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The Jungle Book (2016) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Jungle Book” is a film that no doubt will surprise you because of its visual beauty, the wonderful acting and seeing the book and animated film brought to life.  This is my favorite Disney live adaptation of a Disney Animated Classic so far and I really enjoyed this film a lot. Definitely one of the best family films of 2016!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Jungle Book (2016)

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 106 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish and French

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: PG (For Some Sequences of Scary Action and Peril)

Release Date: September 6, 2016


Based on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”

Directed by Jon Favreau

Screenplay by Justin Marks

Produced by Jon Favreau, Brigham Taylor

Co-Producer: John Bartnicki, Joyce Cox

Executive-Producer: Molly Allen, Karen Gilchrist

Cinematography by Bill Pope

Music by John Debney

Edited by Adam Gerstel, Mark Livolsi

Casting by Sarah Finn

Production Design by Christopher Glass

Art Direction by Ravi Bansal, John Lord booth III, Ilgi Candar, Andrew L. Jones, Mike Stassi

Set Decoration by Amanda Moss Serino

Costume Design by Laura Jean Shannon


Starring:

Neel Sethi as Mowgli

Featuring the Voices of:

Bill Murray as Baloo

Ben Kingsley as Bagheera

Idris Elba as Shere Khan

Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha

Scarlett Johansson as Kaa

Giancarlo Esposito as Akela

Christopher Walken as King Louie

Garry Shandling as Ikki

Brighton Rose as Gray


In an epic adventure directed by Jon Favreau (IRON MAN), Mowgli, a man-cub raised in the jungle by a family of wolves, embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery when he’s forced to abandon the only home he’s ever known. Featuring an all-star voice cast including Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Scarlett Johansson, THE JUNGLE BOOK is “stunning” (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter).


Back in 1893-1895, English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling wrote a collection of stories that were published in various magazines and give moral lessons to young readers.  The stories would go on to be known as “The Jungle Book”.

And in 1967, the beloved classic animated film was born. Walt Disney and writer Bill Peet decided that the 19th animated feature would be “The Jungle Book” featuring a storyline inspired by Kipling’s stories (Disney did not want the darker storyline to be in the animated film, since the goal was to create a family film) but also incorporating music.

But fastforward to 2016 and Disney, who have been doing live film adaptions of their popular Disney Animated Classics, decided to give “The Jungle Book” a chance to be a live action film but to also incorporate a story more faithful to Rudyard Kipling’s book (as back in 1967, Disney couldn’t make the children’s animated film too dark).

The live action version would be directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”, “Iron Man 2”, “Zathura: A Space Adenture”) and a screenplay by Justin Marks (“Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li”, “Rewind”).

The film would star new young actor, Neel Sethi and voice acting would be provided by many popular stars such as Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken and Garry Shandling (Garry’s final film that he had worked on before his death).

“The Jungle Book” was a success among critics and in the box office, earning over $963 million (budget was $175 million) and the film would become the third highest grossing film of 2016 (as of September 2016).

And now, “The Jungle Book” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD!

“The Jungle Book” begins with a “Man Club” named Mowgli (portrayed by Neel Sethi) being trained by a panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley).

As Bagheera takes Mowgli to the river to get some water with the other animals, he joins up with his family of wolves that raised him, his wolf father Akela (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) and his mother Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o).

When the predator, a tiger that all in the jungle has feared, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) comes to the river, he taunts everyone.  But when he sees Mowgli, he tells the wolves that if they don’t bring him the man club, he will end the peace truce among him and the animals in the jungle.

With the wolves fearing that Shere Khan can terrorize all of them, they discuss on what to do with Mowgli and suggest that he should go back to where other people like him live. Raksha is against it as she has raised Mowgli since he was small and considers him as one of her own cubs.

But seeing everyone arguing, Mowgli makes up his mind and tells his family of wolves that in order to fix things, he will leave and go to where the other people like him are living.  And Bagheera agrees to help Mowgli get back to the village of where his people are from.

As they are heading to the village, immediately Shere Khan starts to go for the attack in order to kill Mowgli, but Bagheera manages to fend Shere Khan’s attack temporarily.

As Mowgli barely escapes from Shere Khan, he ends up in another part of the jungle where he comes across a huge snake named Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and she explains to him how he was brought to the jungle, how his father used the red flower (fire) which is magical that it brings light but it can also bring destruction.

She explains that Mowgli’s father brought him to the jungle, inside a cave but Shere Khan found them.  When his father tried to protect the young boy, he used the flame to burn Shere Khan’s face, but in the process, sacrificed his life and died to protect his son.

And as Kaa is slowly entrancing the young boy in order to kill him, he is rescued by a sloth bear named Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray) and the two become friends and partners.

But Shere Khan is determined of killing the young boy, while Mowgli and Baloo go on several (dangerous) adventures together.  But will Mowgli return to his home where the humans live?  Or will he stay in the jungle, the only home he knows.


VIDEO:

“The Jungle Book” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is absolute magnificent.  The visual effects of this film is amazing as every animal looks realistic, the CG and overall environments look realistic despite the film being shot via motion capture on a blue screen and for the most part, this is one of the most beautiful films to come from Disney and showcase how far digital technology has come in reproducing animals and environments.  Details are fantastic and the overall picture quality is vibrant with no problematic artifacts or banding issues.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Jungle Book” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks.

Audiophiles will no doubt take note of how wonderful this film sounds as it is quite immersive.  From every sound of Mowgli running and hearing him on branches that crack, hearing the elephants moving in the distances, stones breaking, fires spreading, the surround channels and LFE coming alive with every scream or roar, may it be Baloo or King Louie, everything is crystal clear, dialogue, music and sound effects.

For the most part, not only do you get fantastic picture quality but an equally fantastic lossless soundtrack as well!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Spanish and French

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Jungle Book” comes with the following special feature:

  • The Jungle Book Reimagined – (35:02) Interviews with the cast and crew about the making of “The Jungle Book”.
  • I Am Mowgli – (8:17) The cast of young actor Neel Sethi and an interview with Neel.
  • King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer – (3:14) The making of the music for “King Louie’s Temple” with Richard Sherman.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Jon Favreau

EXTRAS:

“The Jungle Book” comes with a slipcover and a Digital HD Code.


I have watched the original Disney Animated Classic “The Jungle Book” numerous times in my life and have reviewed it several times for J!-ENT each time it has been released on DVD and then later on Blu-ray.

But when I heard that “The Jungle Book” was going to receive a live film adaptation, I have to admit that I was skeptical at first.

Partly because the animated film was a musical and an animated film with action and featured a lot of talking animals, I really couldn’t picture a live action version of the film.

Having watched the 2016 version of “The Jungle Book”, I was absolutely floored by how fantastic this film ending up becoming.

From the detail of the creatures in the jungle, how young actor Neel Sethi was utilized in the film using motion capture and blue screen technology and creating breathtaking sequences that look real and authentic.

And while “The Jungle Book” manages to combine the best of both worlds, from being inspired by the original Rudyard Kipling book, because it’s a Disney film, you do get music but the film focuses on the characters, their actions and focusing on story.

But fans of the Disney Animated Classic will no doubt be happy of hearing Mowgli and Baloo singing “The Bare Necessities” or an impressive scene with the giant King Louie primate singing his catchy song as well.  These are two memorable songs in this 2016 Disney film but what you remember the most are how impressive child actor Neel Sethi was in the role of Mowgli.

This film was perfectly cast and the film rides on the shoulders of young Sethi and everything worked magnificently.  He was the right kid to do the job and his awesome performance was quite evident in the film.

And as for the animals, the film also hit multiple homeruns by having Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken.  Perfect casting as everyone did their voice role magnificently.

But it’s one thing to have perfect casting, what made this film become so impressive is the visual effects.  With each animal featured, they look so real and authentic and goes to show how far digital technology has come in reproducing the look of animals for this film.  From the hair on the wolves, Baloo to the markings and the mud stains that are on Shere Khan.

And also, I give a thumbs up to costume/make-up artists for the consistency by showing Mowgli having scars and bumps throughout the film and not the typical, banal Hollywood forgetfulness of showing lingering wounds throughout a film.

As for the rating, while the film is rated PG because Mowgli comes across many threats, the film received a PG rating.  And while young children may get a little spooked out by certain characters, I watched the film with my family and my son absolutely loved it.  But similar to the animated film and if you are familiar with the book, then know that due to various challenges and threats to Mowgli, parental guidance is suggested.

As for the Blu-ray release, both picture quality and the lossless soundtrack are magnificent.  This is a film that videophiles and audiophiles dream of experiencing during a viewing of a film and “The Jungle Book” scores high marks for video and audio.  As for special features, a few featurettes and an audio commentary are included.

Overall, “The Jungle Book” is a film that no doubt will surprise you because of its visual beauty, the wonderful acting and seeing the book and animated film brought to life.  This is my favorite Disney live adaptation of a Disney Animated Classic so far and I really enjoyed this film a lot.

Definitely one of the best family films of 2016!

Love & Friendship (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Love & Friendship” is entertaining and so fun to watch! Everything about the characters, the storyline, the costume and set design and the always entertaining Stillman verbal quips that we get from every film of his, this film is delightful and one of the better Jane Austen adaptations out there. Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Blinder Films, Chic Films, Revolver Amsterdam and Arte France Cinema. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Love & Friendship

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (Some Thematic Elements)

Release Date: September 6, 2016


Based on Jane Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”

Directed by Whit Stillman

Written by Whit Stillman

Produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, Whit Stillman

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Marco Cherqui, Olivier Pere, Raymond van der Kaaij

Executive-Producer: Collin de Rham, Russell Pennoyer, Keith Potter, Kieron J. Walsh, Nigel Williams

Line Producer: Cathleen Dore

Associate Producer: Trevor Brown

Cinematography by Richard Van Oosterhout

Music by Benjamin Esdraffo

Edited by Sophie Corra

Casting by Kerry Barden, Colin Jones, Paul Schnee

Production Design by Anna Rackard

Art Direction by Louise Mathews, Bryan Tormey

Set Decoration by Stuart Crinnion

Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh


Starring:

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon

Morfydd Clark as Frederica Vernon

Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin

Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwaring

Lochlann O’Mearain as Lord Manwaring

Sophie Radermacher as Miss Maria Manwaring

Chloe Sevigny as Alicia Johnson

Steven Fry as Mr. Johnson

Jemma Redgrave as Lady DeCourcy

James Fleet as Sir Reginald DeCourcy


LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan in which a beautiful young widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) visits her in-laws’ estate while waiting for social chatter about her personal indiscretions to pass. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant daughter, Frederica. Enlisting the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), Lady Vernon attracts the simultaneous attention of the young, handsome Reginald DeCourcy, the rich and silly Sir James Martin and the divinely handsome, but married, Lord Manwaring, complicating matters severely.


