A Blu-ray of Sunshine – 08.25.09

Five years is a long time doing anything, but that’s how long I’ve been contributor with Inside Pulse. Discussing movies and those shiny discs that entertain us, it’s been fun. I don’t get to write that much on The DVD Lounge – now I’m mainly serving as head editor. But there was a time when I was cranking out DVD reviews every week. Just ask Scott Sawitz or Kubryk or whatever the hell he’s calling himself these days. (If you really want to get on his good side, call him Seth Rogen.)

Before The DVD Lounge section, all DVD reviews were lumped with the current theatrical releases. But with a little intuition and know-how the Lounge became it’s own section, covering DVD movies, TV on DVD and even Blu-ray.

And speaking of Blu-ray, I’ve decided to take a chance on writing a column that will include my irreverent wit and charm as well as my own musings about new and current Blu-rays and whatever else is on my mind. So let’s find out why I’m such a Blu-ray of Sunshine, shall we?

Pre-show Entertainment

I am in no way a homer for Blu-ray, as I still buy DVDs. Three years into the format, Blu-ray is still a niche market at this point – and a premium that many consumers aren’t willing to pay – and studios are doing their best to convert the masses to the new technology. One of the ways is releasing barebones DVDs of recent theatrical releases. Warner Brothers, for instance, has pressed barebones releases of 17 Again and Observe & Report on DVD. All the extras are exclusive to Blu-ray. So when you browse the Blu-ray section and see 17 Again with the phrase “Packed with Zac!” on the packaging, it only means that WB decided to put the features here instead of the DVD. Now I can understand making certain features exclusive to Blu-ray, but to overlook their DVD core, well it smells of desperation – nothing more than a carrot to entice people to switch to Blu-ray.

With many studios having released most of their prestigious titles (though we still await to see The African Queen from Paramount – it’s the only film on AFI’s top 100 without a DVD release), studios have to rethink their release strategy. It’s a given that new releases sell more than catalog titles. And it is easier to produce extras for newer titles than culling the archives with material for more classical titles.

At this point, just give me a release with great picture and sound. Special features I’m not all that particular about. I used to love watching extras on DVDs. Featurettes, outtakes, these were features we never got on VHS. (In a measure of cruel irony the original DVD release of Varsity Blues actually had less extras than its VHS counterpart.) But after time I began to wise up and studios started putting less and less effort into many of its DVD titles. It almost became to chore to watch them all in one sitting, if at all. At this point, I’d take a well-produced 40- to 60-minute documentary about the production instead of a DVD that sports “13 Behind-the-scenes features.”

The issue people have levied against studios that only give consumers all or none when it comes to extras is argumentative. Why do you think stores like Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart offer exclusive discs for certain titles? Maybe it’s a cruel game, making people waste gas going from one place to another to buy the same movie multiple times just to get all the extras. That’s a little too insane for my tastes, but if you have the means, all the power to you. Actually, I’m not immune from such temptations. I did go out of my way to find the Hot Fuzz DVD release when it was offered at Wal-Mart with an exclusive bonus disc consisting of most of the extras found on the UK release. Then a few weeks after purchase, Universal announces a collector’s edition of Hot Fuzz spread across three discs. Gee, thanks guys.

Extras aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Sometimes people just want the best audio and video presentation available. For visuals give me the original aspect ratio, not something cropped to 4×3. And it better be anamorphic. Ever tried to watch a non-anamorphic movie on a widescreen TV? It’s not fun. As how to ensure you get the best A/V quality, well here’s a little secret: it’s not always found at the nearest brick-and-mortar store. If you really want the best a film has to offer, sometime you’ll have to go global. Take Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness. The best video transfer and audio mix of the director’s cut is found in Hong Kong.

It all comes down to what you are willing to pay.

