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Heaven is for Real (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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There is no doubt that “Heaven is for Real” is a film not for everyone. There will be some who will be touched, there will be some who may have problems with the film but for those with an open mind and for those who are Christians will no doubt enjoy or become fascinated by the story of the Burpo family and be touched by its spiritual message. Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2014 Columbia Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Heaven is for Real

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1, English, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Descriptive Track, Spanish, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital,  Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese Mandarin, French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Thematic Material Including Some Medical Situations)

Release Date: July 22, 2014

Directed by Randall Wallace

Based on the Screenplay by Randall Wallace and Chris Parker

Based on the Book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

Produced by T.D. Jakes, Joe Roth

Co-Producer: Andrw Wallace, Kim H. Winther

Executive Producer: Sue Baden-Powell, Sam Mercer, Derrick Williams

Music by Nick Glennie-Smith

Cinematography by Dean Semler

Edited by John Wright

Casting by Sheila Jaffe

Production Design by Arvinder Grewal

Art Direction by Larry Spittle

Costume Design by Michael T. Boyd

Starring:

Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo

Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo

Thomas Haden Church as Jay Wilkins

Connor Corum as Colton Burpo

Lana Styles as Cassie Burpo

Margo Martindale as Nancy Rawling

Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book, Heaven is for Real recounts the true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world. Starring Academy Award® nominee Greg Kinnear (Best Supporting Actor, As Good As It Gets, 1997) as Todd Burpo, the real-life father whose son Colton claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. Colton shares the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth … things he couldn’t possibly know.

In 2010, the Christian book “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” would become a New York Times Best Seller.

Based on a true story about the Burpo family and their then-four-year-old son Colton having a near-death experience.  The book would receive a film adaptation and would be directed by Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”, “Pearl Harbor” and “We Were Soldiers”) and would star Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets”, “You’ve Got Mail”), Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”, “Spider-Man 3″, “Wings”), Margo Martindale (“Million Dollar Baby”, “Orphan”, “The Hours”), Kelly Reilly (“Sherlock Holmes”, “Flight”, “Sherlock Holmes: Games of Shadows”), Lane Styles and Connor Corum.

“Heaven is for Real” is set in Imperial, Nebraska and revolves around the pastor Todd Burpo (portrayed by Greg Kinnear) and his wife Sonja (portrayed by Kelly Reilly).

A loving family with two children, Cassie and Colton.

After Todd suffers a broken leg during a softball match and then suffering kidney stones, to help deal with Todd’s rehabilitation, the family goes to Denver for family time.

But not long after coming back home, both children are sick and while Cassie gets over her illness, Colton suffers a ruptured appendix and is rushed to the emergency room.  And while things are not going well, he eventually survives and begins opening up with his father of his near-death experience of watching doctors work on his body, seeing his father agonize in one room, while his mother is another room calling up friends to pray for them.

But when Colton starts to give details that has happened while he was being operated on and details of going to heaven, hearing angels sing and meeting Jesus and other family members with details that Colton couldn’t possibly know.   How will his family approach Colton?

And what happens when his story is told to the church congregation and is featured in the local news?

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VIDEO:

“Heaven is for Real” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Picture quality is fantastic as indoor and outdoor show great detail.  Colors are bold and vibrant.  Skin tones are natural throughout the film and black levels are accurate.  I didn’t notice any artifacts, banding or any problematic issues during my viewing.  “Heaven is for Real” looks fantastic on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Heaven is for Real” is primarily a dialogue driven film but the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does shows moments of surround channel use.  From church ambiance, wind blowing things over, fire engine sirens and more.  But for a film like this, you expect a front and center channel soundtrack.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, Chinese (Cantones and Mandarin), French, Indoensian/Bahasa, Korean, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Heaven is for Real” features the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes – (8:23) Featuring six deleted scenes
  • The Making of Heaven is for Real – (13:08) The making of the film from casting and shooting the Heaven scenes.
  • Colton Goes to Heaven – (4:17) A short featurette featuring the real Burpo family.
  • Creating Heaven – (4:24) The challenges of creating the Heaven sequences and the ideas and approach of creating the scene.

“Heaven is for Real” was a book that had its fair share of criticism from Christians but it also was a book that was a bestseller and a Christian book that will no doubt be subjective for its reader.

The same can be said for the film, it’s subjective to the viewer.

And while the film is not a Christian film per se, it does have religious themes that explore heaven through the eyes of a four-year-old.

Colton tells his father he went to heaven, how beautiful heaven is and how Jesus looks and the people he met in Heaven including family members who have passed away.

There are details that Colton couldn’t have known but knows from his visit to Heaven.

The problem is that Christians have their own perception of what heaven should be.  And what he saw in heaven despite not being listed as near-death.

For Pastor Todd Burpo, the whole concept of Heaven and what his child has been experiencing is major concern for him.  Is he telling the truth?  And does Colton’s revelations challenge his father’s belief.

What we do see is that Todd becomes heavily interested in his son’s near-death experience, while his wife Sonja is worried about how they can pay off bills and that perhaps its their son’s imagination or combination of things he saw that has crafted his image of Heaven.

“Heaven is for Real” is able to touch upon the challenges that the family faces, how the church board reacts to Todd and his son being featured in the news but whether one can accept it.

Do babies that die due to a miscarriage or die in a womb, grow in Heaven?  I personally found this to be a fascinating but also controversial for the film.

If anything, in reality, the concept of Heaven is not always clear to people and there are interpretations of what Heaven should be and how it should be like?

From the eyes of an innocent four-year-old, Colton talks about angels singing, seeing Jesus’ horse and the color of rainbows and more.  But for those who have their ideas set of what Heaven should be and what kind of paradise they expect or don’t expect, there will always be opinions that clash with other beliefs.

I do like how the film showcases the Burpo family, especially Todd and Sonja as a loving couple, a normal couple who drop sexual hints and flirt with each other but for those expecting a santized Christian film where things like this should not be featured, are also going to have problems with this film.

But is this a religious film?  It’s not a film about religious preaching, it’s not a film that tries to stuff religion in your face but there is religion as the protagonist is a pastor and how his son’s experience starts to change him and his approach to his work in church and how his fellow congregation start to reach, good or bad.  But there is a spiritual message to this film and what young Colton was able to experience, you can either believe or don’t believe.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of this film is magnificent and the lossless audio quality is what I expected from this film and it being heavily center and front-channel driven.  There are a few special features included as well.

Overall, “Heaven is for Real” is a fascinating film that is entertaining and enjoyable if you grew up with a Christian upbringing.  Colton’s experience is unexplainable but for those who believe in God, you can take this experience as you see fit, the Burpo family experienced it with their son and there are others who have had experiences that are unexplained but if you believe in God, even in the Bible, things happen but it’s God’s way of showing a person his way or trying to reach out to others and show the power of faith and love.

There is no doubt that “Heaven is for Real” is a film not for everyone.  There will be some who will be touched, there will be some who may have problems with the film but for those with an open mind and for those who are Christians will no doubt enjoy or become fascinated by the story of the Burpo family and be touched by its spiritual message.

Recommended!

 

Kid Cannabis (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Kid Cannabis” is pretty much a young stoner film, but one that is fascinating because it’s based on a true story.  But while the film is straightforward as Mark Binelli’s original “Rolling Stone” article that this film was based on, the film never rises to the occasion of being anything more than a stoner film.

Images courtesy of © 2014 Kid Cannabis Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Kid Cannabis

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 110 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: July 8, 2014

Directed by John Stockwell

Screenplay by John Stockwell

Based on an article by Mark Binelli

Produced by Michael Becker, Gordon Bijelonic, Corey Large

Executive Producer: Mia Chang, Alison Lee, Alan Pao, Bic Tran, Datari Turner

Line Producer: Joe Di Maio

Music by Irv Johnson

Cinematography by Peter Holland

Edited by Jon Berry, James Renfroe

Casting by J.C. Cantu

Production Design by Chad Krowchuk, Daren Sasges

Set Decoration by Candise Paul

Costume Design by Ashley Jephcott

Starring:

Jonathan Daniel Brown by Nate Norman

Kenny Worlmald as Topher

Aaron Yoo as Brendan Butler

Ron Perlman as Barry Lerner

John C. McGinley as John Grefard

Corey Large as Giovanni Mendiola

Bryce Hodgson as Scuzz

Alex Arsenault as Dustin Lauer

Jeffrey Ballard as Patrick Groves

Giacomo Baessato as Eddie Mendiola

Merritt Patterson as Nicole Greffard

Amanda Tapping as Nate’s Mom

KID CANNABIS is the true story of an Idaho teen dropout who builds a multimillion-dollar marijuana ring by trafficking drugs through the woods across the Canadian border. But his pursuit of the high life – complete with girls, guns, and vicious rival drug lords – may leave this ex-pizza boy in way over his head.