From the Whit Stillman, director of “Metropolitan”, “Barcelona”, “The Last Days of Disco” and “Damsels in Distress” comes his latest film, “Love & Friendship”.

Featuring an adaptation of Jane Austen’s short novel, “Lady Susan” (and a title that is derived from an early Jane Austen epistolary novel), the film stars Kate Beckinsale (“Underworld” films, “Aviator”, “Pearl Harbor”), Morfydd Clark (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, “The Falling”), Tom Bennett (“David Brent: Life on the Edge”, “Mascots”, “PhoneShop”), Jen Murray (“Brooklyn”, “Dorothy Mills”, “Testament of Youth”), Lochlann O’Mearain (“King Arthur”, “Poison Pen”), Sophie Radermacher, Chloe Sevigny (“Boys Don’t Cry”, “Big Love”) and Stephen Fry (“QI”, “V For Vendetta”, “Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows”).

The film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The subject of Jane Austen comes up in Whit Stillman’s films but who would ever have thought the filmmaker would create a loose adaptation of a Jane Austen novella into a comedy but also a film to showcase women in stronger roles.

The film revolves around Lady Susan Vernon (portrayed by Kate Beckinsale), who is recently widowed and has the reputation of seducing single and married men.

Because she is a widow, her financial status is now in jeopardy.  So, now Lady Vernon must create a scheme and tries to reach her goals through flirtation and seduction of wealthy men to be her next husband, but to also make sure she can get her daughter Frederica (portrayed by Morfydd Clark) to marry the idiotic, Sir James Martin (portrayed by Tom Bennett), so she can be taken care of financially.

Lady Vernon and Frederica do not have a close relationship and is not affectionate to her at all.

But Federica does not want to marry the man, she chooses to be independent and perhaps become a teacher and make her own money.

But Lady Vernon is not alone as she has collaborated with her American confidante, Mrs. Johnson (portrayed by Chloe Sevigny).

Lady Vernon finds a way to stay in the home of her sister-in-law Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (portrayed by Emma Greenwell) and her husband Charles (portrayed by Justin Edwards).

Immediately, Lady Vernon begins to set her sights on Catherine’s gullible, younger brother Reginald (portrayed by Xavier Samuel), to the dismay of Lady DeCourcy (portrayed by Jemma Redgrave) and Sir Reginald DeCourcy (portrayed by James Fleet).

But will Lady Vernon succeed in her scheme to become a wealthy woman by enticing Reginald on marrying her?


VIDEO:

“Love & Friendship” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is fantastic. Closeups show great detail, skin tones look natural and black levels are nice and deep.  But the true winner is the film’s art direction courtesy of Louise Mathews and Bryan Tormey, costume design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and set design by Stuart Crinnion in capturing the 19th century and making the film look authentic.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Love & Friendship” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

The film is primarily dialogue driven, as dialogue is crystal clear.  The film features occasional music but for the most part, the film is primarily all dialogue with surround channels showcasing ambiance such as steps walking on wooden floors and up the stairs.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Love & Friendship” comes with the following special feature:

  • Behind the Scenes: Love & Friendship – (9:36) A featurette with interviews with the cast and crew of “Love & Friendship”.

For any cineaste who have watched Whitt Stillman films, there are several things you can often expect.

Intellectual conversations, humor and wonderful utilization of its characters.

For Stillman’s latest film, for this romantic comedy, he collaborates once again with actresses Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny (who both starred in his film, “The Last Days of Disco”) for his loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1794 novella, “Lady Susan”.

Entertaining, smart and hilarious, one can easily see how filmmaker Whitt Stillman feels comfortable in working within the 19th Century and bringing life to Austen’s characters.

The film is an interesting take of a golddigger who will scheme her way into finding a man who will be able to keep her financial status after becoming a widow.

Susan is a woman who can care less about her own daughter and the men she marries, she is more driven to having the lifestyle and the recognition of being wealthy. And what best than to target a young, naive young man.

While women such as Lady Lucy Manwaring and Catherine DeCourcy Vernon are suspicious of Susan, they care deeply for Lady Susan’s daughter, Frederica.  A woman who desires her own freedom and is not thrilled of her mother trying to cajole her into marrying a man, who keeps bumbling words and suggests there were 12 commandments.

For the most part, I loved how Whitt Stilman utilized each of the actors.  Kate Beckinsale was fantastic as Lady Vernon, as she was calm and collected as she performed her scheme, even when she is called out, she kept to her demeanor.  Although, I was expecting a more cold “Mommy Dearest” type of character between Lady Vernon and her daughter Frederica, that was not the case.

I also, enjoyed how supporting characters lent to the delightfulness of the film.  Stephen Fry as Mr. Johnson was entertaining to watch and of course, the performance by Tom Bennet as the bumbling idiot, Sir James Martin was fun to watch.  And also, the frantic and emotional performance of Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwaring.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic and lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and the occasional music.  Although there is only one special feature included, it’s better than none.

Overall, “Love & Friendship” is entertaining and so fun to watch! Everything about the characters, the storyline, the costume and set design and the always entertaining Stillman verbal quips that we get from every film of his, this film is delightful and one of the better Jane Austen adaptations out there.

Recommended!

Hard Target 2 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Hard Target 2” is an decent yet banal action film. Action films will enjoy it, others may find the storyline reminiscent to other films. But I did find the film to be entertaining, action-packed and showing us that Scott Adkins does have the potential of becoming the next major action star. If you enjoy popcorn action films, “Hard Target 2” is for you!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Hard Target 2

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 1 Hr. and 44 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Espanol, Brazilian, Portuguese, Hungarian DTS Digital Surround 5.1, Polish, Russian Dolby Digital 5.1, Subtitles: English SDH, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Czech, Espanol, Francais, Greek, Korean, Hungarian, Complex Mandarin, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Thai and Turkish.

COMPANY: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Violence and Language)

Release Date: September 6, 2016


Directed by Roel Reine

Written by Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan, George Huang

Produced by Chris Lowenstein

Executive-Producer: Sean Daniels

Line Producer: Oliver Ackermann

Cinematography by Roel Reine

Music by Jack Wall

Edited by Radu Ion

Casting by Jan Glaser, Christine King, Amanda Mitchell

Production Design by Boontawee Thor Taweepasas


Starring:

Scott Adkins as Wes Baylor

Robert Knepper as Aldrich

Rhona Mitra as Sofia

Temuera Morrison as Madden

Ann Truong as Tha

Adam Saunders as Esparto

Jamie Timony as Landon

Peter Hardy as Jacob Zimling

Sean Keenan as Tobias Zimling

Troy Honeysett as Jonny Sutherland

Katrina Grey as Kay Sutherland


Disgraced and retired mixed martial artist Wes “The Jailor” Baylor (Scott Adkins) couldn’t refuse the million dollar purse offered to fight in Myanmar. When he arrives to fight, he learns he’s been tricked into becoming the target of a human hunt. Carrying only water and a ruby-filled money belt for the last person standing, Wes must outsmart the heavily armed group who’s paid to kill him. As Wes fights for his life in the treacherous jungle terrain, the hunters become the hunted. Hard Target 2 is a must see film for action and martial arts fans featuring Adkins in incredible fight scenes.


Back in 1993, the American action film “Hard Target” from filmmaker John Woo was released in theaters.  The film marked John Woo’s American debut and was the first major Hollywood film by a Chinese director and would star action star Jean-Claude Van Damme.  And the film would do well in the box office and would lead to more feature film roles for both Woo and Van Damme in Hollywood.

Fast forward to 2016 and the direct-to-video action film “Hard Target 2” directed by Roel Reine (“Death Race 2”, “Admiral”, “Death Race 3: Inferno”) and written by Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan and George Huang will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film stars Scott Adkins (“The Expendables 2”, “Undisputed III: Redemption”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”, “Hitman”, “Transporter 3”), Rhona Mitra (“Shooter”, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”, “The Number 23”), Temuera Morrison (“Star Wars: Episode II and Episode III”, “Speed 2: Cruise Control”), Ann Truong (“Hunters”, “Neighbours”) and more.

“Hard Target 2” revolves around mixed martial artist Wes “The Jailer” Baylor (portrayed by Scott Adkins).  He and his good friend Jonny Sutherland (portrayed by Troy Honeysett) have big plans with their MMA careers but in the ring, they are the biggest rivals.

Both make a deal that if Jonny wins, he buys his dream house on the beach.  If Wes wins, he buys Jonny and his wife his dream house on the beach.

During their fight night, both put it all on the line but when Wes performs a hard kick to Jonny’s head, he knocks him out.  While it was a great win for Wes, Jonny died after the kick.

Unfortunately for Wes, the guilty conscience of killing his friend gets the best of him and leaves the circuit and instead fights in underground fights in different parts of the world.

Wes catches the eye of the wealthy Aldrich (portrayed by Robert Knepper) and tells him that he has a fight in Myanmar that Wes can make a lot of money.  All Wes has to do is agree to fight.

Wes agrees and they fly out to Myanmar, but is shocked that he is in the middle of a jungle area and people are there with guns.

When Wen asks Aldrich where the ring is, he is then told that the fight is not in the ring.  The fight is for his life as he has two minutes to run away and then hunters who paid money to hunt after him.

Wes tries to argue with Aldrich that he didn’t agree to this type of fight, but when Aldrich and the hunters threaten to kill him, Wes realizes that these guys will kill him and now he must try to hide and survive in the jungle and defeat the hunters as the rules are “kill or be killed”.


VIDEO:

“Hard Target 2” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is fantastic as the film was shot outdoors in the jungle.  Closeups show great detail, skin tones look natural and black levels are nice and deep.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Hard Target 2” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Espanol, Brazilian, Portuguese, Hungarian DTS Digital Surround 5.1, Polish, Russian Dolby Digital 5.1.

The film features a lot of action scenes and use of armory, machine guns, grenade launchers, mine explosions and more.  So, there is a good amount of surround sound usage.  Dialogue is crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Czech, Espanol, Francais, Greek, Korean, Hungarian, Complex Mandarin, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Thai and Turkish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Hard Target 2” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with Director Roel Reine, Scott Adkins and Robert Knepper.
  • Deleted Scenes – (6:04) Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • Deleted Shots Montage – (1:59) A montage of aerial surrounding shots to other scenes not used in the film.
  • A Fighting Chance: Behind the Scenes of Hard Target 2 – (5:12) Featuring interviews with the cast and crew about the making of “Hard Target 2”.
  • Hard Target 2: Through the Lens – (2:42) A featurette on the filming of “Hard Target 2” with interviwes with director and cinematographer Roel Reine and shooting quickly with a short budget.
  • Into the Jungle: On Location of Hard Target 2 – (2:24) A featurette about working in Thailand and working in the hot weather.
  • Thrill of the Hunt – (3:10) The cast discuss their characters in the film.

