Blu-ray comes of age in 2010

Sunday, 10 January 2010 16:20

Before Christmas, various media reports suggested that the take-up of Blu-ray as a medium had been disappointing.  A recession is not the time to roll out new premium technology was the bottom line of this coverage, forgetting that Blu-ray had already won a long-standing battle to be the new medium of choice over HD-DVD. It had originated before the financial downturn, and has been making steady progress since.  This is not a format that is going to disappear anytime soon.

Many alleged experts reckon that the death of physical media is approaching, and that Blu-ray will be the last tangible recorded medium that you will ever be able to buy. Indeed, they will probably point to the reduction in CD sales and the increase in music downloads over the last twelve months to make their point. However, innovation continues in the Blu-ray realm, with disc capacity already being increased by a third, and portable players being rolled out by the major manufacturers.  Indeed, the next big thing will be ‘3D’ TVs and players, and Blu-ray is now ready to play its part in this innovation.

Research suggests that ‘3D’ is actually going to be an easier sell than the concept of ‘HD’ to the population – an increase in picture quality is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, but ‘3D’ is a quantum leap from just having an image that has more depth and detail which the combination of a Blu-ray player and an HD telly can bring you.

Currently, only Panasonic seems to have entered the arena of being able to record using Blu-ray – that said, Sony seem to be brewing up something for this March, which may be a combination of both recording facilities and ‘3D’ technology. Sony Dealers are anticipating something big, so we’ll have to see how far they take things.  Interactivity is something else that Blu-ray has been wrestling with, and how that fits in with this new roll-out may well be tied in with internet television delivery, and online chat.

I mention Sony, as I was persuaded to upgrade to Blu-ray just before Christmas. Despite my leanings towards Panasonic, I was sold the benefits of Sony, and went for their latest big screen, which came with a free Blu-ray player! 

One feature that had passed me by was that you can actually play DVDs in the machinery – I recall some talk that Blu-ray discs were thinner, and consequently you couldn’t play DVDs in the new players. Well, if that was ever the case, it certainly isn’t now. Not only that, they implement something called ‘upscaling’ which means that Blu-ray players get the best out of your DVDs – improving picture quality and, with some titles, making it difficult to tell the difference between a Blu-ray and a DVD disc!

What you do notice is that some of the HD broadcasts (currently I’m on Sky HD) don’t have the consistent detail that you get with a Blu-ray disc. For instance, while watching the new season of Hustle on BBC HD you can see patches of the screen where the clarity is not as good as it could be.  Whether this was something to do with filming in HD, or the fact that the signal on BBC HD has recently been reduced in definition, is something for the techies out there to debate.  The fact is that whatever the inconsistencies may be, one can expect the Blu-ray releases are more likely to have less of these problems.

A hangover from DVD development is the issue of regional coding.  This is when a disc from a certain geographical territory will not play elsewhere on the globe on some DVD players.  With many brands of DVD player, you could get around this by feeding in codes that cracked the problem and allowed you to watch DVDs from anywhere. There are similar issues with Blu-ray players. Admittedly, some Blu-ray labels are not instigating this coding on some of their product, so it’s not a universal problem.

What it doesn’t get away from is that Blu-ray players will also not play DVDs from other regions.  Codes can’t be found to do this, but an insistent surfer can find gadgets to buy that will free your Blu-ray players to support DVDs from everywhere.  As yet, Blu-ray codes have yet to be cracked, but you can guarantee that it will only be a matter of time until they are.

So, time to walk you through some of the titles I’ve been watching over the last few weeks – some of them kindly donated by various PR companies from their current and back catalogue projects.  Some contributions to my new collection are more welcome than others!

 

 “Superbad”

Superbad on Blu-rayMany of you may have heard of this movie, and certainly it was a comparative box office hit.  Costing around $20m to make, its worldwide takings were $162m. It follows the adventures of Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera), inseparable best friends in the last weeks of their high school life. Shunned by the popular tribes, they surprisingly get in an invitation to a party. They spend a very long day trying to get hold of enough alcohol to make the party go with a bang, literally, as they try to impress Jules (Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac).

Their task is made almost impossible when friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is befriended by a pair of dysfunctional police officers (played by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader), when he gets caught up in a off-licence robbery. They take Fogell under their wing, and Fogell has all the available cash to get the much-needed booze. Seth and Evan therefore have to hatch one scheme after another to get hold of alcohol, leading to a succession of disasters.

