November 25, 2012

Warner Brothers had a catalog dump, and so now we’ve got Dave, The American President, Queen of the Damned and The Devil’s Advocate on Blu-ray. These come from directors Ivan Reitman, Rob Reiner, Michael Rymer, and Taylor Hackford, and star Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Stuart Townsend, Alliyah, Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino respectively. And our reviews of the lot follow after the jump.

dave-blu-rayDave was directed by Ivan Reitman, but it has the fingerprints of The Hunger Games writer/director Gary Ross on it as it was his original script. Kline stars as the president of the United States and Dave, a man who looks just like him. When the Prez needs a double, Dave gets called in. And when the POTUS has a stroke while having sex with one of his interns (Laura Linney), his Machiavellian advisor (Frank Langella) puts Dave in to run the country because he’s afraid of the “boy scout” vice president (Ben Kingsley). Of course the biggest hurdle is fooling the first lady (Sigourney Weaver), but the game is changed when Dave realizes he has some control over the situation.

Also featuring great supporting performances by Ving Rhames and Kevin Dunn, Dave is a sly charmer, with just enough Frank Capra to make it vaguely political and uplifting, but not so much to make it say anything specifically about politics (arguably it could be read as something from either party). The film was made in 1993, way before Bill Clinton had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and so the model for the president seems to be George H.W. Bush, and the issues presented are more “being good to poor people” than anything all that partisan. But it works because the performances are great, and the dialogue is smart. Though Ghostbusters may be Reitman’s greatest film, Dave is his most assured, and best directed. The film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The presentation is slightly better than the previous DVD release, but it’s not much of an upgrade. Supplements are limited to a period making of (7 min.) and the film’s trailer.

If Dave plays its politics down the middle, The American President is liberal and proud of it – and distractingly so. Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd, who was widowed shortly before he became the leader of the free world. He’s been raising his daughter by himself, and when he meets lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) he’s got a 63% approval rating and he’s kind of lonely. She insults him unintentionally, but he takes it in stride and asks her out for dinner. She says yes, and the two begin to date, which allows his Republican opponent (Richard Dreyfuss) in the upcoming election to question his character.

the-american-president-blu-ray-coverThe support here includes Michael J. Fox, David Paymer, Martin Sheen and Samantha Mathis, but this feels like a dry run for The West Wing. No surprise then it was written by Aaron Sorkin. Though there isn’t as much walking and talking, there’s a lot of clever dialogue, but the film is half Cinderella story, and half (as to be expected) lecturing. This is a very liberal film, and regardless of whether your politics align with its worldview or not, at times it stops the movie cold. The film ends with the president delivering a powerful speech that seems to be Sorkin batting around his problems with the then-current (1995) cultural climate. The problem is that it’s revelatory to see a movie about two adults falling in love, and have the conflict between them (he’s the leader of the free world, she is not) feel organic and something that might cause problems in the short term and the long term. That’s enough to make the film likeable, and there’s some good jokes and fiery rhetoric, but the politics gets in the way of the film at times.

The Blu-ray ray is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. As a comedy, the surrounds aren’t prominent but the soundtrack is well mastered, though the picture quality is – again – a modest improvement over the DVD. The only extra here is a trailer.

Queen of the Damned is a terrible, terrible film. A semi-sequel to Interview with a Vampire (semi in the sense that Lestat is in both, though there is no other overlap, and this isn’t told or sold like a continuation), the film begins with Lestat (Stuart Townsend) hearing some rock music that sounds a lot like pop music from 2002, and so he becomes a frontman to a band, which leads to a huge record deal and devoted followers. He sings about vampire secrets, which brings a number of old school vampires out of the woodwork to kill him. But his music also awakens Akasha (Alliyah), the mother of all vampires, and who can turn other vampires into ash with her mind.

queen-of-the-damned-blu-rayFor the first twenty minutes or so the film is so outstandingly ridiculous it feels like it could be a camp classic. Townsend looks like a glam rock star, so for a minute the film comes off as halfway clever, but Townsend doesn’t have the charisma to hold the screen. He’s a good looking blank, and it ultimately works against the film. It also devolves into a CGI-fest, which even in 1080p is rendered in a muddy and unattractive way as the film is shot in the dark because it’s a vampire story and the effects are mostly repetitive and boring. There are moments of camp throughout that make it almost watchable and the plot is ridiculous, but the guide through the film is Margueritte Moreau, who was excellent in Wet Hot America Summer, but completely out of her depth here. This, though, is a terrible movie, which doesn’t help her.

Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The picture quality on this isn’t very good for Blu-ray, it’s not as detailed as a great HD master, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this 1080 transfer was done a while ago for HD television. With films like Dave or The American President, a slightly softer transfer is acceptable, but with such an effects heavy film, the older transfer makes it look that much worse. The film comes with all the DVD’s supplements, which are a      commentary with director Michael Rymer, Producer Jorge Saralegui and Composer Richard Gibbs, featurettes “The Music of Lestat” (12 min.)”Creating the Vampires” (10 min.), “Aaliyah Remembered” (3 min.), uncut performance footage for the songs “Slept So Long” (4 min.) and “Not Meant for Me” (3 min.), thirteen deleted scenes (32 min.), a Gag Reel (3 min.), four music videos and the film’s theatrical trailer.

the-devils-advocate-blu-rayThe Devil’s Advocate is half stupid, half brilliant, with a delightfully over the top performance by Al Pacino. The man is in loud mode, and the film is a bit silly, but it’s compelling enough to work. Keanu Reeves stars as hot defense attorney Kevin Lomax, who starts the film by getting a child molester declared not guilty. He and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) celebrate with friends when a man gives Kevin a card offering him a job in New York. Kevin and his wife go, and while there Kevin helps pick the jury for a case. Kevin picks well, and is hired on by the law firm’s head John Milton (Pacino). Before paradise is lost their life in New York is pretty awesome, but things get awkward for Mary Ann because she doesn’t know what to do with her free time, and the other lawyer’s wives are no help (also possibly demons). Kevin’s assigned a big case as his wife gets sicker and sicker, and Milton’s claws get deeper and deeper into him. But things get weird because – no surprise – Milton is the devil.

The biggest problem with the film is the wife character. There are some great images that come from her getting more and more disturbed, but ultimately she flips out early on, and instead of the film easing Kevin into more and more horrible decisions, the film presents someone saying “this is wrong/bad” in a way that stalls things in an already bloated film (it runs 144 minutes). That said, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the movie, especially if you enjoy watching Pacino go big, and though the premise of the film (Pacino = the devil) is never subtle, that works for the movie, as it is about making decisions based on careers and advancement over moral decisions. The cards are on the table, so the big reveal is just a chance for Pacino to take a performance that was hovering at a nine to start with all the way up to eleven. But with such a loud performance, it’s worth noting that Keanu Reeves is actually really good in this film, though his reputation as a stone face is somewhat overrated.

Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. Again, it’s a modest improvement over the previous DVD, but it’s got the same content, and only a slightly better audio and visual presentation. The film comes with a commentary by Taylor Hackford that’s dull, and twelve deleted scenes (47 min.) with optional commentary, and none are missed. The disc also comes with the film’s theatrical trailer.

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