Latest Software Reviews
A London hotel houses the dirty secrets of a black-market, organ-trading operation in Dirty Pretty Things, starring Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Academy Award–nominated screenplay follows an immigrant hotel worker who stumbles upon a human heart clogging the toilet of a recently occupied room, thus beginning a fast-paced thriller that is completely satisfying in its surprising resolution.
The 1.85:1 widescreen picture offers a natural-looking color palette, constructing the dark underbelly of London with pleasing detail and contrast. And a Dolby Digital 5.1-channel soundtrack delivers the film's moody score as successfully as it details distinct, intelligible dialogue. There is one downside: Though no fault of the DVD, the variety of accents makes some of the lines difficult to decipher, which means viewers have to pay close attention to pick up on the plot's nuances.
The supplementary material on the disc is fairly standard-issue, with the usual theatrical trailer and adequate making-of documentary. Director Stephen Frears—known for directing, among others, High Fidelity and My Beautiful Laundrette—provides an informative feature-length commentary for the film that goes into a bit more detail about the production.—Christy Grosz
DVD: Rolling Stones: Four Flicks—Redline
The year was 1981, and the Rolling Stones had just launched their Tatoo You world tour. Everyone said that it would probably be the last chance to see the Stones live; after all, they were in their late thirties! Who would have thought that over twenty years later, Mick and the boys would still be touring constantly, and playing better than they had in years? You can see for yourself on Four Flicks, an expansive four-disc set that chronicles the band's 2002/2003 Licks world tour.
Unlike most of their outings over the past 25 years, the Licks tour was unique in that the Stones played shows in small theaters and arenas in addition to their usual massive stadium outings. This allowed the band to be a bit more adventurous with their set lists, which more than justifies the inclusion of three completely different full-length shows in this box set. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" may appear in all three sets, but it's one of the few multiple repeats. Not surprisingly, the small theater show shot at the Olympia Theater in Paris is the best of the lot thanks to the many rarities in the set, although the two larger venue shows featuring more of the classics are entertaining as well. All three shows feature solid full screen anamorphic pictures and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM Stereo mixes, and a variety of extras on the fourth disc include bonus songs and two tour documentaries. This impressive set may in fact be your last chance to see the Stones live, but don't bet on it. As the line goes in Wayne's World 2, "Keith cannot be killed with conventional weapons," and you can bet that the Stones will start it up again sometime in the near future.—Gary Maxwell
SACD: Andy Narell—The Passage (Heads Up)
Because The Passage is the first steel-pan orchestra album on multichannel SACD, it's not a stretch to say Andy Narell has created what could be the best-sounding steel-pan recording ever. That it still falls far short of actually sounding like an actual steel-pan concert only shows the difficulty in reproducing the instrument's sound on a digital recording, even a high-resolution format like SACD.
It certainly wasn't for lack of effort. Narell, more than anyone, knows the futility of matching the steel pan and CD. For The Passage, which matches Narell with the 30-piece band Calypsociation from France, microphones were placed throughout the band. Then the band's eight sections were overdubbed on top of the live performance for a more identifiable stereo CD mix.
Despite even greater hopes for the 5.1 SACD mix, it cannot capture the sparkle of the instrument and the sheer force of a steelband. Instead, The Passage sounds locked in a four-channel stereo mode, front and rear channels, with a muted, one-note percussive beat contained to the center channel on virtually every tune. It's such a dense sonic package that, failing to capture the excitement of the steel pan, the lack of harmonic contrast becomes obvious. That's what makes guest appearances by Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Paquito D'Rivera (alto sax) and Hugh Masekela (flugelhorn) the album's highlights.
Maybe it will be different if you've got a mind-bending, big-money surround system with full-range speakers. Give it a whirl. The rest of us are better off hearing the steel-pan orchestra live.—Kevin Hunt