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

February 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Pirates” is one heck of a wild ride!  It’s one of the more enjoyable pirate films that I have watched and while it is a popcorn action film, it’s so exciting and fun, that I do recommend it!

Images courtesy of © 2014 Lotte Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Pirates

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 130 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 widescreen), Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: NR (Not Rated)

Release Date: January 20, 2015


Directed by Seok-hoon Lee

Written by Seong-il cheon

Cinematography by Young-Ho Kim

Edited by Jin Lee

Art Direction by Ji-ah Kim

Costume Design by Yoo-jin Kwon


Starring:

Nam-gil Kim as Jang Sa-jung

Ye-jin Son as Yeo-wol

Hae-jin Yoo as Chul-bong

Kyeong-yeong Lee as So-ma

Tae-woo Kim as Mo Hong-gab

Cheol-min Park as Monk

Won-hae Kim as Choo-seob

Dal-hwan Jo as San-man

Jeong-geun Sin as Yong-kap

Sulli Choi as Heyk-myo

Yi-kyeong Lee as Cham-bok


On the eve of the founding of the Joseon Dynasty, an unprecedented robbery shocks the nation-in-waiting: a whale has swallowed the Emperor’s Royal Seal, and a bounty placed on its retrieval. Now, every infamous gang of thieves, thugs, pirates, and government agents take to the seas, battling the elements, creatures of the deep, and each other to possess the mother of all rewards.


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One of the top grossing films in Korea in 2014, Seok-hoon Lee’s “The Pirates” will be released on Blu-ray in the U.S. courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

A winner of multiple cinema awards, the film would be watched by over 8.6 million people in South Korea and would gross $64.7 million internationally.

The film would star Nam-gil Kim (“No Regret”, “Bad Boys”), Ye-jin Son (“A Moment to Remember”, “April Snow”), Hae-jin Yoo (“The Warrior”, “The Coast Guard”), Kyeong-yeong Lee (“War of the Arrows”, “White Badge”) and Tae-woo Kim (“J.S.A.: Joint Security Area”, “Like You Know It All”).

The film begins with a soldier named Jang Sa-jun (portrayed by Nam-gil Kim) criticizing the King.  He is nearly killed by his fellow soldier Mo Hong-gab (portrayed by Tae-woo Kim) but his friend blocks the hit.  As his friend tries to prevent Jang Sa-jun from getting killed, Mo Hong-gab kills him and a battle takes place between Jang Sa-jun and Mo Hong-gab.

Jang Sa-jun manages to escape the battle and leaves his former job as a soldier.

Meanwhile, we watch as a group of pirates led by So-ma (portrayed by Kyeong-yeong Lee) and his first officer, a woman named Yeo-wol (portrayed by Ye-jin Son) run a tight crew and by stealing the five golden Bhudda statues.  One of the statues falls to the ocean and we see Yeo-wol diving to get it, she is greeted by a huge whale who she pets and notices its old wound.

When Chul-bong (portrayed by Hae-jin yoo), a fearful pirate overhears So-ma discussing with a government official about having to murder seven pirates aboard the ship, Chul-bong tells everyone and Yeo-wol, realizes that if it’s true, she may have to face her captain to the battle of the death.  As for Chul-bong, he escapes on a survival boat in order to head to safety.

A battle between Yeo-wol and So-ma takes place and Yeo-wol manages to beat her captain.  But rather than face punishment, So-ma falls in the ocean to his death.  Yeo-wol becomes the new leader on the pirate ship.

On another ship, we see a group who work for the King transporting the important seal from China but also delivering the new name for the country to be named Joseon.  They spot a whale with its newborn and they choose to attack it.  The whale ends up trying to defend its young from attacks and dives and falls on the ships deck, breaking it in half.  The seal is still in sight, but then the survivors see the whale eat the seal.

Afraid to tell the King the truth that a whale had eaten the seal, they concoct a story that a group of pirates had stolen the seal.  The King enlists Mo Hong-gab, who was thought to be dead, is released from prison, now sporting an eye patch and wanting to help the King find the Pirates responsible for stealing the seal.  Meanwhile, a reward is set out for anyone who can capture the whale and get the seal back, will be rewarded.

As for Chul-bong, he makes it to land and tries to join a group of thieves led by Jang Sa-jung, now going by the name “Crazy Tiger”.  The group wants nothing but to be a group that succeeds in stealing from the rich but to no avail so far.

Jang Sa-jung finds out that he could be rich if he finds this whale, so without experience, they take in Chul-bong and head to see in the hopes of finding the huge whale.

Meanwhile, Mo Hong-gab goes directly to Yeo-wol and the pirates and tells them if they don’t find that whale, the government will use their power to murder their families and destroy their village.  Prompting Yeo-wol to make a difficult choice if she should save the whale that she once saved or do her job and retrieve the seal.

Meanwhile, another So-ma who is thought to be dead has re-emerged and creates an alliance with the soldiers.  But he wants nothing much to get the whale but also to get his revenge on Yeo-wol.

 

 


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VIDEO:

“The Pirates” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is fantastic as skin tones look natural and closeups featured great detail. The costume design is amazing and this film really showcases the beauty of the costumes.  And if anything, while the film looks fantastic in HD, it does have a few banding issues during an underwater scene but other than that, the film looks great on Blu-ray!

I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding issues during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Pirates” is presented in Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  For a film that utilizes plenty of action, “The Pirates” features a strong lossless soundtrack with great use of the surround channels and LFE.  The chase scene is one of the more impressive moments in the film that really takes advantage of your surround channels and subwoofer.  While not perfect, most audiophiles may feel content with this action-driven soundtrack!

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Pirates” comes with a theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS

“The Pirates” comes with a slipcover.


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When I first started watching “The Pirates”, I have to admit that I couldn’t picture a story about the founding of Korea with the backstory around pirates.   While I did basic research and learned about the Wokou and how there were Japanese pirates that threatened the coastal areas of Japan, China and Korea, I read that Joseon govt. were focused more on the capture and elimination of these pirates.

And my first impression was that this film going to be the banal martial arts/swordfighting popcorn action film, but it turned out to be much better than I expected.  In fact, I enjoyed it much better than the latest movies in the “Pirates of the Last Caribbean” film series.

What “The Pirates” does feature is a lot of action with awesome special effects, riveting action sequences but a lot of humor.  But what breaks it apart from other pirate films is that the storyline is broken up into focusing on various factions.  From Crazy Tiger and his rag-tag bunch of thieves who want to make a name for themselves, a group of pirates led by a female captain who not only kicks ass but she also shows compassion towards her crew and even the whales out in the sea.

But you also get another faction featuring a ruthless pirate that is more interested in revenge and showing his power and last, a dirty and corrupt soldier who will do anything to get the seal, but also to get the revenge for the person responsible for slashing out his eye.

And once the stories of each faction start to emerge as one or combine, that’s when a lot of the fun starts taking place, especially between “Crazy Tiger” Jang Sa-jung, leader of the thieves and “the Dragon”, pirate captain Yeo-wol.  Both actor Nam-gil Kim and actress Ye-jin Son have wonderful chemistry on the big screen and you can’t help but want to see them together in their scenes because their characters are very different from one another, but yet they match well together.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality for “The Pirates” is fantastic.  Featuring vibrant colors, amazing detail in close-ups, especially showcasing the costume design for the film.  There was one scene I saw banding (underwater scene) but other than that, the picture quality is wonderful.  And the lossless soundtrack features great use of the surround channels and good use of LFE.  Unfortunately, for special features, all that is included is the trailer for the film.

Overall, “The Pirates” is one heck of a wild ride!  It’s one of the more enjoyable pirate films that I have watched and while it is a popcorn action film, it’s so exciting and fun, that I do recommend it!

Great combination of action and humor, “The Pirates” is highly recommended!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is a fun, entertaining and safe film for the entire family! 

Image courtesy of © 2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

YEAR OF FILM: 2014

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:39:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, english 2.0 Description Track, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Disney

Rated: PG (For Rude Humor including Some Reckless Behavior and Language)

RELEASE DATE: February 10, 2015


Based on the book by Judith Viorst

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Screenplay by Rob Lieber

Story by Casey La Scala

Executive Producer: Peter Schafer

Produced by Marc Bienstock, Casey La Scala, Brad Luff

Music by Nathan Whitehead

Cinematography by Doug Emmett

Edited by Paul Covington

Casting by Nancy Nayor

Production Direction by Brian Stultz

Art Direction by Brian Baker

Set Decoration by Thurston Edwards

Costume Design by Carol Cutshall


Starring:

Steve Carrell as Ben Cooper

Jennifer Garner as Kelly Cooper

Ed Oxenbould as Alexander Cooper

Dylan Minnette as Anthony cooper

Kerris Dorsey as Emily Cooper

Elise Vargas as Baby Trevor

Zoey Vargas as Baby Trevor

Sidney Fullmer as Becky Gibson

Bella Thorne as Celia

Megan Mullally as Nina


Disney’s heartwarming comedy will have your entire family laughing out loud. Based on the best-selling book, it follows the exploits of Alexander as he experiences the most terrible and horrible day of his young life and wonders if bad things only happen to him. But he discovers he’s not alone when his dad (Steve Carrell), mom (Jennifer Garner) and family live through their own terrible — and hilarious — day. It will tickle everyone’s funny bone and warm their hearts as they discover how even on rotten days, families can grow closer.


