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UNITED ARTISTS

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Robert Redford
Cast:
Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Michael Peña, Andrew Garfield, Peter Berg, Kevin Dunn, Derek Luke
Writing Credits:
Matthew Michael Carnahan

Tagline:
If you don't STAND for something, you might FALL for anything.

Synopsis:
Robert Redford, Tom Cruise, and Meryl Streep deliver "three knockout performances" (Vue Weekly) in this powerful story about how the decision makers at the top affect American soldiers on the ground half a world away.

An idealistic professor (Redford), a charismatic U.S. Senator (Cruise), and a probing TV journalist (Streep) have opposing viewpoints about the actions of our nation and the attitudes of its citizens. But the human consequences of war become chillingly clear for two of the professor's former students, who find themselves trapped behind enemy lines, fighting for freedom ... and their very lives.

Box Office:
Budget
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.702 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.998 million.

MPAA: R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/8/2008

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actor/Director Robert Redford
• “The Making of Lions for Lambs” Featurette
• “Script to Screen” Featurette
• “UA Legacy” Featurette
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Lions For Lambs (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 7, 2008)

Cruise! Streep! Redford! Add those high-powered names and whaddya get? 2007’s Lions for Lambs, a failure both with critics and moviegoers. This thing had “Oscar-bait” written all over it, but generally negative reviews greeted it and it got no Academy love at all. The paying customers avoided it as well; the flick took in a terrible $14 million during its quick, painful theatrical run.

Boy, can Lions really be that bad? Let’s see. Rising Republican Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) goes to journalist Janine Roth (Streep) with an idea for a story. He touts a New plan in Afghanistan to win the war as well as the “hearts and minds” of the citizens, so he appeals to Roth to cover these efforts. Irving drops a bombshell when he claims that there’s a true “axis of evil” that includes Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, so the US forces will act to halt any potential terrorist progress.

From there we meet the actual troops in Afghanistan. They’re rushed into a mission to take down apparently resurgent Al Queda forces with whatever force necessary. Led by Arian Finch (Derek Luke) and Ernest Rodriguez (Michael Pena), they head out on their assignment. Things go poorly, as they encounter a firefight. Both Finch and Rodriguez drop out of their helicopter and end up stranded in the frigid mountains.

With that, we head to California to meet political science professor Dr. Stephen Malley (Redford). He tries to rejuvenate cynical student Todd Hayes (Andrew Garfield), a bright student who gives up on classes due to the relentless hypocrisy he sees in politics. How does Malley try to urge Todd to see hope for the future? With the tale of two former students who lived up to their ideals: Arian and Ernest! Lions intertwines these three tales and shows their semi-connected development.

As I watched Lions, I recalled all those breathless TV commercial about new and improved products. Yes, Lions is three, three, three flicks in one! We get a two-man stage play about current politics, a Black Hawk Down style military adventure, and a civics lesson about democracy and responsibility.

If a movie were to try to develop any of these to a significant degree, that flick might’ve been reasonably successful. However, with barely 90 minutes of screen time allotted to three loosely connected tales, development goes to the bottom of the scrum. Often the film feels more like an editorial than an actual story. It exists as an attempt to state the filmmakers’ worldview and understanding of the current political situation without much real plot or character development.

This means Lions usually feels more like a civics lesson than a real movie. Ironically, it becomes a piece of propaganda with an anti-propaganda bent. Don’t swallow what The Man tells you, Lions says – just swallow whatever we tell you! Expect a 90-minute criticism of the Bush administration and the current wars.

Hey, I don’t mind some constructive dissection of the problems in those areas, but too much of Lions feels like random bashing without much real thought behind it. The awkward manner the film joins its three tales doesn’t help. It never melds them in a satisfying manner, and it jumps from one to another without much clarity or smoothness.

Lions probably would’ve worked better if it put more of an emphasis on one of the three stories. With such a short running time and so much to cover, all three get too little exposition. They become thumbnail sketches without the depth they need to prosper.

As for that vaunted cast, nothing here requires any of the actors to break a sweat. Both Cruise and Redford encounter one-dimensional roles, and neither manages to elevate the mediocre material to form true personalities. At least they do better than Streep, who turns in a disappointing turn as the journalist. Rather than create the jaded, tough reporter Roth should be, Streep makes the role closer to a shy schoolgirl overcome by the senator's charisma. Streep makes odd choices that undercut her character.

To its credit, Lions never turns into a dull film and it keeps us reasonably interested across its 92 minutes. It simply fails to live up to its potential, and it lacks any real point other than to flail impotently at the current political environment. This isn’t a terrible movie, but it is a terrible disappointment.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus C

Lions for Lambs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie featured a good but unexceptional transfer.

