Into the Woods (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


“Into the Woods” is a film that has a lot going for it.  A strong ensemble cast, the original creators of the musical and a skilled director behind the film and wonderful music galore.  Fantastic costume design and makeup.  You would think the movie would be magnificent but unfortunately its short coming is its character development and story which feels rushed.   “Into the Woods” is a film with so much potential to be something great unfortunately is weakened by its rushed plot.

Images courtesy of © 2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Into the Woods


DURATION: 125 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio), English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish



Release Date: March 3, 2015

Directed by Rob Marshall

Screenplay by James Lapine

Musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim

Produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt

Co-Producer: Angus More Gordon, Michael Zimmer

Music by Stephen Sondheim

Cinematography by Dion Beebe

Edited by Wyatt Smith

Casting by Tiffany Little Canfield, Francine Maisler, Bernard Telsey

Production Design by Dennis Gassner

Art Direction by Andrew Bennett, Ben Collins, Chris Lowe, Mary Mackenzie

Set Decoration by Anna Pinnock

Costume Design by Colleen Atwood


Anna Kendrick as Cinderella

Daniel Huttlestone as Jack

James Corden as Baker

Emily Blunt as Baker’s Wife

Christine Baranski as Stepmother

Tammy Blanchard as Florinda

Lucy Punch as Lucinda

Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother

Lila Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood

Meryl Streep as Witch

Simon Russell Beale as Baker’s Father

Joanna Riding as Cinderella’s Mother

Johnny Depp as Wolf

Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince

Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel

Annette Crosbie as Granny

Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince

Richard Glover as Steward

Frances de la Tour as Giant

From the director of CHICAGO and the producer of WICKED comes a modern twist on the beloved fairy tales you thought you knew. Meryl Streep stars in this epic musical saga about daring to venture INTO THE WOODS. Iconic characters, such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel, find their fates intertwined with a humble baker and his wife, whose longing to have a child sends them on a quest to reverse a witch’s (Streep) curse. With an all-star cast, this spellbinding adventure is everything you could ever wish for!

In 1986, the musical “Into the Woods” based on James Lapine’s book and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim made its debut and would premiere on Broadway a year later.

The winner of several Tony Awards and continuing on stage via several revivals, “Into the Woods” would receive an American fantasy musical drama film adaptation courtesy of Disney and would be directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and would feature a collaboration with original musical creators James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim.

The film would feature an ensemble cast which includes Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Daniel Huttlestone, Lila Crawford, Christine Baranski, Billy Magnussen, to name a few.

While the creators knew that the musical couldn’t be a perfect adaptation and the music would need to be tweaked for the film version, the film’s story remains the same as it is inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales of “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel”.

Created with a budget of $50 million, “Into the Woods”, which was released on Christmas Day 2014, would go on to earn over $204 million in the box office worldwide.

And now “Into the Woods” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Disney on April 2nd.

“Into the Woods” begins with a baker (portrayed by James Corden) and his wife (portrayed by Emily Blunt) wishing for a child, but due to a curse put onto the family by a witch (portrayed by Meryl Streep), because of the baker’s father stealing her prized vegetables, including magic beans which she was to protect or else become ugly if the beans were to leave her possession.

And because she was turned into an ugly witch, she put a curse on the baker’s family but gives the baker and his wife a chance to break the curse by looking for items to create a potion: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold.  But they must do the task as she is not allowed to touch any of the subjects.

Meanwhile, young Jack (portrayed by Daniel Huttlestone) is told by her mother (portrayed by Tracy Ullman) to sell their beloved cow Milky in order to make money to survive as they are running out of food.  Jack ends up running into the baker who offers him magical beans for the cow.  Jack is willing to sell the cow if he can buy her back with gold coins and thus, they make a deal.

When Jack’s mom finds out what Jack ended up doing, she is upset and throws the magic beans outside of their home.  And that night, a giant beanstalk grows towards the skies.

At another location, Red Riding Hood (portrayed by Lilla Crawford) goes to visit her grandmother’s house, but watching her every move is the wolf (portrayed by Johnny Depp).  Meanwhile, the baker and his wife need to get Red Riding Hood’s cape, but can they?

Living in another area is Cinderella (portrayed by Anna Kendrick) who is mistreated by her stepmother (portrayed by Christine Baranski) and her stepsisters.  But when she comes across magical shoes, she becomes as beautiful as a princess and attracts Prince Charming (portrayed by Chris Pine).  But before she reverts back to her original self, she runs back home and the baker’s wife sees her gold slippers which she needs to get.

As for the ugly witch, we learn that she is the mother of her adopted daughter Rapunzel (portrayed by Mackenzie Mauzy), who was the original child belonging to the Baker’s parents, but due to the theft, the witch took their daughter for the misdeed.

And because of Rapunzel’s growing blonde hair, she is locked inside the tower, where she is often visited by another prince (portrayed by Billy Magnussen).  Will Rapunzel ever be released from the tower?

But will the Baker and his wife acquire the ingredients needed in order to have a child?


“Into the Woods” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio).  If there is one thing that I expect from a Disney Blu-ray, I expect wonderful picture quality and “Into the Woods” does not disappoint.  Shot in the woods, there is wonderful picture quality when it comes to costume design, makeup (from the witch’s hair, Rapunzel’s hair, the beanstalk, etc.) but capturing the environment and the importance of the woods, from darkness, subtle light, full light and of course, the overall lighting via special effects.   Skin tones look natural, detail of closeups are fantastic and I saw no signs of artifacts, banding or noise.


“Into the Woods” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks. As one can expect from a musical, this lossless soundtrack is fantastic.  Crystal clear dialogue and music, good balance of LFE during the more action-driven sequences and great utilization of the surround and rear surround channels.

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.


“Into the Woods” comes with the following special features:

  • Streep Sings Sondheim: “She’ll Be Back” – (4:49) Director Rob Marshall discusses the cut scene featuring Meryl Streep singing “She’ll Be Back” and discussing why the song was cut.
  • There’s Something About the Woods – (13:24) The cast and crew talk about “Into the Woods” and their characters.
  • The Cast as Good as Gold – (10:11) Director Rob Marshall an cast discuss the casting process, rehearsals and cast chemistry.
  • Deeper Into the Woods – A four-part documentary featuring “From Stage to Screen” (8:33), “The Magic of the Woods” (7:24), “Designing the Woods” (7:08) and “The Costumes of the Woods” (6:54).
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director/producer Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca.
  • Music & Lyrics – Featuring the opportunity to watch the film with onscreen lyrics or viewing songs individually.  Songs featured are: “Prologue: Into the Woods,” “Hello, Little Girl,” “I Know Things Now,” “A Very Nice Prince,” “Giants in the Sky,” “Agony,” “It Takes Two,” “Stay with Me,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” “Witch’s Lament,” “Any Moment,” “Moments in the Woods,” “Your Fault,” “Last Midnight,” “No One is Alone,” “You Are Not Alone/Children Will Listen,” and “Finale.”
  • Trailers and Previews


“Into the Woods” comes with a slipcover and a Digital HD code for


There was no doubt that Rob Marshall, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim faced incredible odds of adapting “Into the Woods” to a fantasy musical film.

With the success of the musical, the fact that the adaptation for film took a long time goes to show that many people did not know how to approach the film.

Considering you have those involved with the musical involved with the film, you would think that somehow the magic would carryover but the truth is, a lot of adaptations from a musical is always going to receive criticism.

But “Into the Woods” has received plenty of it because of how the characters are portrayed.

I have seen the word “unsympathetic” used to described the characters and the fact is, the story starts out strong.  The performance by Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp are wonderful in terms of performance and even pulling off their musical numbers but the problem lies within the characters.  Things go too quickly and because of time, you are shifting from characters and different storylines that the film doesn’t give a chance to spend anytime with the characters enough for one to care.

There are actions by characters that are quite dumfounding, does the film want you to care about the characters at the end or does the film make you want to feel that humans are entirely vain.  Even the dialogue rubs me the wrong way, certain actions rub me the wrong way.

At first, I thought the baker and his wife wold be the redeeming characters for the film but instead, any sympathy for them is squandered.  What about the importance of Rapunzel, none whatsoever.  So much is spent on other characters that Rapunzel is like watching a quick cameo of a superstar talent that leaves within seconds.  The character of Rapunzel is literally kicked to the curb.  Rapunzel is very important to the story in the musical stage version…not so much in the film.

Which leaves us to the bratty Jack and Red Riding Hood…bickering youngsters which doesn’t surprise me one bit.  But they don’t grow on you, they annoy you.

And while I love Anna Kendrick on film, the dialogue that is given to Cinderella is also as surprising as one dialogue has her saying “I love cleaning”… Great!  Instead of making Cinderella a strong, independent character, we are given a subservient version of her in the film.

I have no problem with tweaks from musical to film, I do have problem with lack of creativity to make things much more interesting and making audiences want to care for the characters through actions that make you sympathetic and make you want to root for them, to support them.  But everything seems so rushed and while the musical soundtrack does stand out, the film rides on the coattail of its Broadway predecessor.  Stuck in its shadow of being inferior despite a wonderful ensemble cast.

I do give Sondheim and Lapine credit for bringing their music, making tweaks to the story and music for the big screen but perhaps an adaptation of this musical was too difficult that what resonates strongly with many viewers who are less musically inclined are characters that turn people off.  There should be a balance of music and storytelling and “Into the Woods” was more of teh former.