In 1972, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst was released and since then, the book has received multiple awards, and in 1990, received a musical adaptation.

Over 20-years-later, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” received a film adaptation directed by Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”, “Youth in revolt”, “Cedar Rapids”) and written by Rob Lieber.

The film would star Steve Carell (“The Office”, “Crazy, Stupid, Love”, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), Jennifer Garner (“Alias”, “Dallas Buyers club”, “Daredevil”), Ed Oxenbould (“Julian”, “Paper Planes”), Dylan Minnette (“Prisoners”, “Let Me In”, “Saving Grace”), Kerris Dorsey (“Walk the Line”, “Moneyball”, “Brothers & Sisters”), Bella Thorne (“Shake It Up”, “Frenemies”) and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”, “The Kings of Summer”).

And now “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in Feb. 2015.

The film begins with Alexander Cooper (portrayed by Ed Oxenbould) showing how his family had a very bad day.  We see the family driving in a minivan that has been badly damaged with a sick sister, a baby with green markings all over his face and everyone in not the best mood.

Alexander then begins talking about what happened to the family days before.

We learn that Alexander is getting pumped up for his birthday and can’t wait to invite Becky Gibson (portrayed by Sidney Fullmer), the girl of his dreams.

His older brother Anthony (portrayed by Dylan Minnette) is dating the conceited popular girl on campus, Celia (portrayed by Bella Thorne) and he is going to take his driver’s license in hopes he can bring his girlfriend to the prom.

Alexander’s older sister Emily (portrayed by Kerris Dorsey) has the lead role to play Peter Pan for the school play and is busy studying for her role.

His mother Kelly (portrayed by Jennifer Garner) has received positive words from her boss Nina (portrayed by Megan Mullally) that once they publish a book and all goes well, she will receive a promotion but she must focus on the campaign, which causes Kelly to worry because she won’t be as home as much for her husband and children.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s father Ben (portrayed by Steve Carell) has become a “fommy” (father mommy) and is busy taking care of baby Trevor and the household.  But he hopes that he can one day return to work.  And he has a job interview coming up.

While, everyone seems to be having good luck, Alexander feels that he is the only in the family that’s not.  As Alexander is hoping people will come over to his birthday party, a popular guy on campus is throwing his birthday party on the same evening.  So, his chances of Becky coming to his party is nil.

Meanwhile, a guy he knows has posted photos of Alexander’s head on various photos and sent to the entire class.  And to make things worse for the day, he accidentally catches Becky’s lab book on fire and creates a fire in class, he accidentally drops baby Trevor’s favorite bumblebee pacifier in the garbage disposal.

So, at dinner, everyone in the family has had a magnificent day, except Alexander, who has had the worst day possible.

With Alexander’s birthday coming up, he puts a candle on a cupcake and blows out a candle to make a wish.  And that wish is that his family would experience a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, so they will know what kind of day Alexander had.

But what happens when Alexander’s wish comes true?


VIDEO:

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:49:1 aspect ratio).  The film boasts fantastic detail as you can see skin pores, the sweat on Steve Carell’s face, while skin tones are natural and black levels are nice and deep.

I didn’t notice any banding or artifact issues during my viewing of the film, but picture quality is fantastic!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, an English 2.0 descriptive audio soundtrack and also in French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby digital language tracks.

The film is primarily dialogue and musically-driven.  Dialogue and music are crystal clear with some scenes featuring ambiance, especially during moments where there are is a lot of people at a certain scene.  Also, a few action scenes featuring a car accident and a mishap at the play utilize the surround channels.  For the most part, the lossless soundtrack is very good!

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” comes with the following special features:

  • Alexander… in Real Life – (5:18) Featuring interviews with the original creator/author Judith Viorst and Alexander Viorst.  Both talking about how the book was created.
  • Snappy Crocs and Punchy Roos: The Australian Outback Yard Party - (7:12) A featurette about showcasing Alexander’s love for Australia.
  • Walkabout: A Video Diary – (6:08) Featuring Ed Oxenbould filming the cast and crew, while the cast and crew discuss what Ed Oxenbould brings to the set.
  • And the Delightful, Magnificent, Very Good Bloopers – (3:34) “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” outakes.
  • “Hurricane” by The Vamps – (3:58) Music Video featuring The Vamps.

EXTRAS:

“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” comes with a slipcover and also a Disney Movie Rewards code.


“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” was a film that many fans of the book would say “finally!”.

With a lot of recent children’s books turning into film, it was natural for Judith Viorst’s popular children’s book receive a film adaptation and the film has the elements to make a a wonderful family film trilogy.

Unlike the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” which had its fair-share of humor but in someways, a bit problematic as the main child protagonist was vain and selfish, at least with Alexander, he’s a boy that cares for his family and his friends, the problem is that things tend to not go his way.

With “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, the film operates more on a family dynamic and I feel this is where this family film tends to shine.  Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner are no doubt star talent to play the parents of four children, but these children are nothing to despise.

You have your teenage son dating the popular girl at school the theater-driven daughter who wants quiet time to learn her lines, you have a baby who only wants to use a bumblebee pacifier and then there’s Alexander, who looks at his parents and his older sibling success and thinking that they don’t have their bad days, only him.

So, he makes a wish for them to experience a bad day and sure enough, for each of them, nothing goes right and Alexander realizes that his wish has come true.

How bad can it get for the Cooper family?  Let’s say a plenty.

And one of the fun things to see throughout the film are appearances by Megan Mullally, Donald Glover, Jennifer Coolidge, Dick Van Dyke and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality offers a lot of detail and colors are vibrant, skintones look natural and the lossless soundtrack provides crystal clear dialogue, music and also surround-use during the more action-driven scenes.  And for special features, you get a few of them including the interview with Judith Viorst and the original Alexander, her son Alexander Viorst discussing the book and how it was created.

Overall, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is a fun, entertaining and safe film for the entire family!

And while its story plays it quite safe when compared to a film like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or even “Home Alone”, thanks to its cast and constant shenanigans, it’s a hilarious family film worth recommending.

La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 31, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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While the purveying atmosphere of this film makes you feel that bad things will happen to some character…you know that it’s just a matter of when.  And that uneasiness of its characters living everyday life is what makes “La Cienaga” a film worth watching!

Image courtesy of © Lita Stantic Productions S.A. 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743

YEAR OF FILM: 2001

DURATION: 101 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, Color, Spanish 2.0 Surround, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: January 27, 2015


Directed by Lucrecia Martel

Written by Lucrecia Martel

Executive Producer: Ana Aizenberg, Diego Guebel, Mario Pergolini

Produced by Lita Stantic

Co-Producer: Jose Maria Morales

Line Producer: Marta Parga

Cinematography by Hugo Colace

Edited by Santiago Ricci

Casting by Florencia Blanco, Martin Mainoli, Luciana Rico, Natalia Smirnoff

Production & Art Direction by Graciela Oderingo

Set Decoration by Cristina Nigro


Starring:

Mercedes Moran as Tali

Graciela Borges as Mecha

Martin Adjemian as Gregorio

Leonora Balcarce as Veronica

Silvia Bayle as Mercedes

Sofia Bertolotto as Momi

Juan Cruz Bordeu as Jose

Noelia Bravo Herrera as Agustina

Maria Micol Ellero as Mariana

Andrea Lopez as Isabel

Sebastian Montagna as Luciano

Daniel Valenzuela as Rafael

Franco Veneranda as Martin

Fabio Villafane as Perro

Diego Baenas as Joaquin


The release of Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga heralded the arrival of an astonishingly vital and original voice in Argentine cinema. With a radical and disturbing take on narrative, beautiful cinematography, and a highly sophisticated use of on- and offscreen sound, Martel turns her tale of a dissolute bourgeois extended family, whiling away the hours of one sweaty, sticky summer, into a cinematic marvel. This visceral take on class, nature, sexuality, and the ways that political turmoil and social stagnation can manifest in human relationships is a drama of extraordinary tactility, and one of the great contemporary film debuts.


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Years before Argentian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel would be known for her involvement in “New Argentine Cinema” and before the making of her critically appraised films “The Holy Girl” and “The Headless Woman”, Martel would introduce herself to the world with her debut film “La Ciénaga” (The Swamp).

With the film receiving the Criterion Collection treatment and a release on Blu-ray and DVD in Jan. 2015, “La Ciénaga” which had been voted as the “greatest Latin American film of the decade” in a poll by New York Critics, will be released in the U.S. with a new 4K resolution transfer.

“La Cienaga” is a film that focuses on two Argentine bourgeois families and is presented as a day-in-the-life of these two families.

One family features a 50-year-old woman named Mecha (portrayed by Graciela Borges) who raises several teenagers.

The family tries to live an upper class life, while Mecha’s husband Gregorio (portrayed by Martin Adjemian) wants to live life like he is young, and in order to live the life, both are often drinking a lot of alcohol and belittling their Amerindian servants.  Mecha thinks her servant is stealing from her and thinks they are lazy.

While her daughter Momi (portrayed by Sofia Bertolotto) seems to be smitten with one of the female servants named Isabel (portrayed by Andrea Lopez).  And Mecha’s

And for the summer, Mecha, Gregorio and kids spend their summer at a country home which they have named “La Mandragora”.