EXTRAS:

“Hard Target 2” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


Watching “Hard Target 2”, it was a film that I had mixed emotions.

For one, I did enjoy the original John Woo film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.  And I am familiar with Scott Adkins filmwork, so I know he is a capable action star.

But the storyline is quite banal in the way that it is reminiscent of films such as “Battle Royale”, “The Condemned” and even the recent film, “The Duel” (a western which featured wealthy individuals paying top dollar to hunt down innocent civilians).

This time around, a group has paid money to hunt down MMA fighter, Wes Baylor.

First, let’s talk about the positives of the film.  Scott Adkins is an action star that plays the character well and felt his acting was much better in this film compared to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting in the original “Hard Target” (with that being said, there are scenes with shoddy acting featuring other characters, but I’ll let that slide).  I also felt that for a low budget film, it was great to see the film incorporate helicopters, vehicles, weaponry, explosions and awesome fight choreography.   And of course, to show the brutality of the setting when it comes to the death of various individuals and showing how the antagonists have no qualms killing anyone.

I also like the homage to John Woo with the doves flying near Wes Baylor and for the most part, filmmaker/cinematographer Roel Reine did a job of keeping things tight and confined to the jungle and using everything he had to his disposal despite the quick shooting time and low budget.  He made it all work when it came to location and showcasing the fight choreography and gun battles!

But not all worked for the best in the film.

I had a problem with consistency.  Similar to a few other films of this genre that no matter how many bullets are sprayed, not one bullet hits the protagonist.  That is something that I can easily forgive as it’s common thing to see.

But I have more of a problem of consistency to injuries on display. If people get hurt and beatup, they shouldn’t look good in scenes that take place hours after.  If one is punched, had their face slammed or have undergone a lot of fights, a film must be consistent in showing that and look like nothing bad has happened to them.

A sign of a good action-film is not just relegated to just fight choreography, it’s consistency of characters through a battle.  If Rock Balboa got punched in the face, we see how it affects him later in the film and those injuries last to the very end of his matchup.

If characters rummage through mud, water and are grimy because of it, the character should not look too clean hours later.  Those are pet peeves of mine in action films that they can get the choreography to look great, but when it comes to bruises, scars, clothing getting damaged, these situations are not always consistent and would like to see a little realism when it comes to that.

I know, that’s me being a little nitpicky and I know, watching the special features, the cast and even director Roel Reine were talking about how there wasn’t much time to shoot this film and so he had to stick with the budget and the time allotted.  So, I can understand.

But I do feel that “Hard Target 2” is a great film for actor Scott Adkins, to show he is an action star and one that I hope gets a big break to be a protagonist in higher budget action films because he definitely has the potential.

Meanwhile, director Roel Reine has shown that he is a great time manager and as a director, he has managed to direct solid direct-to-video action films within its small budget.  But would also like to see Reine get a bigger break and direct a major action film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic and it helps that the majority of the shots for the film were outdoors.  As for the lossless audio, as one can expect from an action film, there is good use of the surround channels during the fight/gun battle scenes and various explosions.  Meanwhile, dialogue is crystal clear.  The Blu-ray also features a few short featurettes and deleted scenes plus an audio commentary.

Overall, “Hard Target 2” is an decent yet banal action film.  Action films will enjoy it, others may find the storyline reminiscent to other films.  But I did find the film to be entertaining, action-packed and showing us that Scott Adkins does have the potential of becoming the next major action star.

If you enjoy popcorn action films, “Hard Target 2” is for you!

The Night Manager: Uncensored Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Night Manager” is a magnificent series, wonderfully performed and no doubt one of the finest TV spy drama series ever made. “The Night Manager: Uncensored Edition” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Producciones Fontaleza AE. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Night Manager: Uncensored Edition

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: Episodes 1-6 (361 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

COMPANY: BBC/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: September 13, 2016


Directed by Susanne Bier

Written by David Farr, John le Carre

Story by Michael Cody

Produced by Rob Bullock

Executive-Producer: Susanne Bier, Alexei Boltho, Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, David Farr, Stephen Garrett, Tom Hiddleston, William D. Johnson, Hugh Laurie, John le Carre

Co-Executive Producer: Sam Englebardt, Brian Flanagan, David S. Greathouse, Rhodri Thomas

Associate Producer: Jose Luis Escolar

Series Cinematography by Michael Snyman

Series Music by Victor Reyes

Edited by Ben Lester

Casting by Noureddine Aberdine, Jina Jay

Production Design by Tom Burton

Art Direction by Joe Howard, Rachid Quiat, Paul Spriggs, Lucienne Suren, Paul Toddington

Set Decoration: nora Dorian, Barbara Herman-Skelding, Daisy Popham

Costume Design by Signe Seijlund


Starring:

Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine

Hugh Laurie as Richard Onslow Roper

Elizabeth Debicki as Jed Marshall

Olivia Colman as Angela Burr

Hovik Keuchkerian as Tabby

Alistair Petrie as Sandy Langbourne

Michael Nardone as Frisky

Adeel Akhtar as Rob Singhal


The Night Manager, the thrilling miniseries based on John le Carré’s best-selling spy novel, follows hotel manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in his quest to bring down international arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). After being recruited by a British intelligence officer to infiltrate Roper’s inner circle, Pine is thrust into a world of international intrigue – but in his quest to do the right thing, Pine must first become a criminal himself. Includes all six unrated episodes, as originally aired on the BBC.


In 1993, author John le Carre (“The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “The Honourable School Boy”) wrote the espionage novel “The Night Manager”.  His first post-Cold War novel about an undercover operation to bring down a major international arms dealer.

Fastforward to 2016 and le Carre’s popular novel has been adapted into a BBC/AMC British-American television miniseries.  And now, the series will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The series has received critical acclaim and “The Sun” would proclaim “The Night Manager” as “one of the greatest series of all time”.

“The Night Manager” is directed by Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”, “After the Wedding”, “Brothers”) and was written by John le Carre and David Farr (“Hanna”, “The Ones Below”, “Paani”).

“The Night Manager” stars Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers”, “Thor”, “I Saw the Light”), Hugh Laurie (“House”, “Tomorrowland”, “Stuart Little”), Elizabeth Debicki (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “Everest”, “The Great Gatsby”), Olivia Coleman (“Locke”, “The Lobster”, “Hot Fuzz”), Hovik Keuchkerian (“Justi & Cia”, “Scorption in Love”, “Anna”), Alistair Petrie (“Rush”, “The Bank Job”, “Cloud Atlas”), Michael Nardone (“Child 44”, “Intruders”, “Dot the I”) and Aure Atika (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”, “Mademoiselle Chambon”).

The series begins in 2011 with the introduction to Jonathan Pine (portrayed by Tom Hiddleston), a hotel night manager of the Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, Egypt.

One day, one of the hotel residents, Sophie Alekan (portrayed by Aure Atika), the mistress of Freddie Hamid (his family owns most of Cairo), comes to him to photocopy confidential documents.

While preparing the documents, Jonathan discovers that the documents feature a list of weapons and warfare chemicals and correspondence between the Hamids companies and Ironlast Limited, owned by Richard Onslow Roper (portrayed by Hugh Laurie).

Sophie takes the original copy and tells Jonathan if something happens to her, he can give those documents to someone important.  And immediately, Jonathan turns over the documents to the International Enforcement Agency in London, England.

Unfortunately, someone at the IEA lets the Hamid family know and she immediately is beaten.  Fearing for her life, Jonathan tries to hide Sophie from harm and the two become very close with one another.

He hopes to have her flown to London for protection but when London can’t do anything to protect her, Sophia comes back to the Nerfititi Hotel.

Not long after, John receives a call and is warned by someone at the IEA that Sophie is in danger in the hotel.  When John goes to check on her, she is dead.  When the authorities come, he tries to tell the police to check on the Hamid family but the officer in charge pretends that he doesn’t know anything about the Hamid family and that the murder of Sophie was due to a burglary.

Fast forward four years later and John is now the night manager of the Meisters Hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland and we learn that IEA Officer Angela Burr (portrayed by Olivia Colman) wants to recruit Jonathan Pine to investigate Ironlast CEO Richard Roper.

And with his new orders, Jonathan under different identities must find a way to infiltrate Richard Roper’s circle and risk his own life in order to obtain any information to expose Roper and his illegal crimes.


VIDEO:

“The Night Manager” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). This is a gorgeous TV mini-series, considering it was shot in different parts of the world, close ups feature wonderful detail, skin tones look natural and black levels are nice and deep.  The series is also wonderfully shot, especially outdoor shots and overall picture quality is fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Night Manager” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.

The soundtrack is primarily dialogue and music driven.  Dialogue and music is crystal clear with surround channels taking advantage of crowds and overall ambiance.  Especially with the occassional explosions and gunfire.  The lossless audio is quite appropriate for this TV series.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Night Manager” does not come with any special features.

EXTRAS:

“The Night Manager” comes with an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


There have been attempts to make John le Carre’s well-known 1993 novel, “The Night Manager” into a film but it never happened.

With an update to the storyline in order to make it to a series, a few liberties had to be done in order to modernize the story for today’s audiences.

The settings were changed, the character of Leonard was changed to Angela Burr and with the casting of Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, not only was “The Night Manager” a critically-acclaimed hit but the series is what The Guardian would call “BBC’s glossiest, smartest, most indecently entertaining Sunday night drama in ages”.

With a budget of US $26 million, “The Night Manager” is a spy thriller about a former British soldier named Jonathan Pine who became a night manager for a hotel in Egypt and after an encounter between a woman who gives him private documents of a secret arms trade involving arms dealer Richard Roper, CEO of Ironlast.

When the woman is murdered, the guilt of her death sends Jonathan Pine dealing with those darker years as a night manager for a hotel in Switzerland.  But when Angela Burr of the International Enforcement Agency in London, England secretly recruits Jonathan Pine to infiltrate Roper’s circle and try to get any information to the IEA.

But to infiltrate such a dangerous circle will not be easy for Jonathan Pine, nor will it be easy for Angela Burr as the corruption extends to government officials and other agencies.

And it becomes a race against time as Jonathan must do all that is necessary to stop any major arms deals and transfer of weapons to the other countries.  But with Roper suspicious of Jonathan, will Jonathan Pine be able to pull everything off?

