11 April 2014

Confession of Murder Blu-ray Disc (Jung Byung-gil, 2012)


Well Go USA (USA)
2.40:1 1080p
120 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 Korean, DD 2.0 surround Korean
Subtitles: Optional English
Extras: Behind the Scenes; Interviews; trailers

Released: 15 April 2014

At its core, Confession of Murder is a psychological duel between Detective Choi Hyung-gu (Jung Jae-young) and a serial killer who manages to avoid being captured for fifteen years. This length of time is important for the serial killer because that is when the statute of limitations expires. One day, Lee Du-sok (Park Si-hoo) confesses that he committed the unsolved murders and publishes a book detailing the crimes. Lee says that he feels remorse and wants his book to help the country heal. The photogenic Lee becomes an instant celebrity.

The movie has generous servings of the dark humor that is prevalent in Korean cinema. Some of the humor is generated by the actors' exaggerated emoting. The filmmakers also satirize image-obsessed youth, TV stations chasing ratings, and modern society's general lack of morals.

The script generates tension from two narrative strands. Detective Choi wants to recover the body of one of the killer's victims, even if he can't arrest the killer. Meanwhile, the victims' families are plotting to kill Lee, so Choi has to protect Lee even as they engage in a public relations battle.

Confession of Murder has two major weaknesses. The first is a structural/storytelling issue. The movie begins in 2005 and then jumps to 2007. However, it seems like the serial killer has been committing crimes up until 2005, so even if the statute of limitations prevents him from being prosecuted for earlier crimes, he could still be arrested for his more recent activities. Moreover, he assaults a police officer, which surely violates some sort of law in South Korea.

My other problem with the movie is the inclusion of three major action sequences. The movie begins with a rooftop footchase. There is an elaborate car chase during the second act. The movie ends with yet another car chase. Yes, the director previously directed a documentary (Action Boys) about stuntmen, but these overblown chases strain credulity. Much of Confession of Murder strives to be a realistic drama, but the chases are so over-the-top (not to mention way too long) that they are counterproductive. The action sequences are further marred by sub-standard CGI.

Video:
You get an excellent 2.40:1 1080p transfer. The picture is very sharp, and I enjoyed the generally rich, dark hues.

Audio:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Korean track has plenty of show-off moments. The opening footchase takes place during a rainstorm, and your entire listening environment will be “drenched”, so to speak. Gunshots are loud and occasionally startling. The car chases send sound effects flying and crashing all over the room.

Extras:
“Behind the Scenes” is a collection of interviews mixed with very brief glimpses of production footage. These clips are obviously promotional in nature and were probably used to advertise the movie prior to its theatrical release.

There are two interviews with Jung Jae-young and Park Si-hoo.


Finally, you also get a trailer for Confession of Murder as well as previews for other movies.

10 April 2014

Cavemen Blu-ray Disc (Herschel Faber, 2013)



Well Go USA (USA)
2.40:1 1080p
87 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, DD 2.0 surround English
Subtitles: Optional English SDH
Extras: trailers

Released: 8 April 2014

Yesterday, I watched two movies, The Spectacular Now and Cavemen, with Dayo Okeniyi in their casts. Okeniyi played Thresh in The Hunger Games, in which he delivered a memorably fierce performance. In The Spectacular Now, he had a small part as the new boyfriend of the main character's ex-girlfriend. In Cavemen, he played one of four guys who live together in an ex-industrial space somewhere in Downtown Los Angeles.

Okeniyi has great screen presence, and he demonstrated decent range in the aforementioned three films. In The Spectacular Now, he was decent and earnest. In Cavemen, he was suave and charming. He's currently in the resume-building phase of his career, though I would not be surprised if he landed big or important roles in the near future.

I'm glad that I saw The Spectacular Now and Cavemen back-to-back. Both are about young people and romantic relationships. However, The Spectacular Now offers realistic scenarios and characters with dimensions. On the other hand, Cavemen substitutes cliches for the plot and caricatures for characters.

In Cavemen, Dean (Skylar Astin) tries to write a screenplay about falling in love. His best friend is Tess (Camilla Belle). They went on one date in college but have decided to remain platonic as they try to build careers (she as a musician). When Tess begins dating Jay (Chad Michael Murray), an apologetic womanizer, Dean starts dating Kat (Alexis Knapp) to distract himself from wallowing in self-pity.