Meanwhile, Mecha’s cousin, Tali (portrayed by Mercedes Moran) lives in La Cienaga (The Swamp) and has four younger children that she and Rafael (portrayed by Daniel Valenzuela) are busy them.   And father and children love to hunt.

Take a peek into the life of both families living their life around La Cienaga.


VIDEO:

“La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743″ is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic as the 4K restoration brings out the colors and additional clarity of the film. Skin tones look natural, there is a good amount of grain throughout the film and I saw no signs of problematic artifacts or banding.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Approved by director Lucrecia Martel, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the original cut camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743″ is presented in Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with English subtitles.  Dialogue and music is clear and there are moments where rifle shots, dog barking are heard with great clarity.  I didn’t notice any hiss or popping during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743″ comes with the following special features:

  • Lucrecia Martel – (18:28) Filmmaker Lucrecia Martel discusses her approach to filmmaking.
  • Andres Di Tella - (23:41) Writer/Director Andres Di Tella discusses Lucrecia Martel’s filmmaking and her film “La Cienaga”.
  • Trailer – (1:50) The original theatrical trailer for “La Cienaga”.

EXTRAS:

“La Ciénaga – The Criterion Collection #743″ comes with a six-page insert with the essay “What’s Outside the Frame” by David Oubina.


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There are not many times in my life where I watch a film about families and thinking about how dysfunctional and messed up they are.

Prior to La Ciénaga’s release in 2001, I would often compare films to Ang Lee’s 1997 film “The Ice Storm” of it being on the top of families that are f’d up in cinema but now I can add another that can easily be on top of that list, Lucrecia Martel’s “La Ciénaga”.

From the opening scene of “La Ciénaga”, audiences are immediately sent a red flag in regards to the bourgeois families in the film.

From the opening scenes of copious amounts of alcohol being drunk, we are treated with the first red flag as family matriarch, Mecha and her family and friends are partying, she falls on her wine glass injuring herself as shards of glass penetrate her chest.

But what is shocking is that the adults do nothing to help her, it’s her children that tries to help her and we realize that there is something up with these families.

But while “The Ice Storm” sets the stage of characters that have problematic situations, “La Cienaga” is about a family that lives like they do because that is the life.  Those who were probably quite social during the ’60s-’80s now in their older age still wanting to hold on to their younger years, children who are discovering their sexuality but the bad part about this is that because the families and extended families are together, these teenagers are discovering sexuality with one another.  And its a incestuous overtone that you wonder if these children will cross over the line.

And that’s one thing that “La Ciénaga” had a lot of, wanting to see how far these characters would cross that underlining line of taboo.  Children holding guns, not knowing if they are going to off someone accidentally.   Cousins showering next to each other, curious about each other’s sexuality and wondering if they will have sex with each other.  One of the daughters, if she will hook up with the maid?

That is what makes “La Ciénaga” so fascinating is that it depicts the characters in everyday life, but when you watch that everyday life, you can’t help but feel that something is going to happen.  Something bad and it keeps you interested in the film.

If there is one thing that I know some people had difficulties is the racism towards the Amerindians (from what I have read online, a lot of the racism from Argentina is typically towards immigrants from Bolivia or Paraguay).

But this film is a depiction of what Lucrecia Martel had seen growing up and it reflects the decay of humanity in some ways.  Parents too preoccupied with themselves, thinking ill of others, while curious children being children but they are within inches of crossing over a line of incestual desire.  No matter how wrong things may look, there is no need of correcting it, especially if you were raised with a belief that those on a lower economic level are all thieves or terrible people.  When these people themselves are no different with the pool being disgusting, homes being crowded and really, people that resent others, are co-dependent within other members of the family and perhaps even being resentful of the uncaring to those who receive more attention than others.

In the film, we see a cow just stuck in the swamp, with no way to get out.  These characters are stuck in their man-made swamp and like the cow, potential of escaping that life is very low.

As for the Blu-ray, picture quality for “La Ciénaga” is well-done.  The film was meant to be shot the way it is, looking dreary and lack of happiness or hope.  But the 4K mastering does bring out the clarity of the film, while the lossless stereo soundtrack is clear and front-channel driven.  You also get a few special features included.

Overall, “La Ciénaga” is a wonderful debut film for Lucrecia Martel.  Watching the film makes you become a voyeur of a crowded home, two different families in a depressing, gloomy background.

While the purveying atmosphere of this film makes you feel that bad things will happen to some character…you know that it’s just a matter of when.  And that uneasiness of its characters living everyday life is what makes “La Ciénaga” a film worth watching!

My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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 “My Winnipeg” is one of the key highlights of Guy Maddin’s oeuvre.  Creative, unique, intelligent and also magnificent, “My Winnipeg” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2008 Paddlewheel Productions, Inc. 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741

YEAR OF FILM: 2007

DURATION: 80 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, English Stereo, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: IFC Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2015


Directed by Guy Maddin

Written by Guy Maddin, George Toles (Dialogue Writer)

Executive Producer: John Hart, Ted Hope

Produced by Christine Vachon, Lauren Zalaznick

Music by Ed Tomney

Cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy

Edited by James Lyons

Casting by Jakki Fink

Art Direction by Anthony Stabley

Set Decoration by Mary E. Gullickson

Costume Design by Nancy Steiner


Starring:

Ann Savage as Mother

Louis Negin as Mayor Cornish

Amy Stewart as Janet Maddin

Darcy Fehr as Guy Maddin

Brendan Cade as Cameron Maddin

Wesley Cade as Ross Maddin


The geographical dead center of North America and the beloved birthplace of Guy Maddin, Winnipeg is the frosty and mysterious star of Maddin’s “docu-fantasia.” A work of memory and imagination, the film burrows into what the director calls “the heart of the heart” of the continent, conjuring a city as delightful as it is fearsome, populated by sleepwalkers and hockey aficionados. Take part in Winnipeg’s epic annual scavenger hunt! Pay your respects to the racehorses forever frozen in the river! Help judge the yearly Golden Boy pageant! What is real and what is fantasy is left up to the viewer to sort out in Maddin’s hypnotic, expertly conceived paean to that wonderful and terrifying place known as My Hometown.


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From filmmaker Guy Maddin (“The Saddest Music in the World”, “The Heart of the World”, “Night Mayor”) comes his 2007 award-winning mockumentary titled “My Winnipeg”.

Often called a surrealist mockumentary about Maddin’s hometown of Winnipeg, in 2007, it was featured in various film critic’s top ten films of 2008.

And now, “My Winnipeg” has received the Blu-ray treatment from the Criterion Collection!

“My Winnipeg” is created like a documentary featuring archival and re-enacted film footage which is narrated by a character named Guy Maddin (portrayed by Darcy Fehr, dialogue voiced by George Toles) who desperately wants to leave Winnipeg.  So, in order to do that, Maddin decides to create a film as the way to leave the city and film his way out.  But can he truly escape?

The first part focuses on the Canadian Pacific Railway and why Winnipeggers never leave Winnipeg and how the city is the sleepwalking capital of the world.

Maddin then goes to find his childhood home and rents the location.  He hires actors to play his family in order to recreate scenes from his childhood memories, with the exception of including his father and also himself.  He remembers how his mother over-reacted to Janet Maddin hitting a deer with her car and believes that she was covering up a sexual encounter.

And Maddin goes into the “What if’s?” of Winnipeg and recounts the history of Winnipeg.  From the Wolseley strike of 1957 in which mothers fought against the traffic department of cutting down a giant elm in the center of Wolseley Avenue and Greenwood St.  The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the area in 1923, If Day featuring a simulated Nazi German invasion and occupation of Winnipeg in 1942 during World War II and the destruction of various Winnipeg architectural landmarks but how the salvation of Winnipeg was the “Black Tuesdays”, a fictional team of hockey heroes in their ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

But as Maddin tries to continue on his film about Winnipeg, will it work in his plans to escape the city?


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VIDEO:

“My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741″ is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio).  It’s important to remind everyone that because it is a mockumentary, you have two types of footage, archival and also modern digital footage which looks fantastic in HD.  For the most part, “My Winnipeg” looks amazing when modern footage is featured and of course, other footage altered to look as if it was shot in Winnipeg sometime within the last century.   The film is well-contrast with grays and whites being bold, black levels being nice and deep.    The film features clever editing in order to create an old-time feel.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Supervised by director Guy Maddin and director of photography Jody Shapiro, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from a 35 mm interpositive.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio soundtrack, “My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741″ is presented in English 2.0 Surround Stereo.  Dialogue narration and musicals core are clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original digital master files. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741″ comes with the following special features:

  • CINE-ESSAYS – Cine-essays on various Winnipegiana created by filmmaker Evan Johnson and director Guy Madden in 2014 on “Puberty”, “Colours”, “Elms” and “Cold”.
  • Guy Maddin and Robert Enright - (52:12) A conversation between Guy Maddin and art critic Robert Enright.
  • “My Winnipeg” Live in Toronto – (9:01) A 2008 screening of “My Winnipeg” at the Royal Cinema in Toronto.  Featuring live narration by director Guy Maddin.
  • Spanky: To the Pier and Back (2008) – (3:56) A short film paying homage to a pug named Spanky.  Featuring a new introduction by Guy Maddin (1:46).
  • Sinclair (2010) – (4:05) A film created by Guy Maddin in 2010 which opened at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox building.  Featuring a new introduction by Guy Maddin (2:53).
  • Only Dream Things (2012) – (19:16) A short created as part of an installation at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for its Centennial in 2012.  Featuring a new introduction by Guy Maddin (2:06).
  • The Hall Runner (2014) – (3:22) A 2014 short narrated by Guy Maddin.
  • Louis Riel for Dinner (2014) – (2:52) A 2014 animated short narrated by Guy Maddin.
  • Trailer – (2:10) The original theatrical trailer for “My Winnipeg”.

