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Blu-ray Review Safe House Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

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Safe House infiltrates its way onto Blu-ray this week in a solid edition that gives the movie its best possible presentation. The plot is a fairly simple CIA action story, with Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington dealing with hostiles on all sides as they make their way across Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s not a story that bears close viewing, but the performances, particularly by Washington, are strong enough to carry the movie along.  The Blu-ray comes with the usual pocket BLU functionality including the latest use of the Second Screen idea.  Fans of Denzel Washington will want to at least rent this to see his latest performance after two years away from the movie screen.


SAFE HOUSE



Studio: Universal/Relativity Media/Bluegrass Films

Year: 2012

Length: 1 hr 55 mins

Genre:  Action Thriller/CIA


Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.0 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Film Rating: R (Strong Violence Throughout, Language)


Release Date: June 5, 2012


Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Ruben Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick


Written by: David Guggenheim

Directed by: Daniel Espinosa


Film Rating: 3/5


Safe House is a fairly effective action thriller shot mostly in South Africa, starring Ryan Reynolds and a very strong top-billed Denzel Washington in the lead roles.  The story is a fairly simple cat and mouse game between the two actors, and also between them and the various people pursuing them across Cape Town.  At its most basic, the movie follows Matt Weston (Reynolds), a watchman at a Cape Town “Safe House” for the CIA whose world is upended when rogue agent Tobin Frost (Washington) suddenly shows up at the US Embassy.  Frost is taken to Weston’s “House” for interrogation by a CIA team, the house is attacked, and the situation mutates from there.  Without spoiling anything, you can see from the trailers that the ensuing activities include multiple car chases, shootouts, and brutal hand-to-hand fights.  At the same time, the performances of the two leads cement the situation together, even during some of the more outlandish moments in the story.  By the end of the movie, when things have really unraveled a far distance, it’s really Denzel Washington who holds the movie together.  His performance is a prime example of what a good actor and a real star can do to keep an audience involved in material that would otherwise not be that interesting.


SPOILERS HERE:   I have to admit that Safe House is a fun ride of a movie, even if it does not hold up under close scrutiny.  What we have here is a CIA action movie made by fans of the genre – with the title location being the trigger moment for the rest of the story.   And there are some interesting ideas running just under the surface.  Matt Weston is a fairly inexperienced agent, but he’s already jaded – in that he blithely lies to his girlfriend about his job and then complains at the first opportunity to his boss back at Langley (played by Brendan Gleeson) about the fact that he’s really in a dead-end job – basically sitting in this empty containment facility all day waiting for a customer to show up.  The movie goes to great pains to show us how secure the facility is, and how high tech the equipment is inside.  Which should be a warning to viewers that the movie will quickly break the place open.  When Tobin Frost is brought into the facility, things start to get interesting.  Robert Patrick plays the team leader of a CIA group sent to interrogate Frost, and his scenes with Denzel Washington are pretty scary material, particularly a brutal torture scene of waterboarding.  And that’s when the wheels come off the wagon, storywise.  Suddenly, the “Safe House” is attacked by major firepower, resulting in explosions blasting through the walls and machine gun fire taking out everyone except Frost and Weston.  So after spending the first fifteen minutes of the movie showing us how secure the facility is, the movie then quickly demolishes it in the service of an admittedly effective action sequence that feels like a replay of the police station assault in The Terminator


