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

April 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

themessenger

“The Messenger” is a visually thrilling documentary with an urgent message of why we should be aware of the depletion of the population of birds around the world.   Recommended!

Images courtesy of © SONGBIRDSSOS PRODUCTIONS INC. & FILMS. 2016 Kino Lorber Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Messenger

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 Original Aspect Ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: March 3, 2016


Directed by Su Rynard

Story/Written by Su Rynard

Co-Written by Sally Blake

Executive Produced/Produced by Sally Blake, Martin de la Fouchardiere, Joanne Jackson, Su Rynard, Diane Woods

Music by Philip Strong

Cinematography by Amar Arhab, Laurent Charbonnier, Daniel Grant

Edited by Sally Blake, Carole Larsen, Eamonn O’Connor


For thousands of years, songbirds were regarded by mankind as messengers from the gods. Today, these creatures woven inextricably into the fabric of our environment are vanishing at an alarming rate. Under threat from climate change, pesticides and more, populations of hundreds of species have dipped dramatically. As scientists, activists and bird enthusiasts investigate this phenomenon, amazing secrets of the bird world come to light for the first time in the acclaimed and visually thrilling documentary The Messenger. Find out what s killing our songbirds, and what can be done about it. As in ancient times, songbirds may once again be carrying a message to humans one that we ignore at our own peril.


From director and writer Su Rynard comes her 2015 documentary film “The Messenger”.

A look at why the population of songbirds throughout the world are depleting and why this is problematic to humans and the world.  And what some countries are trying to do to protect them.

And now “The Messenger” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In “The Messenger”, Su Rynard shows our connection to birds and their uncertain fate might mirror our own.

Considering that birds are humankind’s early warning system, for thousands of years, humans have looked at birds to foretell the future.  From the coming of storms, the change of season and more, from man-made structures, pesticides, trapping to even cats, have led to the depletion of the population of songbirds.  Many birds who have become extinct since the 1960’s.

Featuring research that explores the Boreal Forest, the wetlands in Mount Ararat, the streets of New York City, Canada, France and more, we start to learn of how a mass depletion of songbirds on multiple continents are taking place and why it should be taken seriously.


VIDEO:

“The Messenger” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). Featuring video footage from multiple locatons throughout the world, picture quality is vibrant, featuring amazing detail but what is amazing is the use of technology in order to capture video and images of songbirds in flight, courtesy of the scientists at Western University’s unique Avian research facility, AFAR.

Despite a small crew using a Phantom camera and a series of prime lenses, the film crew were able to capture wonderful images of these songbirds.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Messenger” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD.  Dialogue is crystal clear, as the sounds of the bird and surrouding environments which were well-captured.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Messenger” comes with the following special features:

  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette – (4:45) How the Messenger film crew were able to film the birds at Western University’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research.
  • A Coffee Primer for Birds and People – (3:33) A connection with birds and coffee.
  • Deleted Scene – (6:07) A deleted scene on checking out woodthrush nests and their eggs and trying to find out who the predators are and there dwindling population.
  • Interview with Director Su Rynard – (8:49) An interview with director Su Rynard.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Messenger”.

EXTRAS:

“The Messenger” comes a ten page booklet which includes information about the film, information from the director and the press the film has received.


Whether or not you appreciate birds or not, the dwindling population of various bird species is important to know and perhaps be aware of, in hopes to preserve the populations.

And for those who need to know why it is important, one can look back in the late ’50s.

What many may not be familiar with is “The Great Sparrow Campaign” that took place in China between 1958-1962, which was a goal to eliminate mosquitoes, flies, rats and sparrows.

The reason why the birds were eliminated was because the birds ate grain sees and it was thought that the birds were robbing from the people.  So, sparrows and other birds were shot, eggs were broken, nestlings were killed and citizens kept banging pots and pans, drums in order to scare the birds from landing and they eventually died of exhaustion.

But by 1960, Chinese leaders realized that the birds were important because they ate the insects and unfortunately, the locust population grew increasingly and swarmed the country and helped in ushering the Great Chinese Famine, which would to 20 million people dying of starvation.

With Su Rynard’s “The Messenger”, her inspiration of creating the film was due to the dwindling of populations and not seeing or hearing the birds that was part of her childhood.

Her and the crew would research of why the songbirds have disappeared and the reasons were troubling but at the same time, we learn how much of the problem is manmade.

Many of us have seen birds head straight to the windows and die.  Birds see the windows which reflect foliage and the sky and so they fly directly into it.  Up to 1 billion birds die from window strikes in the US alone, can you imagine worldwide?

While some countries have taken action and using special windows, many countries have not done anything and so the problems of birth deaths continue.

Of course, with pesticides, many birds are dying because of the chemicals mixed in water and what they drink.

Another is cats, a predator of birds and while it is recommended to keep cats indoors, many of us know that owners simply don’t do it.

While Rynard and crew are able to showcase many reasons of why there are dwindling populations, some may be surprised of the death of ortolans.  Birds that French have eaten for decades, but despite the French government enforcing ignored laws to protect the birds (ortolan hunting has been banned in France since 1999), many continue to hunt and eat them.

Many may also be surprised to find out the importance of birds their relation to coffee.  With many areas using harmful pesticides to coffee that run into streams and rivers, billions of pounds of the noxious chemicals are injected into natural ecosystems that support wildlife and communities.

And so there are coffee companies who are taking a step forward with their coffee by showing a “Bird Friendly certification” as a prerequisite if they are going for organic certification.

So, by purchasing coffee with the bird friendly label or even requesting your supermarket to carry it, goes a long way in the preservation of birds.

The Blu-ray release of “The Messenger” is vibrant with great detail.  Lossless audio of dialogue, bird sounds and ambiance was crystal clear.  But I was impressed with how the film crew captured the birds in flight.  Working with Western University’s Avian research facility, AFAR, Rynard and crew were able to capture these songbirds in flight with efficacy. There was great care in making sure how these birds were filmed and it’s good to see this in the special features.

If there is one thing that I’m proud of “The Messenger” is that it builds awareness and how one can make a difference.

It’s important to note that Rynard also shows the other side to the equation, for example, why there are those who capture ortolans and eat them.  And why there are those who risk their lives to stop these hunters.

If anything, the documentary does a great job of delivering an urgent message to viewers and one can hope that many will learn from the film and take action.

Overall, “The Messenger” is a visually thrilling documentary with an urgent message of why we should be aware of the depletion of the population of birds around the world.   Recommended!

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © Drew Associates Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808

YEAR OF FILM: Primary (1960), Adventures of the New Frontier (1961), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Faces of November (1964)

DURATION: Primary (53 Minutes), Adventures of the New Frontier (52 Minutes), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (53 Minutes), Faces of November (12 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural LPCM 1.0

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016


Primary (1960)

Directed by Robert Drew

Written by Robert Drew

Produced by Robert Drew

Cinematography by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

Directed by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Kenneth Stilson

Executive Produced by Robert Drew

Produced by Bo Goldman

Edited by Robert Farren, Peggy Lawson, Larry Moyer, Anita Posner

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

Directed by Robert Drew

Executive Producer: Robert Drew

Producer: Gregory Shuker

Faces of November (1964)

Directed by Robert Drew


Starring:

Primary (1961)

Robert Drew

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian as Narrator (voice)

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

McGeorge Bundy

Paul B. Fay Jr.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Arthur Goldberg

Richard Goodwin

Albert Gore Sr.

Walter W. Heller

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Evelyn Lincoln

John J. McCloy

Kenneth P. O’Donnell

Pierre Salinger

Haile Selassie

Theodore Sorensen

John Steinbeck

Gerhard Mennen Williams

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

John F. Kennedy

George Wallace

Robert F. Kennedy

Vivian Malone 

James Hood

Michael LeMoyne Kennedy

Burke Marshall

Nicholas Katzenbach

John Dore

Jack Greenberg

Creighton Williams Abrams

Kerry Kennedy

Peyton Norville

Henry Graham

Dave McGlathery

James Lipcomb (Narrator)

Faces of November (1964)

Lyndon Johnson

Caroline Kennedy

John Kennedy Jr.

Peter Lawford


Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late fifties. He did this by assembling an amazing team—including such eventual nonfiction luminaries as Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, and Albert Maysles—that would transform documentary cinema. In 1960, the group was granted direct access to John F. Kennedy, filming him on the campaign trail and eventually in the Oval Office. This resulted in three films of remarkable, behind-closed-doors intimacy—Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, and Crisis—and, following the president’s assassination, the poetic short Faces of November. Collected here are all four of these titles, early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and featuring the greatest close-up footage we have of this American icon.


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When it comes to American documentaries, Robert Lincoln Drew is considered a pioneer of the genre.

Also called the father of “cinema verite” (a.k.a. “Direct Cinema”), Drew said in a 1962 interview that he wanted to create “a form of documentary that would ‘drop word logic and find a dramatic logic in which things really happened’.  It would be ‘a theater without actors; it would be plays without playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten from personal experience.”

Drew would recruit filmmakers with the same view to crew Drew Associates” which included filmmakers Richard Leacock (“Queen of Apollo”, “A Stravinsky Portrait”, “Lulu in Berlin”), D.A. Pennebaker (“Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back”, “The War Room”, “Monterey Pop”), Terence Macartney-Filgate (“Lewis Mumford on the City”, “Blood and Fire”, “Vladimir Nabokov”) and Albert Maysles (“Grey Gardens”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Salesman”).

Among Robert Drew and his associates most famous works were focused on President John F. Kennedy and the Criterion Collection will bring four of his films on Blu-ray titled “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates”.

The first is titled “Primary” and is a 1960 Direct Cinema documentary film about the Wisconsin primary election between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the United States Democratic Party nomination for the President of the United States.  The film was directed by Robert Drew and shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles and edited by D.A. Pennebaker.

