Evans Above

Jan 05, 2016

Infinitely Polar Bear Blu-ray review

We covered Infinitely Polar Bear when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014 and now it’s nice to see the movie, starring the always solid Mark Ruffalo, available from Sony Home Entertainment as a Blu-ray release. Written and directed by Maya Fores, Infinitely Polar Bear follows a family as they cope and struggle with their father’s mental illness. The film also stars Zoe Saldana, director Forbe’s daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky, and Ashley Aufderheide.

The 1080p transfer is in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Shot digitally, the resulting transfer looks great, with fine details, clothing textures and a pleasing palette of colours. Black levels can sometimes be a tiny bit bright and there is some mild noise but it doesn’t detract from the overall presentation. All in all, this is a very pleasing video presentation.

On the video end, the disc has an English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Russian. On the subtitle side, viewers get English, English SDH, French, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, and Slovenian. This isn’t an action film that immerses you in a soundscape, but the surround speakers are used to give us some nice atmosphere. The dialogue’s the thing in this script and it’s crisp and clear here.

On the extras side, there’s a UV digital copy, audio commentary from Ruffalo, Forbes and her producer husband Wally Wolodarsky, a Q&A from the LA Film Festival hosted by Executive Producer J.J. Abrams, deleted scenes and some trailers.

With top notch acting, this directorial debut is highly recommended.

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Nov 05, 2015

Inside Out’s emotions come out on Blu-ray

In Inside Out, Midwestern girl Riley has her life uprooted when her father takes a new job in San Francisco. Turmoil ensues when the control centre of her emotions get out of whack and Joy (Amy Poehler) has to try and get everything in balance again.

Our emotional life is complex, yet the master storytellers at Disney’s Pixar have once again been able to make its exploration accessible, heartwarming and entertaining.

Inside Out was a 3D release, but no matter how many times I click my heels, my TV remains strictly 2D, so my review will be of that version of the new Blu-ray disc. The 1080p transfer is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. If the video transfer was an emotion, it’d be joy. The might be some odd banding, but otherwise the image is pristine. The colours representing the various emotions pop with vibrancy, but that doesn’t mean they overwhelm the movie’s more restrained visual treats as low light scenes have detail and shadows have depth. Textures on objects and clothing are sharp and even the littlest detail like hair is stunning.

On the video end, the disc comes with English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS-HD HR 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. We also get English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. The soundtrack is immersive, whether we’re in the outside world or the world of Riley’s emotions. Surround tracks and low frequency moments are used perfectly throughout, and dialogue is never lost in the mix.

The package is also bursting with extras. We get the shorts Lava and Riley’s First Date?, the female cast and crew featurette Paths to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out, a look at the character design and audio commentary from director Pete Docter and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen. We get a few more behind-the-scenes looks, a look at the sound effects, an exploration of film editing, deleted scenes and several trailers.

Simply put, Inside Out is a perfect addition to your Blu-ray library.

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Oct 12, 2015

The Genie grants your wish: Aladdin released on Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe that the classic Disney animated film Aladdin hit the big screen twenty-three years ago. The joyous, high-energy fun, anchored by Robin Williams’ performance as Genie, is now available on Blu-ray with the release of the Diamond Edition. A new generation can now enjoy the adventures of Aladdin, Abu, Princess Jasmine and Genie as they try to escape the clutches of the evil Jafar.

Aladdin is a hand-drawn animated film, but used computer animation in a few scenes and to aid in colouring of the drawings. This disc has a 1080p transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The result is, in a word, gorgeous. Yes, there’s some colour banding. Yes, there’s some occasional macro-blocking, but none of it takes away from the whole presentation. The colours are as rich as the fabrics being sold in the bazaars. The black levels are inky (traditional animation pun not intended) and the contrast is excellent. Textures on the line drawings and flying carpet are crisp. If you asked a genie for one wish regarding the video presentation, he’d deliver this.

What does Genie give us on the audio side? An English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. We also get English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The songs and action are well-served by the surround speakers and the low frequency output gives a firm floor to every joke and musical number. The dialogue is very clean and intelligible, which is so necessary to keep up with Robin Williams’ lightning-fast ad libs.

