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Disney’s long line of 2012 catalogue Blu-ray releases continues marching on. This month they have sent along screeners for three films I once loved, but have turned my opinion around on after more recent viewings. For the sake of time I’ve decided to group these three reviews into one group review, which is giving me a chance to revisit them with a clear head in an attempt to re-evaluate once more.

Disney/Touchstone Blu-ray Wrap-up

Adventures in Babysitting

Adventures in Babysitting was an oft-quoted childhood favourite, but it didn’t grow up with me, and the only lasting effect it had was an abiding love for ‘golden’ oldies (though a The Big Chill soundtrack cassette tape probably had a bigger influence). I still remember the lines and get plenty of nostalgia points out of little Maia Brewton’s toy collection, but, for the most part, I’m bored with the film’s utter, interchangeable ‘80s-ness. Problem #1 is the presence of Mr. Mediocrity himself, Chris Columbus, behind the camera for the first time. The lesser of the two ‘80s era Spielberg clones (the better being Joe Johnston), Columbus attempts to ape superior filmmakers I don’t even like that much, such as John Hughes and Robert Zemeckis, but at his best merely manages to point the camera in the correct direction and disappear into the either. At times even I’m surprised by his amateurish touch and stark lack of comedic timing. The absolute absurdity of some of the wacky shenanigans should equate at least a handful of laughs, but Columbus’ rhythm is so far off that none of the insanity hits and I find myself craving the more potent ‘80s zaniness of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and After Hours. I imagine David Simkins’ screenplay actually reads quite well (assuming his characters aren’t this unlikable), but without the proper direction joke after joke falls dreadfully flat. The film’s one shining moment that transcends its vast shortcomings is the sequence where the lily-white teens/kids are forced to sing the blues to escape evil car-strippers. It’s a silly scene and once again Columbus threatens to destroy it with awkward framing choices and flat compositions, but it’s also a unique, generally rousing standout. A laugh is also cultivated from the appearance of a very young and very blonde Vincent D'Onofrio (who nearly killed himself losing all his Full Metal Jacket weight earlier the same year).

The lively, colourful mid-‘80s décor and costuming certainly lend themselves to an HD transfer, but otherwise I’d say there isn’t a really good reason for anyone but the biggest fans to double-dip on this 1080p Blu-ray release. Well, except for the fact that the old Buena Vista DVD isn’t even anamorphically enhanced, making the upgrade practically a necessity. Columbus and cinematographer Ric Waite’s filmic choices just aren’t all that interesting. The focus is soft, the production design is simple, and the frame is rarely packed with information, so, really, we’re left with just the colour quality and lack of compression artifacts to celebrate. The image has plenty of natural grain that rarely smudges detail quality outside of some over-processed and extremely wide shots. Again, there aren’t any glaring issues, and the image appears appropriately filmic; I just can’t imagine anyone being particular impressed. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack follows the suit set by the video and is generally unimpressive without including any particular problems. There are plenty of stereo enhancements and some effective surround channel additions (particularly during music-heavy scenes), but the bulk of the film sounds like a very centric, Pro-Logic mix. Any volume inconsistencies (specifically dialogue-related) seem to be a part of the original mix. This supposed 25th Anniversary release features…trailers for other Disney releases…and nothing else.

Disney/Touchstone Blu-ray Wrap-up

Grosse Pointe Blank

When it was released in 1997, Grosse Pointe Blank quickly became a favourite among my friends who simply wouldn’t stop talking about it. Despite every advantage (it’s a cool concept, it features a lot of bloody violence, the soundtrack is incredible, the title is a pun), the wall of enthusiasm kept me from ever giving the film a proper chance. This marks the first time I’ve seen the film since it was first released on home video and I find I’ve forgotten more about the film than I remembered. The one thing I remember correctly is that Grosse Pointe Blank is brimming with nostalgia, which makes thematic sense considering the whole high school reunion angle. The whole thing also cleverly leans on the reputation of star John Cusack’s cavalcade of nostalgia-tastic teen films. I find nostalgia contrary to critical analysis and don’t really like Cusack’s ‘80s output, so this really isn’t enough for me. The thing that works here is the unique tone, which toes the line between light-hearted quirk, screwball comedy, and subversive violence. This quality is probably a pleasant side effect of the multiple personalities that crafted the final script. One-shot feature writer Tom Jankiewicz is credited with the story and is likely responsible for a lot of the technical hitman stuff, along with director George Armitage, who had previously directed Miami Blues and, most appropriately, Hit Man. The other credited screenwriters are Cusack and his long-term collaborators D. V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink, who can probably be credited with the nostalgia, quirk, and rapid-fire dialogue. As a director, George Armitage isn’t a showoff, but he sneaks some definitively theatrical flourishes into his workmanlike compositions and appears to be having the most fun during the film’s action interludes. Grosse Pointe Blank might also mark the last great performance from Dan Aykroyd, which is sad, but it’s fun to celebrate a once incredible talent’s death throes.

