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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Taken: Extended Cut (Blu-ray Disc)

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Taken: Extended Cut
2008 (2009) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on May 12th, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: B

Produced by Luc Besson (of The Professional fame) and ably directed by Pierre Morel, Taken is a surprisingly effective little action thriller. The plot is about as simple as they come. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a former CIA covert operator who's retired to be closer to his nearly grown daughter.

Against Mills' better judgment, however, said daughter travels to Paris with a girlfriend and... have you guessed it yet? Yep, she gets kidnapped by well-organized criminals bent on finding pretty young things to sell into sexual slavery. So... again, you guessed it... Mills employs all of the skills honed over a lifetime of "wet work" to pile up bodies and get her back.

What makes the film work so effectively is Neeson's ernest performance. This is the Qui-Gon we all wanted to see in the new Star Wars films, but never materialized. No matter - Mills could hold his own with the new 007 in cunning and blow-for-blow action. The direction is deft and mostly effective, and it helps that the film never tries to be more than it is - an unexpectedly entertaining and satisfying bit of fatherly revenge.

Presented on Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox, the A/V quality is terrific. Great color and contrast are matched with excellent detail, including a patina of fine print grain, to deliver a wonderfully natural and film-like presentation. The DTS-HD MA lossless audio mix is even better, with a big, wide soundstage, exceptionally smooth panning, highly active surrounds, terrific subtle ambience and great bass. This is just a great, dynamic action mix.

Fox's Blu-ray includes both the theatrical cut and an unrated extended edition (with a bit more intense and graphic violence) on the same disc, thanks to seamless branching. You also get a decent batch of bonus material, including dual commentaries with the filmmakers, a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes (Le Making-of and Avant Premiere), the Inside Action scene comparison piece and a BD-Java Black Ops Field Manual viewing mode, in which trivia, a GPS locater and a kill/injury counter track the action. See what I mean by not taking itself too seriously? In a nice touch that's typical for Fox, you can check out the Manual even if you don't have a BD-J capable player, just not during the film. You also get a Digital Copy version of the extended edition for those who appreciate such things.

Taken knows exactly what wants to accomplish and delivers the goods. It probably doesn't rank highly among the cream of the action crop, but I expect you'll be plenty entertained for a couple hours. At the very least, the film makes a great Saturday afternoon rental.

The Wrestler (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Wrestler
2008 (2009) - Fox Searchlight (20th Century Fox)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on April 21st, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: B

I'm going to admit this right up front: I think The Wrestler is my favorite film from all of last year, at least in terms of Hollywood studio fare. Directed with grace and honesty by Darren Aronofsky, the film is a stunning character study of a professional wrestler suffering the effects of a hard life and the loss of his physical ability.

Many critics have hailed this film as the triumphant return of actor Mickey Rourke, and it is most definitely that. I think it may also be tough for Rourke to top. Rourke not only physically embodies the character of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, he simply disappears into him. This is as raw, honest and fearless a performance as I've seen on the big screen in years, made all the more effective by Rourke's own real-life struggles.

The Ram is a simple man who's failed at virtually everything in his life other than getting beat-up in the ring, in staged (but no less dangerous for that) pro wrestling matches. He lives in a trailer, has a daughter he barely knows (and who hates him for it), and he makes a perilously meager living from his portion of the gate, as well as autograph and memorabilia sales. His lifestyle and sport have taken a serious toll on him physically, but Ram struggles to hold on to them because they're all he's got. Marisa Tomei also appears in an daring performance as a stripper that Ram's grown sweet on, who is also well past her prime.

The Blu-ray's high-def transfer replicates the theatrical presentation perfectly. This is intended to be a gritty-looking film, so you're going to see moderate grain from start to finish. Colors are accurate, with good contrast and nice detailing. The DTS-HD audio mix isn't going to blow you away with surround trickery, as this film is largely dialogue-driven. Clarity is always good, however, and when the action heats up in the ring, the rear channels really open up with crowd noise and ambience.

One might be tempted to complain about the extras included on this disc if all you were to do is glance at the itemized list on the back of the package. That would be a mistake, however, because what this disc lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. First up, you get a terrific look behind-the-scenes at the making of the film, entitled Within the Ring. It runs about 40 minutes and is just as honest in its way as the film itself. It doesn't hide the fact that the film was made on a shoestring budget, nor does it gloss over Rourke's troubled history. You can tell, however, that everyone involved here has tremendous respect for the actor. Next up is a half-hour Wrestling Round Table discussion, featuring the likes of Rowdy Roddy Piper, Diamond Dallas Page, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Lex Lugar and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. They talk about the film, Rourke's performance and their own experiences in the wrestling life, and you really begin to understand just how accurately it's portrayed here. Finally, you get Bruce Springsteen's music video for the title song and a Digital Copy disc. Yeah, it would be nice to have audio commentary and the like, but this film really doesn't need any of that. It's rare to say this these days, but what you get here is more than enough.

The Wrestler is by turns moving and brutal, and it's one of the most unexpectedly good films I've seen in some time. I've seen it three times now, and I like it more upon each viewing. I'll certainly be watching Mickey Rourke's career after this. I really hope he continues his acting renaissance. Either way, he'll be remembered for this role and he should have won an Oscar for it. Fox's Blu-ray delivers the film in good quality, and the extras are exactly what they need to be and no more. Very highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor
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