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Back in 2005, Rolling Stone writer Mark Binelli wrote a story about Nate Norman, an unpopular, overweight young man from Idaho who wanted to make money by traveling to Canada to obtain the expensive marijuana known as “B.C. Bud”.

Suffice to say, Norman became wealthy, became popular with women, partied hard, smoked a lot of weed made a lot of friends and enemies and literally became a drug kingpin.

Despite living a happy life for a short time of parties, women, money and plenty of weed, his downfall was his network being busted but also the death of his rival, Brendan Butler.

Inspired by Binelli’s article, filmmaker and writer John Stockwell (“Blue Crush”, “Into the Blue”) would work on the screen adaptation of Nate Norman’s story.

The film would star Jonathan Daniel Brown (“Project X”, “Bad Milo”), Kenny Wormald (“Footloose”, “Clerks II”, “Center Stage: Turn It Up”), Aaron Yoo (“21″, “Disturbia”, “Friday the 13th”), Ron Perlman (“Hellboy” films, “Drive”, “Sons of Anarchy”) and John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”, “Platoon”, “The Rock”).

“Kid Cannabis” revolves around Nate Norman (portrayed by Jonathan Daniel Brown), a young man who loves weed but tries to make ends meet as his mother is working hard as a waitress and he tries to contribute by working as a pizza deliveryman.

Nate and his buddy Topher (portrayed by Kenny Wormald) try to get into the party hosed by the wealthy and cocky Brendan Butler, who happens to be a big supplier of weed to people in the area.

Seeing the success that Brendan has had and also delivering a pizza to a client who talked about “B.C. Bud”, high grade marijuana grown in Canada, Nate and Topher are wanting to get the weed and possibly selling it in the U.S.

Meeting some of the growers of the weed such as John Grefard (portrayed by John C. McGinley) and learning how much business there is in selling B.C. Bud to the United States, Nate begins working with drug kingpin Barry Lerner (portrayed by Ron Perlman) and eventually starts to make a lot of money.

Hiring his friends to be his close network of smuggling weed from Canada to the United States, Nate eventually becomes a wealthy drug kingpin which angers his rival Brendan Butler, who now wants to rob or even kill Nate.

But the weed business starts becoming riskier and dangerous for Nate Norman and what was supposed to be a simple plan, becomes troublesome and dangerous with lives endangered and someone is murdered.

 

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VIDEO:

“Kid Cannabis” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks great during the outdoor scenes, skin tones look natural and I didn’t notice any artifacts, banding or any problems with the video.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Kid Cannabis” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  The majority of the film is dialogue and musically-driven.  The dialogue for the film is crystal clear and as one can expect from the hip hop tracks, the beats feature strong bass and sounds great!  But there are moments of ambiance during crowd scenes and and also a few action sequences that involve gun shots.  But for the most part, the lossless soundtrack for “Kid Cannabis” is good.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Kid Cannabis” comes with a theatrical trailer.

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When it comes to stoner films, “Kid Cannabis” is quite effective in not being a moronic film about people smoking weed.

The fact that the film is based on an actual true story about a guy who managed to run his own empire and make a lot of money in short amount of time was rather intriguing but as one would expect, there were some consequences.

While those who participated, have rehabilitated or went on to find work, for the young Idaho drug kingpin, his description of what took place in his life during this time and how he feels about it now, while locked up in prison, it was more like a dream adventure that he would never trade for the world.

And the film helps understand why Nate would feel this way.  His life prior was pizza delivery guy who was trying to make ends meet with his mom who slaved a way from work.  What Nate knew was weed and what he was interested in was weed, naturally weed was the only avenue of making big money.

Yeah, he was able to smoke great weed but I think it’s the lifestyle of having people follow him and him being the leader, the kingpin.  And along with that, he was able to pay for a new house for his mother, he was able to score with other women and he had power.

But knowing the people that he ran with and seeing how these decisions would lead to his undoing along with his money making network, I suppose for him, the experience was his greatest memory of his young adult life.

Actor Jonathan Daniel Brown did a great job of portraying Nate. While I’m not sure if they are alike, the point of the film is seeing the unexpected rise of this guy who really had no outlet to anything else but hearsay from other drug dealers.  And Brown’s acting made you believe in the character.

The film was rather fascinating to see Ron Perlman as the drug financier and also seeing John C. McGinley as an ex-government grower, they added more credibility to this film and also made the film much more enjoyable.

While “Kid Cannabis” fairs well in its depiction of today’s young stoners and you want to see how far Nate Norman would go as a drug mover, the film didn’t do well to make you care about the other characters.  The other characters were rather forgettable and each time they graced the screen and the plot would shift to them, you just felt these scenes were wasted because they were not characters to even care about.  So, I felt that I was wanting to see more focus on the character of Nate.

As for the Blu-ray release, it’s a barebones release.  While picture and audio quality were very good, there are no special features but a theatrical trailer.

Overall, “Kid Cannabis” is pretty much a young stoner film that will appease fans who appreciates these type of films.  “Kid Cannabis” is quite fascinating because it is based on a true story, but while the film is straightforward as Mark Binelli’s original “Rolling Stone” article that this film was based on, the film never rises to the occasion of being anything more than that.

 

The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Legend of Korra” is one of the best animated series on television and the writing and animation has gotten better for “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits”. The series looks and sounds so much better in HD and the additional featurettes plus audio commentary on each episode featuring the creators and the crew makes this series worth owning on Blu-ray! “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” is highly recommended. Five stars!

Image courtesy of © 2013 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits

YEAR: 2013

DURATION: Episodes 1-14 Minutes (330 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 2.0 Stereo

COMPANY: Nickelodeon/Viacom/Paramount

RATED: NOT RATED

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Directed by Ian Graham, Colin Heck

Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick

Produced by Tim Yoon

Music by Jeremy Zuckerman

Casting by Shannon Reed

Art Direction by Joaquim Dos Santos, Bryan Konietzko, Ki Hyun Ryu

Featuring the following voice talent:

Janet Varney as Korra

Dee Bradley Baker as Various Voices

David Faustino as Mako

P.J. Byrne as Bolin

J.K. Simmons as Tenzin

Jeff Bennett as Radio Braodcaster

Seychelle Gabriel as Asami Sato

Steve Blum as Amon

Darcy Rose Byrnes as Ikki

Mindy Sterling as Lin Beifong

Logan Wells as Meelo

Lance Henriksen as Lieutenant

Kiernan Shipka as Jinora

Richard Riehle as Bumi

Adrian LaTourelle as Unalaq

Lisa Edestein as Kya

Aubrey Plaza as Eska

Aaron Himelstein as Desna

Maria Bamford as Pema

John Michael Higgins as Varrick

Steve Blum as Amon

James Remar as Tonraq

Jonathan Adams as Vaatu

Korra and Team Avatar embark on a new journey deep into the mythology of the mystical Spirit World, encountering creatures like nothing they’ve seen before and discovering the truth about the very first Avatar!

With a battle for the fate of the world between the light and dark spirits Raava and Vaatu fast approaching, Korra delves deeper into the Avatar’s past and realizes what she must do in order to restore balance between the physical and spirit worlds.

Six months after the events of “Book One: Air”, Korra believes she is a master of airbending, Mako works as a police officer, Asami is trying to keep the fledgling and cash strapped Future Industries afloat.  But after certain events, Korra leaves her training with Uncle Tenzin and joins her uncle, tribal chief Unalaq, who will now be her main mentor.

But as the two travel to the South Pole for training, she learns more about her father Tonraq and his banishment from the Northern Water Tribe.  But as Korra steps into a new life where tensions between the Southern and Northern Water Tribe is at an all time high and wanting to ask the Fire Nation for support, life takes an unexpected turn as Korra faces personal challenges but also a new nemesis who is intent in destroying the world.

Will Korra rise to the occasion and defeat her most powerful enemy yet?

Find out in “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” available now on Blu-ray and DVD!

What is “The Legend of Korra” about?

From Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of the popular Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, comes the sequel to the series titled “The Legend of Korra”.

Originally planned as a 12-episode mini-series, “The Legend of Korra” was greenlit for a total of 52-episodes (four seasons) for a total of four books with 12-14 episodes each.

The first season known as “Book One: Air” features animation from Korea’s Studio Mir and the series would receive critical acclaim and also drawing an average of 4.3 million viewers, having the highest audience total for an animated series in the U.S. for 2012.

And now “The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in July 2013.

“The Legend of Korra” is set 70-years in the future after the events of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and how the world was brought into peace. The world which features the four nations which include the Water Tribes, the Air Nomads, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation have people trained to “Bend” the element that they are associated with their nation (so, a person can bend water, earth, fire or air).

But for Korra of the Southern Water Tribe, at 4-years-old, she was able to bend fire and earth and thus was trained to become the Avatar to the Order of the White Lotus. Now at 17-years-old, she can “bend” water, earth and fire but yet is unable to “air-bend”.

