reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital
2005 (2005) - Troublemaker Studios/Dimension (Buena Vista)
(Editor's Note: The film portion of this
review is by Todd Doogan)
Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/D-
Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A
Basin City: a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to
live there. Unless, of course, you're scum. The criminals there
are more crooked than a crazy straw. And the cops are even
worse. About the only thing worth a damn are the prostitutes in
Old Town, the district where anything and everything goes... for
For the longest time, I was comfortable knowing that no one,
and I mean not even Frank Miller, would ever make a Sin
City film. The comics were and are superb. They stand
as some of the greatest noir ever done. Miller's art style was
rendered genius in every panel. His dialogue was pitch perfect.
About the only problem with Sin City,
for me, is that there just aren't as many stories as I would
like. At the time of this writing, there are only six graphic
novels and a handful of filler shorts. Hopefully, the success of
this film will bring us more - fingers crossed.
Anyway, when I first heard that a film version was coming, and
Robert Rodriguez was spearheading it, I was scared. I like
Rodriguez's work, don't get me wrong, but I just didn't think
anyone SHOULD make a Sin City
I saw "The Short" at the 2004 ComicCon. I have to say, I
was very impressed. Even Bill, who I dragged to the Sin
City panel kicking and screaming, was impressed with what
he saw. If you missed the presentation, don't you worry your pretty
little heads - The Short actually serves as the opening of the film.
For the uninitiated, its stylized look may be a bit jarring. For the
fans of Miller's work, however, it's utterly perfect. It serves the
film well, pulling its source material from a short story from the
Sin City mythos. It draws you
in and prepares you for a thrill ride. Then something bad happens.
Now, I'm a big, big fan of Michael Madsen. I love the guy,
actually. But he's awful in this film. Madsen ALMOST ruins it. Why?
Because he's emblematic of a problem that's ruined other, similarly
CG-heavy films (like The Phantom Menace,
Sky Captain and Casshern).
Lately we've been hearing a lot about virtual sets, and how actors
are having a hard time acting without something actually being there
for them to act WITH. It's very clear that Madsen is working in
front of a green screen in his scene, and it's giving him problems.
Sure, he's with Bruce Willis in the scene, but as evidenced in
Miller's Sin City: The Making of the Movie book (it's bad
ass - buy it) many shots were composited, so it's possible that
Madsen was by his lonesome in this shot and had nothing to work
with. Madsen is a brilliant craftsman and he's generally too good
for him to be THIS bad, so I guess I feel compelled to make excuses
for him. But listen - every actor out there, wanna be or award
winner, needs to get comfortable with virtual sets because they're
the wave of the future. Talkies killed the careers of
many a silent film actor, who couldn't memorize lines or had awful
voices, and I think the same might be the case here in the coming
Still, Sin City manages to
become one of the best films I've seen in a long, long while. The
biggest reason for this is two words. Make that three: Mickey
Frickin Rourke. Rourke is Marv, plain and simple, and Marv IS
Sin City. Marv stars in the
first fully-told tale of Sin City
(based on the
graphic novel), and it's the story of a big lug of a thug
whose moral system is bigger and stronger than most straight
people's. Someone does a bad thing to someone he thinks is worth
going to bat for, and so he goes to bat and hits a homer... over and
over again. It's a beautiful tale told with love, passion and plenty
of bullets. Rourke should get an award nomination for his role in
this. I've always loved his work, and Sin
City sealed the deal. I'll see anything he does from this
The second tale of the film (known to comic fans as
Big Fat Kill) follows Dwight, a former photojournalist
turned wanted felon (see the sequel for info about this or, better
yet, pick up the graphic novel
Dame to Kill For) who involves himself in a little war
between the girls of Old Town and a corrupt government out of
loyalty. It's a war that will leave a lot of people dead in the
streets, and a lot of blood on little Miho's sword. I'll let you
discover Miho on your own.