This documentary was seen as a major breakthrough in documentary film style as it gave viewers much more intimacy thanks to the use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment.

And the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The second documentary featured is “Adventures on the New Frontier” which gave a rare and candid glimpse inside the Oval Office and follows John F. Kennedy on his daily work routine.  The film was aired on ABC television as part of its “Close-Up!” series in 1961.

The third documentary “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” centered on the University of Alabama’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” integration crisis and focused on President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and students Vivian Malone and James Hood.  Wallace would do what he can to block the two black students from enrolling in the university, while the JFK administration discusses on the best way to react to Wallace’s promise.  The documentary was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress” in 2011 as it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The fourth documentary is “Faces of November” and is a 12-minute short film covering the Kennedy’s state funeral and capturing the family mourning but also the many people mourning the death of JFK.


VIDEO:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast in some footage, but with different film sources, picture quality differs from scene-to-scene.  But for the most part, black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner.  ‘Primary’ and ‘Cris’ were created from Academy Film Archive – preserved 16mm fine-grain positives; ‘Adventures on the New Frontier’ from an Academy Film Archive – preserved 16 mm fine-grain positive; and ‘Faces of November’ from the original 16mm A/B camera negative.  Preservation of the three Academy Film Archive fine-grain positives was done by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in collaboration with The Film Foundation.  2K digital restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in English monaural LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit.  ‘Primary’ was remastered from a 16mm magnetic track; ‘Adventures of the New Frontier’ from a 16mm optical soundtrack print; ‘Faces of November’ from a 35mm optical soundtrack print; and ‘Crisis’ from the original 35mm soundtrack negative.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4”.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with the following special features:

  • Robert Drew in His Own Words – (34:13) Featuring multiple interviews with filmmaker Robert Drew to present a portrait of the man who conceived a new way of creating nonfiction cinema, then marshaled an amazing array of talent to realize his vision.
  • Jill Drew and D.A. Pennebaker – (26:22) Drew Associates general manager Jill Drew interviews D.A. Pennebaker and his working relationship with Robert Drew and the joys and challenges of filming the President of the United States.
  • Andrew Cohen on Crisis and Its Outtakes– (46:24) Historian Andrew Cohen, author of “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History” discusses what was and what was not included in the film.
  • Sharon Malone and Eric Holder – (26:16) Sharon Malone, sister of Vivian Malone (the female student in “Crisis”) and her husband, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, discuss the film and her sister’s place in history.
  • Richard Reeves – (27:13) Historian Richard Reeves, author of “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” discusses JFK’s primary campaign and the inner workings of his White House.
  • Drew Associates at the Museum of Tolerance – (26:41) In October 1998, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences premiered restorations of Drew Associates’ Kennedy films.

EXTRAS:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with a 28-page booklet with the essay “Capturing the Kennedys” by Thom Powers.


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The Criterion Collection is best known for their dedication in bringing out titles to the masses, films which are important classic and contemporary films.

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” is a collection of several films by American documentarian Robert Drew and his fellow filmmakers who had their own respective careers in filmmaking: Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Kenneth Stilson.

Robert Drew is looked at as the pioneer for Cinema Verite and his crew were known for bringing an intimacy towards its subjects that has never before been seen in a non-fiction film.

In “Primary”, viewers get to see the behind-the-scenes Democratic primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey; “Adventures on a New Frontier” featuring a day-in-the-life of President John F. Kennedy in the oval office; “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” which prominently features President JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy as we see the strategy of Governor George Wallace trying to prevent two Black students from getting an education at the University of Alabama and RFK and staff doing what they can to counter him.  It’s quite fascinating to watch the two differing perspectives.

For “Faces of November”, the video is short footage capturing family and friends of the Kennedy’s and the many people (of all ages, of all races) who are mourning President Kennedy.

The collection of these four films are no doubt early examples of Direct Cinema but the significance of what Robert Drew and his crew were able to accomplish was magnificent.  And to know that the other talents who were part of Drew Associates, would go on to create big things for their own respective careers.

Leacock, Maysles, Pennebaker and Stilson were documentary legends in their own right and people love and respect their work in the present.

The Blu-ray release features very good picture quality, despite the difference of scenes showing better clarity.  The monaural LPCM 1.0 soundtrack is clear with no signs of hiss.  And special features are captivating as Criterion Collection did a remarkable job in paying tribute to Robert Drew and his associates.

As a person who is fascinated by John F. Kennedy’s life and presidency, it’s great to see a collection that pays tribute to the legendary filmmaker Robert Drew, his crew of talented filmmakers but most of all bringing together these four Kennedy films to a new generation of audiences who may be familiar with John F. Kennedy but want to see these politicians in their true natural state.

An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

Ip Man 3 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Ip Man 3” features drama and action but is less about Ip Man taking on challenges alone, but also learning in life of what is important and what in life is worth fighting for. If you enjoyed the first two films, “Ip Man 3” is worth checking out!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Pegasus Motion Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ip Man 3

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Cantonese, English, Spanish and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English subtitles

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: PG-13

Release Date: April 19, 2016


Directed by Wilson Yip

Written by Tai-Li Chan, Lai-yin Leung, Edmond Wong

Produced by Zheng Xu

Cinematography by Xiofei Song

Costume Design by Cho Ting Chung


Starring:

Donnie Yen as Ip Man

Lynn Hung as Cheung Wing-sing

Jin Zhang as Cheung Tin-chi

Mike Tyson as Frank

Patrick Tam as Ma King-Sang

Karena Ng as Miss Wong

Kai-Chung Cheung as Chui Lek

Kent Cheng as Fatso

Ka-Yan Leung as Master Tin

Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruc Lee

Xiao Long Li as Ching

Sung Man Ban as David

Wang Yan Shi as Ip Ching


Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2) ignites the screen in a return to the role that made him an icon – as Ip Man, the real-life Wing Chun grandmaster who mentored Bruce Lee. In this explosive third installment of the blockbuster martial arts series, when a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer (Mike Tyson) make a play to take over the city, Master Ip is forced to take a stand. Fists will fly as some of the most incredible fight scenes ever filmed play out on the big screen.


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With the enormous success of the previous two “Ip Man” films starring Donnie Yen, the third film features a return to the drama of the first film and the action of the second.

Director Wilson Yip returns to direct the third film, Donnie Yen (“Hero”, “Blade II”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Shanghai Knights”) reprises his role as Ip Man and Lynn Hung (“My Sassy Girl 2”, “All’s well, Ends Well 2010”) reprises her role as Ip Man’s wife, Cheung Wing-sing.  The film also stars Jin Zhang (“Kill Zone 2”, “The Grandmaster”, “The Bounty”), boxing legend Mike Tyson (“The Hangover”, “The Hangover Part II”), Patrick Tam (“Zu Warriors”, “Port of Call”, “The Merger”), Karena Ng (“Magic to Win”, “Hotel Deluxe”, “All’s Well, Ends Well 2012”), Kent Cheung (“Crime Story”, “Once Upon a Time in China”, “Ip Man 2”) and Kwok-Kwan Chan (“Shaolin Soccer”, “Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Legend of Bruce Lee”).

The film is set in 1959 and Ip Man is a popular Wing Chun teacher and living with his wife Cheung Wing-sing.  His eldest son Ip Chun has went to Foshan to study, while his youngest Ip Ching lives with them.

The film begins with a young Bruce Lee (portrayed by Kwok-Kwan Chan) asking Ip Man to become one of his students and demonstrate how quick he is.  Ip Man tells the young man to come back.

Meanwhile at school, young Ip Ching is fighting with his classmate Cheung Fung.  Both are disciplined but as Ip Man is late to pick up his son, he tells the school that he will take both boys and Cheung Fung can pick his son up at his home.

Cheung Fung is surprised to see that Ip Ching’s father also has a wooden dummy to practice his Wing Chun martial arts.  When Ip Man asks Cheung Fung who his mentor is, he mentions his father, Cheung Tin-chi (portrayed by Jin Zhang), who works as a rickshaw operator.

Cheung Tin-chi learned from another master taught by Ip Man’s master, but both have different perspectives on how to utilize their Wing Chun.  Cheung Tin-chi who wants to build his own school as the true Wing Chun school one day.

Cheung Tin-chi helps pay the bills by also participating in a black market boxing match and so far, he is undefeated.  The organizer is a local triad leader named Ma King-sang (portrayed by Patrick Tam), who works for American property developer and boxer, Frank (portrayed by Mike Tyson).

Frank wants a piece of land occupied by the local school which both Ip Ching and Cheung Fung attend.  When Ma King-sang and his gang try to assault the school headmaster, he is saved by Ip Man who quickly beats the men.

The men try to show their power towards the school the following day by trying to lock up the school but once the school breaks the locks, Ma King-sang sends many of his men to kidnap the headmaster and immediately, Ip Man and his class fend off the gang, with the help of Cheung Tin-chi.

Meanwhile as Ip Man tries to defend the school from thugs, he is unaware that his wife Cheung Wing-sing wishes he is home more often. But also that she is very ill.

Ip Man must prepare for upcoming challenges that lie ahead.


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VIDEO:

“Ip Man 3” is presented in 1080p High Definition and shot in 2:35:1.  It’s important to note that the film was originally shown in theaters in 3D but for the most part, close-ups on facial features and clothing show amazing detail.  The film looks natural with a cooler setting with no issues of artifacts or banding.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Ip Man 3” is presented in Cantonese, English, French and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and features a lossless soundtrack that has crystal clear dialogue, music and offers a good amount of surround sound for crowd ambiance and action scenes. Also, good use for the surround channels during the action sequences.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ip Man 3” comes with the following special features:

  • Making Of – Featuring two short making of featurettes: Story (2:29) and Action (2:52)
  • Interviews – Featuring interviews with Donnie Yen (6:04), Mike Tyson (7:27), Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson for the “Ip Man Press Day” (5:27) and Director Wilson Yip (9:05)
  • Behind-the-Scenes – (2:19) Short behind-the-scenes from “Ip Man 3”.
  • Trailers –  Teaser, Theatrical trailer and International Trailer for “Ip Man 3”.