For a series of only six episodes, the writers have managed to create a wonderful spy thriller and it helps to have wonderful performances by Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.  But the more I think about this series, it’s cast did a wonderful job as Olivia Colman did a wonderful job as Angela Burr, head of the IEA that is looked at a as thorn in the side of the government agencies.  Elizabeth Debicki also does a good job playing the prostitute turned wife of Roper, Jed Marshall.

But “The Night Manager” is a series that worked well because of its writing, its performances and anything longer than six episodes probably would have muddled the series.  At times, we have been spoiled by series with filler storylines, utilization of characters for no apparent reason and for many American series, the purpose is to extend a series to meet the maximum episode quota.

Each episode is full of excitement as pacing was well-done.  The series was well-executed and the timing of various tense moments throughout the series was really well-done.   But not surprising considering that “The Night Manager” was able to incorporate so much but it was quite expensive at almost $4 million an episode.

From Jonathan infiltrating Roper’s circle and trying to uncover documents, to seeing if the intel that Jonathan gets to Angela pans out, the ongoing suspicion of characters wondering who is a traitor and who is not.

But everything building up to an explosive final episode and the potential for a possible continuation of the series.  And there are questions if there will be a season 2.

While Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie alluded that the series is completed.  With wonderful ratings and critical acclaim, it’s not surprising that BBC Television and John le Carre and his sons production company, The Ink Factory are in discussion of making a second season.  Which would be interesting as it would be a first for le Carre to have an adaptation go beyond his completed work.

Personally, if Hiddleston and Laurie do not return, if they just wanted to bring the character of Angela Burr and crew back, hopefully they can create another series with a different name, unless they continue to find a character who works as a hotel night manager.  But that would be the silliness that a second series probably would want to avoid.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality and lossless audio is well-done.  There are no special features included with this release and that is probably the only thing of this Blu-ray release which comes short of perfection.

Overall, “The Night Manager” is a magnificent series, wonderfully performed and no doubt one of the finest TV spy drama series ever made.

“The Night Manager: Uncensored Edition” is highly recommended!

Money Monster (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Depending on the individual watching this film, “Money Monster” can be an entertaining film or just a film mirroring the corruption that exist in the world today that makes us sick.  Or like me, feeling both. So, I do have mixed feelings about the film.  But for those wanting an entertaining thriller, “Money Monster” may be worth your time!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Money Monster

FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:39:1), English, French and Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Cantonese, Chinese (Simplified), Cantonese (Traditional), French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Language Throughout, Some Sexuality and Brief Violence)

Release Date: September 6, 2016


Directed by Jodie Foster

Screenplay by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf

Story by Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf

Produced by Lara Alameddine, Daniel Dubiecki, Grant Heslov

Co-Producer: Joseph P. Reidy

Executive-Producer: Tim Crane, Kerry Orent

Cinematography by Matthew Libatique

Music by Dominic Lewis

Edited by Matt Chesse

Casting by Avy Kaufman

Production Design by Kevin Thompson

Art Direction by Deborah Jensen

Set Decoration: Lydia Marks

Costume Design by Susan Lyall


Starring:

George Clooney as Lee Gates

Julia Roberts as Patty Fenn

Jack O’Connell as Kyle Budwell

Dominic West as Walt Camby

Caitriona Balfe as Diane Lester

Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Powell

Christopher Denham as Rob Sprecher


In the real-time, high stakes thriller, George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty, who are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything (Jack O’Connell) forcefully takes over their studio. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today’s fast-paced, high-tech global markets.


Actress Jodie Foster has come along way as a director since her ’90s films “Little Man Tate” and “Home for the Holidays” and here 2011 film “The Beaver”.

Having focused on television directing for shows such as “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards”, Foster returns as director of the film “Money Monster”.

The film stars George Clooney (“Gravity”, “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Up in the Air”), Julia Roberts (“Notting Hill”, “Closer”, “Pretty Woman”, “Erin Brokovich”), Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”, “300: Rise of the Empire”, “’71”), Dominic West (“300”, “Chicago”, “John Carter”) and Caitriona Balfe (“Now You See Me”, “Escape Plan”, “Outlander”).

And now “Money Monster” arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in September 2016 courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film begins with an introduction to TV financial expert Lee Gates (portrayed by George Clooney) who hosts the show “Money Monster”, which has been successful thanks to his fun television antics and the support of his longtime director, Patty Fenn (portrayed by Julia Roberts).

When Lee is working on the live airing of “Money Monster”, he was to interview IBIS CEO Walt Camby (portrayed by Dominic West) about the crash of the IBIS Clear Capital stock, which crashed due to a glitch in a trading algorithm which cost investors $800 million.

But because Camby left for a business trip to Geneva, Lee is unable to interview him.

But while filming his show, a deliveryman wanders onto the set of “Money Monster” and pulls out a gun and takes Gates hostage.

The delivery man’s name is Kyle Budwell (portrayed by Jack O’Connell) who invested $60,000, his entire life savings which he inherited from his deceased mother to IBIS, after Lee endorsed the company a month earlier and claimed that it was a safe pick.

Now Kyle is upset that he and other investors lost a lot of money and wants Lee to pay for endorsing the stock.  Kyle forces Lee to put on a vest filled with explosives and that if he doesn’t comply by answering his questions, he will detonate the explosives, which will destroy the building and kill everyone inside the building.

Because the show is live, millions of people all over the world are watching the show.  Many unsure if what is happening is real or fake but after Kyle shoots a big screen, many realize that what is transpiring is very much real and Lee Gates is in big trouble.

As Patty tries to assist Lee via communications through his earpiece, the “Money Monster” staff tries to find the whereabouts of Walt Camby.

Meanwhile, IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester (portrayed by Caitriona Balfe) and Camby’s girlfriend wants to find answers to why the stock crashed and lost $800 million.  When she contacts a programmer in South Korea, Won Joon (portrayed by Aaron Yoo) tells her that there is no way an algorithm could not take such a large amount of money down, unless a human messed with it.

As police try to find ways to get Kyle to give up, they learn that the receiver of the bomb is located over Lee’s kidney and come up with a plan that in order to prevent the detonation of the bomb, they will shoot Lee with the hope that he survives from the gunshot.

When Patty and her staff get wind of this and relay the information to Lee, how will he respond?  And through the course of the day, what will Lee and his staff find out about the truth of why the IBIS stock lost $800 million?


VIDEO:

“Money Monster” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). For the most part, the majority of the film is shot indoors but the film is well-lit and closeup details are good.  Closeup details of the skin and clothing, skin tones look natural and black levels are nice and deep.  The film looks great in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Money Monster” is presented in English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The soundtrack is also presented in English – Audio Description Track, Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The soundtrack is primarily dialogue with surround channels being used for ambiance (such as crowd scenes) and your occasional gun shots during the film. Overall, lossless soundtrack is crystal clear.

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Money Monster” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted Scenes – (2:22) Featuring three deleted scenes.
  • George Clooney: The Money Man – (5:27) A featurette about George Clooney playing the character of Lee Gates and making him this character that can sell financial products.
  • Inside the Pressure Cooker – (9:54) The cast and crew discuss the film and about how everyone is under pressure and time is of the essence.
  • Analysis of a Scene: The Showdown – (7:09) A featurette analyzing the final scene.  (Note: Do not watch this featurette before watching the film as there are spoilers.)
  • Dan the Automator (Feat. Del the Funky Homosapien) – “What Makes the World Go ‘Round (Money!)” Music Video – (3:03)

EXTRAS:

“Money Monster” comes with a slipcover an UltraViolet Digital HD code.


The financial institution is rigged.

This is the message that filmmaker Jodie Foster and writers Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf are cajoling to audiences watching the thriller, “Money Monster”.

George Clooney’s Lee Gates is reminiscent of CNBC’s Jim Kramer but with more pizazz and over-the-top antics that viewers have come to watch and believe in the financial information that he gives to his viewers.

And when Lee Gates tells people about purchasing the IBIS stock, no one expected the stock to tank by $800 million not long after.

But when disgruntled Kyle Budwell, disguised as a delivery man, walks into the newsroom and during a live broadcast, takes Lee Gates hostage and threatens to blow the entire building with a bomb (attached to a vest which is placed on Lee), the cable show garners millions of viewers worldwide, watching everything play out.

Meanwhile, “Money Monster” producer Patty Fenn (portrayed by Julia Roberts) tries to keep her friend/host alive by trying to feed information to him via an earpiece and making sure he doesn’t get himself killed, meanwhile trying to find a way to use the broadcast alongside Lee to figure out the truth of why $800 million of IBIS stock tanked and to find out where is IBIS CEO Walter Camby, who was supposed to be on the show to be interviewed about the crash.

As the “Money Monster” staff work behind the scenes, we see IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester (portrayed by Caitriona Balfe) doing her research in trying to uncover clues of how IBIS stock tanked so heavily.  Trying to find out how an algorithm glitch could lose many millions of dollars for investors.

But who does the audience sympathize, Lee…the host of “Money Monster”?  Or do they sympathize with Kyle Budwell, a person who used his deceased mother’s $65,000 to invest in the IBIS stock and to lose it all.

Granted, while the character of Kyle Budwell goes beyond madman and some can see him trying to seek answers for those who lost money, we start to see things go wrong in multiple directions, especially with law enforcement.

Police want a sniper to shoot Lee in order to destroy the bomb receiver in the vest.  By shooting Lee and destroying the receiver, you save many people.  And of course, when the “Money Monster” staff find out about this, this does not bode well for them.

Also, when the police decide to bring in Kyle’s girlfriend to help diffuse the situation, they don’t realize how unstable she is.

But we see is a mess of a hostage situation tangled in the corruption that can exist in the financial institution.

Ant that is part of the problem that I had with “Money Monster”, Clooney’s Lee is not supposed to be a strong character but a man who discovers the corruption in the system that he was part of.  The police let you down because they are equally making bad choices in the film, the “Money Monster” staff are just as bad, fornicating in the IT server room.

There is so much corruption in the film that you want to see some accountability and instead you get one major FAIL after the other.   The only person that really stands out in this film is Julia Robert’s Patty Fenn who seems to be the only one making the right decisions.

While the film was made popular for George Clooney and Julia Roberts working together in this film directed by actress/filmmaker Jodie Foster, these three talents collaborating together is quite entertaining and literally makes you want to watch this film.

But a romantic comedy this is not.  This is a film about bad choices and the corruption and filth that rears its dirty head in society.

Added with the bad suggestion by the film’s protagonist, because of the irresponsibility of media and law enforcement, the corruption in the financial institution, watching “Money Monster”, I felt like the characters who are watching the hostage scene take place on television in the movie, disbelief and knowing deep inside that the film reflects reality.