She is to be trained to “air-bend” from Tenzin, the youngest child of Aang (the last airbender and the protagonist of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) and Katara (the water bender from the Southern Water Tribe who was the first to discover Aang and free him from an iceberg – episode 1 of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) but the problem is that Republic City has become unstable and Tenzin will not be able to stay in the Southern Water Tribe to train her and must leave.

Upset that Tenzin won’t train her , Korra who feels that because she can bend three elements, she’s powerful enough and wants to see the world and perhaps Tenzin may train her in Republic City. Master Katara (who is also Tenzin’s mother) accepts Korra’s reasoning and allows her to go to Republic City alone.

But immediately when Korra arrives in the Republic City, trying to save people from a bending gang, she is arrested by Republic City’s metalbending police force and immediately is not well-liked by the police chief Lin Beifong (daughter of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” character Toph Beifong), but to her aid comes Tenzin who takes her in. To ease tensions, it is revealed to the media that the Avatar, Korra is staying in the city and for Korra, she tells everyone that her goal is to protect the people of Republic City.

Meanwhile, something ominous is happening in the city as a mysterious masked man named Amon who leads the Equalists (non-benders) and their goal is to bring equality between the benders and the non-benders. But Amon has shown that he has some power to eliminate one’s bending abilities.

For “Book Two: Spirits”, the storyline is set six months after the events in the season final of “Book One: Air”.

Korra is now being trained by her uncle, Unalaq and has discovered that restless spirits have been terrorizing the south seas.  And she needs to find the way to calm the dark spirits.

But as she and her father Tonraq goes to the area of the Water Tribes, she discovers something ominous and one who is trying to merge with the dark spirit known as Vaatu in order to become the Dark Avater.

But will Korra have what it takes to calm the Dark Spirits and face the Dark Avatar?

The main characters of “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” are:

  • Korra – A 17-year-old girl who has mastered fire, earth and water but not wind-bending. She is the successor of Aang and thus was kept hidden in order to protect her. But because of her temper and rebellious side, she tends to do things on her own pace, even though it may get her into a lot of trouble. In Book Two: Spirits, despite having more control of her airbending abilities, she will be put to the test when she comes across a new enemy intent on destroying the world.
  • Mako – A firebender and member of the Fire Ferrets bending team. He is a firebender that came from the streets, he is seen as a dark individual. He is dating Asami Sato, daughter of the wealthy industrialist Hiroshi Sato but also is attracted to Korra.   In Book Two: Spirits, he is Korra’s boyfriend and is a police officer.
  • Bolin - The younger brother of Mako who is an earth bender and is lighthearted, gullible and humorous. The opposite of his brother.
  • Asami Sato – Mako’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of Hiroshi Sato, the wealthy industrialist. She loves Mako but is jealous of Korra, because of the attention he tends to give to her.  In Book Two: Spirits, she is now responsible for keeping Future Industries afloat and restore the corporation’s reputation.
  • Master Tenzin – The youngest son of Aang and Katara. He tries to fulfill his father’s wishes and was assigned to train Korra in air bending.
  • Republic City police chief Lin Beilong – A former girlfriend of Tenzin and the daughter of Toph Beiphong. She is very strict when it comes to honoring the laws of the land and it puts her in odds with Korra.  She is brave and loyal.
  • Pema – Tenzin’s caring wife and mother of Jinora, Ikki, Meelo and Rohan, who are young children training to become air benders.
  • Tonraq – The father of Korra and a waterbending master and older brother of Unalaq.  He had kept his past secret from Korra.
  • Unalaq – The uncle of Korra and waterbending master.  He was the chief of the Northern and Southern Water Tribe.  He is now responsible for training Korra.
  • Raava – The spirit of peace and light.
  • Vaatu – The spirit of chaos and darkness in thew orld.

VIDEO:

“The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” is presented in 1080p High Definition and my thoughts in watching the series is how impressive the character designs, the detail and shading of the characters and how breathtaking the background art is for the series, as well as the mechanical design. The series is vibrant and colorful, I didn’t see any artifacts or any problematic issues during my view of the 14-episodes. If anything, fans of the series will be thrilled of how beautiful “The Legend of Korra” looks in HD and Studio Mir and Studio Pierrot has done an amazing job for this second season!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 2.0 Stereo. The lossless soundtrack for “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” sounds fantastic. Action scenes come alive and utilizes the surround channels very well, especially for environment ambiance.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear!

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – All 14 episodes of “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” features audio commentary by the creators and crew.  The majority of the commentary features creator and executive producers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, co-executive producer Joaquin Dos Santos and the following crew participate in a few episodes of commentary: Writers Tim Hedrick, Josh Hamilton, Track Team Music sound designers Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn, supervising producers Laura Montgomery and Ki Hyun Ryu, Director Ian Graham and Colin Heck.
  • Scene Bending – Each episode has a 5+ minute comparison of storyboards and final cut animation comparisons.
  • Kindred Spirits: Tenzin Journey - (5:16) The pressure on the character of Tenzin and his focus on “Book Two: Spirits” as a father and his relationship with his siblings.
  • Inside the Book of Spirits – (9:09) The planning that went on about the spirits and the spirit world.
  • The re-telling of Korra’s Journey – (33:42) A special episode showcasing Korra’s journey (culmination of scenes from Book One: Air) and a primer for those who want to be kept up to speed before watching “Book Two: Spirits”.
  • Feuding Spirits: Korra’s Family – (5:07) Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko discuss Korra’s parents.  (NOTE: Do not watch before watching the series as this featurette contains many spoilers)

EXTRAS:

“The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” comes with a slipcover.

With the second season (book) of “The Legend of Korra”, we get to experience the family perspective of both Korra and Tenzin.

For Korra, the dysfunctional relationship she has with her father but also facing the difficult of making hard decisions because she is the Avatar.  While, Tenzin who has faced the difficulty of being the son of Aang and teaching Korra, now having to go back home and be a father to his young children and to be there for his siblings but always worrying about Korra and the path that she has chosen.

Also, with the second season, we see production at all new heights creatively, artistically and also the writing continuing to be top notch.

As a fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, for anyone who watched the series, you can’t help but to become excited for “The Legend of Korra” and to see how much of the world has changed since Aang and friends have literally changed the world. Also, to see how much the series will change in terms of characters, tone and also in terms of how the series would look compared to the original series.

I realize that for sequels, it’s not always easy for the creators to come up with another hit as many who grew up with the original, tend to be stuck with the original. But sometimes, you get something different and sometimes something even better.

And so far, from the fans perspective, both Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino have proven that they can make smart, captivating animated series that can attract people of all ages.

With “The Legend of Korra”, is it better than “Avatar: The Last Airbender”? Well, for one, these two are two different series and features characters of different age groups.

Part of the allure of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is the naivety of young Aang, Katara, Sokka and friends. Innocent kids who tend to grow up quickly due to their surroundings. And there is always a sense of a cat and mouse storyline as they are in continually pursued by the Fire Nation.

For “The Legend of Korra”, Korra is somewhat the opposite of Aang. She has a hot-temper, she is rebellious and she is not as friendly and humorous as Aang. If anything, she’s a person that tends to do things impulsively, learns from her actions and as much as she wants to do things for the greater good, she tends to do things at her own pace.

Fortunately, she is joined by a supporting cast of people who also tend to get themselves into a bit of trouble but also are doing things for the greater good. With “Book Two: Spirits”, part of the excitement is seeing Korra in a new direction, getting to know her family but also facing the ultimate betrayal.  Making difficult decisions that will not always be popular and also having to watch the original Avatar, Wan in action.

The series had its fair share of exciting episodes but I have to say that the two episodes, “Beginnings, Part 1 & 2″ featuring Wan, the first Avatar was amazing.  Yes, Japan has its share of animated dramas, but the United States, has more animated comedy for mature viewers and these two episodes alone, were creatively/artistically beautiful in illustration but also in story.  It’s like traditional art coming alive in animation, and I loved that.

Of course, every other episode featuring Korra and friends were just as exciting.  The way that “The Legend of Korra” is able to tack spiritualism, secularism, politics and creating a smart series but yet not too cerebral for viewers to understand and enjoy is incredible and not an easy feat.

Animation-wise, the character designs and the art backgrounds for this series is magnificent. I love the character designs for Korra and friends but also the antagonists. The art backgrounds compliment the entire series and the action elements are smooth and well-done.

On Blu-ray, the animation is absolutely vibrant while lossless audio for the series including its music is crystal clear.  And as for special features, every episode has audio commentary, you get scene bending featurettes for each episode (comparison of storyboards and final cut), featurettes and also “The Re-telling of Korra’s Journey”, for those who want to be up to speed of what happened in the series prior to watching “Book Two: Spirits”.  (Note: The Blu-ray has more special features than its DVD counterpart)

As “Avatar: The Last Airbender” did over a decade ago by becoming an animated series that had a storyline and animation as good as anime series are in Japan, “The Legend of Korra” continued the quality a decade later. There is not many series in America that have this level of production and “The Legend of Korra” is one of the better looking animated series currently airing on television.

