BLU-RAY MOVIE REVIEWS

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David Vaughn Posted: Dec 23, 2011 0 comments

WETA Digital, the effects house that gave us The Lord of the Rings, hits a homerun with its digital effects employed in this reboot of the popular 1960s franchise. Minute details in the chimp's faces look strikingly real and blow away the effects seen in any of the previous movies. They blend seamlessly into the live action shots and make you truly believe that the chimps are real creations and not CGI-based. Not to be overshadowed is the absolutely fantastic DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track that's extremely aggressive on the low end and offers an immersive and engaging surround mix. This is one of the must-see discs of 2011.
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David Vaughn Posted: Dec 21, 2011 0 comments

Dramas typically aren't demo-worthy showpieces, but this fabulous film features some stunning scenes with vivid color saturation and exceptional detail. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is no slouch, either, with spot-on dialog reproduction, but it certainly won't make your subwoofer break a sweat. The movie is set in the early 1960s at the height of the civil-rights movement in the South, and the costume and set design captures the era perfectly. Dreamworks/Touchstone delivers another demo-quality presentation.
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David Vaughn Posted: Dec 05, 2011 0 comments

This Blu-ray boasts a solid video transfer with rich colors, revealing skintones, and reference-quality contrast, but it's the audio track that steals the show. The enveloping DTS-HD 5.1 mix features chest-pounding LFE when aliens attack, horses gallop, or when a mysterious wrist-mounted energy weapon is unleashed. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a real stinker.
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David Vaughn Posted: Nov 23, 2011 0 comments

The video quality of this Blu-ray is impressive, as long as the overused lens flare—a hallmark of director J.J. Abrams—doesn't bother you. But the audio is the real highlight here, easily matching Abrams' outstanding previous hit, Star Trek. In fact, this disc has the best audio-demo scene of any 2011 release I've heard, and it's sure to knock your socks off, as well as those of anyone you play it for. If you want to show off what your surround-sound system can do, this soundtrack is second to none.
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Scott Wilkinson Posted: Nov 23, 2011 6 comments
If you have a home theater, you probably enjoy showing it off to your family and friends. But which Blu-ray titles are best for demonstrating the audio and video capabilities of your system? That's easy—they're listed in HT's exclusive blog called Ultimate Demos, which identifies Blu-rays of superior technical quality and calls out specific scenes, right down to the chapter and time-code second, that let your theater really shine.

And now, Ultimate Demos are new and improved, with icons that let you instantly see which titles have exemplary video, audio, or both. If the stylized eye is red, you know that disc provides exceptional visual imagery, while a red ear icon indicates outstanding sound. If either icon is orange, the corresponding content is very good, but not quite up to reference quality, while a gray icon means there's nothing special about that part of the presentation.

Keep in mind that Ultimate Demos are not movie reviews—they will always provide top-quality audio and/or video, even if the movie itself doesn't measure up to the disc's technical merits. So if you've been looking for Blu-rays that kick some serious home-theater butt, look no farther than HT's Ultimate Demos.

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David Vaughn Posted: Nov 17, 2011 0 comments
Things come full circle for Harry Potter in the thrilling conclusion of the popular franchise. At the end of Part 1, Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape from the clutches of the Death Eaters, but their loyal friend Dobby the former house elf perishes. The trio has little time to mourn as they continue to hunt down and destroy the horcruxes that hide tiny pieces of the evil Lord Voldemort's soul. Their quest takes them to Gringots Bank and into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange and eventually back to Hogwarts, where Harry confronts the new headmaster, Professor Snape.

While Part 1 was a slow build toward a cliffhanger ending, Part 2 is a pure adrenaline action film from the first moments that Voldemort steals the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's casket. As a huge fan of the books and the movies, I was more than happy to see Warner split the final book into two films—something that should have been done with every movie starting with The Goblet of Fire. Even with the extended time given to the story, there are quite of few characters who don't receive as much screen time as they deserve.

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David Vaughn Posted: Nov 02, 2011 0 comments
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) heads overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world's fastest car, and his quirky friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is along for the ride. While attending the pre-race party, Mater is mistaken for a secret agent by the master British super spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his partner, Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Can the redneck tow truck help his best friend win the Grand Prix while fighting the forces of evil?

I've pretty much loved everything Pixar has released, but I have to admit that Cars was my least favorite of its movies. Maybe it's because I'm not a grease monkey or a NASCAR fan, but I never really connected with the story. After hearing the negative reviews of Cars 2, I didn't exactly have high hopes for this one. While it isn't a great movie, I did find myself entertained, and the spectacular 3D visuals certainly helped. Furthermore, the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack features everything you want from a Pixar title—great sound design, plenty of dynamic range, and a plethora of discrete effects.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 31, 2011 0 comments
Straight-laced Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is living the dream with a good job, nice house, and a seemingly happy marriage to his high school sweetheart. But when his wife drops the bomb that she's been having an affair and wants a divorce, he becomes a fish out of water when he enters the dating game again. Enter young Jacob (Ryan Goling), a guy Cal meets at a local bar who takes the older man under his wing in order to teach him how to be a ladies' man and to forget his ex-wife.

As far as romantic comedies go, they rarely break from the script, but that isn't the case here. In many ways, this film pokes fun at the clichéd moments found in the genre and the stars do a good job portraying their characters. I especially liked the young actor, Jonah Bobo, as he swoons over his babysitter (Jessica Tipton).

