Blu-Ray Roundup: August 11th 2014

Blu-Ray Roundup: August 11th 2014

Good morning readers! I’m excited to bring you the 4th installment of the Blu-Ray Roundup column on We Live Film. For those of you that didn’t watch me during my YouTube days, I hosted a weekly series called the Blu-Ray Roundup where I reviewed the latest High Definition (and some DVD) titles in brief. I continue that tradition here on We Live Film with this weekly column discussing the latest home video releases. So without further ado, here are my mini-reviews/thoughts on some recent and upcoming titles:

RailwayMan

The Railway Man

Distributor: Anchor Bay

Street Date: August 12th 2014

*I was surprised to see such mixed reviews for this one, as I thought The Railway Man was a very moving film with great performances. Based on a true story, The Railway Man stars Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, a British WWII veteran and a survivor of the horrifying conditions and treatment he experienced at a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Told through a narrative that can be a little jarring, the story jumps back and forth from the present where Eric’s wife (Nicole Kidman) and good friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) help him to track down the surviving Japanese soldier who tortured him, and the past where a young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) is subjected to the harsh reality of being captured by the enemy during wartime. The performances from everyone involved are outstanding, especially Firth, who continues to build on an impressive career of layered character driven performances. The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the beauty of the present and the horrors of the past with meticulously framed perfection. The Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay features a stunning transfer with fine detail, incredible clarity, and nice color reproduction. The 5.1 DTS-HD track is exceptional here as well, balancing dialogue, score, and background audio with dynamic clarity across all channels. Special features include a commentary with Director Jonathan Teplitzky and co-writer Andy Paterson, as well as a Making of The Railway Man featurette. I highly recommend this one, and please do ignore the negative reviews regarding the jumpy narrative. The performances and powerful dialogue alone are worth a recommendation.

SouthernComfort

Southern Comfort

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Street Date: July 8th 2014

*Shout! Factory’s Blu-Ray edition for Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort (1981) is one of the finest releases from the last month. Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine star as squad leaders of a Louisiana National Guard unit, sent deep into the rural bayou for weekend training. They’re a rough bunch of southern boys, and don’t particularly take to Corporal Hardin’s (Booth) straight-laced rules and attitude, but Private Spencer (Carradine) manages to warm up to the hardened leader. Deep in the swamps, the squad eventually loses their way and they decide to take some local Cajun canoes to get back to base faster. Unfortunately for them, the deep-woods Cajun folk don’t take too kindly to that, and an eerie battle begins. Armed with very little live ammo, the squad must go up against the well-armed Cajun antagonists and their creative traps, all the while trying to find their way out of the bayou. It’s a little bit Rambo: First Blood, a dash of Deliverance, and all fun. The performances are great; especially the chemistry between Boothe and Carradine, and the action is swift and inventive. The brand new Blu-Ray edition from Shout! features a strong transfer with nice color reproduction, surprising detail, and a healthy layer of authentic film grain intact. The DTS-HD master audio, while never truly dynamic, suits the film just fine and offers a front-heavy sound that balances action and dialogue well for the most part. Special features include new interviews with Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Walter Hill, and many more associated with the film, select outtakes, and the original theatrical trailer. This is a well-made film with a great package from Shout!, and comes highly recommended.

UnderTheSkin

Under the Skin

Distributor: Lionsgate

Street Date: July 15th 2014

*There have been two standout non-traditional films that have come out this year that have stuck with me for days after viewing. The first one, Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, featured a unique but seemingly nonsensical narrative that I appreciated, but ultimately can’t say I would revisit. The second, Under the Skin, left me in awe with its beauty, horror, and Kubrick-esque hypnotism. Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien being in female form on Earth, stalking the Scottish cities and countryside for human prey. But it’s so much more than that simple plot synopsis! The film features absolute jaw-dropping visuals from Director Jonathan Glazer and Director of Photography Daniel Landin, superb acting all around (with non-actors making up most of the cast), and a non-traditional narrative that immediately makes you want to revisit it after first viewing. The need to revisit this one is actually imperative for the audience, as the shocking yet striking subtlety and confusing imagery require multiple viewings to try to wrap your head around. The bottom line is? I loved it, and highly recommend the film, which is one that I strongly believe will go on to become a twisted classic over the years. The DVD edition from Lionsgate features strong picture quality, though I did upgrade to the Blu-Ray edition to fully experience the gorgeous visuals. Black levels are inky and consistent, and the unique lighting and color grading is mesmerizing in High Definition. Special features include a making-of featurette that sheds some light on the filmmakers’ intentions. I would love to see a full-fledged special edition released down the road, as a commentary and roundtable discussion from the Director, cast, and crew would be fascinating. Under the Skin is hands down one of my favorite films of 2014.

