High Fidelity (2000) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list maker, recounts his top five breakups, including the one in progress.

What’s it like? ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ minus the guns and plus a big dose of ‘Almost Famous’.

Film: 8/10. John Cusack fans are in for a treat. It’s not a one-man show but all the supporting characters are there in service in honour of Cusack’s Rob. He’s the focus and it’s the perfect approach as it mirrors the motivations of the character – he’s in things for himself. At its heart the film is a romantic comedy, even if many of the things that happen (of have happened in the character’s lives) are neither funny or romantic – some are quite horrifying. 114 mins.

Picture quality: 6/10. Based on an older master, the quality is decent overall but does show so issues from time to time. Close ups are nicely detailed, contrast is good and colours are mostly accurate. Unfortunately some long and midrange shots lack definition. They get a bit muddy and lack the clarity a newer master would bring.

Audio quality: 7/10. This track comes alive best when the various songs that populate the soundtrack burst from the speakers. Their clarity is excellent and lend the film energy. When there are lulls between songs the dialogue can tend to become slightly flat. It’s never muffled but it doesn’t quite have the dynamics a truly great track needs. John Cusack’s fourth wall talks take on that energy though.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: Australia , Studio: Disney/Buena Vista, Region: Region free

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet

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Any Given Sunday (1999) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the life-and-death struggles of modern-day gladiators and those who lead them.

What’s it like? ‘Friday Night Lights’ with the dramatic weight of ‘Heat’.

Film: 8/10. Director Oliver Stone takes aim at gridiron with interesting results. The film is more about generational differences and the conflict that comes from them than about the game. Everyone from players, the coach, the medical staff and the team owners are playing out this conflict. It makes for fascinating love-it-or-hate-it viewing as you’ll either like the unique approach or be left wondering where all the gridiron went. 157 mins.

Picture quality: 7/10. The film looks quite good in high definition. Details are solid and colour pops quite nicely. There are quite a few scenes stylised by lighting and colour schemes – some result in the creation of a “character” for that scene, whilst others (particularly scenes awash in yellow and brown) create a duller look. Much like the audio discussed below, it’s quite good most of the time but never great.

Audio quality: 7/10. A somewhat varied experience. There are moments where there’s great clarity and precision in the mix and others where the mix becomes muddled. Occasionally dialogue can suffer also, however this occurs in both frenetic game sequences and in quieter dramatic moments so it’s not a result solely of the mix being too busy. Surround activity and LFE content is decent. An above average track, but one with a few issues.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: U.S., Studio: Warner Bros, Region: Region free

Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jamie Foxx

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.

What’s it like? ‘Stand by Me’ infused with the twisted wit of a Roald Dahl novel.

Film: 9/10. Taika Waititi’s star is on the rise. This critically acclaimed third film is what netted him the reigns on the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. You can see why – he’s able to handle action and comedy well and frames it around a dramatic story with real heart. Sam Neill and relative newcomer Julian Dennison nail their roles and help sell this unique adventure. 101 mins.

Picture quality: 9/10. Shot digitally, the film is amazing detailed. The gritty details of Aunty and Hec’s weathered home are reproduced flawlessly. There’s also some stunning New Zealand scenery on show and it all looks great. Aside from some minor banding in a few shots this is one impressive looking disc.

Audio quality: 9/10. The ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ soundtrack makes for extremely enjoyable listening. It is not overbearing or aggressive, however it’s always engaging, whether it be the subtle ambiance of the New Zealand forest or the unique score. It’s a polished mix, just like the excellent picture quality.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: Australia , Studio: Madman, Region: Region free

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne

Pick up a copy of the local release from madman.com.au.

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A Night to Remember (1958) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: On its maiden voyage in April 1912, the supposedly unsinkable RMS Titanic hits an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s it like? The drama of ‘In Which We Serve’ meets the disaster of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’

Film: 9/10. Although James Cameron created the most commercially successful Titanic film, this one will always be my favourite. It doesn’t require the melodrama of Cameron’s film and instead chooses to focus on the actual events. A raw look at the most well-known disaster of all time. 124 mins.