We watch cinema for a true escape (often to get away from reality), but “Money Monster” is less about an escape but a reminder of the messed up things we see day after day in news media about the things that can go wrong, is going wrong, but not just in our country but around the world.

Depending on the individual watching this film, “Money Monster” can be an entertaining film or just a film mirroring the corruption that exist in the world today that makes us sick.  Or like me, feeling both. So, I do have mixed feelings about the film.  But for those wanting an entertaining thriller, “Money Monster” may be worth your time!

Mountains May Depart (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Jia Zhangke has no doubt made another masterpiece with a powerful performance by actress Tao Zhao.  “Mountains May Depart” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Xstream Pictures (Beijing) – MK Productions – Arte France Cinema. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Mountains May Depart

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 126 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1, 1:85:1 and 2:35:1), Mandarin and English with Optional English Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: July 12, 2016


Directed by Zhangke Jia

Screenplay by Zhangke Jia

Produced by Shozo Ichiyama, Zhangke Jia, Nathanael Karmitz, Shiyu Liu, Zhong-lun Ren

Co-Produced by Patrick Andre, Remi Burah, Zhangke Jia, Nathanael Karmitz, Shiyu Liu, Zong-lun Ren

Music by Yoshihiro Hanno

Cinematography by Nelson Lik-wai Yu

Edited by Matthieu Laciau

Casting by Jacqueline Alliss

Art Direction by Qiang Liu


Starring:

Tao Zhao as Shen Tao

Yi Zhang as Zhang Jinsheng

Jing Dong Liang as Liang Jangjung aka Liangzi

Zijian Dong as Zhang Daole (Dollar)

Sylvia Chang as Mia


Mainland master Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin) scales new heights with Mountains May Depart. Starring the luminous Zhao Tao, the film is both an intimate drama and a decades-spanning epic about how China’s capitalist experiment has affected the lives of one splintered family, leaping in time from the past to the present to the speculative near-future. Jia’s new film is an intensely moving study of how China’s economic boom and the culture of materialism it has spawned has affected the bonds of family, tradition, and love.


From award winning filmmaker Jia Zhangke (“A Touch of Sin”, “Still Life”, “The World”) comes his 2015 “Mountains May Depart”.

Known for creating films that revolve around alienation with a minimalist/realist style and themes of alienated youth but also featuring contemporary Chinese history and showcasing Jia’s musical influences, his work has been compared to auteur, Michelangelo Antonioni.

His film “Mountains May Depart” is consistent with the style of his previous films and also would reunite Jia and his wife, actress Zhao Tao (“Platform”, “Still Life”, “With Shun Li and the Poet”) together.

The film also stars Yi Zhang (“Dearest”, “The Golden Era”), Jing Dong Liang (“Platform”, “The World”, “Unknown Pleasures”), Zijian Dong (“Young Love Lost”, “At Cafe 6”, “Young Style”) and Sylvia Chang (“20 30 40”, “Eat Drink Man Woman”, “All About Ah-Long”).

And now, “Mountains May Depart” is available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Mountains May Depart” is a film which features three parts that revolve around characters in 1999, 2014 and 2025.

[Note: Please avoid reading further as the brief synopsis of each part, may contain spoilers]:

The first part is set in 1999 and begins with Shen Tao (portrayed by Zhao Tao) dancing to the Pet Shop Boys song “Go West” with other people.

Shen Tao is a vibrant woman who loves to sing, loves to dance and hangs out with her good friend, a miner named Liangzi (portrayed by Jing Dong Liang).  Tao works with her father selling electronics and just enjoys having fun.

One day, her classmate Zhang Jinsheng (portrayed by Jing Dong Liang) returns back to the village.  Zhang is successful and wealthy and came back to the village to marry the girl of his dreams, Tao.

But despite having a nice car and successful career, he can’t stand that everytime he wants to be alone with her, she brings Liangzi around.  He knows Liangzi likes her, but he thinks that because of his success and wealth, her eyes should be on him.

And he feels that three is a crowd and Zhang tries to find a way to get Liangzi out of the picture, because he feels it’s a love triangle.

The second part takes place 15 years later and it’s 2014.  We see what has happened with Tao and Liangzi as Tao has been divorced from Zhang and she has a son named Zhang Daole (a.k.a. “Dollar”) who lives with his father, going to International School and being raised privileged.  But when tragedy hits, what happens when Tao requests for her young son to visit her for a funeral.

Meanwhile, Liangzi starts to suffer symptoms from working in the mines for a long time.  He is now married with a son and decides to return back to his hometown with his new family.  But with no income, how will he pay for medical care?

The third part is set in 2025 and revolves around a grown up Zhang “Dollar” Daole (portrayed by Zijian Dong) who lives in Australia with his father, Zhang Jinsheng.

Because he was raised in Australia and attended an international school, he and his father are unable to communicate as he speaks English and his father in Mandarin.  They often have to use Google Translate in order to communicate with each other.

He is unhappy living with his father, tired of living his life of going to school and what his father wants him to do and he has not seen his mother in over a decade, he is not sure what to do with his life but he knows he wants freedom.  And that is the freedom to make his own choices without his father’s interference.

But when Dollar starts to become interested in his older teacher, Mia (portrayed by Sylvia Chang), being with her, what major decisions will Dollar make in his life?


VIDEO:

“Mountains May Depart” is a gorgeous film and one that is quite interesting as Nelson Lik-wai Yu shoots the film in 1:33:1, 1:85:1 and 2:35:1 aspect ratios.

Featuring gorgeous scenery and the placement of the characters with mountains or temples in the background, well-framed and placement of characters are quite artistic and wonderful in symmetry and I can see aside from the alienation of its characters but its juxtaposition of people to various buildings, mountains and backgrouns, why Jia Zhangke would be compared to Michelangelo Antonioni.

Picture quality features wonderful detail, skintones look natural, black levels are nice and deep.  At times, there are archived sources used but for the majority of the film,  “Mountains May Depart” is a wonderful looking film on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Mountains May Depart” is presented in Mandarin and English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA and the lossless soundtrack is fantastic!  While one can expect crystal clear dialogue and also music, with ambiance, may it be a festival parade or fireworks launching in the air, can be heard via the surround channels.  Music by Yoshihiro Hanno is moving and emotional.

Subtitles feature optional English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Mountains May Depart” comes with the following special features:

  • New York Film Festival – (1:13:04) A conversation with Jia Zhangke courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center conducted by Dennis Lim.
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Mountains May Depart”.

Watching Jia Zhangke films, you can’t help but be captivated by the film’s beauty, the truth in his films but also understand the plight of alienation surrounding his characters.

Often compared to auteur filmmaker, the master of alienation, Michelangelo Antonioni, “Mountains May Depart” is non-traditional Chinese cinema in the sense that Jia Zhangke creates cinema that needs not to be categorized with other Chinese cinema.

From having a powerful storyline, there are time where we have jarring, colorful club images of random people that breakup the storyline, almost similar to what one were used to seeing of Jean-Claude Godard back in the French Nouvelle years of audio going off and on or imagery that may or may not make sense, we see those little pieces of artistic freedom with his films that is fresh and not a care of whether or not its coherent or incoherent, imagery that fits the timeline that co-exists with the storyline of its characters.

“Mountains May Depart” is rather captivating because of how well the story is crafted.  From the primary female character, Tao dancing to Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West” but then seeing her bubbly and vibrant personality that remains strong until she becomes part of a love triangle and must decide on whether or not to divert her attention to the poor but kind Liangzi or the crude, narcissistic and wealthy Zhang.

And we see the tensions start to simmer in this love triangle as Tao looks at Liangzi as a friend, Zhang looks at Liangzi as a man who gets in the way and very much believes in “Three’s a crowd”.

But how beautiful does the film get when it’s storyline weaves into the future.  As Tao has made her choice of a man but we see the result for each of the three individuals.

While I don’t want to spoil the film, this is where Jia Zhangke’s focus of human alienation comes into play.  Choices that we make, are we always happy with them.  But what if you are not happy, life goes on and you deal with with the repercussions of the choices one makes.

The film is visually moving, the story is absolutely captivating and melancholic and “Mountains May Depart” is a film that touches your soul!

Jia Zhangke has no doubt made another masterpiece with a powerful performance by actress Tao Zhao.  “Mountains May Depart” is highly recommended!

Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Star Wars Rebels” Season Two is fantastic! The adventures, the action, the characters and great writing make the entire series, so worth watching! In fact, I enjoyed this season season even more than the first. A lot of action, great use of returning characters from “The Clone Wars” and more! “Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two

TV AIRING: 2015-2016

DURATION: (Episodes 1-22) 485 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio), English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: TV Y7 FV

Release Date: August 30, 2016


Directed by Dave Filoni, Bosco Ng, Brad Rau, Saul Ruiz, Melchior Zwyer

Written by Simon Kinberg, Carrie Beck, Dave Filoni, George Lucas, Hank Gilroy, Kevin Hopps, Greg We, Steven Melching, Matt Michnovetz, Bill Wolkoff

Producer: Kiri Hart, Athena Yvette Portillo

Executive Producer: Davi Filoni, Simon Kinberg, Greg Weisman

Co-Executive Producer: Henry Gilroy

Associate Producer: Carrie Beck

Music by Kevin Kiner

Edited by Alex McDonnell, Joe E. Elwood

Casting by Aaron Drown

Art Direction by Kilian Plunkett


Starring:

Vanessa Marshall as Hera Syndulla

Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan Jarrus

Steve Blum as Zeb Orrelios

Taylor Gray as Ezra Bridger

Tiya Sircar as Sabine Wren

Dee Bradley Baker as Rex

Ashley Ekstein as Ahsoka Tano

Keone Young as Commander Sato

Jason Isaacs as The Inquisitor

Stephen Stanton as Grand Moff Tarkin

Liam O’Brien as Yogar Lyste

James Earl Jones as Darth Vader

Matt Lanter as Anakin Skylwalker


The epic battle to defeat the evil Empire continues in STAR WARS REBELS: COMPLETE SEASON TWO! As Ezra continues his journey to become a Jedi under Kanan’s guidance, the crew of the Ghost bands together with a secret rebel cell and ex soldiers from the Clone Wars to join a fledgling alliance to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy. But the dark side looms large as Darth Vader dispatches new Inquisitors, setting the stage for a climactic showdown in which terrible truths will be revealed and the lives of our heroes will be changed forever.


Darth Vader has sent an order for the Empire to hunt down the Rebels and the Ghost crew members must decide if they want to join the Rebels or stay out of the fight.

