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Endride: Part One (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Endride” has proven to be an exciting an adventurous anime series so far.  Great use of characters and an easy-to-follow storyline and a first half conclusion that leaves you wanting to see how it all ends.  I can’t wait for part two but for now, I definitely recommend “Endride”!

Image courtesy of © ENDRIDE Production Committee. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Endride: Part One

DURATION: (Episodes 1-12) 300 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (4:3), English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RATED: TV 14

Release Date: May 30, 2017


Directed by Keiji Gotoh

Series Composition by Touko Machida

Music by IMAGINE PROJECT, Kohei Tanaka

Original Character Design by Kazushi Hagiwara, Nobuhiro Watsuki

Art Director: Akira Ito

Chief Animation Director: Junko Watanabe

Anime Production: Brain’s Base, Lapin Track


Featuring the following voice talent:

Karen Miyama/Sarah Wiedenheft as Alicia

Kensho Ono/Aaron Dismuke as Shun Asanaga

Toshiki Masuda/Ian Sinclair as Emilio Ranguhaimu

Akio Ohtsuka/Phil Parsons as King Delzaine

Aoi Yūki/Skyler McIntosh as Mischa

Ayaka Ohashi/Felecia Angelle as Falarion

Hiroki Takahashi/Robert McCollum as Demetrio

Juurouta Kosugi/Bill Jenkins as Alzerm Langheim

Kousuke Toriumi/Tyler Walker as Eljuia

Ryoko Nagata/Jessica Cavanagh as Makiko Asanaga

Satoshi Mikami/ as Kazunobu Asanaga

Shizuka Itou as Louise

Tetsu Inada/Jeremy Inman as Iberuta (Ibelda)

Tomoaki Maeno/Jarrod Greene as Gidoro

Yūma Uchida as Felix

Yuu Mizushima as Pascal

 


When a crystal warps Shun Asanaga into a world deep beneath Earth’s surface, he confronts the moody Prince Emilio who is hellbent on killing the king. Just when the two seem perfectly at odds, Shun discovers an incredible power and winds up on a dangerous journey with a ragtag team of rebels. Seeking a portal between worlds, will the prince finally get his revenge, and will Shun find a way home?


In 2016, an anime and smartphone video game was created.  The smart phone game “Endride: X Fragments” would be released in November 2016, while an anime series would be released months before.

The anime “Endride” was created by Brain’s Base and is a 24-episode anime series directed by Keiji Gotoh and written by Toko Machida.

The series will be released in two parts on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of FUNimation.

“Endride” is set in a world that is underground, beneath the surface.  In order to not be discovered, a myth was created that the underground is hell and demons live there.  But in truth, the underground is a world unlike the surface with modern technology.

The series begins with the 16-year-old prince of Endora named Emilio Langheim who tries to assassinate his father, King Delzaine.

The reason is that King Delzaine is not his real father and raised the boy after killing his real father and Emilio wants revenge.

The King manages to defeat Emilio and put him in the dungeon.  But when a group goes to the underground to cause something badly for Emilio, out of nowhere, a teenager appears from the surface, Shun Asanaga.

While Shun tries to figure out where he is, he is attacked and out of nowhere, a warp relic emerges within him.  He is able to release Emilio and together they manage to escape.  And Shun explains how he touched a mysterious crystal found in his father’s company and next thing you know, he was transported to Endora.  And now, he desperately wants to find his way back home.

The two are joined by Emilio’s childhood friend Alicia and get some help from the eccentric scientist and former Royal Researcher, Pascal, who left the position after he questioned King Delzaine’s plans of reconstructing Babel.

As Shun and Emilio are like water and ice and are very much different from each other and often are at odds, Shun knows that he needs Emilio’s help in trying to get back home and Emilio needs Shun’s help in order to achieve revenge.

The group meet the Ignauts and they are interested in forming a revolution against King Delzaine and making things equal among those who live in Endora.  But what troubles will Shun and Emilio encounter on their adventure to achieve their goals?


VIDEO:

“Endride: Part One” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Colors are vibrant and backgrounds are well-done, characters are well-shaded and for the most part, the anime series looks fantastic in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Endride: Part One” is presented in English and Japanese DolbyTrue HD 2.0.  Surprisingly, FUNimation did not give an English 5.1 dub soundtrack for this release.  But dialogue and music are crystal clear through the front channels.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Endride: Part One” comes with no special features but the textless opening and closing songs and trailers.

EXTRAS:

“Endride: Part One” comes with a slipcover case and Blu-ray + DVD versions of the series.


“Endride” may seem like another banal storyline of a person lost in a new world and desperately trying to find his way back home, but there is more to this anime series considering the twists and turns involved and its fascinating storyline.

The story first and foremost focuses on two characters, Shun Asanaga, a 15-year-old hot tempered boy from the Surface who immediately gets transported to Endora after touching a mysterious crystal.  The other character is Emilio Langheim, the 16-year-old prince who wants revenge on the man who raised him, King Delzaine, for killing his father.

The two are like fire and water, they are opposites but yet they need each other to accomplish their goals.

But to make a difference in the world, they are caught up in political situations when a group, the Ignauts are wanting to start a revolution and want equality.  Seeing opportunities on both sides, Shun and Emilio join forces with the Ignauts, but will Shun ever get home?  And will Emilio get his revenge?

“Endride: Part One” looks great on Blu-ray.  Colors are vibrant and for the most part, no major artifacts or banding issues.  Lossless soundtrack are stereo on both soundtracks, which is surprising considering FUNimation usually creates an English dub track in 5.1.  Also, another surprise is there are no special features (aside from the usual textless opening and ending and trailers), not even the usual FUNimation audio or video commentary which was surprising.  So, pretty much, this is a no thrills barebones Blu-ray+DVD release.

Overall, “Endride” has proven to be an exciting an adventurous anime series so far.  Great use of characters and an easy-to-follow storyline and a first half conclusion that leaves you wanting to see how it all ends.  I can’t wait for part two but for now, I definitely recommend “Endride”!

 

Buster’s Mal Heart (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

I enjoy films that make me think. From French New Wave to Italian Neo-Realism, I’m often wanting to see more American films, especially modern ones, try to be different from contemporary films and make you think. Sarah Adina Smith’s “Buster’s Mal Heart” does just that. If you want something fresh, different and surreal, definitely give “Buster’s Mal Heart” a try!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Copyright Reversion. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Buster’s Mal Heart

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 98 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: N/A

RELEASE DATE: July 18, 2017


Directed by Sarah Adina Smith

Written by Sarah Adina Smith

Produced by Jonako Donley, Travis Stevens

Executive Producer: Dan Cogan, Wendy Ettinger, Mynette Louie, Julie Parker Benello

Associate Producer: William Adashek, Kevin Cannon, Derek Nguyen

Line Producer: Omar Veytia

Cinematography by Shaheen Seth

Edited by Sarah Adina Smith

Casting by Samy Burch

Production Design by Alexis Rose

Art Direction: Tessla Hastings, Alexis Wade

Costume Design: Emily Batson


Starring:

Rami Malek as Buster

DJ Qualls as The Last Free Man

Kate Lyn Shell as Marty

Sukha Belle Potter as Roxy

Toby Huss as Deputy Winston

Lin Shaye as Pualine

Mark Kelly as Oscar

Bruce Bundy as Ranger Meg

Teresa Yenque as Adelita

Jared Larson as Dale


In this bold thriller peppered with dark humor and interlocking mystery, an eccentric mountain man is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows where he has acquired the nickname “Buster” to rant about the impending Inversion at the turn of the millennium, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.

Buster (Rami Malek) was once Jonah, a hard-working husband and father whose job as the night-shift concierge at a hotel took its toll on his psyche and, consequently, his marriage to the sensitive Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) until a chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter (DJ Qualls) changed the course of their lives forever. As the solitary present-day Buster drifts from house to house, eluding the local sheriff at every turn, we gradually piece together the events that fractured his life and left him alone on top of a snowy mountain, or perhaps in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean or both, in this visceral mind bender that will provoke discussion long after it turns your world upside-down.


Sarah Adina Smith is known for creating fascinating, original films such as “The Midnight Swim”, “Holidays”, “Goodbye World”.

And her latest film “Buster’s Mal Heart” is one of the most bizarre films, yet fascinating surreal films that I have watched all year.

Starring Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”, “Night at the Museum”, “Need for Speed”), DJ Qualls (“The New Guy”, “Road Trip”, “Hustle & Flow”), Kate Lyn Sheil (“Equals”, “You’re Next”, “Green”) and Sukha Belle Potter, the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

The film begins with several dozens of authorities going after a man known as “Buster” (portrayed by Rami Malek) and exchanging gunfire. We start to see Buster calling in radio talk shows ranting about the impending inversion at the turn of the millennium and seeing that there are people who support Buster who is squatter, invades homes and defecates in their silverware.

Meanwhile, we see visions of the character with long hair lost out at sea and then we see his life as a family man.

“Buster” was once known as Jonah, a man who was a loving father, went to church, enduring a mother-in-law, co-workers and getting all stressed out.

Jonah works the night-shift as a concierge at the local hotel but working the job would eventually take a toll on him and affect his marriage to his wife Marty (portrayed by Kate Lyn Sheil).  He wants to be a family man and be there for his wife and daughter but he’s frustrated and stressed out and it’s taking a toll on his psyche.

One day, Jonah comes across a drifter (portrayed by DJ Qualls) who is a conspiracy-obsessed drifter known as “The Last Man Alive” and his life changes forever.  The more time Jonah spend with the drifter, he starts to get worse.

Through flashbacks, we realize how life had change for Jonah and what drove him to become “Buster”.  But are any of these versions of the individual real?  Imagination? Hallucinations? Mental illness?


VIDEO:

“Buster’s Mal Heart” is presented in 1080p High Definition (16:9 Widescreen). Featuring close-ups with very good detail, the film looks very good as a lot of the scenes were shot outdoors. I didn’t notice any major artifacts, banding or issues with picture quality during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Buster’s Mal Heart” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Dialogue is crystal clear and aside from the rifle shots heard in the beginning, the surround channels are primarily ambiance, while the entire soundtrack is dialogue-driven.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Buster’s Mal Heart” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes– Featuring seven deleted scenes.
  • Teaser
  • Trailer

EXTRAS:

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” comes with a slipcover, Blu-ray and DVD plus an Ultraviolet HD Code.