The bad language is excessive, especially for a ‘15’ certificate, and it really does try to be funny. However, it’s one of those films that uses swearing and bawdy content to create humour from shock, but the thing about expletives is that they eventually lose their value if used to excess.  Subtlety is not part of its equation, but you can understand why teenagers of a certain mental age would enjoy it so much. As for its rendition on Blu-ray, you can’t really improve the source material if it doesn’t cut it in the first place.

 

“Walk Hard – The Dewey Cox Story”

Walk Hard Blu-rayThis is billed as “the up-and-down-and-up-again story of musician Dewey Cox, whose songs would change a nation. On his rock 'n roll spiral, Cox sleeps with 411 women, marries three times, has 22 kids and 14 step-kids, stars in his own 70s TV show, collects friends ranging from Elvis to The Beatles to a chimp, and gets addicted to - and then kicks - every drug known to man; but despite it all, Cox grows into a national icon and eventually earns the love of a good woman – long-time backup singer Darlene”.

John C Reilly of “Magnolia” fame, and nominated for an Oscar® for 2002’s “Chicago” takes the lead role of Dewey. He was even nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance, which is the backbone of the film. He takes it beyond a spoof or homage to a fun level which makes it something well worth watching. It certainly tackles every stereotypical element from the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and in some cases it’s that familiarity that derives the jokes. The film’s title track even won “Best Song” at the Sierra Awards, given by the Las Vegas Film Critics Society.  Jack Black and Paul Rudd have brief cameos as McCartney and Lennon who detail to Dewey that there’s “a rift in the Beatles.” 

There’s a crude undercurrent to the production which means it’s not suitable for your granny, but for a liberal audience this is a good late-night feature. Indeed, this might explain that its box office takings were a disaster (estimated budget $35m, worldwide gross $19.6m). The music sequences look great in Blu-ray, so it’s well worth having a look at in the new format.

 

“The International”

The International on Blu-rayIn a surprisingly prescient piece of plotting, Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen – who would have been a sensible choice to play James Bond) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are determined to bring to justice one of the world's most powerful banks. They uncover such activities as money laundering, arms trading, and the destabilisation of governments. Salinger and Whitman's investigation takes them from Berlin to Milan, through to New York and Istanbul. Finding themselves in a high-stakes chase across the globe, they puts their lives at risk as the powers behind the bank will stop at nothing to continue financing terror and war.

At last, we start to see the benefits of Blu-ray with this production, as the action sequences are enhanced by the high definition rendition. Add in the superior soundtrack piped through a Dolby Surround system, and literally your lounge will be vibrating with the bass notes of both the music and the explosions!

 

“Pineapple Express”

Pineapple Express on Blu-rayDale Denton (Seth Rogen) is a directionless court-process clerk addicted to his weed. The adventure starts when he has to visit his equally lazy supplier Saul Silver (James Franco, who played the completely different Harry Osborn in the “Spiderman” franchise). He needs to purchase more stuff, and gets hooked into trying a rare new variant - the ‘Pineapple Express’ of the film’s title. Things get complicated when Dale is the only witness to a murder executed by a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and the city's most dangerous drug lord (Gary Cole, who really should know better). In desperation, Dale chucks the instantly recognisable Pineapple Express from his car, which becomes a clue for the villains to follow. Dale realises the trail will lead to Saul, so the trio go on the run. Despite the possibility that they may be suffering from post-smoke paranoia, they soon discover that villains really are out to get them.

This movie suffers from schizophrenia worthy of anyone hooked on cannabis. It isn’t sure whether it wants to be a comedy or an action thriller. It ends up being an unfunny mess that is often uncomfortable to watch.  More than anything else, this movie has been the one that has made me have serious trepidation about the forthcoming new movie of “The Green Hornet”, due next Christmas – Rogen is not only playing Britt Reid, he’s also Executive Producer and co-writer on the project. He was co-writer on “Pineapple Express”, and if this was on his CV that helped bag the Hornet franchise for him, one can only assume they’ll try and play it for laughs. Lord help us, rest in piece Hornet, Kato and Black Beauty. Expect the ghost of Bruce Lee not so much spinning in his grave as high-kicking himself in the direction of the idiots with the purse strings.

Needless to say, Blu-ray only helps in bringing into sharp focus why this movie is such a clunker – and makes you question the taste of cinemagoers when it almost managed to triple its $27m budget at the Box Office.

