Evans Above

Sep 07, 2021

Zack Snyder’s Justice League 4K review

For those of us who aren’t totally invested fans of the DC Universe, the whole #releasethesnydercut dust-up was a mystery. In a nutshell, the original director of Justice League, Zack Snyder, left the production due to the death of his daughter. At the time, Warner Brothers wasn’t happy with his version of the film, hired Joss Whedon, Whedon did reshoots and edits of his own, and the film was released in 2017. Fans weren’t happy with that version and online campaigns were started demanding they release the Snyder cut. Seeing a chance to make things right…I mean line their pockets with additional money and promote the new HBO Max streaming service, WB released the Snyder cut this year. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now available on 4K and I had a chance to preview it early. Since Batman requires a disclaimer, here goes: though Warner Brothers provided me with a review copy of the movie, the thoughts and opinions below are my own.

The native 4K 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded transfer with HDR10 is in the aspect ratio that Snyder intended 1.33:1 or 4:3, with some IMAX shot scenes in 1.85:1. Yes, you read that right, Snyder shot the film in the old Academy ratio that would be familiar to those who owned TVs before widescreens were introduced. The squarish image means that black bars will appear on the left and right of the screen. Do not adjust your set, this is Snyder’s artistic choice. This isn’t meant to be the most colourful presentation, but the dark tones and grays are well served by the HDR enhancement, as is the occasional pop of more vibrant colours. The image is highly detailed and every texture from facial features, costumes, and environmental details looks fantastic. Black levels are deep, though there is some occasional crush. Compression artifacts are undetectable, due of course to spreading the movie’s massive four hour runtime over two 4K discs. All in all, it just looks great.

On the audio side, Zack Snyder’s Justice League comes with English, French, and German Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks, an Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as well as Spanish, French Canadian, Czech, Polish and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Italian SDH, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, and Swedish. Snyder and his sound team make ample use of the Atmos soundscape, with the height channels put to good use. Sound effects and ambient noise fill your surrounds and move well, while the low end of things adds the oomph that so many of the scenes need. Tom Holkenborg’s score sounds great and the dialogue is clear and centred.

As mentioned, the movie is spread over two 4K discs and there is also a Blu-ray version included that is also spread over two discs. There is no digital code for this release in the US as WB is pushing subscriptions to HBO Max, but looking at Amazon Canada, I see there is a code in my home country. (I reviewed a US copy.) There is just one featurette included, a twenty-four minute series discussion with Snyder and the cast about his trio of DC films and the evolution of this new cut.

Obviously the fans who demanded and begged for Zack Snyder’s Justice League are going to love it. With amazing audio and video presentations, even the more casual viewer will enjoy it too. Just make a lot of popcorn.

Sep 04, 2021

Spirit Untamed Blu-ray review

Nineteen years after the beloved Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, we get Dreamworks’ Spirit Untamed from director Elaine Bogan. Featuring the voice talents of Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Andre Braugher, Walton Goggins, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, and Julianne Moore, the movie received a Blu-ray release from Universal Studios and I had a chance to see it.

Merced plays Lucky, a free-spirited girl sent to spend time with her estranged father (Gyllenhaal) after her mother dies in a stunt riding accident. She discovers a wild mustang, Spirit, and begins to train it, connecting her to the legacy of her mother. Her father tries to protect her, but when a wrangler tries to capture Spirit and the herd, Lucky and her friends embark on an adventure to rescue them.

The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Though different in style and detail from its cinematic predecessor — the animation isn’t as detailed as higher budget productions – the presentation here is very good with the computer animation looking sharp on screen. The real star of the video side is the colour palette with everything from lush greens and blue skies to popping primaries and earthy tones of the Western landscape.

On the audio side, the disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound track as well as French and Spanish DTS-HD HR 7.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French and Spanish. The soundtrack does a very good job of bringing the viewer into the soundscape, with the surrounds playing host to action effects and ambient sounds. The score is bright and dynamic. Dialogue is clear, centred, and well-prioritized in the mix.