The last tale of Sin City is
Yellow Bastard. For sequencing issues, the first chunk of
this story appears at the front of the film (which includes the bad
Madsen scene), but the meaty part is at the end. Bruce Willis stars
as Hartigan, the only clean cop in Basin City, who goes after the
pederast son of the crooked Senator Roark in order to save a young
girl. His life is turned upside down and inside out in the effort.
Years later, Hartigan finds himself protecting that same little girl
again... except she ain't so little anymore.
With its three major stories merged all together, Sin
City becomes a fanboy's Pulp
Fiction. Time passes, characters come and go only to
reappear later in the film to pay off their respective stories. It's
all done with incredible visual flare and a gritty dramatic style...
and it all works. Sin City is
a lot of fun.
Shot entirely in high-definition video, Sin
City looks outstanding on DVD. I don't know for sure
whether this disc was mastered directly from the digital master
files (but I suspect it was). In any case, the anamorphic widescreen
image looks gorgeous. The film is almost entirely presented in B&W
- a choice that helps to emulate the style of the original graphic
novel. That means this film is ALL about contrast, and this DVD
preserves the all the necessary shadings beautifully. There's a
little tiny bit of digital artifacting here and there (during rain
storms and chaotic motion) but that's probably unavoidable. Doesn't
matter - the image quality is here is near breathtaking.
As good as the video is, the audio is even better. You're given the
choice of both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround. Both tracks
feature great clarity and a wide soundstage. There's surprising
subtlety in the mix, resulting in a highly atmospheric audio
experience. Music is well blended, there's lots of panning and
directional play, the rear channels are active. Best of all, there's
serious bass in the mix... not just for music and effects, but even
the character voices have exactly the right amount of gritty rumble.
The DTS track is just a hair smoother, but both mixes are excellent.
This disc's weakness is its extras, or lack thereof. Other than an
8-minute featurette - one that gives you just the barest look at the
film's origins and makings - you get nothing of value at all. Nada.
Zip. Don't let Buena Vista's marketing for this DVD fool you ("Collect
all 4 limited edition covers!"). Anyone who buys more than a
single copy of this disc is being taken for a ride. It shouldn't
surprise you that Rodriguez has indicated (in recent interviews)
that a fully-loaded special edition is ALREADY on the way, so beware
Don't let my negative spin on Madsen's performance make you think
that this film is bad. Sin City
is not perfect and it's certainly not for everyone. It is, however,
a good movie and a great adaptation of a stellar piece of comic book
history. If you just can't wait for the special edition, pick this
disc up on sale and be glad you did. At the very least, while you
wait for the better version, this one's worth a rent.
2005 (2005) - Miramax (Buena Vista)
Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C+
It's hard to imagine Bruce Willis playing a hard-nosed cop
isn't it? I mean... it just seems so out of character for the
guy. I'm kidding. Hostage
stars Willis as Jeff Talley, a former L.A.P.D. hostage
negotiator who burned out after a particularly tough negotiation
went south on him. In need of a change of pace, Talley left
hostage negotiation and took a job as the Chief of Police of a
small L.A. suburb instead. Unfortunately, the career move hasn't
made his home life any easier. He and his wife are on the verge
of divorce, and his daughter bitterly resents him. At least his
work's less stressful, right? Well, you know that isn't going to
Sure enough, things go south for Talley again, when a trio of
teenaged thugs' attempt at a car-jacking turns into a full blown
hostage situation right smack in the middle of Talley's sleepy
little suburban jurisdiction. But there's more to the situation:
As it turns out, the guy whose house said thugs have taken over
makes a comfortable living cooking the books for organized
crime, so there's a DVD-ROM full of illicit banking records in
this house that said criminals are determined to protect by
whatever means necessary. And as Talley's day goes from bad to
worse, you just know that, given his luck, the situation is
likely to get even MORE complicated before it's all over.