You have to give Rami Malek credit, may it be his role in “Mr. Robot” or his performance in the Sarah Adina Smith film “Buster’s Mal Heart” or even the video game “Until Dawn”, he knows how to play characters that can be creepy, unusual or off-beat.

And while the character was made for a Spanish speaking character, there is no denying that if there was a person who can play these type of roles, Rami Malek was a good choice.  On the other hand, if one is upset that a Latino character was not chosen for the role, it’s a valid concern when the lack of diversity for main roles for people of color is brought up in Hollywood.

But I’m going to avoid that hot topic and discuss the film.  For those who aren’t into surreal films and need clear cut storylines, you will be disappointed with “Buster’s Mal Heart”.  But let’s assume that you are into surreal films and want something different and a little complex, where certain scenes are more symbolic and how it does with one’s state of mind, this is a film that cineaste who love analyzing films, will no doubt have a blast disecting “Buster’s Mal Heart”.

Rami Malek plays a character (Are they all the same?  I won’t spoil that for you), one being a mountain squatter known as Buster, the other is a man lost out in sea and the primary character is Jonah, an overworked family man who is losing it.

But the film tries to show how a person can go mad.  How one can be pushed to the edge?  Or something more deeper…symbolic… It’s primarily a film that presents itself to you, and its up to you to interpret it.  Watch it once and then watch a few times, and don’t be surprised if you discover something new or you find your observations of the film changing.

The Blu-ray looks great, while the lossless audio is primarily dialogue-driven.  There are a few special features included as well.

Overall, I enjoy films that make me think.  From French New Wave to Italian Neo-Realism, I’m often wanting to see more American films, especially modern ones, try to be different from contemporary films and make you think.  Sarah Adina Smith’s “Buster’s Mal Heart” does just that.

If you want something fresh, different and surreal, definitely give “Buster’s Mal Heart” a try!

 

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is a holocaust film that is entertaining, full of hope and based on a true story.  It’s not heavy or too deep, nor is there too much danger presented onscreen but mostly capturing human emotion to one another, towards animals and more.  These elements makes the film enjoyable from beginning to end.  And I recommend it!

Images courtesy of © 2016 ZOOKEEPERS WIFE, L.P. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Zookeeper’s Wife

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 2 Hrs., 6 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 aspect ratio, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Espanol DTS Digital Surroudn 5.1, Subtitles: English, Espanol Dolby Digital 5.1, English DVS Dolby Digital 2.0

COMPANY: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13

RELEASE DATE: July 4, 2017


Based on the book by Diane Ackerman

Directed by Niki Caro

Screenplay by Angela Worman

Produced by Jeff Abberley, Diane Miller Levin, Jamie Patricof

Executive Producer: Julia Blackman, Marc Butan, Jessica Chastain, Mickey Liddell, Jennifer Monroe, Joanne Sennitt, Pete Shilaimon, Michael Tollin, Robbie Tollin, Kevan Van Thompson

Co-Producer: Katie McNeill

Music by Harry Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by Andrij Parekh

Edited by David Coulson

Production Design by Suzie Davies

Art Direction: Jan Kalous, Dan Taylor, Magdalena Zemanova

Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts 

Costume Design: Bina Daigeler


Starring:

Jessica Chastain as Antonina Zabinska

Johan Heidenbergh as Jan Zabinski

Daniel Bruhl  as Lutz Heck

Timothy Radford as Ryszard Zabinski (younger)

Efrat Dor as Magda Gross

Iddo Goldberg as Maurycy Fraenkel

Shira Haas as Urszula

Michael McElhatton as Jerzyk

Val Maloukou as Ryszard Zabsinki (Older)


In 1939 Poland, Antonina Zabinska (two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband successfully run the Warsaw Zoo and raise their family in an idyllic existence. Their world is overturned, however, when the country is invaded by the Nazis and they are forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed zoologist (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Zabinskis risk everything by covertly working with the Resistance and using the zoo’s hidden tunnels and cages to save families from Nazi brutality.


Based on the book “The Zookeeper’s Wife” by Diane Ackerman, based on the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinski, the film with the same name, is based on Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife Antonina Zabinski.

The two are known for saving the live of 300 Jews who were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.  Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust) recognized Jan and Antonina Zabinski as “Righteous Among the Nations”.

The film is directed by Niki Caro (“Whale Rider, “North Country”, “McFarland, USA”) with a screenplay by Angela Workman (“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and “War Bride:).

The film stars Jessica Chastain (“The Martian”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “The Help”), Johan Heldenbergh (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”, “Moscow, Belgium”, “The Brand New Testament”), Daniel Bruhl (“Inglorious Basterds”, Good Bye Lenin!”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Efrat Dor (“Asfur”, “Cupcakes”, “Dowtown Precinct”), Iddo Goldberg (“Secret Diary of a Call Girl”, “Salem”, “Peaky Blinders”), Shira Haas (“Princess”, “Shtisel”, “The Body Remembers”), Michael McElhatton (“Game of Thrones”, “The Fall”, “Genius”).

And now the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film begins with an introduction to Dr. Jan Zabinska (portrayed by Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (portrayed by Jessica Chastain).  Jan is the director of the Warsaw Zoo, while his wife Antonia is one of the keepers and cares deeply about the animals.

The two are parents to Ryszard (portrayed by Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) and one evening they entertain Berlin Zoo zoologist, Dr. Lutz Heck (portrayed by Daniel Bruhl).  Heck observes how Antonina cares for the animals and all would seem good with the zoo.

That is until an aerial bombardment of Warsaw and German forces start to storm Poland.  Many of the animals are killed and Dr. Jan Zabinski and the family are stuck at the zoo.  Dr. heck arrives to the zoo and tells Antonina that he wants to save the “prize” specimens, but she will have to let him have them.  Antonia, wanting to keep the animals alive agrees to do it.

But when Heck arrives, he has his men slaughter the animals, because he said that he had them killed out of mercy as they would have died in the cold.

Meanwhile, many of the Jews are moved to the Ghetto and the Zabinski’s friends, Maurycy Frankel (portrayed by Iddo Goldberg) and his girlfriend Magda Gross (portrayed by Efrat Dor) seek haven.  The Zabinski’s knowing the danger decide to offer shelter to Magda in a zoo cage in the attic, knowing that if they are caught, they would be killed by the Nazi.

The Zabinski’s realize they could use the zoo as a safe haven for the Jews but also use the zoo as a getaway whenever he needs to get supplies for animals, so they work out a deal with Dr. Heck that they can use the zoo as a pig farm to feed the soldiers, and Heck realizes that he can also use the zoo to test his bison specimens in hopes to experiment on them and recreate ancient beasts.

So, Heck makes it happen and immediately, and while Jan Zabinski starts to find ways to slowly bring Jews to hide them in the zoo and also create papers to make them German and also dying their hair blonde in hopes it will get them to safety.

But while Jan is gone, trying to save Jews, Antonina tries to keep the Jews hiding in the attic of their home safe, even if it means letting Dr. Heck getting close to her, which her husband disapproves of.


VIDEO:

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40 1 aspect ratio). Featuring close-ups with very good detail, the film looks very good as a lot of the scenes were shot outdoors. I didn’t notice any major artifacts, banding or issues with picture quality during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DVS 2.0 and Espanol DTS Digital Surround 5.1. Dialogue is crystal clear and surround channels utilize environment ambiance, but also moments of aerial bombings.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Espanol and Francais.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Zookeper’s Wife” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes– (4:00) Featuring seven deleted scenes.
  • The Making of the Zookeeper’s Wife – (7:05) Featuring author Diane Ackerman, the producers and film’s stars.
  • The Zabinski Family – (3:56) A featurette about the Zabinski family and the Warsaw Zoo.

EXTRAS:

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” comes with a slipcover, Blu-ray and DVD plus an Ultraviolet HD Code.


Niki Caro’s film, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” manages to showcase the true story of the Zabinski family.  Jan and his wife Antonina, who used the Warsaw Zoo to hide hundreds of Jews and help them escape is a true story that showcases the high risk involved by the couple and the great lengths they had of trying to make it happen.

For the most part, the film is equally entertaining and captivating.  Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh’s performance were wonderful but what I found even more mesmerizing is how far the Zabinski’s went in trying to plan this refuge out but also how the Warsaw Zoo, which is thriving today, played a big part of how the Zabinski’s were able to rescue so many people.

But for those who watch film adaptations of true stories, the stories are often seeded with fictional situations and to make them a movie, there are are situations that never happened.  Through the diaries of Antonina Zabinski, we know about the risks involved and what the family had to endure.  But the film’s antagonist, Daniel Bruhl, who was a real-life German zoologist, animal researcher and director of the Berlin Zoological Garden, was indeed trying to recreate extinct wild animals.

It is true that the he was a high ranking officer and it was true that he came into contact with the Zabinki family.  But unlike the film, the real Heck was no longer needed once the pig farm was established, so there was no sexual advances or any major cowering of Antonina by the real-life Dr. Heck.

If anything, there were characters and situations created primarily for dramatic tension, which is understandable.  One can also read about what is fact and fiction, by clicking here.

Still, the film manages to be entertaining and for some people, also educational.  “The Zookeper’s Wife” was one of the most successful independent films to be released in 2017 but some may feel the film doesn’t play out the horror that was being inflicted on Jews.  Nothing too shocking or violent, if anything, the film plays it safely, to the point that it makes the film free of any major tension but also relieves the film from being overly heavy.  Those wanting nothing too deep will find “The Zookeepers Wife” to be a fine balance of between a film that has hope but less despairity compared to other holocaust films.

The Blu-ray features great detail and for the most part, the film looks great when shown close-up.  Lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and ambiance and also a few special features are included.

Overall, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is a holocaust film that is entertaining, full of hope and based on a true story.  It’s not heavy or too deep, nor is there too much danger presented onscreen but mostly capturing human emotion to one another, towards animals and more.  These elements makes the film enjoyable from beginning to end.  And I recommend it!

