Blu-Ray Roundup: August 26th 2014

Blu-Ray Roundup: August 26th 2014

Good evening readers! I’m excited to bring you the 5th 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:

Shogun (CBS/Paramount)

Shogun (CBS/Paramount)

Shogun

Distributor: CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment

Street Date: July 22nd 2014

*Originally broadcast in September 1980 as an NBC miniseries, James Clavell’s Shogun has gone on to set the standard for epic television movie events. In this fantastic series, Richard Chamberlain portrays John Blackthorne, an English trader who is taken prisoner by the Japanese Samurai when his ship crashes ashore on the Japanese coast. When he’s released, religious upheaval in the region puts him in a tight spot as a Protestant, as Catholic Englishmen attempt to bring Christianity to the Japanese. On that same token, his situation gets Lord Toranaga (Toshiro Mifune) involved, as he climbs the ranks to become the next Shogun for the Emperor. With this new trusting partnership forged, Blackthorne is aided in his assimilation by a beautiful interpreter, Lady Mariko. But could all this be a façade for Lord Blackthorne? The outsider in Japan battles both physical and mental turmoil on this journey of self-discovery and cultural and religious divide. Shogun may not be as impressive as it once was in 1980, but the story and acting is strong, with an impressive budget and directorial execution for a television event. The Blu-Ray edition from CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment features outstanding video quality, with bold and lush color grading and authentic film grain intact, it looks gorgeous in High Definition. The DTS-HD master audio track is quite powerful as well, providing a rich and satisfying soundscape for your home theater system. Special features include The Making of Shogun 13-part documentary (in standard definition), Historical Perspectives featurettes (also in SD), and a scene-specific commentary from the Director, Jerry London. I had a wonderful time revisiting Shogun in glorious High Definition, and it remains one of the better television miniseries’ of our time.

The Grace Kelly Collection (Warner Bros.)

The Grace Kelly Collection (Warner Bros.)

The Grace Kelly Collection

Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Street Date: July 29th 2014

*From golden age film and television actress to the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s real-life story is a Hollywood fairy tale come to life. Though she passed away far too young, she left millions of people all around the world with a glorious filmography, and many of her greatest films are included here in Warner Bros.’ The Grace Kelly Collection. Included herein are six films: Mogambo (1953), The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Country Girl (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), and High Society (1956). Grace is both gorgeous and clever on film, sophisticated and intelligent, beautiful and dangerous. You really can’t go wrong with any of the films included in this set, and my personal favorites will always be her Hitchcock films (Dial M/To Catch a Thief). She had a charm and beauty that emanated off-screen and into her audiences’ hearts. There are several big draws to picking up this DVD collection including a brand new Princess Grace de Monaco: A Moment in Time documentary, as well as a pamphlet of important documents such as a letter from Bing Crosby regarding his kind words for Grace, and several gorgeous color and black/white production stills and posters for her films (as you can see from the above “unboxing” picture). The DVD picture quality is very good for the most part, but I do wish I could have seen this set produced for a Blu-Ray edition to take advantage of the superior format. With that being said, the aspect ratios are all correct, the colors look striking and authentic, and the film grain remains intact (though the definition suffers slightly from the format’s limitations). The extra features on this set alone are worth recommending a purchase, especially if you’ve yet to experience Grace Kelly’s few Hollywood films. She was more than just a silver screen beauty; she was a fine actress and a classy Hollywood legend. Recommended!