Picture quality: 10/10. Criterion’s restoration is amazing. The film has scrubbed up wonderfully. Detail is excellent, especially considering the majority of the film is set at night. Contrast and clarity is fantastic. Even the majority of the visual effects hold up quite well – an impressive feat for a film nearing 60 years old.

Audio quality: 9/10. The restoration work on the audio track completed by Criterion is almost as impressive. There are no significant fluctuations in levels, hiss and crackle are gone and clarity of both the dialogue and score is excellent. Some extremely minor source-related issues creep in – specifically around dialogue recorded in less than ideal conditions – but it’s very infrequent and doesn’t detract from an otherwise great track.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: U.S., Studio: Criterion, Region: A locked

Director: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayers, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell

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Thief (1981) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: Coming closer to his dream of leading a normal life, a professional safecracker agrees to do a job for the Mafia, who have other plans for him.

What’s it like? Rififi meets The Killing

Film: 10/10. Michael Mann’s theatrical directorial debut may just be his best work. Less well known than Heat but more impressive, Mann captures the duality of the city of Chicago – “normal” by day, but filled with dangerous dark spaces and brightly lit neon lights that assault the senses at night. Caan’s best leading performance. 125 mins.

Picture quality: 10/10. Arrow has used Criterion’s 4K restoration and it’s incredibly impressive. Aside from a handful of shots with source related issues (soft shots mainly) there’s an amazing level of detail on show. Contrast and colour reproduction is excellent and really makes the vivid lighting of the city stand out in the night-time sequences.

Audio quality: 10/10. The remastered audio is top notch. Dialogue is perfectly reproduced, the atmospheric effects make the city come alive and the various heist and action scenes are filled with a flurry of precise activity. Tangerine Dream’s amazing score is a character of the film itself and sounds fantastic.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: U.K., Studio: Arrow, Region: B locked

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, James Belushi, Robert Prosky

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: A wealthy art gallery owner receives a draft of her ex-husband’s new novel, and once she starts reading it she just cannot put it down.

What’s it like? The abstract nature of a David Lynch film meets the ruthlessness of No Country for Old Men encased in a Terrence Malick-like philosophical experiment.

Film: 9/10. Tom Ford weaves two distinct tales (fictional and real world) and draws them together until they combine in a confronting tale of loss. 116 mins.

Picture quality: 10/10. A flawless presentation. Ford creates unique visual styles for each of the main locations in the film and they’re all realised with perfect clarity. Colours, contrast, grain, textures – they all impress.

Audio quality: 9/10. It’s a primarily dialogue driven affair but all aspects of the audio are rendered with amazing attention to detail. The score and atmospheric effects are crystal clear. It’s precision work, even if it’s not the most showy track.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: U.K., Studio: Universal Studios, Region: region free

Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher

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Blood Simple (1984) – Blu-ray review

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Synopsis: A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.

What’s it like? Double Indemnity meets Cape Fear

Film: 9/10. The Coen Brothers’ theatrical debut is a masterclass in noir film-making. What starts off as a seemingly simple revenge film escalates into a cat and mouse thriller with plenty of twists and turns. 96 mins.

Picture quality: 6/10. It’s serviceable and a marked improvement on the DVD but unfortunately it’s quite soft and colours are not always accurate. Criterion released a remaster in 2016 that showed a marked improvement in both areas.

Audio quality: 8/10. The stereo surround track does the job nicely. The score in rendered well, as are the multitude of effects. For a film made on a relatively small budget and of this age the sound design is very nuanced.

Trailer: YouTube

Disc reviewed: Country: U.S., Studio: MGM, Region: A locked

Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Dan Hedaya, Frances McDormand, John Getz, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams

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