On the extras side, we have a combination of materials new to this disc and older material that appeared on DVD releases. The new materials include 9 minutes of audio outtakes from Williams, directors John Musker and Ron Clements and animator Eric Goldberg that are interspersed with storyboards, “Genie 101”, where the voice of Aladdin, Scott Weinger goes over some of the many impersonations Williams’ character performs, a look at the collaboration of the co-directors Ron and John, a look at the discs Easter eggs, and look at the Broadway production of Aladdin hosted by Darren Criss. Older extras include audio commentaries by the directors and supervising animators, a full-length documentary on the making of the film, deleted scenes and songs, a shorter musical documentary, music videos and trailers.

Simply put, you need to add Aladdin to your collection.

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Oct 02, 2015

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron Blu-ray review

When I reviewed the theatrical release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I likened it to a roller-coaster ride with a few issues and the Blu-ray release of the film seems to follow that pattern technically as well. Though the issues shouldn’t have stopped you from seeing the film, the same goes for adding the Blu-ray to your collection. One note, Disney has released a 3D Blu-ray combo pack. We’ve reviewed the 2D version of the disc that Marvel sent to reviewers.

On the video end of things, we get a 1080p transfer with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It’s a moody film, with some dream sequences, so there are quite a few dark scenes and in a few, some of the characters disappear just a little bit. However, I really don’t have complaints with the colour palette, which has rich, realistic tones and good black levels. Textures are amazing whether we’re talking live action or CGI effects and the blending of characters both live action and computer animated is done very well.

The place where we get some issues – and a lot of noise in forums and on Twitter – is when we head to the audio side of things. Let’s get the details out of the way first. The disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. As for subtitles, there’s English SDH, French and Spanish. The surround tracks are immersive, dumping you in the world of Tony Stark and his pals, while never losing the clarity of the dialogue. What many people are quibbling about is that this particular disc seems to be a little less powerful on the bass and low-frequency end of things compared to other action discs played at the same volume. Though the solution is to pick up the remote or head to your receiver and manually adjust the low end volume to your liking, we’re just giving you a heads up that you might have to put the popcorn bowl down for a second and make the adjustments. Why the disc is quieter than others in these frequencies is a mystery…or maybe just a mistake.

On the extras side, we get the usual “making of” featurettes, deleted scenes and gag reels as well as detailed commentary from writer/director Joss Whedon.

If you want to keep your Marvel Universe complete, you’ll want to add this one to your collection.

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Sep 15, 2015

Sony releases Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of Jumanji

It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years since Robin Williams jumped out of a board game in Jumanji, but the Anniversary Edition released by Sony Home Entertainment confirms that it has been two decades.

If you already have Jumanji on Blu-ray, you might not need to buy this version – since the video and audio transfer are the same. Sony has added a few anniversary extras, which we’ll get to shortly.

On the video side, the Jumanji disc does have a few issues that deduct some marks, but it still gets a passing grade. The images are a little excessively processed, so we get edge halos and some occasional detail and texture issues, but otherwise, it’s pretty good. Colours are bright, the flesh tones are natural, and the black levels are stable. If you ever saw DVD versions of Jumanji, you’ll appreciate this transfer more.

What do you get on the audio side? There’s an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Thai. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Thai. As this is an adventure with a lot of animals and other things assaulting our heroes, the surround tracks get quite the workout and you are immersed in the action, while the never losing the clarity of the dialogue.

On to the extras. Owners of the previous edition will recognize the older extras that include a look at the production design and storyboards, a “making of” featurette, commentary from the effects crew, a look at the digital animals created for the film, and a virtual version of the board game. New extras added to this version include a reading by the book’s author Chris Van Allsburg, two episodes of the animated series that ran for three seasons, a look at the original teasers and trailers, and a trailer for Sony’s upcoming Goosebumps film and a way to try an tie this promo in to Jumanji by having the cast of Goosebumps reflect on the older film.

As previously stated, if you already own Jumanji on Blu-ray and don’t care for the new extras, you don’t need to pick this one up. However, if you missed the previous version and want a complete Robin Williams library, you’ll want to order it.It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years since Robin Williams jumped out of a board game in Jumanji, but the Anniversary Edition released by Sony Home Entertainment confirms that it has been two decades.