BlueRuin

Blue Ruin

Distributor: Anchor Bay

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin has received quite the positive word of mouth over the past few months, receiving various awards and word-of-mouth praise throughout the movie community. Blue Ruin stars Macon Blair as Dwight, a homeless man living out of his car, who is informed by a well-to-do police officer that the man that murdered his parents is being released from prison. With revenge in mind, Dwight sets out to kill the man, unaware of the chain reaction that it will eventually cause for him and his remaining family. I hesitate to say too much more plot-wise regarding Blue Ruin, but I will say that I feel surprised by the near universal acclaim. It’s a rather simplistic plot, filmed and acted very well, but at the end of the day it just didn’t feel as unique or original as I had been led to believe. As stated above, the cinematography is brilliantly executed, which was unfortunately, the only big take away for me besides the solid performances. There are a few twists and turns that mean to elevate the story beyond a simple revenge thriller, but I was neither shocked nor awed when they were revealed. The execution feels muddled in the sense that I simply was never given enough as a viewer to truly care about these characters. This reminded me of a distant relative to No Country for Old Men. It would however appear that I’m in the minority on this one! The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition from Anchor Bay looks flawless in High Definition, with great detail and clarity, boasting a beautifully constructed color scheme. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is solid as well, utilizing all channels with its dynamic range and supporting both drama and action consistently. Special features include a worthwhile making-of featurette, a commentary, deleted scenes, and a camera test. Though I’m sad to report that I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the movie as most, the Blu-Ray delivers on the technical side.

HowWestWonS2

How the West Was Won: The Complete Second Season

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Street Date: July 15th 2014

*Gone are the days of the television Western, and though How the West Was Won was a bit more Little House on the Prairie than Rawhide for my taste, it’s a relic from a bygone era of weekly Western entertainment. Cowboys, gunfights, Native Americans, drama on the trail, there’s something for everyone on this second season effort from Warner Bros. James Arness (The Thing from Another World) returns as Zeb, the patriarch of the Macahan clan as they dodge conflict between the U.S. Army and Sioux Tribes, pursue their fugitive son Luke as he escapes the law and Confederate treasure hunters, and other fun adventures across the American West. New to the cast this season is Fionnula Flanagan, as Aunt Molly, who brings a lot of charm to the series. This 6 disc set features tons of great episodes, as well as a handful of boring ones, but the good far outweighs the tedious here. There aren’t any special features to speak of, but the DVD video quality is serviceable. With the cinematography involved, I would love to see this short-lived series in High Definition someday.

FadingGigolo

Fading Gigolo

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Street Date: August 19th 2014

*Written, Directed, and Starring John Turturro, Fading Gigolo is a love letter to Woody Allen films that just so happens to co-star Woody Allen. Don’t get me wrong, it stands on its own as Turturro’s work, but the homage is clearly present throughout the entire film. I grew up on Allen’s work, as my parents were long time admirers of his brand of comedy. The anxiety-ridden, guilt-stricken, bumbling stick of his long and admirable career has delighted me as a filmgoer for decades. Even his dramatic directorial efforts such as Interiors (itself a love letter to Bergman’s work) have fascinated me. In Fading Gigolo, Turturro stars as Fioravante, best friend and former employee to Allen’s Murray, who convinces him to become a gigolo after his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) mentions that she would love to pursue a threesome with the right man. Both men are strapped for cash, and decide to embark on this ridiculous journey together, with Murray as Pimp, and Fioravante as the gigolo. Fading Gigolo provides plenty of laughs, and though it’s crude and misogynist to a degree, the chemistry between the stars is too impressive to ignore, as they keep your attention throughout. The dialogue is very clever, and even though the film meanders at points (especially with Liev Schreiber’s character), this unlikely story is very entertaining and funny. The Blu-Ray edition from Millennium Entertainment features solid picture quality and suitable 5.1 TrueHD audio. Special features include deleted scenes (rightfully trimmed) and a lively audio commentary with John Turturro.