Besides the Blu-ray, Spirit Untamed also comes with a DVD copy and digital code and a nice collection of bonus materials that will appeal to the whole family. There’s audio commentary from director Elaine Bogan, co-director Ennio Torresan, and producer Karen Foster, a look at the story and its themes, a song from Mckenna Grace, a how to make S’mores segment, deleted and extended scenes, interviews with the voice cast, a look at drawing the characters, some more how-to segments, and four sing-along videos.

Spirit Untamed is a bit of a mixed bag. Though it has good video and audio presentations and a nice collection of cute extras, the animation detail doesn’t match up to the level of Pixar’s latest, leaning more towards the animation styles of shows currently on children’s TV programming. While it will still engage the younger members of the audience and even tug a few heartstrings, it’s not the type of movie that will enthrall the whole family and lend to repeat viewings by everyone. So with that in mind, I’d still recommend it for the youngest members of the household.

Aug 18, 2021

Beverly Hills 90210: The Ultimate Collection DVD review

After an extensive logistical/shipping delay, I finally received my review copy of Paramount’s new DVD release, Beverly Hills 90210: The Ultimate Collection. The box set, spread over 74 discs, includes all 290 episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 as well as the 2019 six episode series BH90210, which reunited the cast except for the late Luke Perry.

Beverly Hills 90210 was a slow starter, but when Fox started airing new episodes in the summer of 1991, when the other networks were airing reruns, the show caught fire and became a huge hit with teens and young adults. At the beginning of the series, it followed Midwest teens Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestly and Shannon Doherty) as they moved to a new city and high school in Beverly Hills, where they met fellow students Kelly (Jennie Garth), Dylan (Luke Perry), David (Brian Austin Green), Steve (Ian Ziering), Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) and Donna (Tori Spelling). Over the seasons some cast members like Doherty and Carteris left, while the show progressed to the college and post-college years and the cast expanded to include such names as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Kathleen Robertson, Vincent Young, Lindsay Price, Daniel Cosgrove, Vanessa Marcil, and Hilary Swank. Over the years, the characters survived more thrills, dangers and challenges then an entire community usually does.

The BH90210 reunion series saw the cast reunite to play heightened versions of themselves as the actors try to get a reboot going while old attractions and battles simmer below the surface.

The original series is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio, with BH90210 presented in 16:9. The original series is obviously the softer looking of the two. This is not a remastered set and the earlier seasons of the original series aren’t as clean looking as the later seasons. Again, this isn’t a high definition Blu-ray or HDR-enhanced 4K, so don’t expect the colours to pop but it doesn’t look too bad and if you were a fan in the Nineties, you get to ogle the fashion choices made back then. BH90210 was of course shot in HD and downscaled for this release, so it does look a lot sharper and more colourful than the original series.

On the audio side, the original series has a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, while BH90210 has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that obviously makes some limited use of your surrounds. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

On the extras side, there’s the usual mix of commentaries, interview and promo segements, and bloopers that appeared on releases throughout the years.

If you’re a fan of the show and don’t want to be subject to the come-and-go licensing deals of streaming services then you’ll probably want to add Beverly Hills 90210: The Ultimate Collection to your home entertainment library.

Aug 03, 2021

Luca digital code review

I thoroughly enjoyed Disney/Pixar’s Luca when I reviewed it in June. Disney, who are now releasing the movie on both 4K and Blu-ray, recently sent me a digital code. Keeping in mind that online codes and streaming services like Disney+ and Google Play don’t have the bitrate quality of physical media, I can give you some of my impressions of the streaming version coupled with info on the physical version.

The 1080p transfer for the streaming is in the original’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It’s just an amazing video presentation and I’d really like to see its 4K version as I think the HDR would be amazing with the colour palette. Speaking of colour, Luca is a vibrant splash of summer hues, from the blues of the water and sky, colourful homes and scenes, to warmer tones through the village of Portorosso. The image is clear and crisp and details are abundant in every scene.

