Friday, August 27, 2010

Pixies Live: Acoustic & Electric

Although this is a completely new Blu-ray release, there’s no new material on it. Instead, it combines the contents of two previous Pixies concert DVDs released in 2006 in their entirety, including the bonus features. As such, fans who already have the DVDs may have little incentive to upgrade aside from technical specs and marginal space-saving design.

After over a decade apart, the Pixies reunited in 2004 and found themselves playing to larger audiences than they ever encountered in their heyday. This led to an extended tour schedule and eventually to the two DVDs documenting these full concerts.

The Blu leads off with a full acoustic set recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in 2005. It’s an interesting choice for the reunited band, representing their first-ever entirely acoustic set and first-ever appearance at an event that wouldn’t seem to be a natural for them. I expected very little from this outing but was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the songs in their acoustic setting and the ease with which the band adapted to the extremely laid-back vibe of the festival. Against a setting sun and within steps of the beach, the band delivered a completely satisfying set and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the performance themselves. Well, except for guitarist Joey Santiago, but that’s just because he’s apparently always inscrutable when it comes to displaying emotions on stage.

The second concert presents the Pixies in their normal electric mode at a very small club in Boston surrounded by around 200 of their closest friends and biggest fans. This is a longer set and is also a fine performance, but in spite of the intimate setting, traditional performance method and deep catalog choices I found myself not nearly as entertained as the acoustic concert. Maybe it was too much of the same too shortly after viewing the first concert, maybe there just wasn’t enough energy in the venue with the greatly constrained audience numbers, but it felt too forced to me and ultimately a bit lacking compared to its acoustic partner.

The extras are even more performance footage, so if you didn’t get enough from the main features there’s still plenty more to come. From the acoustic DVD, we get some in-depth rehearsal footage showing the pains the band went to in boning up for their unprecedented performance. The best part of this is a nearly full version of “Debaser” that was inexplicably cut from the final concert, making this the only way to experience the acoustic take on the song. From the electric DVD, we get very early and very rough footage of a 1986 set in its entirety. Seriously, it’s rough, seemingly lifted from a fan or roadie’s home video camera with no attempt to enhance the image, right down to the embedded 10/31/86 timestamp present throughout the set. Thankfully, the sound quality is passable, and it’s really amusing to see the young band members, especially lead singer Frank Black who appears to be about 12 years old here.

As for technical considerations, both concerts are presented in widescreen but the resolution maxes out at 1080i, not 1080p. The acoustic set appears to have been shot on film or video mastered to look like film, but based on the somewhat substandard hi def quality appears to have just been transferred from the DVD rather than remastered from the source. The electric set was definitely shot on video and appears much closer to true hi def. Interestingly, the default audio track is 2-channel LPCM stereo, but 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS HD Master Audio tracks are also available for the primary concerts. The entire package is presented on a single Blu-ray disc.

“Pixies Live: Acoustic & Electric” is now available.

Article first published as Blu-ray Music Review: Pixies - Live: Acoustic & Electric on Blogcritics.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Date Night

Director Shawn Levy had a simple idea for Date Night: make a movie about the rituals of marriage, and what might happen if those rituals got blown to smithereens one night. Working with writer Josh Klausner, the idea was fleshed out into a rollicking comedy that has some real heart thanks to the performances of stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

Carell and Fey play a long-time married couple named the Fosters who have fallen deeply into a rut of familiarity and routine. Their regularly scheduled date nights invariably involve the same activities at the same venues, offering no respite from their mundane lives. When a fellow married couple announces their impending divorce, the Fosters take a hard look at their own lives and see that there’s very little preventing them from the same fate. Hoping to spice up their marriage, they set out on a date to a hip upscale eatery in Manhattan, well outside their New Jersey suburb comfort zone. Upon arriving at the trendy restaurant and finding no tables available, they steal another couple’s reservation. Unfortunately, their assumed identities also make them the targets of a couple of hitmen looking for a mysterious flash drive, throwing them into a precarious adventure that leads them through the outskirts of the criminal underworld and police system.

The outcome of the basic plot is about what anyone would expect and offers nothing truly original. However, the comedic flair of Carell and Fey enliven the proceedings with occasionally side-splitting results. The biggest surprise is the film’s tender moments, where Carell and Fey bring some believable emotion and chemistry to their interactions as husband and wife. It’s no stretch to imagine that they’re bringing their own life experiences to the table as long-time dedicated family members, but it’s still refreshing to see how well they play to each other’s strengths rather than try to one-up each other.

On Blu-ray, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound is superb and the 2.35:1 picture is suitably precise, although there’s a bit of noticeable graininess at times in spite of the fact that it was shot on digital. This can probably be accounted for by the film’s almost entirely night setting with its associated lower light, but it still surprised me when the bonus features disclosed that the movie was shot on digital instead of film. The Blu package also includes a 2nd disc with Digital Copy for download to PC and portable media players.

The Blu-ray is stuffed with bonus features including standard offerings such as deleted/alternate/extended scenes, options to view either the theatrical or extended version of the film (about 15 minutes difference), and audio commentary from Levy on the theatrical version. Other unique features include Carell and Fey’s original camera tests (which were repurposed for the film’s early posters), fake public service announcements by Carell and Fey, disaster date stories from most of the cast, and by far the best and most interesting feature: a 20+ minute behind the scenes Directing 301 featurette that follows the production over an entire day, showing and explaining in detail all the setups, crew roles, and logistical challenges needed to capture a few simple scenes. Kudos to Levy and the crew for allowing and participating in this enlightening glimpse into the production.

Date Night is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Date Night on Blogcritics.

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