If you already have Jumanji on Blu-ray, you might not need to buy this version – since the video and audio transfer are the same. Sony has added a few anniversary extras, which we’ll get to shortly.

On the video side, the Jumanji disc does have a few issues that deduct some marks, but it still gets a passing grade. The images are a little excessively processed, so we get edge halos and some occasional detail and texture issues, but otherwise, it’s pretty good. Colours are bright, the flesh tones are natural, and the black levels are stable. If you ever saw DVD versions of Jumanji, you’ll appreciate this transfer more.

What do you get on the audio side? There’s an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Thai. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Thai. As this is an adventure with a lot of animals and other things assaulting our heroes, the surround tracks get quite the workout and you are immersed in the action, while the never losing the clarity of the dialogue.

On to the extras. Owners of the previous edition will recognize the older extras that include a look at the production design and storyboards, a “making of” featurette, commentary from the effects crew, a look at the digital animals created for the film, and a virtual version of the board game. New extras added to this version include a reading by the book’s author Chris Van Allsburg, two episodes of the animated series that ran for three seasons, a look at the original teasers and trailers, and a trailer for Sony’s upcoming Goosebumps film and a way to try an tie this promo in to Jumanji by having the cast of Goosebumps reflect on the older film.

As previously stated, if you already own Jumanji on Blu-ray and don’t care for the new extras, you don’t need to pick this one up. However, if you missed the previous version and want a complete Robin Williams library, you’ll want to order it.

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Disney’s Monkey Kingdom Blu-ray doesn’t, um, monkey around

I’ve always been a sucker for Disney’s nature films and Monkey Kingdom doesn’t change that. Narrated by Tina Fey, the story follows Maya, a resourceful mother monkey who works hard to keep her son Kip safe from all the dangers and adventures the jungle holds.

The 1.85:1 1080p is beautiful and easily transports you to Maya and Kip’s world. Colours win across the board, with natural hues in the forest and excellent earth tones. Textures are also amazing from the hairs on the monkeys to the dirt, rocks and leaves. The whole Blu-ray transfer serves the excellent Disneynature cinematography.

On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The disc also offers English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The narration from Tina Fey is clean and easily understood. The surround tracks immerse us into the very real world of Maya and Kip, letting us hear the rushing waters, rustling leaves and distant animal calls while also making effective use of the low-frequency channels.

The Monkey Kingdom Blu-ray also comes with a handful of extras. They are:

  • A Special Thank You from Disneynature
  • Tales From The Kingdom
  • On The Set of Monkey Kingdom with Jane Goodall and Wolfgang Dittus
  • Disneynature Monkey Kingdom: The Conservation Story
  • “It’s Our World” Music Video Performed by Jacquie Lee

You’ll not go wrong adding Monkey Kingdom to your collection.

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Disney’s live-action Cinderella now available on Blu-ray

Cinderella, the live action remake of the classic Disney animated movie, as directed by Kenneth Branagh, takes the beloved tale and with a dose of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo turns it into a fresh look at the classic story. The new Blu-ray disc has the added benefit of not turning into a pumpkin at midnight.

The Fairy Godmother’s magic was at work during the video transfer, which comes to us in a 1080p 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The colours pop when needed but don’t overwhelm. While Ella’s dress is a dazzling blue and the evil stepsisters pop in pinks and yellows, we also get great earth tones in the forest and dusty dirtiness in Ella’s quarters. Skin tones, textures and black levels are all pleasing to the eye. There is some grain but it’s not distracting and only a few CG effect moments will catch your eye in a slightly negative way.

On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish. Dialogue is clear and the surround track immerses us in Ella’s world. Low frequency effects are used sparingly, but they add oomph when oomph is called for.

The disc comes loaded with extras. We get A Fairy Tale Comes to Life, a behind-the-scenes look at production with Kenneth Branagh, a look at the costume tests done by designer Sandy Powell, a look at the sets, costumes and choreography needed to stage the elaborate ball, a look at Ella’s animal friends and an alternate opening for the film. Fans of Frozen will also be excited to see Frozen Fever, a short with the Frozen voice cast that screened before Cinderella in theaters.