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After watching the first “Ip Man” film, I immediately realized that the film was one of my favorite martial arts films I have seen probably in the last decade, possibly within the last 15 years.

The film was loosely based on Yip Kai-Man, a Chinese martial arts master who taught Wing Chun and one of his famous students who became a teacher was legendary martial arts film actor Bruce Lee.

The first film showcased Ip Man’s (played by Donnie Yen) Wing Chun style of martial arts which was well-revered in his hometown of Foshan.

Married and living a good life teaching Wing Chun, life changed miserably after the Japanese occupied the area during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese spirits were demoralized as Chinese were killed by Japanese, homes and possessions were lost and Chinese were forced to live in poverty without any food. This includes the well-respected Ip Man and his family.

In the first film, many Chinese martial artists were pit against a Japanese military leader or Japanese soldiers in fighting competitions to show which country had the best martial arts.

For many Chinese martial artists, not only was it to defend their country but it was their way of getting food to bring home to their family but while some were able to bring food home, many were killed for no reason.

Having seen enough of the injustice, Ip Man has no choice but to fight against Miura in a final battle.

The film ends with Ip Man and his family being rescued by his friend, businessman Zhou Qing Quan (played by Simon Yam) who will try to escape with Ip Man to Hung Kong.

“Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster” begins with flashbacks from the first film and showing us that their friend Zhou Qing Quan was shot in the head by a Japanese soldier.

The film then focuses on Ip Man as he tries to gain the respect of the local martial arts masters of Hung Kong, especially Master Hung who leads the group that allows martial artists to have their own school.

Ip Man must now take on the other martial artists and Master Hung in competition but with hostilities between Ip Man’s students and Hung’s students at an all time high, will the two become friends or enemies?

Also, unbeknown to the local Hung Kong martial artists, an arrogant British champion boxer named Taylor “The Twister” Milos (played by Darren Shahlavi) is wanting to test Western Boxing againstChinese martial arts.

But the local martial artists quickly realized that Twister is a savage beast in the boxing ring and is insulting to the Chinese
people and Chinese martial arts.

I criticized the second film for straying away from what made the first film so magnificent and also straying away from the family dynamic between Ip Man and his wife.

The third film is a mashup of both.  The drama featuring a wife who wants her husband to pay more attention to her and the family rather than his school and his duty but Ip Man learning not martial arts, but what is more important to him.

Of course, “Ip Man” films are always action-driven and this film features plenty of action choreography as Ip Man takes on many thugs, a fight with Frank, portrayed by Iron Mike Tyson.  But a battle of the two Wing Chun masters on who’s Wing Chun is the best.

The first “Ip Man” film was magnificent because it was slightly based on true events and also the time period between China vs. Japan, while the second film featured the battle between two martial arts film legends, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung.  But it strayed too far from the first film’s concept, was more popcorn action and was average at best.

The third film tries its best to balance drama and action and while the drama was the film’s most endearing moments, the action in this film was good but lacked substance when compared to the first film.  And it’s tough because that first film raised the bar for quality storytelling and action.  Action with substance and their was true meaning.

For me, “Ip Man 3” tries very hard to appeal to people of all ages and where the first film was able to taking things far in terms of story and action but also a strong feeling of dread, these last two films felt diluted.  In “Ip Man 3”,  if thugs had kidnapped Ip Man’s son, I don’t think they would have failed with hundreds of people fighting Ip Man to make a statement or make him feel desperate enough to save his son.

Every action scene felt too safe for its own good. And while the film is action-packed, the first “Ip Man” film still blows it out of the water in terms of storytelling, action and characters.  The first film made us root for Ip Man to defeat the antagonist, for the third film, the antagonists never really posed too much of a threat to Ip Man.

While Mike Tyson is a big antagonist in terms of character, he’s only a small part of the film and that is a good thing.

The true battle of “Ip Man 3” is between Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Jin Zhang’s Cheung Tin-chi and unfortunately, the film’s build-up doesn’t make us care too much about his character, which is fine, but it doesn’t make us vilify or hate him.  Perhaps if he was a true antagonist, we can root for Ip Man but unlike the first film where the antagonist was of true evil, Cheung Tin-chi is a man that is just full of ego and because it’s an “Ip Man” film, we know how the film will end.

But the true story of “Ip Man 3” is the relationship between Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing who is severely ill.  We watched this couple take on challenges in the first two films but this is a challenge that many of us who have lost a love one to cancer, unfortunately knows too well (especially before technological advances) on how this will end.

Donnie Yen does a great job of playing the well-disciplined Ip Man, but it was great to see director Wilson Yipp give actress Lynn Hung a much juicier role in which she is able to showcase her emotions with true efficacy.

The Blu-ray release is very good, as the film shows great detail in HD.  The lossless soundtrack also utilizes the action sequences and ambiance very well and you get a few (short) special features as well.

Overall, “Ip Man 3” features drama and action but is less about Ip Man taking on challenges alone, but also learning in life of what is important and what in life is worth fighting for. If you enjoyed the first two films, “Ip Man 3” is worth checking out!

The Lady in the Van (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

ladyvan

“The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2015 Van Productions Limited. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Lady in the Van

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin (PRC), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematic Material)

RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2016


Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Written by Alan Bennett

Produced by Nicholas Hytner, Damian Jones, Kevin Loader

Music by George Fenton

Cinematography by Andrew Dunn

Edited by Tariq Anwar

Casting by Toby Whale

Production Design by John Beard

Art Direction by Tim Blake

Set Decoration by Niamh Coulter

Costume Design by Natalie Ward


Starring:

Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd

Jim Broadbent as Underwood

Clare Hammond as Young Margaret FAirchild

George Fenton as Conductor

Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett

Deborah Findlay as Pauline

Roger Allam as Rufus

Richard Griffiths as Sam Perry


Based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (played by a magnificent Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins “temporarily” parks her van in Alan Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) London driveway and proceeds to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives.Acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett to create this rare and touching portrait.


From director Nicholas Hytner (“The History Boys”, “The Object of My Affection”, “The Crucible”) and Alan Bennett, award-winning dramatist and screenwriter (“The Madness of King George”, “The History Boys”, “A Private Function”) comes a true story that revolves around a real-life experience from Bennett’s life on a factual person.

The story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lives in a dilapidated van and makes her permanent living area on Bennett’s driveway in the 1979’s and would stay living near his driveway for 15 years.

The film was shot in and around Alan Bennett’s real-life home and the area where the real Mary Shepherd parked her van.

The film would star Maggie Smith (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, “Downton Abbey”, “Harry Potter” films, “Gosford Park”), Alex Jennings (“The Queen”, “Babel”, “Bridge Jones: The Edge of Reason”), Jim Broadbent (“Moulin Rouge!”, “Gangs of New York”, “Cloud Atlas”), Roger Allam (“V for Vendetta”, “The Book Thief”, “The Queen”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Deborah Findlay (“Jane Eyre”, “Vanity Fair”, “Suite Francaise) and more.

The film begins with the sound of a man screaming.  The film then cuts to Miss Shepherd (portrayed by Maggie Smith) being chased by the police.  She then looks at her windshield which is cracked and has a blood stain on it.

The film then cuts to a pianist (Miss Shepherd when she was younger) playing along with a symphony as the audience watches.

We then watch as Alan Bennett (portrayed by Alex Jennings) is working on his article about Miss Shepherd, who has parked her old, dingy van in front of the driveway of Alan.

We see the two Alan Bennett’s (same person), one who is the writer that is intrigued by Miss Shepherd and the other who is becoming frustrated that her van is parked in front of their house and represents as the Alan that lives in the location.

Alan then begins his story of how he first encountered Miss Shepherd and how she moves into the neighborhood and how a homeless person in the area is received.

But how Alan and Miss Shepherd would communicate for the next 15 years as she would continue to live in her van in the neighborhood.  And would get to learn more about Miss Shepherd and her past.


VIDEO:

“The Lady in the Van” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). The lossless soundtrack showcases the details of the closeup of Maggie Smith’s face, the dirt and rainmarks on Miss Shepherd’s vehicle.  Skin tones are natural, lighting is well-done, although the film leads more to a cooler look outdoors, and warmer for indoors.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “The Lady in the Van” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Also, in Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, English – Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.

The lossless audio for “The Lady in the Van” is primarily dialogue and musical driven and both are crystal clear.  Surround channels are primarily for ambiance around the neighborhood, the slamming of Miss Shepherd’s car door.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional) French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Lady in the Van” comes with the following special features:

  • Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Nicholas Hytner.
  • Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd – (6:20) A featurette about how this role was written for Maggie Smith.
  • The Making of Lady in the Van – (13:43) A discussion about the real Miss Shepherd and Alan Bennett discusses the real person that inspired the film.
  • The Visual Effects – (7:29) A featurette about the visual effects (used to create the two Alan Bennett characters).
  • Deleted Scenes – (4:34) Featuring three deleted scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Lady in the Van”.

EXTRAS:

“The Lady in the Van” comes with a slipcover.


For those who have appreciated the work of Maggie Smith, “The Lady in the Van” features a wonderful performance by the legendary actress.

Based on the true story written by Alan Bennett about his personal experience and communication with a homeless woman who sets up camp right near his home, the film explores the relationship and friendship between the two people.

Alan Bennett’s character is broken up in two roles (same person), as one represents Alan the writer, writing an article on Miss Shepherd, while the other is an Alan Bennett that is growing frustrated by Miss Shepherd and doesn’t understand why the writer can’t give up on her and let her leave to another location.

