Anyone about to watch a Bill Maher comedy
routine must know that he will focus on all things political
and eventually bash religion. His HBO series Real
Time with Bill Maher is a brilliant and insightful
panel-oriented assessment of all things political. And
his underrated documentary, Religulous, takes
on most organized religions to prove that, throughout
history they have been at the heart of most of the bad
in the world.
So it’s no surprise that his 80-minute
special, recorded of all places in Raleigh, North Carolina,
is filled with swipes at Obama, the war in Iraq, Michael
Jackson, Wall Street and the economy and other political
hot button issues. What is surprising is that the most
entertaining portion of the show is the one that comes
with a warning from Maher himself, the religious part.
Here he seems most at ease, taking on much of the religious
spectrum from the Pope to Scientology.
The rest of the special is pretty standard
Maher stuff. Some of his musings on Real Time
are actually funnier and more perceptive. But if you are
a fan you will enjoy this special. If you aren’t,
why are you buying/renting it anyway?
The 16:9 anamorphic video looks terrific
on DVD and the sound is just what it should be.
There are, unfortunately, no extras.
A behind-the-scenes with Maher would have rocked!
Maher is one of the most intelligent,
acerbic, thought-provoking, savvy and sarcastic comics
working today. This is just a small example of his talents.
BLU-RAY/DVD Combo Review
by Frank J. Avella
To call Vanessa Redgrave
an acting legend to be revered and treasured is an understatement.
I remember her scene at the beginning of Howard’s
End, where all she does is stroll slowly through
a garden and you cannot take your eyes off her. She
was and is luminous.
In 1967 she play Guenevere
in Joshua Logan’s film adaptation of Camelot.
A then unknown Italian named Franco Nero was cast as
Lancelot. Watching their eyes stare at one another longingly,
the viewer was tossed into an endless sea of gorgeous
blue. Not surprisingly, they fell in love on the set
of that film and had a son. What most people don’t
know is that they got married…in 2006!
Gary Winick (Tadpole)
had the brilliant idea of casting Redgrave and Nero
in Letters to Juliet and because of that savvy,
smart and sly decision, his film soars more often than
Be forewarned, this is
an unabashedly schmaltzy tear-jerker that can easily
be dismissed as a chick flick. But as far as I’m
concerned, if you do not shed at least one tear, you
are not human.
The basic plot has Sophie,
an aspiring writer, journey to Verona, Italy with her
fiancé’ (a nervous-energied Gael Garcia
Bernal) who seems more interested in wine and food than
Sophie. Upon a visit to Juliet’s house (yes, that
Juliet) she notices a gaggle of women placing letters
along the wall of the balcony. She answers one that
is 50 years old, from a then 15-year old British girl
confused about whether she should run away with a Tuscan
boy or not. Astonishingly, the letter finds its way
to Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) who arrives in Verona with
her cranky son Charlie (the dashing Christopher Egan).
The three embark on a quest to find Claire’s long
lost love, Lorenzo Bartolini, so she will know once
and for all if their love was meant to be.
You can figure out what
happens within the first fifteen minutes, but that isn’t
the point. The joy of watching this film is in enjoying
the production values and watching the performances.
Especially Redgrave, who should received her seventh
Oscar nomination. She plays Claire with a rare understatement
that is exquisite and heartbreaking. And when the dialogue
is cliché and pat, Redgrave has a way of delivering
her lines as if they were written by Shakespeare.
And Franco Nero is given
one fantastic scene (and one that can only be found
in the Deleted Scenes section) that makes you wish there
would be much more of him. As a matter of fact, I found
myself often wishing for more Redgrave and Nero. They
transcend the melodramatic trappings of the film and
their real life story makes the coupling all the more
extraordinary and compelling to behold.
When they aren’t
onscreen the film is simply adequate.
Amanda Seyfried has great
potential, but she’s not quite there yet. The
gal has had the great good fortune of already working
with two titans: Meryl Streep (on Mamma Mia)
and, now, Redgrave. She’s certainly not bad, but
there’s very little passion in her portrayals
and most of her work is still surface. I say ‘most’
because she does manage some remarkable moments—especially
opposite the great Redgrave.
Summit has decided to
release the film on a special 2-sided Blu-Ray/DVD combo,
which is a great idea for film aficionados who have
yet to take the Blu-Ray plunge.
The Blu-ray transfer
is pretty stunning preserving the 2.35:1 original aspect
ratio. The sumptuous Italian locales are a wonder on
Blu-Ray; the film is a visual feast that will make the
viewer desperate to visit the Tuscan countryside (and
with good reason)!
The 5.1. Dolby Digital
HD audio is very good. The terrific score and songs,
in particular, sound wonderful.
Extras in this package
include: ten minutes of enjoyable Deleted and extended
scenes; a feature-length audio commentary with Winick
and Seyfried that acts as a terrific locations discussion
as well as providing some fun tidbits and two featurettes,
‘The Making Of Letters To Juliet: In Italia,’
a deserved love letter to Italy with some promo interviews
interspersed and ‘A Courtyard in Verona,’
which goes into detail about Juliet’s actual courtyard.
See this, for the enchanting
BLU-RAY Review by Frank J. Avella
A follow-up of sorts
to HBO’s ten-part WW2 masterminiseries Band
of Brothers (2001), The Pacific is a companion-piece
in many ways and continues to push the boundaries of
quality television as only HBO can do. It’s a
different side to the same war, literally, and the creators
aren’t afraid to show the confusion, brutality
and general mayhem of the pacific campaign.
begins right after Pearl Harbor and follows a group
of Marines to the South Pacific and toward Japan. The
lions share of the series is based on the writings of
two of the main characters featured in the piece, Eugene
Sledge (Joseph Mazzello) an Alabama boy whose heart
murmur initially prevents him from enlisting and Robert
Leckie (James Badge Dale), a cynical writer.
We also follow, with
deliberate erraticness, a gaggle of other guys who are
refreshingly not always your traditional stereotypes—although
we do get the Waspy vs. ethnic send-off of two of the
boys in Part One.
The battles are real
and rough and chaotic and terrifying. No one is a hero
yet somehow these men seem quite heroic. Leckie muses
in Episode One: “There are things that men can
do to one another that are sobering to the soul.”
By the time we get to
Iwo Jima and Okinawa, we, the viewers, are battle-scarred
and have a greater understanding of exactly what we
asked these boys to do for their country and the price
they paid for their sacrifices.
The Blu-Ray set comes
in a nifty tin box which house the six discs.
Visually, I have not
seen a better transfer. The 1080p high-def image is
presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and looks
better than when it aired on HBO. The colors are so
rich and the image quality is so vivid, you feel you
are there with the soldiers in battle. And that can
And speaking of scary
the DTS 5.1 sound is amazing with bombing attacks that
make you feel like you need to run for cover. I don’t
have state-of-the-art speakers and I was spooked. I
suggest you blast the volume and get the full effect.
include the Introductions that aired before each broadcasts
and feature interviews with survivors and historical
footage. Each episode allows for Enhanced Viewing, which
provides all kinds of pop-up info. You don’t want
to use this until you go back and rewatch an episode,
as it can be distracting. There is also a Field Guide
option where you can maneuver through timelines.
Five discs contain ten
episodes. The sixth disc boasts three enlightening sections:
‘Profiles of The Pacific’ is a fascinating
look at the six major players in the series; ‘Making
The Pacific’ is a 30-minute documentary and ‘Anatomy
of the Pacific
War’s a too-short feature on Japanese combat.
Executive produced by
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, The Pacific
is another feather in HBO’s continuing cap of
excellence that is as remarkable as it is unparalleled.