First skirmish in the Blu-ray Conflict: martial arts vs. illegal arms. (As with the HD DVD roundup in our previous issue, this is a fair fight, so all ratings are relative to other high-definition discs, not to standard-definition DVDs. All discs were screened using an unmodified Samsung BD-P1000 player.)
She first caught our attention with her spectacular entrance as the goddess Venus on the half-shell in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. She made even greater splashes as the virginal innocent in Dangerous Liaisons and, the following year, at age 19, playing the complex sexual sophisticate June in Henry & June.
Screenwriter James Lapine and director Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the brilliant Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical (book by Lapine) is a highly entertaining, moving, and inspiring film that, in this Blu-ray’s presentation, makes for great home theater.
The story cleverly weaves together four fairy tales through a plot device centering on a baker and his wife who are unable to have children because of a witch’s curse. In order for the witch to lift the curse, the baker must bring her the cow from Jack (of the beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Rapunzel’s hair, and Cinderella’s slipper.
Jack Ryan’s creator, writer Tom Clancy, had the hero of his first book, The Hunt for Red October, trying to outwit the Soviets during the Cold War. Shadow Recruit presents his back story, beginning with Jack still in his college years. Yet, surprisingly, it’s the 9/11 attacks that motivate him to take his analytical skills to Afghanistan to help fight the war. Nevertheless, it works. And instead of staying behind a desk, Jack’s soon out in a helicopter with soldiers on a mission, getting shot down, badly injuring his spine, but saving two of his men. So it’s no surprise that, after heroically forcing himself to learn to walk again, he’s recruited by The Company.
A modernist masterpiece as revolutionary as Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon made in a time when film was important, L’Avventura tells the story—or anti-story—of a wealthy young woman on a boating trip who disappears off an island. After a search of the barren rock, her fiancé and best friend set off to find her, investigating sites where she’s supposedly been seen. Over the course of their travels, they become involved and gradually forget about what they’re searching for. L’Avventura is a whodunit without a who, a mystery without a solution, a dislocation of the already dislocated. In the process, director Michelangelo Antonioni peels away the skin of society as characters play at love without enthusiasm, sincerity, or context in ennui of unaware existential numbness. As in Blow Up and other Antonionis, L’Avventura is about absence—feelings are forgotten, meaning and purpose are misplaced, and “words are more and more pointless.”
In films like La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, and The Messenger, director Luc Besson presents the mysterious transformation of unthinking, undeveloped, unambitious girls into educated, sophisticated, strong females. He also includes large dollops of action, striking visuals, and sound that deliver boffo home theater.