BillieJean

The Legend of Billie Jean (Fair is Fair Edition)

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*The long awaited High Definition release of The Legend of Billie Jean has finally arrived with Mill Creek’s brand new Blu-Ray edition. Having never seen the film before, and hearing high praise for it from friends, I was excited to sit down and experience this underrated 80’s gem. In The Legend of Billie Jean, Helen Slater plays the title role and a ridiculously young Christian Slater plays her brother Binx. The siblings live in Corpus Christi, Texas where the townsfolk can be a bit rough, and they get into a heap of trouble after a group of local jerks damage Binx’s motor scooter. When the pair moseys on down to one of the aforementioned jerks’ fathers to demand payment for the scooter repairs, things get awkward when the man attempts to rape Billie Jean. After an accidental shooting, the siblings are on the run, and quickly become nationwide celebrities with their videotaped demands, stance against authority, and rebellious ideals. What was meant to be a serious youth power film ended up bombing at the box office, despite a hit song from the soundtrack. Watching Billie Jean now, the movie comes off rather campy, light, and fun. The performances are earnest, and the story keeps you entertained. The new Blu-Ray from Mill Creek Entertainment features a solid transfer that fans will be delighted with, but disappointing audio, especially for a film with such a nice soundtrack. There’s a recent commentary featuring Helen Slater as the sole special feature. Recommended for an 80’s night party!

PingPongSummer

Ping Pong Summer

Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Street Date: August 5th 2014

*Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer is a light, fun, and creative little film. It’s a coming-of-age story in the vein of The Way Way Back that feels so right and true in its space and time. Set in 1985, 13-year old Rad Miracle visits Ocean City, Maryland with his family and discovers a new friend, girls, Ping Pong, music, and an unexpected mentor in his neighbor (Susan Sarandon). The music is great, the jokes mostly work, and the nostalgia is pure bliss. If I had a sole complaint, it’s that the story rides a thin line along the coming-of-age dramedy and all-out comedy, not quite sure what it wants to be. But the bottom line is this: it’s a funny film either way, and nails the pop culture references and setting for the film. The Blu-Ray edition from Millennium Entertainment features a great transfer that comes to life in High Definition, with solid colors and great deal of detail and clarity. The soundtrack is amazing, utilizing the 5.1 TrueHD mix to its full potential. Special features include an audio commentary with the filmmaker as well as a making-of featurette entitled Lazer Beach.

TMNT

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Classics

Distributor: Lionsgate

Street Date: July 29th 2014

*With the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film hitting theaters this weekend, Lionsgate has released this awesome DVD compilation of the Top 10 Fan-Favorite episode of Fred Wolf’s 1987 animated series. This was the Ninja Turtles I grew up on in the 80’s, introducing me to the radical gang, their sensei Splinter, and the evil Shredder for the first time. Revisiting these select episodes after all these years was a delight, and what made it even sweeter was being able to show my kids the TMNT that I grew up with. Episodes include: Planet of the Turtleoids, Night of the Rogues, Cowabunga Shredhead, Superhero for a Day, Turtles at the Earth’s Core, Curse of the Evil Eye, The Turtles and the Hare, The Big Blow Out, My Brother the Bad Guy, and Shredder & Splintered. The animated is a little rough compared to today’s animated shows, but the fun is still there! The DVD edition from Lionsgate features solid picture quality given what they had to work with, which definitely features some anomalies, but looks overall clean nonetheless. Special features include: The Turtles: A Ninjatastic Look Back, Exclusive Artist Interviews, and A Shellabration of a Fan-Nomenon Sensation: Devoted and Die-Hard Fans Speak. Highly recommend for Turtle fans old and new!

AngriestBrooklyn

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Distributor: Lionsgate

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*Phil Alden Robinson’s The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is a classic example of a good idea with poor execution. Robin Williams plays a tired, bitter, angry soul living in New York. He hates everything. He’s the kind of person that you have encountered in real life, and turn the other way when you see them coming. After a morning car accident with a taxi, Williams finds out that he has suffered a brain aneurism, and demands that his substitute doctor (Mila Kunis) tells him how long he has to live. Tired of his brutal nature, she tells him 90 minutes, which he promptly utilizes to attempt to make peace with all of the people he has wronged in his life. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn just isn’t funny on the whole, even though the performances are decent. Williams runs from one broken situation to the next, dragging the viewer along with him in this downward spiral of a film. I found it highly unbelievable, and a chore to sit through. The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition from Lionsgate looks and sounds good, providing a nice home viewing experience for those that enjoyed the film. Special features include a Behind the Rage featurette and a Gag Reel (which is funnier than the film itself). Skip this one.

