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BLU-RAY MOVIE REVIEWS

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 26, 2011 2 comments
Set behind the scenes of the BBC newsroom as an investigative news program is launched, the drama plots the personal lives, professional interplay, and jealous ambition between aspiring journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), ambitious young producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), and Hector Madden (Dominic West), the face and lead anchorman of this rising television news team. A love triangle ensues and the intense ambitions between the rising news team plays out against the backdrop of a mysterious murder and Freddie's controversial and dangerous investigation.

The BBC has been churning out some pretty entertaining programs lately with Sherlock and now The Hour. This six episode set starts off very slow and it almost lost me, but I was hooked once I got to know the characters and Freddie began to unravel the mystery behind the murder.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 23, 2011 0 comments
The Pritchett clan has Jay (Ed O'Neill) as the patriarch who's married to his much younger Columbian wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara). Along for the ride is her old soul 11-year-old son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), who is wise beyond his years but doesn't exactly mesh with his stepfather. Jay has two grown children from his first marriage, Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who have families of their own. Each family has their unique traits and when they all get together they form a very interesting and hilarious modern family.

I generally don't watch much TV, but Modern Family is a show that hooked me last year on Blu-ray and I couldn't wait to revisit the show on Blu-ray. This is by far the funniest show I've seen in years and the interactions between the characters are priceless. Whether it's Gloria's accent, Manny's phobias, or Jay's frustration with modern society, I'm laughing my rear-end off every episode. In fact, my wife and I laugh so much our kids have requested we don't watch the show if they are trying to sleep because we keep waking them up with our laughter!

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 23, 2011 1 comments
Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a nifty film noir with brisk dialogue (by noir novelist Jim Thompson) and brushstroke characters. It features a taut narrative within a daringly fitful structure (the plot starts over and over, charting the events from different points of view, leading up to the climax) and an ending straight out of O. Henry. The story line is fairly conventional—a racetrack heist, the mastermind who devises it, and the gang of misfits who try to pull it off. But the theme—human foibles trumping the best-laid plans—anticipates many Kubrick films to come, notably Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is also the first film where Kubrick, just 28 years old, displays a master director’s touch: a keen visual sense, both for the composition of the frame and for the fluid camera motion (it seems to be moving almost constantly). The acting is a bit outsized, but so it is in most Kubricks, and as with most, it fits the movie’s mood. This one marks his first association with Sterling Hayden, who’s very fine as the methodical planner: mordantly witty, slow-burning with desire to break through life’s trappings, and in the end stoic about his prospects.
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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 21, 2011 21 comments
George Lucas had a dream of becoming a professional race car driver, but thankfully for the millions of Star Wars fans, he didn't perish in a horrific car accident after his high school graduation. Looking for a new passion, Lucas attended the film school at USC, won a scholarship to observe the making Francis Ford Coppola's Finian's Rainbow, and the pair eventually formed their own studio, American Zoetrope. Their first film was a feature-length version of Lucas's student film THX 1138, but Lucas eventually formed his own studio, Lucasfilm Ltd., and made American Graffiti, which went on to win one Golden Globe and garner five Oscar nominations.

Shortly thereafter, he began working on his next project that turned the small independent filmmaker from Northern California into a Hollywood legend. By luck (or fate) Lucas traded his guaranteed director's salary for a 40% share of the box office and all the merchandising rights (t-shirts, toys, etc.) in order to get Star Wars produced. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Corey Gunnestad Posted: Sep 21, 2011 0 comments
It’s a long-held myth that the average human being can access only about 10 percent of their brain capacity at any given time. For me, it happens to be true, and that’s on a good day, but I digress. Now imagine if you could take a pill that would give you complete and total brain function. The possibilities would be, well, limitless.

This is a drug that’s so new it doesn’t even have a street name yet. This is life on fast forward, it’s David Fincher on acid, and it’s one hell of a ride. When the effect wears off, though, it’s straight back to Stupidville, and you’re royally screwed if your supply runs out. Bradley Cooper is the washed-up writer who happens upon the drug in a chance meeting, and his life takes some very drastic turns—for better and worse.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 20, 2011 0 comments
Philip K. Dick struggled to make a living as a science fiction writer through the majority of his life. It wasn’t until shortly before his death that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted to the screen and became the classic Blade Runner. After his death in 1982, nine additional Dick stories have turned into feature films, including box-office successes Total Recall and Minority Report. His latest adaptation is from his short story The Adjustment Team, in which humanoid creatures can influence people’s lives without them knowing in order to ensure that they comply with a mysterious Plan orchestrated by the Chairman.

Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a popular New York congressman who’s a shoo-in to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2006 until a political scandal derails his campaign. Before he gives his concession speech, he ventures into a hotel bathroom and is interrupted when Elise (Emily Blunt) emerges from a stall and encourages him to be more honest. Her advice inspires David to drop the political speech and instead ad-lib from the heart. Thanks to this honesty, he becomes the front runner for the 2010 election. According to the Plan, David and Elise are never to meet again, but when a worker at the Adjustment Bureau screws up, the two run into each other on a city bus, and the Bureau will do whatever it takes to ensure that the Plan gets back on track.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 18, 2011 2 comments
Yoda takes a group of Jedi younglings on a field trip to the Galactic Senate chambers when he suddenly feels a disturbance in the force and must leave the children. C-3PO and R2-D2 take over and find themselves in over their heads with the rambunctious force-sensitive group. As the Sith prepare to wreak havoc, it's up to Yoda and a young stowaway to save the day before the children are torn to bricks.

LEGO and Lucasfilm have collaborated on multiple projects including other mini-films, over 200 LEGO models, 275 minifigures, and Saga-inspired video games (which are extremely well done). Featuring situations, characters, and locations from throughout the entire Star Wars Saga, writer Michael Price captures the spirit of the franchise with a story is filled humor, adventure, and a surprise guest or two.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 08, 2011 1 comments
A rogue CIA agent (Eric Bana) lives in a desolate area of Finland training his 16-year-old daughter (Saoirse Ronan) to become the perfect assassin. Every moment of the girl's upbringing has been spent building up her strength, stamina, and survival instincts she needs to prepare for the day when she becomes the target of a revenge seeking intelligence operative (Cate Blanchett).

I love a good action move as much as the next guy and am willing to suspend a certain amount of belief, but director Joe Wright takes things a little too far. For starters, Ronan maybe weighs 105 pounds soaking wet yet has the strength to take down a plethora of Special Forces personnel and latch onto the bottom of a vehicle moving at over 30 mph. Furthermore, despite all of her training, she's like a fish out of water when she encounters electricity in the modern world.

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David Vaughn Posted: Sep 04, 2011 0 comments
Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a young Cuban immigrant, lands in Miami in search of the American dream. There he meets Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), who mentors the young man on how to succeed in a life of crime, and Montana eventually becomes one of Miami's most feared drug kingpins. Staying at the top isn't easy, especially if you're mentally unstable, and when Montana neglects the two most important pieces of advice from Lopez, his empire begins to unravel and all that's left is his "little friend."

Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma, Scarface is a gritty tale filled with violence, foul language, and a fantastic performance by Pacino. That being said, this isn't one of my favorite gangster films. While I enjoy the mesmerizing cinematography, I find the screenplay to be a tad shallow, and at 170 minutes, it's much too long.

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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 30, 2011 0 comments
John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King is one of those great films the likes of which “they don’t make anymore” (and, in fact, they rarely did), a grand tale of adventure and greed set against the great outdoors and the judgment of Nature. It’s based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, but in many ways, it’s a throwback to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which Huston also directed, nearly 30 years earlier. This movie’s prospectors are former soldiers in Britain’s colonial army, seeking power and fortune by conquering tribal warlords in the mountains of Afghanistan, rather than American ne’er-do-wells panning for gold in the foothills of Mexico. But the outcome is the same: Our (anti-) heroes win everything then lose it all through avarice and arrogance. In Treasure, they dig up more gold than they can carry (or their capacity for mutual trust can endure); in King, they stumble into a cavern of riches, but one of them starts believing he really is a god (as they’ve tricked the natives into thinking), until the act is exposed.
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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 26, 2011 0 comments
Bored with his perennial role as Halloween Town's frightening Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington discovers the cheerful village of Christmas Town. Determined to shake things up in Halloween Town, he schemes to kidnap Santa Clause and takes over the job of delivering gifts to the children himself. When his plan goes awry, Jack attempts to restore Santa to his rightful place, but he must first rescue him from the evil clutches of Oogie Boogie.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unusual film that improves with multiple viewings. Burton cleverly mixes Halloween and Christmas with fabulous set designs and stop-motion photography, creating a whimsical world in which to tell his story. The film was rereleased to theaters in 2008 with a 3D conversion utilizing the talents of Don Hahn and ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). As explained on Mouseclubhouse.com, they used the original film for the left eye and they projected it onto a featureless piece of geometry that looks like a coffee cup. Then the camera was moved to the right three inches and re-photographed. Any gaps are then filled in via Photoshop and the resulting image is outstanding. I loved the original 2D release of the film for its fine visuals and enveloping soundtrack, but this 3D version takes it to a whole new level.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 25, 2011 0 comments
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1949, John Belushi was the offspring of Albanian immigrants. Both he and his younger brother Jim would find success in Hollywood, but on March 5, 1982, John was found dead in his hotel room in West Hollywood from a drug overdose.