The costume and makeup design are well-done, and while one wishes there were better or even more special effects in the film, I’m not sure if special effects could have made the film any better.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality and the lossless audio for “Into the Woods” is magnificent.   Detail is incredible, while lossless audio takes advantage of the surround channels and LFE.  The Blu-ray features a good amount of special features including audio commentary and the challenges of making “Into the Woods” into a film.  There is no doubt that the Blu-ray for “Into the Woods” looks and sounds great, it’s just that the movie is not.

Overall, “Into the Woods” is a film that has a lot going for it.  A strong ensemble cast, the original creators of the musical and a skilled director behind the film and wonderful music galore.  Fantastic costume design and makeup.  You would think the movie would be magnificent but unfortunately its short coming is its character development and story which feels rushed.

“Into the Woods” is a film with so much potential to be something great unfortunately is weakened by its rushed plot.

The Lone Ranger (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


If you have never ever heard or watched “The Lone Ranger”, then this popcorn comedy/action film may entertain you.  Otherwise, if you did grow up with the original, just be prepared to watch something that is different from “The Lone Ranger” that you grew up with.

Images courtesy of © 2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Lone Ranger


DURATION: 149 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1, English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles:English, SDH, French, Spanish

COMPANY: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Sequences of Intense Action and Violence and Some Suggestive Material)

Release Date: December 17, 2013

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Screenplay by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski

Executive Producer: Johnny Depp, Eric Ellenbogen, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Mike Stenson

Associate Producer: Morgan Des Groseillers, Tom Engelman, Shari Hanson, Pat Sandston, Shari  HAnson, Melissa Reid

Music by Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by Bojan Bazelli

Edited by James Haywood, Craig Wood

Casting by Denise Chamian

Production Design by Jess Gonchor

Art Direction by Jon Billington, Naaman Marshall, Iain McFadyen, James F. Oberlander, Brad Ricker, Domenic Silvestri

Set Decoration by Cheryl Carasik

Costume Design by Penny Rose


Johnny Depp as Tonto

Armie Hammer as John Reid (Lone Ranger)

William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish

Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole

Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid

Helena Bonham Carter as Red Harrington

James Badge Dale as Dan Reid

Bryant Prince as Danny

Barry Pepper as Fuller

Mason Cook as Will

JD Cullum as Wendell

Saginaw Grant as Chief Big Bear

Harry Treadaway as Frank

JAmes Frain as Barret

Joaquin Cosio as Jesus

Damon Herriman as Ray

Matt O’Leary as Skinny

In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium – but that doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in by any means they can. Max (Matt Damon) agrees to take on a life threatening mission, one that could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

In 1915, Zane Grey wrote the book “The Lone Star Ranger” which was based on Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes or U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves.

The story of the Western hero would continue in the ’30s with the radio series but “The Lone Ranger” would become an American icon during the late ’40s and early ’50s thanks to the comic book series, movies and the popular television series.

The radio series would also spawn a spin-off featuring The Lone Ranger/John Reid’s  son Dan, who would become The Green Hornet.  And like “The Lone Ranger” and his sidekick, Tonto.  The Green Hornet would have a sidekick named Kato.

But as The Lone Ranger was a cultural icon to many during the ’30s through the ’50s, attempts to bring back the western hero has failed.

But in 2013, filmmaker Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Carribean” films, “The Mexican”, “Ring”) would direct the latest film, “The Lone Ranger” and is an origin story of how John Reid became The Lone Ranger and how he and Tonto became partners.

And now the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Disney in Dec. 2013.

“The Lone Ranger” begins with a sideshow at the San Francisco fair in 1933.  As a young boy approaches an Indian Comanche Native American statue, the statue is actually a living being and the man begins to tell the boy a story about John Reid and Tonto.

A big fan of “The Lone Ranger” (John Reid), the story that the Indian tells is about the two robbing a bank.

But when the boy questions the story about the Lone Ranger being a hero, the Indian begins telling the boy a story about the origin of John Reid and Tonto.

How John Reid (portrayed by Armie Hammer) was an attorney taking a train back to his home in Texas, not knowing that on the train is the outlaw Butch Cavendish who is chained and being sent to for hanging after being captured by Sheriff Dan Reid, the brother of John.

But Cavendish’s men come to derail the train and rob the people.  Inside the train is an Indian named Tonto (portrayed by Johnny Depp) who wants revenge to kill Butch Cavendish (portrayed by William Fichtner) but is stopped by John, who tells him that his goal is to have Butch punished by the legal system.

Unfortunately, the truck derails and Butch Cavendish chains both John and Tonto and he escapes with his men.  Despite Tonto using his axe to free them both, Tonto is put in jail.

But as John is reunited with his brother and his brother’s family, Dan (portrayed by James Badge Dale) deputizes John and eight of them head off to catch Butch Cavendish and his men.

But as the group rides out to the mountain range, they are ambushed by Cavendish and his men and everyone is shot to death except Dan and John.  But when John is shot, Dan comes back to rescue him and is shot.  As both men lie on the ground wounded, John is barely conscious, while Butch comes face to face with Butch Cavendish to exact his revenge on trying to capture him.

Butch Cavendish cuts off Dan’s heart and kills him and John witnesses his brothers death and passes out.

Meanwhile, Tonto finds the dead men and buries them.  But he sees a white horse and also John awaken and feels that John’s resurrection may be due to a spirit.

As both men both want their revenge on Butch Cavendish, they agree on a one-time partnership.

Meanwhile, rumors of Indian outlaws killing people in villages have put fear in people’s hearts, but the truth is that its impostors (Butch Cavendish’s men) posing as Indians which both John and Tonto come in to contact with them and beats them, while one has escaped.

But they find out that Cavendish’s men have captured Dan’s wife (portrayed by Ruth Wilson) and their son.

As one has escaped, he tells Butch Cavendish that they were beaten by a Lone Ranger and an Indian.

But as both the Lone Ranger and the Indian work together to go after Butch Cavendish, can these two complete opposites work together for the greater good!


“The Lone Ranger” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).  Picture quality is very good and features plenty of detail.  Closeups show detail that show skin pores, Tonto’s paint and the sweat and grime on John Reid’s, even Red Harrington’s strands of hair can be seen quite clearly.  You can even see the dust on the Lone Ranger’s white hat.

The film is rather fascinating for its use of colors.  There is somewhat of a warm and also cool variation of colors at times. But it’s the look that director Gore Verbinski and Bojan Bazelli were going for.

Black levels are nice and deep and for the most part, the film has no signs of banding, artifacts or any other issues.

Picture quality is fantastic!


“The Lone Ranger” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS Audio 2.0.  The film utilizes the surrounding channels very well.  From the opening action scenes on the train, to various action scenes in which one scene, you can hear a burning house, burning embers, pretty much the ambiance of that setting all around you.  Bullets and arrows zip, horses hoofs galloping, great directional sound and crystal clear dialogue, music and overall sound effects.

Subtitles are in English, SDH, French and Spanish


“The Lone Ranger” comes with the following special features:

  • Armie’s Western Road Trip – (14:37) Actor Armie Hammer talks about the road trip and the enjoyment he had traveling to locations for “The Lone Ranger”.
  • Becoming a Cowboy – (8:03) Executive Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and the cast discuss the boot camp that actors had to take in order to prepare for the film.
  • Riding the Rails of the Lone Ranger – (10:39) A featurette of re-creating the building of the rail road and making it authentic by creating five miles of real railroad track for the film.
  • Deleted Scene Locust Storm/Great Warriors Must Adapt – (3:49) Deleted scenes in computer generated format.
  • Bloopers – (3:51) Outtakes for “The Lone Ranger”.


“The Lone Ranger” comes with a Blu-ray, DVD and Disney digital copy code for the film. Also, a slipcover is included.

I was fortunate to have grown up during a time where “The Lone Ranger” was on television and having a grandfather who was very passionate about westerns.

The Lone Ranger was an iconic hero and while many films tend to showcase Indians as savages, “The Lone Ranger” would feature a white man working alongside with an Indian.

“The Lone Ranger” was a man who fought for justice but against corruption, even from those who appeared they were from the side of justice or the wealthy who were corrupt.

The TV series was entertaining and like many other westerns on television, the characters were dedicated to their cause, men who wanted to protect and for the most part, characters that inspired you.

And like many children, I would go to the local store, wear cowboy boots, have guns and a cowboy hat and wanted to be like the Lone Ranger.

The 2013 film was not that inspirational, nor was it “The Lone Ranger” that my generation and other generations grew up with.

This film was more of an action comedy,  and the last time I watched a film that was an action comedy set in the west was the “Shanghai Noon” films nearly a decade ago.

And the total opposite storyline of two men who have nothing in common, trying to stop criminals has been done in “Shanghai Noon” and part of me wanted to enjoy this film for The Lone Ranger, not to see him as some type of whiny man.  For the majority of the film, you find yourself wanting to see more of Tonto than the Lone Ranger.

Johnny Depp’s Tonto is heroic and also hilarious and it’s probably the best part of the film is watching him in every scene.  Mainly because by the time we see any semblance to the original “The Lone Ranger” is two hours into the film.

But if the goal of Gore Verbinski was to take the hero  to a new direction for a new generation not familiar with original Lone Ranger and wanted to make a straight-up popcorn action film, then he succeeded.