A hit with fans and critics alike, the new Cinderella belongs in your Blu-ray library.

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Aug 25, 2015

Roku 3 media player review: powerhouse streaming in a compact device

As I’ve mentioned before, I cut the cord back in the spring of 2011, instead getting my broadcast TV channels via an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Still, as a pop culture pundit I needed to be able to look at some of the streaming options and Netflix was top of my list. I had a Blu-ray player with a built-in Netflix app, but frankly it was pretty terrible at it, stopping shows to buffer video, exiting unexpectedly, or sometimes just refusing to launch.

Roku 3

The Roku 3 media player.

Enter the Roku 3. Depending on your level of physical activity, it’s either the size of a hockey puck or an ice cream cookie sandwich. The only way installation could be easier would be if it jumped out of the box and did all the connections for you.

No really, it’s that simple. You attach the Roku 3 to an HDMI port on your TV (HDMI cable not included). You plug the power cord into the back of the Roku 3, plug it into an outlet, put the included batteries into the remote and follow the onscreen setup instructions which include choosing either 720p or 1080p HD output and setting up your internet connection.

Speaking of internet connections, you can either use the Roku 3’s internal Wi-Fi adapter, or, if your router has a spare port available and you have a network cable, you can use the Roku 3’s ethernet port to wire it into your home network. I’d always recommend the wired option over the Wi-Fi one as it just makes for a faster connection with less lag. Once you’ve made your internet connection, you’re instructed to go the Roku site and make an account, which will then be mated to your Roku 3 unit. Since some of the Roku channels are of the pay variety, a credit card is required to setup the account, but nothing is charged to your card unless you use any of the options that require payment.

From taking it out of the box to watching my first Roku screen on the TV took me less than ten minutes. Seriously, the coffee I made before beginning hadn’t even started to cool. The remote in Canada has handy one-step launch buttons for Netflix, YouTube, Google Play and rdio, while U.S.-targeted units have launch buttons for Netflix, Amazon, rdio and Hulu. Before exploring other channels (Roku’s TV-centric name for their apps and video gateways), I decided to give the Netflix channel a try.

Again, setup was dead simple. I simply linked my Roku 3 to my Netflix account and I was in. Unlike my Blu-ray player, the Netflix playback was smooth as silk, the fast-forward and rewind options were great, and it was easy to access the closed caption and language controls. Top marks for using Netflix on the Roku 3.

Next up, I checked out Crackle, an ad-supported streaming site that is most famous for being the home of Jerry Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Setting up a free account on Crackle.com meant I could be elsewhere and add programs to my watch list and they’d be easily accessed on the Roku 3 when I got home. This sort of sign in and link the player feature was also available for YouTube and various streaming music sites.

The remote has some great features too. First of all, it’s actually a Wi-Fi device, not an infrared transmitter, so you don’t even have to be in the same room to control the Roku. Okay, I’m not actually sure why I’d want to control a TV-connected device if I’m in another room, but I’m sure I now sleep better knowing that I could if I wanted to. Secondly, the Roku 3 comes with a set of ear buds. Plug them in to the remote and it mutes the TV, which is great if you want to watch Netflix at 3 a.m. without disturbing other people in the home. Thirdly, you can press the Search button on the remote and speak into it and speech recognition software will take your search term and scour multiple channels. So say “Jennifer Lawrence” and it will show you what Roku channels her films can be found on. The speech recognition is pretty darn accurate, though I suppose if you’re bored you can give it really complex names and try and trip it up.

While most of the Roku channels are free, there are some pay-per-use or subscription channels. Obviously, using the Netflix channel requires that you have a Netflix account. If you’re in the U.S., the same goes for Hulu. There are also sport subscription channels for oodles of MLB, NHL, MLS and NFL action. Some of the pay options are limited in Canada, but obviously my U.S. readers have no issues signing up for Hulu, HBO on the Go, etc. There are also some free (and some pay) game options and yes, I found myself playing the poker one occasionally. Several TV stations also have Roku channels showing news broadcasts, so if you’re an OTA TV user who misses out on 24 hr news when you’re away from your computer, you do have a few options to grab the headline-grabbing stories.

