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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » China Moon
China Moon
MGM // R // December 26, 2001
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 28, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Cinematographer John Bailey is one of the most respected artists in his league, working on such recent films as "For Love Of The Game", "The Big Chill", "American Gigolo" and "As Good As It Gets". "China Moon" was the cinematographer's first major effort in the director's chair, but I still wonder what he saw in the material. While "China Moon" has some moments, the majority of the film feels like its stepping awkwardly over ground that's been covered by many films in the past.

Ed Harris plays Kyle Bodine, the usual hard-boiled detective who falls for Rachel Munro (Madeleine Stowe) when he spots her at a bar one night. It turns out, she's the wife of wealthy and abusive banker Rupert Munro (Charles Dance). Of course, one can tell where this is going - Kyle will have to get both of them out of trouble so that they can live happily ever after.

The film has several problems that sink what could have been an otherwise fine little noir drama. The first half-hour or so of the picture slips along with little energy or intensity. The romantic meeting of Stowe and Harris isn't convincing, nor do the two really have any chemistry together. Furthermore, the screenplay not only doesn't provide a cast of fine actors with much dialogue, the characters are one-dimensional and too familiar. It doesn't help that the feeling is off; lines are offered in a flat way that makes some of the worst lines fall even flatter.

The performers at least attempt. Ed Harris, who is one of the best actors out there, tries to at least attempt some subtle moments with his character. Stowe isn't bad, either. The film also marks an early effort from Benicio Del Toro, who plays the partner of the Harris character. Still, a film like this only works if the leads are correct for each other and Harris and Stowe aren't - there's little heat or chemistry between the two. The film's suprises even aren't that interesting, as the film doesn't conduct itself in a manner very energetic; both subtle sequences and "intense" ones both feel equally flat.

"China Moon" was one of the films that stuck on the shelf at the financially troubled Orion Studios in the early 1990's (also including "Blue Sky" and several others). While it was completed in 1991, it wasn't released until 1994.


The DVD

VIDEO: MGM presents "China Moon" in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan & scan editions. This is the third MGM catalog title I have reviewed this week. While the presentation is not entirely successful, the image quality is noticably more consistent than the other two titles that I've viewed. Sharpness and detail on the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen edition is good, but varies a bit, as some scenes looked a bit softer and some darker or dimly-lit scenes appeared murky.

Thankfully, the only worry during this presentation is print flaws - and they don't appear that often. A few little marks and the occasional specks appeared, but as they almost always seemed to appear during the darker or dimly-lit moments, they really weren't that noticable. Edge enhancement wasn't seen, but the slightest bit of pixelation was apparent once or twice.

The film offers a rather subdued color palette, but colors did appear accurate and nicely rendered, with no smearing or other flaws. While this presentation was certainly not anything spectacular, it still looked quite nice.

SOUND: The film's 2.0 soundtrack is okay, but nothing too remarkable. The film's slightly effective noir-ish soundtrack comes through clearly and crisply, while the ambient sounds (rain, occasional breeze or two, etc) are also nicely presented. Dialogue - and that's most of this movie - sounded natural and easily understood.

MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art.

EXTRAS:: Trailer.

Final Thoughts: While a moment or two of "China Moon" shines, the rest of the film feels oddly flat and dull; the performers are all okay, but have been better elsewhere. MGM's DVD offers a somewhat consistently better presentation, but still - as with most of their catalog titles - nothing besides the trailer as an extra. The price is higher than MGM's usual catalog release as well, at $19.99. Unless you're a fan, I'd skip it.

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