The film is full of action and a lot of humor that will no doubt attract people who love Gore Verbinski’s work and wanting to see Johnny Depp in another action film.

But for the many who grew up with the Lone Ranger, any remake that is different from the original may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of people.

And for me, the film was too comical and perhaps I would have loved to see a more serious, perhaps darker version of the outlaw of justice.  But as a comedy, there were scenes that made me laugh, but are you supposed to be laughing?

And so far, both “The Lone Ranger” and even its spin-off “The Green Hornet” were given comedy/action film adaptations and it just doesn’t feel right.  Personally, for me anyway.

While “The Lone Ranger” was not a terrible film, it was a film that I was highly anticipating but it was far different than the Lone Ranger than what I was expecting and I was a bit disappointed.

As for the Blu-ray release, “The Lone Ranger” offers fantastic picture quality and an awesome, immersive lossless soundtrack.  Also, a few special features are included.  But for those who enjoyed the film or are much more open to it, will no doubt enjoy this Blu-ray release for its awesome PQ and AQ.

Overall, if you have never ever heard or watched “The Lone Ranger”, then this popcorn comedy/action film may entertain you.  Otherwise, if you did grow up with the original, just be prepared to watch something that is different from “The Lone Ranger” that you grew up with.

West of Memphis (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


“West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Fearless Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: West of Memphis


DURATION: 147 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Language)

Release Date: August 6, 2013

Directed by Amy Berg

Written by Amy Berg and Billy McMillin

Produced by Amy Berg, Lorri Davis, Damien Wayne Echols, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh

Co-Producer: Matthew Dravitzki

Line Producer: Tina Elmo, Dan Kaplow

Associate Producer: Katelyn Howes, Alejandra Riguero

Executive Producer: Ken Kamins

Music by Nick Cave, Warren Ellis

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti, Ronan Killeen

Edited by Billy McMillin


Michael Baden

Jason Baldwin

Holly Ballard

Jamie Clark Ballard

Jennifer Bearden

Patrick Benca

Steve Braga

Karen Bruewer

David Burnett

Mark Byers

Michael Carson

Dennis Carter

Joyce Cureton

Lorri Davis

Vincent Di Maio

Julie Ann Doan

Stephanie Dollar

John Douglas

Jerry Driver

From Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (2006, Best Documentary Feature, Deliver Us From Evil) in collaboration with the multiple Academy Award®-winning team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (2003, Best Picture & Best Adapted Screenplay, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), WEST OF MEMPHIS tells the untold story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man. Told and produced by those who lived it, Damien Echols and Lorri Davis, the film uncovers new evidence surrounding the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, and exposes the wrongful conviction of three teenagers who lost 18 years of their lives imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.


In 1993, three young boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas.  With “evidence” collected by law enforcement, the detectives assumed that the marks on the bodies of the children were due to satanic rituals and when it came to those practicing it, it led to three teenagers being arrested.

Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelly, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It was supposed to be an open and shut case, until Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky created a documentary titled “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996.

As the film was shot primarily to document the arrests of the three teenagers, interview the parents of the victims, the parents of the accused and the West Memphis Police Department, the documentary would show how the community reacted to the murders.  But most importantly, how the star witness, Jessie Misskelly, Jr., a teenager who was mentally disabled was coerced by the police department.

Two more documentary sequels were made but the second film “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” would show that further evidence was missed and suppressed and that the teenagers were wrongfully convicted and the real murderer(s) are still out there.

Since the three documentaries, many people including celebrities have been blunt about the wrongful conviction of these three teenagers and have wanted to see justice by having the three freed from prison.

Due to new DNA evidence, the West Memphis Three reached a deal with prosecutors in 2011 in which they entered Alford pleas which allows them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them.  Judge David Laser accepted each of the three individuals pleas and sentenced them to time served and each have served 18 years and 78 days in prison.

Wanting to pursue the case, Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”) and Billy McMillin worked on their own documentary following up with what Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was able to document but with the financial support from filmmaker Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) and Fran Walsh (who wrote the screenplays to the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) to produce the film.

Featured in the film are Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, both Damien and Lorri met while he began his prison sentence and Lorri would communicate with him via mail.  Knowing that Damien was innocent, she began doing her own research and trying to find a way to get him freed from prison.

The film begins with the introduction to the parents of the victims, discussing their last memory of their child.  With archived news footage and interviews with law enforcement, the discussion of how the bodies were found and the interrogation techniques of the West Memphis Police Department becomes scrutinized as they are seen to put words in the mouth of one of the alleged assailants, the mentally disabled, Jessie Misskelly, Jr.

But as the investigation hinged on one of the “experts” of satanic rituals who reportedly learned his techniques from one of the well-known forensic experts in the country, the expert is interviewed and tears apart the investigators believe that the mutilation of the victims were satanic but because the bodies were dumped in the river, where tortoises known to feast on anything living, especially loose flesh, the marks on the victims were animal not by satanic ritual.

Because of the evidence that three teens were wrongfully incarcerated, celebrities such as Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder and others came to support the Memphis Three, especially towards Damien Echols (which the film focuses primarily on) and help raise money not for their release but for the three to have money to live on.

What is known that the children were beaten, bound by shoelaces and thrown in a ditch and one hair was found within the shoelace bindings.  The hair “not inconsistent with” Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch.

The storyline then starts to show what kind of man Terry Hobbs is.  From family who discuss how Stevie was abused by his stepfather and according to Stevie’s mother, hours before he died, he discussed wanting his mother to leave Terry Hobbs.

We start to learn about Hobbs past troubles and despite the mounting reports of troubles in regards to Hobbs behavior, Hobbs is a person who does not remember much of his past and insists he didn’t commit any crimes.  Meanwhile, filing a lawsuit he filed against Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines.

The third arc would feature the Memphis three and how the legal team worked hard to get the three released from prison.  The three were released from prison as part of an Alford plea deal but because of the Alford Deal, they are still listed as criminals and any misconduct can lead them back to prison.  The film focuses on the relationship between Damien Echols and Lorri Davis and together, fighting for his innocence.

“West of Memphis” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012 and the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012.  On August 2012, “West of Memphis” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.



“West of Memphis” is presented in 1080p High Definition  (1:78:1).  It’s important to note that this is a documentary that features various archive news sources from the last 18 years.  While the more modern footage looks great on Blu-ray, one should expect to see the archived sources to range in different quality.

Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at:
Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at:


“West of Memphis” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Dialogue is crystal clear, certain sound effects are employed for good dynamic range. But for the most part, dialogue from recent interviews and even the older archived footage is understandable and good.  This is not a documentary one should expect to hear their surround channels to be utilized but the dialogue and sound effects are clear and didn’t notice any problems with audio whatsoever.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.


“West of Memphis” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with director Amy Berg, Damien Echols and Lorri Davisl.
  • Deleted Scenes – (1:27:43) Featuring seven deleted scenes.
  • Toronto International Film Festival Red Carpet & QA – (23:14) Director Amy Berg, producer Lorri Davis, producer Damien Echols,  Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines at TIFF and discussing the documentary.  Peter Jackson’s intro of how he got involved with the documentary and more.
  • Toronto Film Festival Press Conference – (38:49) The press conference for “West of Memphis” featuring Peter Jackson (on Skype), director Amy Berg, Producer Lorri Davis and Damien Echols and Johnny Depp.
  • Damien’s Past (Re-Creations) – (6:02) Archived footage from Damien’s past
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:04) Theatrical trailer for “West of Memphis”


“West of Memphis” is a compelling documentary that will leave you speechless but also in anger knowing that the murderers of three innocent young boys has not been caught.

Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” is not only well-researched but the amount of archived resources, interviews and how the film is paced, you can’t help but be shocked at one of America’s most f’d up wrongful convictions I have ever seen or heard of.

From the handling of evidence, the coercion of a mentally disabled young man in order to get a conviction against him and his two friends to terrible misinterpretation of a crime scene that not only was used to get a conviction.  And this is where the efficacy of Amy Berg’s research comes to play.

Whenever testimony of an “expert” was shown, we see notable experts come in and just tear apart the testimony of the prosecution.

And it was said many times that when you can spread fear, people are blinded by the fear and can be unaware of the facts.

This was the situation of the “Memphis Three”, teenagers who were seen as outsiders, dark and listened to music that most people the in the conservative town were not listening to.  If anyone was seen as an outsider by the way they look or their beliefs, does it make them guilty?

That is where a town turned against these teenagers because they were practicing “satanic rituals” and with corroboration with other students of what these outsiders told them, these words became truth and it would mount “evidence” that these teenagers were evil and murdered three teenagers.

What is sad is the film shows how small town authorities may not be trained sufficiently to handle homicides, specifically during that time. Contaminated evidence, suppression of evidence.  One of the most damning eyewitness accounts was a young woman who saw the young boys before they were killed and saw one of their fathers near them.

Yet, the authorities didn’t even bother interviewing these eyewitnesses.  There vision was narrowed on these outsiders, teens who practiced satanic rituals.  Especially, when there is possibly another murderer out there, as the documentary shows, may be closer to these children than one would realize.

The documentary is also notable for creating awareness for these men who were released in 2011 under the Alford plea deal.  And what is unfortunate is that these men are still branded as criminals who served time and were released.  And if they get in trouble again, back to prison they go.  Many want to see these three young men pardoned, many want the case to be reopened so the real killer(s) can be caught.