Alan find the woman intriguing because of the way she talks and promotes herself, yet has become homeless.

Who is Miss Shepherd?  What led her to his neighborhood?  And why has Alan continued to help Miss Shepherd?

We watch as the two communicate with each other and the storyline starting out early as compassion and then letter transitioning into wanting to help Miss Shepherd live a bit more comfortably but to delve deeper into her background.

Maggie Smith and Alan Jennings do a phenomenal job of playing their respective roles.  For Maggie Smith, it was more or less playing a woman with mental illness but also playing a person who had a storied past, a person who is on the run, a person who is fearful of society and a woman who has put her trust towards the popular writer.  And how Alan Bennett remained patient with her, no matter how difficult she was towards everyone.

Meanwhile, Alan Jennings does a fine job of playing two different versions of Alan Bennett.  One who is kind and generous and is a writer, the other who is “the living” one that is more questioning the thinking and perspective of the writer.  And these two are often exchanging conversations of criticism and debate towards one another

But the onscreen chemistry between Smith and Jennings was enjoyable to watch but also to see the storyline unfold.  The acting is wonderful, but it’s the storyline that I found very interesting.  And the fact that the film was shot in the same location and same home, plus the fact that Alan Bennett was involved in the film was a major plus.

The Blu-ray release features wonderful detail while the lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and musical score.  The film also features audio commentary and a few short featurettes as well.

Overall, “The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith.  Recommended!

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

starwars-7

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” on Blu-ray is a five-star release.  “Star Wars” fans who loved this seventh film, the videophiles and audiophiles will no doubt love watching the film on Blu-ray.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 & TM Lucasfilm Ltd LLC.


TITLE: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 136 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 Aspect Ratio, English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: PG-13 (For Sci-Fi Action Violence)

Release Date: April 5, 2016


Based on the Characters by George Lucas

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

Produced by J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Bryan Burk

Executive Producer: Tommy Harper, Jason D. McGatlin

Associate Producer: Michael Arndt

Co-Producer: Tomy Gormley, Michelle Rejwan, Ben Rosenblatt, John Swartz

Music by John Williams

Cinematography by Daniel Mindel

Edited by Maryann Brandon

Casting by Nina Gold, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg

Production Design by Rick Carter, Darren Gilford

Set Decoration by Lee Sandales

Costume Design by Michael Kaplan


Starring:

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

Daisy Ridley as Rey

John Boyega as Finn

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron

Lupita Noyong’o as Maz Kanata

Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke

Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux

Anthony Daniels as C-3P0

Max von Sydow as Lor San Tekka

Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma

Simon Pegg as Unkar Plutt


Visionary director J.J. Abrams brings to life the motion picture event of a generation. As Kylo Ren and the sinister First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing when the galaxy needs him most. It’s up to Rey, a desert scavenger, and Finn, a defecting stormtrooper, to join forces with Han Solo and Chewbacca in a desperate search for the one hope of restoring peace to the galaxy.


It was the one of the most anticipated films of 2015.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was a film that no one knew what to expect after Disney purchased Lucasfilm.

A “Star Wars” without George Lucas, a teaser trailer that left people up at arms.  The announcement of J.J Abrams (“Lost”, “Mission: Impossible III”, “Star Trek”, “Super 8”) as director scared many die-hard fans.

That was until the movie premiered and positive reviews kept rolling in and the film shattered box office records, becoming the highest-grossing installment of the franchise, the highest grossing film in North America, the third highest grossing film of all time with more than $2 billion gross worldwide.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” received five Academy Award nominations and now their is high anticipation for the two sequels “Episode VIII” (2017) and “Episode IX” (2019).

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams who co-wrote the film alongside Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars” original trilogy films, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “Inside Out”).

The film would feature the return of original trilogy cast members Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Anthony Daniels as C-3P0 and Pete Mayhew as Chewbacca.

The film would star Adam Driver (“Frances Ha”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “What If”), Daisy Ridley (“Lifesaver”, “Scrawl”, “Only Yesterday”), John Boyega (“Attack the Block”, “Imperial Dreams”, “My Murder”), Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”, “Ex Machina”, “Drive”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”, “Non-Stop”), Andy Serkis (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Prestige”), Domnhall Gleeson (“Ex Machina”, “The Revenant”, “About Time”), Max von Sydow (“Minority Report”, “The Exorcist”, “Shutter Island”) and Gwendoline Christie (“The Zero Theorem”, “Game of Thrones”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2”).

And the film will be released on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD in April 2015.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is set 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star.  Jedi Luke Skywalker has disappeared and a new threat known as The First Order has risen, led by their Supreme Leader Snoke (portrayed by Andy Serkis).

The Resistance is backed by the Republic and is led by General Leia Organa, who has been searching for her twin brother, Luke.

We are introduced to ace Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (portrayed by Oscar Isaac) who has met with village elder Lor San Tekka (portrayed by Max von Sydow) on the planet Jakku.

The map of Luke Skywalker’s location is give to Poe, but when the Stormtroopers led by Kylo Ren (portrayed by Adam Driver).  Poe gives the map to his droid, BB-8 who escapes.

Meanwhile, Poe is captured and everyone in the village is slaughtered.  One stormtrooper, FN-2187 (portrayed by John Boyega) is alarmed by the killing and can’t make sense of any of it.

We are then introduced to a scavenger on Jakku named Rey (portrayed by Daisy Ridley).  Trying to find and sell parts in the desert to survive, she finds BB-8 near her home (in the junkyard).

Kylo Ren tries to get information of the whereabouts of the map from Poe Dameron using the Force and learns that his droid, BB-8 has it.  The First Order is now looking for the BB-8.

FN-2187 comes into the holding room of Poe and helps him escape, as he no longer wants to be part of the First Order.  As the two escape, Poe names FN-2187 to “Finn” but as they are outnumbered by the First Order, they are shot down.

When Finn wakes up, he can’t find Poe and thinks he may have been killed.  All he finds is Poe’s jacket, which he puts on, as he discards his Stormtrooper outfit.

As Finn wanders to Jakku, he finds the junkyard settlement and sees a young woman fighting off thieves and then sees BB-8.  As Ren and BB-8 come in contact with Finn and to find out why he is wearing Poe’s jacket, Finn tells her that he is with the Resistance and that he helped Poe escape and that Poe is dead.

But because there is a bulletin out on a BB-8 droid, the First Order is contacted and attempts to capture the droid and begins to attack Ren and Finn.

The three manage to escape and pilot the stolen, rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

As the three manage to defeat and escape from the First Order Tie Fighters that were after them, the Millennium Falcon breaks down and is captured.  But those who have captured it has turned out to be Han Solo and Chewbacca, who have come to reclaim their vessel.

Ren tells them that the BB-8 has information that must be given to the Resistance.  Seeing the importance of the message, Han and Chewbacca decide to help Ren and Finn reach the Resistance in any way possible, if it can help to defeat the First Order.


VIDEO:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD with closeups showing detail of skin pigments to seeing the detail in clothing. Outdoor scenes are vibrant and the CG utilized for the film is incredible. This is reference quality video and the film on Blu-ray looks fantastic!

For the most part, I didn’t notice any problematic issues with banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Description Audio and also on French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Also, in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Dialogue is crystal clear and there is good use of surround channels as chase scenes and shots and explosions can be heard all around.  The lightsaber battles and each spacecraft battle and onground battle scenes are immersive.  Action sequences are just fantastic to listen to, dialogue and music are crystal clear and yes, like the video, the film on Blu-ray features reference lossless audio.  Fantastic!

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” comes with the following special features on a second Blu-ray disc:

  • Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – (1:09:14) Featuring a four part making-of that goes into Disney acquiring the franchise, hiring J.j. Abrams, bringing back the original cast, the use of technology for the special effects, shooting on location, the droids, the fate of a main character and the cast and crew’s thoughts of the movie.
  • The Story Awakens: The Table Read – (4:01) A table read between cast and crew.
  • Crafting Creatures – (9:34) Constructing the characters of the film and bringing them to life.
  • Building BB-8 – (6:03) A featurette about the design of BB-8 and more.
  • Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – (7:02) A featurette on the final lightsaber battle from the film.
  • ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force – (7:55) A featurette on the digital effects used in the film courtesy of ILM.
  • John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – (6:51) Featuring discussions of Williams music used for Star Wars and the music created for the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • Force for Change – (3:22) The charity work contributions thanks to the film.

EXTRAS:

“The Hateful Eight” comes with a slipcover and UltraViolet code. A DVD for the film is also included.


As a huge “Star Wars” fans, like many others, I was skeptical on a new “Star Wars” film without George Lucas.

While I am quite aware of J.J. Abrams work and a good number of them that I truly enjoyed, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a new “Star Wars” film.  I watched every film at the theater, I collected the toys and it was a strong part of my youth.  I was also aware of the written work of Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, so

But I also believe that there is always a story to be told and I was quite impressed with what J.J. Abrams and were able to put together.

Because after watching the film in the theater, it was almost the same experience I had watching “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”.

The feeling of excitement, sadness and hope and a feeling of wanting to watch the film again, because I enjoyed it tremendously.

Which leads us to the Blu-ray release of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”.  When I watched the film for the very first time in the theater, I was mesmerized by the visual effects and how seamlessly reality and CG worked together.  The costume designs were fantastic, the overall settings were gorgeous.

And as expected, watching this film in HD is truly magnificent.  But I can only sense how much better this film would also look in 4K possibly in the near future.

The film looked crisp and vibrant, details were magnificent.  The lossless audio was immersive and knowing immediately that videophiles and audiophiles will have a film they would no doubt enjoy.

