Evans Above

Dec 10, 2019

Judy Blu-ray review

Judy, coming out on home video on December 24th, 2019, is a movie saved by a stellar performance. The movie focuses on a time in 1968 when Judy Garland performed a series of shows in London shortly before her death. It flashes back occasionally to Judy’s early years, when her life and career were in the hands of the extremely controlling Louis B. Mayer. We see the start of her dependence on pills – some doled out by the studio – and this background infuses the Garland we see portrayed by Renée Zellweger. Facing issues with money that lead to issues with custody of her two youngest, Garland takes on – but can barely complete – a series of shows in London. While the story is interesting, the script feels a bit small in comparison to the performance of its lead. While a sweeping biopic is in order for such a conflicted talent, this film just touches on a small timeframe and doesn’t get us too deep. It’s a small screen movie anchored by a big screen star. Zellweger’s performance as Garland is amazing. You forget she’s Renée, and for that reason fans of Garland, fans of Zellweger or just fans of strong performances might want to add Judy to the home media library. I was able to review the Blu-ray combo pack of Judy thanks to Lionsgate.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation is top-notch and has excellent clarity and detail with excellent textures in the fabrics and environment. The colour palette swings from the bold primaries of the bigger production numbers to the more muted moments in homes and hotels. Black levels and shadow details are very good.

On the audio side, the only audio track is an English DTS Master Audio 5.1 track. The U.S. version I was sent had subtitles in English SDH and Spanish. The performance recreations are dynamic and Zellweger and the backing band are perfectly mixed. Their is some usage of the surround channels to give us some placement in the environment and dialogue is clear and centred.

Besides a DVD copy and a digital code, Judy is a little light on extras. There’s a very short “making of” video, an image gallery and the theatrical trailer.

While the story barely touches so many aspects of this extremely talented but terribly tragic woman, I’ll still recommend Judy due to excellent video, strong audio and an award worthy performance by Renée Zellweger.

Apocalypse Now Final Cut 4K Blu-ray review

2019 marks the 40th anniversary of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Apocalypse Now and to celebrate Lionsgate has released a 4K combo pack called Apocalypse Now Final Cut. Besides a new cut from the director, it also features the original theatrical release and the Apocalypse Now Redux cut Coppola did back in 2001. The Final Cut is shorter than Redux and longer than the theatrical release. This set was released back in August, but I recently had a chance to review it as part of Lionsgate’s gift guide suggestions.

The 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer is presented in the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is sourced from 4K scans of the original negatives and adjusted for both Dolby Vision and HDR10. The 4K versions look fantastic. Fine detail is evident throughout. Black levels and shadow detail are amazing which is great considering the movie’s many dark scenes. The 4K UHD colour palette is gorgeous, featuring oranges and yellows and rich jungle foliage. Original grain from the 35mm source is evident but the presentation has no noticeable compression artifacts and only a few defects from the original negatives.

Moving from your eyes to your ears, the 4K disc features English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 English SDH soundtracks. Those of you with Atmos setups will love the use of the height speakers, especially when the helicopters go overhead. Low frequency use during explosions and gunfire is sure to rattle your fillings loose and the surround speakers will immerse you in the story putting you in the middle of the environment. The score is dynamic and dialogue is clear and centred.

The Final Cut set I reviewed contains an army of extras spread over 6 discs and includes a digital copy code. Disc 1 contains an intro from Coppola and the 4K Final Cut version. Disc 2 contains the Apocalypse Now Redux cut and the original theatrical release in 4K. Discs 3 and 4 are Blu-ray versions of the first two discs. Disc 5 is a Blu-ray of supplemental videos and disc 6 is the 90 minute documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

The extras spread over these discs include a Final Cut intro by Coppola, audio commentary on the Redux cut, an interview between Coppola and John Milius, an hour long conversation with Coppola and star Martin Sheen, a look at the casting, a look at the birth of surround sound, a look at the editing of the film, pieces on the music and sound design, Cannes Film Festival coverage from the Redux release, audio commentary on the Hearts of Darkness doc, a Q & A with Coppola and Steven Soderbergh, behind-the-scenes footage, a look at the remastering process, an image gallery of storyboards and a collection of photos and finally a series of trailers and radio spots.

