Latest Software Reviews

DVD: Be Cool:
I am a big Get Shorty fan. The dialogue, the acting, and the plot all just exude a coolness that is never struggled for, just achieved. The thought of a sequel seemed a little odd, but knowing that it is based on the Elmore Leonard sequel novel, I had high hopes. The end result was admittedly funny but nowhere near the quality of the original. The story takes place a few years after Get Shorty, and Chili Palmer is deciding to get out of the movie business. After a friend gets murdered, he decides to get into the music business instead. Far too many jokes are rehashed, but that in itself isn't the problem. Whereas the original was an effortless cool, this movie tries too hard to be cool—and rarely succeeds. Far too much time is spent on the (admittedly excellent) secondary characters, with Chili himself just kind of showing up to drive the plot along. The effect, though, highlights two of the best aspects of this movie: the Rock and André 3000. These two absolutely steal the movie, and this disc is worth a rental just for them. There are many musician cameos, but, unlike in Get Shorty, where actor cameos are natural (as in, they can act), the musician cameos are often awkward and distracting.

Picture quality (anamorphic, 2.40:1) is quite good. There's a lot of fine detail and solid color and no noticeable noise. Sound quality (Dolby Digital 5.1) is also good, with a full-sounding mix for the music used throughout the movie, clear dialogue, and appropriate surround use.

The best extra is one of the Rock doing a music video that is just glimpsed at in the film. It's awesome. There are five featurettes, one each on Christina Milian ("Linda Moon"), Cedric the Entertainer (who plays another excellent character, "Sin"), the Rock, and André 3000. The last featurette is about the dance sequence between Travolta and Uma Thurman that was an "homage" (i.e,. ripped off) from Pulp Fiction. There is also a gag reel, deleted scenes, and a making-of documentary.

It may not have the original's charm, but it is funny enough as a rental for fans of the original, or of the Rock, just to see him excel at comedy.—Geoffrey Morrison

Bartók—The Miraculous Mandarin, Dance Suite, Hungarian Pictures—Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Marin Alsop (Naxos) [DVD-Audio, SACD/CD, CD]
Imagine the score for a 33-minute film noir with nonstop action. That's Béla Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin in a nutshell, although it's actually a one-act dance suite. The story concerns three thugs who use a young woman as bait to rob a series of victims, culminating in the Mandarin. They murder him—but not before he consummates his passion for the girl. The plot had enough sex and violence to get it banned immediately upon its 1926 debut in Köln, Germany.

Naxos has released this title in triplicate. The DVD-Audio multichannel version sounds best by a small margin, although the SACD comes close, with the stereo CD a distant third. Recording details include a sampling rate of 44.1 kilohertz (the same as CD) with 24-bit resolution (way better than CD). The DVD-Audio release is the only one to disclose that information.

The recording itself is all sharp edges and intense tonal colors. A longish reverb provides a back-of-the-hall feeling, while it emphasizes the surreal nature of the work. Brass instruments are bright and aggressive. Strong bass combines with the hall's slow decay to turn the tympani into dark, violent thunderclouds.

Also present are Bartók's Dance Suite and Hungarian Pictures, both of which combine Western European techniques with Eastern European folk tunes. These less brutal works are more typical of Bartók and serve as an excellent introduction.—Mark Fleischmann