EXTRAS:

“My Winnipeg – The Criterion Collection #741″ comes with a poster-sized insert with the essay “My Guy’s Winnipeg” by Wayne Koestenbaum.


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You can’t help but watch “My Winnipeg” and feel admiration for what Guy Maddin was able to create.

The imaginative mockumentary is creative, intelligent and entertaining and he takes on the city of Winnipeg, his hometown.

Taking real life situations that happened in Winnipeg’s history, combining it archived footage, modern re-enactments, imagination based on memories, you can’t helpt but be amazed with what Maddin was able to create.

It’s also one of the few films that makes you wonder if what Maddin had in the film really happened?

And sure enough, some of the historical situations which included the Wolsely Strike of 1957 and the Strike of 1919 are true.  But then there are other things in this film that makes you wonder how much is imaginative and what is real, such as the horses who were trying to flee a fire, going into a frozen river where they all died as they were frozen to the ice and only their frozen heads above water, were sticking out.

Were some of the streets in Winnipeg really named after prostitutes? Is there really a law against throwing away old signs?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But that is what is amazing about “My Winnipeg” as Guy Maddin was able to create almost a Bizarro world of Winnipeg and as much as it is a place that the character wants to leave, there is too much of Winnipeg that makes a person want to stay and continue to call it home.

I can understand as I grew up in a small town, dreaming to escape it forever and live in a metropolitan city.  But while I was able to escape, I somehow found myself back into the area.  And for decades, when describing to people of the hometown I grew up in, somehow it ranged from a mix of Twin Peaks to the most desolate part on Earth, but yet, in reality, the place is anything but that.

But growing up in a place that has had so much history, you can’t help but have fun and recreate one’s memories, may it be in your mind, or in Guy Maddin’s case, into a film.

And that is what makes “My Winnipeg” a true work of art.  A creative, unique film which combines classic editing devices that are reminiscent of the silent era and narration that feels poetic and intelligent. And while this film may be different and non-banal, those who appreciate artistic creations in cinema, will no doubt appreciate Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg” as a work of art.

And as the Criterion Collection release is magnificent when it comes to presenting the film in HD, the film looks and sounds magnificent on Blu-ray and there are a good number of special features included, that Guy Maddin fans will find the various cine-essays and interviews to be enlightening and engaging.

Overall, “My Winnipeg” is one of the key highlights of Guy Maddin’s oeuvre.  Creative, unique, intelligent and also magnificent, “My Winnipeg” is highly recommended!

The Zero Theorem (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Zero Theorem” is a fascinating sci-fi film that takes a look at the decay of society. Complex but yet entertaining, “The Zero Theorem” is a wonderful film for Gilliam fans but also cinema fans wanting something unique. Recommended!


TITLE: The Zero Theorem

YEAR OF FILM: 2013

DURATION: 111 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Closed Captions

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

Rated: R (For Language and Some Sexuality/Nudity)

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2015


Directed by Terry Gilliam

Screenplay by Pat Rushin

Executive Producer: Ana Aizenberg, Diego Guebel, Mario Pergolini

Produced by Lita Stantic

Co-Producer: Jose Maria Morales

Line Producer: Marta Parga

Cinematography by Hugo Colace

Edited by Santiago Ricci

Casting by Florencia Blanco, Martin Mainoli, Luciana Rico, Natalia Smirnoff

Production & Art Direction by Graciela Oderingo

Set Decoration by Cristina Nigro

Costume Design by Carlo Poggioli


Starring:

Christoph Waltz as Qohen Leth

David Thewlis as Joby

Melanie Thierry as Bainsley

Matt Damon as Management

Lucas Hedges as Bob

Tilda Swinton as Dr. Shrink-Rom


Qohen Leth (2-time Academy Award© winner Christoph Waltz) is a computer genius plagued with existential angst. Eccentric and reclusive, he lives in a burnt-out church, toiling on a top-secret project personally assigned by Management (Matt Damon) to discover the meaning of life. If there is one. Witness a vision of the techno-philosophical future from Terry Gilliam, the visionary director of BRAZIL, 12 MONKEYS, and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, also starring Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, and Melanie Thierry.


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From Terry Gilliam (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “Time Bandits”, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, “Brazil”, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”) comes a sci-film titled “The Zero Theorem”.

The film stars Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”, “Carnage”, “Water for Elephants”), Melanie Thierry (“Babylon A.D.”, “The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch”, “The Princess of Montpensier”), Lucas Hedges (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Labor Day”, “Kill the Messenger”), David Thewlis (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Seven Years in Tibet”), Matt Damon (“The Bourne Identity” films”, “Good Will Hunting”, “The Departed”) and Tilda Swinton (“Adaptation.”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”).

Some have called the film the final part of the “Brazil” trilogy (with the second film being “12 Monkeys”). And now “The Zero Theorem” will be released on Blu-ray in January 2015.

“The Zero Theorem” revolves around a programmer named Qohen Leth (portrayed by Christoph Waltz).  His job is to crunch entities for a company known as Mancom.

But life for Qohen is not simple.  He suffers from existential angst and with so much of his life worrying about the value of life and the existence of life, it has led him staying inside his lab and often waiting for a phone call which he hopes will bring him the answers that he has been seeking.

As Qohen has received psychiatric evaluations, doctors see him as normal and healthy.  But management thinks he is insane.

One day at a corporate party at Mancom, he nearly chokes on an olive and is rescued by a bubbly and beautiful woman named Bainsley (portrayed by Melanie Thierry).

As Qohen tries to work at home, he is introduced to a massive supercomputer known as “The Neural Net Mancive” which contains all entities crunched by workers.  And Qohen’s job is to solve “The Zero Theorem”, a mysterious mathematical formula.

As he sees an AI therapist named Dr. Shrink-ROM (portrayed by Tilda Swinton), she starts to notice that he may suffer from various conditions.  Meanwhile, Qohen starts to have nightmares of a black hole.

Frustrated with his work, Qohen smashes his computer with a hammer but all of a sudden, he is greeted by Bainsley but also the manager’s son, Bob (portrayed by Lucas Hedges).

And Qohen begins to interact with both of them.


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VIDEO:

“The Zero Theorem” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:75:1 aspect ratio).  It’s important to note that the film was shot with a lower budget considering it’s a sci-fi film.  Shot on film, the film features vibrant colors.  The film features amazing detail during closeups.

I did not see any major banding or artifact issues during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “The Zero Theorem” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  The film is primarily driven by the film’s environments and thus the ambiance can be heard through the surround channels.  Dialogue and George Fenton’s musical score are crystal clear and while not a immersive soundtrack, the soundtrack does sound very good!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Zero Theorem” comes with the following special features:

  • Behind the Scenes – (18:29) Terry Gilliam and the cast talk about working on the film and working with each other.
  • The Visual Effects - (6:39) A featurette about the visual effects of “The Zero Theorem”.
  • The Zero Theorem: Costumes – (28:39) A featurette about the costumes on “The Zero Theorem” and working with Carlo Poggioli.
  • The Zero Theorem: The Sets – (18:10) A featurette about the set and interviews Terry Gilliam, the executive producer and production designer David Warren about shooting in Bucharest.
  • Trailer – (29:19) The Screen Guild Theater radio athnology series broadcasted on March 15, 1943 featuring Claudette Colbert, Randolph Scott and Rudy Vallee.

EXTRAS:

“The Zero Theorem” comes with a slipcover.


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For those familiar with Terry Gilliam’s oeuvre, he has managed to create a new world but also taking on various themes.

In the case of “The Zero Theorem”, the film revolves around a man who becomes unattached to society due to the increasing involvement of technology and how it permeates society, through ads and everywhere else.

For its primary character, Qohen represents a man who wants to know the meaning of life when everyone is literally dehumanized and connected to technology.  He’s lost, frustrated and literally disenchanted with society and he suffers from the ultimately feeling that he is alone.

Of course, because he is “different”, he is seen as a problem.

In many ways, the film is about the decay of society and because of its complexity, some may want to watch the film multiple times and may discover something different each time while they are watching.  It’s how I felt about “Brazil” and many of Terry Gilliam’s films, but it’s part of why I appreciate his films, because nothing is force fed.  Nothing is simple.

The film features a wonderful performance by Christoph Waltz and you also get a few appearances not just by Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton, but also other talents who briefly appear (keep your eyes on the commercials and the doctors).

The Blu-ray features vibrant colors and looks very good in HD, while the lossless soundtrack is appropriate and not too immersive but features crystal clear dialogue and music.  You also get a few special features that go into the making of “The Zero Theorem”.

Overall, Terry Gilliam films are always films that I appreciate.  There are not many directors that force me to rewatch a film several times but in the case of “The Zero Theore” and other Gilliam films, I discover something new each time, but also see his message much more clearly.