Tarzan: Special Edition (Walt Disney)

Tarzan: Special Edition (Walt Disney)

Tarzan: Special Edition

Distributor: Walt Disney

Street Date: August 12th 2014

*The long awaited release of Disney’s Tarzan is finally here! Upon its theatrical release in 1999, it was the single most expensive film the company had ever produced, and also the last major box-office and critical success of the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999). In the film, an English couple’s ship crashes off the coast of Africa, and they’re left to fend for themselves and their baby in a make-shift shack built from the ship’s wreckage. When the leopard Sabor kills the baby’s parents, Kala the Gorilla comes to save the day. The child is raised by Kala, renamed “Tarzan”, and battles for respect and dominance among the Gorilla group. When a group of English explorers arrive, Tarzan is tested in both his loyalty and in love, as he slowly falls for Jane, the daughter of a Professor. Torn between his animal world and his human heritage, Tarzan is set off on a journey of self-discovery. Walt Disney’s Tarzan benefits from some wonderful animation, great voice work, and a compelling story that remains engaging, even though it’s been told several times before. The Blu-Ray edition from Disney looks remarkable in High Definition, with a bright and lush color scheme that is gorgeous to behold. I’ve read some other reviews on this title that mention aliasing and macro-blocking among other perceived anomalies, so minute and inconsequential (unless you’re watching on a 100+ inch screen), that I’m forced to roll my eyes. The disc looks marvelous, so don’t let that stray you from a purchase. The audio is finely tuned and dynamic to boot, making for a well-rounded home video presentation. Special features include deleted scenes, a research trip to Africa featurette, the making of the music from the film, a music video, among others. This is a great release, and a welcome addition to any Disney fans Blu-Ray collection!

Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Special Edition (Walt Disney)

Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Special Edition (Walt Disney)

Bedknobs & Broomsticks: Special Edition

Distributor: Walt Disney

Street Date: August 12th 2014

*Bedknobs & Broomsticks is another long-awaited Disney catalog title that has finally made its way to the Blu-Ray format. Taking place during Nazi Germany’s Blitzkrieg bombing of the UK, Angela Lansbury stars as Eglantine Price, a student of the Correspondence College of Witchcraft, who takes in young Charlie, Paul, and Carrie Rawlins. Though her magic spells definitely require some fine-tuning, she is able to put a spell on a bed knob that, when attached to her Father’s bed, can whisk them away to any place they so desire. When Eglantine and the children receive a letter about the college closing, they journey on their magical bed to London to speak to the Dean, Mr. Browne (David Tomlinson), who takes them on a wild journey to find the final spell from the spell-book. Their many misadventures along the way feature some gut-busting laughs, beautiful hand-drawn animation, and a cuteness factor that can’t be denied. Though it’s certainly dated in some respects, Bedknobs & Broomsticks remains a fun children’s tale from Disney’s Golden age that still holds the power to enchant its audience. The Blu-Ray edition from Walt Disney Home Video looks splendid on the format, with rich textures, vivid fine object detail, authentic skin tones, and lush colors. In addition, the healthy natural film grain is always present. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is another standout aspect, mixing the music, dialogue, and background effects with fine-tuned perfection. Special features include The Sherman Brothers’ Music Magic featurette, deleted and extended songs (which are phenomenal), deleted and extended scenes, and much more. This is a fun Disney entry from 1971, and still holds up for both children and adults.

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad/Fun & Fancy Free Double Feature (Walt Disney)

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad/Fun & Fancy Free Double Feature (Walt Disney)

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad/Fun & Fancy Free Double Feature

Distributor: Walt Disney

Street Date: August 12th 2014

*With this fun double feature release from Disney we get two catalog classics available for the first time on Blu-Ray: 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad and 1947’s Fun & Fancy Free. All the included shorts remain inventive and fun children’s classics from Disney’s Golden Age, films that my 5 year-old and 3 year-old could easily get caught up in. First up is The Wind in the Willows, where the reckless but well-meaning Mr. Toad goes on an awfully big adventure, gets framed for car theft, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and eventually released by his friends (lesson learned). Then we have The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, my personal favorite of the bunch, which details the misadventures of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane as he battles the legendary Headless Horseman. Our features are rounded out with the loveable circus bear Bongo and his adventures in the wild frontier, and Mickey & The Beanstalk, a childhood favorite of mine. The Blu-Ray presentation here is a bit more hit-or-miss than the aforementioned August 12th releases, with an inherent softness from the source material and some slight anomalies and damage to the prints. But these films have still never looked better on Home Video. The hand-drawn animation is impressive in High Definition, with detail and color-grading that is top notch. The sole special feature is a good one too, as Walt Disney Pictures has included the 1941 film The Reluctant Dragon for the first time on the format. All in all, this one comes recommended, especially for the wee ones!