But when you combine it with a wonderful storyline that works with the “Star Wars” franchise, you can’t help but be excited for the film but also how the next generation of sci-fi fans, the next generation of “Star Wars” fans, will now have too look forward to.

Now we know J.J. Abrams is not the director for “Star Wars: Episode VIII” but I’m hoping that if they can be consistent with quality with storytelling, visual effects, audio, etc., I have no doubt that this latest trilogy can potentially be the best in the “Star Wars” franchise.

Seeing the original cast is great, but I also thought that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega did a wonderful job with this film.

And as mentioned about the Blu-ray, picture quality and lossless audio were both magnificent.  And there are also a good number of special features included on this Blu-ray release.

And while my heart will always be biased towards the amazing “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” as the best “Star Wars” film ever made, I can’t help but say that I really enjoyed this latest film!  It’s of course derivative but I absolutely was captivated by this blockbuster film and whether or not George Lucas enjoyed it or not, I know I did.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” on Blu-ray is a five-star release.  “Star Wars” fans who loved this seventh film, the videophiles and audiophiles will no doubt love watching the film on Blu-ray.  Highly recommended!

Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

bicyclethieves-a

Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general. Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1972 by Richard Feiner and Company, Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374

YEAR OF FILM: 1948

DURATION: 89 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Italian Monaural with English SDH Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: March 29, 2016


Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini

Story by Cesare Zavattini

Screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, Cesare Zavattini

Produced by Giuseppe Amato

Music by Alessandro Cicogini

Cinematography by Carlo Montuori

Edited by Eraldo Da Roma

Production Design by Antonio Traverso


Starring:

Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio Ricci

Enzo Staiola as Bruno Ricci

Lianella Carell as Maria Ricci

Gino Saltamerenda as Baiocco


Hailed around the world as one of the greatest movies ever made, the Academy Award–winning Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica, defined an era in cinema. In poverty-stricken postwar Rome, a man is on his first day of a new job that offers hope of salvation for his desperate family when his bicycle, which he needs for work, is stolen. With his young son in tow, he sets off to track down the thief. Simple in construction and profoundly rich in human insight, Bicycle Thieves embodies the greatest strengths of the Italian neorealist movement: emotional clarity, social rectitude, and brutal honesty.


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Considered as one of the greatest films of Italian neorealism and one of the greatest films of all time, “Ladri di biciclette” (Bicycle Thieves) receives the HD treatment on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

Directed by Vittorio De Sica (“Umberto D.”, “Indiscretion of an American Wife”, “Boccaccio ’70”), the 1948 film stars Lamberto Maggiorani (“Mamma Roma”, “Attention! Bandits!”, “Don Camillo e l’on  Peppone”), Enzo Staiola (“The Barefoot Contessa”, “Times Gone By”, “Lucky Nick Cain”), Lianella Carrell (“The Gold of Naples”, “Love and Troubles”, “Me, Me Me…and the Others”) and Gino Saltamerenda (“When Love Calls”, “The Thief of Venice”).

“Bicycle Thieves” is set in post-World War II Val Melaina in Rome.

Antonio Ricci (portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani) is down on his luck about not making any income for his family and he is becoming desperate.

One day, he is offered a job to post advertising bills, but there is one thing he needs to get the job…he must own a bicycle.

His wife Maria (portrayed by Lianella Carell) sells the family bedsheets to a pawn shop which she acquired as part of the dowry and is the family’s prized possession.  And the money they get back is enough for Antonio to purchase a pawned Fides bicycle.

The couple are excited and can’t wait to be making money, meanwhile his son Bruno (portrayed by Enzo Staiola) is concerned about the bikes maintenance.

On the first day of work, Antonio out on a job is posting an advertising bill and his bicycle is stolen by a thief.  And as Antonio tries to chase him down, he is thrown off the trail by one of the thief’s comrades, who pretends to be a good Samaritan that is helping out Antonio.

While Antonio goes to the police, they don’t do anything.  Desperate to get his bicycle back, as he needs it to work, Antonio and a friend check out Piazza Vittorio market, where many stolen bike parts are sold.

Persistent about getting his job back, how far will Antonio go to find it?


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VIDEO:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in 1:37:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast.  Black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scannity film scanner from a 35 mm optical safety fine-grain master made from the original nitrate negative.  The restoration was performed by Digital Film Restore in Chennai, India.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in Italian LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with the following special features:

  • Working with De Sica – (22:40) Interviews with film scholar Callisto Cosulich and “Bicycle Thieves” co-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico and actor Enzo Staiola.
  • Life As It Is: The Neorealist Movement in Italy – (39:56) Film scholar Mark Shiel, author of “Italian neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City” discusses the history of Italian neorealism and the place of “Bicycle Thieves” within the movement.
  • Cesare Zavattini – (55:38) A documentary directed by Carlo Lizzani, exploring writer Cesare Zavattini’s career and more.

EXTRAS:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with a 36-page booklet with the essay “A Passionate Commitment to the Real” by Geoffrey Cheshire, “Bicycle Thieves: Rememberances” by Vittorio De Sica, Lianella Carell, Luisa Alessandri, Sergio Leone, Manuel De Sica and Maria Mercader.


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Actor Vittorio De Sica is well-known in Italian cinema, considering De Sica has appeared on the big screen since 1917.

His big break as a director would begin in 1940 with “Rose scarlatte” but his big break would come in 1944 with “The Children Are Watching Us”, the first collaboration with writer Cesare Zavattini.

Exploring real struggles during post-war Italy, Italian neorealism showed audiences the struggles which Italians faced.  And while Roberto Rosselini would be started by Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 film “Rome, Open City”, De Sica and Zavattini wanted to give viewers a new degree of realism.

By 1945, De Sica would show the world the destruction of childish innocence with his film “Shoeshine”.

But it’s his 1948 film “Bicycle Thieves” and followed by his 1952 film “Umberto D.” which resonates strongly with audiences and also with me.

What makes these films work is that the emphasis is not purely on the characters but the unfortunate times they are living in.  Post-war Italy was no doubt desperate times as work was scarce, families starved and it pushed people to do things they would have never have done.

De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” utilizes the mise-en-scene style of his previous film “Shoeshine” by combining realistic elements and a storyline that is no less gutwrenching.  It’s one thing to have a desperate father wanting to provide for his family, but you have a young boy who will do anything to help his father and you see the eyes of a boy who absolutely adores his father, start to see his desperate father change.

De Sica’s characters are representative of not a single person but they represent the people of Italy who were no doubt suffering and were desperate.  The portrayals were genuine but yet the film was met with hostility because many felt it portrayed Italians in a negative way.

Granted, it’s understandable why the creator of “Bicycle Thieves” ala the novel was upset because of the departure of De Sica’s patriarch from the novel version which “the protagonist was a middle class intellectual and the theme was the breakdown of civil order in the face of anarchic communism” (according to Robin Healey’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Literature in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography 1929-1997”).

Personally I felt that as an actor De Sica knew how to bring out a character thanks to his trusting of hiring non-actors for the role of Antonio and Bruno. Both Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are able to genuinely bring out the bond but also the emotions of these characters, making us believe in the characters but also making us understand where they are coming from.

Could you imagine “Bicycle Thieves” portrayed by popular actors?  It could have happened as David Selznick offered to finance the film if De Sica cast Cary Grant for the leading role.

But “Bicycle Thieves” was planned methodically.  De Sica choreographed the market vendors, the crowd scenes, down to casting his talent based on facial expressions and walking mannerisms.

But the film showed us that non-actors, no elaborate sets were needed to create a captivating film.  A film no doubt which many can see various types of messages, may it be political, socioeconomic issues for that time or even a transition of the bonding between father and son, one can find various messages with each viewing of the film.

As for the 2016 Blu-ray release of “Bicycle Thieves”, having owned this film on LaserDisc and then later via DVD, the Blu-ray is fantastic in the way the film shows much more clarity and sharpness.  The contrast and detail are superb and the lossless audio is free from hiss or crackle.  While the special features are not numerous, you still get a lengthy documentary on writer Cesare Zavattini, a look at Italian neorealism and “Bicycle Thieves” place for the genre and more.

Overall, Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general.

Highly recommended!

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

March 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

thehatefuleight

Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is riveting and enjoyable.  Featuring captivating characters, many twists and just an enjoyable cinematic experience which Tarantino fans will no doubt enjoy.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Starz Media LLC.


TITLE: The Hateful Eight

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 168 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:76:1 Aspect Ratio, English aDTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish

COMPANY: The Weinstein Company

RATED: R (For Strong Bloody Violence, a Scene of Violent Sexual Content, Language and Some Graphic Nudity)

Release Date: March 29, 2016


Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Written by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntsh, Stacey Sher

Executive Producer: Georgia Kacandes

Associate Producer: William Paul Clark, Coco Francini

Music by Ennio Morricone

Cinematography by Robert Richardson

Edited by Fred Raskin

Casting by Victoria Thomas

Production Design by Yohei Taneda

Art Direction by Benjamin Edelberg, Richard L. Johnson

Set Decoration by Rosemary Brandenburg

Costume Design by Courtney Hoffman


Starring:

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren

Kurt Russell as John Ruth

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue

Walton Goggins as Sheriff Chris Mannix

Demian Bichir as Bob

Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray

Michael Madsen as Joe Gage

Bruce Dern as General Sandy Smithers

James Parks as O.B. Jackson

Dana Gourrier as Minnie Mink

Zoe Bell as Six-Horse Judy

Gene Jones as Sweet Dave

Keith Jefferson as Charly

Craig Stark as Chester Charles Smithers

Belinda Owino as Gemma

Channing Tatum as Jody


The Hateful 8 is set 6 or 8 or 12 years after the Civil War in wintery Wyoming, and a blizzard is coming.  Bounty Hunter John Ruth is trying to get his bounty, Ms. Daisy Domergue (Dah-mer-goo), to the town of Red Rock where she’s scheduled to be brought to justice.  Along the way he and his wagon driver Olie pick up two strangers; another bounty hunter and former union soldier, Major Marquis Warren, and a former southern renegade who claims to be the new mayor of Red Rock, Chris Mannix.  The impending storm has forced them to stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie’s, they are not greeted by the proprietor but by four strangers.  As the storm takes over the mountainside cabin our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all…


Back in 2013, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino let people know that he was working on another western.