“The Zero Theorem” is a fascinating sci-fi film that takes a look at the decay of society.  Complex but yet entertaining, “The Zero Theorem” is a wonderful film for Gilliam fans but also cinema fans wanting something unique.

Recommended!

 

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

January 18, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Fury” is a unique type of war film and there is no doubt that it is the best war film to feature tank battles on the big screen. The Blu-ray itself looks fantastic and sounds magnificent that videophiles and audiophiles will be proud with this release. A captivating and riveting war film, David Ayer’s “Fury” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2014 Norman Licensing. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Fury

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 135 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Release Date: January 13, 2015

Directed by David Ayer

Written by David Ayer

Produced by David Ayer, Bill Block, Jon Lesher, Ethan Smith

Co-Producer: Jon Lesher

Executive Producer: Anton Lessine, Alex Ott, Brad Pitt, Sasha Shapiro, Ben Waisbren

Music by Steven Price

Cinematography by Roman Vasyanov

Edited by Jay Cassidy, Dody Dorn

Casting by Lindsay Graham, Mary Vernieu

Production Design by Andrew Menzies

Art Direction by Phil Harvey, Mark Scruton

Set Decoration by Lee Gordon, Malcolm Stone

Costume Design by Maja Meschede, Anna B. Sheppard

Starring:

Brad Pitt as Don “Wardaddy” Collier

Shia LaBeouf as Boyd “Bible” Swan

Logan Lerman as Norman Ellison

Michael Pena as Trini “Gordo” Garcia

Jon Bernthal as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis

Jim Parrack as Sergeant Binkowski

Brad William Henke as Sergeant Davis

Kevin Vance as Sergeant PEterson

Xavier Samuel as Lt. Parker

Jason Isaacs as Captain Waggoner

Anamaria Marinca as Irma

Alicia von Rittberg as Emma

Scott Eastwood as Sergeant Miles

Laurence Spellman as Sergeant Dillard

April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

With the Nazi Germany tank squadron  overpowering America’s tank squadron, an army sergeant and his five-man crew inside a Sherman tank, must try to strike against the Nazi’s despite them being outnumbered and outgunned.  Will this crew survive the fight?

This is the story from filmmaker David Ayer (“Training Day”, “The Fast and the Furious”, “End of Watch”), who felt inclined to write a story about set in World War II after a family members who fought in the war, began talking about their involvement.  Also, inspired by Belton Y. Cooper’s “Death Traps” which was about armored warfare in World War II.

The film stars Brad Pitt (“Inglorious Basterds”, “Fight Club”, “World War Z”), Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers” films, “Disturbia”), Logan Lerman (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Percy Jackson” films), Michael Pena (“Shooter”, “End of Watch”, “American Hustle”) and Jon Bernthal (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “The Ghost”, “Fury”).

The film budgeted at around $68 million, would go on to earn over $201 million in the box office.

And now, “Fury” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Fury” takes place during the war when the Allies are making their final push into Nazi Germany.

Army Staff Sergeant of the 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, Don “Wardaddy” Collier (portrayed by Brad Pitt) commands a M4A3E8 76mm Sherman tank named Fury.

Having seen comrades decimated by the Nazi Germans, he has become hardened during the war and is upset at the death of his top driver/bow gunner.

His staff includes gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (portrayed by Shia LaBeouf), loader Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (portrayed by Jon Bernthal) and driver “Trini “Gordo” Garcia (portrayed by Michael Pena).

While arriving at an Ally camp and the only survivor of a Tank division decimated by the Nazis, he is given another driver/bow gunner, an Army typist named Norman Ellison who has never seen war before and is not sure why he is assigned to fight in a tank.

As Wardaddy is dismayed that he is getting someone with no experience and also someone who is full of fear, he gives Norman to get acclimated by cleaning all the blood inside the tank.

As the crew are given a new mission, Norman driving the tank sees an SS soldier but instead of shooting him, he allows the soldier to shoot at an ally tank in front of him, which leads to their death.  Wardaddy is insulted that Norman didn’t do anything and Norman tells him that he didn’t shoot because they were young. Wardaddy and the crew, who have been together since the North African campaign, remind Norman that this is war and he must shoot at them no matter what.

While continuing on their mission, the crew must worry if their new driver/bow gunner will have their backs during this war or will his negligence lead them to their death?

VIDEO:

“Fury” was mastered in 4K and is presented in 1080P High Definition.  The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking as detail is superb, from the closeups of everyone’s face during battle.  Closeups of the tank to even bullet trails flying all around looks fantastic.

Skin tones look natural, black levels are nice and deep, there are no signs of banding or compression artifacts during explosions.

“Fury” looks impressive on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Along with amazing picture quality, “Fury” delivers with a magnificent lossless soundtrack.  Presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, everything about this film, may it be the rumble of the tanks, explosions, bullets whizzing in the air, the sound of infantrymen singing from a distant, this is one immersive soundtrack that sounds fantastic!

Definitely a Blu-ray release showcasing a wonderful lossless soundtrack to kick off 2015, “Fury” sounds magnificent in HD!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Fury” comes with the following special features:

  • Deleted and Extended Scenes – Featuring 16 deleted and extended scenes.
  • Blood Brothers – (11:08) The actors discuss working with each other and also working with the veterans and how they became brothers during filming.
  • Director’s Combat Journal – (17:32) A look at David Ayer’s challenge to direct the film and to make the film look and feel authentic down to the technical details and action.
  • Armored Warriors: The Real Men Inside the Shermans – (12:11) A featurette featuring veterans of World War II who were on Shermans discussing the war and their memories from the past in battle.
  • Taming the Beasts: How to Drive, Fire & Shoot Inside a 30 Ton Tank – (12:48) How the tanks were secured for the film and how to have the actors interact with them.
  • Photo Gallery – Featuring images/stills of the cast, crew and veterans.

EXTRAS

“Fury” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.

When it comes to World War II films, there have been many movies about the war but when it comes to featuring armored warfare, there are only a handful of films that focus specifically on tank battles.

There is the 1951 Lewis Seiler film titled “The Tanks are Coming” and you also get a little of it in the Franklin J. Schaffner 1970 film “Patton”, but there is no doubt that director David Ayer did a magnificent job in order to show his respect for the veterans of World War II by trying to make the most authentic war film focusing on tanks.

From the beginning of the film, you feel that the crew of the Fury are walking into an uphill battle against an enemy that has shown itself to be a juggernaut.  Of course, we know the Panzer units of World War II were key to the success of Nazi Germany and the Allies had a hard time facing the Germans as they were outnumbered, outgunned but through key strategy between the Allies and Russia, were able to defeat Nazi Germany and win the war.

But this film is not about winning the war, it’s about a hardened army sergeant and his crew who are sent out on missions knowing that their chances are slim.  But on duty, these men have the honor to fight in belief that the war will be over soon, but until then, many men will have to die.  And they must continue their duty and strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

David Ayer does a fine job on focusing on the war, the technical issues that the crew must face and showing them at war.

Brad Pitt does a fantastic job of playing a sergeant who is strong and cold in front of his crew, but when alone, he suffers from PTS and doesn’t want his crew to know that behind-the-scenes, while a strong man, he hates the war and the Nazi’s.

The film also gives actor Logan Lerman to take on a role of a young soldier put into the battlefield with no experience and see his transformation of fear, anguish but then seeing the war upfront, the people dying and eventually, becoming a soldier.

Of course, one of the best part about the film is the cinematography and how the war is presented.  David Ayer does his utmost best to showcase these armored battles with efficacy and going through a lot of research in order to bring these tank battles to the big screen.

On Blu-ray, the 4K mastering bring amazing detail and the film looks magnificent on Blu-ray.  And along with the detail, comes a magnificent and immersive, lossless soundtrack.  There are a good number of special features, including interviews with veterans who fought during World War II via Sherman tanks.

Overall, “Fury” is a unique type of war film and there is no doubt that it is the best war film to feature tank battles on the big screen.  The Blu-ray itself looks fantastic and sounds magnificent that videophiles and audiophiles will be proud with this release.

A captivating and riveting war film, David Ayer’s “Fury” is highly recommended!

Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is among the most memorable films from filmmaker Antonio Pietrangeli. Featuring a fine cast of actresses and an entertaining and enjoyable storyline, if you are a fan of ’60s Italian cinema, you owe it yourself to own this wonderful Blu-ray release! “Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © Rarovideo 2014. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)

FILM RELEASE: 1960

DURATION: 129 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, (1:65:1 aspect ratio), Original Italian, PCM Linear Dual Mono, Subtitles in English

COMPANY: Raro Video

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2015

Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli

Story by Ruggero Maccari, Antoni Pietrangeli, Ettore Scola

Screenplay by Ruggero Maccari, Antonio Pietrangeli, Tullio Pinelli

Produced by Moris Ergas

Music by Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo

Edited by Eraldo Da Roma

Production Design by Luigi Scaccianoce

Starring:

Simone Signoret as Adua Giovanetti

Sandra Milo as Lolita

Emmanuelle Riva as Marilina

Gina Rovere as Caterina Zellero, detta Milly

Claudia Gora as Ercoli

Gianrico Tedeschi as Stefano

Antonio Rais as Emilio

Marcello Mastroiani as Piero Salvagni

A rare masterpiece and a wonderful example of Italian Cinema starring two European film icons, Simone Signoret and Marcello Mastroianni, Adua and her Friends tells the story of four prostitutes forced to fend for themselves when a new law closes the bordellos of Rome. They pool their savings to open a trattoria, but find they cannot get a license. A prominent fixer with connections obtains the license for them, on the condition that they conduct their old business upstairs and pay him an exorbitant monthly fee. The works of Pietrangeli, one of the most talented members of the Italian neo-realism movement and capable of delivering gems such as Adua and her Friends and The Visitor definitely deserves to be revisited and to be exposed to a larger international audience.