As of 2013, since this movie was released, a bombshell was revealed in an affidavit by one of the mothers of a boy killed in the “West Memphis Three” case.  And this latest affidavit will no doubt anger one who has watched this documentary and just wants to see justice finally take its place.

I understand there are people who feel the three young men are still guilty but with the new evidence and more and more coming out about certain individuals, who may be involved in the children’s murder, one can’t help but want to see justice for these children.

As I think about this film, how much I was angered by it but also glad to see the men freed and now be able to live their lives, you also can’t help but be grateful to Amy Berg and Billy McMillin on taking on this powerful documentary.  Also, to be grateful for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to help produce this film.  But also the other celebrities who have helped build awareness for the case and the current situation for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly, Jr.

The unfortunate situation about what we saw happen in “West of Memphis” and the topic of wrongful convictions, unfortunately even with new technology today, many cases of wrongful convictions still continue in our country and around the world.  Many people in law enforcement, especially in smaller towns who may not be trained to handle certain homicides, evidence or even interrogations.  People who are quick to judge and condemn individuals without the facts.  It’s an unfortunate part of society and “West of Memphis” is a small example of injustice in judicial history, but unlike the “Memphis Three” who have had celebrities and films to build their awareness to their case, there are many people who don’t have that luxury and betting their lives that their sentences can be appealed.

While I’m not an erudite to all that happened in this case, “West of Memphis” does build  upon interviews with well-known people in the field to know what went wrong in this case.  The research that went into this film and the people that Berg and McMillin were able to get for interviews was a strong point to this film, especially with the number of archived footage since 1993.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is good for the modern footage but as one can expect from a documentary with archived material, picture quality will differ.  Dialogue is clear and understandable and there are a good number of special features included.

Overall, “West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught.

Highly recommended!

Johnny Depp appears in Ricky Gervais’ “Life’s Too Short”

October 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Probably something that we never saw coming… Especially how Ricky Gervais dissed Johnny Depp (and Angelina Jolie) for their film “The Tourist”.

For those who don’t remember, when Gervais was the host and doing his monologue, he said, “It seems like everything this year was three dimensional – except the characters in The Tourist”. And when the camera panned on Depp, let’s just say, he wasn’t looking too thrilled.

But of course, Depp is known to take those jokes in stride and in Gervais’ upcoming show “Life’s Too Short”, Depp confronts Gervais’ on what took place at the Golden Globes.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – 2-Disc Combo Pack (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” continues the fun adventures of Jack Sparrow and as expected, wonderful visuals, plenty of action and beautiful cinematography and music.  But for those wanting to purchase this film on Blu-ray, it’s important to note that the majority of the special features are included on the 5-disc version of “On Stranger Tides” as opposed to the 2-Disc version. 

Images courtesy of © 2011 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – 2-Disc Combo Pack


DURATION: 136 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English, French and Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD HR, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

COMPANY: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (Some Intense Sequences of Action/Adventure Violence, Some Frightening Images, Sensuality and Innuendo)

Release Date: October 11, 2011

Directed by Rob Marshall

Screenplay by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Characters by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer

Executive Producer: John DeLuca, Ted Elliott, Chad Oman, Melissa Reid, Terry Rossio, Pat Sandston, Mike Stenson, Barry H. Waldman

Music by Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by Dariusz Wolski

Edited by David Brenner, Michael Kahn, Wyatt Smith

Casting by Lucy Bevan, Kathy Driscoll, Francine Maisler

Production Design by John Myre

Art Direction by Drew Boughton, John Chichester, Robert Cowper, Zack Grobler, Tomas Voth

Set Decoration by Gordon Sim

Costume Design by Penny Rose


Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

Penelope Cruz as Angelica Teach

Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa

Ian McShane as Blackbeard

Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs

Sam Claflin as Philip

Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Svrena

Stephen Graham as Scrum

Keith Richards as Captain Teague

Richard Griffiths as ing George

Greg Ellis as Groves

Damian O’Hare as Gillette

From Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer comes all the fun, epic adventure and humor that ignited the original. Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. A tale of truth, betrayal, youth, demise — and mermaids! When Jack crosses paths with a woman from his past (Penélope Cruz), he’s not sure if it’s love or if she’s a ruthless con artist using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. Forced aboard the ship of the most feared pirate ever, Jack doesn’t know who to fear more —Blackbeard (Ian McShane) or the woman from his past. Directed by Rob Marshall, it’s filled with eye-popping battle scenes, mystery and all-out wit.

If there is one thing that is consistent with “Pirates of the Caribbean”, you know that this film will make a ton of money in the box office.

And while many thought that the “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” was finished with the third film in the trilogy, “At World’s End” would be the last we would see of Jack Sparrow.  But the truth is, that no matter how film critics have shown their declining interest in the film, the audience have not.

And with the release of the fourth film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, once again, the audience have shown their love for this film as it became the 8th highest grossing film of all time (worldwide), the third highest grossing film of 2011 and following “Dead Man’s Chest” and “Toy Story 3”, the third highest grossing film for Disney.  The film  which cost anywhere between $150-$250 million to make, earned over $1 billion in the box office.

And now “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” makes its debut on Blu-ray and DVD for the very first time in Oct. 2011 courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

The fourth installment, “On Stranger Tides” begins with a man being found in the sea  by the Spanish who knows about the “Fountain of Youth”.  Immediately, the Spanish make their trip to locate the “Fountain of Youth”, while the British have arrested Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) and brings the pirate before King George II (played by Richard Griffiths). There are rumors that Jack Sparrow is recruiting men to search for the Fountain of Youth, but it appears it is someone else who is using his name that is recruiting people, not the real Jack Sparrow.

King George wants Jack Sparrow to help the British find the Fountain of Youth but heading the expedition is Jack’s nemesis, Captain Hector Barbosa (played by Geoffrey Rush, who was the antagonist of the first film, “The Curse of the Black Pearl”).  Barbosa is now a privateer working for the British Navy after losing his leg and his ship, the Black Pearl (which Jack lost in the last film “At World’s End”).

But Jack refuses to work under Barbosa and escapes from British custody.  While he is chased around by the British, he is saved by his father Captain Teague (played by Keith Richards) who warns Jack and tells him about the tests that are needed in order for the Fountain of Youth to work.

Meanwhile, Jack encounter the person responsible for impersonating him, it’s his old girlfriend Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz) who happens to be the daughter of the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane), a legendary pirate known for his supernatural powers and to sue voodoo magic.

Angelica meanwhile has captured Jack and he is stuck on Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge and Blackbeard expects Jack Sparrow to use his knowledge and help them find the two silver chalices (which once belonged to Juan Ponce de Leon) that are needed to activate the Fountain of Youth, but also needed is a tear from a living mermaid.  How it works is that one must be a sacrifice and drink one chalice, while that person’s life is transferred to the drinker of the mermaid’s tear, extending their life.

So, now it’s a race against time as the Spanish, Blackbeard along with Jack Sparrow and the British under Captain Barbosa try to get their hands on the chalices to activate the fountain of youth.  Who will succeed?


“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1).  And as one can expect from Disney, the picture quality is fantastic.  The majority of the film is shot outdoors, at sea or during day or night and for the most part, detail is high, skin tones are natural and blacks are deep and inky.

And once again, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski should receive credit for his spectacular cinematography, from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films to “Alice in Wonderland”, Wolski is an expert in shooting in the darkest of scenes, underwater, in smoke and chaotic sequences and there is no artifacts, banding or any problematic situations in the picture quality at all.

Overall, “On Stranger Tides” is a fantastic looking film and looks absolutely wonderful on Blu-ray!


What best than to present this film with a lossless English, French and Spanish 7.1 DTS-HD HR presentation.  The surround channels are heavily used in Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score to the swordfights, the sound of boots walking on the deck, the sound of blasts, the growl of the mermaids and scenery ambiance, and throughout all this immersive sound, dialogue is crystal clear and understandable.

The LFE for the film is wonderful and like the wonderful picture quality of the film, the lossless audio soundtrack is also fantastic!

Subtitles are presented in English SDH, French and Spanish.


“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” comes with the following special features:

  • Disney Second Screen – Viewers can watch the film simultaneously through their iPad or computer.
  • Disney Second Screen Bloopers of the Caribbean – (3:25) Outtakes rom the making of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca discuss the cast members, the making of the film and its challenges during production and more.
  • LEGO Animated Shorts: Captain Jack’s Brick Tales – (5:19) Featuring five Lego animated shorts for “Captain Jack’s Brick Tales”.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” comes with a slip cover case. The Blu-ray release comes with the DVD presented in widescreen 2:40:1 – Enhanced for 16×9 televisions, English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital and subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

When it comes to popcorn action films “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” manages to incorporate the fun, swashbuckling action of Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp does a wonderful job of playing Jack Sparrow.  But one’s enjoyment is subjective, especially whether or not you have felt that your passion for the film series is starting to wane a bit.

After the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, I have to say that “At World’s End” left me feeling bitter because it was not a great film to end the trilogy.  But because these films make a tremendous amount of money, there is no way that we are going to see an end to this film series.  In fact, a fifth film is being planned and Johnny Depp is returning, so as long as the audience continues to come out to see the films, I don’t see why Disney should stop.  People still love “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

Personally, I enjoyed the film but unlike previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, it felt a bit light when it came to Jack Sparrow because there is so much emphasis on other characters.  In fact, I found myself enjoying scenes with the Christian Philip  (played by Sam Claflin)and the mermaid Syrena (played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey), which for me was the replacement characters for Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters for the previous films).  But unfortunately, where Turner and Swann had staying power for three films, not sure if we are going to see Philip or Syrena ever again.