Would it be a sequel to his “Django Unchained”, would it be an original story?  The following year, Tarantino revealed the title to be “The Hateful Eight” and it was an original story that was inspired by 1960’s westerns.

And in 2015, “The Hateful Eight” was released in theaters and another roadshow version which featured an overture and intermission, plus six extra minutes of footage.

Written and directed by Tarantino, “The Hateful Eight” would star Samuel L. Jackson (“The Avengers” films, “Pulp Fiction”, “Django Unchained”), Kurt Russell (“The Thing”, “Stargate”, “Death Proof”), Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Machinist”, “Road to Perdition”, “eXistenZ”), Walton Goggins (“Bourne Identity”, “The Shield”, “Django Unchained”), Demian Bichir (“Che”, “A Better Life”, “The Heat”), Tim Roth (“Pulp Fiction”, “Reservoir Dogs”, “Planet of the Apes”), Michael Madsen (“Reservoir Dogs”, “Donnie Brasco”, “Kill Bill: Vol. 1”) and Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”, “Django Unchained”, “Monster”).

And now, “The Hateful Eight” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment.

“The Hateful Eight” begins with John “The Hangman” Ruth (portrayed by Kurt Russell) transporting wanted villain Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh) on a stagecoach, driven by O.B. Jackson (portrayed by James Parks).

They come across Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) who is transporting three dead bodies to the same location, Red Rock, Wyoming.

Because of the blizzard, Major Warren asks John Ruth to give him a ride to Red Rock, but to make sure Major Warren is legit, Ruth asks for the Major’s letter from Abraham Lincoln.  Ruth obliges to give Warren a ride.

As the group continues to drive, they meet Chris Mannix (portrayed by Walton Goggins), a former Lost-Causer, who is on his way to Red Rock to become the new sheriff.  He asks John Ruth if he can get a ride to Red Rock, seeing that Mannix is a sheriff, Ruth obliges.

But a blizzard is upon them and the group has to seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach lodge.  The group are greeted by Bob (portrayed by Demian Bichir), a Mexican who tells the group that Minnie left to visit her mother and left him in charge.  The others are Oswaldo Mobray (portrayed by Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (portrayed by Michael Madsen) and General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers (portrayed by Bruce Dern).

And as everyone locks themselves up inside the lodge, there is a high aura of distrust.  What happens when these individuals must stay locked up in a lodge together?


VIDEO:

“The Hateful Eight” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:76:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD with closeups showing detail of skin pigments to seeing the detail in clothing. Outdoor scenes are vibrant and for the most part, I didn’t notice any problematic issues with banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Hateful Eight” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and also Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Also, in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Dialogue is crystal clear and there is good use of surround channels when it comes to hearing the blizzard or hearing the various gun shots.  But primarily this is a dialogue-driven soundtrack, as well as a musical soundtrack as the music by Ennio Morricone is fantastic!

Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Hateful Eight” comes with the following special features:

  • Beyond the Eight: A Behind-the-Scenes Look – (4:55) Quentin Tarantino and cast talk about the film and working with each other.
  • Sam Jackson’s Guide to Glorious 70mm – (7:50) Samuel L. Jackson talks about “The Hateful Eight” roadshow.

EXTRAS:

“The Hateful Eight” comes with a slipcover and UltraViolet code.  A DVD for the film is also included.


“The Hateful Eight” is an exhilarating film that captivates, stirs the pot and will no doubt have people talking because of its subject matter.

Imagine eight unlikable, greedy characters stuck in a lodge overnight.  Imagine how these individuals try to outdo others in order to survive and be the last person or people standing.

But the film goes beyond the banal “survivor takes all” storyline.  Broken down into chapters, we start to learn about personal motivations, things that happened during the day that opens up the storyline, to make us realize how bad these people really are.

Some of these situations are so shocking and riveting that you can’t help but be captivated by its storyline to see which one of these people survive because quite simply, they are out to get each other.

With that being said, the film had a lot of critics talking and with it coming out on Blu-ray, I’m sure those debates would resurface.  From the treatment of Daisy Domergue by Jon Ruth, the racial tension between Major Marquis Warren and General Sandy Smithers.  But personally, for a film that takes place after the Civil War, I wouldn’t expect Tarantino to be politically correct to appease the masses.  Many Westerns avoided the race card back in the ’60s, but you expect to see the tension between those raised from the north and south.

The cast did a magnificent job playing their characters.  Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Coggins did a fantastic job!

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture and lossless audio are fantastic.  Picture quality showcases great detail, while lossless audio does a fine job of showcasing crystal clear dialogue and music.  There are only two special features and both are short.  I expected a bit more for this Blu-ray release.

Overall, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is riveting and enjoyable.  Featuring captivating characters, many twists and just an enjoyable cinematic experience which Tarantino fans will no doubt enjoy.  Recommended!

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

March 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

concussion-a

Featuring a wonderful performance by Will Smith and a message for athletes that will resonate strongly for years to come, “Concussion” is fascinating, informative and entertaining film inspired by a true story about Dr. Bennet Omalu and how his discovery of CTE made shockwaves worldwide. Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and LSC Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Concussion

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 123 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:39:1 Aspect Ratio, English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English and French – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13

Release Date: March 29, 2016


Directed by Peter Landesman

Based on the GQ Article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Written by Peter Landesman

Produced by Elizabeth Cantillon, Ridley Scott, Larry Shuman, David Wolthoff

Co-Producer: Amal Baggar

Executive Producer: David Crockett, Michael Schaefer

Music by James Newton Howard

Cinematography by Salvatore Totino

Edited by William Goldenberg

Casting by Lindsay Graham, Mary Vernieu

Production Design by David Crank

Art Direction by Tom Frohling

Set Decoration by James V. Kent

Costume Design by Dayna Pink


Starring:

Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu

Alec Baldwin as Dr. Julian Bales

Albert Brooks as Dr. Cyril Wcht

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Prema Mutiso

David Morse as Mike Webster

Arliss Howard as Dr. Joseph Maroon

Mike O’Malley as Daniel Sullivan

Eddie Marsan as Dr. Steven DeKosky

Hill Harper as Christopher Jones

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Dave Duerson

Stephen Moyer as Dr. Ron Hamilton

Richard T. Jones as Andre Waters

Miley Cyrus as Herself


Will Smith stars in Concussion, a dramatic thriller based on the incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known. Omalu’s emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful – and beloved – institutions in the world. With captivating performances by Alec Baldwin and Academy Award® nominee Albert Brooks (1987 Best Supporting Actor, Broadcast News).


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In 2009, journalist Jeanne Marie Laskas wrote her “GQ” article, “Game Brain” about forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, who tried to publicize his findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players against the wishes of the NFL (National Football League).

When neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu worked on the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers and NFL Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, he was shocked to read of the reports of Webster’s previous medical diagnosis but to also find out that at the age of 50, he shouldn’t severe brain damage.

Using his own funding to pursue his medical research, Omalu determined that Webster died as result of long-term effects of repeated blows to the head.

The pursuit of this research, getting it publicized and the challenges he faced from the NFL and also society who felt the doctor’s research was threatening America’s sports game would be the focus in the film adaptation by filmmaker Peter Landesman (“Kill the Messenger”, “Parkland”, “Trade”).

And now “Concussion” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Concussion” is introduces us to Nigerian forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (portrayed by Will Smith).

Working for the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s coroner’s office for Dr. Cyril Wecht (portrayed by Albert Brooks), Omalu has a strained relationship with co-worker Daniel Sullivan (portrayed by Mike O’Malley) because of how he talks to the deceased individuals he performs an autopsy on.  And because Omalu’s dedication of finding how the individual had died, he takes longer than usual.

Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Pittsburgh Steelers center and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Webster (portrayed by David Morse) and we learn how this popular athlete has hit rock bottom.  He lives in his truck and uses whatever he can to stop the thoughts that goes in his head.

While his friend, former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Justin Stzeiczyk (portrayed by Matthew Willig) tries to help Mike, he also confesses that he is having problems remembering things.

He tries to ask for help from former Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor Dr. Julian Bailes (portrayed by Alec Baldwin) but Bailey’s puts him through drugs to try to help him but is not sure why Mike is getting worse.

But the following morning, Mike Webster died at the age of 50 due to a heart attack.

When Dr. Omalu receives Mike Webster at the Coroner’s office, he is perplexed by how Mike is having all these problems because outside, during his procedure, Webster’s brain is good, but how he can have all these problems?

Dr. Omalu requests to do a lab tests but because it requires money which the coroner’s office will not pay, Omalu receives the go ahead from Dr. Cyril Wecht to perform the tests on the condition he pays for it.  As both men want to know what happened to Mike Webster.

As Dr. Omalu looks at the various tests, he discovers that Webster has severe brain damage as a result of long-term effects of repeated blows to the head.

Omalu shows how unlike certain animals that have barriers or cushions around their brain to protect from repeated blows, humans do not.

But the problem is that his research will cause problems because Pittsburgh is a sports town and NFL is America’s game.  Also, he will need to do more thorough research.

And as more NFL players are dead, he does more research and finds a consistency of the problems.

Meanwhile, through the stress of doing his research, he finds support and also love from Prema Mutiso (portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

But in order to publicize his findings, he needs help in which he goes to renown neurologist, Steven T. DeKosky (portrayed by Eddie Marsan) and shows him his findings.