A filmmaker who was known for his films and working with female talent in the commedia all’italian genre, Antonio Pietrangeli will be known as a director with so much potential, but also as a filmmaker who died while working on a film.

In his 15-years as a filmmaker, among his highlights in his oeuvre is his 1960 film “Adua e le compagne” (also known as “Adua and her Friends”).  A film co-written with filmmaker Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola and revered screenwriter and Federico Fellini collaborator, Tullio Pinelli.

The film would star well-known talents such as French actress Simone Signoret (“Casque d’or”, “The Crucible”, “Room at the Top”, “Ship of Fools”), Italian actress Sandra Milo (“8 1/2″, “Juliet of the Spirits”), French actress Emmanuelle Riva (“Hiroshima mon amour”, “Amour”), Italian actress Gina Rovere (“Big Deal on Madonna Street”, “Life is Beautiful”) and actor Marcello Mastroianni (“8 1/2″, “La Dolce Vitta”, “Divorce Italian Style”).

And now Pietrangeli classic “Adua e le compagne” will be released on Blu-ray in North America courtesy of Raro Video.

The film begins with a brothel shutting down and prostitute Adua Giovannetti (portrayed by Simone Signoret) coming up with a business plan to create a brothel but in order to get clients, for her and her business partners to start off by creating a restaurant.

But in order to make this plan work, she needs business partners and she enlists the sexy and bubbly Lolita (portrayed by Sandra Milo), the often stressed out single mother Marilina (portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva) and the quiet, yet fiery Milly (portrayed by Gina Rovere).

The four pool in their money and purchase a run down building but yet rebuild it to become a beautiful restaurant.

But as the four of them want to escape their former lives as prostitutes, the more they miss the life of making money by sleeping with men.

And as the plan is to create the atmosphere of starting their own restaurant and bringing patrons through their door, their goal is to slowly attract the male visitors for their brothel.  But will their plan work?

VIDEO:

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is presented in 1080p High Definition (black and white, 1:66:1).

The film is well-contrast as black levels are nice and deep, whites and grays are presented also with very good clarity.  I didn’t notice any glaring problems with prominent artifacts, nor did I see any major film damage such as scratches or stains.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is presented in Italian linear PCM 2.0 with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear via center channel. I didn’t notice any hiss, crackling or pops during my viewing of the film.  Piero Piccioni’s score sounds crisp and clear, as well as the dialogue.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” comes with the following special features:

  • Introduction by Maurizio Porro – (6:57) Featuring an introduction by cinema journalist Maurizio Porro.
  • Short film: “Girandola 1910″ – (10:31) A short by director Antonio Pietrangeli.

EXTRAS:

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” comes with a slipcover and a 12-page booklet featuring essays such as “Prospectus” by Bruno di Marino and also an introduction by Lara Nicoli which was for the original VHS release of “Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” from Minerva Classic.

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is an Antonio Pietrangeli film that has captivated Italian cinema fans for decades.

Often called a feminist film as four women try to become independent and run a professional business was against the norm of what was released in Italian cinema during the ’50s and ’60s, but to also show a sign of desperation as four of the women are prostitutes who want nothing more but to live a different life but can they?

The film features two well-known actresses from French cinema, Simone Signoret and Emmanuel Riva who give a wonderful performance along with Sandra Milo and Gina Rovere as four women who must take their lives into a new direction as their brothel was closed due to the Merlin Law of 1959.

While the Italian Cineaste may remember Federico Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria” of 1957 as a film that showed audiences about the challenging life of a prostitute, but yet feels liberated because of the independence the job brings to her.  The emotional discontent of the prostitute is further more captured in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film “Accattone” which showed that Italian society must conform to modern consumerist culture.  Pasolini called it “cultural genocide”.

And the same can be seen with Antonio Pietrangeli’s film “Adua e le compagne” (also known as”Adua and her Friends”) as four prostitutes, forced out of their job due to the Merlin Law band together, pool their money to rent a flat and in order to avoid the law, create a restaurant.

And it’s through the restaurant that these women start to see a sign of their own success but also a place of safety.

Their restaurant allows them to befriend a monk from the nearby Catholic monastery, the restaurant allows the women to meet men who respect them, the restaurant allows a single mother to reunite with her son that she never sees.

But as the restaurant brings them to peace, safety and success, not all is good as the women start to miss their old life and making money through sex.

The goal of having a restaurant to entice men and to have a hidden brothel becomes problematic when their old customers start arriving to the restaurant with their families.  Their guilty conscience starts to get the best of them when they meet well-mannered, loving men but to not know how a man would react to their past life.

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is a film that is not as deep or dark as a Fellini or Passolini film about prostitution but it ranks high up there because it is a film that presented hope, but similar in the fact that to these women, there is no escape.  And Pietrangeli is able to bring out human emotion, the anguish of a life that one wanted, what one hoped for, but to see it destroyed.

There is no doubt that “Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” will be seen as one of Antonio Pietrangeli’s finest films from his oeuvre, next to his Berlin International Film Festival award winning 1964 film “La Visita” and his 1965 Silver Ribbon award winning film “Io la conoscevo bene”.  While he directed 14 films and wrote screenplays for many, unfortunately, the Pietrangeli would die in a drowning while filming “Come, quando, perche” in 1969.

As mentioned earlier, the film does star quite a bit of talent including Marcello Mastroianni who plays a seedy salesman/playboy.  But the film entices you with its four female talent.  Simone Signoret plays a strong character, Adua Giovannetti, who tries to keep the business together and making sure the women don’t stray far from what they agreed upon.  But her final scene is heartbreaking considering you want to root for Adua because she was able to create a major business but unfortunate situations happen.

Sandra Milo is the film’s bombshell with her flirty, bubbly attitude.  Emmanuelle Riva plays the single mother who has her own personal issues, part of her wants to be a mother to her son, while part of her misses the life of a being a prostitute.  And you have Gina Rovere, the person who has the opportunity to live a normal life with a man, but feels to guilty because of her past.

You want to root for these women to be successful but like other Italian films about prostitution, unlike America’s “Pretty Woman”, there is not always a happy ending or a fairy tale… just reality.

The film looks very good on Blu-ray as I didn’t see any major film damage during my viewing.  The soundtrack was also crisp and clear with no signs of popping or crackling.  And you also get a few special features and a 12-page booklet which are included.

Overall, “Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is among the most memorable films from filmmaker Antonio Pietrangeli.  Featuring a fine cast of actresses and an entertaining and enjoyable storyline, if you are a fan of ’60s Italian cinema, you owe it yourself to own this wonderful Blu-ray release!

“Adua e le compagne (Adua and her Friends)” is recommended!

 

The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Palm Beach Story” is a definitive Preston Sturges film.  Maybe not as clear cut in its portrayal of romance but the fillm remains to be a hilarious and enjoyable film over 70-years later.  The film has never looked this much better until now on Blu-ray thanks to the Criterion Collection.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1942 Paramount Pictures Inc. 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742

YEAR OF FILM: 1942

DURATION: 88 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, English Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Universal/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: January 20, 2015


Directed by Preston Sturges

Written by Preston Sturges

Executive Producer: John Hart, Ted Hope

Produced by Christine Vachon, Lauren Zalaznick

Music by Ed Tomney

Cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy

Edited by James Lyons

Casting by Jakki Fink

Art Direction by Anthony Stabley

Set Decoration by Mary E. Gullickson

Costume Design by Nancy Steiner


Starring:

Claudette Colbert as Gerry Jeffers

Joel McCrea as Tom Jeffers

Mary Astor as The Princess Centimillia

Rudy Vallee as J.D. Hackensacker III

Sig Arno as Toto

Robert Warwick as Mr. Hinch

Arthur Stuart Hull as Mr. OSmond

Torben Meyer as Dr. Kluck


This wild tale of wacky wedlock from Preston Sturges takes off like a rocket and never lets up. Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert play Tom and Gerry, a married New York couple on the skids, financially and romantically. With Tom hot on her trail, Gerry takes off for Florida on a mission to solve the pair’s money troubles, which she accomplishes in a highly unorthodox manner. A mix of the witty and the utterly absurd, The Palm Beach Story is a high watermark of Sturges’s brand of physical comedy and verbal repartee, featuring sparkling performances from its leads as well as hilarious supporting turns from Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor as a brother and a sister ensnared in Tom and Gerry’s high jinks.


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Preston Sturges will forever be known as one of the great directors of Hollywood’s Screwball comedies.

Known for “The Great McGinty” (1940), “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), “The Lady Eve” (1941) and “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (1944), Sturges is also beloved for his 1942 Screwball comedy “The Palm Beach Story”.