With excellent video and audio presentations on the 4K versions and a plethora of extras, you really should add Apocalypse Now Final Cut to your home entertainment library.

The Cotton Club Encore Blu-ray review

Thirty-five years after its initial release, Francis Ford Coppola revisits the legendary Harlem nightspot The Cotton Club. Adding twenty-minutes to the story and changing its name to The Cotton Club Encore, Coppola’s film is a crime drama centred around the Harlem jazz club. I watched the film repeatedly when it first hit pay TV and you can’t go wrong with a cast led by Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane and Lonette McKee. The extra minutes restored to the release allow Coppola to explore some character moments cut from the theatrical release.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is presented in the movie’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film originally had a lot of grain and a preference for browns in the palette to give it an older look. However primary colours still have a chance to pop, especially in the production numbers in the club. Black levels are pretty good, though there is some crush present in some of the darker scenes. Detail is crystal clear, with amazing textures on facial features, wardrobe and environmental elements. Some of the newly added scenes have a slightly different look to them, making the added sequences and moments noticeable instead of seamless.

On the audio side, the U.S. version that I reviewed had a Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, with subtitles available in English, English SDH, and Spanish. Dialogue is clean and centred, the score is dynamic and music, dance, and ambient sounds make good use of the surrounds.

The disc is a bit light on the extras. There’s a DVD version, a digital copy code, an intro by Coppola and a Q&A featuring Coppola and cast members Maurice Hines and James Remar. I would have loved to have heard a commentary track by Coppola.

As a fan of the remarkably talented Gregory Hines, I’ve always liked this film a lot. With added time giving the plot a little more room to breathe and good audio and video presentations, I’d recommend adding The Cotton Club Encore to your home entertainment library.

The Peanut Butter Falcon Blu-ray review

In The Peanut Butter Falcon, a young man with Down syndrome escapes from the assisted-living facility he lives in and begins a quest to train at the pro wrestling camp of his favourite wrestler, the Saltwater Redneck. He’s joined by an on-the-run fisherman and chased by a social worker. As their road adventure continues the pair try to convince the social worker to join them. The film received several festival awards and stars newcomer Zack Gottsagen, as well as Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal and Thomas Haden Church. I had a chance to review the Blu-ray release courtesy of Lionsgate.

The 1080p AVC-encoded Blu-ray transfer is presented in the theatrical release’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image has good detail on facial features, fabrics and environments. The colour palette is naturalistic and black levels are deep. It’s a very nice looking transfer with no real evidence of digital noise or compression artifacts.

On the audio side, the U.S. version of the disc I received came with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Subtitles were available in English SDH and Spanish. The Avengers aren’t in this film so you shouldn’t expect explosions and mayhem coursing through your surround speakers. What you should expect is a really nice ambient soundscape surrounding you with insects and rustling leaves. The score does not overpower and dialogue is clear and well-prioritized.

This is a low budget film, so don’t expect hours of extras. There’s a short “making of” video, a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. A digital copy code is included.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a small film that garnered love at various film festivals. It’s a charming story with a really good cast and excellent audio and video presentations. Take a break from the blockbusters that monopolize cinemas and give this film some love and support by adding it to your home media library.

Dec 03, 2019

Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season Blu-ray review

HBO’s Game of Thrones has been a cultural phenomenon through its eight seasons, a must-see don’t-bother-me appointment with your couch for fans of epic sagas and dragon enthusiasts alike. The eighth season’s conclusion has sparked debate between dedicated viewers who battle through the night discussing its merits. I’m not here to referee that battle, but to discuss the technical merits of the Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season Blu-ray set that HBO Canada sent us.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation is great in brighter scenes, with amazing detail and clarity on skin and hair as well as the textile, environmental and building surfaces. Darker scenes (and there are a lot of them) do tend to experience some digital noise and the blacks are not deep blacks but rather murky. The colour palette leans towards a lot of grays and cool blues with some yellows and browns thrown in for good measure.

