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Nick's Pics
Nick Nicholson
Film & Home Entertainment Critic
 

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.
 
MOVIE REVIEW  
A MIGHTY HEART - Paramount

On January 23, 2002, Mariane Pearl’s world changed forever. Her husband Daniel, South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, was researching a story on shoe bomber Richard Reid. The story drew them to Karachi where a go-between had promised access to an elusive source. As Danny left for the meeting, he told Mariane he might be late for dinner. He never returned.

In the face of death, Danny’s spirit of defiance and his unflinching belief in the power of journalism led Mariane to write about his disappearance, the intense effort to find him and his eventual murder in her memoir A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl. Six months pregnant when the ordeal began, she was carrying a son that Danny hoped to name Adam. She wrote the book to introduce Adam to the father he would never meet. Transcending religion, race and nationality, Mariane’s courageous desire to rise above the bitterness and hatred that continues to plague this post 9/11 world, serves as the purest expression of the joy of life she and Danny shared.

Personally, I have experienced a great deal of consternation regarding where to go with this article. I am of the opinion that Angelina Jolie could garner a Best Actress nomination out of her performance, but I am not sold on the fact that this film will do well. Why, do you ask? Statistics show that 70% of the filmgoing public are 24 years of age and under. What is it that this demographic expects in their movies? With the onslaught of violence in movies and video games today, our society - specifically our youth, have become accustomed to seeing that violence to the point that we are numbed by it. A Mighty Heart is well done and contains a wonderful message, but the number of negative comments I heard while leaving the press screening gave me much to think about. I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but it is common knowledge that Daniel Pearl was a casualty of the time. Does it really make a difference that Danny’s death wasn’t depicted on screen? To the masses of young people at the screening, evidently it does. I overheard one critic state openly that this film really could have been something. When I asked what he meant, he stated that it would not be successful for one reason. “By not depicting the death of Daniel Pearl on screen, this film has gone from an Oscar contender to a bomb.”

Have we really become that transparent and numb in our minds that without gratuitous violence, a movie cannot contain a message of hope and be successful? Even now, a week after viewing the film, I still sit shaking my head.

A Mighty Heart

Starring: Angelina Jolie & Dan Futterman

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Company: Paramount

Vantage

Now Showing: In area theatres

MPAA Rating - R

Grade: A


DVD Picks

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl (BluRay) - Disney

The first (and best) installment of the Trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl is one fun ride. If you have not seen this movie yet (I think there are only 3 people on earth who have not), Disney made a movie from an attraction at their amusement park. You know how good this movie is—I want to tell you about how fantastic this Blu-Ray DVD is. If you don’t have a Blu-Ray player yet, rush out and buy one (Sony just dropped the price) just so you can see this stunning DVD. WOW! What an incredible disc. The 2.35:1 1080p transfer is absolutely amazing. This is the most film like transfer I’ve seen to date. The colors and flesh tones are perfect. There were no digital artifacts that I noticed. The uncompressed audio had my Vienna Acoustics speakers singing with joy. Congrats to Disney for setting the standard for Blu-Ray discs. For you Pirates fans, there are almost 13 HOURS of bonus materials on this 2-disc set. There is a really fun game included called Scoundrels of the Sea: Build your own view of Pirate history. It will keep you occupied for hours. There are other extras that include bloopers and “making of” Featurettes.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Dead Man’s Chest (BluRay) - Disney

Pirates Of The Caribbean - Dead Man’s Chest is part two of the three part series. It is fun to watch, but the plot is just a set-up for the third installment of this hugely popular franchise from Disney. Dead Man’s Chest reminds me of the old movie serials of yesteryear—always leave you hanging until the next installment. Dead Man’s Chest is great family entertainment – even if it is a little thin in the plot department. This 2.35:1 1080p picture looks stunning and the uncompressed 5.1 channel sound is excellent. This DVD is equal to the Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-Ray in quality. In fact, it enhances the complex visual effects of this movie. There are over 7 hours of extras on this 2-disc set to keep you entertained.

TRADING PLACES: BluRay - Paramount

Trading Places has always been one of my favorite comedies. The 80’s humor of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy can’t be beat. It is the story of a con man and a prominent stock broker who’s lives are changed forever when two wealthy brothers bet one dollar to see if a criminal can be turned into a stock broker and a broker into a criminal. Mayhem ensues and the switch is on. Jamie Lee Curtis is very memorable as a prostitute who dresses up as “Inga from Sweden”. The first DVD release of this film was missing some scenes and was a poor transfer. However, this new digitally remastered Blu-Ray edition looks great. Compared to the original DVD, the colors are vibrant and there is no noticeable edge enhancement. The Dolby 5.1 sound is adequate for the age of this film. The dialog is clear and there is limited use of the surrounds. There are several long awaited extra features included in this “Looking Good, Feeling Good” edition that you will enjoy.