On the audio side, my digital code came with an English DTS-HD HR 5.1 track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio track, as well as a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles were available in English and French. If you spring for the Blu-ray, you’ll get three English tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS-HD HR 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0) as well as French, Spanish, and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, Italian, and Spanish. The fun and action of Luca are playfully mixed throughout the soundstage, with Dan Romer’s score being a bright and dynamic presence. Dialogue is clear and centred.

The digital code for Luca (which I used on Google Play movies, is a fun addition to your family’s home entertainment library. As a physical media advocate, I’d recommend you get the Blu-ray, or if you have a 4K TV and player, the 4K UHD version.

Aug 02, 2021

Shameless – The Eleventh and Final Season DVD review

Shameless, based on the British series of the same name, has the distinction of being Showtime’s longest-running scripted series. For the past eleven seasons, William H. Macy has led the ensemble cast as Frank Gallagher, a single father of six whose struggles with addictions lead him from one misadventure to the next. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has released Shameless – The Eleventh and Final Season on DVD and I had a chance to take a look. Though Warner Brothers provided me with a copy for review, the thoughts below are my own.

The Shameless Eleventh Season set contains 12 episodes spread over three DVD discs. It’d be nice to have a Blu-ray, but many studios are opting to release smaller series on DVD, opting to keep the HD versions available for streaming. The image is still quite good and, to be honest, given how much cable services and streaming services compress their image, a good quality DVD can sometimes look as good, if not better than what you see through your cable subscription. The DVD is presented in the original broadcast’s 16:9 ratio.

Here’s a list of the episodes:

  1. This Is Chicago!
  2. Go Home, Gentrifier!
  3. Frances Francis Franny Frank
  4. NIMBY
  5. Slaughter
  6. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good…Eh, Screw It.
  7. Two at a Biker Bar, One in the Lake
  8. Cancelled
  9. Survivors
  10. DNR
  11. The Fickle Lady is Calling it Quits
  12. Father Frank, Full of Grace

On the audio side, the discs come with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with subtitles available for English SDH. The soundtrack does a good job of placing ambient effects throughout the soundscape and your subwoofer adds a bit of bass depth to some scenes. Dialogue is clear and centred.

As for extras, there are deleted scenes as well as The Last Call, a post-finale reunion that due to the Covid 19 pandemic was shot remotely.

As the back of the box says, the Gallaghers may grow up, but they’ll never grow apart. If you’ve enjoyed the misadventures of Frank and his clan, then you’ll want to add Shameless – The Eleventh and Final Season to your collection.

Jul 27, 2021

Wrath of Man Blu-ray review

After an incredibly long and ridiculous shipping delay (I’m looking at you UPS), I finally got a chance to take a look at the Wrath of Man Blu-ray from Warner Brothers. This Guy Ritchie action-thriller stars Jason Statham as a recently-hired armed security guard who, like many characters in the film, isn’t exactly who he says he is. As always, here’s the standard WB disclaimer: Though Warner Bros. provided me with this disc to review, the thoughts and opinions below are mine.

The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is in the original release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image is highly detailed in all the usual areas: facial textures, textiles, and environments, and the colour palette is dominated by cooler tones, though there are some pops of colour with city lights and other elements like that. Black levels and detail are very good, with just some light crushing in some of the darker scenes.

On the audio side, the disc comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and English SDH subtitles. This a bit of a barebones release from Warner, so no extra languages or subtitles are provided. The action in this film lends itself to an Atmos soundtrack, but we have to make do with a 5.1 mix, which is odd given that a 7.1 soundtrack was available. The dialogue is clear and centred despite all the mayhem surrounding it, and your surround speakers and subwoofer are used well to make you part of the action.

The Wrath of Man Blu-ray comes with a digital code and zero special features. Apparently some international versions (including Canada) do have some featurettes, but since I was sent an American copy, I can’t speak to them.