Meanwhile, the Ghost crew meet up with Ahsoka Tano’s rebel cell and Darth Vader pursues them and finds out about Ahsoka’s existence.

What will happen to the Ghost crew as they assist the Rebels and why is Darth Vader so intent of capturing Ahsoka?

Find out in “Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two”!

What is “Star Wars Rebellion”?

With the completion of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” comes a new American 3D CGI animated television series from Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm Animation titled “Star Wars Rebels”.

Set 14 years after “Revenge of the Sith” and five years before “New Hope”, “Star Wars Rebels” takes place during a time when nearly all jedi’s have been hunted and killed and the Galactic Empire rules the galaxy.

With a total of 13-episodes, the series features a visual style that is inspired by the original “Star Wars” trilogy concept art by Ralph McQuarrie.

“Star Wars Rebels” will now be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Disney.

“Star Wars Rebels” begins with an introduction to a young teenage thief named Ezra Bridger (voiced by Taylor Gray) who lives in the Empire-controlled planet, Lothal.

One day, Ezra tries to steal a shipment from the Empire, but also after the shipment is the crew of The Ghost.

The crew consists of Ghost crew leader and Jedi survivor Kanan Jarrus (voiced by Freddie Prinze, Jr.); pilot and owner of the Ghost, the Twi’lek named Hera Syndulla (voiced by Vanessa Marshall); weapons and explosives expert and Mandalorian graffiti artist Sabine Wren (voiced by Tiya Sircar); the tough Lasat honor guard Zeb Orrelios (voiced by Stephen Blum) and Hera’s droid C1-10P a.ka. “Chopper”.

After saving Ezra from doom, because of his skills of survival, the crew of the Ghost invite Ezra to join their crew. And because Ezra is able to sense things with the Force, Kanan accepts Ezra as his padawan and to help him control his newfound power.

As any word of rebels rebelling against the Empire can create the potential of insurgencies, Darth Vader sends his Inquisitors (an agency of the Dark Jedi in the Galactic Empire) to go after the crew of the Ghost and his former Padawan.


VIDEO:

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). “Star Wars Rebels” features its own unique visual style and for the most part, it’s pretty cool to see how much detail is put into the space vehicles and the planets.

While closeups do show skin detail and the lips match the dialogue really well, the Stormtroopers and robots have lights of the interior of the vehicles bouncing of their uniforms and for the most part, the series features really good lighting effects.  The vehicles also are well-rendered.

Granted, the CG animation is subjective to the viewer if one likes the visuals of the CG animated series, but for me, I felt the series was well-animated and there was great attention in creating the various worlds, vehicle usage and also overall effects were well-done.

I did not notice any artifacts or banding issues during my viewing of each episode.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” is presented in English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

I would say that I’m a bit surprised that the series on Blu-ray does not utilize a DTS-HD Master Audio track like the final three seasons of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” but in this case, they decided to go with an English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

While dialogue is crystal clear, especially the John Williams musical score and light saber sound effects and utilizing the surround channels for the action sequences, it would have been awesome to have a lossless soundtrack for the Blu-ray release.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” comes with the following special features:

  • Rebels Recon – 22 featurettes from “Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” that were featured on StarWars.com.
  • Connecting the Galaxy: Rebels Season 2 – (3:28) Easter eggs featured in season two of “Star Wars Rebels”.
  • From Apprentice to Adversary: Vader vs. Ahsoka – (6:00) Dave Filoni discusses the confrontation between Ahsoka and Vader.

EXTRAS:

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” comes with a slipcover and a DisneyMovieRewards code.


For fans of “Star Wars Rebels”, one will love the second season for showcasing more Darth Vader and for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” fans, the series featuring more of Jedi, Ahsoko Tano (Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice) and Clone Captain Rex (a.k.a. CT-7567).

And as the Ghost crew take part in more Rebel missions, one of them includes working under Princess Leia.

And with Darth Vader finding out that his former Padawan is still alive after the slaughter of Jedi’s after Order 66, he sends his Inquisitors (Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister) to hunt down after her and other surviving Jedi’s.  So, Kanan and Ezra are targets as well.

But this season also features a few individual and team building episodes.  From Ezra searching for his parents and finding out what happened to them, to Hera having to come across her father, the famous Twi’lek resistance fighter Cham Syndulla, Zed, Sabine and even Chopper have their own stories.

But for this season, I feel that many fans will enjoy the episodes featuring Ahsoka investigating Darth Vader, Kanan’s worries about Ezra’s temper and everything else that culminates in the surprising, final episode of the second season.

But I’m really enjoying the character dynamics of the Ghost Crew for this second season.

As there are rebel cells in the galaxy who fight the oppression of the Empire, “Star Wars Rebels” is fairly interesting as the Ghost Crew consists of a Jedi and a thief turned jedi-in-training plus a tough Lasat honor guard that young male audiences can enjoy, the show also takes a step in the right direction of including two strong female characters.

You have a Twi-lek owner and pilot of the Ghost and female teen graffiti artist in Mandalorian outfit and helmet and is a weapons expert. So, you have a good balance of characters that will no doubt entertaining both male and female audiences and it’s centered around the whole “Star Wars” universe, so you can definitely expect to see well-known “Star Wars” characters, and for season two, expect to see Darth Vader and Princess Leia.

And for fans of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, many will be happy to see the return of Jedi Ahsoka Tano (who was the Padawan apprentice of Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”), but this time as an adult and Rex, who is now much older.  Also, the pirate Hondo Ohnaka also makes a return in the second season of “Star Wars Rebels”.

I also enjoyed the storyline progression of Kanan and Ezra’s jedi training and the possible fears of Ezra’s behavior.  Which are fears that are most warranted considering what happened to Annakin Skywalker.

But the confrontation between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader was something that many fans have been waiting for and so “Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” delivered in this long awaited confrontation!

I felt that the overall writing and voice acting for the series is fantastic. Each episode is adventurous and also full of peril and each episode features something with a character(s) that has an effect in the next or later episodes. So, unlike animated series which tend to have its own isolated episode with no connection to each other, “Star Wars Rebels” episodes have a connection which I enjoyed.

As for the Blu-ray release, I absolutely enjoy the visual look of “Star Wars: Rebels”. Great character and mechanical designs that feature detailed CG that look vibrant on Blu-ray. I did not notice any artifacts or banding issues. As for the soundtrack, unfortunately it’s not a lossless soundtrack, but it’s still a strong 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack featuring clear dialogue, music and special effects.

As for special features, the series comes with plenty of special features including 19 Rebels Recon featurettes as featured on StarWars.com.

Overall, “Star Wars Rebels” Season Two is fantastic! The adventures, the action, the characters and great writing make the entire series, so worth watching!  In fact, I enjoyed this season season even more than the first.  A lot of action, great use of returning characters from “The Clone Wars” and more!

“Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two” is highly recommended!

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

August 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Spiders” is a Blu-ray release worth watching.   You often don’t come upon a silent film release in which its main protagonist has that James Bond suave look, characters traveling to exotic locations and action sequences in different parts of the world.  If you are a cineaste who is passionate about Fritz Lang’s oeuvre especially his very early works, this Blu-ray release featuring both episodes of Fritz Lang “The Spiders” films is a fine addition to add in your silent cinema collection!

Images courtesy of © 2016 Friedrich-Wilheim-Murnau-Stiftung. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Spiders (Die Spinnen)

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: (1919)  The Spiders – Episode 1: The Golden Sea (Die Spinnen, 1. Teil – Der Goldene See), (1920) The Spiders – Episode 2: The Diamond Ship (Die Spinnen, 2. Teil – Das Brillantenschiff)

DURATION: (1919)  The Spiders – Episode 1: The Golden Sea (Die Spinnen, 1. Teil – Der Goldene See – 69 Minutes), (1920) The Spiders – Episode 2: The Diamond Ship (Die Spinnen, 2. Teil – Das Brillantenschiff – 104 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: Color Tinted, 1:33:1, Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber Inc.

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2016


Episode One: The Golden Sea

Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Fritz Lang

Produced by Erich Pommer

Music by Max Josef Bojakowski

Cinematography by Karl Freund, Emil Schunemann

Production Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm

Costume Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrcih Umlauff, Hermann Warm

Episode Two: The Diamond Ship

Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Fritz Lang

Produced by Erich Pommer

Cinematography by Karl Freund

Art Direction by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm

Costume Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm

 


Starring:

Carl de Vogt as Kay Hoog

Ressel Orla as Lio Sha

Georg John as Dr. Telphas

Lil Dagover as Sonnenpriesterin Naela

Rudolf Lettinger as Terry Landon

Friedrich Kuhne as All-Hab-Mah

Meinhart Maur as Chinese/Bucherwurm

Paul Morgan as Jude/Diamantenexperte

Edgar Pauly as Vierfinger-John

Reiner Steiner as Kapitan des Diamantenschiffs

Thea Zander as Ellen Terry


With this exotic adventure film, director Fritz Lang established himself as a master of epic storytelling, a talent that would reach its pinnacle in such monumental films as Metropolis and Die Nibelungen. Influenced by the French serials of Louis Feuillade (Fantômas) and infused with Lang s own fascination with Asian culture, THE SPIDERS follows international adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) in his quest for Incan gold and the precious Buddha s head diamond. Along the way, he must contend with an organization of criminal spies known as The Spiders, who will employ any form of treachery, including murder, to snatch the artifacts from his possession.


Many decades before Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would create the “Indiana Jones” films, back in the 1919, Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang would write and direct his adventure epic “The Spiders (Die Spinnen)”.

It all began not long after Lang was discharged from the Austrian Army, having been wounded in combat, Lang would use his time during his recovery to write ideas he had for films.  As an actor for the Viennese theater circuit, he was hired at Decla, which was a Berlin-based production studio led by producer Erich Pommer.

During the early stages of his career, Fritz Lang would create art films but his popular thriller “The Spiders” was known for combining German Expressionist techniques and popular mainstream cinema and in essence, it was considered as art house cinema.

And for many decades, this film had been considered lost until it was discovered in the 1970’s.  While a restoration was done in 1978 and released on DVD in 1999.  A new restoration was commissioned from a tinted 35mm print and footage that was not included in the 1999 DVD release was added to the 2012 DVD release courtesy of Kino Lorber Inc.  And now in 2016, the film receives a remastered HD version as “The Spiders” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“The Spiders” is considered to be the beginning of the golden age of silent cinema.  Originally, there was a planned trilogy but only two films were created.

The first episode “The Golden Sea” begins with a man escaping from the Inca’s who are planning to use him as a sacrifice. The man, a Harvard professor who has been missing since his travel to Peru,  writes a note, which he puts into a bottle and throws it off to the ocean before being speared.