There is an army of choices when it comes to the audio presentation. Your ears have a choice of English Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks as well as French, Latin Spanish, and German Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and Castilian Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Portuguese, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The audio is excellent. Those of you with Atmos equipment will find the height channels nicely used in the soundscape. The surround channels put you in the middle of the action so well that you might want to prepare for battle and the low frequencies give a lot of oomph to the proceedings. Dialogue is crisp and clearly presented.

Besides coming with a digital copy code, there are quite a few extras spread over the three Blu-ray discs. Each disc comes with commentary tracks by various members of the production staff. Each episode comes with a recap, a preview and in-episode text pop-ups providing extra data to the viewer. Featurettes include “When Winter Falls” which gives background on the Battle of Winterfell, “Duty is the Death of Love” which does the same for the series’ finale, “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” an almost 2 hour doc with cast and crew discussing the series, and a group of addition backgrounders. There are also deleted scenes.

With very good video, excellent audio and a fantastic collection of extras, Game of Thrones fans who have been buying each season along the way will want to add this set to their collection. If you’ve watched the show on TV but haven’t purchased it before, or if you are completely new to Game of Thrones, the series is also available in a complete series package, including a limited edition version with some amazing extras.

Dec 02, 2019

Warner Bros 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Warner Bros has a great catalog of film and TV series, so the holiday season is always a great time of the year to check out what items they’re offering would make great presents. Whether you’re buying for a loved one or looking to spend some of the gift cards you’ve received, Warner Bros Home Entertainment probably has something for your shopping list.

The Peanuts gang has turned 70 – good grief! – so WBHE has released the Peanuts Holiday Collection 70th Anniversary Limited Edition set. This release is comprised of animated holiday specials packaged in a limited edition Snoopy doghouse gift set. It includes It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas, as well as six additional Peanuts specials (It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, The Mayflower Voyagers, Play it Again, Charlie Brown, It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown and It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.) that are re-mastered/restored, plus brand-new special features. The nine Blu-ray specials also come with a digital copy as well as an exclusive Snoopy figurine and a Charlie Brown holiday book. Limited to only 25,000 copies, the Peanuts 70th Anniversary Holiday Collection Limited Edition has a suggested retail price of $99.99 in the U.S. and $141.00 in Canada.

There’s also a new Christmas movie, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish which puts a yuletide spin on the Cinderella story. The film stars Laura Marano, Gregg Sulkin, Barclay Hope and Hallmark Channel favorite Johannah Newmarch as the cruel stepmother. A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish will be available on Blu-Ray Combo Pack for $24.98 SRP ($34.97 in Canada) and DVD for $19.98 SRP ($24.99 in Canada) as well as on Digital for $19.99 SRP. Check out our review.

Bazinga! You’ll definitely spend all day calculating the correct formula to get your hands on The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Series which lets you bring home all twelve seasons of this hit sitcom. The Complete Series features all 279 original episodes and comes in three formats: DVD ($179.99 U.S.) and a premium Limited Edition Blu-ray ($249.99 U.S. SRP). The complete set has nearly 12 hours of extras and a bonus disc with three new featurettes! The special Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset comes in a beautiful lay-flat book with a fun pop-up and includes a digital copy. Check out our review of the Limited Edition Blu-ray.

If you want to add a little mystery to your holidays, then check out the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The Complete Series Limited Edition 50th Anniversary Mystery Mansion. Packaged in a limited edition collectible mystery mansion gift set it includes all 41 episodes of the original series, Scooby-Doo! Where are You!, released on Blu-ray for the first time and comes with a digital copy. The set also includes some featurettes as well as an exclusive Scooby-Doo Funko keychain and a mini Scooby-Doo Encyclopedia. The set has a suggested retail price of $89.99 U.S.

Batman Beyond, the animated series that introduced us to an aging Batman and his new protégé, is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary and Batman Beyond: The Complete Series Limited Edition makes a perfect gift for the Caped Crusader fan in your family. Remastered for the first time on Blu-ray, the limited edition includes all 52 episodes plus the feature film Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker and a Batcave full of extras. Check out our review of the deluxe edition of the limited set.

Finally, we round out our Warner Bros gift guide with another entry in the Batman story and take a look at Gotham: The Complete Series. All five seasons are now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The series takes a look at the early police career of Commissioner Gordon and shows us his first encounters with Bruce Wayne and some soon-to-be supervillains. The Blu-ray set has a U.S. suggested price of $112.99. Check out our review.