Although his career was short-lived, he had a great foundation to become a comedic force in Hollywood. At the age of 22, Belushi hooked up with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago and eventually found his way to New York as a cast member in the off-Broadway production of National Lampoon’s Lemmings. The show was originally slated to run six weeks, but it entertained packed houses for almost ten months. From there, the comedian worked as a writer for two years for The National Lampoon Radio Hour. His big break came in 1975 when he joined the original cast of Saturday Night Live, where he showcased the humor he’d honed while he was with Second City.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 24, 2011 0 comments
Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is trying to leave his poker playing days behind him while he attempts to earn his law degree and prove to his girlfriend that he can hold a "real job." Bu when his best friend, "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton), is released from prison, he coaxes Mike back to the tables. "Worm" gets himself into serious trouble with a local mobster/poker legend, Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), and Mike's rear-end ends up on the hook since he mistakenly vouched for his friend and he needs to come up with a boatload of cash in short order. Look out poker world, here he comes.

For the record, I love playing poker—specifically Texas Hold'em—so it's only natural that this is one of my favorite movies. While I limit my gaming to tournaments and avoid cash games like the plague, I've witness many people who constantly chase the big score and get in way over their head and lose their entire bankroll. One of the biggest thrills of my life was winning a seat to the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event, but sadly my dream of winning the title went down in flames when my set of queens was beat when an ace hit on the river giving my competitor a higher set—that's poker!

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Joshua Zyber Posted: Aug 23, 2011 1 comments
Is it OK to sympathize with Nazis? That’s a thorny question, and not just for American viewers who’ve been raised on a diet of rah-rah patriotic war films about freedom-loving Yanks kicking the butts of dastardly Nazi scum. Germany itself has a very complicated and uncomfortable relationship with its past and rarely broaches the topic on film. Wolfgang Petersen’s superlative submarine thriller Das Boot takes us inside a World War II U-boat patrolling the Atlantic in 1941. Technically, its crew members are Nazis. Yet few are ideologues, and none are jackbooted villains. Mostly, they’re young boys who know nothing of politics but hunger for the adventure of war and believe themselves to be serving their country.

The film depicts the camaraderie of these men, their conflicts, their boredom, their excitement, their terror, and their growing disillusionment. In its most profound scene, the crew cheers at having destroyed a British cargo ship and then watches in horror as the sailors from that ship leap off its flaming deck and desperately try to swim to the submarine for help they will not get. It’s a sobering moment, both beautiful and haunting.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 14, 2011 0 comments
Nine-year-old Milo (motion-capture performer Seth Green and voice actor Seth Dusky) stows away on a Mars-bound alien spaceship as it races away with his mom (Joan Cusack), who has been abducted so the Martians can steal her mom-ness in order to raise their young. Once he arrives on the Red Planet, he's befriended by Gribbler (Dan Fogler), an immature young adult whose mother was also stolen by the Martians when he was a boy. It's a race against time as Milo struggles to save his mother from imminent doom at the hands of the aliens.

This is a decent family film that starts off pretty slow but picks up steam in the second act as you get to know the main characters. The motion-capture techniques developed by producer Robert Zemeckis in The Polar Express have improved over the years, especially with adult faces, but the children come across a little creepy. Despite the shortcomings in the story, both the 3D and 2D presentations are outstanding, and the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is definitely demo-worthy.

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