While “On Stranger Tides” continues to be a fun, adventurous popcorn action film, I did enjoy seeing Penelope Cruz playing the character of Angelica Teach, a compassionate/cutthroat ex-lover of Jack Sparrow and Ian McShane as the legendary dark pirate Blackbeard was quite fun to watch as well.  And seeing Barbosa, it was no surprise to see his return to the film as well.

But “On Stranger Tides” tries to showcase many other characters as well and truth be told, aside from Gibbs who has a place in the PotC films, everyone else didn’t.  For example, in the first film, there was a sympathetic feeling towards Sparrow and his crew, but this time around, you really had no sympathy for anyone’s crew.  If anything, you just wondered when will Jack Sparrow be back on his ship instead of being Indiana Jones/Blackbeard’s grunt.  This is one side of Jack Sparrow that we have not seen in previous films and I’m not sure if I like him in such a non-commanding role.

But however one feels about “On Stranger Tides”, similar to films like “Transformers”, these are popcorn action films that people come to see and have a good time, not for anything deep or mind-blowing.  You get action and a ton of special effects and in that sense, “On Stranger Tides” does not disappoint.

But when it comes to this Blu-ray release, one thing that does disappoint is the fact that we are getting far less than the five disc version when it comes to special features.  Picture and lossless audio is fantastic but I was surprised to see only three special features including the audio commentary included with this release.  But it appears that Disney really is pushing for the 3D 5-disc version which has nine special features over its 2-disc counterpart which has only three minus the second screen.

Overall, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a fun film and from the crew fight on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack Sparrow’s escape from British custody to the encounter with the mermaids, there are many fun action scenes in this film.  But in terms of story, I still prefer the first original film, but there is no doubt that the visuals and overall production design is much improved in this latest film.

If you are a fan of the series and own the trilogy on Blu-ray, or you are just a big fan of the film or its talent, you’re definitely going to want this film in your collection.   But if you are wanting the best version of this film released on Blu-ray, you may want to look into the 5-disc version over this 2-disc combo pack as Disney chose to include most of the bonus features on the 5-disc release.

Platoon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Platoon” is one of the best war films ever made.  Based on writer/director Oliver Stone’s own Vietnam War experience and wanting to capture the authenticity of what he saw and experienced, “Platoon” will always be Stone’s masterpiece.  If you enjoyed the film, it is highly recommended on Blu-ray!

Images courtesy of © 1986 Orion Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Platoon


DURATION: 120 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Surround, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French


COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc./Twentieth Century Fox

RELEASE DATE: May 24 2011

Written and Directed by Oliver Stone

Produced by Arnold Kopelson

Executive Producer: John Daly, Derek Gibson

Co-Producer: A. Kitman Ho

Music by Georges Delerue

Cinematography by Robert Richardson

Edited by Claire Simpson

Casting by Pat Golden, Warren McLean, Bob Morones

Production Design by Bruno Rubeo

Art Direction by Rodell Cruz, Sherman Williams


Charlie Sheen as Chris

Tom Berenger as Sgt. Barnes

Willem Dafoe as Sgt. Elias

Keith David as King

Forest Whitaker as Big Harold

Francesco Quinn as Rhah

Kevin Dillon as Bunny

John C. McGinley as Sgt. O’Neill

Reggie Johnson as Junior

Mark Moses as Lt. Wolfe

Corey Glover as Francis

Johnny Depp as Lerner

Chris Pedersen as Crawford

Bob Orwig as Gardner

Corkey Ford as Manny

David Neidorf as Tex

Richard Edson as Sal

Tony Todd as Warren

Kevin Eshelman as Morehouse

Terry Mclivain as Ace

J. Adam Glover as Sanderson

Paul Sanchez as Doc

Dale Dye as Captain Harris

Peter Hicks as Parker

Basile Achara as Flash

PLATOON tells the extraordinary journey of Private Chris Taylor (Sheen), a young, naive American who arrives in Vietnam and quickly discovers he must battle the Viet Cong alongside the gnawing fear, physical exhaustion and intense anger growing within him. His two commanding officers (Oscar-nominated Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe) draw a fine line between the war they wage against the enemy and the one they fight with each other. Meanwhile, the conflict, chaos and hatred permeate Taylor, suffocating his realities and numbing his feelings to man’s highest value: life.

For screenwriter and filmmaker, Oliver Stone, there is always a film that sparks intrigue among critics and audiences.

As a writer, Stone has had success with “Midnight Express” (1978), “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) and “Scarface” (1983) but as a filmmaker, Stone had not had a hit.  In fact his film “Salvador” was a failure in 1986 and dejected with the failure of the film, he would have to work on “Platoon”, a Vietnam war film that had challenges, especially because of its low budget of $6.5 million.

But as an infantryman in Vietnam, Stone had wanted to create a film based on his experience but to counter John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” film from 1968 (which was created to counter the anti-war atmosphere and social discontent in the U.S.).

And because the film showcased the atrocities, the discontent with the soldiers and the confusion of what took place in the battlefield, it was well-received by film critics and audiences.

The low budget film would be a box office success earning over $138 million and would be nominated for eight Academy Awards and take home four Oscars for “Best Director”, “Best Film Editing”, “Best Picture” and “Best Sound”.  In 2007, the film would be placed at #83 by the American Film Institute for “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies” poll.

And now “Platoon” will reach its 25th year and to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the film, Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing a special 2-Disc Set on Blu-ray.

“Platoon” is a film that focuses on Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen), a young college student who quit school to volunteer and fight in the war in 1967.  But once he arrives to Vietnam, he starts to realize that it was a big mistake.

Upon arriving, dead bodies of Americans in body bags are lying on the ground and now being loaded into the plane he just arrived in.  As a member of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment near the Cambodian border, the conditions are harsher than he had imagined.

The veteran soldiers look at him as weak, he is constantly being bitten by red ants and not exactly handling being in the jungle all that well. While making friends with various soldiers, he begins to respect Sergeant Elias (played by Willem Dafoe), a man who cares about his soldiers unlike Sergeant Barnes (played by Tom Berenger), who is more like a bully and is often at odds against Elias.

But with each day, he notices soldiers counting the days when they can go back home.  For Chris, with regrets of being in Vietnam, each day he is constantly writing to his family of how much he hates being there and also begins the countdown to when he will go back because each day in the jungle, chances of being killed continue to rise.

In fact, friends he would make are killed and he begins to realize that for many of these soldiers who don’t want to be in Vietnam, the atrocities he sees from war, the killing and rape of innocent Vietnamese in villages start to weight down on him and he starts to find himself losing it.

And to make things worse, he starts to suspect a superior of killing the one true friend he had on the battlefield.

As the platoon continues to go back to the ambush areas, what will happen to the soldiers that are left and will Chris survive at all?


“Platoon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (Widescreen 1:85:1).  At first, because of the older titles, I was thinking that this film was going to look aged, especially since this was a low budget film that was shot in the ’80s and I tend to be critical on the PQ of many ’80s films released on Blu.

As for “Platoon”, I was quite impressed by the look of the film and how clean the print was.  Granted, it’s not going to come close to anything released in the last five years but for a 25-year-old film, “Platoon” looks very good on Blu-ray.  The amount of detail and clarity especially the vibrant colors featured in the film were quite noticeable this time around watching it in HD versus on DVD.   You can see the grime, sweat, blood and just overall detail of the jungle.   Also, the blacks are nice and deep and there is a good amount of grain.

Robert Richardson (“Shutter Island”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “Kill Bill” films)  did a fantastic job with the cinematography, from vignettes during sundown to capturing the fears of the soldiers eyes.   Overall, PQ for “Platoon” is very good!


“Platoon” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 4.0 Dolby Surround, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 DTS.  There is no doubt that Georges Delerue’s (“The Man for All Seasons”, “Twins”, “The Day of the Jackal”) music is one of the most memorable themes in a movie.   The music for “Platoon” captures ’60s music but also a score that I have always look forward to listening to each time I watch the film.

But with this lossless soundtrack, it is known that Oliver Stone really pushed the buttons for sound and would easily frustrate the sound crew because he wanted authenticity down to the insects and lizards (especially a gecko).  But while ambiance for the film is rather strong, whenever you get to scenes of an ambush, where there is firing both ways especially during the final half hour of the film, there is really good panning of the audio but unfortunately, it’s not as much as I would have liked.

For the most part, dialogue is clear as with the sounds of ammunition being discharged and sounds of people running into the plants and so forth.  Don’t expect too much though as it’s not the most immersive soundtrack that utilizes the surround channels or LFE but still, it’s a major upgrade compared to the original DVD release.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.