SEVEN SAMURAI - Criterion

Set in 16th Century Japan, Akira Kurosawa’s epic SEVEN SAMURAI follows the plight of a defenseless farming village that lives in constant fear of marauding bandits. The farmers know that when their crops are harvested, the thugs will attack, so four men go to town in hopes of employing samurai to fight for them. However, the poor villagers can merely offer payment in the form of shelter and a daily bowl of rice, and initially only Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a brave elder samurai, and his eager young apprentice, Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), take up their cause. Encountering various nomadic warriors on the streets, they slowly put together his team of swordsmen, recruiting Shichiroji (Daisuke KatÙ), Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba), Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), and Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi). Finally, Kikuchiyo (ToshirÙ Mifune), a scruffy wanderer who has been trailing them, completes the small band of ronin. However, upon reaching the village, the samurai learn that the farmers fear them as much the enemy. Despite the tensions, Kambei and his men slowly train the peasants to defend their village. Eventually the warriors launch a preemptive strike against the bandits, and begin a series of intense conflicts that culminates in a rain-soaked final battle--without a doubt, one of the most stunning sequences in cinema history.

BEHIND THE MASK: The Rise of Leslie Vernon - Anchor Bay

Though the slasher film parody has become well-trodden ground since the birth of the teenage body count genre in the late 1970s, screenwriters Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve find some new blood to let out of the serial killer comedy in this film. The picture centers on a grad student named Taylor (Angela Goethals). Taylor is making a documentary about Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesal), a killer-in-the-making who has a dark legend surrounding him in his small Maryland hometown. Leslie’s plan incorporates all the necessary factors to put him in the same situations that allowed his heroes Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers to continue killing through sequel after sequel, right down to singling out the virginal heroine who will be the one to stop him after he knocks off her promiscuous friends. Unfortunately, Taylor has a larger role in Leslie’s plans than she knows, but when she finally realizes that she can’t just sit back and film his killing spree, it may be too late to stop him.

FANTASTIC FOUR - Fox

Inventor, astronaut and scientist Dr. Reed Richards’ (Ioan Gruffudd) lifelong dream is close to being realized. He is spearheading a trip to outer space, to the center of a cosmic storm. There he hopes to unlock the secrets of the human genetic codes for the benefit of all humanity. Extensive government grant cutbacks nearly dashed the visionary’s hopes of the historic flight, until Reed accepted a financing deal with his old college rival, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), now a billionaire industrialist. Reed’s crew for the mission includes his best friend, astronaut Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis); Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Von Doom’s director of genetic research and Reed’s ex-girlfriend; and Sue’s hot-headed younger brother, pilot Johnny Storm (Chris Evans). With benefactor Von Doom in tow, the four set off for the exploration of a lifetime. The mission is uneventful – until Reed discovers a miscalculation of the speed of the approaching storm. Within minutes, the event threshold is upon them. The space station is engulfed by turbulent clouds of cosmic radiation which genetically transforms the crew. Their DNA is irrevocably altered...and so is their future. This DVD release is just in time for the second installment of the Fantastic Four series.

CAST AWAY: Collector’s Edition - Fox

Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems engineer whose personal and professional life are ruled by the clock. His fast-paced career takes him, often at a moment’s notice, to far-flung locales -- and away from his girlfriend Kelly, played by Helen Hunt. Chuck’s manic existence abruptly ends when, after a plane crash, he becomes isolated on a remote island -- cast away into the most desolate environment imaginable. Stripped of the conveniences of everyday life, he first must meet the basic needs of survival, including water, food and shelter. Chuck, the consummate problem solver, eventually figures out how to sustain himself physically. But then what? Chuck begins his true personal journey. After four years, fate gives Chuck a chance to fight his way back to civilization, only to find an unexpected emotional challenge greater than all the earlier physical ones. His ability to persevere and to hope are a product of his life-changing experience. Though the conclusion of Chuck’s story may not be a conventional Hollywood ending, it is, like life, full of truth, pain and promise. Critics say that by focusing on one man in one setting, Cast Away takes considerable risks, but ultimately it succeeds. Tom Hanks is excellent in the role, and the movie’s themes make it larger than a simple physical survivor story.

FIGHT CLUB - Fox

Fight Club is narrated by a lonely, unfulfilled young man (Edward Norton) who finds his only comfort in feigning terminal illness and attending disease support groups. Hopping from group to group, he encounters another pretender, or “tourist,” the morose Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), who immediately gets under his skin. However, while returning from a business trip, he meets a more intriguing character--the subversive Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). They become fast friends, bonding over a mutual disgust for corporate consumer-culture hypocrisy. Eventually, the two start Fight Club, which convenes in a bar basement where angry men get to vent their frustrations in brutal, bare-knuckle bouts. Fight Club soon becomes the men’s only real priority; when the club starts a cross-country expansion, things start getting really crazy.

THE SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY - MGM

With all of the movies and television shows getting put on DVD lately, it is difficult to keep track of them all. However, every once in awhile, something gets put on DVD that simply isn’t to be missed. The Sergio Leone Anthology is arguably the single most important release on DVD the past few months. Finally available in high definition audio and video, this set includes four of the director’s most influential films which include A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; and Duck, You Sucker. All four films include numerous special features, commentaries, and deleted scenes. Whether a fan of the Western genre, or Clint Eastwood, this set is a must own for any serious film buff.

Nick be reached at Nick@filmlords.com

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   Last Update:  July 18, 2007