The film would star Claudette Colbert (“It Happened One N ight”, “Since You Went Away”, “Drums Along the Mohawk”), Joel McCrea (“Sullivan’s Travels”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, “Foreign Correspondent”), Mary Astor (“The Maltese Falcon”, “Meet Me in St. Louis”) and Rudy Vallee (“Bonnie and Clyde”, “Miller’s Crossing”).

A popular Screwball comedy classic for fans, the film has now received the Criterion Collection treatment and will be released on Blu-ray in January 2015.

“The Palm Beach Story” begins with showing us a newly married couple, Tom and Gerry Jeffers (portrayed by Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert) and the words, “And they lived happily ever after.  Or did they?”.

The film flashforwards five years later and the couple are now having financial difficulties and affecting their marriage.

The Jeffers are about to lose their home as they are behind on rent and owe various people money.  As the business owner known as the “Wienie King” (portrayed by Robert Dudley) takes a look at the apartment for rent, he runs into the apartment inhabitant, Gerry Jeffers.  Seeing that she needs money, the wealthy man gives her the money to pay off her rent and for her to purchase new clothes.

Meanwhile, Tom is trying to pitch his idea to an investor for his airport idea (involving steel mesh wires on airplanes) but has had no luck selling his idea so far.

As Tom comes back home and tries to sneak in, he is surprised to hear that the rent has been paid.  When he goes to see his wife, he finds out that all their debt has been paid and doesn’t understand why an old man would give her $700.  Jealous, he wonders why an old man would give his wife so much money and wondered if something happened behind-the-scenes, the two get into an argument but manage to apologize and have one more night together.

Still upset where their relationship has gone, Gerry wants to leave Tom, but Tom loves her and doesn’t want her to leave.

But Gerry manages to leave her husband and heads off to Palm Beach, Florida and through her adventures riding a train to Florida, she meets one of the wealthiest men in America, John D. Hackensacker III (portrayed by Rudy Vallee) who has taken a liking to her.

Can money buy one’s happiness?  Will Gerry be with this new man she met or will her love for Tom make her want to stay with her husband?


VIDEO:

“The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742″ is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic as the 4K restoration brings out the clarity of the film.  I happen to own the original Preston Sturges DVD set and the whites and grays are well-contrast and is much sharper.  Closeups feature so much more detail that you can see clothing fabric much more clearly and looks so much better when compared to the Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVD.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain and safety duplicate negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, were used for small dirt, grain, noise management and jitter.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742″ is presented in English LPCM 1.0. The monaural lossless soundtrack is clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742″ comes with the following special features:

  • James Harvey on Sturges – (16:52) James Harvey on the career of Preston Sturges.
  • Bill Hader on Sturges - (9:39) “Saturday Night Live” comedian Bill Hader discusses what he enjoys about Preston Sturges films and comparing the writing to SNL.
  • Radio Adaptation – (29:19) The Screen Guild Theater radio athnology series broadcasted on March 15, 1943 featuring Claudette Colbert, Randolph Scott and Rudy Vallee.
  • Safeguarding Military Information – (11:34) A 1941 short film written by Preston Sturges and distributed by the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry.

EXTRAS:

“The Palm Beach Story – The Criterion Collection #742″ comes with a five-page insert with the essay “Love in a Warm Climate” by Stephanie Zacharek


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Preston Sturges has created a rollercoaster wave of films.  Some that are brilliant and hilarious, others not as much.

But the fact is that despite a wonderful career that made him one of the richest men in America, he was also one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, problem was, his relationship with Paramount execs were souring.  He would focus his attention to an engineering company and his restaurant and nightclub, The Players but despite having beloved films that many respect and love today, the fact is that Sturges films were not always big moneymakers for the studios.

While 1941 was a notable year for the release of “The Lady Eve” and “Sullivan’s Travels”, his 1942 film “The Palm Beach Story” is another fan favorite within the Screwball comedy genre.

Casting popular actress Claudette Colbert and reuniting with actor Joel McCrea, the film “The Palm Beach Story” puts a spin on the wedding fairytale of “Happily Ever After”.  Even in 1942, not all films end with a happy ending.

The film is like one long and hilarious adventure that to this day, having watched the films many times and trying to see if I missed out on a scene, possibly to decode the opening sequence as it doesn’t make any sense, nor do we get a resolution to it, all we know is that the Tom and Gerry Jeffers are experiencing financial struggles in their relationship.

Behind on bills, Gerry decides to leave her husband in hopes that they could start over and possibly, Tom would have more success without her.  But the fact is Tom loves her, while Gerry leaves him.

A woman who appreciates the glitz and glamour, she is a bombshell that men like to watch and fortunately for her, during her travels on the bus while leaving her husband, she comes in contact with one of the richest men in America, John D. Hackensacker III (a parody of John D. Rockefeller) and by luck, the two end up hanging out with each other and while he is attracted to this bold and blunt woman, she sees the potential of getting closer to him and maybe using his money to pay for Tom’s failed airline idea.

Claudette Colbert is one of America’s top comedy actresses and as much as many loved her in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” eight years earlier, she still manages to look gorgeous, emits her sex appeal and wins the viewer for her performance as a bold, blunt golddigger.

In fact, the film rides on her shoulders as most of the film takes us on an adventure as we follow Gerry Jeffers escaping her husband and using her sex appeal in front of many men and eventually winning the attention of a very wealthy man.

The dialogue is quick and funny, the unexpected decisions made by the characters are surprising and its ending surprises us.  And while watching the film again and again, we are surprised by the film’s prologue and trying to find out if the ending is in anyway connected to the beginning of the film.

Something that we’ll probably never know.

But we leave watching this film entertained as the experience was so much worth it.

As for the Blu-ray release, I have owned the previous Preston Sturges DVD set release and comparing the two, the Blu-ray looks amazing with great contrast and sharpness but the film looks so much better.  And the lossless soundtrack is clear without any hiss or crackle.

As for special features, we get an interesting featurette about Sturges’ career, comedian Bill Hader’s take on Sturges’ writing, also a radio adaptation of the film plus a war short which Sturges had created.

Overall, “The Palm Beach Story” is a definitive Preston Sturges film.  Maybe not as clear cut in its portrayal of romance but the fillm remains to be a hilarious and enjoyable film over 70-years later.  The film has never looked this much better until now on Blu-ray thanks to the Criterion Collection.  Recommended!

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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If you love films with magnificent fight choreography, you owe it to yourself to watch “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”!

Images courtesy of © 2014 See Movie Limited. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 96 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 widescreen), Mandarin and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: NR (Not Rated)

Release Date: January 13, 2015

Directed by Ching-Po Wong

Screenplay by Jing Wong

Produced by Wai-Keung Lau, Jing Wong

Cinematography by Jimmy Wong

Edited by Wenders Li

Costume Design by Connie Au-Yeung

Starring:

Andy On as Long Qi

Sammo Kam-Bo Hung as Master Tie

Philip Ng as Ma Yongzhen

Kuan Tai Chen as Baldy Bai

Luxia Jiang as Tie Mei

Cheung-yan Yuen as Laughing Buddha

Hark-on Fung as Scruffy Chou

Michelle Hu as Tie Ju

Mei Lin Mo as Brother Tiger

Fengchao Liu as Shinji Tsutsumi

Jiaolong Sun as Hei Mao

Ma (Philip Ng) dreams of making a life in Shanghai without using his fists. But when befriends the Boss of a rival gang (Andy On), he must fight for honor or lose everything – including his neighbor (Sammo Hung) and his love (Michelle Hu).

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From director Wong Ching-po (“Revenge: A Love Story”, “Triad Underworld”) comes his 2014 martial arts action film titled “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”.

Starring Sammo Hung (“Martial Law”, “Ip Man 2″, “Winners & Sinners”), Philip Ng (“New Police Story”, “House of Fury”, “Invisible Target”), Andy Hu (“Three Kingdoms”, “True Legend”, “Mad Detective”), the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment in January 2015.

“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” revolves around a young man named Ma Yongzhen (portrayed by Philip Ng).  Ma has exceptional martial arts skills and his right fist is known for its great power.  Because he tends to get into his fights and his right hand is destructive, his deceased mother made him promise to her that whenever he plans to use his right fist, to look at the bracelet which will remind him of her to not use it.

Ma Yongzhen and his friends are en route to Shanghai to begin their new lives as many Chinese have heard that Shanghai brings many people opportunities and he and his friends can’t wait to begin their new lives.

And they are taken in by the residents of one territory led by Master Tie (portrayed by Sammo Hung).

Meanwhile, gang boss Long Qi (portrayed by Andy On) is known for being a ruthless and powerful martial artist and he kills one of the gang leaders to make a statement that he intends to rule Shanghai, putting the four gang leaders of Shanghai’s Axe Fraternity in fear that they will lose control of their territory.

One day, one of the gang bosses from a territory threatens to kill Ma’s young friend and her father but as the gang boss is about to take an axe to the man’s throat, he is stopped by Master Tie.  For Ma Yongzhen, he does not like to see the corruption in Shanghai and takes it upon himself to get rid of it.

So, he immediately defeats a gang and their gang boss and they lose a lot of opium which is taken in by law enforcement.  But as law enforcement want crime out of their area, they know that the Axe fraternity and Long Qi have too much power and Ma is warned to not do anything foolish.