There are also many specific, very niche, private Roku channels out there. A private channel is one that isn’t listed in the official Roku directory, but can be added to the Roku 3 by entering a link code. If you’re the creative type, you can also sign up for a developer’s kit and create your own Roku channel.

The Roku 3 also has a slot for a MicroSD card and a USB port. Adding a MicroSD card allows you to store more channel or game play information on the Roku, while the USB port allows you to connect either a USB stick or even a full USB external hard drive, giving you access to your own collection of photos, videos and music to enjoy on your TV.

If I had one quibble with the Roku 3, it’d be the bright white LED light on the front that illuminates while the unit is accessing the ‘net. The light is bright enough to help ships navigate stormy seas, so if your Roku 3 is sharing your bedroom with you, it might be a good idea to find a way to cover the LED, unless you like a night light.

Dead simple to set up, easy to operate, and cute to boot, I can’t find any reason not to recommend the Roku 3.

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Aug 18, 2015

The Blacklist Season 2 Blu-ray review

Fans of the always intriguing Raymond “Red” Reddington can now binge-watch more of his activities as Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases a 5 disc Blu-ray of the second season of the hit NBC series The Blacklist.

To catch you up, James Spader plays Red, a criminal mastermind who turns himself into the FBI in exchange for immunity. He offers up a way to go after a list of the most dangerous and corrupt criminals, terrorists and politicians. All he asks in exchange is to work with a rookie FBI profiler, Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).

Critically-acclaimed and a bona fide hit for NBC, the second season began airing on September 22nd, 2014 and NBC even aired an episode in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot.

So is the video and audio presentation worthy of a touchdown? I’d say so. The video, which is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is transferred from material shot on Sony’s PMW-F55 4K cameras. The results are beautiful. The images are crisp, details like clothing and other materials are sharp, and the black levels are extremely satisfying. Some of the CGI effects look a bit off, but the viewer has to remember that this is being shot on a TV budget.

On the audio end, we have an English and dubbed French 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack as well as subtitles for English, English SDH, and French. The discs give us a good level of immersion, with good use of the rear tracks and low-frequency moments during explosions and gunshots. Dialogue is crisp and understandable.

Extras on the discs include deleted scenes, four featurettes interviewing James Spader and members of the production staff, and commentary from series creator Jon Bokenkamp and executive producer John Eisendrath on a couple of the episodes.

If your FBI profile says you’re a fan of The Blacklist, you’ll want to add this set to your home entertainment library.

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Lambert & Stamp Blu-ray review

Director James D. Cooper brings us the documentary Lambert & Stamp, which tells us the story of two fledgling filmmakers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. They figured if they could find a band to make a doc about, it might lead to bigger film work. The band they found for their project became The Who, and Lambert and Stamp’s management was so instrumental in their success that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey often refer to them as the band’s fifth and sixth members. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has just released a Blu-ray of this music documentary.

Cooper’s documentary shows how the two managers helped shape the band, teaching them the importance of stage presence that turned them into the larger-than-life band we know. As is the case with so many music stories, we see the rise of Lambert and Stamp from two guys with an idea, to heady success, and the destructive spiral of excess and personal politics that ended their affiliation with The Who.

Lambert & Stamp is presented in a 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though the archival footage often takes us below that ratio. Keith Moon died in 1978, Kit Lambert in 1981 and John Entwistle in 2002, so the most recent footage comes from Daltrey, Townsend and Stamp, who died in 2012. As we’re dealing with mostly old film footage, we are of course dealing with grain and scratches and other issues of transferring old, not necessarily pristine, footage to a high-def medium.

This is also an interview film, as opposed to a remaster of concert footage, so the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is mostly there because, well, the technology’s there, but your surround system is not going to get a workout. The archival footage still has its pops and crackles. Subtitles are available in Czech, Hindi, Russian, Slovak, French, Polish, Estonian, Croatian, Korean, Slovene, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, Romanian, Thai, English, Ukrainian, and Serbian.

None of that will stop me from recommending Lambert & Stamp, a great look at two of the figures responsible for one of the greatest bands in history. If you’re a fan of The Who, you’ll love Lambert & Stamp. If you’re not a fan, well, what’s wrong with you?

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