On to our Feature Presentation

I Love You Man_BD

Studio: DreamWorks
Running Time: 104 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Number of Disks: 1
Special Features
– Commentary by Director John Hamburg and Actors Paul Rudd and Jason Segel
– Featurette: The Making of I Love You, Man
– Extended Scenes
– Deleted Scenes
– Gag Reel
– Red Band Trailer (BD exclusive)



The first two months of 2009 was a cesspool for comedy features. And when I mean comedy, I don’t mean Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Luckily the odd couple pairing of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel in March’s I Love You, Man brought the laughs and brought male-bonding to new heights. For most of the first half of 2009 it could be found somewhere in my Top 10 list; it was that funny. The premise involves Rudd popping the question to the girl of his dreams without realizing he has no one to be his Best Man. But how can this be – surely every guy has another guy he can call “bro.” Not if that guy is Peter Klaven (Rudd).

It would seem that Peter’s magnetic presence is the kind that attracts janes and not regular joes. With women he has no problems talking about movies like The Devil Wears Prada or Chocolat, two of his favorites. (Spill that bit of information to a guy and your man card could be cut in half on the spot.) After popping the question to Zooey (Rashida Jones), it becomes apparent that the wedding party will be too disproportional if Peter doesn’t find some male friends.

So begins Peter’s buddy odyssey: him looking for platonic relationships at his age (thirty) is risky. Not helping his case is his gay and seemingly more masculine brother, Robbie (Andy Samberg), who suggests “man-dates” to help Peter meet guys. Every man-date misfires, and Peter is about to give up the search. Until Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) pops in on an open house Peter is hosting at the estate of Lou Ferrigno. The two spark a conversation over Paninis of all things, hit it off, and exchange business cards as Sydney bids him adieu.

Peter and Sydney are complete opposites in both styles and appearances but a connection has been established. Slowly Peter begins to emerge from his shell of insecurity as Sydney coaxes him to try new things. But as the friendship intensifies, Zooey begins to feel left out. Peter is caught between the woman he loves and the guy who calls him friend.

I Love You, Man is raunchy, but deceptively smart. John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) balances with laughs with insight on how guys interrelate, ultimately taking the bro-mance to the next level. The humor has a genuine quality that isn’t always about off-the-cuff jokes or crass behavior. Paul Rudd, a second banana and supporting player for way too long, is now in the spotlight where he belongs. Just watching him fail at trying to be cool will have you in stitches, and give you plenty of quotable material. (Advice: be wary of people you call “Jobin.”)

Inspecting the Blu-ray, all the extras match the DVD release save for one. The lone exclusive is a red band trailer (HD) that emphasizes the off-color language and sexual references when compared to the original “green band” trailer. With any comedy disc, outtakes, bloopers – basically anything funny – should be standard policy. Here we get the director and stars on a commentary track where they crack wise about their experiences during production. As if we didn’t already know, it is difficult for Rudd to keep a straight face during scenes. He continued to muck take after take.

The 17-minute making-of featurette (HD) is saved by the personalities involved, but it is still your standard look-see of the production.

The crown jewels of the special features are the extras, extended scenes, deleted scenes, and a gag reel (all in HD). Here we get 22 minutes of alternate takes and ad-libbed material, 13 minutes of six stretched scenes, three minutes of deleted scenes and an 11-minute gag reel. All make fun time-wasters, but the best of the bunch is the alternate takes and seeing how rapid fire exchanges can make an editor’s job easy or a living hell.

And now for something completely different…

Watchmen_BD

Studio: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 186 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Number of Disks: 2 (+Digital Copy)
Special Features
– Featurette: The Phenomenon – The Comic that Changed Comics
– Featurette: Maximum Movie Mode
– Featurette: Focus Points
– Featurette: Real Super Heroes – Real Vigilantes
– Featurette: Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World
– Music Video
– Digital Copy
– BD-Live
I have long since gone through my comic-book collecting phase, just as I have done so with collecting baseball cards. But even though my interest in individual comic books has diminished, trade paperbacks are another story. For the longest time a TPB of Watchmen resided in a bedroom closet cubbyhole. At the arrival of Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work, I made it a point to finally read the 12-issue series. And what I found was a comic with a unique narrative structure to go along with a story that deconstructed the myth of superheroes.