 

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

July 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” is a fascinating film and possibly one of the best performances in Richard Gere’s career.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Oppenheimer Strategies, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


DVD TITLE: Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

YEAR OF FILM: 2016

DURATION: 110 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English, English SDH – Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional), French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Some Language)

AVAILABLE ON: July 11, 2017


Directed by Joseph Cedar

Written by Joseph Cedar

Produced by Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Oren Moverman, Eyal Rimmon, Gideo Tadmor

Executive Produced by Michael Graidy, Caroline Kaplan, Jim Kaufman, Amanda Marshall

Co-Producer: Luca Borghese, Carrie Fix

Associate Producer: Racheli Sternberg

Music by Jun Miyake

Cinematography by Yaron Scharf

Edited by Brian A. Kates

Casting by Jodi Angstreich, Laura Rosenthal, Hila Yuval

Production Design by Kalina Ivanov, Arad Sawat

Art Direction by Barbara Matis

Set Decoration by Joanne Ling

Art Direction by Barbara Matis

Costume Design by Michelle Matland


Starring:

Richard Gere as Norman Oppenheimer

Lior Ashkenazi as Micha Eshel

Michael Sheen as Philip Cohen

Charlotte Gainsbourg as Alex Green

Dan Stevens as Bill Kavish

Steve Buscemi as Rabbi Blumenthal

Jonathan Avigdori as Lior Keshet

Yehuda Almagor as Duvy

Caitlin O’Connell as Sister Agnes

Hank Azaria as Srul Katz

Harris Yulin as Jo Wilf


Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) lives a lonely life in the margins of New York City power and money, and strives to be everyone’s friend. His incessant networking leads him nowhere until he ends up befriending a young but charismatic politician, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), at a low point in his life. Three years later, the politician becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. Norman uses Eshel’s name to leverage his biggest deal ever: a series of quid pro quo transactions linking the Prime Minister to Norman’s nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a mogul (Harris Yulin), his assistant (Dan Stevens) and a treasury official from the Ivory Coast. Norman’s plans soon go awry, creating the potential for an international catastrophe he must struggle to prevent. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is a comedic and compassionate drama of a man whose downfall is rooted in a human frailty all too easy to forgive—a need to matter.


Have you ever met a person, seems like they know everyone, seems like they are very well connected but in truth, they probably are not.

This is the premise of director/writer Joseph Cedar’s “Norman”.  Cedar, best known for films such as “Footnote”, “Beaufort” and “Campfire” has crafted a fascinating film which stars Richard Gere (“Pretty Woman”, “Days of Heaven”, “Hachi”, “Primal Fear”), Lior Ashkenazi (“Big Bad Wolves”, “Walk on Water”, “Footnote”), Michael Sheen (“Kingdom of Heaven”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Underworld”), Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Nymphomaniac” films, “Melancholia”, “Antichrist”), Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”, “The Guest”, “Beauty and the Beast”), Steve Buscemi (“Fargo”, “Armageddon”, “Reservoir Dogs”), Jonathan Avigdori (“The Blacklist”, “Elementary”, “The Unit”) and Hank Azaria (“The Simpsons”, “, “The Smurfs”, “Godzilla”).

And now “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” will be available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The film revolves around a man named Norman Oppenheimer (portrayed by Richard Gere), a persistent consultant who claims to know everyone important, name drops consistently and always offers to introduce a person to major players in the city.

But does Norman really know these people and do they really know him?

We often see Norman talking with people but the only one he truly has conversations with is with his nephew, Wall Street lawyer Philip Cohen (portrayed by Michael Sheen).

But with everyone else, Norman talks as if he has known people for many years, knows when to take advantage of opportunities but when asked of how he knows these individuals, he clams up and becomes vague.

In truth, Norman is a person who networks to know end, wanting to be part of an important circle, wanting to be important.  And Norman would get the opportunity when he meets an Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (portrayed by Lior Ashkenazi), who happens to be visiting New York.  Seeing the man as great potential to further his networking abilities, Norman offers to pay for expensive Lanvin shoes that Eshel was lookinga t.

Remembering the generosity of Norman, three years later, Micha Eshel has become the Israel Prime Minister.  And because of that generosity that Norman gave to him three years ago, Eshel introduces Norman to the political elites, to the chagrin of Eshel’s political aides.

Seeing this as a way to use his contacts, Norman begins to make promises to New York’s Jewish community, including rabbi Blumenthal (portrayed by Steve Buscemi) and the more exaggerations that Norman creates, especially towards an investigator Alex Green (portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg), the more problems he creates for himself as he is unable to keep those promises.  Or can he?


VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Picture quality is as good as one can expect on DVD and I didn’t notice any major artifacts or problems with video. Dialogue is primarily dialogue-driven with surround channels is primarily used for ambiance.  But for the most part, picture and audio quality on DVD is very good.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional) and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” comes with the following special features:

  • Making the Connection: Norman on the Red Carpet – (4:35) The cast and crew discuss working on the film and interviews on the red carpet.
  • An Evening with Norman – (22:48) A post-screening Q&A with director Joseph Cedar and actor, Richard Gere.
  • Theatrical Trailer

I think that many people have met a person like “Norman” in their lifetime, in fact there are those who probably have that generous side of “Norman” within them.  Wanting to help people, making promises that they may or may not keep and happen to know a lot of people.

Having worked in the political and also the entertainment industry, meeting people like Norman is commonplace.  Doing things that Norman would do is commonplace ala “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality of giving favors and expecting a favor back.

That’s all good and normal but in the case of Norman Oppenheimer, we have a man who lives his life consistently meeting people, networking with people, claiming to know everyone, trying to connect anyone with those people.  They are fueled by it, they are consumed by it and they make promises and never think of the ramifications of what if it doesn’t pan out?

Filmmaker Joseph Cedar has managed to create a great character study of Norman Oppenheimer but what makes this film work is the wonderful acting performance of Richard Gere.

Norman is a man that is persistent.  Finding ways to get invited to top politicians parties (or just showing up and getting inside their homes), knowing the routines of politicians or leaders when they are on their morning jog or just knowing when to strike when the opportunity is hot.  He’s out there, he knows his role and for the most part, Norman does a great job of meeting people and name dropping.  But when he is asked how he knows certain individuals, he clams up.  He doesn’t know what to say, so he plays naive, as if he’s a man that doesn’t want to reveal anything but in truth, he doesn’t know much about the person and vice versa.

And life for Norman changes dramatically when he helps a politician from Israel, Micha Eschel (portrayed by Lior Ashkenazi) by buying him expensive shoes.  It was a major risk but the generosity is remembered by Michael three years later once he becomes the Israel Prime Minister and all of a sudden, Norman is jettisoned into Eschel’s inner circle and meeting key politicians, leaders.

Problem is…he then starts to use these contacts to make promises towards his fellow Jewish community leaders.  And even worse, he starts spouting exaggerations to an investigator named Alex Green (portrayed by Charlotte Gainsbourg) who specializes in political corruption.

Needless to say, Norman is not aware of how his exaggerations are causing problems nor does he know how badly he has screwed up.  Or has he?

It’s a fascinating and fresh film that you don’t usually see all that much but writer/director Joseph Cedar did a solid job in crafting this film.

The DVD looks great but if you want the best quality, you definitely will want to watch this film on Blu-ray.  The DVD also comes with a few special features as well including a Q&A with Cedar and Richard Gere.

Overall, “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer” is a fascinating film and possibly one of the best performances in Richard Gere’s career.  Recommended!


 

Magi: The Kingdom of Magic – Complete Blu-ray Set (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” is a fantastic, action-packed season with a wonderful second half that makes one crave for more!   I’m really hoping there is a third season but if you want an entertaining, action-driven anime series with a lot of humor and heart, definitely give “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” on Blu-ray a chance! 

Purchase from Right-Stuf

Images courtesy of © 2012 Shinobu Ohtaka/SHOGAKUKAN, Magi Committee, MBS. All rights reserved.


TITLE: Magi: The Kingdom of Magic – Complete Blu-ray Set

DURATION: Episodes 1-25 (or 26-50 if both seasons include) (625 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 HD Widescreen), English and Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex

RATED: TV PG

Release Date: June 27, 2017


Originally Created by Shinobu Ohtaka

Directed by Koji Masunari

Series Composition by Hiroyuki Yoshino

Screenplay by Masanao Akahoshi

Music by Shiro Sagisu

Character Design by Toshifumi Akai

Art Director by Ayu Kawamoto, Taichi Maezuka

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Kaori Ishihara/Erica Mendez as Aladdin

Yuuki Kaji/Erik Kimerer as Alibaba Saluja

Haruka Tomatsu/Cristina Vee as Morgiana

Darrel Guilbeau/Kensho Ono as Ren Hakuryu

Julie Ann Taylor/Asami Seto as Seishun Li

Keith Silverstein/Yoshimasa Hosoya as Masrur

Kira Buckland/Kana Hanazawa as Ren Kogyuku

Lucien Dodge.Takahiro Sakurai as Ja’far

Marc Diraison/Shinichiro Miki as Ithnan

Matthew Mercer/Daisuke Ono as Sinbad

Patrick Seitz/Toshiyuki Morikawa as Ugo

Sean Chiplock/Jun Fukuyama as Cassim

Todd Haberkorn/Ryohei Kimura as Judal

Trinity Lee/Nana Mizuki as Ren Hakuei

Vic Mignogna/Kenichi Suzumura as Ka Kobun

 


Equipped with a charm to mask his powers as a Magi, Aladdin arrives to Magnoshutatt to study magic, with another goal—to investigate the nation’s relation with the Al-Tharmen, the power behind the “Abnormalities of the World.”

While training at the academy, Aladdin meets Titus Alexius, a prodigy from the Leam Empire, who also has the same charm as Aladdin’s


With the success of conquering a dungeon, Aladdin, Alibaba, Morgiana and Hakuryu Ren know that they must each embark on a new journey alone.

Aladdin must train to become a stronger magi, Alibaba travels to the Leam Empire to challenge the gladiators, Morgiana heads to her homeland of Katarg and Hakuryu makes his return to the Kou Empire as a different man.