But Ma wants to do something and he confronts Long Qi and challenges him in a duel.

Meanwhile, the Axe fraternity is planning to take back their territory by working with the Japanese and assassinating Long Qi.  Will Ma Youngzhen be dragged into a deadly gang war?

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VIDEO:

“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:38:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is very good as skin tones look natural and closeups featured great detail. A lot of the scenes were shot on set, inside a warehouse or a building, but fortunately the cinematographer did a good job of focusing on the action and for a martial arts popcorn action film, it should catch their attention because the fight scenes were staged very well.

I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding issues during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” is presented in Mandarin and English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and due to the number of scenes with action, surround channels are well-utilized.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” comes with a short making of (4:40) and a theatrical trailer.

EXTRAS

“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” comes with a slipcover.

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Whenever I watch a martial arts film with the title..”One Upon a Time” , you have come to expect a film that would display intense action and awesome fight choreography.

And in many ways, “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” doesn’t disappoint, especially if you have a legend such as Yuen Woo-ping involved with the fight choreography and much attention is dedicated into making sure the fight scenes are impressive towards viewers.

One thing that fans will want to know is that the protagonist name, Ma Youngzhen, is paying homage to the 1972 Shaw Brothers martial arts film “The Boxer from Shantung”.  In fact, Chen Kuan-Tai who played the original Ma Youngzhen in the Shaw Brothers film, has a cameo in “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”.

Now watching “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”, I have since abandoned the idea that anything will come close to the “Once Upon a Time in China” films starring Jet Li and directed by Tsui Hark.  Those films were shot with a bigger budget and remain martial arts classics.

But does “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” have what it takes to become a classic?   The answer is no.

I will give actor Philip Ng his due as he makes a wonderful martial arts protagonist.  His actions are swift and smooth and good, young action stars that light up the big screen are hard to come by and Philip does have star potential.  But does he have the magical flair of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Bruce Lee…not yet.  But the potential is there.

And while I did enjoy the martial arts choreography, I felt the story to have Ma Youngzhen have this special destructive ability with his right fist, was going too far over the top.  It’s one thing to have a martial arts film with fighters who are great at what they do, but when you start putting a supernatural element in a film like this, it just seems overly forced for my taste.

But with that being said, I enjoyed the film as the first half features Ma Youngzhen taking on the antagonist Long Qi, by the second half, it’s almost an entire different storyline as Ma Youngzhen and Long Qi become brothers and the antagonist become the Japanese.

Films like “Ip Man” show the human struggle under the Japanese and you sense it and the emotional element is there.  For this film, you go from disliking Long Qi but then having to accept him as Ma Youngzhen’s friend and then seeing Ma taking on the Japanese soldiers, the flow of the film is impacted by the storyline that the film becomes more popcorn action and you are in it for the martial arts choreography.

Still, I did enjoy this film and am not sure if the plan is to continue the series but I do see a lot of potential in the character of Ma Youngzhen in future films and also actor Philip Ng becoming the next great action hero.

Overall, if you love films with magnificent fight choreography, you owe it to yourself to watch “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”!

No Good Deed (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“No Good Deed” is a film that had the potential of being dark, sinister and creepy, but while I enjoyed the beginning and the ending of the film, everything inbetween was not as creepy or violent as one would expect.  Still a film worth checking out.

Images courtesy of © 2014 Screen Gems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: No Good Deed

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 84 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 Aspect Ratio), English and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Descriptive Track, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

COMPANY: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (For Sequences of Violence, Menace, Terror and for Language)

Release Date: January 6, 2015


Directed by Sam Miller

Written by Aimee Lagos

Produced by Lee Clay, William Packer

Executive Producer: Idris Elba, Glenn S. Gainor, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Rob Hardy, Taraji P. Henson, Aimee Lagos, Lindsay Williams

Music by Paul Haslinger

Cinematography by Michael Barrett

Edited by Randy Bricker, Jim Page

Casting by George Pierre

Production Design by Chris Cornwell

Art Direction by Michael H. Ward

Set Decoration by Melinda Sanders

Costume Design by Keith G. Lewis


Starring:

Idris Elba as Colin

Taraji P. Henson as Terry

Leslie Bibb as Meg

Kate del Castillo as Alexis

Henry Simmons as Jeffrey

Mirage Moonschein as Ryan

Kenny Alfonso as Javier


McCall (Denzel Washington) has put his mysterious past behind him and is dedicated to living a new, quiet life. But when he meets Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by. Armed with hidden skills that allow him to serve vengeance against anyone who would brutalize the helpless, McCall comes out of his self-imposed retirement and finds his desire for justice reawakened. If someone has a problem, if the odds are stacked against them, if they have nowhere else to turn, McCall will help. He is The Equalizer.


What happens when one of the most wanted men escapes from prison and goes on a killing rampage?

From filmmaker Sam Miller (“The Bill”), writer Aimee Lagos (“96 Minutes”) and producer Will Packer (“Think Like a Man”, “Takers”, “Ride Along”) comes the American thriller “No Good Deed”.

The film stars Idris Elba (“Pacific Rim”, “Prometheus”, “Thor”), Taraji P. Henson (“The Karate Kid”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “Person of Interest”) and Leslie Bibb (“Iron Man”, “Law Abiding Citizen”, “Iron Man 2″).

“No Good Deed” was #1 in the box office upon release and would become the third #1 film for producer Will Packer after “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man too”.  The film which was budgeted at $13.2 million would go on to make $53.8 million in the box office.

The film begins with the introduction to one of the most wanted men in America, Colin Evans (portrayed by Idris Elba).  Colin killed a man and is suspected of killing five women and he is now up for parole after serving a prison term for manslaughter.

After five years serving a prison term for manslaughter, he is denied for parole.  But while being transported to prison and winning the trust of the guards transporting him, Colin kills both men and escapes.

We are then introduced to Terri Granger (portrayed by Taraji P. Henson) who is raising her baby Sam and her young daughter Ryan.  She is planning an all girls night with her friend Meg (portrayed by Leslie Bibb).  Meanwhile, her husband Jeffrey (portrayed by Henry Simmons), acts cold towards her and is packing up to see his father.

Colin returns to Atlanta to visit his fiance Alexis (portrayed by Kate del Castillo).  But when he confronts her about being unfaithful and sleeping with another man, when she admits to it, he savagely kills her.

As Colin is angry and drives through the storm, he accidentally crashes his Ford Ranger and walks to Terri’s home.  Being the kind person that she is and Colin pretending that he is calling for someone to pick him up, she allows Colin to come inside.

But when Meg comes to visit Colin, he begins flirting with her and when they go out for a smoke break, he savagely murders Meg.  When Terri goes to find her friend, she can’t find her.  But she sees that the phone lines in the house have been cut and the kitchen knives are all missing.

Terri knows that Colin is not the man she thinks he is and she and her children are in deep trouble.  Will Terri and her children escape from Colin or will he kill her?


VIDEO:

“No Good Deed” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in 4K.  Picture quality is fantastic as details from closeups on the characters face or clothing are evident.  While skin tones look natural, black levels are nice and deep.

During my viewing of the film, I didn’t see any artifacts, banding issues, aliasing whatsoever.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“No Good Deed” is presented in English and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track and French 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Dialogue and music is crystal clear, while certain scenes such as the action sequences can be heard through the surround channels.

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

SPECIAL FEATURES

“No Good Deed” comes with the following special features:

  • Making a Thriller – (12:21) Producer Will Packer, director Sam Miller and cast talk about working on “No Good Deed”.
  • The Thrill of a Good Fight – (6:10) The cast talk about working on the fight scenes in the film.
  • Good Samaritan – (4:28) Writer Aimee Lagos discusses the script and crew discuss what they wanted to accomplish with the film.

EXTRAS:

“No Good Deed” comes with an Ultraviolet code.


When I first watched the trailer for “No Good Deed”, I was curious about Idris Elba playing an antagonist role.

I suppose it was hard for me to see him as a murderer and escaped convict but having watched “No Good Deed”, Elba manages to play the role rather well.

With that being said, I felt the writing played the characters a bit too safe.

The character of Colin is supposed to be ruthless and we see that darkness very early in the film.

The problem is that it takes awhile for us to see evil Colin until later in the film as too much is spent on trying to establish Colin as this character that Terry can’t trust.  And unfortunately, that is the problem with the film, you don’t get creeped out that much because it’s too tame compared to similar other films that will infuriate or scare the crap out of you.

Of course, no one wants to see a mother and her little daughter especially a baby put into an unfortunate conundrum but the film lingers too much around Colin trying to win Terry’s trust and Terry trying to entertain him after she invites him to his home.

If Colin is to be the most wanted criminal and an evil antagonist, you can’t take any compromise in trying to make him out as nice.  The character is a killer and I just felt there was too much time spent in trying to make him as something different.

Taraji P. Henson does a good job of playing the mother of her two children and it’s great to see her in an action role and doing whatever is necessary to protect her children.

While the Blu-ray of “No Good Deed” will get high marks for its awesome picture quality and also its crystal clear lossless soundtrack, you also get a good number of special features included as well.

Overall, “No Good Deed” is a film that had the potential of being dark, sinister and creepy, but while I enjoyed the beginning and the ending of the film, everything inbetween was not as creepy or violent as one would expect.  Still a film worth checking out.

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