Sharpness usually seemed solid. A few shots suffered from mild softness, but the majority of the elements came across as accurate and well-defined. I noticed no signs of jagged edges, moiré effects or edge enhancement, and only a couple of small specks marred the presentation.

The film’s palette depended on its setting. Most of the flick went with a fairly natural set of tones, though the college scenes adapted a light golden tint. The military sequences offered a cold semi-green palette. The DVD replicated these colors well, as they looked appropriate for the material. Blacks seemed deep and firm, but shadows could be a little dense. The military shots appeared a bit darker than I’d expect so it became somewhat tough to make out details. This was a perfectly acceptable “B” image.

In terms of audio, Lions provided both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Most of the time I think the flicks with both DD and DTS mixes sound pretty much identical; I tend to only notice volume differences, as the DTS tracks are usually notably louder. That trend continued here. Once I adjusted for that factor, I thought the two mixes were very similar.

Virtually all of the interesting audio elements came from the scenes in Afghanistan. The military scenes provided a mix of involving elements. We got helicopters all around the room as well as gunfire and explosions. These sequences worked quite nicely, as they brought out a broad and well-developed sense of place and action.

The other parts of Lions lacked anywhere near the same ambition, which was logical since those were chatty segments firmly based in offices. Dialogue dominated the Cruise/Streep and Redford/Garfield scenes, so don’t expect much from the other channels. Music did provided nice stereo spread, at least.

Throughout the film, audio quality was quite good. Speech consistently sounded natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music swelled well and demonstrated solid range and definition. Effects also came across in a positive way. Those sections gave us the only really challenging elements, as they boasted clear, accurate material with clean highs and deep lows. Since only a third of the flick used the spectrum in an engaging manner, I couldn’t give the tracks anything above a “B+”, but the audio did work well for this film.

As we hit the DVD’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Robert Redford. He offers a running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and characters, performances and working with the actors, themes and story, camerawork, and changes to the script.

Redford’s commentary doesn’t tell us a ton about the film’s creation. Instead, he leans heavily in the direction of themes and interpretation. That’d be fine if Lions offered a richer experience. However, since it telegraphed its points in a simplistic manner, Redford’s take on matters seems unnecessary and redundant. He also lays on his political viewpoint a little too heavily, and dead air becomes a problem during the flick’s second half. Redford provides a moderately entertaining track but not one that does much to illuminate his work.

Three featurettes follow. The Making of Lions for Lambs goes for 20 minutes, 50 seconds as it shows movie clips, shots from the set and interviews. We hear from Redford, producer Tracy Falco, producer/screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan, director of photography Philippe Rousselot, production designer Jan Roelfs, editor Joe Hutshing, composer Mark Isham, and actors Tom Cruise, Peter Berg, Meryl Streep, Derek Luke, Michael Pena, and Andrew Garfield. The piece looks at the script, and stories, characters and themes, cast and crew, locations and production design, editing and music, and closing thoughts about the film.

If you hope to learn more here than you did during the commentary, you’ll leave “Making” disappointed. The program exists mainly to tout the greatness of the flick as well as all involved. Due to the film’s subject matter, it takes on a fairly subdued tone, but the effect remains the same, as hype and praise dominate. You might get a few minor useful tidbits, but there’s not much here to make the show worthwhile.

Next comes the eight-minute and 24-second Script to Screen. It features Redford, Cruise, Streep, and Carnahan. They discuss the screenplay, the stories and the characters. We find a smattering of decent notes about what Carnahan tried to do with his work and how he structured it, but once again, the featurette feels thin. It just doesn’t do much more than tell us that Lions is an Important Film.

Finally, UA Legacy goes for six minutes, 56 seconds as it the history of United Artists. That doesn’t mean details about the studio, though. Instead, it’s a simple collage of scenes from prominent UA flicks over the decades. It’s kind of cool to see all the UA classics, but it still adds up to nothing more than a promotional reel.

An ad for Valkyrie opens the disc. The set also includes both teaser and theatrical promos for Lions as well as trailers for Pathology, Death at a Funeral, Feast of Love, The Darjeeling Limited and the FX Network.

With a much-lauded roster of actors present, many expected great things from Lions for Lambs. Unfortunately, the end result was a thin, ham-fisted piece of propaganda that can entertain but never remotely lives up to its potential. The DVD presents good picture and audio but extras disappoint, mainly because the Robert Redford commentary proves boring much of the time. Though this is a decent DVD, the movie itself never proves very interesting.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1.0909 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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