Will each of them learning anything from their training?

Find out in “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic – Complete Blu-ray Set”.

What is “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” about?

When it comes to opportunities of becoming a manga writer/artist (mangaka), Shinobu Ohtaka’s story.

She has written about her story of how she became a manga artist, as a person who was the person who would sit quietly in the corner of class and was not really great at anything and often playing a supporting role. But if there was one thing that she was confident in, it was drawing pictures.

And now this shy artist would not only have a hit manga but also anime series!

Her first year in high school, she was submitting manga manuscripts because it was her dream to become a manga author. And like many writers, her submissions were denied and this continued through high school and college. And when she was about to call it quits, she was given the opportunity to do a one-shot and it led to the creation of the series “Sumomo Momomo” in 2004 which would eventually become a 34 volume manga series (as of June 2017) and also a 50-episode anime series (for both “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” and “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic”).

And now both seasons will be available on Blu-ray courtesy of Aniplex.

In the second season of the series, the story takes place after Aladdin, Alibaba, Morgiana and Hakuryu have defeated the dungeon.

But with Aladdin wanting to leave and go on his own adventure in order to grow stronger and study magic, the others realize they need to get stronger too and each go on their own direction.

For Aladdin, he knows he must learn how to master his magic and find out what kind of magic he can take control of. But needs to learn the power behind the “Abnormalities of the World”.  He comes across a mysterious prodigy from Lea named Titus Alexius.  But who is this man?

Alibaba must get stronger, so he decides to challenge the gladiators of the coliseum but he learns that he has two magoi in his body that may tear his insides apart.

Meanwhile, Morgiana goes back to her home of Katarg but is told that if she goes to other side of the mountain, she will be unable to come back to the other side.

As Hyakuren goes back to the Kou Empire in hopes that he will be the new leader but someone else has been assigned as leader.

Also, Aladdin continues his training at the Academy but the Academy’s Director has his own plans of what he is expecting from the magician’s and that is all out war against non-magicians.


VIDEO:

“Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” is presented in 1080p High Definition. The series is well-animated, well-shaded and tends to feature hilarious character designs during the more comedy scenes, while showcasing emotion and drama during the most serious situations. Action scenes are well-animated, background art is well-detailed and painted beautifully.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” is presented in Japanese and English Linear PCM Stereo. Audio on the Blu-ray is front-channel driven but voice acting is well-done for both Japanese and English soundtracks. Dialogue, sound effects and music are crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” comes with the following special features:

  • Textless Opening and Endings
  • English Version Trailer

EXTRAS:

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” comes with a slipcase.


With the second season of “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic”, we get a whole season dedicated to the training and growth of each of four individuals: Aladdin, Alibaba, Morgiana and Hakuryu for the first half.

But the storyline for the second half focuses on Aladdin and his year-long training at a magician’s academy, growing in power, learning about magic but also preparing for a major war in the Kou Empire as true evil has descended in the land.

As episodes 13-16 focuses on Aladdin’s training, by episode 17, war begins as what begins as a major battle between nations, grows to a major battle against a monster that drains all White Rukh.

But what I enjoyed about this second half of season two is the focus on Aladdin and seeing him grow. He’s come such a long way since we first saw him and now he’s taller, he’s braver and he’s starting to get a better grasp of what is important to him but also what he wants to fight against.

I know my summary is quite vague but in truth, I really don’t want to spoil or even mentioned in the second half, who appears because the battles are intense and the storyline is quite appealing that it no doubt sets up for even more stories in the future. Expect to see a few surprises, especially for the viewer who have followed the series for so long. And especially in the final minutes of episode 5, which I never saw coming!

The Blu-ray release doesn’t have any significant special features but the textless opening and ending themes and an English trailer. Also, the swag that were included on the original DVD releases such as the two-sided deluxe illustration board and a mini-poster are not included. But you do get all 25 episodes in this one set in HD! So, it all comes down to if you are in it for the series or the swag? If you are more for the swag, then you may want to search out the 2015 DVD releases.

Overall, “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” is a fantastic, action-packed season with a wonderful second half that makes one crave for more!   I’m really hoping there is a third season but if you want an entertaining, action-driven anime series with a lot of humor and heart, definitely give “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic” on Blu-ray a chance!

Purchase from Right-Stuf

 

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic – Complete Blu-ray Set (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” is awesome! Highly entertaining, full of action and humor! Definitely recommended!

Purchase from Rightstuf

Images courtesy of © 2012 Shinobu Ohtaka/SHOGAKUKAN, Magi Committee, MBS. All rights reserved.


TITLE: Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic – Complete Blu-ray Set

DURATION: Episodes 1-25 (625 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 HD Widescreen), English and Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex

RATED: TV PG

Release Date: June 27, 2017


Originally Created by Shinobu Ohtaka

Directed by Koji Masunari

Series Composition by Hiroyuki Yoshino

Screenplay by Masanao Akahoshi

Music by Shiro Sagisu

Character Design by Toshifumi Akai

Art Director by Ayu Kawamoto, Taichi Maezuka

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures


Featuring the following voice talent:

Kaori Ishihara/Erica Mendez as Aladdin

Yuuki Kaji/Erik Kimerer as Alibaba Saluja

Haruka Tomatsu/Cristina Vee as Morgiana

Darrel Guilbeau/Kensho Ono as Ren Hakuryu

Julie Ann Taylor/Asami Seto as Seishun Li

Keith Silverstein/Yoshimasa Hosoya as Masrur

Kira Buckland/Kana Hanazawa as Ren Kogyuku

Lucien Dodge.Takahiro Sakurai as Ja’far

Marc Diraison/Shinichiro Miki as Ithnan

Matthew Mercer/Daisuke Ono as Sinbad

Patrick Seitz/Toshiyuki Morikawa as Ugo

Sean Chiplock/Jun Fukuyama as Cassim

Todd Haberkorn/Ryohei Kimura as Judal

Trinity Lee/Nana Mizuki as Ren Hakuei

Vic Mignogna/Kenichi Suzumura as Ka Kobun


Alibaba is a young carrier who dreams of venturing into a “Dungeon,” where secret treasures lie deep within its labyrinth, to gain enough money to buy an entire country.

One day, Alibaba meets a mysterious boy named Aladdin, who can summon a mighty blue spirit from his flute. Hoping to harness Aladdin’s magical power, Alibaba invites him on his dungeon-capturing expedition.

Along the way, through numerous encounters and farewells, both of them will come to learn the truth about their destinies.


When it comes to opportunities of becoming a manga writer/artist (mangaka), Shinobu Ohtaka’s story.

She has written about her story of how she became a manga artist, as a person who was the person who would sit quietly in the corner of class and was not really great at anything and often playing a supporting role.  But if there was one thing that she was confident in, it was drawing pictures.

And now this shy artist would not only have a hit manga but also anime series!

Her first year in high school, she was submitting manga manuscripts because it was her dream to become a manga author. And like many writers, her submissions were denied and this continued through high school and college.   And when she was about to call it quits, she was given the opportunity to do a one-shot and it led to the creation of the series “Sumomo Momomo” in 2004 which would eventually become a 34 volume manga series (as of June 2017) and also a 50-episode anime series.

Having been released on DVD by Aniplex, for the first time the entire season will be collected in a Blu-ray set and will be released in June 2017.

“Magi” begins with a young Aladdin being given one wish.

We then see Alibaba, a thief who is working for a slave master who has been trying to find a dungeon for treasure. Everyone thinks that Alibaba is searching for something that doesn’t exist. But when he starts loading up a caravan with fruit, he catches a boy (Aladdin) eating all the watermelon.

Alibaba gets in trouble but as Aladdin follows Alibaba, Alibaba talks about dungeons that appeared 14 years ago and and Alibaba explains if one can capture one, there is a genuine magi wandering around and will grant magical power to someone. And Alibaba is in search of the magical vessel.

The following day, Aladdin bumps into a slave (Morgiana). When Aladdin wonders why her legs are chained, Alibaba tries to explain to Aladdin of what a slave is. So, not wanting to see Morgiana chained, Aladdin frees her by blowing into his flute and shattering the steel chain.

But not long after, one of the slave masters start pushing and stepping all over Morgiana, Aladdin tells the man to stop and the man threatens to execute Aladdin.

Aladdin then blows into the flute, massive arms come out of the flute. Ugo is a Djinn, spirits that appear in myth and not many people thought it was a real thing, but we learn through a flashback that Aladdin was given three wishes in which he could have fortune, fame and eternal life. But instead, he just wanted one wish and that is for Ugo to be his friend. And since then, the two have been together.

Ugo has a massive body without a head. As Aladdin goes on trips with various people, we learn that Aladdin must be well fed and have had a lot to drink in order to use Ugo, but also Ugo is shy if a girl touches him.

And as Alibaba finds out that Aladdin has a Djinn vessel, he decides to use Aladdin to use and partner with him in order to find a dungeon. Alibaba’s wish is to be rich and find treasure inside buildings that have shown up all over the world. And treasures with wonderful powers are the most valuable, the one that Alibaba seeks is the Djinn’s metal vessel.

But as Alibaba sees using Aladdin as important in his plans as Aladdin’s use of Ugo can help protect them while they visit the dungeons to find treasure, but he also realizes that for Aladdin, his main thing that makes him happy is having a friendship. For Alibaba, for now, he’ll play the role of being a friend in order to find treasure and obtain a Djinn metal vessel.

As Alibaba along with Aladdin look for the treasure inside a dungeon, not far behind them is the tyrant slave owner named Lord Jamil along with two slaves, including Morgiana.

Meanwhile, nearby is another person similar to Aladdin, clad in black and evil, a magi named Judar has decided to cause trouble for Aladdin and friends?  But what happens when Aladdin goes all out in his battle against Judar?

Meanwhile, an even greater threat arrives as Aladdin and friends must take on Dark Djinn’s, while Sinbad must protect the country against Al-Thamen and his forces.