SingleMomsClub

The Single Mom’s Club

Distributor: Lionsgate

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*Another year, another Tyler Perry comedy. With The Single Mom’s Club, Mr. Perry presents a cliché and stereotypical story of a group of single mothers, desperate for a shared comfort and outlet for their stressful lives. In a happenstance moment, each of their children spray paint their school’s property and the mothers are brought together to create a support group of sorts, hoping to make some good come out of a bad incident. The movie is painfully unfunny, and the plot turns and relationship pieces feel so incredibly heavy handed that I would assume it may be borderline offensive at times for female viewers. I’m positive that those weren’t the intentions of the filmmakers, but it sure comes across that way for the viewer. Suffice to say I wasn’t crazy about this film. The Blu-Ray edition from Lionsgate features a great transfer and audio track for the film. Special features include The Single Mom’s Sisterhood featurette and The Men’s Club featurette. Definitely skip this one at all costs.

Protector2

The Protector 2

Distributor: Magnet Releasing

Street Date: July 29th 2014

*Tom Yung Goong 2, a.k.a. The Protector 2, stars Tony Jaa as Kham, duking it out with local gangster LC (Wu Tang Clan’s RZA) throughout Thailand’s underground gangland. There are several minor plot details I’m skipping over because, frankly, it doesn’t matter. Having been a big fan of Tony Jaa’s incredible martial arts skills and standards set in previous films of his (such as the Ong Bak series), The Protector 2 comes as a major disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fun action sequences, but for a guy who has become known for his practical and natural artistry in fight choreography, it’s baffling as to why there is so much cheesy wire work and CGI involved in this film. The Raid 2 is a recent example of the incredible stunt choreography that can make a mediocre plotline that much more amazing to sit through, and it’s a shame that The Protector 2 falls back into such familiar “new school” action territory. Another puzzling aspect of this entry in the series is the addition of RZA as the bad guy, who not only seems completely out of his element, but provides more unintentional laughs than menace as the villain. As has been the case in some of my previous reviews in this column, the good news is that the Blu-Ray from Magnet Releasing looks great, almost too great, as it exposes some of the cheap effects work. Detail is clear and fine, making for a beautiful home video presentation. The HD sound is also a highlight, with every punch, kick, and crash fully enveloping your home theater. Special features include several behind the scenes featurettes, an AXS TV promo, and trailers for other Magnet Releasing titles. I love Tony Jaa’s previous work, but this one was missing that special touch.

Flatliners

Flatliners

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*Before sitting down to watch Flatliners on Mill Creek’s latest Blu-Ray release, I had completely forgotten how much fun this movie is! One of Joel Schumacher’s finer directorial efforts, Flatliners stars Kiefer Sutherland as Nelson, a medical student who convinces four of his fellow classmates (Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt) to discover the “great beyond” of death, conducting experiments to induce a near death experience to explore the afterlife. The students have no idea what they’re in for, as each of their unique visions after “flat lining” come back to haunt them. I can’t believe it’s been 24 years since its theatrical release, and it absolutely holds up in 2014. Though the effects are obviously dated, it doesn’t matter, the performances and sheer thrills as we accompany this group on their trips to the afterlife and beyond still make for great edge-of-your-seat entertainment. This brand new Blu-Ray edition from Mill Creek retains the same picture quality of the previously released Sony edition, which looks very clean, almost too clean in some sequences. Digital Noise Reduction looks to have been over-applied in some areas, leaving facial features looking waxy and fine object detail a tad soft. But it’s not intermittent, and certainly not the worst case of DNR I’ve seen. The audio is OK, but not being in HD sounds muffled and distorted at times. There are no special features to speak of. It’s a tough call, as the movie itself remains a treat for science fiction and horror fans, but the Blu-Ray technical merits are slightly disappointing. At the current cheap price point, I still recommend picking it up!

 

Well folks, that’s going to do it for this week’s Blu-Ray Roundup column. Stay tuned to We Live Film in the coming weeks for the next installment with reviews for the latest Blu-Ray and DVD releases.

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