With so many offerings, we’re pretty sure that Warner Bros will have something for someone on your gift list.

Batman Beyond: The Complete Series Deluxe Limited Edition Blu-ray review

Batman Beyond takes place in a four decade span after the events of Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce Wayne is getting old but still fighting crime though his heart is literally not up for the fight anymore. Though he uses a special Batsuit to help him defend Gotham, he takes on a protégé, reluctantly at first, whose life’s pain parallels his own. The voice cast of this animated series features Kevin Conroy as the Caped Crusader and Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis, the young man who Wayne trains to succeed him. Other voice cast includes Teri Garr, Cree Summer and Stockard Channing. We had a chance to review the Batman Beyond: The Complete Series Deluxe Limited Edition set, which also includes the direct-to-video movie Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker, some lencitular collector cards and a Funko Pop! Silver Batman figure. Though Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided us with this item for review purposes, the opinions expressed below are mine alone.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfers are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Forty-one of the fifty-two episodes were remastered from the original 35mm negatives, while the other eleven had issues with the source material and were upscaled from a standard definition source. The remastered episodes look great despite some digital noise reduction being applied to mask imperfections in the source negatives. The colours look great, the black levels are nice and deep and the line art of the animation is crisp. It looks really good. There is a notable difference in video quality in the eleven episodes that were upscaled, but despite not having the original negatives to scan, they don’t look awful. The Return of the Joker also has vivid colours, great black levels and crystal clear line art.

On the audio side, the Batman Beyond series comes with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack and a French Dolby Digital 2.0 track with subtitles for English SDH and French. The Return of the Joker has an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. Obviously the 2.0 track of the series provides no surround activity, but the dialogue is clear, the effects still have weight and the score is crisp and dynamic. The Joker feature’s surround track is very clear and has a good amount of surround activity.

As for extras, besides the aforementioned figurine and lencitular collector cards, there is a digital copy code and a bunch of bonus featurettes that take us behind the scenes. They are spread across the episode discs and also on a bonus disc. Some of them are quite lengthy, including a fifty-three minute roundtable with cast and production staff and a ninety minute documentary.

Great visuals, solid sound and a plethora of extras make Batman Beyond: The Complete Series a worthy addition to any DC fan’s collection.

Gotham: The Complete Series Blu-ray review

Batman fans all know the origin story of Batman but what was Gotham like before the Caped Crusader donned his disguise? The WB series Gotham explored the mean streets of a city that the U.S. government essentially ceded to the bad guys over five seasons and 100 episodes. The series tracked the early police career of Jim Gordon and introduces us to Bruce Wayne and the misfits who would become Penguin, Ridder and Catwoman among others. Warner Bros has now released Gotham: The Complete Series on Blu-ray and DVD and we had a chance to review the Blu-ray version. As WB likes disclaimers, please note that while Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided us with a review copy of the product, the opinions contained below are mine alone.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in the series’ original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation is crisp and detailed bringing out every dirty environment in the city gone to hell. The colour palette is muted, but when needed the colours can pop. Skin tones are realistic and the black levels are nice and deep. There is no real worries with digital noise or compression artifacts.

On the audio side, there’s a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish. The soundscape is immersive, placing you in Gotham action so well that you’ll ask to vote there. The low frequencies get a workout during gunshots and fights, while dialogue is clear, centred and properly prioritized.

The extras are spread across the discs of the five seasons. Besides a digital code, viewers get the usual collection of gag reels, behind-the-scenes looks at the show, its production and design, featurettes giving us additional back stories on the characters and DC Universe and various panel and Comic-Con appearances.

Whether your a fan of the series or a newcomer looking to delve further into Batman’s past, the excellent video and audio presentation will make Gotham: The Complete Series a worthy addition to your DC collection.

