Picture shows up.
  • A Full Dossier of all the drivers and their cars that you can pull up at any point in the movie using the U-Control. Pretty slick and cool how it’s implemented.

There’s a really neat multi-angle feature that let’s you cut an entire 13 minute sequence together using over 8 different camera angles. As you watch the race scene you just mouse over the angles you want to use. There are aerial shots, in car close ups, shots of Joan Allen in the control room, the pit crew, it’s pretty comprehensive. Once the scene is done you click the save button and it’ll automatically play back your edit. Not only that but you can cut it multiple different times and it’ll store your edits. Through BD-Live (which wasn’t turned on during the review period) you’ll be able to upload your edits to the community.  Also with BD-Live will incorporate live chat and you can do your own live Race Commentary.  The picture is of course full widescreen 1080p with a 2:35:1 aspect ratio (I still don’t like letterboxing on my TV) and has HD Audio.  On top of all of this, the Blu-ray includes the Unrated and Theatrical release of the movie as well as a Digital Copy.

I’m really happy with this release and it is one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. Death Race hits the streets Dec 23, on Blu-Ray ($39.99 retail) and an Unrated DVD Version (29.99).

Movie Grade B
Picture – A
Audio – A
Features A+

Final Overall Grade – A

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally posted 12.21.08

BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Day The Earth Stood Still by Michelle Alexandria

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Hmm… What do you say about one of the greatest Sci-Fi films ever made? Other than that it’s one of the greatest Sci-Films Ever Made? Just in time for the release of the Keanu remake, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the Original) is now out in Blu-ray. This 50’s Black and White classic looks absolutely gorgeous. The only drawback is the picture isn’t in Widescreen format it’s a pretty harsh full frame 1:33:1 ratio (or standard 4.3). So the picture looks a bit cropped on the sides on my 46 incher, it’s like watching standard def broadcasts on any normal HDTV. The only way to get it to fill up the screen is to select the widescreen mode on my television – which I don’t like to do because it makes the picture look stretched and the 5.1 HD Digital audio is clear and clean.

Originally, I didn’t think this disk had that many features, but once I delved into it, there’s a lot to discover here. Fox’s habit of making some of the worst navigation in the history of DVD and now Blu-ray continues here. It wouldn’t be a Fox release if the menus weren’t confusing or had really small fonts.

The disk starts with an 8 minute preview of the new Keanu remake. I watched about 3 minutes of it before I got incredibly bored. I have no interest in seeing this, but I’ll probably make time over the long X-mas weekend.  The stupid thing is once you skip this intro you can’t navigate to it again (unless you stop the movie), because the preview isn’t one of the special features you can easily navigate to, incredibly dumb.  Some of the standout features include an interactive game that let’s you be Gort and lazer blast some troops. It’s a incredibly lame and cheesy flash game, but I actually spent about 15 minutes playing with it. Then there’s this unique make your own soundtrack thing that let’s create music with the Thermin and then apply it to the scene where Gort first comes out of the ship. Very neat, there’s a scale and you just scroll up and down it to select your notes. Once you are done you click the Apply to scene button and it’ll automatically play the scene with your new score.  There’s no BD-Live where you can share your creations, but I love the concept and the ease of use.

Other features include:

  • DVD Commentary track with the Director Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer (who did Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn)
  • The World of the Thermin – This is the instrument used to create the unique sounds of TDTESS.  There are two little featurettes, one where Peter Pringle explain what a Thermin is and a live performance. Both are about 2:15 and in HD
  • Making of Feature – 23:53 (HD)
  • Decoding Klaatu, Barada, Nikto – A documentary about the history of the cold war – 16:14 (HD)
  • A Brief History of Flying Saucers – 34:02 (HD)
  • The Astounding Harry Bates – 11:03 (HD)
  • Edmund North: The Man Who Made The Day The Earth Stood Still – 14:43 (HD)
  • Race to Oblivion, an anti-war short from Edmund North, narrated by Burt Landcaster – 26:41 (HD)
  • There’s even an 2 hr Audiobook!  Farewell to the Master – About 2 Hrs.
  • Fox Movietone News – 6:21

I’m not sure how to grade the picture quality, like I said at the beginning the picture is gorgeous, but I hate the fact that it’s 1:35 ratio so it’s not even widescreen.  But the sheer number of features and the fact it is a great movie are more important than my concerns about the aspect ratio.  The Day The Earth Stood Still is available now on DVD ($19.99) and Blu-ray (34.90).