Every episode featured is captivating, edgy and action-packed! I reviewed this series and watched it along with my ten-year-old son and we were both hooked. It’s a wonderful series and while I always enjoy “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, its characters and storyline, rather than compare the two, I prefer to see this series as something different. The series of course has the connection of bending and a connection between its characters and its descendants but times have changed and the world has changed in the last 70-years and the characters reflect that change.

Overall, “The Legend of Korra” is one of the best animated series on television and the writing and animation has gotten better for “The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits”. The series looks and sounds so much better in HD and the additional featurettes plus audio commentary on each episode featuring the creators and the crew makes this series worth owning on Blu-ray!

“The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits” is highly recommended. Five stars!

The Raid 2 (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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When it comes to a martial arts film with non-stop action, Gareth Evans managed to create a sequel that is worthy of attaching the “The Raid” name to it. This action film is fantastic! If you love action films and loved “The Raid: Redemption”, then this is a no-brainer… “The Raid 2″ is a must-see!

Images courtesy of © 2014 PT.Merantau Films. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Raid 2

TELEFILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 150 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio), English DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish (Latin) 5.1 Dolby Digital, SUBTITLES: English, English SDH, Spanish (Latin)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Sequences of Strong Bloody Violence Throughout, Sexuality and Language)

Release Date: July 8, 2014

Written and Directed by Gareth Evans

Produced by Nate Bolotin, Ario Sagantoro, Aram Tertzakian

Executive Producer: Rannga Maya Barack-Evans, Todd Brown, Irwan D. Mussry, Nick Spicer

Music by Aria Prayogi, Joseph Trapanese, Fajar Yuskemal

Cinematography by Matt Flannery, Dimas Imam, Subhono

Edited by Gareth Evans

Starring:

Iko Uwais as Rama

Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso

Julie Estelle as Alicia/Hammer Girl

Arifin Putra as Uco

Oka Antara as Eka

Alex Abbad as Bejo

Donny Alamsyah as Andi

Tio Pakusodweo as Bangun

Roy Marten as Reza

Ken’ichi Endo as Goto

Ryuhei Matsuda as Keiichi

Kazuki Kitamura as Ryuichi

Very Tri Yulisman as Baseball Bat Man

Following immediately after the events of THE RAID, Rama (Iko Uwais) is forced to reinvent himself as an undercover cop in order to provide protection for his wife and child. Working for the anti-corruption taskforce led by the one person he can trust, Bunawar, he is given a mission to engage himself as an enforcer for a local mob boss, Bangun. Finding a way in through Bangun’s son Uco, Rama must hunt for information linking Bangun with police force corruption. All the while, he harbors a dangerous and personal vendetta for revenge and justice that threatens to consume him – and bring both this mission and the organized crime syndicates crashing down.

For Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, he grew up watching Hong Kong action films and loving films featuring Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

Prior to the success he had with the film “The Raid”, Evans had written a screenplay titled “Berandal” (which translates to “thug”) about what if a undercover police officer was put into a prison to find out information about corrupt police officers.

Unfortunately, “Berandal” was passed over and “The Raid” was developed and became a success as one of the greatest action films to come from Asia.

And with the success of the first film, it gave Gareth Evans a chance to work on “Berandal” but to tweak it in order to feature the character of Rama (portrayed by Iko Uwais).  And the result was “The Raid 2″, which was released in theaters in March 2014 and has received positive reviews.

And now “The Raid 2″ will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“The Raid 2″ begins with the death of Rama’s brother, shot point blank by the

VIDEO:

“The Raid 2″ is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).  Picture quality is magnificent as closeups show great detail, especially the scars.  But it’s the all out attention to detail when it comes to injuries, people being maimed or heads being shot point blank.  The film looked amazing and colors are well-saturated, I saw no problem with artifacts or banding.  “The Raid 2″ looks amazing on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Raid 2″ is presented in Indonesian/Bahasa and English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The lossless soundtrack is amazing.  For example, one scene features The Baseball Bat Man dragging his aluminum bat through the pavement while his enemies await.  You can hear the sounds growing louder through the rear surround channels and I felt that was so fantastic to see how sounds were employed.  Especially from metal upon metal, explosions, gun shots, car crashes, you name it, this action-packed film utilizes its soundtrack with efficacy.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Raid 2″ comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by writer and director Gareth Evans.
  • Gang War Deleted Scenes - (4:37) Deleted scenes.
  • The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel – (10:47) A featurette with interviews with Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais, staff and crew on working on a sequel and how Gareth’s previous screenplay became “The Raid 2″.
  • Ready for a Fight: On Location - (12:59) Building the sets used on “The Raid 2″.
  • The CineFamily Q&A with Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais and Joe Trapanese - (44:09) A post-screening Q&A with director/writer Gareth Evans, actor Iko Uwais and composer Joe Trapanese.
  • Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography - (19:03) The fight choreography featured on “The Raid 2″.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:36) The theatrical trailer for “The Raid 2″.

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If you read my review for “The Raid: Redemption”, you would know how much I loved that action film.  It was a constant, consistent, in your-face film with action galore!

A film that focused on the action while maintaining a simple yet riveting storyline from beginning to end.

And here we are now with the sequel, “The Raid 2″.  A much different storyline that puts the character Rama in a much different situation than before.

As the local Indonesian mob led by Bangun is still going strong and the rival Japanese yakuza group led by Goto also maintaining power, both have remained calm for a decade with no gang war.  And there happens to be another mob led by Bejo, who is responsible for executing Rama’s brother who worked for Bangun.

But with corrupt officials, especially in the police force working with the mob, a small and secretive police force led by Bunawar is trying to end the corruption but needs more evidence.  And the only person they feel that can infiltrate Bangun’s operations is noone other than Rama.

Feeling that because they got to his brother and if they find out Rama is a copy, his family could be in danger.  So, he must take on the secret mission given to him by Bunawar.

Leaving his family in protective custody while he embarks on his undercover mission, his goal is to be put in prison and survive.  But most importantly, try to get close to Bangun’s son, Uco.

And once in the prison, we are greeted with another “Raid” featuring constant, consistent action as Rama takes on dozens of prisoners in order to protect Uco but also earn his trust.

“The Raid: Redemption 2″ is an exciting non-stop action film that just keeps coming at you. Action scene after action scene, you’re just captivated by this roller coaster of a ride as you go through crazy situations, but there is more of a plot as we see Uco not being content with his father and not being in control, he wants to quickly ascend to being the main crime boss.

Returning to the film is Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso, a different character from the first RAID but nonetheless, a character that truly kicks a lot of ass!

The fight scenes showcasing pencak silat is amazing! What I enjoyed about the approach of fighting choreography for this film is to not having these fight scenes perfectly choreographed. Mistakes happen, there is no clear edge of who will win and as Iko Uwais who plays the main protagonist Rama was pretty cool in execution, actor Yayan Ruhian is amazing.

But what Gareth did much better than the first film is include even more characters that can kick ass.  One of the coolest characters in the film is Julia Estelle’s Hammer Girl.  Stylish, donning glasses and her expensive purse, but a deadly killer that only uses a hammer and its claws to stab an opponent.

You also have Baseball Bat Man (portrayed by Very Tri Yulisman) who fights his enemies with a baseball bat and basebal and like Yayan Ruhian, you get the Pencak Silat fighter Cecep Arif Rahman as the assassin.  Each of these three who work for the suave and manipulating, Bejo.

And of course, actor Iko Uwais was magnificent in the role of Rama.  No longer the rookie, this character is a human weapon that never stops, never surrenders and keeps fighting.  Uwais was fantastic in the first film and for this second, he managed to take the character to another level.  Impressive!

But the violent action scenes are intriguing at times, you don’t get your one or two stabs…people are stabbed repeatedly, many times.  People are viciously beaten but not shown to the camera in the most grotesque of ways.  There are many violent scenes but fortunately Gareth didn’t make the film overly gory.

While I enjoyed the sequel tremendously, the first film is much better in execution, while the sequel had much better action sequences and characters, ran a bit too long. There were scenes that I felt could have been eliminated and wouldn’t hurt the film one bit.

Also, one shouldn’t delve into thinking about the characters and their health status as this film is not for the heavy thinking analytical.  Yes, Rama has amazing healing factors that kept him fighting but it’s best not to delve and think about it too much.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality was fantastic and the lossless audio was immersive and equally magnificent.  The special features include a documentary, Q&A post-screening and more!

But when it comes to a martial arts film with non-stop action, Gareth Evans managed to create a sequel that is worthy of attaching the “The Raid” name to it.  This action film is fantastic!

Overall, if you love action films and loved “The Raid: Redemption”, then this is a no-brainer… “The Raid 2″ is a must-see!

