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Blu-ray Reviews


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

    Studio Mogul

  • 21,769 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 12 1998

Posted November 13 2009 - 01:49 PM

(As an aside, well-known cinematographers, e.g., John Bailey, have expressed reservations about digital intermediates, for reasons having to do with final control over the image. After recently reviewing It’s a Wonderful Life, I’ve begun to wonder about other risks. Especially among us Blu-ray fans, could it be that digital intermediates are subtly altering our perception of what film should look like? Every frame of every new film we see has been digitally processed before it ever reaches us, whether on Blu-ray or in the cinema. At what point does our entire visual frame of reference begin to shift?)
Given the many possibilities for ambiant effects, I was surprised at how front-centered the TrueHD mix was. Just how front-centered became clear during a sequence involving chainsaws and the recalcitrant tree, which one would expect to be something of an aural assault. Instead, my system shut down, because my Sunfire amp is set to turn off automatically if there’s no activity in the left front channel for five minutes. (For the rest of the film, I set it to “always on”.)
The one sequence where the sound truly expands to fill the room is a wonderful scene featuring the “parranda” or Christmas caroling ritual, in which the family goes from door to door gathering other families until the entire neighborhood is outdoors and singing. It’s a glorious sequence that used neighborhood residents as extras, and the soundtrack really does it justice. Generally, though, this is a dialogue-driven track seasoned by the occasional pop hit and Paul Oakenfold’s score, which is used sparingly.
Special Features:
With the exception of the picture-in-picture feature, the video for all special features is in hi-def.
Commentary by Actor/Producer Freddy Rodriguez, Director Alfredo de Villa and Producer Robert Teitel. This is a fine example of an informative group commentary that doesn’t degenerate into chit-chat or in-jokes. Rodriguez and Teitel talk about the history of the project, and all three contribute anecdotes about casting, shooting and editing. For a few minutes near the beginning, they are joined via what sounds like cell phone by a surprised Luis Guzmán, but he’s not on long enough to contribute anything substantive.
Among interesting trivia: Elizabeth Peña was a last-minute replacement, and because she is only a few years older than John Leguizamo, considerable makeup was required to age her enough to be credible as his mother. Vanessa Ferlito had given birth shortly before filming and was nursing her baby throughout the shoot (although she certainly doesn’t appear to be carrying any baby weight). As written, Guzmán’s character was neither Puerto Rican nor a family member, but the script was rewritten so that Guzmán could play him.
There are numerous references to the extreme cold and its impact on the filming experience and the performances. And, to my great frustration, there are numerous references to deleted scenes that were apparently planned for inclusion on the DVD and Blu-ray but are nowhere to be found.
Nothing like a Family: Cast Reunion (11:44). This get-together was organized by Rodriguez, who has a stack of index card with questions, James Lipton-style. What Rodriguez lacks as an interviewer, the cast members make up for in rapport. It’s a warm group, and one can easily see how they built the atmosphere needed to make the script come to life.
Bloopers (15:04). Most of these are probably funnier to the cast and crew than they are to the rest of us.
Picture-in-Picture Insider Exclusive with the Cast. The more I see of this Blu-ray feature, the less I like it. It perfectly illustrates my definition of “multitasking”, which is “doing several things at the same time, all of them badly”. A small window appears at the lower right corner of the screen with short interview clips with different cast members. You can’t really watch the film this way, because the soundtrack is effectively muted when the PIP window appears. And you can’t just watch the interview clips either, because they only appear every few minutes. So what you end up with is about 30 minutes of interviews – and don’t get me wrong, they’re good interviews – padded out to 98 minutes with a film you’ve already seen and can’t really enjoy a second time, because the interviews keep interrupting it.
IMO, no one should ever again implement this feature without also supplying an option to watch just the interview clips separately. Of course, if they did that, no one would activate the PIP function, because there’d be no point in doing so. The whole thing would be revealed for the pointless exercise that it really is, and the BDA wouldn’t want that now, would they?
Trailers. The film’s trailer is included as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays trailers for Paper Heart and Pandorum; these can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are separately available from the features menu. Also available from the features menu are trailers for Henry Poole Is Here and Sunshine Cleaning.
Digital copy. Unlike some digital copies, this one does not appear to have an expiration date.
In Conclusion:
Better than it has any right to be, thanks to an exceptional cast and solid film-making craftsmanship. And this is from a guy whose ideal Christmas film is the first Die Hard.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub
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