Film / TV

New To Blu-Ray – September

A lot of indie movies, new and classic, come to Blu-ray this month. Plus some summer movies roll out and I weigh in on some of the big classic releases.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

X-Men: First Class

Well, the big summer blockbuster comes home to HD and it fulfills all the promise of big shiny, pretty things. It also has a hint of grit that makes it feels like a ‘70s real world thriller, even though it’s set in the 60s. The colors of blue people and yellow costumes shine brightly.

I have to say, I did notice a little bit of haziness when certain scenes pushed it too far. The go go club has a few patches of fuzz, and inside the training academy. It’s really bad out in the woods and a night shot of the mansion, and in Erik’s bedroom when Mystique transforms into a cameo. So that may be a little sloppy but then you see the color in Shaw’s lair and the epic ocean climax, the texture of the X-gadgets and Mystique’s skin.



The action surprise of the year is an elegantly shot, classy affair. On Blu-ray, every episode of Hanna’s globetrotting adventure looks stark in crisp, sharp clarity. From the snow to the CIA escape, from the subway station battle to woodsy climax, you see all the detail as it must have looked on the set.

The picture holds up throughout the film in any environment. It never goes hyper colorful, which fits the film. It brings out the beauty of the real world. The transfer is solid so you can crank the brightness as high as you want and you won’t see any flaws.


Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

The Blu-ray release of the Blood and Sand prequel is another high definition body show. As much as you can ogle the glamorous female bodies in the orgies, you also can’t help but marvel at the weathered, scarred faces and bodies of the hunky gladiators.

Like most TV on Blu-ray, a lot of Spartacus is hazy. It’s about half and half for this season. Some of the arena stuff clears up for the kill shots, but it doesn’t seem to follow any pattern. It can be stage lighting or blue screen vs. real sets, all hit or miss. It helps to  crank down the brightness to hide some of the speckles, but it’s a standard TV on Blu-ray with the important details preserved.



Starz’ King Arthur series looks mighty cinematic on Blu-ray. The medieval planes and forests look brightly lush with the green, and the lighting shines well on the beautiful stars. It looks more like a movie than most TV on Blu-ray so you can see all the detail in the costumes and locations.

Occasionally you may get a darker scene that’s a little rougher. Episode 3 has more of those than usual and episode 4 gets downright hazy. But as long as they’re riding horses outside and swimming under the waterfall cliffs, Camelot looks like a glamorous medieval Hollywood movie in HD.

Win Win

It’s almost unfair to call this film festival hit an indie. It does get the Fox Searchlight treatment and it already looked polished on the Sundance/SXSW circuit earlier this year. So the Blu-ray lives up to my expectations for a Fox Home Video new release.

The picture is totally crisp and clear. You get two distinct looks: suburbia looks stark and real in the family homes and forest jogs. A little less green than my east coast heritage but I recognize its authenticity for winter months. Then in school gymnasia the colors pop out with gawdy bright yellows and such. You can pump your settings up all the way and the picture holds up, if you really want the HD yellow.


United 93

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, Paul Greengrass’s acclaimed recreation of the day’s events fulfills his documentary style aesthetic. The picture is clear in HD, but it’s got artifacts of rough filmmaking.

The whole film has a sort of saturated look. It’s all too bright like it’s been shot on high grade video in natural conditions. Some shots get a little grainy with saturation and some just plain look like video. That could be from a run and gun approach, or compositing different sources together. It’s never glamorous but it’s authentic and holds up as a clear, raw recreation of tragic events.


The Kennedys

The controversial miniseries looks really good on Blu-ray. It’s Mad Men level detail in the ‘60s and the crisp clarity of a movie more than a TV show. The White House sets are all polished like the gentlemen in their suits, and when they get out into a location it could be a swinging old bar or lavish mansion. The clarity also brings the stark drama of back room political deals into sharp focus.


Everything Must Go

Will Ferrell’s dramatic turn is brought into stark light on Blu-ray. The film has the polish of a big studio movie that brings into crisp focus the haggard performance of Ferrell’s everyman in crisis. When he’s not smiling, you see every nuance his face emotes.

The whole movie is set in a yard, so there are a lots of bright colors in the grass and trees and the various items he has strewn about the lawn. Each item has its own bit of gritty detail, and the exterior of the house adds another distinct gritty barrier for the character.

The Others

This is a solid HD preservation of a 10-year-old movie. On Blu-ray, The Others still looks like a film from years ago, but it’s reproduced in the most authentic, clear, clean way possible.

You still get a sense film grain in the picture, so it’s like being back in a movie theater rather than unearthing some new details. It holds up well in the dark scenes though. You might notice it get a little rougher but it still remains faithful to a dark moody film.


A Horrible Way to Die

I knew from seeing this film at FantasticFest that it was a rough guerilla film. The technique actually looks way better on Blu-ray than on a movie screen. You still see the roughness, but in a gritty way that they can hold together the footage shot on a consumer camera.

You see the grains dancing around like an old 8-16mm horror film like Evil Dead, or at least the video equivalent of that. The reflections of light beams are giant. When the camera shakes, as it does aggressively, the slivers of picture you catch are still solid. Horrible Way to Die certainly holds up with the I Spit on Your Graves of raw horror.



I loved this VOD premiere. Adrien Brody trapped in a crashed car for 90 minutes, I’m sold. Now that it’s available on Blu-ray, I’m happy to own a hard copy. It doesn’t looks vastly better than an HD cable provider but it’s solid.

There is a slight washed out haze to the film’s look. I would speculate that comes from some of the point of view shots in the tight space had to be obtained with small cameras. Then the rest of the film had to match. The film still looks as sharp and clear as a film print, though not hyper HD detailed or colorful like some Blu-ray. Still definitely worth having one’s own copy of Wrecked.