 

“Step Brothers”

Step Brothers on Blu-rayBrennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C Reilly) are hitting 40 and still living at home. When Nancy, Brennan's mother (Mary Steenburgen) and Robert, Dale's dad (Richard Jenkins) decide to marry, their deadbeat lives are suddenly flung into chaos.

They begin by having to share a room – something destined for disaster. Their feuding leads to tension between the parents, so the father insists the pair have to get jobs and leave home. The fact that they sleepwalk also hinders their ability to lead normal lives. Also on the scene to cause antagonism and chaos are Brennan's successful brother and his lonely wife - the brother wants to help sell his stepfather's house, the wife wants Dale's attention. All the parents want to do is retire and sail the world. Who will win in this battle of hearts and minds?

Will Ferrell is one of those stars that will create a strong reaction in people. The Forbes annual list of Box Office Bankability claims that his films now earn back only $3.29 for every $1.00 paid his way. To give you an idea of the scale on this, the efforts of Shia LeBeouf – one of the world's most cost-effective names – earns $160.00 return per dollar spent on him. “Step Brothers” is one of those films, from 2008, that got Ferrell in the direction of big pay packets.  The Box Office return was nearly double the film’s $65m budget.  That said, it is difficult to see where the budget is, on-screen. The performances are self-conscious, and the men-children just don’t convince.

 

“Casino Royale”

Casino Royale on Blu-rayIf anything could convince anti-Daniel-Craig Bond fans that the guy deserved his chance to go all ‘Andress’ in tight-fitting blue trunks, then a Blu-ray treatment for his debut 007 movie is the best hope for changing opinion.  The detail is several factors greater than the DVD releases, and Director Martin Campbell does his best in exactly the same way as he did with Pierce Brosnan’s debut Bond, the admittedly superior “Goldeneye”.

Heralded as a “reboot”, here we have James Bond going on his first ‘00’ mission. The object of curiosity is Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker to the world's terrorists. He is participating in a poker game at Montenegro, and things are supposed to be stacked in his favour.  He must win big in order to stay safe among his terrorist cohorts. M (still Judi Dench) is the boss of MI6, and despatches Bond and accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to attend the casino and prevent Le Chiffre from winning. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) chips in, and gives Bond the backing to play with the big boys. But is Bond getting too close to Vesper and her emotional baggage, and does that make 007 more vulnerable than he should be?

I make no bones that I still believe Daniel Craig is one of the most horrendous pieces of miscasting in cinema history, but the Blu-ray version makes him bearable, and I think if you just accept this is NOT the Bond we know, then it makes the viewing far more appealing, allowing me to recover from what had been an initially nasty shock.

So, what Blu-ray releases are forthcoming in the next few weeks to tempt you into this technologically ‘brave new world’.  Well, here are a few titles we’ve been made aware of.

 

“(500) Days of Summer”

Due for release 18 January 2010.

500 Days of Summer Blu-rayBoy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn’t. Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Solomon from Third Rock from the Sun) who works for a greeting card company, can’t believe how attracted he is to Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel, Trillian in the movie of “The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). He is sure that he has found ‘the one’. Beautiful, charming and witty, she’s his perfect woman. Except for one little problem… Summer doesn’t believe in love. To her, relationships are messy, so why not just have fun? Over 500 days, Tom experiences the euphoric highs and agonising lows of love. Tom can usually count on the advice of his two best friends, McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler). However, it is Tom's adolescent sister, Rachel (Chloe Moretz), who is his voice of reason.

After all is said and done, Tom is the one who ultimately has to make the choice to listen or not, in a sharp, funny comedy. Made on a shoestring, its $7.5m budget reaped $55.3m of takings worldwide.  Released in 2009, it was not forgotten in the Golden Globes, getting nominated for best Musical or Comedy Picture, and a nod for Best Actor going to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

 

“The Green Berets”

Due for release 18 January 2010

The Green Berets on Blu-rayThis 1968 action war thriller was designed to simplify the conflict in Vietnam by making the Americans the heroes against the ‘devious’ Vietcong. It would be the equivalent of making a movie now that made the current population of Iraq into despicable untrustworthy fanatics keen on nothing other than death or destruction.