Wrath of Man is a pretty solid action outing from director Guy Ritchie and his frequent collaborator Jason Statham. If you like the film, the slightly underwhelming video and audio presentations and zero bonus features may want to make you wait for an upcoming 4K version aimed at international markets. Not sure why the US market is getting short-changed.

Jul 17, 2021

The Paper Tigers Blu-ray review

After a delay — insert tale here about feeling under the weather for a couple of weeks and not going downstairs to check the mail during a pandemic — I had a chance today to review Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release of The Paper Tigers.

The film opens with three young friends — Danny, Jim and Hing — studying martial arts for years under the tutelage of Sifu Cheung. Fast forward to the present day and the three are estranged adults and except for Jim, not quite the physical specimens they once were. They’ve reunited to attend the funeral of Sifu Cheung, but when they realize his cause of death may not be what it seems, they have to put aside their differences and work together to get to the bottom of the mystery. The added personal dynamics and comedy elements make this a bit of a twist on the standard martial arts flick, and while the story does drag a bit at times, it’s a fairly entertaining combo of heart and martial arts. Now on to the technical aspects…

The 1080p AVC encoded digital transfer is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For the most part the image is sharp with good detail in facial textures, textiles, and environmental elements. The colour palette is natural and black levels fairly good, though some interior and nighttime scenes do lose some details in the shadows.

On the audio side, there’s one soundtrack available, an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Subtitles are available for English SDH, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Vietnamese. The immersive aspect of your surrounds is put to good use in action scenes and the dialogue is clear, centred, and well-prioritized.

The Blu-ray disc comes with a small selection of extras including deleted scenes, bloopers, a trailer, a couple of featurettes on the production and production design, and a quick look at the Tai Tung restaurant.

Though it may not be a martial arts epic, The Paper Tigers combines action with a sweet humour as three old friends confront their past, and their present, selves. If that sounds like a mix you’d be interested in, then The Paper Tigers is recommended.

Jul 13, 2021

Mortal Kombat 4K review

Gaming fans have always enjoyed the spine-ripping action of Mortal Kombat and we’ve already seen two live action movies and an animated origin story. Now this Mortal Kombat reboot takes us from 17th century Japan to the modern day. All the bone-crunching action you’ve come to expect is here. I had a chance to review the 4K release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. To appease their highly-trained ninja lawyers, here’s a disclaimer: Though WB provided me with a review copy, the opinions expressed below are mine alone.

The HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p HDR10 digital transfer is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The native 4K presentation is chock full of great detail from elaborate costumes, facial and wound textures, to the environment the movie is set in. Detail survives even the darkest scenes, though they do occasionally get a little murky. Black levels are deep. The colour palette is really aided by the HDR10. Foliage looks lush. Blood reds – and there are a LOT of blood reds – really pop as do neon signs, laser eyes, and lightning bolts. There are no issues with digital noise or compression artifacts to speak of.

On the audio side, there’s an English Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, as well as an English Descriptive Audio track and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles available in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The soundtrack immerses you in the action so much that you’ll probably begin to get paranoid that Sub Zero is going to rip your spine out. Your surrounds move the action around the soundscape, your subwoofer gives a solid floor to the action, and even the music is dynamic and powerful. The only real quibble is that the dialogue, which is full of the franchise’s iconic quips, is a little less prioritized in the mix. Study how to make some amazing cookies. To hear the dialogue well, you’ll need to keep turning this up, so learn to appease your neighbours now.

The Mortal Kombat 4K comes with both a Blu-ray and a digital copy. The Blu-ray houses the extras and there’s an army of them. You get a few minutes of deleted and extended scenes. There’s a featurette on the story’s transition from arcades to cinemas, a look at fan favourite characters Cole Young, Sonya Blade, Kano, Sub-Zero, Jax, Lord Raiden, Scorpion, Shang Tsung, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, and Mileena, a behind-the-scenes look at the fights from director Simon McQuoid, second-unit director/stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner, and fight choreographer Chan Griffin, a look at the “Easter Eggs” throughout the movie, and seven short pieces looking at how individual scenes were produced.