“Platoon” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Stone – Director Oliver Stone talks about his own Vietnam War experiences, how Chris Taylor was loosely based on his experiences and more.
  • Audio Commentary by Military Advisor Dale Dye – For this commentary, retired US Marine Capt. Dale Dye gives is in-depth information of the conflict in Vietnam and really impressive details of the war.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Olive Stone – (11:31) A total of eleven scenes with Oliver Stone explaining why he cut them, why he regrets cutting some of them and some he just found really lame.
  • Flashback to Platoon: Snapshot in Time: 1967-1968 – (19:15) Interviews with Oliver Stone and other veterans and historians about the Vietnam War and how America lost the war.
  • Creating the Nam – (12:04) A featurette on how Oliver Stone wanted authenticity and the pains that it took to create that authenticity in the Philippines, especially with a low budget and how much stress it put on the cast and crew.
  • Raw Wounds: The Legacy of Platoon – (17:19) A featurette on how successful the film was and how veterans reacted to the film.
  • One War, Many Stories Documentary – (25:32) Oliver Stone and Vietnam War veterans talk about their experiences and how it was similar or different from what was shown in “Platoon”.
  • Preparing for ‘Nam – (6:36) A featurette about those who signed up for the military and went to boot camp before the Vietnam War.
  • Caputo & The 7th Fleet Vignette – (1:38) Phillip Caputo talks about leaving Saigon in a helicopter and many anti-aircraft were being shot at them.
  • Dye Training Method Vignette – (3:23) Captain Dale dye talks about training the actors to be a soldier in the film.
  • Gordon Gekko Vignette – (1:06) A story from the editor of how the name Gordon Gekko came up.
  • TV Spots – Three TV spots (Action, Critical Acclaim and The Director).
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:44) The original theatrical trailer for “Platoon”


“Platoon” comes with 2-Discs, one is the Blu-ray and the other is a DVD version of the film presented in widescreen (1:85:1).  The DVD is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish Dolby Surround and subtitles are in Spanish and French.   Also, the Blu-ray release comes with a slip cover.

I had the opportunity to watch “Platoon” in the theater several times and since its release back in 1986, I have watched this film many times on video and on cable and what I love about the film is that it doesn’t glorify war or patriotism, it was an honest portrayal of war and the fears that took place among the soldiers.

Many of us grew up reading or hearing that the Vietnam War was an unpopular war which we lost politically but yet during the early ’80s, the films that were shown about the Vietnam War were Chuck Norris “Missing in Action” films or Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” and nothing that covered the truths about what happened during the war.

So, two films during the mid-’80s would showcase those fears experienced by soldiers and less about American machismo…”Platoon” (1986) and “Full Metal Jacket” (1987).  Interesting enough, while these two anti-war films would capture the attention of the fears of soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War, “Top Gun” (also from 1986) would inspire many people to join the military.  As films would showcase the fears of World War III as tension between Americans and Russians still existed, suffice to say, films such as “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” were war films that would ask Americans, “What are we fighting for?”.

As mentioned, Stone’s film was a counter to John Wayne’s “The Green Berets” but there was no sugarcoating America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, no focus on heroics but pretty much the feeling that young men were being sent in on a suicide mission. and as constantly mentioned in the film, many wondered why they were sent there and what are they fighting for and all one can answer to those questions… “It’s all politics!”.

Also, it’s important to note that “Platoon” is the first film of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam Trilogy which was followed by “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) and “Heaven & Earth” (1993).

And this leads me to the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of “Platoon”, there are featurettes that really further explain what happened during the Vietnam War and most importantly, why it was unpopular and how we lost.  I’ve read books and tried to understand the war back then and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t grasp it.  Especially having the mindset of the United States being so strong and powerful, how can we lose?

And fortunately, there are featurettes in this film, especially “Flashback to Platoon: Snapshot of Time: 1967-1968” that really explains to the viewer of what happened.  And there are so many other featurettes included in this Blu-ray release that while many may have seen these in previous DVD releases, it’s great to have these special features once again for the Blu-ray release.

And in 2011, while we hear so much about an older Charlie Sheen and his “Tiger’s Blood”, back in 1986, his performance as Chris Taylor, the soldier who is struggling to understand the war and knowing his mistake of volunteering was done very well.  You can sense Taylor’s fear and watch him slowly as he loses it but at the same time, trying to bring a moralistic attitude towards other soldiers when they start wanting to obliterate and destroy everything they see in Vietnam, even if the villagers are innocent.

“Platoon” also has many visual moments (the shot of Sgt. Elias trying to get back to the helicopters is one of my favorite scenes in cinematic history) and one thing I was surprised to see that back during the Vietnam War, there were certain live video feeds that people had the opportunity to see of Americans wounded in battle, bloodied or losing body parts or dead, it made the war real.  You can tell that Oliver Stone wanted to bring that realism to the viewer but to also show how many people were killed.  Many people that you start to care for or root for, you realize that these individuals have no chance.

And those who survive, knowing what we do now, many of the survivors would have a hard time when they arrived back in the U.S.   No hero’s welcome!  For some, it was deep depression, health problems due to Agent Orange or Post-Traumatic Stress and if anything, show us that war sucks!

“Platoon” for me is a classic war film.  A film that tries not to be anything sugarcoated but to really show how moral was for soldiers back then.  Oliver Stone experienced this and he saw others experience this sense of confusion and not knowing if they are going to live or die each day.  They just hope they can make it long enough to get back home.

For me, that was enjoyable and in 2011, what is even more enjoyable is to see the number of talent who starred in this film and made a great career for themselves afterward.  Aside from Oliver Stone who would go on to make “JFK”, “Any Given Sunday”, “Nixon” and “Natural Born Killers”, the film would feature talent such as Keith David (“Death at a Funeral”, “Crash”), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”, “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”), Kevin Dillon (“Entourage”, “The Doors”), John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”, “Se7en”, “The Rock), Johnny Depp (“Edward Scissorhands”, “Sweney Todd”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Tom Berenger (“Inception”, “The Big Chill”, “Training Day”), Willem Dafoe (“Spider-Man”, “The Boondock Saints”, “Antichrist”) and Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men”), “Wall Street”, “Major League”).

So, there are many components to the film that you can’t help but be impressed by.  Well-directed, well-written, well-performed and to think that this film was a low-budget film made for only $6.5 million and would make over $138 million.  It’s a testament to the film’s efficacy and how it struck a chord for many viewers and to this day, many continue to rewatch this film over and over because it’s a wonderful film.

If you are a fan of “Platoon”, owned various video versions of this film or even if you haven’t watched it before, this 25th anniversary Blu-ray release is worth buying, worth owning and worth having in your Blu-ray collection.  Highly recommended!


Benny & Joon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“Benny & Joon” is a romantic comedy that remains honest, fun and enjoyable after all these years.  Johnny Depp’s performance as the Buster Keaton loving Sam is fantastic!  If you have never watched this film before, definitely give this Blu-ray release a chance!

Images courtesy of © 1993 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Benny & Joon


DURATION: 98 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (1:85:1), English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French Dolby Surround

COMPANY: MGM/Twentieth Century Fox

RATED: PG (Theme, a Scene of Mild Sensuality and line use of Harsh Language)

RELEASE DATE: April 5, 2011

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik

Story by Barry Berman and Lesley McNeil

Screenpay by Barry Berman

Produced by Susan Arnold, Donna Roth

Executive Producer: Bill Badalato

Associate Producer: Lesley McNeil

Music by Rachel Portman

Cinematography by John Schwartzman

Edited by Carol Littleton

Casting by Risa Bramon Garcia, Heidi Levitt

Production Design by Neil Spisak

Art Direction by Pat Tagliaferro

Set Decoration by Barbara Munch

Costume Design by Aggie Guerard Rodgers


Johnny Depp as Sam

Mary Stuart Masterson as Juniper “Joon” Pearl

Aidan Quinn as Benjamin “Benny” Pearl

Julianne Moore as Ruthie

Oliver Platt as Eric

CCH Pounder as Dr. Garvey

Dan Hedaya as Thomas

Joe Grifasi as mike

William H. Macy as Randy Burch

Liane Curtis as Claudia

Oscar Nominee Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson (TV’s Law & Order SVU) and Aidan Quinn (Practical Magic) star in this hilarious, quirk comedy.  Wildly eccentric Joon (Masterson) can be very charming – especially when she takes her medicine.  Long under the thumb of her overprotective  brother, Benny (Quinn), Joon craves her independence.  During an unusual poker game, Joon loses her hand – but wins Sam (Depp), a whimsical misfit who soon charms his way into her heart.  Now if they can only find a romantic interest for her brother, love just might stand a chance in the charming, delightful film that also features Oliver Platt (“Frost/Nixon”) and Academy Award Nominee Julianne Moore.

In 1993, the romantic comedy “Benny & Joon” became a hit for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  The film would showcase the physical comedy of Johnny Depp (fresh from his hit film “Edward Scissorhands”) and its theme song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles” by the Proclaimers.

And while there was a little backstage drama behind-the-scenes as Winona Ryder who just broke up with Depp was supposed to play “Joon” and Woody Harrelson was to play the role of “Benny”. The roles were re-cast and Aidan Quinn would be playing “Benny” and Mary Stuart Masterson as “Joon”.

The film would also feature talent who would eventually become popular stars years later with William H. Macy as Randy, Oliver Platt as Eric and Julianne Moore as Ruthie.

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik (“Burn Notice”, “Gossip Girl”, “The Avengers”, “Chuck”) and a screenplay by Barry Berman (“Waterproof”, “The Adventures of Pinocchio”), “Benny & Joon” would earn $23 million and also earn Johnny Depp a Golden Globe Award nomination.

“Benny & Joon” revolves around a mechanic named Benjamin “Benny” Pearl (played by Aidan Quinn) who takes care of his mentally ill sister, Juniper “Joon” Pearl (played by Mary Stuart Masterson).