A Haunted House 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

A Haunted House 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

A Haunted House 2

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Street Date: August 12th 2014

* Before I even begin to tear into A Haunted House 2, you need to know something about me. I enjoyed the first two Scary Movies from team Wayans. In fact, I consider them more than guilty pleasures. My wife and I have a little “in-joke” from Scary Movie 2 that we laugh about quite often, imitating Chris Elliot’s tiny hand butler character with “let me use my strong hand” whenever we’re lifting something even remotely heavy, making for plenty of eye-rolling from those around us, and a nostalgic cackle from the two of us. Both of the Scary Movie films from the Wayans brothers were timely, funny, rude, and for some strange reason, right up our alley. This preface to my review seems appropriate because when I say that A Haunted House 2 is an awful film, you’ll know that I’m not just your average critic who doesn’t even give movies like this a chance, having liked the aforementioned Wayans’ films. In fact, it’s a disaster on an epic scale. Never have I failed to laugh at a film with so many reaching, dare I say, desperate moments than A Haunted House 2. Do I need to even get into the plot? Marlon Wayans moves into a new house with his new wife and her stereotypical mismatched children, and terrifying things begin to happen, in yet another sendup of the latest horror movies. And there you have it. The jokes are crude and tasteless, the chemistry between the actors is nonexistent, and the film feels like it was shot in the Wayans’ backyard on a slow weekend. The good news is that the Blu-Ray edition looks very good in High Definition, with plenty of detail and life-like appearance. The audio track is fine as well, creating a balanced and decent transfer for a film of this genre. Special features include deleted and extended scenes (which were just as unfunny as the film itself), as well as a feature commentary from writers and producers. Avoid this one at all costs, and rent Scary Movie 1 or 2 instead.

The Blacklist: The Complete First Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Blacklist: The Complete First Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The Blacklist: The Complete First Season

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Street Date: August 12th 2014

*I was late to The Blacklist phenomenon, but wow, am I glad I finally had a chance to watch the show on this recent DVD release. Every episode is superbly written, filled with tension, and exquisitely executed by the creative team. James Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former agent who surrenders at F.B.I. headquarters after being on their “most wanted” list for many years. He’s also willing to cooperate with them fully and faithfully, with only one caveat: he will help them catch the world’s most dangerous terrorists, but only with the assistance of rookie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). The show is consistently enthralling right from the pilot episode to the final moments of the season finale, as “Red” clearly has ulterior motives up his sleeve, and his fascination and reasoning for wanting to be partnered with Agent Keen specifically remains a mystery. Spader, as always, is terrific, but he truly brings life to this character as if it was written specifically for him. The production value is top notch as well, providing for an elegant and enthralling series that has obtained a new fan in me. I highly recommend checking this great show out on DVD or Blu-Ray when you have a chance! The DVD for the complete first season looks quite good, but the Blu-Ray edition will obviously have better quality. The rich production details and general glossy look of the show is there, but 1080P adds a richness and detail that clearly will enhance the show for the viewer. Special Features include a commentary on the three episodes from the Executive Producer, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and 22 episodes of Beyond the Blacklist.