Move Grade – A+
Picture Quality – B
Audio – A
Features – A

Final Overall Grade – A-

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 12.21.08

BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Dark Knight Sparkles, Michelle’s Review

Blu-Ray Review: The Dark Knight Sparkles, Michelle Alexandria's Take
Blu-Ray Review: The Dark Knight Sparkles, Michelle Alexandria

I’m currently working on my 2008 Blu-ray Holiday Guide and my top 20 list for 2008 and it goes without saying The Dark Knight Blu-ray disc is one of the best Blu-rays of the year. It’s a true showcase title that combines an Amazing 1080P Picture, TrueHD Sound, and truly unique special features into something remarkable.  Director Christopher Nolan gives puts a lot of love into the 3 Disc special edition.  The menus make sense and all the Featurettes are filmed in beautiful HD.  The disk includes Digital Copy, which I’m really starting to get into. I would never want to want this movie on my iPod Touch – even though it looks gorgeous, but being able to watch it on my Macbook while on the go, is pretty awesome.

BD-Live

WB is doing something truly unique with BD-Live which is usually just some lame menu that includes trailers. The Dark Knight disc let’s you actually record a video commentary and share it with your friends. You can also schedule group viewing as well. Unfortunately, BD-Live wasn’t turned on last week when I was reviewing this, so I decided to wait until today to test it out and everything works really well, it takes a bit to set up but once you do it’s a pretty cool use of the technology.  In order to use BD-Live you have to first setup an account – an immediate turnoff, especially typing it on an onscreen keypad. Then after that, you still have to go to your email for a confirmation and feel out this long, intrusive form. Go back to the BD-Live and resign it. What a pain in the ass. After all of that the first thing I saw was a trailer for….The Dark Knight! How retarded is that?

Picture

The one thing that bugs me is the Aspect Ratio of the picture is harsh. I just purchased a 46 inch, Sony Bravia, I don’t want to see any freaking letterboxed black bars on my screen.  I’ve never been a fan of letterboxing and never will.  There’s a feature called Focal Points where you can watch how to sequences during the course of the film. It’s especially irritating because the navigation is broken when you are watching these clips. You can’t get back to the movie unless you stop it and restart the film. So it’s a really useless feature. You can, however watch all 18 features separately.  Most of these average about 2 – 7 minutes, some are shot in HD and others in Standard Def.

On Disc 2 you have the Features

Behind the Story

  • Batman Tech – A really cool 45 Minute feature about the technology used by Batman and close to reality all of this gear is. (HD)
  • Batman Unmasked The Psychology of The Dark Kight – Another 45 minute feature that looks into Batman’s motivations and pschye. We get to go inside the mind of a Superhero with real psychologists. As a former Psych major, I found this to be fascinating stuff. (HD)

Extras

  • Gotham Tonight – All 6 episodes of the Web Series (HD)
  • Photo Galleries
  • Nine Trailers and TV Spots (HD)

You can read my review of the movie here. As I said in the beginning, this is a ground breaking Blu-ray disk and must buy. One of the year’s best films gets the year’s best Blu-Ray.

Movie Grade – A+

Picture – A-

Audio – A

Features – A

Final Overall Grade – A+

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted
12.09.08

BLU-ray Review: James Bond Collection

James Bond Blu-ray DVD Collection

I’m not a fan of triple dips, but MGM and Fox Home Video have done an amazing job on the newly released James Bond Blu-ray set. I was generally skeptical about this dip because I already own three different versions of all the Bond films. But these Blu-ray versions are the definitive set. The picture transfer/upgrade is beautiful. I put on Dr. No and it was an eye-opening experience. The colors were deep, reach and sharp. There is so much more depth now it’s hard to believe this film is over 30 years old. It looks like it was shot on HD last week. The blacks are black which make the colors pop on my Vizio HDTV set. The hours and hours of extra features (in Standard Def) are the same ones from the Ultimate Collection from a few years ago with some neat little Blu-ray additions like a 42 Minute HD Feature called Inside Dr. No and a 18 minute feature on Terrance Young, the director of Dr. No.

The one area where they dropped the ball is on the Menu navigation system. It reminds me of the early days of DVD where the one thing you could always count on was Fox Home Video totally screwing up the menu. This is one of the ugliest and most unfriendly systems I’ve seen in awhile. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to play the movie and access the special features.  The Pop Up/Menu button doesn’t work once you select a feature. If you select a feature to watch, while viewing the film, it kicks you out and doesn’t return to the point you left off.  Each film are on a 50 GB Dual Layer disk, is in Widescreen 1.66:1 (No letter boxing!) and Lossless Audio. The movie sounds amazing on my Sony Crossbar.  I sampled a few of the other titles in this collection and it’s safe to say all six of these releases and must own.  The Six disk set includes Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, Die Another Day and Live and Let Die. I’m not going to bother reviewing the movies or giving you the TPS, come on it’s Bond! You’ve all see these a million times. My only, minor complaint with this set, beyond the menu system is the lack of Profile 1.1 or BD-Live support. Yeah BD-Live sucks, but I would still like to see them implemented as standard features in all Blu-ray releases.  After watching a slew of lackluster Blu-ray releases (I’m looking at you Iron-Man!) this release restores my faith.

Movie Grade (All 6 Films, except Thunderball) – A

Features – A

Picture – A

Audio – A

Final Overall – A

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 10.21.08