MORE SPOILERS:  Once Weston and Frost go on the run from the attackers, things get a bit more interesting.  The movie is smart enough not to make these guys friends right off the bat – and the first car chase with the two of them turns into just as much of a struggle between them in the car as it does between them and their pursuers.  Things then turn to a series of vignettes of Weston trying to get further instructions from Langley (which is getting more and more unsettled by the turn of events), and Frost and Weston beginning to get under each other’s skin.  The centerpoint comes at a packed stadium, where Frost is able to elude Weston by turning the stadium security against him.  And that point is fairly realistic, as is Weston’s escape from it.  The problem, plotwise, comes from Weston somehow figuring out where Frost is going and tracking him to his next destination.  The showdown there between them and the bad guys pursuing them is interesting enough to outweigh the sheer impossibility of it happening.  (The sequence is a kind of nighttime reprise of the favela chase from Fast Five, with guys running on the rooftops of a township and falling through the ceilings.)  It’s after this point, where Weston and Frost are now beginning to work together, that the situation departs from the realistic material seen earlier and starts to push the believability farther and farther past the point.  We are meant to believe that Frost would suddenly choose to stay with Weston after he has a clear opportunity to escape for good, and that Weston would take an action at the end of the movie that is in almost complete opposition to his training and life experience.  And there’s also the MacGuffin that drives the whole movie – the secret data file carried by Frost that everybody wants.  (And by the way, he is in the process of selling this material at the top of the movie and we never really find out who the buyer was supposed to be or what that was about…)  It’s one thing for the movie to want us to believe that Frost and Weston would find something in common with each other after all the siege situations.  But it’s another entirely to have the situation result in Weston getting to do what he pleases with that material – that’s the final bit of the journey into complete fantasy.


FINAL SPOILERS:  Yet, during all of these clearly fantasy-based scenes, there is still a strong feeling of camaraderie between the two lead actors, and Washington’s performance is a model of poignancy by the end of the film.  It doesn’t hurt that they are surrounded by some good actors, including Gleeson, Sam Shepard and a too-briefly seen Ruben Blades.  The direction throughout is strong when it comes to getting the performances from the cast but a bit derivative when it comes to staging the big action beats.  Daniel Espinosa’s work here draws heavily from the look and feel of the Bourne movies, what with the frequent use of shakey-cam handheld work and brutally fast cutting between shots.  There’s really almost a science to that style now – in that you can almost time your watch to the pace of the editing, or to the deliberately off-kilter handheld moves that frequently take the focus to a foreground or background object at the oddest of times.  That said, I have to admit that it all works while you’re on the ride.  I give some credit to the strong musical score by Ramin Djawadi and most of it to the strength of the performances – again, particularly Denzel Washington.  If anything can carry you through this movie, it’s his conviction that what he is saying is the truth – even when he lies.


Safe House has been released on Blu-ray and standard definition this week. The Blu-ray has everything from the standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound, along with three additional featurettes, U-Control and the “Second Screen” feature that requires pocket BLU to activate. The Blu-ray package also includes the DVD copy of the movie on a second disc. Both editions come with four featurettes about the making of the film. (For the Blu-ray, those materials are presented in high definition video). Instructions for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are also included in the package. 


VIDEO QUALITY  4 ½/5


Safe House is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that solidly presents the intentionally gritty picture.  This is a messy, dirty movie, and that’s exactly the way the filmmakers wanted it.  There’s a satisfying array of colors and flesh tones, and the transfer does great with the multiple environments both during daylight and nighttime.  And the plentiful scenes of blood and carnage are more than convincing. 



AUDIO QUALITY  5/5


Safe House is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French, and an English DVS track.  This is a great action movie mix, effectively using the subwoofer to help pound the viewer into submission.  There’s a fair amount of atmospheric noise, and the surrounds help with the score.  The mix closes out with a great presentation of “No Church in the Wild” by Jay Zee and Kanye West over the end credits.


SPECIAL FEATURES   3/5


The Blu-Ray presentation of Safe House comes with a safe full of materials, including everything on the DVD edition, and adding U-Control, more featurettes, and the Second Screen function.  There’s also instructions inside the package for downloading a digital copy or accessing an Ultraviolet copy.  And of course, the DVD is included to boot.


         U-Control:       

                               PIP – On most of the chapters, picture-in-picture material is presented of interviews and on-set clips with the cast and creators as relates to the scene at hand.  This is essentially drawn from the interviews conducted for the separate featurettes, but there’s plenty of material exclusive to the PIP.


                              Scene Explorer – One of my favorite U-Control and Second Screen ideas is continued here.  During two of the key chase sequences in the movie, the viewer can access two separate panels of picture information – one showing pre-viz and storyboard material, and the other showing on-set footage of the sequence being filmed.  This on-set footage also pops up in the other featurettes, but it’s nice to have in this isolated area.