The Love Punch (Ketchup Entertainment)

The Love Punch (Ketchup Entertainment)

The Love Punch

Distributor: Ketchup Entertainment

Street Date: August 26th 2014

*Though it clearly has its faults, I think it’s safe to say I had a better time with The Love Punch than most other critics did. It’s an incredibly cheesy romantic caper, and certainly not an original one at that, but the leads are so darn likeable and exhibit enough chemistry on screen that it’s worth a slight recommendation. Pierce Brosnan and Emma Watson play Richard and Katie Price, a happily divorced British couple who share little in common besides the company they own together. But when a French businessman bankrupts them, they begrudgingly team up to plan the heist of a 10 million dollar diamond the businessman has given his fiancée. Throughout their revenge-laden scheme, the couple is able to ignite the old “spark” that they lost over the years. Sure it’s predictable and corny, and more than a little over-the-top. But Brosnan and Watson kept my interest throughout, offering a few light giggles and plenty of cliché romantic fun during the 1 ½ hour runtime. If you know what you’re getting to, there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying this harmless comedy. The DVD edition from Ketchup Entertainment is bare-bones as far as special features go, but does have some fairly nice picture and audio quality for the inferior format. Detail, while never striking, is surprising on this DVD release and the bright colors and architecture of the European scenery looks pretty good in standard definition.

Trust Me (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment)

Trust Me (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment)

Trust Me

Distributor: Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Street Date: August 26th 2014

*I’ll start out by saying that I really enjoy Clark Gregg’s work. The man has acted in numerous films and has enjoyed an enormous spike in popularity after his great performance as Agent Coulson in The Avengers (and the subsequent Agents of Shield TV series), and his Directing work in Choke was fantastic, making for one of my favorite underrated films of 2008. With that being said, I found his latest Directorial effort, Trust Me, to be a mixed bag. In the film, Gregg stars as Howard Holloway, a Hollywood agent who specializes in child actors. Down on his luck after being fired by his current child starlet’s mother, Howard comes across Lydia, a 13 year-old newcomer to the business. In order to help propel her to stardom and get his good reputation back, he has to overcome both business and personal matters that get in the way. Though the writing is spot-on and it’s almost effortlessly engaging, Trust Me takes a rather dark turn halfway through, and never quite achieves the comedic tone it sets out for. It’s more than a little uneven, despite some really fun performances from the likes of Gregg, Sam Rockwell (as a rival agent), and William H. Macy among others. I really wanted to like it, but it just never gelled enough for me to recommend. The DVD edition from Anchor Bay Home Entertainment features fairly solid picture quality, though lacking the pristine definition of Blu-Ray, is able to produce solid colors, inky black levels, and overall clarity that looks decent enough on the format. The audio track is a solid 5.1 Dolby effort that balances music, dialogue, and effects with ease. Special features are nowhere to be found, and a commentary track from Gregg would have been interesting.

Community: The Complete Fifth Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Community: The Complete Fifth Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Community: The Complete Fifth Season

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Street Date: August 5th 2014

*Dan Harmon’s Community has been through such an overwhelming series of production highs and lows over the years, but the Fifth Season was a special one for fans of the series, marking the return of Harmon as series’ show runner. Though the exit of Donald Glover and Chevy Chase was tough to reframe from, having Harmon back meant getting the show back to its roots. The man knows these characters like the back of his hand, and it was a treat to have some legitimately funny material to work on a rather consistent basis this season. With the announcement that Season Six would be picked up by Yahoo! Screen, Sony Pictures has released the Complete Fifth Season on DVD. With Jeff back at Greendale (albeit on the faculty this time around), the study group is up to more shenanigans. From their determination in finding the “ass crack bandit” to fantasy role playing games and animated G.I.’s, there is so much hilariousness this time around. I mentioned it before, but the consistency is key here, with nearly all 13 episodes being outrageously funny. There are some truly fun cameos this time around to boot: from Robert Patrick to B.J. Novak, and LeVar Burton to Nathan Fillion, Season 5 is loads of fun for fans of the show. This DVD edition features above-average picture quality for the format, with a surprising amount of detail not usually seen on DVD (versus Blu-Ray). Colors look nice, fine object detail in facial features and props is surprisingly clear and precise, and it’s a clean transfer with no anomalies or artifacts to mention. Special features include many delightful cast & crew commentaries (on every episode), an Advanced Television Production featurette, a Re-Animating the 80’s featurette, and plenty of hilarious outtakes. This one was so much fun to revisit on DVD, and comes highly recommended.

 

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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