The main characters of “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” are:

    • Aladdin – A young magi who doesn’t know too much about himself or the outside world. But he’s kind and goodhearted and wants to protect the people he cares about. When he blows into a flute, a headless blue giant named Ugo comes out.
    • Alibaba – A thief who appears to have a mysterious background that befriends Aladdin.
    • Morgania – A slave who comes from a country of people known for their superior leg strength and speed. She is the slave of the tyrant, Lord Jamil.
    • Amon – A djinn with fire elemental powers contained in Alibaba’s training sword.
    • Sinbad – The King of Sindria and leader of the Alliance of the Seven Seas.  He has sailed the seven seas and captured seven dungeons and is a master of seven djinn.
    • Masrur – A Fanalis who works for Sinbad and trains Morgiana in hand to hand combat.
    • Ja’far – A former assassin who becomes loyal to Sinbad.
    • Hakuryuu Ren – The fourth prince in the Kou Empire who becomes an ally of Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgianna.
    • Judar – An evil Magi working for Al-Thamen.  Raised by Al-Thamen after the organization killed his parents.

VIDEO:

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  The series is well-animated, well-shaded and tends to feature hilarious character designs during the more comedy scenes, while showcasing emotion and drama during the most serious situations. Action scenes are well-animated, background art is well-detailed and painted beautifully.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” is presented in Japanese and English Linear PCM Stereo.  Audio on the Blu-ray is front-channel driven but voice acting is well-done for both Japanese and English soundtracks. Dialogue, sound effects and music are crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” comes with the following special features:

  • Textless Opening and Endings
  • English Version Trailer

EXTRAS:

“Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” comes with a slipcase.


Hilarious, fun and a little naughty, Shinobu Ohtaka’s “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” has turned out to be a pretty enjoyable series.

The main protagonist Aladdin is rather interesting because he has an appearance of a little boy who possesses a flute that houses a headless giant named Ugo. But there are quirks with Alibaba, for one, he’s often hungry and thirsty, which helps with activating Ugo. He’s also somewhat of a pervert as he is often wanting to rub his head on a woman’s breast.

But most importantly, it’s his strong desire to find and have friends which makes him a bit naive when people pretend to be his friend but they have ulterior motives.

One of these friends that he does make is Alibaba, a boy who is in severe debt and people who owe debts, end up being slaves for a wealthy owner (most often a tyrant). He desires wealth but most of all a Djinn, similar to Aladdin and hopes that with partnering with him, he can obtain treasure and a Djinn.

Also, adding interest to the overall storyline is the fact that everything takes place in the desert where bandits have ruled the land and many people have been killed or have become slaves. The only way to survive is by being a merchant and as a merchant, you are constantly under the threat of your merchandise being stolen by bandits and being killed. So, the storyline is set during a dangerous time where buildings have shown up all over the land and inside are treasures. But for those who have tried, all have not come back from their search.

But with the power of Ugo, Alibaba is betting that having Aladdin on his side, their chances of finding treasure and a Djinn is great.

The first quarter of the series features on developing the three characters of Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana and to showcase their backgrounds but also how the three became friends.

The middle part of the first season goes into Aladdin and Alibaba being separated but both going through trying experiences but learning about the outside world within the six months they were separated.

And the final part of the series, introduces us to a more deeper storyline involving all three but also introducing us to Sinbad and establishing the true antagonists of the series, especially the taller, dark version similar to Aladdin, an evil magi named Judar.

For those wondering if the series is safe to watch around children, this is a show for teens. As episode 1 alone has a bit of nudity and showcases Aladdin’s attraction to big breasts. Another episode has nudity as well, but there is also violence, for example, you will see one scene in which the tyrant Lord Jamil is seen stabbing one of his slaves repetitively with a sword.

As for differences between the manga and anime series, the anime series almost focuses on the manga completely with the exception of Aladdin’s introduction at the Oasis of Utan, in which Aladdin tags along with merchants Laylah and Sahsa, the daughter of a caravan leader (featured in the opening chapters of the first volume of the manga series). The two are introduced later in the series but are not featured in episode 1.

But for the most part, the anime series does not stray too far from Shinobu Ohtaka’s manga series.

As the first half of Shinobu Ohtaka’s “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” was lighthearted, full of humor and entertaining. The second half of the series has become much more deeper, serious and action-packed and Alibaba must make difficult decisions, Aladdin faces his greatest foe yet and Morgiana does all she can to become more powerful but to what expense?

In the first half, we watched as Aladdin was dependent on a headless giant named Ugo, but with Ugo gone after a major battle with the evil Judar, what will happen to Aladdin?

Also, a major difference between the first half of the series and the second half, is the inclusion of more characters. Sinbad plays much more of a role as Al-Thamen declares war on Sindria and Sinbad and forces must do all they can to fight against Al-Thamen and the Dark Djinn.

With the conclusion to season one featuring a battle with someone they know quite well.

But for the most part, this second half for season one is a whole different vibe than the first. While you do get the perverted humor for a brief moment, the series is primarily action non-stop with so many dire situations involving Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana.

While the trio meet new friends and allies, there is also a lot of heartbreak as both Aladdin and Alibaba lose something special in their lives. So, one can expect a deep, action-packed storyline for episodes 13-25.

For those wondering if the series is safe to watch around children, this is a show for teens. There is quite a bit of violence, maybe not as bloody as some of the episodes of the first half, but there is quite a bit of fighting violence.

The Blu-ray release doesn’t have any significant special features but the textless opening and ending themes and an English trailer.  Also, the swag that were included on the original DVD releases such as the collectable foil stamped postcards and deluxe booklets are not included.  But you do get all 25 episodes in this one set in HD!  So, it all comes down to if you are in it for the series or the swag?  If you are more for the swag, then you may want to search out the 2014 DVD releases.

Overall, “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic” is awesome! Highly entertaining, full of action and humor!  Definitely recommended!

Purchase from Rightstuf

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

For those who enjoy the Smurfs and videophile/audiophile parents looking for an animated film that looks great in 4K Ultra HD, who also want to entertain their children or the entire family, you can’t go wrong with “Smurfs: The Lost Village”. Recommended for the entire family!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Smurfs: Lost Village

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2017

DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p Ultra High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio), English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Compatible), English – Audio Description Track, Catalan, Cantonese, Mandarin, Danish, Dutch (Netherlands), finnish, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Vietnamese 5.1 Dolby Digital, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Some Mild Action and Rude Humor)

RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017


Based on the Characters by Peyo

Directed by Kelly Asbury

Written by Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribbon

Producer: Mary Ellen Bauder, Jordan Kerner

Co-Producer: Veronique Culliford, Mandy Tankenson

Executive Producer: Raja Gosnell, Ben Waisbren

Co-Executive Producer: Ben Haber

Music by Christopher Lennertz

Edited by Bret Marnell

Casting by Mary Hidalgo

Production Design by Noelle Triaureau

Art Direction by Dean Gordon, Marcel Vignali


Starring:

Demi Lovato as Smurfette

Rainn Wilson as Gargamel

Joe Manganiello as Hefty Smurf

Jack McBrayer as Clumsy Smurf

Danny Pudi as Brainy Smurf

Mandy Patinkin as Papa Smurf

Dee Bradley Baker as Monty

Frank Welker as Azrael

Michelle Rodriguez as SmurfStorm

Ellie Kemper as SmurfBlossom

Julia Roberts as SmurfWillow

Ariel Winter as SmurfLily

Meghan Trainor as SmurfMelody

Bret Marnell as Snappy Bug

Brandon Jeffords as Cauldron

Kelly Asbury as Nosey Smurf

Jake Johnson as Grouchy Smurf

Gabrielle Iglesias as Jokey Smurf

Tituss Burgess as Vanity Smurf


In this fully animated, all-new take on the Smurfs, a mysterious map sets Smurfette and her best friends Brainy, Clumsy and Hefty on an exciting and thrilling race through the Forbidden Forest filled with magical creatures to find a mysterious lost village before the evil wizard Gargamel does. Embarking on a roller coaster journey full of action and danger, the Smurfs are on a course that leads to the discovery of THE biggest secret in Smurf history!


Back in the late ’50s, Belgian cartoonist Peyo created the comic strips featuring small blue fictional characters known as the Smurfs. A big success in France, the Smurfs would receive various adaptations.

The first were in Belgium via TV animated shorts that were created in 1961-1967, a few of the shorts would be featured in the 1965 in the black-and-white animation “Les Adventures des Schtroumpfs” and then followed by a 1976 animation titled “La Flûte à six schtroumpfs” (The Smurfs and the Magic Flute) which would receive an English version that would inspire more full-length Smurf animated films.

But in America, where the Smurfs gained its popularity is through the 1981 animated TV series which was nominated many times for a Daytime Emmy Award and won the “Outstanding Children’s Entertainment Series” for 1982-1983. The animated series would broadcast on television through 1989.

In 1997, producer Jordan Kerner has been trying to get a “Smurfs” film created but it wasn’t until 2002 when Peyo’s heirs accepted Kerner’s offer and people were able to get their first look at the film via leaked footage on the Internet in 2008.

And in 2011, the first live-action/CG Smurf film of a planned trilogy was released in theaters in 2011. The film which was budgeted for $110 million received lackadaisical reviews from film critics but the film was popular among the younger viewers and earned over $559 million in the box office ensuring the film as a success for Columbia Pictures which would ensure a sequel.

In 2013, “Smurfs 2” would go on to earn over $374 million in the box office, making it another success.

But wanting to create a full 3D CG animated film, the film series was rebooted (now no longer featuring the live action portion), this film (unrelated to the previous two films) is directed by Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”, “Gnomeo & Juliet”) and co-written by Stacey Harman (“The Goldbergs”) and Pamela Ribon (“Moana”, “Samantha Who?”, “Bears”) and the film would go on to make $194.7 million in the box office.

And now “Smurfs: The Lost Village” will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD in July 2017.  The version I am reviewing is the 4K Ultra HD version which comes with the Blu-ray and an UltraViolet Digital Code.

In this latest film, we are introduced to the story of Smurfette, the only girl in the Smurf Village and how she was created by the wicked wizard Gargamel from a lump of clay.  Despite being created for the purpose of evil (as he in search of the Smurf village to steal all of their essences to become the most powerful wizard in the world), she was given a chance by Papa Smurf and became part of the village.