Because I never saw Grosse Pointe Blank in any form but VHS tape, I’m not in the best place to compare this new 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray to any of the two major R1 DVDs on the market, but I can make an educated guess. This transfer isn’t going to win any awards, but also seems to be a decent upgrade over SD limitations. The print is a bit dirty. Grain isn’t a problem, but flicker effects and an overall darkness are hard to ignore. Armitage doesn’t aim to capture a lot of fine close-up textures or hard contrast, but the backgrounds are regularly deep-set and feature a litany of patterns and complex set dressing. The consistent darkness of the image hurts colour quality a bit, but overall hues are vibrant without appearing unnatural. The obvious issue is some inescapably thick edge enhancement. There aren’t a lot of other digital artefacts, aside from some minor bleeding noise, but these haloes are just brutal, and possibly enough to keep fans away from the double-dip. The new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is quite loud, showing no signs of major compression. The musical soundtrack, which is a mix of choice pop mainstays and Clash front man Joe Strummer’s original score, gets the biggest lossless boost. The musical quality changes throughout, depending on the on-screen source (car radio, outdoor speakers) and move effectively throughout the channels, but sound most incredible when they’re omnipotently leaking from all the stereo speakers with the appropriate surround and LFE support. The action sequences feature some directional enhancements and dynamic flourishes, but, outside of the music, the bulk of the track is music and vocal-driven. Occasionally the vocal performances are a bit uneven, but this usually appears to be an artefact inherent in the source material. Extras include only a trailer.

Disney/Touchstone Blu-ray Wrap-up

High Fidelity

High Fidelity takes a respectfully truthful stance on movie romance in plainly stating that real life doesn’t follow a set pattern. It also has some truthful things to say about the nature of love and its ultimately rather insignificant place in the ‘big picture.’ The film’s unsatisfied ending marks it as an anti-romantic comedy and as such I respect it on the technicality, but am dubious of the supposed message. The fact that the film is so well-made only exacerbates its contentious elements. Director Stephen Frears, working from Nick Hornby’s original novel, paints an effectively subjective portrayal of a dangerously narcissistic individual in Rob Gordon. We never really break from Rob’s emotional point of view and John Cusack excels at making him feel real, even familiar, without ever stepping back into a place of true sympathy. They are so successful in creating a despicable character I find myself largely unable to enjoy the expert filmmaking, and instead focus on its vaguely misogynistic qualities (which are presented as ‘ironic,’ but the more I see it, the less I trust the defense). At the very least there is a double standard going on. I firmly believe that I’m intended to come away from the film understanding that Frears and Hornby aren’t condoning Rob’s behavior, rather, simply portraying it. There’s also no rule against a movie centering on a terrible person and no rule against that terrible person finding salvation by the end of the movie (which Rob arguably does). Perhaps if the third act (where all the lessons are learned) didn’t feel like an extended coda it would work a bit better. Beyond its messages of the messy and fragile nature of love, High Fidelity is a pretty truthful representation of obsessive fandom/geekdom. Frears and Hornby capture the eccentric need to collect, re-categorize, and rank our favourite obsessions without necessarily looking down on the behavior. The characters clearly suffer emotional arrested development and creating top five lists is definitely a symptom of the problem, but the film still manages to capture the effervescent qualities of enthusiastically discussing music/film/literature/art with likeminded friends. It’s unfortunate that Frears and Hornby’s characters are so obnoxiously self-obsessed, otherwise this very important element would hit the appropriate emotional cues. Oh, who am I kidding, I am these people.

High Fidelity is the one film covered here that I’ve seen both in the theater and on standard definition DVD, so my views on this 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer are a bit closer to genuinely knowledgeable. Frears and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey utilize a simple, naturally colourful style throughout, pointedly breaking into something softer and more stylized during Rob’s flashbacks to failed relationships. Neither style is incredibly sharp in terms of texture, but the HD image features big upgrades in general clarity and colour quality. Background patterns are relatively complex without too much edge enhancement or similar compression artefacts, and the vibrant highlights, most of which reside in the background of the record store, pop without a lot of noise or bleeding. Grain levels are minimal, though they do increase during the flashbacks, and contrast strikes a nice balance between film-like and lifelike. The most important element of this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, rather obviously, the musical soundtrack. Here, music is presented at various volume levels and degrees of fidelity, but it’s not presented as omnipresent score all that often. Usually there is a distinct onscreen source of the music and the sound designers take care to move it throughout the channels depending on camera placement. The natural qualities are rich and entirely lifelike. Having never really needed to pay attention to the sound of the film, I’m surprised by the amount of ambient support and directional movement, and have no complaints concerning the clarity of the well-centered vocal performances. The extras include five interviews with Cusack (11:00, SD), five interviews with Frears (14:40, SD), nine deleted scenes (14:20, SD), and trailers.