Joon is an intelligent young woman, an avid painter but unfortunately has problems handling her anger and also is used to a certain rhythm of daily routines.  While Benny is busy at his auto shop and managing his workers, he has been dealing with various housekeepers who seem to quit their job as they are unable to deal with Joon’s outbursts.

Her doctor, Dr. Garvey (played by CCH Pounder) recommends that Benny put Joon in a group home because no housekeeper is willing to work there at his home and he is unable to manage her.  And Benny doesn’t want to because he is all she has.  We see a flashback of Benny and Joon when they were younger and they witnessed their parents being killed in a car accident and he has made sure that he has given his life and even his happiness to take care of his sister.  But one day, her anger is taken out on Benny that he realizes, maybe the doctor is right, he can’t take care of her.

In fact, even his good friend Eric (played by Oliver Platt) sees how Benny has turned down women for dates because he’s stuck caring for sister and tries to convince him to put Joon in a group home.  But Benny is not sure what he wants to do.

One night, as Benny & Joon visit a few friends for a night of gambling, his friend Mike (played by Joe Grifasi) has told him about a friend’s nephew who has moved in with him and he can’t stand him. The nephew is named Sam, a cinemaphile who is a big Buster Keaton fan (to the point that he dresses like the silent film actor and behaves like him) and we also learn that he is illiterate and is trying to learn how to read and write.

During another night of gambling, Joon wants to play and bet against Mike (without Benny being there) and Joon bets for whoever wins will paint her house and Mike bets that if he wins, she must take in his roommate Sam (played by Johnny Depp), that he can’t stand.  Sure enough, Mike wins and now Benny & Joon must take in Sam.

Eventually Sam and Joon start to know each other.  Despite an outburst from Joon one day, after Sam tries to clean the whole kitchen, he comes back by giving her a jack-in-a-box.  Eventually, this surprises Joon as this guy is not bothered by her and if anything, he sees her as normal.  She helps Sam with his writing and Sam cooks ham and cheese sandwiches for the family (via a clothes iron) and as odd as he may be, Benny can see how happy Joon is.

And needless to say, both Sam and Joon want to make Benny happy, so the two hook Benny and a woman named Ruthie (played by Julianne Moore) together.  Ruthie is currently a waitress and apartment manager but also was a former actress that is recognized by Sam and the two become friends as Sam has recognized every dialogue from a slasher film she appeared in.

And while Benny and Susie become attracted to each other, Benny has a hard time dealing with his emotions as he doesn’t know how to get close to her because of his duties of caring for Joon. Meanwhile, Sam & Joon are becoming closer and closer and eventually they fall in love.

Now that Joon has found happiness, will Benny end her happiness by putting her in a group home?


“Benny & Joon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1).  As part of the catalog titles that are being released by MGM/20th Century Fox, I can say that this film does look better than its DVD counterpart but at the same time, does feature dust and speckles from time to time.  For the most part, the film does look very good.  The outdoor scenes are vibrant, the darker outdoor scenes or vignette type scenes have really good inky blacks.

And while colors are vibrant and there is good contrast for this film on Blu-ray, I do believe a lot of these catalog titles which include “Benny & Joon” are most likely sourced from an old HD master which was originally used for the DVD release.  But it does look better than its DVD counterpart and that is a plus.


“Benny & Joon” is presented in English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Dolby Surround.    Dialogue is clear and understandable and the music, including the Proclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” comes clear through the front channels.  But it’s a decent lossless soundtrack that is appropriate for this film.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.


“Benny & Joon” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio CommentaryFeaturing audio commentary by director Jeremiah Chechik.  Chechik talks about the timelessness of the film and not so much of the technical parts of the film.  We learn how the photo of a young Aidan Quinn and Masterson was created, how the film was shot on location and more.
  • Deleted Scenes(5:12) Featuring two deleted scenes: audition and mutilator.
  • Costume, Make-Up Test and Stunt Reel – (18:45)Featuring various costume and make-up tests with the talent and a commentary track.
  • Music Video – (3:40) Featuring the music video “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:01) Featuring the original theatrical trailer to “Benny & Joon”.

It has been nearly 20-years since I have watched “Benny & Joon”, a romantic comedy that was pretty cool for it’s time because it didn’t have the typical displays of banality of a romantic comedy.  And the fact that you have a female character who is mentally ill and a young man who probably lived his life watching movies and literally transformed himself to be a hybrid Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin type of actor.  And then you throw in the older brother who has not been able to live his life because he had to care for his younger sister.

“Benny & Joon” was a film that felt natural and when I first watched it, I found it intriguing, enjoyable and hilarious.  I also credit the film for introducing me Buster Keaton and eventually making me become a silent film fan at a younger age.  But “Benny & Joon” is a film that is timeless.  Nearly 20-years-later and sure, the talents are much older but the film doesn’t look like it has aged.  The storyline remains fun, relevant, enjoyable and I have not grown tired of it yet.

I felt that the younger Johnny Depp showed an amazing brilliance of what kind of actor he would later become in this film.  The physical comedy and capturing that Keaton/Chaplin-esque style was fantastic and the same can be said with the brother and sister chemistry between Aidan Quinn and Mary Stuart Masterson.

As for the Blu-ray release, there is nothing new added to this Blu-ray release and as mentioned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the HD master was what was prepped for the DVD release.  Fortunately, PQ is good and I didn’t find any artifacting and for the most part, if you loved the film on DVD, it’s worth upgrading to Blu-ray.

Overall, “Benny & Joon” is a romantic comedy that remains honest, fun and enjoyable after all these years.

While I enjoyed the film a lot back then and even now, I do wish the Blu-ray release had a better HD transfer and newer special features but if you really enjoyed “Benny & Joon” and have not owned it on DVD or LD prior, then definitely give this Blu-ray release a chance!

The Tourist: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Tourist” is visually stunning and Venice, Italy has not looked this great since David Lean’s 1955 film “Summer Time”. And the film looks magnificent on Blu-ray!  If you are looking for a fun, popcorn action thriller, definitely give “The Tourist” a try!

Images courtesy of © 2010 GK Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Tourist: Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack


DURATION: 103 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, English, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Spyglass Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Violence and Brief Strong Language)

RELEASE DATE: March 22, 2011

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Screenplay by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes

Based on the motion picture “Anthony Zimmer” by Jerome Salle

Producer: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Tim Headington, Graham King

Executive Producer: Ron Halpern, Lloyd Phillips

Line Producer: David Nichols

Co-Producer: Denis O’Sullivan

Music by James Newton Howard

Cinematography by John Seale

Edited by Joe Hutshing, Patricia Rommel

Casting by Susie Figgis

Production Design by Jon Hutman

Art Direction by Susanna Codognato, Marco Trentini

Set Decoration by Anna Pinnock

Costume Design by Colleen Atwood


Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo

Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward

Paul Bettany as Inspector John Acheson

Timothy Dalton as Chief Inspector Jones

Steven Berkoff as Reginald Shaw

Rufus Sewell as The Englishman

Christian De Sica as Colonnello Lombardi

Alessio Boni as Sergente Cerato

Daniele Pecci as Tenente Narduzzi

Giovanni Guidelli as Tenente Tommassini

Raoul Bova as Conte Filippo Gaggia

Bruno Wolkowitch as Capitaine Courson

Igor Jijikine as Virginsky

Vladimir Orlov as Lebyadkin

Vladimir Tevlovski as Liputin

Alec Utgoff as Fedka

Frank (Johnny Depp), a mild-mannered American on vacation in Venice, Italy, is befriended by Elise (Angelina Jolie), a breathtakingly beautiful woman with a mysterious secret. Soon, their playful romantic dalliance turns into a complicated web of dangerous deceit as they are chased by Interpol, the Italian police, and Russian hit men in this suspense-filled, international action thriller.


Have you ever watched a film that made you want to travel to that country because it looks so beautiful onscreen?  That is how I felt while watching “The Tourist”.   Venice, Italy in a movie has never looked so beautiful until I watched this film and how glamorous and breathtaking this film makes you want to be there.

“The Tourist”, an action thriller which was nominated for three Golden Globes (as a comedy) was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, well-known for his 2006 critically acclaimed film “The Lives of Others”.

The German filmmaker along with writers Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”, “Valkyrie”, “The Way of the Gun”) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Shadowlands”) would create an engaging thriller starring Johnny Depp (“Edward Scissorhands”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), Angelina Jolie (“Salt”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Wanted”) and Paul Bettany (“Master and commander: The Far Side of the World”, “Abeautiful Mind”, “Iron Man”, “The Da Vinci Code”).

While the film met with negative reviews from film critics, the public turned out to support the film as the $100 million film earned over $258 million in the box office worldwide and now “The Tourist” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in March 2011.

The film begins with a woman named Elise Clifton-Ward (played by Angelina Jolie) being trailed in Paris by the French police working together with Scotland Yard (UK police) who are hot on the trail of a criminal named Alexander Pearce, Elise’s boyfriend.

She secretly receives a letter from a courier which tells her to depart to Venice, Italy by train and to find a man with the same height and build, in order to throw the police off and finally, to burn the letter.  Meanwhile, we are shown a mystery man also watching Elise.

The police try to get the letter but Elise has burned it.  As they try to follow her, she times it perfectly with the oncoming rush of workers and easily escapes from them.

Elise makes it to the train which is en route from Paris to Italy and as she walks to find a man with the same build as Alexander Pearce, she spots a man sitting alone.  His name is Frank Tupelo (played by Johnny Depp) who is a school teacher from Wisconsin, reading a spy novel and smoking an electronic cigarette.