At the time, for some the simplification of a difficult political situation, falling back on established wartime stereotypes, was the answer much of middle-America needed to explain the conflict to them, no matter how inaccurate it was in reality. Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) picks two teams of crack Green Berets for a mission into South Vietnam. The first task is to build and control a camp that is trying to be taken by the enemy, and the second sortie is to kidnap a North Vietnamese General. David Janssen, Jim Hutton, Aldo Ray and George Takei are amongst those who provide thespian support.

 

“Funny People”

Due for release 18 January 2010

Funny People on Blu-rayFrom 2009, and carrying on a general running theme of this feature article, producer Judd Apatow was responsible for this, as well as being the producer on “Superbad”, “Walk Hard”, “Step Brothers” and “Pineapple Express”. With a $70m budget, its box office takings worldwide have almost recovered this cost.

Seasoned comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) learns that he’s got a terminal, inoperable health condition. To leave his mark, he has a desire to form a genuine friendship. This causes him to take a relatively green performer under his wing as his opening act.  The film also stars Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana and Jason Schwartzman.

 

“Smokin' Aces 2: Assassin's Ball”

Due for release 25 January 2010

Smokin Aces on Blu-rayThe direct-to-video prequel to the 2007 movie follows Walter Weed (Tom Berenger), an unassuming desk-bound employee of the FBI. When the Bureau uncovers a plot to assassinate him, there’s more than one hired hand to be afraid of.

The team of degenerate, psychotic assassins dispatched by a mystery man to win a huge bounty includes a resourceful beauty who has a unique method of killing her prey, a power-tool wielding psychopath and a deadly master of disguise.

The release also features Vinnie Jones, Ernie Hudson, Autumn Reeser, and Keegan Connor Tracy.

It will be available on Blu-ray both as an individual title and in a double pack with the original movie.

 

“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”

Due for release 25 January 2010

Lock Stock on Blu-rayThis 1998 high-octane-fuelled East End gangster comedy thriller is a journey into London’s seedy underworld with street-wise dialogue and razor sharp black comedy.  Four Jack-the-lads find themselves heavily - seriously heavily - in debt to an East End hard man and his enforcers after a crooked card game.

Overhearing their neighbours in the next flat plotting to hold up a group of out-of-their-depth drug growers, our heroes decide to ‘stitch-up’ the robbers one by one.

The confusion really kicks in when a pair of antique double-barrelled shotguns go missing in a completely different scam.

This Guy Ritchie-helmed movie stars Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones and Danny John-Jules.

 

“Winged Migration”

Due for release 25 January 2010

Winged Migration on Blu-rayThis 2001 documentary has a focus on the migratory patterns of birds, shot over the course of three years on all seven continents. It was nominated in the 2003 Oscars® for Best Documentary/Features.

The cameras of Jacques Perrin fly with migratory birds: geese, storks, cranes. The film begins with spring in North America and the migration to the Arctic; the flight is a community event for each species.

Once in the Arctic, it's family time: courtship, nests, eggs, fledglings, and first flight. Chicks must soon fly south. Bad weather, hunters, and pollution take their toll.

Then, the cameras go south of the Equator; Antarctica is the summer destination. The search for food, good weather, and a place to hatch young takes this annual cycle of stamina across continents and oceans. There is sparse narration and only a few titles; for the most part it's visual, a bird's eye view.

 

“The Firm”

Due for release 1 February 2010

The Firm on Blu-rayIn this 2009 release, football hooligans organise themselves into firms that represent their favourite team.

Set in the 1980s, Dom (Calum McNab) is a teenager who finds himself drawn into the world of football fanaticism, influenced by the firm's top boy, Bex (Paul Anderson).

Accepted by the gang for his fast mouth and sense of humour, Dom soon becomes one the boys.

But as Bex and his gang clash with rival ‘firms’ across the country and the violence spirals out of control, Dom realises he wants out...

... that is until he learns it's not that easy to simply walk away.

 

Mystic River

Due for release 1 February 2010

Mystic River on Blu-rayThree friends who grew up in working-class Boston drift apart after a terrible tragedy. Years later, brutal events reconnect them.

Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn) has to deal with his eldest 19-year-old daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) being murdered in cold blood. Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) is a suspect. And Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon), now a cop, scrambles to solve the crime before volatile Jimmy takes the law into his own hands.

This film, which had its cinematic release in 2003, turned a $60m budget into a gross of $156m worldwide at the box office.

Director Clint Eastwood gained an Oscar® nomination, but Messrs Penn and Robbins won ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Supporting Actor’ respectively.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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