Death Defying Acts (Blu-ray) (2007)

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Released 8-Jun-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 92:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gillian Armstrong
Icon Entertainment Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones
Guy Pearce
Timothy Spall
Saoirse Ronan
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Cezary Skubiszewski

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

†††† Death Defying Acts , released in 2007, is the most recent feature film for Australian director Gillian Armstrong. Forever associated with her first feature, the classic My Brilliant Career, Armstrong has helmed Australian films, American films and co-productions over the last 30 years scoring at least one hit, Little Women, and some that struggled to find favour with critics or the public. Death Defying Acts unfortunately falls into the latter category. The release of the film on Blu-ray gives fans of the film or its stars Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones a chance to own it in high definition. But for average viewers is it worth the investment of your time and money?

†††† The film loosely charts a period in the life of Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce). Those looking for a strict biography would be better (only just) turning to the old George Marshall film Houdini, featuring Tony Curtis as the Hungarian-American escapologist. Death Defying Acts focuses accurately on an obsession of Houdini, debunking the work of spiritualists and mediums.

†††† It is 1926 and Houdini is touring Great Britain. He announces a $10,000 reward for any person who can prove the existence of the afterlife by recounting his motherís dying words to him. This quickly catches the eye of phoney psychic Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who formulates a rough plan to swindle Houdini out of his bucks. Mary is a single mother with a resourceful daughter (Saoirse Ronan of The Lovely Bones and Atonement) who aids and abets her mother in performing penny music hall mystical displays. Standing very much in the way of the swindlers is Houdini's manager Sugarman (Timothy Spall) who can smell a con a mile away.

†††† As luck would have it, Houdini also suspects that Mary is a con artist but he finds himself attracted to her. As the swindlers work hard to find out a clue to the motherís last words both quarry and prey are drawn into a romance. Sugarman sees the effect that the attraction is having on his boss and tries to dissuade Mary, then threaten and bribe her to leave it alone.

†††† Death Defying Acts has some things to recommend it. The costuming is superb and the set design gives an accurate reflection of the times. Guy Pearce makes a good fist of the enigmatic Houdini but the stand-out would have to be the ever reliable Timothy Spall, who invests all the nuance given him into the role. There is some nice cinematography and a varied and engaging score by regular composer for Australian films, Cezary Skubiszewski.

†††† Unfortunately, the bad tends to outweigh the good with this film. In a recent interview Gillian Armstrong took a swipe at test screenings and the fickle public suggesting that viewers reported that they didn't like Zeta-Jones. Her character? No, just her the test reports are reputed to have said. The problems with the film centre on her character but they are a combination of script issues and miscasting. Her character is unsympathetic and Zeta-Jones can play cold and calculating but the shift to warm and love struck is too difficult a chasm to cross. When we first meet her she is carrying out a trick which is at best heartless and there is very little time and script motivation for her to shift from scammer to lover. Her ill-fitting Scottish brogue doesn't help and there is no chemistry between the two leads. Zeta-Jones has played sharp tricksters before, her characters in Entrapment and Intolerable Cruelty were gloriously scheming. But those were heist/black comedy flicks, not a romance which hopes to wring out a few tears. As a Dickensian waif, Ronan is too undefined a character. Has she really got a touch of "the gift"?

†††† As said, for completist fans of the actors or the director this is worth adding to the collection but for others it contains only meagre rewards.

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Transfer Quality


†††† Death Defying Acts was shot on 35mm film and shown in the cinema at an original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. That aspect ratio has been preserved for this Blu-ray release.

†††† The High Definition transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. However, the only real "flaw", a softness in the daylight scenes, is I suspect a result of the original film and not a result of anything done during the Blu-ray mastering. The film contains quite a few scenes where daylight seeps into drawing rooms limiting the sharpness of the transfer. The colours in these scenes are a little weak and drab. No such concerns apply to the night scenes and interiors. Whenever Zeta-Jones is dressed to the nines the colours are rich and bold and the warm yellow light makes for a gorgeous picture. The "dream sequences" are gloriously coloured. The flesh tones are accurate throughout.

†††† There are no technical defects I could detect. The grain level was very low and there was no edge enhancement.

†††† There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


†††† Death Defying Acts features two High Definition soundtracks - a DTS Master Audio and Dolby Digital True HD. Both are in 5.1 surround.

†††† The soundtrack is pretty good. The surrounds are used from time to time with good effect and the sub-woofer comes in with required force whenever a sound, such as the popping of flashbulbs and the sound in Houdini's water tank, are having an effect on Houdini. Otherwise the track is fairly restrained with the centre speaker getting most of the action. Dialogue can be heard clearly although sometimes the Scottish accents of the leading ladies blur.

†††† As said, the score is consistently interesting and comes though cleanly and crisply in the transfer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


The extras for this film were handcuffed in a box but somehow managed to escape!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†† This film is yet to be released in Region A


†††† Death Defying Acts is a disappointment whichever way you look at it. The cast are talented but the script gives them no favours. Perhaps another actress could have created a better Mary out of this material but it would have been hard going. The Blu-ray is not display material but is nonetheless perfectly adequate and the soundtrack is pretty serviceable.

†††† One for the fans only.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, August 09, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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