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 28, 2011 0 comments
Steve Rogers, a frail and patriotic young man, wants nothing more than to serve his country by joining the Army in order to fight the evil Nazis. On multiple occasions, he's been deemed unfit for service and is rejected, but he refuses to give up trying. On his latest attempt, he catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine, a scientist working for the Army who has developed a serum that enhances one's muscles, brain power, reflexes, and mental abilities in order to create a "super soldier."

Thus far, the movie studios haven't had a lot of success in converting 2D films into 3D in post-production and delivering satisfying results. Fortunately, the 2D-3D conversion here is one of the best I've seen. Separation between objects is exemplary, and the added depth enhances the texture and intimacy of the cinematography. Even more impressive is the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that features reference-quality dynamic range, an engaging score from Alan Silvestri, and plenty of window-rattling explosions.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 26, 2011 0 comments
On a remote tropical island, an amazing living theme park becomes a game of survival for humans foolhardy enough to set foot on it. Meticulously recreated dinosaurs spring to astonishing life as a multimillionaire (Richard Attenborough) bankrolls an effort to use advanced DNA technology to bring dinosaurs back to life. When an employee shuts down the security system for personal monetary gain all hell breaks loose when the dinosaurs escape forcing the visitors to play a game of cat and mouse with the deadly prehistoric creatures.

Throughout movie history there are certain films that change the way movies are made and Jurassic Park certainly qualifies due to its cutting-edge use of CGI effects. Even to this day, the dinosaurs depicted in the film look so lifelike it's kind of creepy. When it hit theaters in 1993, it blew audiences away and became an instant classic.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 23, 2011 1 comments
Captain Jack Sparrow is back with a new adventure on the high seas as he's on the hunt for the Fountain of Youth. After a daring escape from the King of England, Jack becomes enslaved on Blackbeard's ship and learns that a woman from his past has some hidden daddy issues that could cost him dearly. In pursuit are Sparrow's nemesis Barbossa and a separate Spanish armada, who have their own nefarious plans for Ponce De Leon's legendary spring.

3D conversions are all the rage in Hollywood, but thankfully this isn't one of them and it shows from the outset while Jack is loose on the streets of London. Detail is excellent in both foregrounds and backgrounds and separation between objects adds a lot of depth to the image. But as good as the 3D is, it's the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that's the star of the show. It features plenty of discrete effects, strong bass response, and virtually unlimited dynamic range.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 14, 2011 0 comments
Deep in the heart of the African savanna, a rivalry between two lion prides takes place while a cheetah family tries to stick together. Mara is an endearing lion cub who strives to grow up with her mother's strength, spirit, and wisdom, but an accident threatens to make her an orphan. Then there's Sita, a fearless cheetah and single mother of five newborns who must try and keep her cubs alive until they can fend for themselves. Finally, there's Fang, the leader of the pride who must defend his family from a rival lion clan that is looking to take over his land.

This is the first Disneynature production I've had a chance to see, and while the narrative is geared toward younger audiences, I still enjoyed it. The young cheetah and lion cubs are adorable, and I kept wondering how the filmmakers were able to get such close-up images. The story can turn a tad dark at times, but Disney provides a great vehicle to introduce kids to the African savanna.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 12, 2011 0 comments
Three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman, Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dales (Charlie Day), are slaving away at their jobs in Los Angeles and have one thing in common; they each have horrible bosses. One night they hatch a foolproof plan to murder them and hire an ex-con (Jamie Foxx) as an adviser. Well, he isn't what they expected and their foolproof plan has a very likely chance to get them thrown behind bars for the rest of their lives.

At some point in your life, you're going to end up with a horrible boss. In fact, I've been unfortunate enough to have a few of them over the years. But as bad as things were, I never once contemplated murder (torture, maybe, but never murder!). Anyway, I found this movie to be mostly entertaining for the first two acts and I actually felt a little something for the characters. Sadly, the third act falls apart with childish antics and plenty of foul language.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 10, 2011 1 comments
Roald Dahl's classic story tells the tale of five kids who find a golden ticket that entitles them to visit the secretive Wonka Chocolate factory, where one worthy child will win a lifetime supply of chocolate. Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), a poor kid who lives with his mother and two sets of grandparents in the shadow of the factory, is one of the lucky five. The others—well, let's just say they are the result of bad parenting and poor choices.

As a child, I never really connected with this film, but I've have grown to enjoy it as a parent. The behavior of the four "bad" kids provides extreme examples of what we often see in children today, and watching the film with my kids was a great way to teach them how not to behave. Charlie is a model child, and his virtuous behavior is a parent's dream. I think we all wish our children could be so respectful.

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David Vaughn Posted: Oct 07, 2011 0 comments
Former cop Brian O'Copnner (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) hookup with her fugitive brother Dom (Vin Diesel) and head to South America to elude the authorities. Tired of running, they assemble an elite team of top racers to help pull off one last job in order to secure enough cash for retirement, but when a hard-nosed federal agent (Dwayne Johnson) shows up in Rio de Janeiro, their job goes from hard to nearly impossible to complete.

Generally speaking, sequels tend to pale in comparison to the original, but here's a case where the fifth film in the series is actually the best. It all boils down to the screenplay, which has more of an Ocean's 11 tone than a racing-centric plot found in the previous films. Regardless, it's a lot of fun to watch and the spectacular audio and video help keep you on the edge of your seat.

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