His findings are published and Omalu names the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But because his research has now caused problems and is put under considerable pressure to back down and say his research is flawed, meanwhile Dr. Wecht is subjected to politically motivated prosecution on corruption charges.

Will Dr. Omalu backdown from all the pressure?


concussion-c

VIDEO:

“Concussion” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD with closeups showing detail of skin pigments to seeing the detail in clothing.  Outdoor scenes are vibrant and for the most part, I didn’t notice any problematic issues with banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Concussion” is presented in English and French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and also features and English and French Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Also, in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Dialogue is crystal clear, as well as the musical score by James Newton Howard.  While the surround channels try to take advantage of the sound of collision between football players with efficacy, the film is primarily dialogue and musically driven.

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Concussion” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with director Peter Landesman
  • Deleted Scenes– (12:52) Featuring ten deleted scenes.
  • Inside the True Story – (11:10) Interviews with the cast and the real people that inspired the film.
  • Crafting Concussion – (12:49) Behind-the-scenes of the making of “Concussion”.

EXTRAS:

“Concussion” comes with a slipcover and UltraViolet code.


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Like many Americans, I was raised on football, I played football as kid and we were often determined to work and play hard.

If anything, the top of what was on our minds was not head safety as we assumed that our helmets featured the latest technology to protect us from head injuries and if anything, it was injuries to our legs or ankles or fingers that worried us the most.

And typically of sports, when we think of injuries to the head, we often think of sports where the majority of the injuries are in the head region, sports like boxing and occasionally, those who have mishaps or major accidents are in sports such as vehicle-based (motorcycle, dirtbikes, cycling) or skiing, or a pitcher or batter getting beaned by a ball at a high velocity.

But football?  Not so much.

But what made me wonder about brain injuries through sports was reading the articles about Dr. Bennet Omalu’s findings and also reading about the unusual behavior of athletes that became tragic, such as WWE wrestler, Chris Benoit.

When Omalu’s research came out, then Julian Baile’s study of Chris Benoit’s brain and then a few years ago with Junior Seau and recently that of the 91 former NFL players who donated their brains for research after death, 87 of them tested positive for CTE.  And now even more news that minor head trauma, not major concussions can cause CTE.

This leads us to Peter Landesman’s film “Concussion” and while I found the film important to get the information about CTE to a greater public, it’s also a film that shows us possibly how big corporations go to extremes of hiding the truth.  The tobacco industry are not just as fault, other industries are trying to protect their money and interests and as for the NFL, both them and the players who agreed to a billion dollar settlement.

While for those of us who love the game of football and cheered our favorite players, now are learning that more and more names are coming up with players that are suffering from CTE.  For me, I am a longtime fan of the Dallas Cowboys and to read about how Tony Dorsett is battling with CTE is heartbreaking.

So, I watched this film and now knowing how CTE can develop overtime, especially from children playing hard at football at a young age and there is no doubt fear of future head injuries. I love the game but I wouldn’t want my child playing football.

And my feelings after watching “Concussion” has become much stronger because the line in which Will Smith as Dr. Omalu is explaining of how humans were not meant to have constant collisions using their head.  Making the comparison with animals that have protection, humans do not.

The film is no doubt a David vs. Goliath story as a doctor nearly lost everything and his family and colleagues faced significant challenges because of their research.  Will Smith does a wonderful job of playing Dr. Bennet Omalu and the overall story is quite entertaining and informative.

While the news about CTE made headlines in media, one knows what the ending result for Dr. Omalu would be, but what we didn’t know is how much pressure that Omalu and his wife endured, with death threats and people following his wife.  To the political trouble that involved Dr. Cyril Wecht.

It’s a surprising but not so surprising story in some ways because as mentioned, like the Tobacco industry, we knew the trouble that whistleblowers had to endure, as we saw of Jeffrey S. Wigand as depicted in “The Insider”, we saw what the NFL and a few football fans were trying to do to get to Omalu. But he remained resilient and staying the course.

I think that Dr. Omalu and other doctor who have opened up a new attitude towards sports that are open to head injuries will keep people alert, but with the game so popular and no doubt is big business, no one should expect the game to be over.  Football is a sport in which many talented individuals can make a lot of money and to this day and also, a lot of major sports are the way-out for people to get out of their live of poverty.

And because of what we know about CTE, the sport, not just football, but other sports have also strict rules after one suffers a concussion or major head injury.  The sport has changed for the best, although there will be some who miss the days of hardcore hits of yesteryear.  But it’s now about educating parents for the new generation of athletes that will be raised.

“Concussion” is a film that offers clarity of CTE for those not familiar with it and while there are those who criticize the inaccuracies of the film and because we are in the early stages of learning of how many people are suffering from it, the fact is that more and more players, even those who just recently retired, are starting to exhibit some problems and now the league is supportive of them getting checked out, especially if they are dealing with a lot of memory loss and sudden anger issues.  So, there has been improvement.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Concussion” looks and sounds fantastic in HD and there are fascinating special features with interviews with the real people that are featured in the film.

Overall, featuring a wonderful performance by Will Smith and a message for athletes that will resonate strongly for years to come, “Concussion” is fascinating, informative and entertaining film inspired by a true story about Dr. Bennet Omalu and how his discovery of CTE made shockwaves worldwide.  Recommended!

 

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

taxi

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is captivating, enjoyable but hidden deep within the film is a serious message. Whether or not certain scenes are staged or not, the fact is that the film is Panahi’s way to challenge the lack of freedom in his country by creating a film illegally. He may be banned from creating films, but his voice continues through cinema, has not been silenced. “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Kino Lorber Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 81 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 Original Aspect Ratio, Farsi 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Optional English Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: March 1, 2016


Directed by Jafar Panahi

Written by Jahar Panahi


Starring:

Jafar Panahi


A yellow cab is driving through the vibrant and colourful streets of Teheran.

Very diverse passengers enter the taxi, each candidly expressing their views while being interviewed by the driver who is no one else but the director Jafar Panahi himself.

His camera placed on the dashboard of his mobile film studio captures the spirit of Iranian society through this comedic and dramatic drive…


Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is best known for his feature film “The White Balloon” (1995), which won the Cannes d’Or at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

He has since won awards and received critical acclaim for films such as “The Mirror” (1997) and “Offside” (2006).

But in 2010, he was arrested alongside his wife, daughter and 15 friends and were charged with propaganda against the Iranian government.

Panahi was sentenced to six years in jail (under house arrest) and a 20-year ban from directing any movies, writings screenplays or being interviewed by Iranian or foreign media.  Nor can he leave the country unless it was for receiving medical treatment or making the Hajj pilgrimage.

Despite his ban from filmmaking, Panahi has continued to make films illegally.

His 2011 film, “This is Not a Film” was smuggled on a USB flash drive inside a cake, his 2013 film “Closed Curtain” won a Silver Bear for Best Script and now his 2015 film “Taxi” won Golden Bear, the prize awarded for the best film at the Berlin Film Festival.

While many filmmakers, actors and artists have asked for Jahar Panahi’s release, as of this current time, his sentence continues, but Jafar still remains vigilant and will continue to make films.

And now Jahar Panahi’s award winning film “Taxi” was released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

It’s important to note that because the film was shot illegally, there are no credits for the film.

In “Taxi”, Panahi has installed a camera in a taxi to record life in Tehran as a taxi driver and for people to learn more about a true portrait of people in Tehran, as passengers speak their own mind to Panahi.

But what we see from the passengers and learn about life in Tehran, is quite surprising.

From Panahi picking up passengers who debate about punishments for muggers, picking up a passenger selling bootleg copies of American film or television shows, to illegal foreign films.

To shocking moments when Panahi is stopped and takes in a man who just got into a vehicular accident and must transfer the bloodied man and his crying wife to the hospital

The second half showcases Panahi picking up his niece, who is an aspiring young filmmaker, but has been given strict rules that she must follow by her teacher.


VIDEO:

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). It’s important to note that in order for Jafar Panahi to film this movie, he had to use a digital camera affixed on the dashboard of the taxi but also incorporating video from his niece’s digital camera.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is presented in Farsi 5.1 DTS-HD with optional English subtitles.  The lossless soundtrack is primarily dialogue-driven.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” comes with no special features but the theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS:

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” comes a ten page booklet which includes an essay by Jamsheed Akrami, film professor at William Paterson University.


Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi” is another wonderful film by the filmmaker, made shocking for the fact that it’s real and not staged.  But showcasing true discussions that is reflective of Iranian society.

The film begins with a conversational debate among two passengers of what should happen to muggers, one who believes muggers should be taught a lesson by receiving death, while another tries to argue that it is two extreme for one to die for stealing tires.  It becomes a heated debate about the morality of capital punishment and Sharia law.

Another passenger, who recognizes Panahi, worked at a video store and now pirates foreign films, especially American film and TV shows into Tehran and sales them to people illegally and showing that there is an interest from people to watch entertainment from overseas.

This scene is rather interesting because a lot of film are not available in the country and many would not be familiar with commercial or arthouse film without these people giving them access to the bootlegs.

But a shocking moment is when Panahi picks up a man who has gotten into an vehicular accident and along with his wife, rushes to the hospital, while he tries to give his will while bleeding profusely.  The man wants it written on paper or recorded on a phone, because of the inheritance laws and wanting to make sure his brothers do not do anything against his wife and that they follow his wishes.

Meanwhile the bootlegger asks the question that many people are wondering while watching the movie, was what happened staged or was it for real?

While there are other passengers, one of the most interesting is part of Panahi’s family.  The film’s second half features Panahi and his niece Hana Saeidi who has a school assignment which was to create a short film about true society, but the rules given by the teachers try to force the students to go by rules that are not necessarily true of society.