We are then introduced to Kay Hoog (played by Carl de Vogt), a sportsman who is attending a high society party for those involved in a major yacht race from San Francisco to Japan.  But Kay is not planning to take part in the competition as he found a bottle in sea from the missing Harvard professor that said there is treasure located inside a temple of a lost Incan civilization.  Coordinates were included and now Kay hopes to travel to that area and find some treasure.

But also attending the party is Lio Sha, the head of a secret criminal organization known as the Spiders now wants that information that Hoog possesses.  And immediately, they break into Hoog’s home and steals the treasure map.

It’s a race against time as Hoog begins his expedition to find the treasure at the lost Incan civilization and hopefully get it before the Spider’s can.  But in return for them stealing his map, Hoog ends up stealing an even more important map from the Spiders on the location of The Diamond Ship.

As Kay is wanted by the Spiders and everyone trying to find the lost treasure, Kay encounters the beautiful Priestess of the Sun named Naela.  But with the Incan’s aware that there are outsiders in their area, who will live and who will die?

In episode two, “The Diamond Ship”, after facing a major tragedy caused by the hands of the Spiders, they have now made things personal for Kay.

With the Spiders now seeking a diamond on the “Diamond Ship”, the Spiders hope with the possession of the Buddha head diamond will release Asia from tyranny.  And Lio Sha believes that the diamond may be in the possession of a millionaire named Terry Landon (played by Rudolph Lettinger).  But when the Spiders do not find it, they kidnap his daughter Ellen (played by Thea Zander) and will not release her until they get the diamond.

But since Kay has the information about the Diamond Ship which he stole from the Spiders, perhaps he can find it and help bring Ellen back home.


VIDEO:

“The Spiders” is presented in 1:33:1 and is color-tinted from sepia to red.  It’s important to note that the color-tinting is not the same as the 1999 Image Entertainment DVD release.  With the new restoration that was done by the Blazena Urgosikova and Ingrid Tetkova, the main goal was to introduce some of the missing footage but also to fix the speed of the film.

With the original 1999 DVD release, there were silent film fans who were critical that “The Spiders” was a bit too fast.  I personally have not seen the 1999 DVD release but have read that the new restoration does fix that problem.  Personally, movements seemed natural to me and not overly sped up or too slow.

As for picture quality, as one can expect from a film that is 90-years-old, you are going to see some scratches but in the context of silent films, “The Spiders” looks very good and doesn’t have any major nitrate damage, warping, blurring or blackening on the film print.

While it’s not my preference to see a lot of red color tinting in the film (as I’m so used to seeing sepia, orange, blue and green), I am not too sure of the differences of the color tinting from the previous Dave Shepard restoration.

As for those who owned the Kino Lorber 2012 DVD release, you will be pleased to know that the 2016 Blu-ray releases looks even better in HD as details are much more evident.  Black levels are much sharper, gray and white scenes are well-contrast and the film just looks a bit better.  Sure, the film has not been restored, scratches still remain but this is the best I have seen of “The Spiders” yet!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Spiders” is presented in lossless stereo with English intertitles.  The music featured on this Blu-ray releases is the same Ben Model score that was featured in the 2012 Kino Lorber DVD release.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Spiders” does not come with any special features.


The release of “The Spiders” on Blu-ray is fantastic!

Compared to the older 1999 DVD release of “The Spiders”, this 2016 version is superior not only in picture quality because it’s presented in HD  because it includes lost footage and is also presented in a corrected speed.

The original Image Entertainment DVD ran for 137 minutes, this new version is 170 minutes long (which is possibly the newer footage and the slowing down of speed).  According to the credits, this version was licensed by Transit Film on behalf of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and archival sources were from the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique and Filmovych laboratorich Barrandov Praha.

“The Spiders” was an intriguing and surprising adventure epic.

Sure, “The Spiders” was shot many decades before the Indiana Jones films and sure, the technology involved in production has evolved a lot since 1919 and 1920 but considering what was accomplished on this film, there was a decent amount of production in recreating the Incan civilization with its appearance of Incan carved rocks in the first film and a lot of focus on makeup and costume design for both films.

The first film “Episode One: The Golden Sea” was enjoyable as you get the suave adventurer/sportsman Kay Hoog.  With the tuxedo and the slicked back hair and look that seemed more like a prototype to a James Bond film, “The Spiders” had style but it also had an intriguing story with Kay trying to get to the treasure before his adversaries, the criminal organization the Spiders and their leader Lio Sha gets to it.

And for 1919, the overall storyline was adventurous and intriguing but it’s that extra touch at the end which you don’t expect, that made the first film so much more enjoyable and exciting and making you want to see the sequel.

But one you do watch the sequel, “Episode Two: The Diamond Ship”, I felt that the second film was rushed as Fritz Lang tried to incorporate too much and focus more on the adventures and action than the storyline itself.

While it was intriguing to see Kay Hoog going underground in China Town to find Lio Sha and the Spiders, everything afterward seemed as if it was not well-planned.  As much as I enjoyed the fact that Lang wanted to take the viewer from one location to another, unfortunately, it’s not executed all that well.  There were far too many characters and unlike the first film which tried to narrow things down between Kay Hoog and Lio Sha, the storyline was all over the place.

But bare in mind, this was Fritz Lang’s earlier work, done way before “Metropolis”, “Spies”, “M” and his “Dr. Mabuse” films, but there is no doubt that with Lang working on these two films, he would improve significantly a few years later to take on films such as “Destiny” (1921), “Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler” (1922) and “Siegfried” (1924).

For any Fritz Lang cinema enthusiasts, “The Spiders” is essential viewing if you want to see Lang’s earlier work but how he tries to integrate German expressionism and arthouse with a action/adventure theme.  Whether or not it’s good, it is all subjective but I enjoyed “The Spiders”, the first episode a lot more than the second.  But for any cineaste, one can see how much Fritz Lang evolved in filmmaking during the 1920’s and eventually for hardcore fans, how much his work has changed when he left to work in America.

Overall, “The Spiders” is a Blu-ray release worth watching. You often don’t come upon a silent film release in which its main protagonist has that James Bond suave look, characters traveling to exotic locations and action sequences in different parts of the world. If you are a cineaste who is passionate about Fritz Lang’s oeuvre especially his very early works, this Blu-ray release featuring both episodes of Fritz Lang “The Spiders” films is a fine addition to add in your silent cinema collection!

Maggie’s Plan (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

maggiesplan

“Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary romantic comedy that goes against the usual Hollywood trend of happily ever after. Because of this, it may not be for everyone, but for those who are open to a contemporary romantic comedy, may find Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” to be smartly written, delightful and entertaining. “Maggie’s Plan” is recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2016 Lilly Harding Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Maggie’s Plan

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 124 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, English, 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Russian VO, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Russian, Thai, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Some Language and Brief Sexuality)

RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2016


Directed by Rebecca Miller

Written by Rebecca Miller

Story by Karen Rinaldi

Based on the book by Colin Escott, George Merritt, William MacEwen

Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos

Executive Producer: Judit Stalter

Associate Producer: Robert Vamos

Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter

Music by Laszlo Melis

Cinematography by Matyas Erdely

Edited by Matthieu Taponier

Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij

Production Design by Laszlo Rajk

Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly

Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga

Costume Design by Edit Szucs


Starring:

Greta Gerwig as Maggie

Bill Harder as Tony

Ethan Hawke as John Harding

Maya Rudolph as Felicia

Julianne Moore as Georgette

Wallace Shawn as Klieger

Mina Sundwall as Justine

Jackson Frazer as Paul


In Rebecca Miller’s witty romantic comedy, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a vibrant New Yorker, who without success in finding love, decides to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, she falls in love for the first time. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. With some help from Maggie’s eccentric best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie sets in motion a new plan that intertwines their lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways.


From filmmaker/writer Rebecca Miller (“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”, “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”, “Personal Velocity”) comes her romantic comedy, “Maggie’s Plan”.

Based on an original story by Karen Rinaldi, the film stars Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”, “Mistress America”, “No Strings Attached”, “Greenberg”), Ethan Hawke (“Gattaga”, “Before Sunset”, “Before Sunrise”, “Training Day”), Julianne Moore (“The Big Lewbowski”, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, “The Kids Are All Right”), Bill Hader (“Superbad”, “Saturday Night Live”), Maya Rudolph (“Bridesmaids”, “Gattaca”, “Idiocracy”), Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”, “My Dinner with Andre”, “Personal Velocity”) and Travis Fimmel (“Warcraft”, “Vikings”, “The Baytown Outlaws”).

And now “Maggie’s Plan” will be available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The film revolves around Maggie (portrayed by Gerta Gerwig), a woman in New York who likes to have everything organized and kept in c0ntrol in her life.  And now Maggie desires to become a single mother despite her best friend Tony (portrayed by Bill Hader) telling her it’s not a good idea.

Wanting her college friend Guy (portrayed by Travis Fimmel) to donate his sperm, so she can inseminate herself, things take an unexpected turn when she has an affair with a ficto-critical anthropologist named John (portrayed by Ethan Hawke).

John is married to a Columbia University Professor named Georgette (portrayed by Julianne Moore) and his marriage is falling apart.  She is consumed by work and feeling that he is not getting anything in the marriage.

And so, as Maggie and John have an affair and Maggie gets the child that she wants, while the child was what she always wanted, is John supposed to be in her life?  Or does she feel that John was supposed to be with Georgette?


VIDEO:

“Maggie’s Plan” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). Overall picture quality shows amazing detail during closeups. Skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep.  Many solid outdoor shots to bring a New York feel to the film.   The film looks great in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Maggie’s Plan” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, an English- Audio Description Track Dolby Surround, Russian VO and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The lossless audio for “I Saw the Light” features crystal clear dialogue and music. Surround sound usage is primarily for crowd ambiance but for this soundtrack, the film is primarily dialogue and music driven.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Russia and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Maggie’s Plan” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Rebecca Miller
  • Controlling Fate: The Making of Maggie’s Plan – (15:52) Director Rebecca and the cast discuss the film’s modern romance and how “Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary story.
  • Outtakes – (7:21) Outtakes from “Maggie’s Plan”.
  • Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival – (11:29) Featuring the Q&A from “Maggie’s Plan” at the Sundance Film Festival.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Maggie’s Plan”.

EXTRAS:

“Maggie’s Plan” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.


With many romantic comedies, they are typically about traditional romance and finding love and sometimes a story that is happily ever after.

“Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary story that takes the traditional romance story and flips it upside down and what if the woman finds out the man was probably best with the woman he was originally in a relationship with.

The film also takes a modern look at the independent woman who wants to have a child but not be in a relationship.