Fans of the franchise will marvel at what this Mortal Kombat has achieved with a relatively low budget. With an excellent video presentation, a solid audio presentation (except for the dialogue issue), and a whole slew of extras, you probably won’t go wrong adding the Mortal Kombat 4K to your collection.

Jul 09, 2021

Defending Jacob DVD review

In the Apple TV+ limited series Defending Jacob, Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery play parents of a teen (Jaeden Martell) who is accused of murdering another teen at his school. There’s a problem for Evans though as he’s an assistant district attorney. Does he do his job or defend his son?

This Apple TV+ streaming series has now been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Paramount Home Entertainment and I had a chance to take a look at the DVD. Other cast members in Defending Jacob include Cherry Jones, Pablo Schreiber, and J.K Simmons. Based on the book by William Landay, the story sadly drags a bit and this may be due to the recent disease known as “Streaming Storyitis.” This is a common affliction we’re seeing on streaming platforms, where ideas pitched for movies are suddenly stretched to eight or more hours by streaming executives who want more content to attract monthly subscribers. The cast is great, but the material just isn’t enough to support them.

The three-disc set is presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio. As a DVD release, don’t expect the clarity and detail and expanded colour palette of the Blu-ray release. On the audio side, there’s an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack as well as an English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are available for English and English SDH. Total run time is six hours and forty-three minutes. There’s a couple of production extras and some deleted scenes.

If you really want to see Defending Jacob and already have an Apple TV+ subscription to watch something good like Ted Lasso, then watch Defending Jacob there. Unless you’re a superfan of one of the cast and simply have to own everything they’re in, you can probably give this DVD set a pass.

Jul 07, 2021

Space Jam 4K review

With the release of Space Jam: A New Legacy starring LeBron James this month, Warner Bros. decided to revisit (read: “capitalize on the nostalgia for”) the original 1996 Space Jam with the legendary Michael Jordan. To that end, we now have a 4K UHD release of the film. If Bugs Bunny, Jordan, and Bill Murray are your jam, then this set is for you. I had the chance to review the 4K and to make the lawyers happy, here’s the disclaimer: Warner Bros. provided me with a review copy of this movie. The views, opinions, and three-point shots below are mine alone.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded HDR10 native 4K digital transfer is presented in the theatrical release’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Space Jam is a mix of live action and animation, and this release is based off of a new 4K master. The image has more clarity and detail (live action faces, clothing and environmental elements) than previous home entertainment iterations and there’s a light film grain throughout. Note that the source material has always been a bit soft, in order to blend the live elements, animation, and mid-90s CGI effects more favourably. The HDR colour grading is the real All Star here and the live action and animated elements both benefit from pops of bold colour throughout the palette. Darker scenes do seem to suffer from some crushing in darker scenes, affecting the details in shadow. Given the aforementioned choices made in the original source material, this isn’t going to be a perfect video presentation, but it is a very good one and an improvement over past home releases.

On the audio side, we get an English Dolby Atmos/Dolby TrueHD 7.1 main soundtrack as well as French, Spanish, German, and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The new Atmos track makes good use of the height speakers and the rest of your surrounds immerse you in the action so well that you’ll be lacing up your Air Jordans in case you get called into the game. Music is dynamic and dialogue is clear, centred, and well-prioritized, so that you don’t miss one quip from Bugs Bunny.

Included with the 4K disc is a digital code and a copy of the previous Blu-ray release. Except for the audio commentary by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and director Joe Pytka which appears on both discs, the rest of the special features are on the Blu-ray and therefore there isn’t anything new. There’s a couple of music videos, an interview with Bugs and Jordan that aired on the WB network, and a theatrical trailer.

The Space Jam 4K’s video presentation is an improvement over the Blu-ray release and the new Atmos soundtrack sounds great. Fans of Bugs, Jordan, basketball or the Nineties will want to add this to their collection.

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