One day, Brainy Smurf is creating an invention that can determine one’s energy.  As Hefty Smurf was tested, the invention showed that his energy was strength and Brainy was able to extract that into a liquid.  But when tested on Smurfette, because she isn’t a true Smurf, she drew in energy and so the invention didn’t work on her.

As Smurfette, Brainy, Hefty and Clumsy Smurf go out for some playtime, while flying out with a leaf, a gust of wind carries her to the Forbidden Forest where she crashes.  Smurfette sees a smurf watching her and it runs off past the wall leading to the Forbidden Forest.

But when Smurfette tells the three of what she saw, she is grabbed by Gargamel’s vulture, Monty back to his lair.

This leads Brainy, Hefty and Clumsy to go on a rescue mission to save Smurfette and when they get her out to go to the village, they want to tell Papa Smurf about her discovery.  But when Papa Smurf forbids them and punishes them for going out there, the four sneak out to search if there is a “LostVillage”of Smurfs aside from theirs.


VIDEO:

“Smurfs: Lost Village” receives its first 4K Ultra HD release and this latest animation is fantastic.  Presented in 2160p (1:85:1 aspect ratio), it’s a different style compared to the previous two films which tries to add skin texturing but for the most part, the animation is done very well with great hair physics and for the most part, it’s an animation style that is respectful to Peyo’s original work and also for those who remember the animated series.   Meanwhile, environments are well-rendered with amazing detail.  The picture quality of this film is fantastic!

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Audio quality is equally impressive. Presented in English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Compatible), English – Audio Description Track, Catalan, Cantonese, Mandarin, Danish, Dutch (Netherlands), Finnish, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Vietnamese 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Considering that this animated film has a good number of action sequences, the lossless audio utilizes the surround channels.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear, while action sequences sound magnificent through the surround channels.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Arabic, Cantonese, Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Malay, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Smurfs: The Lost village” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • Emoji Sneak Peak – (2:04) A sneak peek for the upcoming “Emoji” film.
  • Filmmaker Commentary– Featuring audio commentary by director Kelly Asbury and Allan Hawkins (Animation Supervisor) and Brandon Jeffords (Head of Story).
  • Deleted Scenes – (7:35) Featuring four deleted scenes.
  • Kids at Heart! The Making of Smurfs: The Lost Village – (9:09) The making of “Smurfs: The Lost Village” and behind-the-scenes at Sony Pictures Animation.
  • The Lost Auditions – (4:07) Voice talents auditioning for other Smurf roles.
  • Demi Lovato Meets Smurfette – (:58) Smurfette interviews Demi Lovato.
  • Lost Village Dance Song  – (3:10) Featuring children dancing to the “Lost Village Dance Song”.
  • Smurfify Your Nails – (2:18) A featurette on how to smurfify nails.
  • Baker Smurf’s Mini Kitchen – (4:05)  A featurette featuring Baker Smurf narrating one preparing a baked dish.
  • Meghan Trainor “I’m a Lady Music Video”
  • Making the Song “You Will Always find Me In Your Heart” – (3:00) Christopher Lennertz discuss making the music for a certain scene.
  • The Sound of The Smurfs – (3:42) Kelly Asbury and Christopher Lennertz discuss the music for Smurfs: The Lost Village”.
  • Draw Your Favorite Smurfs – (7:40) How to draw various Smurf characters.
  • See More Smurfs! – (5:48) “Smurf” film trailers

EXTRAS:

“Smurfs: The Lost Village” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


Having grown up with watching “Smurfs” on television and reading the comics, and since 2011, it was cool to watch the films alongside my young son who pretty much grew up not with the animated films but the two previous films.

And he were are now in 2017, we have an animated film which will no doubt entertain families but I feel it’s a film that is much easier for me, as an adult to watch, versus watching Smurf and human collaborations onscreen.

Part of the entertaining factor of the original series is the adventures that the Smurfs are involved in and the various characters to work with.  While “Smurfs: The Lost Village” features primarily Smurfette, Brainy Smurf, Hefty Smurf and Clumsy Smurf, the film does a great job of incorporating other Smurfs but most importantly answers a question of what if there is a village of other Smurfs out there?

What if Smurfette wasn’t the only female Smurf around?

And sure enough, “Smurfs: The Lost Village” is quite fun to watch because we see another village but instead of all male, it’s all female.  And similar to Papa Smurf and his village of male smurfs, we see Mama Smurf and her village of female smurfs.  And needless to say, it makes for a fun, entertaining story.

As always, Gargamel is the primary antagonist.  Still trying to search for Smurfs to capture their essence in order to make him a powerful wizard.  Sure there is quite a bit of peril and rude humor (thanks to Gargamel) that raises the rating to PG but parents watching alongside their children need not worry at all.  It’s a great animated film that the entire family can enjoy!

As for the 4K Ultra HD presentation, animation is fantastic.  While much different compared to the previous two films, this time around, the animated film is much truer to Peyo’s work.  Especially for those who grew up watching the animated series.  Movements and hair physics to the way the characters move were well-animated and the detail of environments are full of detail.  In fact, this film looks absolutely vibrant in HD.

The lossless soundtrack is just as impressive.  Featuring crystal clear dialogue and music but also great use of the surround channels during the action sequences.  And last, there are a good number of special features included as well.

Overall, for those who enjoy the Smurfs and videophile/audiophile parents looking for an animated film that looks great in 4K Ultra HD, who also want to entertain their children or the entire family, you can’t go wrong with “Smurfs: The Lost Village”.  Recommended for the entire family!

 

 

Zaza (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you are a silent film fan, definitely consider Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” and discover one of many films featuring legendary actress, Gloria Swanson.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1923 Paramount Pictures. 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Zaza

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1923

DURATION: 84 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), B&W,

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: June 6, 2017


Based on the Play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon

Directed by Allan Dwan

Written by Albert S. Le Vino

Produced by Allan Dwan

Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor

Music Performed by Jeff Rapsis

Cinematography by  Harold Rosson


Starring:

Gloria Swanson as Zaza

H. B. Warner as Bernard Dufresne

Ferdinand Gottschalk as Duke de Brissac

Lucille La Verne as Aunt Rosa

Mary Thurman as Florianne

Yvonne Hughes as Nathalie, Zaza’s Maid

Riley Hatch as Rigault

L. Rogers Lytton as Stage Manager


Gloria Swanson is all flounce and swagger as Zaza, a street gamine turned music hall star, strutting her stuff, tossing off quips and taunts with her irrepressible backside, which is sometimes adorned with a pert bow for emphasis. Over the course of the film, directed by Allan Dwan (Robin Hood), she engages in two knock-down drag-out cat fights, frisks through playful love scenes, writhes in a hospital bed, nurses a broken heart, and evolves into a soberly dignified woman. Her physicality dominates the film, which does not suffer from being essentially a well-crafted frame for her performance. Swanson s ebullience in Zaza was unfeigned; she called it the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable picture I ever made. Imogen Sara Smith


Back in 1899, the French play “Zaza” had entertained audiences.  So, popular that the play was produced on Broadway and the first film adaptation was released by Paramount in 1915.

While there were a few more adaptations of “Zaza” created, in 1923, a silent romantic drama directed and produced by Allan Dwan (“Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, “Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Robin Hood”) and executive produced by Adolph Zukor was released.

Starring Gloria Swanson (“Sunset Boulevard”, “Queen Kelly”, “The Trespasser”, “Indiscreet”), H.B. Warner (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”), Ferdinand Gottschalk (“Grand Hotel”, “Les Miserables”, “Tonight or Never”), Lucille La Verne, Mary Thurman, Yvonne Hughes, Riley Hatch and L. Rogers Lytton.

And a print of the film is housed at the George Eastman House and the Library of Congress.

During this time, Gloria Swanson was the most sought-after actress in Hollywood and a box office draw for Paramount.  In fact, what she wore on screen influenced fashion  all over the world.

And now the silent classic will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Zaza” is set in France and begins with showing us how Zaza (portrayed by Gloria Swanson) is a popular performer with a temperament.  Often taking things out on her maid Nathalie (portrayed by Mary Thurman) when she loses things and is frustrated, when she is kind, she can be a major giver of fine jewelry to her maid.

Meanwhile, many men desire Zaza including Duke de Brissac (portrayed by Ferdinand Gottschalk) but the only man Zaza is interested in is Bernard Dufresne (portrayed by H.B. Warner) of the diplomatic corps.  Who often comes to visit the stage as he also fancies Zaza.

While Florianne (portrayed by Mary Thurman), Zaza’s stage rival, was once popular in the Odeon, she also fancies Dufresne.

At the show, it was said whoever catches Zaza’s shoe can be with her and when one man comes to claim his “prize”, he manhandles Zaza, in which Bernard Dufresne comes to her rescue.

But as both Zaza and Florianne vie for Dufresne’s attention, which woman will win?

Meanwhile, what secrets is Bernard hiding from Zaza?  And will the fact that Bernard lives far from Zaza affect any chance of a relationship?


VIDEO:

“Zaza” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:331 aspect ratio) and is presented in black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is very good in terms of clarity and sharpness. The film is does have scratches but for the most part, the film looks very good on Blu-ray considering its over 90-years old.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Zaza” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is a wonderful piano score by Jeff Rapsis.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Zaza” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Frederic Lombardi (author of Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios)

A silent romantic drama about love discovered, distance that hinders romance but secrets that can tear people apart.

This is the story of “Zaza”, among one of the well-known silent films starring the legendary actress Gloria Swanson and actor H.B. Warner and also one of the last films to star Mary Thurman (who could come down with pneumonia working on a film a year later and would die from complications from the illness the following year), who was also engaged to the film’s director, Allan Dwan.

In some ways, since the film is based on a play, the film can also get a little bit of exhausting wondering if these two individuals, Swanson’s Zaza and Warner’s Dufresne would be together.

While Zaza comes off as impetuous and bombastic early in the film, we see her character transform.  Transformed by love, by jealousy, by anger and by sadness.  Gloria Swanson had to no doubt show various sides of Zaza and for the most part, it was a very well-done performance.  From emotional to even action as she and Thurman’s Florianne engage in a few tussles onscreen.