My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.


BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.  


D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.


pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device.  As part of the pocket BLU application, the “Second Screen” adds further content.  Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.


Second Screen – In order to use this, you’ll need to have your tablet or laptop accessing the internet via wi fi on the same router your Blu-ray player uses.  When you activate Second Screen, you’ll see a timeline of the movie’s chapters, along with a series of additional content frames.  The additional content is identical to the PIP storyboards and Pre-viz available via U-Control.  The difference here is that you can view these images on your laptop or tablet, or “flick view” them back onto your HDTV in a larger size.This function provides further material in two ways:


                            PIP – The same PIP material from the Blu-ray U-Control is included here – but there’s even more interview segments.  The segments are identified on the timeline, and you can skip to them by tapping them on your tablet or laptop.


                           Scene Explorer – The same material from the Blu-ray U-Control is included here.  And unlike what happened with Fast Five, all of  the material can be accessed either way.



The following materials are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray.  If they are also available on the DVD, they would obviously be presented in standard definition there:


Making Safe House (11:16, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette covers the basics about the making of the movie including some brief interview material with writer David Guggenheim about how the movie was found on the “Blacklist” of unfilmed but good screenplays and wound up in production after he’d spent years writing scripts without a sale.  All the usual mutual compliments are presented here between Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds and director Daniel Espinosa.


Hand to Hand Action (7:54, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette covers the rehearsals and filming of the multiple stunt fights in the movie, with Washington and Reynolds giving compliments to the stunt coordinator, and the coordinator returning the favor.  Plenty of on-set and rehearsal footage is shown here.


Shooting the Safe House Attack (5:17, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette really focuses on the early attack scene at the title location.  Again, a fair amount of on-set footage is shown here, and one of the cast members is singled out for his actual combat experience before reenacting something far less threatening on camera.


Building the Rooftop Chase (3:59, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This short featurette focuses on the Langa township chase, featuring the usual interviews and on-set video.


Behind the Action (8:00, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO  BLU-RAY) – This is a further stunt featurette, this time focusing on the other action beats in the story, particularly the car chase across Cape Town.


Inside the CIA (6:07, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This featurette focuses both on the Langley side of the movie and on the design of the title location.  Technical advisor Luis Falcon is interviewed and shown in consultation about the various elements of the set under construction.


Safe Harbor:  Cape Town (8:51, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the location work in South Africa, which was chosen for the film after the originally scripted setting of Brazil was deemed to be too expensive.  (It’s interesting to note that Fast Five stayed with that setting, but wound up shooting almost all of the material in Puerto Rico instead…)


DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie.  It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French (448 kbps) as well as the English DVS track.   The four featurettes indicated above are included.  There is also a “Previews” menu, allowing access to standard definition trailers for American Gangster, Inside Man, Smokin’ Aces, the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, Spy Game, The Bourne Identity, Traffic and State of Play.


Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud.  The instructions include a deadline of October 27, 2012 for activation.  I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.


Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film, with markers to note which chapters have applicable U-Control features.


IN THE END...


Safe House works as an action movie, sailing by on the strength of the lead performances, even in the face of a pretty outlandish story and many action beats lifted from other films, particularly in the style of The Bourne Identity.  It’s still a fun ride, and it’s good to see Denzel Washington in top form again.  The Blu-ray presents the movie with a great HD picture and sound mix, and both the Blu-ray and DVD come with a generous array of extras.  Fans of Denzel Washington in particular will want to see the movie.  More casual action fans may just enjoy a rental.


Kevin Koster

June 7, 2012.

Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer

 

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The Blu-Ray presentation of Safe House comes with a safe full of materials, including everything on the DVD edition, and adding U-Control, more featurettes, and the Second Screen function. There’s also instructions inside the package for downloading a digital copy or accessing an Ultraviolet copy. And of course, the DVD is included to boot.beats by dre
 

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