Jodorowsky’s Dune (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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Frank Pavich’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a magnificent documentary on possibly the greatest sci-fi film never made.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2014 The City Film, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Jodorowsky’s Dune

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 90Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For some violent and sexual images)

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Directed by Frank Pavich

Produced by Frank Pabich, Stephen Scarlata, Travis Stevens

Executive Producer: Donald Rosenfeld

Co-Producer: Michel Seydoux

Associate Producer: Alex Ricciardi

Music by Kurt Stenzel

Cinematography by David Cavallo

Edited by Paul Docherty, Alex Ricciardi

Starring:

Alejandro Jodorowsky

Michel Seydoux

H.R. Giger

Chris Foss

Brontis Jodorowsky

Richard Stanley

Devin Faraci

Drew McWeeny

Gary Kurtz

Nicolas Winding Refn

Diane O’Bannon

Christian Vander

Jean-Pierre Vignau

Amanda Lear

Dan O’Bannon

In 1975, director Alejandro Jodorowsky began work on his most ambitious project yet. Starring his own 12-year-old son alongside Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dalí, featuring music by Pink Floyd and art by some of the most provocative talents of the era, including H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Jodorowsky’s adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel DUNE was poised to change cinema forever. Through interviews with legends and luminaries including H.R. Giger (artist, ALIEN), Gary Kurtz (producer, STAR WARS EPISODES IV ‘ V) and Nicolas Winding Refn (director, DRIVE), and an intimate and honest conversation with Jodorowsky, director Frank Pavich’s film finally unearths the full saga of ‘The Greatest Movie Never Made’.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the welcomed named among cineaste, especially those who have appreciated his works of arts in his oeuvre such as “Fandy y Lis”, “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”.

Provocative, scandalous, creative and magnificent, there is no doubt that you will see many who are appreciative of Jodorowsky’s work and those who simply don’t get it.

But Jodorowsky was a man that people knew about because his acid western “El Topo” was the first midnight cult film and his surrealist creations would eventually become classics.

But for Alejandro Jodorowsky and many sci-fi films, there was one film of his that was important in helping pave the ways for many of the sci-fi films of today, from “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones” films,  “Aliens”, “Flash Gordon”, “Prometheus” to name a few, and to one’s surprise, Jodorowsky’s film was never made.

Yes, there was the 1984 box office bomb titled as “Dune” which was directed by David Lynch (who literally wanted nothing to do with the film due to producers and execs not giving him any creative control) but if there was one adaptation of Frank Herbert’s popular sci-fi book series, it was Jodorowsky’s vision that would help pave the way for today’s science fiction films.

And now a documentary titled “Jodorowsky’s Dune” featuring interviews with Alejandro Jodorowsky, producer Michel Seydoux and many of those who were cast for the film or knew about greatest sci-fi film never made, chime in on how “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, despite not being made, still leaves its footprints behind in today’s sci-fi cinema.

From how Alejandro Jodorowsky was able to tap into talent such as Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and also music groups such as Pink Floyd and Magma but also artistic talents of H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

And also learning why this film was never made and Alejandro’s feelings when he watched the David Lynch version of “Dune” and more!

For anyone wanting to know more about Jodorowsky’s interpretation of “Dune” will definitely not want to miss out on this insightful, fun and entertaining documentary!

VIDEO:

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio).  As one can expect from a documentary, there is footage from various sources, so not all is pristine. But for the most part, the main footage was shot digitally in HD.  And the documentary as a whole, looks very good.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear coming from the center and front channels.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes – 46:24 – There are nine deleted scenes including the reunion of Jodorowsky and producer Michel Seydoux who have not talked to each other since the cancellation of Jodorowsky’s “Dune”.

EXTRAS:

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” comes with both the Blu-ray and DVD version of the film.

When I was younger, I grew up reading Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and when I was in my very early teens, David Lynch’s “Dune” was the version that would play constantly on HBO.

But it was a maddening film for me because unlike “Star Wars” or other sci-fi films that have come out during that time, I couldn’t understand it.  I watched the film so many times and felt the plot was just a mess and perhaps it was reaching out to sci-fi intellectuals that would comprehend and enjoy the film more than me.

Fast forward over a decade later and having become a cineaste and having a keen appreciation of film from the auteurs of the past and today, I started to learn more about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” after I was researching his work for “El Topo” and again for “The Holy Mountain”.

Jodorowsky’s work are considered as surreal masterpiece among cineaste and his films are audacious, mesmerizing and so unique, that there is no comparison to his work.

So, if you have done any research into the work of Jodorowsky, you would learn that he was slated to direct the sci-fi film “Dune” but while you could read online about his involvement, no one delves deeper into the making of the film than filmmaker Frank Pavich for his documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”.

With an extensive interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky, producer Michel Seydoux and many others who are aware of the work or who were connected to the film that never came to be, the documentary sheds a lot of light of how Jodorowsky was able to get Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, to name a few.  But also how he was able to tap into the talents of Chriss Foss, Jean Giraud (Moebius) and H.R. Giger.

And because Jodorowsky was an artist and his canvas was film, he wanted a film that was unlike anything that has ever been made before.  Unfortunately, Hollywood execs were not too keen with Jodorowsky’s “Dune” especially the duration of the film that the film never came to be.

But those who worked on the film, carried on to bring their designs on other sci-fi films, one memorable would be on the sci-fi films “Aliens” which involved a few of those who were part of Jodorowsky’s “Dune” crew.

But watching “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, you get the sense of emotion, passion and the longing that Jodorowsky had for the making of “Dune” but we get to see how devastating it was for him, to not make it.  How difficult it was for him to watch David Lynch’s version of “Dune” but to see his feeling after he watched the film.  But also how his plans for “Dune” has left a footprint in other sci-fi films such as “Star Wars”, “Aliens”, “Terminator”, “Indiana Jones” to name a few.

The documentary was wonderfully researched and the amount of interviews done for this documentary was well-done.  H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn really gave great insight of the greatness of the film and why it was never made, Michel Seydoux gave us a perspective on the production side, film critic Devin Faraci gave us a perspective of a sci-fan and the importance of the making of this film to Amanda Lear discussing the moments when Jodorowsky casted her and Salvador Dali.

Many tidbits that I never knew about what went on in the planning stages of what could have become an epic sci-fi masterpiece.

The Blu-ray features great picture quality and as one can expect from a documentary featuring videos and images from various sources to a clear dialogue-driven lossless soundtrack.  You also get over 45-minutes worth of deleted scenes but one that caught my attention was the reunion between Alejandro Jodrowsky and producer Michel Seydoux, who stopped talking after the film was never greenlit for production.

Overall, Frank Pavich’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a magnificent documentary on possibly the greatest sci-fi film never made.  Highly recommended!

 

Eastern Bandits (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Eastern Bandits” was an enjoyable popcorn action film with a tremendous amount of action, guns and explosion.  But due to its busy plot and frantic pacing, “Eastern Bandits” is an average film at best.

Images courtesy of © 2012 Panorama Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Eastern Bandits

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: May 27, 2014

Directed by Shu-peng Yang

Written by Lao Huang, Shu-peng Yang, Xiaboei Zhang

Produced by Bin Huang

Executive Producer: Xu Xiaoming

Music by Kalli Peng

Cinematography by Yu Cao

Edited by Fang Lei, Eric Myerson, Shu-peng Yang

Production Design by Eddie Wong, Rui Qing Xian

Costume Design by Dan Yang

Starring:

Xiaoming Huang as Fang

Yi Zhang as Gao

Xinyi Zhang as Jen

Jingyang Ni as Lady Dagger

Tino Bao as Chalatan

Qunshu Gao as Captain

Shan Jiang as Captain’s Wife

Waise Lee as Captain Zhao

Jing Liang as Madame Seven

Zhiming Ma as JAguar

Lei Sun as San Pao

Lie Wang as Kuei

Yue Zhang as Lassie

AN INACCURATE MEMOIR is the heroic story of rebels with a fortune to gain, and everything to lose. Leader Fang Youwang, with his compatriots Kuei, San Pao, and Lady Dagger – lead a posse of roving bandits that are fearless, enterprising, and loyal to the death. Their baby-faced masks make them terrifying; their underground lair untraceable. And now, they’re plotting a double-scam – a heroic rescue and a kidnapping mission – that will make them legends…if anyone gets out alive.

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Shu-peng Yang is a writer and filmmaker best known for his film “The Robbers” and “Feng huo” and his latest film “Eastern Bandits” combines action, drama and comedy but also a fascinating and also stylish take on bandits/rebels determined to assassinate the brother of the emperor of Japan.

Starring Xiaoming Huang, Yi Zhang, Xingi Zhang, Jingyang Ni, Tina Bao, Zhiming Ma, Lei Sun, Lie Wang and Yue Zhang, “Eastern Bandits” (also known as “An Inaccurate Memoir”) is currently available on Blu-ray from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Led by Fang (portrayed by Xiaoming Huang), a charismatic leader who makes the women swoon, while his group of ragtag fighters will do what they can for their motherland which has been taken over by the Japanese.