So, “Maggie’s Plan” is very different from your average romantic comedy and for those looking for sparkle and finding true love at the end, may find “Maggie’s Plan” to be disappointing.  But for those who embrace a different and modern storyline of a woman making her own decisions, control of her own destiny and when she finds a guy that she thinks she loves but then feels… maybe not.  Then this film is for you.

The film revolves around the charming Greta Gerwig who has a career but now wants to have a child.  And in wanting to have a child, she’s not going to go through any major scientific process of having it professionally done, she is hoping one of her male friends can donate their sperm and she finds out that her college friend, a math wize named Guy will donate his sperm to her and she will inseminate herself.

Greta feels that she is ready to be a mother and that she knows that she is not a person that can stay with someone for more than six months.  And she wants to do this within four months, after she saves enough money.

In a way I enjoyed the film for its honesty.  These are things that some people (especially people that I know) feel and they make their own choices which goes against traditional society ways of thinking.  So, I appreciate the film for showing a different side of how romance starts, romance ends but in the end, just staying honest with the characters, no matter how educated and flawed they may be, no one is put in a pedestal.  It’s really an honest portrayal.

May it be Maggie with John, Maggie and her friends, Maggie with Georgette or Maggie with her young daughter.

I love the quirkiness of Maggie and I also enjoyed the film’s use of improvisation and while some may find areas of vocal stammering in a film due to the improvisation and not a smooth delivery, again, I enjoy how the film is natural, smartly written and conversations are entertaining while not complex as a Eric Rohmer film, I enjoyed “Maggie’s Plan” for its characters and smart dialogue.

I felt Greta Gerwig did a wonderful job in portraying Maggie.  It’s a quirky but smart performance which I enjoy seeing her do in films such as “Damsels in Distress” and “Frances Ha”.  And she absolutely shines in “Maggie’s Plan”.

Although, it was a little unusual to see Julianne Moore with speaking with a foreign accent but I’ll leave it up to the linguistics erudite on whether or not they felt her accent was up to par.

The Blu-ray looks great in HD.  Closeups are full of detail, outdoor scenes are vibrant, skintones look natural and for the most part, the film looks very good in HD!  The lossless soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue and music and also is adequate for this type of film.  As for special features, you get an entertaining audio commentary, featurette and also hilarious outtakes.

Overall, “Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary romantic comedy that goes against the usual Hollywood trend of happily ever after.  Because of this, it may not be for everyone, but for those who are open to a contemporary romantic comedy, may find Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” to be smartly written, delightful and entertaining.

“Maggie’s Plan” is recommended!

The Empire of Corpses (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

empireofcorpses

M”The Empire of Corpses” is an an animated film that is complex, smartly written, featuring wonderful animation and art backgrounds but while entertaining, the film may prove to be too complex for some viewers and thus may require multiple viewings in order to grasp the storyline. But if you are looking for a beautiful and smartly written animated film, “The Empire of Corpses” is recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2016 FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Empire of Corpses

DURATION: 120 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen), English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: FUNimation

RATED: TV MA

Release Date: July 5, 2016


Directed by Ryoutarou Makihara

Screenplay by Hiroshi Seko, Koji Yamamoto, Midori Gotou

Original Creator: Project Itoh, Toh Enjoe

Original Character Design: redjuice

Character Designs by Takaaki Chiba

Chief Animation Director: Hirotaka Kato, Takaaki Chiba

Mechanical Design by Gorou Murata, Hitoshi Fukuchi, Junjya IShigaki, Shinobu Tsuneki

Art Direction by Yusuke Takeda

Music by Yoshihiro Ike

Anime Production: Wit Studio


Featuring the following voice talent:

Ayumu Murase/Todd Haberkorn as Friday/Noble_Savage_007

Kana Hanazawa/Morgan Garrett as Hadaly Lilith

Taiten Kusunoki/J. Michael Tatum as Frederick Barnaby

Yoshimasa Hosoya/Jason Liebrecht as John H. Watson

Akio Ohtsuka/Sean Hennigan as M

Daiki Yamashita/Micah Solusod as Nikolai Krasotkin

Shinichiro Miki/Mike McFarland as Alexei Karamazov

Houko Kuwashima/Caitlin Glass as Moneypenny


From the studio that produced Attack on Titan comes The Empire of Corpses, a captivating historical action thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick Award winning novel by Project Itoh. In an alternate version of 19th century London, the world has been revolutionized by “corpse reanimation technology” creating armies of undead who serve the living as laborers across the globe.

In an attempt to revive his dearly departed friend, young medical student John Watson becomes obsessed with replicating the work of Dr. Victor Frankenstein – the legendary corpse engineer whose research produced the only re-animated corpse to possess a soul. But when his illegal experiments put him at odds with the British government, Watson is drafted into a worldwide race to find the lost research notes of Victor Frankenstein before the secrets of the human soul fall into the wrong hands.


From anime production studio Wit Studio and director Ryoutarou Makihara (“Hal”, “Umi Monogatari”) comes “The Empire of Corpses” (Shisha no Teikoku).

An animated film adaptation of Project Itoh (creator of “Harmony and “Genocidal Organ”) and Toh Enjoe’s novel, the film was released in Japan in 2015 and had a limited theatrical release in the US courtesy of FUNimation.

And now, the animated film is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The film features a screenplay by Hiroshi Seko (“Ajin”, “Mob PSycho 100”, “Seraph of the End”), Koji Yamamoto (“Harmony”) and Midori Gotou (“Attack on Titan: Junior high”, “Hozuki no Reitetsu”, “Loups=Garous – The Motion Picture”, music by Yoshihiro Ike (“Gundam Evolve”, “Rage of Bahamut”, “Cobra the Animation”, “Blood: The Last Vampire”), character designs by Takaaki Chiba (“Sengoku Basara”, “Attack on Titan”) and art direction by Yusuke Takeda (“Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and “Eden of the East”).

The film is set in an alternative future of 18th Century England during a time where English scientist Victor Frankenstein has created “The One” (Frankenstein) which revolves reanimating a corpse with a soul in order to think, feel and speak.

But after his creation was destroyed, another method to replace a missing soul was developed and is known as “Necroware”, which can be programmed and upgraded but unlike “The One”, it has no ability to think, feel or speak.  It follows commands.

The world has brought many corpses alive in order to use them as servants which has boosted the economy as they can be used as workers but also by the military, who can use corpse technology for military use.

The film introduces us to John H. Watson, a corpse engineer who has illegally created his own Necroware and has resurrected his deceased friend, who he names it Friday.

Watson is visited by two mysterious individuals and one of them, M, is a member of the British Secret Service and has information that Watson was experimenting with illegal Necroware.  So, he tells John that he can either go to prison or become an agent of the British Empire.  John Watson decides to join the British Empire.

Their first mission is to go to India and follow U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant but they are immediately attacked by corpse assassins who have a grenade embedded inside them and when they pull a pin from their neck, they can explode.

Fortunately for both Watson and Friday, they are rescued by Captain Frederick Burnaby and Watson receives his mission from M that he must find Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov, a Russian corpse engineer who stole “The Memorandum”, the research material belonging to Victor Frankenstein on how to reanimate a corpse with a soul.

But as the three who are joined by Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary Hadaly Lilith and their guide Nikolai Krasotkin, are chased and are targeted by corpse assassins, these assassins have the ability to move differently than a regular corpse.  They are quick and also surprise Watson by showing the ability to possibly talk.

But what happens when they come across Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov and learn more about “The Memorandum” and why is John Watson so interested in it?


VIDEO:

“The Empire of Corpses” is presented in 1080p High Definiton (16:9 anamorphic widescreen). The animation features wonderful character design and gorgeous art backgrounds.

I was struck by how detailed the background art was. How beautiful these painted backgrounds looked and how it complimented the characters.   Overall, picture quality was fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Empire of Corpses” is presented in English and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1. As for the lossless audio, both Japanese and English soundtrack feature crystal clear dialogue and music. Action sequences (such as the fights with the zombie corpses, explosions galore, people screaming and the sounds of the live corpses) utilized the surround channels very well and the voice acting for both soundtracks are fantastic.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Empire of Corpses” contains the following special features:

  • Funimation Short Empire of Corpses – (7:38) Featuring director/writer J. Michael Tatum (voice of Alexei Karamazov) and Mike McFarland (voice of Frederick Burnaby), Morgan Garrett (voice of Hadaly Lilith) and Jason Liebrecht (voice of Dr. John Watson) discussing working on “The Empire of Corpses”.
  • Promo Videos – Featuring two Japanese promo videos
  • Original Trailer – The original theatrical trailer

EXTRAS:

“The Empire of Corpses” comes with a slipcover and both the Blu-ray + DVD discs of the film. The Blu-ray also comes with an UltraViolet code for those wanting to watch the film on their PC/Mac, tablet or cell phone via Digital HD.


What happens when you take an alternative version of England, throw in zombie corpses that are revived and used by society to better the economy.  No more having to worry about how long one can work, these corpses can work 24/7 and follow their master’s request.

These corpses have feel no pain, can’t speak nor do they have a soul to share any emotion towards anyone.

But one corpse was given a soul and that was the creation made by Victor Frankenstein but that creation ended up being destroyed.  So, now we have John Watson trying to follow the footsteps of Frankenstein by digging up and turning his best friend into a living corpse and naming him Friday.

Unfortunately for Watson, he is caught and is given a choice…work for the British government or go to prison.  And of course, Watson chooses to become an agent for the government and try to find a Russian scientist who has obtained documents of the work of Victor Frankenstein.

But what Watson, Friday and the others are not aware of, someone has created a new type of corpse. Faster, humanlike movement and they appear to be wanting to speak.

And as Watson and others try to look for these documents known as “The Memorandum”, their research starts to uncover who is the real culprit pulling the strings of these frightening occurrences.

“The Empire of Corpses” is a complex animated film with so many twists and turns that one probably will find themselves watching multiple times, to see if they have missed anything important.

The film manages to capture the essence of zombies, combined with Frankenstein, showcasing an alternate universe of a world dependent on corpses and what happens when these controlled corpses are being utilized as weapons and possibly used for nefarious situations.

The Blu-ray release features wonderful picture quality as character designs are well-done, the art backgrounds are highly detailed and done magnificently well.  As for special features, you do get a short featurette, promotional videos and a trailer.  And you also get a digital HD code.

Overall, “The Empire of Corpses” is an an animated film that is complex, smartly written, featuring wonderful animation and art backgrounds but while entertaining, the film may prove to be too complex for some viewers and thus may require multiple viewings in order to grasp the storyline.

But if you are looking for a beautiful and smartly written animated film, “The Empire of Corpses” is recommended!

 

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