Citizen Kane

Warner Brothers has had a lot of practice restoring their library of Hollywood classic for Blu-ray HD releases. The big daddy on all the top 100 lists, Citizen Kane fares as well as the likes of Casablanca. I guess that Welles guy made films pretty good, so they still look all right today.

The HD brings a lot of the detail into focus, even in black and white. From the lavish Xanadu to the modest newspaper offices, we are truly seeing everything Orson Welles obsessed over. Grain remains authentic. You get unreal clarity for a 70-year-old film, but they never make it stop looking like Citizen Kane. It’s like we’re seeing the first print they ever struck in 1941.


Straw Dogs

Wow, this is just a beautiful transfer of the Sam Peckinpagh classic. I was worried because some of these MGM classics seem to be dumped out. Straw Dogs looks like not only was it well preserved, but possibly restored to perfection. You see a few slivers of scratched emulsion, but it comes across as an ornament, not an error.

The picture is totally clear while maintaining that ‘70s tone and tint of color. The lush countryside, the craggy stone texture and the splintered wood are sharp in HD. That old stone house that is the main location shows off a lot of detail, in the architecture itself and all of father’s old chairs. The crusty town bar too, and God Susan George was pretty. She’s golden on this Blu-ray.



The Blu-ray edition of Scarface looks way more HD than the old HD-DVD I remember reviewing during the brief tenure of that format. The HD-DVD looked like a film preservation. It looked like a clean print of 1983 film. The Blu-ray is crisper, sharper and shinier than any silver halide celluloid.

You’ll see a little white speckling if you have a Vibrant setting or high brightness, but the movie is so bright anyway you don’t need to crank it. When I switched to normal settings, I didn’t notice the digital noise anymore but I still saw the bright pastels of ‘80s Miami and a gritty sweat, in the most glamorous gangsta way.

I did use the Scarface Scorecard just as a goof, and honestly the 229 F bombs didn’t phase me at all. I mean, I feel like South Park has said worse in a half hour episode at this point. But I did notice that they never counted “cono,” so they could probably get over 300 if they translated the espanol.


Dressed to Kill

This DePalma classic looks really good on Blu-ray. You’re never quite sure about the original materials or how much attention can be paid to a catalog release, so I’m glad both Straw Dogs and Dressed to Kill hold up in this format. Only a little roughness in really dark scenes, but a consistent clarity from scene to scene.

The picture is clear and crisp so you see all the mise en scene clearly. Some of the shots blow out a little as part of the intentional effect. You can even tell that Angie Dickinson’s makeup is really caked on. That probably didn’t read on the original film but I like those kinds of newly exposed details.


This is a brand spanking new release big studio production so it looks bright and colorful and shiny and polished in HD. It’s got a hint of grit which works for some of the raunchier humor, and the vomit and poopy is clear in sharp detail.

The lovely ladies look stunning with this detail. Kristin Wiig is so expressive with her face, the HD lets you really admire every little tick and contortion. You’ve got Rose Byrne and Ellie Kemper lookin’ all pretty there too so it’s a good girl watching Blu-ray, and I’ve heard the film was quite popular this summer too.



This raw indie dramedy is served well by a stark Blu-ray. The picture is totally clear, so you can see all the drama in crisp sharpness. Hesher’s rebellious slobbery looks as greasy as you’d think. The hovel he first lives in is packed with gritty detail, and the T.J.’s home isn’t much better.

Some of the shots go a little soft in the focus around the edges. That may be some of the raw filmmaking, taking what you can get when you’re shooting on the fly. The whole frame remains clear so it never fuzzes up. You can always divert your attention to the sharp parts.



This HBO show makes a great TV on Blu-ray. The picture is noticeably much sharper and clearer than any HD cable broadcast. I noticed a tiny bit of haziness but never as bad as X-Menn: First Class (see page one) and always still better than a low grade cable HD channel.

The colors are fantastic from the grassy greens to the art museum exhibits. Of course the clients look lovely. It’s just a really strong Blu-ray. HBO is really stepping it up for the TV on Blu-ray production. It seems to be their newer shows. Eastbound and Down looked great too, so bring on the Game of Thrones Blu-ray.

True Legend

Yuen Wu-Ping’s return to directing looks so glorious on Blu-ray, it just reinforces how badly the cinema world has missed his personal touch over films. Thanks to HD picture, you see all the detail and texture in the grounds on which the battles take place, from the black cavernous fortresses to the lush green villages and open fight pit.

The picture is totally clear, which never gets old to someone who’s used to watching third generation VHS with the subtitles cut off. The graceful martial arts unfold in a sharp, crisp setting. Even the artificial shots look stunning. The change of seasons via CGI glows beautiful light, and the giant God of Wushu statue is full of artistic detail painted into the scene enhancement.



Another classic from the Miramax archives gets a fantastic HD transfer on Blu-ray. The picture is clear and vivid through all of Danny Boyle’s surreal visions, and the practical footage of Scotland and London.

That means you see heroin dens in raw detail and upscale London in sharp beauty. Yes, the worst toilet in Scotland is scatalogically gross in HD (as is the bed sheet gag I know you all remember.) If you pump the TV up to a vivid setting, some of the shots may get rough but even in the extreme it looks pretty good, and if you play it safe the whole movie looks great.



This indie movie traveled the film festivals and earned a Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination, and it looks mighty high tech on Blu-ray. With a Sony Pictures Classics distribution deal, it gets the HD treatment from the big daddy of Blu-ray.

The picture is utterly clear, which brings stark reality to the dramatic close-ups, and brutal sharpness to the middle east settings. It’s a flawless transfer so the movie always looks authentic as it jumps in time via flashbacks and narrative devices.