all rights, Hostage (which is
based on a novel by Robert Crais) should be a pretty standard,
paint-by-numbers crime thriller... and it most certainly is. But a
couple of things work to the film's advantage. Willis is the first,
of course. He's solid here in a performance that recalls just about
every other Die Hard-esque cop
role he's ever played. Surprisingly though, it's the story that
keeps you interested... at least until the inevitable explosions
begin. This isn't Shakespearean intrigue or anything, but the story
delivers just enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. Once it's
got you, unfortunately, the rest of the film's action plays out
about as predictably as you'd imagine. But hey... I give them credit
The production quality of the DVD is generally good. The video is
anamorphic widescreen and is as pleasing as it needs to be. Detail
is sufficient... colors and contrast are just fine. It's not going
to dazzle you, but there's nothing here to aggravate you either. The
audio is the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and it serves the film
well. Dialogue's clear, music and sound effects are well blended.
Again, it isn't particularly noteworthy, but neither does it
The disc isn't loaded, but it probably contains more extras than
the film really deserves. You get a run-of-the-mill audio commentary
with the film's director (for the record, Florent Siri of... well,
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell
fame), a series of deleted and extended scenes (also with optional
commentary) and an EPK-style featurette on the making of the film. I
found it tough to muster enough enthusiasm to really care about any
of it, but I suppose if you're a true blue fan of the film, you can
be glad it's all there.
While it sets up better than it pays off, Hostage
is still a decent enough little cop actioner to keep you mildly
entertained. By the time the closing credits roll, the film will
already have begun to blur with all those other B-grade cop films in
your memory banks. But hey... I can think of a lot worse ways to
spend 112 minutes. We'll call Hostage
a fine rental choice (at the worst) or a decent discount purchase
(at best) and leave it at that.
Season One - 1976
(2005) - Henson Productions (Buena Vista)
Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C+
It's been a long wait for fans, but thanks to the recent
purchase of the Muppet franchise by Disney, TV's classic and
much-loved The Muppet Show
is finally being given the attention it deserves on DVD.
This first season features guest appearances by the likes of
Ruth Buzzi, Florence Henderson, Peter Ustinov, Harvey Korman and
Vincent Price. These 24 half-hour episodes also include such
beloved numbers as "Mahna Mahna," "Inchworm,"
"You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and "It's
Not easy Bein' Green," along with the first sketch
installments of "Muppet Labs," "Veterinarian's
Hospital" and "At the Dance." Not bad at all for
a first season.
the age of these episodes, and the fact that they were originally
shot and mastered on analog video, they look surprisingly good here
on disc. That said, this video isn't up to the level of more recent
TV material. You should expect the 4x3 image to be a little soft
looking, with color that's occasionally a bit washed out. That said,
image detail is still decent and contrast is more than good enough.
The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, as you'd expect, but it sounds
fine and matches the imagery well.
The 4-disc set doesn't include a lot of extras, but what you do get
here is welcome. There's the original (and very funny) presentation
reel used by Jim Henson to sell the series, along with the original
pilot episode (which oddly featured not Kermit as the host, but a
Kermit-like character named Nigel). Each episode also includes a "Muppet
Morsels" option, which is basically a subtitle fact and trivia
track. Particularly cute here is a promo reel for episodes and
guests from the first season. You also get an insert booklet that
lists all the episodes and contents on each disc. Statler and
Waldorf even heckle you from the menu screens. All of this is
included in a Digipack, with an outer sleeve colored and textured to
look and feel like Kermit the Frog's green felt skin.
It's fortunate that fans don't have to deal with Sony's "best
of" sets anymore. Disney expects to release the whole series
(all five seasons) on disc in complete season sets in the months
ahead (look for newly remastered DVDs of many of the Muppet feature
films as well). Personally, I'd like to see the studio put more
effort into the extras. Why not recruit Muppet
Show alums like Frank Oz and others to record audio
commentary, or at least do new video interviews to share stories and
remembrances of their work on the series? In any case, it's just
awfully nice to FINALLY see this show available on DVD, period.
Recommended for the whole family.