As the Japanese are bringing a large Buddha statue for a commemoration of event of the statue and new post, Fang Youwang and his group which include Kuei, San Pao, Lady Dagger, Lassie and more, who must stage a heroic rescue and the ultimate kidnapping.

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VIDEO:

“Eastern Bandits” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  The film does look magnificent for the majority of the film, there are some scenes that received deliberate color changes, excessive grain and for the most part, more earthy colors.  But a large part of the film is shot outdoors and colors are vibrant and close-ups of characters show great detail.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Eastern Bandits” is presented in Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1.  Due to the enormous amount of action and explosions, one can expect scenes with great use of lossless audio from the surround channels but also via LFE.  For the most part, a very active lossless soundtrack!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Eastern Bandits” comes with a theatrical trailer.

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With many Chinese films showcasing a storyline of the Japanese enemy and Chinese fighting back for their motherland or to nullify Japan’s forces, the approach to this is often grim and emotional.

Filmmaker Shu-peng goes a different route by giving us a film that tries its best to retain a stylish quality, a more modern feel to the film but also charismatic characters that are thrust into a group and work together against the Japanese.

Lead actor Xiaoming Huang who is best known for roles in “Badges of Fury”, “The Last Tycoon”, “The Guillotines”, looks to charismatic to be taken seriously as a leader.  With his hair cleanly shaved, he looks too good to be in the role that he is playing and the others often look too good to pass off as dangerous bandits.

While action enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy “Eastern Bandits”, its sheer amount of action and the different types of happenings that take place throughout the film is a bit excessive.  Pacing is a bit scattered and I felt that the story could have developed its cast members a bit more, as you are left with questions throughout the film that not always get solved.  Also, you often get confused because there are many actors involved.

And the film may seem as it is a western but there is really nothing western about this film, nor should one expect to see Chinese cowboys because of the Blu-ray cover.  It’s a film that takes place during Japan’s occupation of China and despite many people dressing to the actual era, costume design added quite a number of modern touches to the clothing of the characters that it seemed unusual to see these bandits look too clean cut and fashionable.

But what I did enjoy “Eastern Bandits” was its action and style.  There is no doubt that the film had a good supporting budget as it featured many extras, many explosions and artillery and also tanks!

Also, another plus is the Blu-ray as the picture quality is detailed and colorful, while the lossless audio has its immersive moments and great use of surround channels and LFE.  Unfortunately, there are no special features included but the theatrical trailer.

Overall, “Eastern Bandits” was an enjoyable popcorn action film with a tremendous amount of action, guns and explosion.  But due to its busy plot and frantic pacing, “Eastern Bandits” is an average film at best.

 

The Lunchbox (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Lunchbox” is an entertaining, warm and captivating epistolary romance film!  A film about how two strangers ease their sadness and loneliness by sending letters to one other through a lunchbox.  Featuring strong performances by Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, filmmaker Ritesh Batra’s feature film debut, “The Lunchbox” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2014 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Lunchbox

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 111 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 aspect ratio, Hindi 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital,  Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG (For Thematic Material and Smoking)

Release Date: July 1, 2014

Written and Directed by Ritesh Batra

Produced by Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga, Arun Rangachari

Co-Producer: Shahnaab Alam, Marc Baschet, Benny Drechsel, Nina Lath Gupta, Nittin Keni, Cedomir Kolar, Vivek Rangachari, Karsten Stoter, Danis Tanovic

Executive Produced: Ritesh Batra, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Irrfan Khan, Vikramjit Roy

Music by Max Richter

Cinematography by Michael Simmonds

Edited by John F. Lyons

Casting by Seher Latif

Production Design by Shruti Gupte

Set Decoration by Akshi Kapoor

Costume Design by Niharika Khan

Starring:

Irrfan Khan as Saajan Fernandes

Nimrat Kaur as Ila

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh

Lillete Dubey as Ila’s Mother

Nakul Vaid as Rajeev

Bharati Achrekar as Auntie

A mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects Ila, a neglected housewife, to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a lonely man on the verge of retirement. Through a series of exchanged notes that they pass back and forth through the lunches, Saajan and Ila find comfort in their unexpected friendship. Gradually, their notes become little confessions about their loneliness, memories, regrets, fears, and even small joys. They each discover a new sense of self and find an anchor to hold on to in the big city of Mumbai that so often crushes hopes and dreams. Still strangers physically, Ila and Saajan become lost in their virtual relationship that could jeopardize both their realities.

Ritesh Batra was one of 2013′s success stories.

Best known for his short films, his 2013 feature romantic film “Dabba” (The Lunchbox) would receive positive reviews from film critics and audiences around the world.

Starring Irrfan Khan (“Life of Pi”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”), Nimrat Kaur (“One Night with the King”) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (“Talaash”, “Kahaani”, “Gangs of Wasseypur”), “The Lunchbox” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“The Lunchbox” focuses on two unhappy characters.

Saajan Fernandes (portrayed by Irrfan Khan) is an accountant close to retiring and must help the younger Shaikh (portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) of how to do his job.  A widowed man who is often seen as anti-social and grumpy, he is also lonely.

Lia (portrayed by Nimrat Kaur) is a married woman with a child.  With the help of her auntie (featuring the voice of Bharati Achrekar), she is trying to make dishes in hopes to win her husband’s affections and feels he is having an affair.

One day, as Lia prepares a dish for her husband, the lunchbox delivery man (Dabbawalas) accidentally delivers the lunchbox to Saajan Fernandes.  When Fernandes tastes the food, he notices how delicious it is.

As for Lia, hoping to hear comments about her cooking and most of all, seeing an improvement in the relationship with her husband, he doesn’t respond at all and is critical about her cooking of cauliflower which she was not responsible for.

Realizing that her food is going to another man, she writes a note to whoever may be eating her food and continues to make food for the lunchbox that is delivered to Fernandes and he responds and it ultimately leads to these two unhappy people to write each other about how they truly feel about their current life.

But what happens when their communication by mail grows to be more than strangers writing each other but a dependent on each other for support during their tough time in their lives?

VIDEO:

“The Lunchbox” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks magnificent on Blu-ray.  Earthy colors, close-ups show great detail and for the most part, no signs of excessive banding or artifact issues.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Lunchbox” is presented in Hindi DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Audio descriptive track in English 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The film is primarily dialogue driven as dialogue is crystal clear through the front channels.  There are use of the surround channels for more ambiance (especially inside the train).  But as a romantic film, the soundtrack is appropriate.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Lunchbox” comes with commentary by writer/director Ritesh Batra.

EXTRAS:

“The Lunchbox” comes both with a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film.

The concept of accidental messages have been topics in film and television for years.

From “Il Mare/The Lake House” which dealt with mail communication from a man in the past to a woman of the future, to the Japanese TV series “With Love” about a woman who accidentally receives a composition from a music composer and begins an e-mail dialogue or “The Shop Around the Corner” and “You Got Mail” which dealt with two people counting on each other for support but hopefully finding love.

“The Lunchbox” was rather fascinating that while the film could have been another romantic epistolary film, because of the Indian culture, the storyline for “The Lunchbox” is rather different from the films just mentioned.

Similar to these other films, how communication soothes their soul and makes them reflect on their current lives, there is always that time when both agree to meet each other.  Will any romance happen between the older Fernandes and the younger Lia?

One must watch and find out but most importantly, the warmness of the film, its characters and character direction was well-done.

There is no doubt that Ritesh Batra hit a homerun with his feature film debut and thanks to the magnificent acting of Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, one can only hope that the hype that “The Lunchbox” has received worldwide that she churns out another captivating film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is magnificent.  Close-up details are well-done, colors are natural and earthy.  I didn’t notice any artifacts or edge enhancement issues during my viewing of the film.  As for the lossless soundtrack, as one can expect from a romance film, the dialogue is primarily front-channel driven.  While surround channels showcase the ambiance of the character’s surroundings, especially on a train.  You get a single special feature which is a commentary with writer/director Ritesh Batra.

Overall, “The Lunchbox” is an entertaining, warm and captivating epistolary romance film!

A film about how two strangers ease their sadness and loneliness by sending letters to one other through a lunchbox.  Featuring strong performances by Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, filmmaker Ritesh Batra’s feature film debut, “The Lunchbox” is highly recommended!

 

The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” is a rather interesting film with different types of films in one. It’s important for people to know that the crazy comedy that kicks off the first half of the film is now how the second half will be. So, if you are turned off by the craziness, stick with it as the film will completely change by the second half. It’s a different type of film, no doubt. But “The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” tries to incorporate action, comedy, drama all in one. If you are in the mood for a different type of Chinese action film, then definitely give this film a chance.