Cavemen has impressive production values considering its scale, and the filmmakers showcase parts of LA that aren't usually seen in “generic LA” films. Jason Patric has an amusing cameo as a talent agent.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't have much to say about the human condition. Dean is a nice guy, but he's no less shallow than Jay or their other two friends Pete (Kenny Wormald) and Andre (Okeniyi). Tess is equally one dimensional; she's nice...and that's all we learn about her. I'm also bothered by the Neanderthal behavior of many of the male characters. Yes, I know the movie's title is Cavemen, but some of the characters are borderline repugnant.

Set-ups are telegraphed way in advance, and the “payoffs” are so tidy that they only emphasize the movie's overall lack of creative insight. For instance, in one scene, Dean runs across the Japanese Village Plaza to chase Tess, who's driving in a car. Later, Dean runs across the Plaza yet again to chase Tess, who's riding in a taxi this time. In another case, Pete talks about what he calls the “Mud Puddle Test” to see if he's compatible with a girl. Waddayaknow, there's a Mud Puddle Test involving Pete and his on-off girlfriend Beth.

For good measure, the movie even copies the way that the cad breaks up with the good girl in Indecent Proposal.

Video:
Much of the movie takes place at night. Yet, the 2.40:1 1080p image is consistently bright. I would not say that the picture is over-lit. Yet, the brightness is distracting since nighttime doesn't look like nighttime.

Audio:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 English track has a few decent ambient effects. Otherwise, expect the center channel to do most of the heavy lifting (typical of dialogue-driven comedies), with the subwoofer jumping into the fray when pounding music is introduced.

Extras:
The disc only includes a trailer for Cavemen as well as previews for other movies.

--Miscellaneous--

You also get an embossed cardboard slipcover.

08 March 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Target 3-Disc Deluxe Edition Blu-ray Disc (Francis Lawrence, 2013)



Lionsgate (USA)
2.40:1 and 1.78:1 1080p
146 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1 English, DD 2.0 surround English (Optimized for Late-Night Viewing), DD 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary; Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire; Deleted Scenes; Sneak Peek of Divergent; The Hob: Inside District 12; The Alliance; Friend or Foe; One Vision; Digital Copy code

Released: 7 March 2014

Gary Ross declined to direct The Hunger Games: Catching Fire even though his adaptation of the first novel grossed more than $400 million in the United States and more than $600 million worldwide. Ross cited concerns about the highly-compressed schedule that Lionsgate wanted in order to release the sequels in consecutive years. Fast-tracked productions are notorious for incomplete scripts, shoddy computer-generated visual effects, and editing mistakes.

Lionsgate picked Francis Lawrence to replace Gary Ross. Lawrence helmed Constantine, I Am Legend, and Water for Elephants, though the bulk of his career was spent on music videos. Prior to watching Catching Fire, I had only seen Constantine, which has a mildly amusing and occasionally goofy story about a demon hunter. As I was unfamiliar with Lawrence's directorial style, I waited for early reviews to see if he would simply mimic Ross's aesthestic for the first movie.

Catching Fire was released on Thursday night, 21 November 2013. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety published early reviews on 11 November and 12 November, respectively, and both reviewers indicated that the movie was an improvement upon its predecessor. I was cautiously optimistic.

This time, I did not pre-order IMAX tickets. I wanted to avoid long lines and hysterical crowds. However, I couldn't resist the hype and went to see it at midnight on opening night at a regular theatre. I went to see it again that Saturday at a Digital IMAX venue, in which the image expanded vertically from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 for the Arena Sequence. The next week, I saw it twice in a Giant IMAX venue, in which the image expanded vertically from 2.40:1 to 1.44:1. Yes, I saw the movie four times in two weeks, whereas it took me four months to watch the first one three times.

I'm not under any illusions that Francis Lawrence or any of the filmmakers may have read my review of the first film. However, they addressed all of my concerns about Gary Ross's movie. Moreover, Francis Lawrence made better use of the transition to IMAX than any other director before him. (That group includes Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, Brad Bird, and J.J. Abrams.)

Instead of several long countdowns leading up to the start of the Arena Sequence, the filmmakers used screen time well. The actual start was shot effectively, unlike in the first movie when the huge Cornucopia basically blocked our view of the Tributes. In the first movie, the computer-generated visual effects looked terrible, especially the dogs that appeared near the end of the story. This time around, the visual effects did not look so transparently fake, and the angry monkeys were appropriately menacing. James Newton Howard's music score for this movie is much better than his work for the previous entry, though I have to admit that “Horn of Plenty” is in slight danger of being over-used. Finally, none of the actors rubbed me the wrong way that Wes Bentley did in the first movie.