H.B. Warner plays a stoic Bernard Dufresne.  A man who is captivated by Zaza but there is something preventing him from going to far in his relationship wtih Zaza, which we find out the truth later in the film.

The film on Blu-ray features wonderful detail for the film over 90-years old and for its lossless audio, you get a piano score composed and performed by Jeff Rapsis, adapted from the original 1923 cue sheet.  And also included is a very informative audio commentary by Frederic Lombardi.

Overall, I really welcome Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” on Blu-ray.  One of the things that I hope to see is more silent actresses films on Blu-ray.  There have been so much focus on Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, on Blu-ray, which is understandable but it would be nice to see more Pickford, more Swanson, more Gish, Bow, Brooks, Talmadge, Normand, Davies, Bara, Thomas, to name a few on Blu-ray.  So, Gloria Swanson’s “Zaza” on Blu-ray is a major plus and hopefully this means more silent actress greats and their films will be featured on Blu-ray in the near future.

If you are a silent film fan, definitely consider Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” and discover one of many films featuring legendary actress, Gloria Swanson.  Recommended!

 

The Fifth Element (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Fifth Element” is a fascinating, entertaining Luc Besson sci-fi action film that looks and sounds better with this 2017 4K Ultra HD release.  While not the best Besson film ever created, nor the best sci-fi action film ever made, still “The Fifth Element” remains as a popcorn action sci-fi film worth watching and a cult favorite that continues to entertain audiences 25 years later.

Images courtesy of © 1997 Gaumont. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Fifth Element

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1997

DURATION: 126 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p Ultra High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio), English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Compatible), French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Scenes of Strong Graphic Violence and for Language)

RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017


Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen

Producer: Patrice Ledoux

Co-Producer: Iain Smith

Associate Producer: Thierry Arbogast

Music by Eric Serra

Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast

Edited by Sylvie Landra

Casting by Lucinda Syson

Production Design by Dan Weil

Art Direction by Ira Gilford, Ron Gress, Michael Lamont, Jim Morahan, Kevin Phipps

Set Decoration by Maggie Gray, Anna Pinnock

Costume Design by Jean-Paul Gaultier


Starring:

Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas

Gary Oldman as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg

Ian Holm as Father Vito Cornelius

Mila Jovovich as Leeloo

Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod

Luke Perry as Billy

Brion James as General Munro

Tommy “Tiny” Lister as President Lindberg

Lee Evans as Fog

Charlie Creed-Miles as David

Tricky as Right Arm

John Neville as General Staedert

John Bluthal as Professor Pacoli


New York cab driver Korben Dallas didn’t mean to be a hero, but he just picked up the kind of fare that only comes along every five thousand years: A perfect beauty, a perfect being, a perfect weapon. Together, they must save the world. Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Gary Oldman star in acclaimed director Luc Besson’s outrageous sci-fi adventure, an extravagantly styled tale of good against evil set in an unbelievable twenty-third century world. Now presented in full 4K resolution, experience this dynamic action favorite like never before.


From the director Luc Besson (“La Femme Nikita”, “Leon: The Professional”, “Taxi”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”) comes his 1997 sci-fi action film “The Fifth Element”.

Starring Bruce Willis (“The Sixth Sense”, “Die Hard”, “Looper”), Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight Rises”, “Leon: The Professional”, “Batman Begins”), Iain Holm (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”, “Alien”), Milla Jovovich (“Resident Evil” films, “The Three Musketeers”), Chris Tucker (“Rush Hour” films, “Silver Linings Playbook”) and Luke Perry (“Beverly Hills, 90210”, “Jeremiah”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).

A story that was written by Luc Besson when he was 16-years-old, the film would be made 32-years later. While receiving mixed reviews from critics, the film was a box office success with a budget of $90 million, “The Fifth Element” would go on to to make over $90 million.

And now, a new 4K Ultra HD release for “The Fifth Element” will be released in 2017 to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary. Now presented in full 4K Ultra High Definition and in Dolby Atmos, this is the best version of the film available on physical media!

The film begins in 1914 as scientists discover something huge in an ancient Egyptian temple. Not long after, aliens known as Mondoshawans have arrived to collect (for safekeeping) a weapon capable of defeating a great evil that appears every 5,000 years.

The weapon is a sarcophagus that contains four classical elements which combines each element to create a divine light of defeating evil. The aliens say they will return when the great evil returns.

Fast forward to 2263 and the great evil has now reappeared as a giant ball of black fire. As the priest Vito Cornelius (portrayed by Ian Hom) tries to send a message to the President of the Federated Territories (portrayed by Tom Lister, Jr.) about how they must defeat the great evil with the weapon that can stop it, the Mondoshawans make their return.

But while they return, the Mangalores led by Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (portrayed by Gary Oldman), has been instructed by the great evil to acquire the stones. A hand of the Fifth element after an exchange between the Mondoshawans and Mangalores and scientist use the technology to reconstruct a humanoid woman named Leeloo (portrayed by Milla Jovovich).

Not knowing of where she is and unaware of her surroundings, Leeloo escapes and jumps off a ledge and crashes into a flying taxicab driven by Korben Dallas (portrayed by Bruce Willis), a former major of the special forces.

Will Leeloo become the key to stop the great evil? Or will she be used as a weapon to destroy humanity?


VIDEO:

“The Fifth Element” receives its first 4K Ultra HD release in time for its 20th Anniversary. This 2017 4K Ultra HD release is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).

Featuring wonderful detail and better clarity, the film looks even better in HD. Skin tones look natural and there is a good amount of grain present. I didn’t notice any major banding issues during my viewing of the film, nor does this film looked aged.

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in English 7.1 Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1), French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Considering that this sci-fi action film contains a lot of action sequences, the fact that the 2007 and 2015 Blu-ray release had a magnificent lossless soundtrack that utilized the surround channels, now this Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1) lossless soundtrack is quite impressive. From the scenes which Dallas encounters Leloo for the very first time to the ending action sequence, the film features great use of the surround and rear surround channels, as well as utilizing LFE.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Fifth Element” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • The Visual Element – (18:25) A featurette about the films visual effects.
  • The Visual Element Extras – (6:13) Featuring seven visual element tests.
  • The Star Element: Bruce Willis – (4:19) Featuring an interview with actor Bruce Willis.
  • The Star Element: Mila Jovovich – (12:47) Featuring an interview with actress Mila Jovovich.
  • The Star element: Mila Jovovich Extras – (12:02) Featuring four screen tests with Mila Jovovich.
  • The Star Element: Chris Tucker – (4:17) Featuring an interview with actor Chris Tucker.
  • The Alien Element: Mondoshawans – (8:13) Featuring how they created the Mondoshawans and their movements.
  • The Alien Element: Mondoshawans Extras – (3:23) Featuring six outtakes and screen tests for the Mondoshawans.
  • The Alien Element: Mangalores – (9:47) A featurette about the evil Mangalores and how to bring these aliens to life.
  • The Alien Element: Mangalores Extras – (2:11) Featuring two Mangalores extras.
  • The Alien Element: Picasso – (4:17) A featurette  about Zorg’s pet, Picasso.
  • The Alien Element: Strikers – (3:04) A featurette about the Strikers that did not make the final cut of the film.
  • The Alien Element: Strikers Extras – (1:32) Featuring four Striker extras.
  • The Fashion Element – (7:46) A featurette about the fashion in “The Fifth Element”.
  • The Fashion Element: Extras – (5:17) Featuring four fashion extras.
  • The Diva – (16:16) The actress who brought Diva Plavalaguna to life.
  • The Divas Extras – (8:03) Four outtakes featuring Diva Plavalaguna.
  • The Digital Element – (9:49) A featurette about Digital Domain bringing “The Fifth Element” to life.
  • Imagining The Fifth Element – (5:14) The concept design, visual effects design and imagining of “The Fifth Element”.
  • The Elements of Style – (5:13) A featurette of an interview with Jean-Paul Gaultier and the film’s costume design.
  • Fact Track – Watch “The Fifth Element” with fact tracks.

EXTRAS:

“The Fifth Element” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


It has been 20-years since the release of “The Fifth Element” and with each watch, my perception of the film changes overtime.

With my older 1999 DVD review of the film, I wrote:

I finally saw this movie and this is what I thought.  I liked it a lot!  This movie is visually stunning and the computer graphics were wonderful.  The storyline is good but it appears that an extra 30 minutes or an hour would have given this movie judgment a much better score because I felt there were some loose ends that were never answered.

Watching this film once again in 4K Ultra HD in 20017, my thoughts that while the film was often considered a reference title for video and audiophiles (back during the DVD days), it’s a popcorn action films with impressive visuals.  With some CG elements that still hold up, while other scenes do look its age.

But what I enjoyed about the film at the time was the fact that it introduced us to Mila Jovovich, who would become a much bigger star with the “Resident Evil” films years later, Chris Tucker who would become a big star with his “Rush Hour” films not long after, and for Bruce Willis fans, the film gave us another chance to watch the man who wowed us in the ’90s with his “Die Hard” films to return in a sci-fi action film which we can see his character kicking butt once again.  And of course, watching Bruce Willis as a protagonist (with the similar bravado as his other action characters in previous films) and Gary Oldman as the antagonist, made the film worthwhile.

The film benefits from its visual imagery and imaginative settings, but the CG is well-done and its far-out Jean-Paul Gaultier costume design was also interesting to see.  But how I felt about the film back in 1999, again in 2006-2007, 2015  and in 2017 has not changed.  “The Fifth Element” does not have the greatest story but it was no doubt an entertaining film.

But I feel each time I watch it, my appreciation of the film tends to lessen.  The fact is, back in the DVD years, we considered “The Fifth Element” as a reference quality film to showcase our surround sound system. Especially now as its prsented in Dolby Atmos.  And watching this film in 2160p 4K Ultra HD, along with the 7.1 lossless soundtrack makes the film even more enjoyable and video/audiophiles should be pleased.