Images courtesy of © 2013 Beijing No. 5 Movement Culture Media Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 108 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: June 24, 2014

Directed by Hu Guan

Written by Run Nian Dong, Hu Guan

Produced by Aimin Jiao

Action Producer: Edward Chi-yun Yi

Music by Peng Dou

Cinematography by Jie Du

Edited by Jing Lei Kong

Production Design by Chao Hui Wang, Hai Zhhao

Costume Design by Ting Ting Liang

Starring:

Ye Liu as Chuz zi (Chef)

Hanyu Zhang as Xi Zi (Actor)

Bo Huang as  Pi zi (Scoundrel)

Jing Liang as Feng po zi (Crazy Wife)

Chie Tanaka as Yanagida

Minowa Yasufumi as Igarashi

World War II: a cholera epidemic ravages the streets of Beijing. A crack team of Chinese intelligence agents kidnap a Japanese general and biochemist who may hold the antidote. When trickery and torture fail, the covert squad smuggles their victims into a restaurant and launches the oddest of interrogations – staging a Chinese Opera and posing as fellow guests, designed to entice, confuse, and ultimately trick their captives into revealing the truth before time runs out.

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From filmmaker Hu Guan (“Design of Death”, “Cow”, “Eyes of a Beauty”) comes his latest film “The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel”.

Starring Ye Liu (“Police Story 2013″, “Redemption”, “City of Life and Death”), Hanyu Zhang (“Assembly”, “Back to 1942″), Bo Huang (“Cow”, “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”, “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”), Jing Liang (“Dream Girl”, “Son of the Stars”) and Chie Tanaka (“Cape No. 7″, “Initial D – Drift Racer”, “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”).

The film is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA.

“The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel” is set during World War II.

A cholera epidemic has hit China and intelligence agents have heard that the Japanese have found an antidote for it.

So, a group of Chinese intelligence agents must use their skills and pull off a ruse as a chef (portrayed by Ye Liu), an actor (portrayed by Hanyu Zhang), a scoundrel (portrayed by Bo Huang) and a crazy wife (portrayed by Jing Liang) and try to use their techniques in order to get information from a Japanese general and biochemist that they just kidnapped.

But with the Japanese military wanting the release of their two soldiers and are planning to ambush the four, can the agents survive the ordeal and save their countrymen?

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VIDEO:

“The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). The picture quality for this film is absolutely amazing as closeups are highly detailed, colors are vibrant and action choreography is fluid and looks great.  The main problem is that certain special effects look very video-game like and almost cartoony but I believe it was intentional to match the film’s craziness.  But for the most part, picture quality is great!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel” is presented in Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 2.0.  During the more action-driven scenes in the second half, the film moves from being dialogue-driven to a film that becomes much more immersive with the weaponry, artillery, glass shattering, drums beating, etc.  There is good use of surround channel and LFE usage towards the second half of the film and overall, lossless audio was very good.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel” comes with making of featurettes with interviews with each character, a blooper reel and theatrical trailer.

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I have to admit that when I first started watching “The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel”, memories of over-the-top Chinese New Year comedy films started to come to mind.

The first half of the film is no doubt silly and was straight-up Chinese comedy that you wonder what the actual point of this film considering it is 108-minutes long and it was set during World War II and involving a Chinese vs. Japanese storyline which have become frequently made more and more in the past five years.

But once you reach the second half of the film and realize that the comedy portion of being over-the-top was actually a ruse as the three are actual Chinese Intelligence agents are doing all they can to thwart the kidnapped Japanese general and biochemist in hopes he will reveal the antidote for the cholera epidemic sweeping China.

Films about the cholera outbreak in China have been featured in films before and back in 2006, the British film “The Painted Veil” starring Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Liev Schreiber was set in China during the outbreak.  And while most have taken the dramatic approach to something so tragic, “The Chef, The Actor and the Scoundrel” is rather fascinating as the film is about a group of agents who strategically plan their way in getting the antidote in order to stop the cholera.

While the setting is World War II and the antagonists are the Japanese (and three Chinese buffoons which probably shouldn’t have been added to the film as they serve no purpose but showcase troglodyte figures), you are introduced to several characters portrayed by Ye Liu, Hanyu Zhang and Bo Huang as the chef, the actor and the scoundrel.  But make no mistake that there is a fourth person who is just as important as the three and not featured on the cover and that is actress Jing Liang who plays the crazy wife.

As the goal is to seem as outlandish and crazy as they can be as these four characters, their hopes of getting the antidote from the kidnapped Japanese general and biochemist proves challenging.  As the first half seems like general buffoonery and over-the-top comedy which I’m used to seeing in Chinese New Year films.  But by the second half, the film becomes more serious, dramatic, action-packed and features over-the-topic graphics that make it seem like it wants to be a serious film with over-the-top video game style graphics.

The diversion of trying to show the strategy by the agents was rather fascinating.  The action is no doubt over-the-top and fun to watch but the problem with “The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” is that by trying to avoid banality, it also loses coherence by trying to incorporate different genres into one film.

Those wanting consistency will look at the film as being mindless, those who want something different will feel the film as unique and non-banal.

I felt I was in the middle, seeing the problems but seeing the creativity of the film.  Enjoying it but also feeling it was straying off path several times.  The film had characters that did not have to be in the film, the film included scenes that I felt was not needed but at the same time, I felt the plot was rather fascinating.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of “The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” was amazing.  Skin pores showcase a lot of detail, colors are absolutely vibrant.  While certain special effects look cartoony in some aspects, overall picture quality was great.  Lossless audio featured immersive audio during the more action intense sequences and you also get a making of and blooper reel.

Overall, “The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” is a rather interesting film with different types of films in one.  It’s important for people to know that the crazy comedy that kicks off the first half of the film is now how the second half will be.  So, if you are turned off by the craziness, stick with it as the film will completely change by the second half.

It’s a different type of film, no doubt.  But “The Chef, the Actor and the Scoundrel” tries to incorporate action, comedy, drama all in one.  If you are in the mood for a different type of Chinese action film, then definitely give this film a chance.

 

 

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

June 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

omar

Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” is an action-packed thriller that captures life, danger, risk and one man’s determination thanks to love.  Featuring a brilliant performance by Adam Bakri and gorgeous cinematography by Ehab Assal, this award winning film is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Adopt Films. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Omar

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 98 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio, Arabic Dolby Digital 2.0, English Subtitles

COMPANY: Adopt Films

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: June 10, 2014

Written and Directed by Hany Abu-Assad

Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, David Gerson, Waleed Zuaiter

Executive Producer: Waleed Al-Ghafari, Zahi Khouri, Suhail A. Skihtian, Abbas F. Eddy Zuaiter, Ahmad F. Zuaiter, Farouq A. Zuaiter

Cinematography by Ehab Assal

Edited by Martin Brinkler, Eyas Salman

Casting by Juna Suleiman

Production Design by Yoel Herzberg, Nael Kanj

Costume Design by Hamada Atallah

Starring:

Adam Bakri as Omar

Leem Lubany as Nadia

Samer Bisharat as Amjad

Iyad Hoorani as Tarek

Waleed Zuaiter as Agent Rami

Omar is a tense, gripping thriller about betrayal, suspected and real, in the Occupied Territories. Omar (Adam Bakri) is a Palestinian baker who routinely climbs over the separation wall to meet up with his girl Nadja (Leem Lubany). By night, he’s ready to risk his life to strike at the Israeli military with his childhood friends Tarek (Eyad Hourani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Arrested after the killing of an Israeli soldier and tricked into an admission of guilt by association, he agrees to work as an informant. So begins a dangerous game-is he playing his Israeli handler (Waleed F. Zuaiter), or will he really betray his cause? And who can he trust on either side? Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now) has made a dynamic, action-packed drama about the insoluble moral dilemmas and tough choices facing those on the frontlines of a conflict that shows no sign of letting up.

 

From filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (“The Courier”, “Paradise Now”, “Rana’s Wedding”) comes his Cannes Film Festival award winning film, “Omar”.

Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Samer Bisharat and Iyad Hoorani, the film was selected as a Palestinian entry for “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 86th Academy Awards and would be screened at the United Nations in New York in May 2014.

Shot with a budget of $2 million and written in four days, “Omar” has captivated film critics worldwide  and now “Omar” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Adopt Films.

The film revolves around a young adult named Omar (portrayed by Adam Bakri), who works during the day as a baker and often climbing a wall in harm’s way from Israel to Palestine.

And as Omar is always there to meetup with his friends Tarek (portrayed by Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (portrayed by Samer Bisharat) to discuss their disgust of being held back by the Israelis and working with a group to fight against them.

But as Omar is dedicated in the fight, his motivation of climbing the wall is to be with Tarek’s sister Nadia (portrayed by Leem Lubany), as the two are secretly seeing each other behind the back of Tarek and have kept their closeness as a secret, especially as Amjad is also in love with Nadia.