Frank is allured by Elise’s style as she doesn’t get into conversations but tells him that if he enjoys spy novels, to imagine why she’s on the train off to Italy and asks Frank to give her a scenario.  Frank does just as she asks but then she requests for Frank to ask her out to dinner, but not in a form of question. Frank finds this mysterious woman so alluring and strong that he enjoys his time sitting with her and now about to have dinner with her.

As the two eat, Frank seems to feel that two men are watching them (which they are and the police take a picture of Frank to send to Scotland Yard).  Back at Scotland Yard, Inspector John Acheson (played by Paul Bettany) tries to figure out if Frank is Alexander Pearce and contacts Interpol to await the arrival of Frank, who may be Alexander Pearce.  As for John, he is under intense pressure to finish this case which has been costing them a lot of money and his boss, Chief Inspector Jones (played by Timothy Dalton) wants him to finish this investigation soon.

Meanwhile, at Scotland Yard, as an employee is researching Frank Tupelo, a person inside the division secretly contacts a gangster named Reginald Shaw (played by Steven Berkoff) that both Elise and Frank (who he believe is Alexander Pearce) are arriving in Italy and for Shaw, he wants Alexander badly because Pearce stole two billion dollars from him.

Elise takes Frank to a beautiful hotel right near the canal and together, they have dinner together.  Frank learns that Elise is a woman that is very much in love with her dear Alexander but the two have not seen each other in two years and have been communicating via letters.  As the two arrive back home, when Elise opens the balcony, she sees a man watching their hotel room and realizes that she must do what Alexander has said and make the authorities think Frank is Alexander.  So, when Alexander comes to join her on the balcony, she kisses him.

The man takes a photo of the two kissing and sends it to the police, meanwhile at a distance, watching them kiss are Shaw’s men.

The kiss literally makes Frank want even more.  As she goes to sleep, part of Frank wants to join her but he decides not to.  When he wakes up the following morning, room service has arrived and Frank is surprised that Elise has left and ordered for him.  When he goes to check her room, she is not there.  Meanwhile, Shaw’s men break into the hotel room and when Frank sees the gun, he runs into the bathroom and locks the door and escapes from the back window.  Running from roof tops to avoid the men with guns and shooting at him, he tries to escape. Why are these men after him?

Frank manages to escape but is detained by Italian authorities.  Frank tells the investigator his story but it seems a bit far-fetched that a man meets a beautiful woman, she takes him to her hotel room and men start shooting after him.  It doesn’t make sense, especially since he’s just a teacher from America.  But as the investigator locks him up for the night to look into his story, he finds out that there is a bounty on Frank’s head.

The investigator sneaks Frank out of the jail and tells him that there is a bounty on his head because there are people who think he is Alexander Pearce.  A wanted man!

The investigator tells Frank he needs to get him out too safety and drives him by boat to a mystery area…but waiting for the investigator are Shaw’s men who have paid the investigator to deliver the man they think is Alexander Pearce.  Shocked and confused, Frank doesn’t know what to do…  until a boat pulls up right next to his, driven by Elise who comes to save him.

What will happen to Frank… the Tourist?


“The Tourist” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1).  There is nothing but positive I can say about the cinematography and overall look of “The Tourist”.  Glamorous and breathtaking, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has really shown us the beauty of Venice, Italy through this film.  It was a big deal with David Lean’s “Summer Time” when we saw the beauty of Venice onscreen but with the wide shots courtesy of James Newton Howard (“The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “The Fugitive”) the look and feel of Venice’s beauty and the decrepit buildings also show its age, as well as scenes showcasing its darkness.

The Blu-ray release of “The Tourist” showcases the detail of the Italian locations and facial textures, skin pores, hair, clothing textures, you name it…the Blu-ray releases shows off it’s clear details with efficacy and as expected, the day scenes are vibrant, the night time scenes are spot on with its inky blacks.

The picture quality for “The Tourist” achieves perfection!


“The Tourist” is presented in English and French5.1 DTS-HD MA and English – Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Similar to the excellent picture quality, “The Tourist” sounds great via its lossless soundtrack.  Because the film has its fair share of action, from the jet engines of the boats during its chase scene, the sound of guns shooting, broken glass to radio chatter, the presentation is crystal clear.  But it’s important to note that this film does not have an immersive lossless soundtrack.

I will say that “The Tourist” is more of a front and center-channel driven soundtrack, there is use of the surround channels but it is not as immersive as one would hope and I don’t recall hearing the LFE used as much throughout the film as well.  But considering the film focuses more on dialogue and character development than continuing action, the lossless soundtrack is adequate for this film.  So, it’s not exactly a soundtrack that will win over audiophiles but the lossless soundtrack works for this film.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH and Spanish.


“The Tourist” comes with the following special features in standard and high definition (audio in stereo, subtitles in English):

  • Audio Commentary – Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck goes into great detail of the style he wanted to accomplish for the film, working with the cast members and the technical details for the film.  Especially differences that were made for the chase scene and more.
  • Canal Chats – (8:01) A featurette with the director and cast while driving through the canal in Venice talking about the film and their character.
  • A Gala Affair – (7:12) Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wanted a glamorous ball and we get to see how the set design was made for this film, including the location of where this ball was shot in.
  • Action in Venice – (8:28) A featurette on the boat chase and the type of shots used for this scene.  Also, how director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wanted this scene to be different than other chase scenes for other films.
  • Bringing Glamor Back – (9:08) Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wanted glamor and elegance for the film.  Also, the locations of where “The Tourist” was shot in Venice.
  • Tourist Destination: Travel the Canals of Venice – (3:12) The director, producers and cast talk about the beauty of Venice and shooting in the canals.
  • Alternate Animated Title Sequence – (2:14) An alternate title sequence created for the film.
  • Outtake Reel – (1:26) Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Paul Bettany talk about how they kept cracking up throughout the shooting of this film and footage of them laughing and joking around on set.

“The Tourist” did not receive the best reviews from film critics and when it received three Golden Globe nominations for best comedy film and comedy roles for both Depp and Jolie, it even furthered the flame for those who disliked the film.  But while critics disliked it, moviegoers came out to see this film starring two of America’s big-draw talents, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.

Johnny Depp’s role was to play a writer Frank, who is trying to get by with life and enjoy traveling through Europe.  Not an assertive man but because he found a woman, so strong and not down-to-Earth, needless to say, he is automatically smitten by her and starts to care for her deeply.

Meanwhile, Angelina Jolie plays the girlfriend of the criminal that everyone is going after.  Far different from her character role in “Salt”, Jolie’s Elise is a mystery, but Jolie knows how to bring sexual attraction and seduction to the big screen, as masterful as Depp who is able to fill in any characters shoes and do it with so much efficacy.

Some reviewers felt the two didn’t have the right chemistry onscreen but I don’t blame the chemistry, without spoiling too much of the story, as we learn about Elise’s past, you would tend to expect more action on her part.  As for Depp’s Frank, I’m not sure anyone would expect a school teacher to become an action star, so in some way, pacing seems a bit off and you feel that there are a bit of holes in the screenplay.

What the filmmakers did do right is include a third character that would catch the audience’s attention and that third character is the city of Venice itself.  When showcasing Venice, its canals, the hotel, the ballroom, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was able to showcase the beauty of the city and it shows on film, so much emphasis was given to achieving glamor and elegance, as much as I enjoyed watching it onscreen, it does take away from any action-driven plot that the film could accomplish.

But considering the challenges that this film had gone through since it was first created, the film originally had Lasse Hallstrom and Charlize Theron, then later Bharat Nalluri, Tom Cruise and then Sam Worthington.  The director was in it, then left and then returned to re-write it and next thing you know, while shot in 58 days, the film was shot quickly because Depp was only available for a short time as he had to film the fourth upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.  Also, making things limited for its action scenes are the rules that the film crew had to abide in Venice.  And because they were strict on how fast the boats can go during the chase scene, once again, the film crew had to make some compromises.

Needless to say, with a quick rewrite, quick shooting schedule and many challenges to begin with, director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck literally had to pull a rabbit out of his had and deliver.

And while the film is not action-packed as one hoped it would be, I do feel that the film did manage to capture the elegance and glamor of the city and while cinematography can’t be a film’s sole savior in entertaining viewers, for me, the overall style of the film was quite captivating.

The Blu-ray release of “The Tourist” does capture that beauty and there is no doubt about it, the picture quality of “The Tourist” is magnificent and the special features were also fun to watch (focusing heavily on the beauty and darkness of Venice, Italy).

Overall, I did enjoy “The Tourist” and by no means did I feel bored by it.  It may have its share of plot holes but I feel that Depp and Jolie were quite enjoyable onscreen and while others may find their pairing to be bland, I didn’t feel that way at all.  I felt there was a good balance of being an action thriller/comedy but had its own limitations through pacing issues but by no means did I feel this film was terrible.

One thing you will notice is that those who do enjoy the film always comment on the visuals of the film and the beauty and glamor of Venice, Italy and I do believe that because Director Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck wanted to showcase the city the way he did for this film, it was the primary factor in enhancing one’s enjoyment for this film.  Shot anywhere else and I don’t think this film could have achieved the same result.

If you are looking for a popcorn action thriller on Blu-ray, definitely give “The Tourist” a chance.

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