And with this 2017 4K Ultra HD release, fans of the film will also get a good number of special features and an Ultraviolet HD code.  For those who purchased the 2015 Blu-ray release, the special features are the same.  The difference of course between 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray is that the 4K Ultra HD is presented in 2160p Ultra High Defition versus 1080p (on Blu-ray).

Overall, “The Fifth Element” is a fascinating, entertaining Luc Besson sci-fi action film that looks and sounds better with this 2017 4K Ultra HD release.  While not the best Besson film ever created, nor the best sci-fi action film ever made, still “The Fifth Element” remains as a popcorn action sci-fi film worth watching and a cult favorite that continues to entertain audiences 20-years later.

 

Leon the Professional (a J!-ENT 4K Ultra HD Review)

July 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Leon the Professional” is a Luc Besson masterpiece. It’s one of the most exciting films to come out from Besson with action, emotion and just all-out frenzy that you just can’t stop watching! Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman are fantastic in this film and it’s a film that I highly recommended on 4K Ultra HD!

Image courtesy of © 1994 Gaumont and Les Films du Dauphin. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Leon the Professional

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1994

DURATION: 109 Minutes (Theatrical Version)/133 Minutes (Extended Version)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2160p Ultra High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio), English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Compatible), French, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Scenes of Strong Graphic Violence and for Language)

RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017


Written and Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Claude Besson

Line Producer: John Garland and Bernard Grenet

Music by Eric Serra

Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast

Edited by Sylvie Landra

Casting by Todd M. Thaler

Production Design by Dan Weil

Art Direction by Gerard Drolon

Set Decoration by Francoise Benoit-Fresco

Costume Design by Magali Guidasci


Starring:

Jean Reno as Leon

Gary Oldman as Stanfield

Natalie Portman as Mathilda

Danny Aiello as Tony

Peter Appel as Malky

Michael Badalucco as Mathilda’s father


The mysterious Léon (Jean Reno) is New York’s top hitman. When his next-door neighbors are murdered, Léon becomes the unwilling guardian of the family’s sole survivor – 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman). But Mathilda doesn’t just want protection; she wants revenge. From the electrifying opening to the fatal finale, THE PROFESSIONAL is a nonstop crescendo of action and suspense. After winning a competition to spend a week at the mountain estate of his company’s party hardy CEO, programmer Caleb Smith arrives to discover he has been chosen to take part in a study of artificial intelligence. Sworn to secrecy and cut off from the outside world, Caleb meets his subject, a beguiling and seductive cyborg named Ava (Alicia Vikander) – and is plunged into an A.I. experiment beyond his wildest imaginings in this epic thriller charged with heart-stopping suspense.


Hot after his film “La Femme Nikita”, in 1994 Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”, writer of “The Transporter” films) would go on to work on his film “Leon” (Leon the Professional). The film was written and directed by Besson and featured music by Eric Serra (“The Fifth Element”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”, “GoldenEye”) and cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (“Babylon AD”, “Femme Fatale”, “Kiss of the Dragon”, “The Messanger: The Story of Joan of Arc).

The film would reunite Besson with popular French action star Jean Reno (Mission: Impossible”, “Ronin”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “The Pink Panther”) who he worked on in “Nikita” and “Le grand bleu” and would be the first major film for 12-year-old actress at the time, Natalie Portman (“Star Wars: Episodes I-III”, “V for Vendetta”, “Paris, je ‘taime”). For the most part, the film received mostly positive critic reviews but also some controversy as the film would feature an older man raising a young girl and teaching her how the life of a hitman. Let alone, a 12-year-old who is attracted to an older man.

But the film is primarily about two people who find importance with each other. A hitman and a girl who lost her family and both are trying to survive.

“Leon the Professional” is about professional hitman Leon (Reno) who is known as a “Cleaner”. A man who works for mafia boss Tony (played by Danny Aiello, “Do the Right Thing”, “Lucky Number Slevin”, “Hudson Hawk”) and is skilled at making the kill and getting the target. Outside of being a hitman, Leon lives a calm, solitary life of working out, drinking milk and taking care of a plant (who he calls his best friend).

Each time he returns to his apartment, he sees a teenage girl named Mathilda (Portman) who looks as if she has been physically abused and smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, Mathilda’s father (played by Michael Badalucco, “The Practice”) is shown having some major problems with corrupt DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents led by Stansfield (played by Gary Oldman, “The Fifth Element”, “Air Force One”, “Sid and Nancy”, “Harry Potter” films). The agents have been paying Mathilda’s father to store illegal drugs in his apartment and appears to be stealing the drugs.

They give him a chance to recover the drugs and then we get to see the life of Mathilda, her father and family at the home. Mathilda is quite distant from her father and her older sister. She is close to her four year old brother but her home life is very dysfunctional. But Mathilda goes out to buy some groceries for her family.

While she’s out, Stansfield and the corrupt DEA agents storm the home and kills Mathilda’s father and the family members. While Mathilda returns, she realizes that something bad has happened and instead of going straight into her home, because DEA agent is posted outside the door, she goes straight towards Leon’s home and cries and pleads for him to open the door. Leon being the loner, doesn’t want to but seeing the anguish on her face, he allows her to come in. Stansfield realizes that not all family members are dead and now wants to find Mathilda.

This begins the life of Leon the Professional who takes care of Mathilda and are seen staying in different hotels as he works on his hits. But with Mathilda wanting revenge for her brother’s death, requests Leon to train her on how to become a “cleaner”. But as Leon has trouble with being close to anyone, the young 12-year-old starts to fall in love with the hitman. Meanwhile, Stansfield will do whatever he can to find the missing girl.

“Leon the Professional” had an original theatrical release but there was an extended version (or Director’s Cut) featuring an extra 24-minutes of footage which focuses on Leon training Mathilda but also the emotional connection the two have for each other. Both are included on the 4K Ultra HD release and personally, I prefer the extended version as the screenplay focuses a lot on the friendship between Leon and Mathilda.


VIDEO:

When I first saw “Leon the Professional”, I admit that I was happy. Why? Many films created between 1986-1996 and released on Blu-ray, some really look their age, transfer is not all that great or is very soft but for “Leon the Professional” on 4K Ultra HD, the colors are vibrant, black levels are great and deep and detail can be seen. The old buildings that Leon and Mathilda live in, you can see all the cracks and how old they look. It just seems much more clearer. Sharpness is great and the colors just pop. There is a nice amount of grain as well and no softness. This doesn’t look like a film that is 15-years-old. So, needless to say…picture quality is fantastic.

With that being said, this 2017 4K Ultra HD release is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio).

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: To watch 4K Ultra HD, you will need a 4K UHD TV with HDR and an Ultra HD Blu-ray Player + a high-speed HDMI 2.0A Cable.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in English 7.1 Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1), French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1.

There are really good action sequences and gun fights that really utilize the soundscape from the front, center and surround channels. Especially during the final confrontation, the film sounds great. Music by Eric Serra also helps create the mood. For the most part, this is not an action film that is overly aggressive as most of the film is dialogue-based between Leon and Mathilda but for the most part, when the action scenes do happen, you’ll definitely hear those gun shots, machine gun rattling, explosions really clear.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Leon the Professional” on 4K Ultra HD comes with the following special features:

  • 10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back – (25:09) A featurette released on the 2004 DVD. A virtual reunion with interviews with the cast talking about a film they made 10 years ago. How the film came to be made and how the talent were cast for the film.
  • Jean Reno: The Road to Leon – (12:25) A featurette about Jean Reno, his personal life of him growing up and his previous works that led to him playing the character of Leon.
  • Natalie Portman: Starting Young – (13:49) Natalie Portman talks about reading the script at 11-years-old and wanting to do the part despite her parents feeling it was inappropriate. Working with Jean Reno and Luc Besson and how she was able to accomplish those emotional crying scenes and more.
  • Fact Track (Extended Version) – Viewers can watch the extended version of the film with a fact track.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Leon the Professional”.

EXTRAS:

“Leon the Professional” comes with a slipcover, both the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


“Leon the Professional” is a riveting, action-packed film. And for those who are familiar with Luc Besson films, you expect intense gunfighting sequences and plenty of destruction. Granted, he has done a lot more of that now with recent films but back in 1994, “Leon the Professional” was entertaining then and 15-years later, continues to be quite entertaining now.

Jean Reno is really good playing those action, hitman type of scenes. He’s a tough guy but Luc Besson knows how to utilize his character quite well in his films. Gary Oldman is always a fantastic villain and his character Stansfield is just repulsive. Murdering young children definitely made the viewer want either Leon or Mathilda to really get their revenge on him by the end of the film. And the way it played out, was well-done. But as Reno and Oldman were fantastic, Natalie Portman was incredible. The actress demonstrated in this film that she can be an actress that can excel in emotional scenes and for the most part, back in 1994, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would grow up to be an actress to watch for. Overall, great acting by the three main characters of the film.

As for the controversy which led the film to be cut for its theatrical version, I can understand where opposition groups were coming from. Mathilda was a child that was raised in a dysfunctional setting and she has been emotionally damaged that the only person that she sees as her savior was Leon. A man who lives in isolation and his best friend is a plant. But of course, there is a sense of sadness that broods with the character of Leon and somehow, these two find comfort within each other. For Leon, it’s more of a friend, while Mathilda, looks at it her emotions as being in love. Nevertheless, for those who get disturbed by those scenes of Mathilda’s emotional anguish (ala Russian Roulette) and the fact that Leon trains Mathilda on how to kill people (using a paint gun), there is a theatrical version included on the Blu-ray that eliminates those scenes and an extended version that contains those extra 24 minutes.

As for the 4K UltraHD, I just felt the picture quality was fantastic for an early 90’s film. With quite a few 90’s films that looks its age, the amount of colors and detail for on this HD release is fantastic.  For those who purchased the 2015 Blu-ray release, the special features are the same. The main difference of course, is that this 4K Ultra HD version is presented in 2160p Ultra High Definition, while the Blu-ray is presented in 1080p High Definition.

Overall, “Leon the Professional” is a Luc Besson masterpiece. It’s one of the most exciting films to come out from Besson with action, emotion and just all-out frenzy that you just can’t stop watching! Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman are fantastic in this film and it’s a film that I highly recommended on 4K Ultra HD!

 

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