His niece, young Hana brings a vibrant side to the film as she is often trying to scold her busy uncle but also trying to get that perfect shot of him or others.  And it’s interesting to see this young aspiring filmmaker, trying to shoot a film that would one day become “distributable” and learns about “sordid realism”.  But the rules reads more like, do not create a film like your uncle.

When Jafar and Hana visit his old friend, Jafar asks Hana if his friend looks like a bad man? Because he wears a suit, a tie and doesn’t have a beard (which her teacher recommends for her film, good men must have a beard, not wear a tie or a suit).

The film ends with Jafar picking up human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is going to meet a female athlete who was imprisoned.  Which is reminiscent of Panahi’s 2006 film “Offside” about girls who are forbidden to watch the World Cup qualifying match because of their sex (on the grounds that there will be a high risk of violence or verbal abuse against them).  A film that was inspired by Panahi’s daughter.

Sotoudeh’s words brings hope, as she has seen her friend Jafar Panahi still making films despite what had happened to him.

There is no doubt an underlying message that Jafar Panahi was able to communicate with viewers about how reality is for people in his country, but also the prohibitions that people must follow and what happens to those who don’t.

As for the Kino Lorber Blu-ray release, picture quality is very good, considering the limitations that Jafar Panahi had to work with.  A digital video camera on his car’s dashboard and also utilizing footage from his niece’s digital camera, Panahi who continues to make films illegally due to his punishment, uses whatever he can to get the job done.

Picture quality is good, lossless audio is clear and while I wish there were special features, unfortunately Jafar Panahi is not allowed to speak to any media as part of his sentence.  But I will share this video of Panahi’s niece Hana, receiving the “Golden Bear” award on his behalf at the Berlin Film Festival:

Overall, “Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is captivating, enjoyable but hidden deep within the film is a serious message.  Whether or not certain scenes are staged or not, the fact is that the film is Panahi’s way to challenge the lack of freedom in his country by creating a film illegally.  He may be banned from creating films, but his voice continues through cinema, has not been silenced.

“Jafar Panahi’s Taxi” is highly recommended!

Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

parisbelongstous

“Paris Belongs to Us” is a Jacques Rivette film that will no doubt make French cinema fans in the U.S. say, “About time!”. The French filmmaker’s debut film is mysterious take on a woman succumbing to disillusionment and conspiracy theories. Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1961 Les Films du Carrosse. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802

YEAR OF FILM: 1961

DURATION: 141 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, black and white, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, French Monaural with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: March 8, 2016


Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Jacques Rivette, Jean Grault

Produced by Roland Nonin

Co-Producer: Claude Chabrol

Music by Philiippe Arthuys

Cinematography by Charles L. Bitsch

Edited by Denise de Casablanca


Starring:

Jean-Claude Brialy as Jean-Marc

Betty Schneider as Anne Goupil

Biani Esposito as Gerard Lenz

Francoise Prevost as Terry Yordan

Daniel Crohem as Philip Kaufman

Francois Maistre as Pierre Goupil


One of the original critics turned filmmakers who helped jump-start the French New Wave, Jacques Rivette began shooting his debut feature in 1958, well before that cinema revolution officially kicked off with The 400 Blows and Breathless. Ultimately released in 1961, the rich and mysterious Paris Belongs to Us offers some of the radical flavor that would define the movement, with a particularly Rivettian twist. The film follows a young literature student (Betty Schneider) who befriends the members of a loose-knit group of twentysomethings in Paris, united by the apparent suicide of an acquaintance. Suffused with a lingering post–World War II disillusionment while also evincing the playfulness and fascination with theatrical performance and conspiracy that would become hallmarks for the director, Paris Belongs to Us marked the provocative start to a brilliant directorial career.


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Filmmaker Jacques Rivette has numerous beloved films in his oeuvre.

From “Celine and Julie Go Boating”, “The Gang of Four”,”Va Savoir” and what many consider his masterpiece, “La belle noiseuse”.

But every filmmaker has a first film which many cineaste are curious to compare many of their films too.  And for Rivette, his first film was rather fascinating because like other French New Wave filmmakers that wrote for “Cahiers du Cinema”, many of them went on to create masterpieces earlier in their careers.

With Rivette, of the 29-films he had made, it was his later films that people would strongly resonate with (a similar situation with filmmaker, Eric Rohmer).

The film which was created in 1957 but without a distributor, “Paris Belongs to Us” would not be released theatrically until 1961, and thus not becoming one of the first films of the French New Wave.  Because of this, the film was deemed as old-fashioned because the setting of French cinema had changed within four years after the film was created.

Nevertheless, “Paris Belongs to Us” is a first film that is interesting because it was produced by Claude Chabrol and the film would feature cameos by Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy and also Rivette.

And now “Paris Belongs to Us” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

“Paris Belongs to Us” focuses on Paris’ bohemian underground and follows a university student, Anne Goupil (portrayed by Betty Schneider).

As she meets and has communications with people, many are talking as if there is a conspiracy that is happening with people they know and within society.

Everyone appears to be fatigued, paranoid and in some sort of disillusion with life begin to take its toll on Anne.


VIDEO:

“Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802” is presented in 1:37:1 black and white and in 1080p High Definition. The film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!

White and grays are well-contrast, black levels are nice and deep and the detail and sharpness is fantastic. I did not notice any issues with the picture quality with blurriness or any scratches or dust during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution from the original camera negative on an ARRISCAN film scanner equipped with wet-gate processing.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802” is presented in French LPCM 1.0 without any buzzing or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802” comes with the following special features:

  • Richard Neupert – (24:48) Featuring a 2015 interview with Richard Neupert, professor of film studies at the University of Georgia and author of “A History of the French New Wave Cinema” discusses the themes and legacy of Jacques Rivette’s debut feature, “Paris Belongs to Us”.
  • Le Coup Du Berger – (29:00) A 1956 short film by Jacques Rivette about an adulterous wife and her lover’s attempt to figure out how she will explain his gift of a mink coat to her husband. Featuring cameos by Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut.

EXTRAS:

“Paris Belongs to Us – The Criterion Collection #802” comes with a six-page foldout with the essay “Nothing Took Place But the Place” by Luc Sante.


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For those watching “Paris Belongs to Us”, Jacques Rivette’s first film is no doubt a complex mystery film.

From the beginning, when we are introduced to the character of Anne, a student who is tired of studying, but no different from any other student going to college, the major difference are the characters she comes in contact with.

Her neighbor talks about the death of individuals and if her brother is Pierre.  Her brother Pierre tells her about a party which Anne attends and everyone is wondering of why a young Spanish composer named Juan has committed suicide.

Everyone around seems depressed and bitter, from the drunken Philip Kaufman (an American journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who has been exiled to France as a victim of blacklisting during the McCarthy era), we see Philip slapping the face of Terry Yordan, Juan’s lover and blaming her for his suicide.

We are then given a break of fresh air when Anne comes across an old classmate, Jean-Marc (portrayed by Jean-Claude Brialy), who has come to Paris for a career in theater and takes Anne to a barn for a production of Shakespeare’s “Pericles”.

Theater director Gerard Lenz has a difficult time because the entire cast never shows up at one time and so he uses Anne to fill in and she immediately becomes a member of a production when an actress doesn’t show up.

But as they need a guitar score, it becomes a search for why Juan really killed himself.

And then suddenly people that Anne knew begin to disappear and Anne gets caught up wondering why these individuals are disappearing.  To the point it becomes an obsession for her.

The film is interesting in the fact that in ways, the film is a style of French New Wave in the fact that Rivette, like his other contemporaries, goes against traditional Hollywood cinema by not making certain situations obvious.  Is this scene taking place in the present, the past, the future.  Are these people sane or insane?  Are these people good or bad?

One can simply chalk this film up to Anne getting involved with shady people and becomes to immersed by these people that she starts questioning life, motivations and eventually, driven to find out why certain people are gone?  Is it by murder?  Did they leave on their own accord?  Why the hell does Anne care so much, when other people don’t?

Thrown in cameos by fellow writers/filmmakers Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and even Rivette makes an appearance in the film, there is no doubt that these men were in the cusp of making groundbreaking cinema.   But because Godard, Chabrol, Truffaut and other contemporaries were able to explode into the cinema scene and were on fire, because of the lack of distribution, Rivette’s “Paris Belongs to Us” did not receive the same following.

It came out four years late and for Rivette, he may not be known worldwide as Godard or Truffaut but for those who follow French cinema, know very well of how magnificent of a filmmaker he truly is.  And the fact that even in his reviews, unlike other writers who champion a filmmaker’s more popular films, Rivette never followed the pack, choosing to write and watch the more underappreciated films of other directors.

Similar to his taste in films, Rivette slowly caught on with cineaste and while a winner for the Sutherland Trophy for “Paris nous appartient” (1961) and “L’amour fou” (1969) at the British Film Awards and nominated for a Palme d’Or in 1966 for “La religieuse”, it wasn’t until 1989 where he would win the FIPRESCI Prize for “La bande des quatre” at the Berlin International Film Festival and 1991 until his film would win the Grand Prize of the Jury for “La belle noiseuse”.

And while there are cinema fans late to the game of discovering the films of Jacques Rivette, for cineaste, it has been a long time coming, but finally a Jacques Rivette film has been released by the Criterion Collection and one can hope for more releases in the very near future.

The Blu-ray release of “Paris Belongs to Us” looks very good with picture quality showcasing wonderful contrast and sharpness.  Lossless monaural audio with no signs of crackling or hiss and you get two special features, which includes Rivette’s 1959 short film, “Le coup du berger”.

Overall, “Paris Belongs to Us” is a Jacques Rivette film that will no doubt make French cinema fans in the U.S. say, “About time!”.  The French filmmaker’s debut film is mysterious take on a woman succumbing to disillusionment and conspiracy theories.

Recommended!

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