The Tribute Parade is my favorite set piece in Catching Fire. This time, the parade takes place in broad daylight, which allows us to see the scale and grandeur of the Capitol. (Indeed, this Parade is better than the one in Ridley Scott's Gladiator, which has an ugly brown-grey palette.) The ground-level dolly shot rushing past the drummers helps the music make a deep impression on viewers. I also love how a shot following Katniss and Peeta's chariot makes it feel as if sparks and cinders are flying at and around a viewer's head.




After I saw Catching Fire, I caught up with the rest of Lawrence's filmography. It's clear that Francis Lawrence has a distinctive directorial style, one that was neither handicapped by the tight production schedule nor subsumed by the corporate machine. Lawrence employs an Average-Shot-Length that is noticeably longer than what you usually see with American action blockbusters. The camerawork is graceful, elegant, and occasionally even sublime. I am very glad that Lionsgate asked Francis Lawrence to finish the series with Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2.

Video:
The video was encoded in 1080p. The American BD release includes a transfer that transitions from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1. At this time, we don't have a Blu-ray option for constant 2.40:1, though the Japanese Premium Edition (available via Amazon Japan) includes both versions on separate discs. The image looks very good, though one wonders if the picture could have been improved if the Extras had all been moved to a second Blu-ray. There are some soft shots here and there, though they're not distracting enough to be irritating.

Audio:
I really enjoyed listening to the movie in theaters, and the DTS-HD MA 7.1 English track allows me to enjoy listening to the movie again at home. In particular, the timbre of the cannon shots during the Arena Sequence made a deep impression on me. Surround use is very effective with regards to music cues and certain scenes, such as the one with a swarm of jabberjays.

Extras:
--Disc 1--
Gary Ross did not record an audio commentary for the first movie, but Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson recorded one for this installment. This is a low-key affair with long gaps and not as much substantive information as one might hope to hear.

“Surviving the Game: Making Catching Fire” is a comprehensive, nine-part documentary that is about as long as the main feature.

There are a few Deleted Scenes, including one that removes any doubts about how much Plutarch Heavensbee influenced the 3rd Quarter Quell.

There's a “Divergent Sneak Peek” meant to whet viewers' appetites for the next Young Adult franchise from Lionsgate (after Twilight and The Hunger Games).

Finally, “The Hob: Inside District 12” is available as an Easter Egg. Basically, press the red button on your remote control when the spinning logo changes. “The Hob” plays like a propaganda piece from within the story's reality.

--Disc 2--
Disc 2 is a DVD with the movie in constant 2.40:1. The DVD also includes the audio commentary, deleted scenes, and “Divergent Sneak Peek”.

--Disc 3--
Disc 3 is a DVD with three additional featurettes.

“The Alliance” covers the returning cast members. “Friend or Foe” provides additional footage of Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, and Amanda Plummer. “One Vision” discusses how the first and second books made the transition to the big screen.

--Miscellaneous--
This version is available only at Target stores and Target.com. It includes a custom book-style case, a plastic see-through slipcover, and a Digital Copy code that can be used with iTunes or Ultraviolet.

Once again, the Target Exclusive is the best version for a Hunger Games movie in North America. However, the Japanese Premium Edition may be the best overall release anywhere in the world, with two versions of the movie presented on movie-only discs (for maximum bitrate space) and with most of the Extras, including the Target-exclusive featurettes, presented in high definition video.

02 March 2014

The Truth About Emanuel Blu-ray Disc (Francesca Gregorini, 2013)


Well Go USA (USA)
2.40:1 1080p
96 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, DD 2.0 surround English
Subtitles: Optional English
Extras: Interview with the Director; deleted scenes; outtakes; trailer

Released: 25 March 2014

The Truth About Emanuel is not a cookie-cutter movie. Its director, Francesca Gregorini, has a distinctly unique voice. Emanuel, the main character, is a strongly-written and fiercely-acted persona. Some viewers may consider the movie to be “weird”, though if you give it a chance, it's really a story about empathy.

Kaya Scodelario plays Emanuel, a troubled teenager whose outward abrasiveness masks deep insecurities about why her mother died while giving birth to her. Emanuel commutes by train to work in a medical-supplies store. On these trips, she meets Claude (Aneurin Barnard), a nice young man who works in a nursery.

One day, Linda (Jessica Biel) moves into the house next to Emanuel's. Emanuel starts working for Linda as a babysitter. Over time, Emanuel latches on to Linda as a sort of mother figure. Emanuel is learning French on her own. Linda gives Emanuel some French books; she spent some time in France when she was younger. Emanuel's mother had also spent some time in France and dragged Emanuel's father to watch French films.

