COMMENTS on recent movies I've seen on DVD:
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I'm sorry, but full CG just isn't there yet. The sets look convincing, rapid action looks convincing, but close-up action and facial expressions aren't working. Humans pay great attention to each other's facial expressions, use their own facial expressions to convey very subtle information, and try to read all sorts of information from others' facial expressions. (And biology reflects this: the part of the brain devoted to the sensory and motor control of the muscles of the face is huge.) Dr. Aki looks like she's on Thorazine, or has Parkinson's disease: her facial expression is almost rigid, and unconvincing. Likewise, movements of the hands are not convincing. In one of the film's first scenes, Aki reaches up and punches a series of buttons. Her arm and hand, though, do not move fluidly, but almost like a marionette. More work needed.
The rest of the film? Not bad, but not gripping. I think the inadequate CG is part of the problem: it establishes a wall between the viewer and the characters, and prevents us from thinking of them as real people, and caring deeply what happens to them. The plot is dumb, but it's the kind of dumbness that can be forgiven in a fantasy movie.
X-Men. Lots of fun. A well written, well-paced action film, with engaging characters. I think I'm in love with Storm. Storm getting her meteorology on is one of the most impressive action film moments I have seen lately. Glowing eyes, lightning arcing from her hands, a hurricane preceding her...mmmmm. The film needed more Storm. A justly popular film. It has no depth, it never touches on any issues of importance, but it's a good actioner without major flaws. See it if you haven't.
The Fifth Element, 'Superbit' edition. The Fifth Element was one of the first movies to be put on DVD, and was immediately recognized as an outstanding transfer of film to DVD. Because this transfer was so good, so early in the game, it's difficult to understand why transfers even today, years after the introduction of DVD, are still often poor: the Star Wars: Episode One transfer, for example, The Fifth Element has been a DVD that early adopters of DVD and home theater buffs have used to show off their systems.
Now comes the superbit edition. DVD's can be encoded at various bit rates. Higher bit rates mean more video information, and presumably a better picture. Lower bit rates mean less information, higher compression, and more room on the DVD for other stuff, such as 'extras' like the director's commentary, theater trailers, additional sound tracks, and so forth. All superbit disks do include a DTS soundtrack as well as a DD 5.1. Superbit DVD's are simply DVD's encoded at the highest possible bit rate, however much space it takes on the disk, and other stuff on the disk is sacrificed. The The Fifth Element superbit comes with no extras, just the film. That's fine with me. Most DVD 'extras', with the possible exception of director's commentary, don't interest me much, I'd much rather have maximum video quality.
I've never seen the non-superbit Fifth Element, but the superbit edition looked very good, with out noticeable video flaws. That's about all I can say about it. The problem with The Fifth Element is the film itself, which is only fair to middlin', at least to me. It never really engages the viewer, its tone always seems to be a little off, and you can never take it seriously enough to care what happens to the characters. There are lots of nice explosions, and Leeloo is very cute.
Cats and Dogs. This one got mixed reviews when it was in theaters, but I enjoyed it. It's a movie with cute, anthropomorphized animals. How can you go wrong with ninja kitties doing bullet-time martial arts, as in The Matrix? You're hungry again an hour after you've seen it, but heck, it's an entertaining movie while it lasts. The plot? Remember Blofeld and his white cat from the James Bond movies? Well, imagine their positions reversed. Cats are out to take over the world, and only dogs can stop them!
As a cat lover, I strenuously object to this slur against the good name of cats, but I liked the movie anyway. BTW, this DVD is available in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and pan-and-scan versions, not on the same disc. Netflix seems just to have the pan-and-scan version, so that's what I watched. But visually, the film was perfect. Excellent transfer, without artifacts, and great colors.
Prince of Darkness. This is supernatural horror from John Carpenter. It was panned by critics when it was released in 1987, but I caught about the last half on TV a few years later, and it scared the daylights out of me. Watching it again, it's not quite as scary, but I guess horror movies are like that: there's nothing more frightening than your imagination, and once you know what's coming, all the shock and most of the fright is gone. But if you haven't seen this one, and you like supernatural horror, like the Hellraiser movies, you might like it.
Prince of Darkness is an attempt to fuse supernatural horror—the re-emergence of Satan into the world—with the quantum uncertainties and weirdness of modern physics. Ah, okay, the physics is actually gibberish, I'm not sure Carpenter would know what Schroedinger's Cat was if it bit him on the nose, but it's fun anyway. This sort of horror fusion isn't attempted very often; the only other example I can think of is H.P. Lovecraft's story, "Dreams in the Witch House". The film is very inventive. Never have the homeless looked more sinister. Don't miss Alice Cooper's cameo as an evil homeless guy; he's in the credits as 'Street Schizo'. Looks like he had fun with the role. There are a number of plot holes that you must studiously ignore if you want to enjoy the film. The transfer to DVD is anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, and is okay, but nothing special.
meaning: elder brother
oniisan == elder brother, respectful
ani == elder brother (your own)