The story is set in an alternate reality of America, where Richard Nixon is serving out his fourth term as president. With the passing of The Keene Act in 1977, which outlawed acts of vigilantism, many who wore a mask were forced into retirement. Except for Rorschach, a masked avenger so named because of his inkblot mask. Viewed more as a psychotic than a hero, Rorschach becomes interested with the death of a fellow crime fighter named The Comedian. He fears the death was meant as a warning to his masked brethren, so he sets out to warn other crime-fighting outcasts: gadget inventor Dan Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl), astute entrepreneur Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias), the lone female of the group Laurie Juspeczyk (aka Silk Spectre), and the only truly superhuman Dr. Jon Osterman (aka Dr. Manhattan). With each new wrinkle of the investigation, Rorschach and company find that the conspiracy may be more sinister than initially thought.

Having read the novel I had no trouble following along with the action when Watchmen was released in theaters this past spring. But those unfamiliar with the novel were at a loss, and probably couldn’t digest the 162-minute adaptation. Even fans of the novel were upset with certain events of the novel being glossed over. (Mind you, Zack Snyder had to omit certain sections in order to have the film at a certain length so it could be played in IMAX theatres.)

Now on Blu-ray, the Director’s Cut (with 24 minutes of footage integrated back into the film) has a better flow than the theatrical release. We get added character depth and shading, the best of which may be the untimely demise of Dreiberg’s mentor, the original Nite Owl.

The complexity of superhero movies has evolved. Screw backstories that gloss over a character’s motivations in becoming a righter of wrongs. Give me a character that’s complicated. Maybe that’s why Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Caped Crusader is so remarkable. His was a complete 180 of the Batman we’ve grown up with on TV and in film adaptations by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher.

Snyder’s adaptation may be a panel-by-panel recreation of Moore’s classic novel, but it as well demonstrates the complexity of heroism. Moore’s story is juxtaposed against a what-if scenario: a lingering Cold War. It also presents more than a handful of moral quagmires of which to consider. Fighting injustice in a world that’s doomed beyond repair, for starters.

For those that have never seen the theatrical cut of Watchmen, I wouldn’t even bother. This is one of those rare instances where a Director’s Cut is such a dramatic improvement over the original release. So schedule yourself three hours and see one of the best comic book adaptations of all time.

Warner Home Video has given Blu-ray owners the same bonus features found on the two-disc special edition DVD release (a single featurette, music video and digital copy). But fans of Watchmen are sure to love the exclusives that have made it on this BD release that spans three discs. (The third disc is a digital copy of the theatrical cut in standard definition. That’ll surprise a few people, I bet.)

The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics is a 29-minute piece that examines the comic book’s creation and its impact. Among the featured interviews is the cast and crew and illustrator Dave Gibbons. Alan Moore is nowhere to be found, which is a given considering his long-stemming feud with DC Comics and adaptations of his work.

As for the bells and whistles exclusive to the BD we have Maximum Movie Mode, a fully interactive viewing experience linking you still galleries, pop-up trivia, commentary and more. When combined, it’s completely immersive as the film branches into the Snyder’s picture-in-picture commentary and we get to compare the before-and-after.

If you don’t have the time or desire to sit through a viewing of Watchmen with the Maximum Movie Mode on, try Focus Points, which is 37 minutes of information in eleven standalone segments.

The last two featurettes examine real-life vigilantes who take matters into their own hands (Real Super Heroes: Real Vigilantes) and the mechanics of the technology presented in Watchmen (Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World) with Dr. James Kakalios, Professor of Physics at the University of Minnesota.

Finally with BD-Live, you can venture to Warner’s online portal of trailers and more. (Note: on July 25th, select viewers got a chance to participate in a live community screening with director Zack Snyder through the BD-Live application.)

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