Emanuel's father, Dennis (Alfred Molina), is about as reasonably patient and loving as one can expect from a man in his situation. I admire how even-handedly Gregorini treats this character, including the way that he handles tensions between Emanuel and his new wife Janice (Frances O'Connor). Indeed, most of the male characters seem to be fully-realized (even the ones with little screen time).

The Truth About Emanuel unfolds as a psychological drama, and there are at least two sequences that would be at home in a thriller. Once the movie's big secret is revealed, a creepy-scary vibe dominates the mood. I usually don't mind giving away “spoilers”, though in Emanuel's case, the less that you know about the plot, the more that the movie “works”. Is Emanuel hallucinating? Is she crazy? What's really happening? My answers to these questions kept changing, even after Gregorini started supplying explanations.

Video:
The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is bright, naturalistic, and frequently quite beautiful. The lighting showcases Kaya Scodelario's impressive screen presence. The rich brown hues of Emanuel's home contrasts nicely with the varied palette of Linda's house.

Audio:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 English track is neither bombastic nor attention-grabbing, but it has nice ambient effects during scenes set on trains and in a medical supplies store. The audio carries the music score well, and dialogue is nicely prioritized.

Extras:
Upon loading, the disc plays previews for other movies.

In the “Interview with the Director”, Francesca Gregorini speaks briefly about the project's genesis, casting, and how she worked in various capacities (writer, director, producer).

The seven deleted scenes feel like scene extensions rather than major sub-plots. Nevertheless, it's nice to have them on the disc (in basically “finished” form).

The outtakes run for less than a minute, and much of the running time is devoted to one particular shot.

Finally, you also get a trailer.

--Miscellaneous--
You also get an embossed cardboard slipcover.

28 February 2014

Commitment Blu-ray Disc (Park Hong-soo, 2013)


Well Go USA (USA)
2.40:1 1080p
113 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 Korean, DD 2.0 surround Korean
Subtitles: Optional English
Extras: Making of; trailer

Released: 11 March 2014

Commitment's Korean title is Dong-Chang-Saeng, which roughly means “The Graduate”. In this instance, the English title fits the movie better than the original one as the main character doesn't really graduate from anything. The movie follows a 19-year-old North Korean, Lee Myung-hoon (South Korean music star Choi Seung-hyun, aka T.O.P.), as he infiltrates South Korea. In the South, Lee uses the name Kang Dae-ho, attends high school during the day, and assassinates other spies at night.

Lee undertakes his mission in order to protect his younger sister, Hye-in. Their father was also an undercover agent. He was betrayed by his superiors, though his children are told that he defected. In the South, Lee strikes up a friendship with another girl, also named Hye-in (Han Ye-ri). She is frequently bullied by the other students, and Lee saves her during one particularly nasty incident.

The movie is also rather curious in that some of the North Korean characters are much more sympathetic than many of the South Korean characters. South Korean high school students are portrayed as spoiled brats and thugs, in contrast to the purpose-driven and chivalrous Lee. The dough-faced actor Yun Je-mun balances the scales as the professional, empathetic South Korean agent Cha Jung-min.

Online reports indicate that Commitment had a troubled production history, with shooting spanning about a year and a change of directors. These difficulties may explain why the first half feels a bit disjointed and confusing. For example, it took me a while to figure out that the North Korean spies were killing each other due to power struggles between factions rather than killing South Koreans.

The movie finds its bearings, though, as it progresses and focuses on the developing relationship between Lee and the South Korean Hye-in. As they walk around Seoul together, we get glimpses of the city that are not always shown in the action movies that reach American shores. Choi and Han have a believable chemistry that helps to sell the pathos of Lee and his sister's predicament despite the fact that his sister doesn't get a lot of screen time. The ending is quite moving, despite its rather obvious symbolism regarding the unification of North and South Korea.

Video:
This Blu-ray Disc offers a mostly pleasing 2.40:1 1080p transfer. The color palette skews towards pale browns and light ambers. As I noted earlier, I really enjoyed seeing a variety of sights in Seoul that I had not seen in other movies like Man From Nowhere or A Company Man (both also distributed by Well Go USA). I noticed some horizontal lines during chapter breaks and sudden changes in lighting levels, which makes me wonder if Well Go USA was given an interlaced source by the Korean distributors. However, this is only slightly bothersome.

Audio:
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Korean track is quite lively. There are several bone-rattling explosions involving gas leaks, gas canisters, and grenades. Gunfire is authoritatively loud and startling. Dialogue comes through cleanly.

Extras:
The “Making of” begins with Choi Seung-hyun talking about the movie for around 2 minutes. The remaining 7 minutes offers behind-the-scenes footage, including glimpses of deleted scenes.

You also get a trailer for Commitment as well as previews for other movies.