The Big Bang Theory Complete Series Limited Edition Blu-ray review

The universe may have started with the big bang, but after twelve seasons the high-rated sitcom The Big Bang Theory finally came to an end. Fans waited in anticipation for a complete series Blu-ray to become available and their dreams came true with both a standard set and a limited edition collectible version that included twelve hours of bonus content, three new featurettes, a thirty-two page episode guide and behind-the-scenes photos, a lay-flat book featuring pop-up art and digital codes for all the episodes. As Warner Bros are sticklers for disclaimers, please note that while Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided us with a copy of this product for review purposes, the opinions expressed below are mine alone.

The 1080p transfer is AVC-encoded for all twelve seasons, except for season three, which is VC-1 encoded. The episodes are presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Though the very first episode was shot on film and exhibits some grain, the rest of the series was shot digitally and the transfer has the clarity and detail you would expect from a Blu-ray presentation. In fact, watching the series on Blu-ray will probably be a bit of an eye-opener as you realize how much cable TV compresses the image on all those late-night reruns. Clothing, hair, facial detail and environmental textures all stand out and there’s a natural colour palette. There’s no real sign of digital noise or compression artifacts.

On the audio side, your ears will get treated to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, except for season three which has a lossy English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. There’s a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track and subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish. This is a sitcom and not an action movie, so your surround channels don’t get much of a workout. They’re used mostly for the musical intro, the spinning atom interstitials, and the reactions of the studio audience. Dialogue is clear and centred.

The packaging of the limited edition of the complete series comes with a hardbound book that contains the discs inserted behind some great photos from the show. There is also a 32-page episode guide with an introduction by show creator Chuck Lorre and behind-the-scenes photos. The over 12 hours of bonus materials are spread across the 24 Blu-ray discs, while the three new featurettes are inexplicably on a DVD. This new content consists of “The Big Bang Theory: A Retrospective” with insights from the cast and crew, “All the Stars in the BBT Universe” which highlights the great guest stars the series has had, and “BBT’s Greatest Hits: 12 Years of Comedy in 24 Minutes” which highlights the show’s greatest moments. The extras spread across the rest of the discs include gag reels, production discussions from Chuck Lorre, set tours, cast panels from Paley Fest, a tribute to the late Carol Ann Susi who voiced Howard’s unseen mother, various production insights and some of the cast and crew’s popular Comic-Con appearances. The set also comes with digital codes for the entire series. Please note that my set did not come with a digital code. I thought that was a manufacturing error but a friend pointed out that people on Amazon Canada were complaining of the same thing. American friends and American Amazon did not have this issue. The Canadian packaging clearly states that codes are included so I’ll be investigating this with WB.

Ignoring the possible Canadian-only glitch with the digital codes, The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Series Limited Edition is a must-have for hard-core fans of the series, bringing you a great video presentation, crystal clear sound, a plethora of extras, and limited edition booklets and packaging.

Nov 18, 2019

The Kominsky Method Season 1 DVD review

Chuck Lorre has been very successful in comedy, bringing us laughs with The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men. He recently brought The Kominsky Method to Netflix and it won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series, while star Michael Douglas won Best Actor in a TV Series – Comedy. You can now bring all eight episodes of the first season home with you as Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has released them on DVD, while Warner Archive will have the first season available on Blu-ray. It’s also available via a digital code purchase. I had a chance to look at the DVD set, and as Warner Bros are sticklers for disclaimers, please note that while WBHE provided us with a copy of the DVD to review, the opinions below are my own.

Douglas stars as Sandy Kominsky, an actor whose brief fling with fame morphed into a career as a respected acting coach. His best friend and agent, Norman Newlander, is played by Alan Arkin. The main cast is rounded out by Sarah Baker as Mindy, Sandy’s daughter and business partner and Nancy Travis, a recently divorced woman who decides to take classes with Sandy. Danny DeVito, Susan Sullivan and Ann-Margret are among the familiar faces who pop up in the series.

The episodes are funny and poignant, looking at aging and death, funeral plans and dating, churros and bonsai plants. Douglas and Arkin play well off of each other whether the scene is comedic or dramatic and their performances are so strong that sometimes the rest of the cast is in their shadows.

The eight episodes are presented in a 2:1 aspect ratio and the soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English SDH and French.

If you want to see Douglas and Arkin present a masterclass in both comedy and drama, then you’ll want to add The Kominsky Method Season 1 to your collection.

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