One day, Omar and his friends plan to shoot down Israeli soldiers and Amjad shoots one of them down and the three escape.

But as the three go to a restaurant and Omar is trying to get himself ready to tell Tarek that he loves his sister and wants to marry her, Israeli authorities show up and as the three try to escape, Omar is caught and tortured because he is not willing to give up the name of who was responsible for shooting down an Israeli soldier.

As Omar is imprisoned, once Omar is able to go outside from his cell, he meets an older man who tries to tell him not to confess and that the Israeli’s would use his comments against him.  And Omar tells the man that he won’t confess.

Omar is taken to meet with an Agent Rami (portrayed by Waleed Zuaiter), Omar realizes that the agent is actually the old man and that he has been setup in acknowledging his guilt.  And in order to prevent himself from serving many years in prison, desperately wanting to see Nadia, Tarek and Agent Raimi make a deal that he would try to lead them to Tarek.

But as Omar is given the chance of freedom, will he choose to help his friends from the Israeli authorities?  Or will he work against his good friends in order to secure a future with Nadia?

VIDEO:

“Omar” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is fantastic as skin tones are natural, close-ups are well-detailed, locations are well-shot and colors are vibrant.  I didn’t notice any major banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Omar” is presented in Arabic with English subtitles and Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0.  I was amazed that the soundtrack did not have a 5.1 lossless track but there are moments of action, from bullets flying in air, bomb blasts that sound good but you wished that the audio had a more immersive soundtrack.  But lossless audio  is crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Omar” comes with no special features.

“Omar” is a magnificent film that literally thrills you with its action, plot featuring various twists and turns but also its unpredictability.

Right off the bat, as we watch Omar climbing the dividing wall between Israel and Palestine, you just feel that something bad is going to happen in this film and the earlier scene with Omar climbing a steep wall as soldiers fire at him, it gives you the sense of danger but how heartbreaking it is to know that people are separated and that this tension between countries has been ongoing for decades and centuries with no sign of either side willing to fix it.

“Omar” makes you feel that this younger man has a lot to live for but as soon as he is caught and forced to make decisions of helping his friends or helping the enemy in order for him to keep out of prison or worse, being kept away from the girl he has loved, Omar seems that he is ready to make the sacrifices in order to be with Nadia.

And without spoiling the film, you can’t help but see the various plot twists of whether or not he will save his friends or work against them for the sake of his future.

Actor Adam Bakri did a phenomenal job as Omar.  You literally see Bakri put into various emotional states to play the character.  From strong and carefree to being a loving guy who wants to provide for Nadia and then we see him as this broken and tortured individual who wants to be free for Nadia.

But of course, filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad is never a director who gives you something simplistic.  His films have their fair share of surprises but his latest film “Omar” really delves down to the disparity of the human soul.  Where one’s drive to live is because of the one person he truly loves.  But instead of going a banal route, one can expect to see the conundrum develop overtime and wondering how Omar will respond to the situation and where his loyalties lie.

As for the Blu-ray, while picture quality is very good, audio is primarily Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 and there are no special features.  So, I was disappointed that more was not added to this Blu-ray release but considering this was a low-budget film which received critical acclaim, I’ll give “Omar” the benefit of the doubt because I enjoyed this film immensely.

Overall, Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” is an action-packed thriller that captures life, danger, risk and one man’s determination thanks to love.  Featuring a brilliant performance by Adam Bakri and gorgeous cinematography by Ehab Assal, this award winning film is highly recommended!

Tim’s Vermeer (a J!-eNT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Tim’s Vermeer is a fascinating and entertaining film in which one brilliant man uses his skills to replicate Johannes Vermeer’s amazing skill with light and to show that possibly, Vermeer may have been using technology to help him achieve such realism.  A wonderful documentary from Penn and Teller!

Images courtesy of © 2013 High Delft Pictures LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Tim’s Vermeer

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 111 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Strong Language)

Release Date: June 10, 2014

Directed by Teller

Produced by Pen Jillette, Farley Ziegler

Executive Producer: Glenn S. Alai, Peter Adam Golden, Tim Jenison, Teller

Music by Conrad Pope

Cinematography by Shane F. Kelly

Edited by Patrick Sheffield

Starring:

Colin Blakemore

David Hockney

Tim Jenison

Penn Jillette

Martin Mull

Philip Steadman

Teller

Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor, attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did Dutch master Johannes Vermeer manage to paint so photo-realistically 150 years before the invention of photography? Spanning a decade, Jenison’s adventure takes him to Holland, on a pilgrimage to the North coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, and eventually even to Buckingham Palace. The epic research project Jenison embarks on is as extraordinary as what he discovers.

Tim Jenison may not be a well-known name but for those who are familiar with 3D software, especially “Lightwave 3D”, Jenison’s company NewTek, Inc. is well-known for its products .

From VideoToaster to creating DigiPaint for the old Commodore Amiga, Jenison has received the title of “Father of Desktop Video” (from the San Antonio Inventors Hall of Fame) but it’s that technical mind that has led to a new documentary film from comedians Teller and Penn Jillette.   Teller narrates the film, while Penn directs the film with the help of producer Farley Ziegler.

For Tim Jenison, he has been a man appreciative of art and having worked in the video games and video industry, he is very knowledgeable about light and lenses.  And because of that appreciation for art, especially in the work of  Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, an artist who was able to create his lifelike photos with precision, especially when it came to lighting, Jenison had a theory.

Because mirrors were used during that period of time, what if Johannes Vermeer was able to utilize this technology in order to paint?

What makes things difficult about Johannes Vermeer is that there is not many documentation about his work, only his paintings.  Partly due because for several centuries, his work was not acknowledged until the 19th century and is now considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Not an artist, Jenison took it upon himself to design various lenses and see if he can reproduce various pieces of art by painting his father and then taking it to other people, including those who have written about Vermeer’s art and show him his theory.

But of course, in order to fully test out his theory of Vermeer, he would need to paint and try to duplicate the work of Vermeer using technology that Jenison believes was used at the time and was utilized by Vermeer.

And through several painstaking years, Jenison who is not a painter, will learn from his discoveries whether or not his theory of the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer were true.

 

VIDEO:

“Tim’s Vermeer” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  The film was shot digitally and overall colors are very good.  Closeups of Tim’s Vermeer paintings show great detail and for the most part, I didn’t detect any problems with video quality.  No banding, artifacts, etc.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Tim’s Vermeer” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  As a documentary, this is a dialogue-driven film and dialogue is crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Tim’s Vermeer” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary from director Pen Jillette, Teller, Tim Jenison and Farly Ziegler.
  • Toronto International Film Festival Q&A – (21:21) A post-screening Q&A at TIFF featuring Pen Jillette, Teller, Tim Jenison and Farly Ziegler.
  • Deleted Scenes – (22:45) A total of six deleted scenes.
  • Extended and Alternate Scenes – (2:18:13) Featuring over two hours of five extended and alternate scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:05) Theatrical trailer for “Tim’s Vermeer”.

EXTRAS:

“Tim’s Vermeer” comes both with a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film.

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There is no doubt that “Tim’s Vermeer” is a documentary that will fascinate and entertain many audiences, especially those who are familiar with Vermeer’s work.  But at the same time, may incite some controversy because the brilliant technology and business owner, Tim Jenison is pretty much showing people that Vermeer’s lighting in his paintings were done using technology.

Of course, art can be appreciated by any person and interpreted their own personal way.  If one is to use Adobe Photoshop for their artwork, does it make their work any less impressive?  Would it be considered as cheating in order to accomplish a desired look.

Some will say no, others may say yes.

And of course, Jenison’s observations and discoveries are very fascinating to the point that it makes you wonder if Jenison’s theory may hurt the work of Vermeer?  I personally think that this is not the case.

Reason being is that Vermeer created these paintings back in the 1600′s and other painters utilized some sort of creativity in order to capture settings and people in his paintings.

And before anyone can say, “it’s not possible”, both Teller and Penn Jillette  with the reproduction work created by Tim Jenison, were able to tap into observations that can only mean that lenses and mirrors may have been utilized.

The film is simple to understand and follow, especially by the film’s second half as we watch the progress of Tim Jenison and see for ourselves how he is able to paint using a lens with great efficacy.  Teller’s narration helped make the film more fun but also doing a great job in setting up each scene.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is very good as one can expect from a documentary shot digitally.  If anything, colors are pleasing, close-ups show great detail and the film looks very good in HD.  Lossless audio is not immersive, considering the film is dialogue-driven.  But there are many special features which include an audio commentary, film festival Q&A, deleted scenes and its extended scenes which are over two hours long.

Overall, “Tim’s Vermeer is a fascinating and entertaining film in which one brilliant man uses his skills to replicate Johannes Vermeer’s amazing skill with light and to show that possibly, Vermeer may have been using technology to help him achieve such realism.  A wonderful documentary from Penn and Teller!

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