Evans Above

May 28, 2021

The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series Blu-ray SteelBook review

Good things come to those who wait and, after a shipping delay, I was finally able to sit down and take a look at a review copy of the limited-edition Blu-ray SteelBook release of The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series released by Paramount Home Entertainment. The animated series, which ran on Nickelodeon, is a sequel to Airbender: The Last Avatar. In this four season series, Korra is the latest element-bending avatar facing unrest in a changing world. Voice talents on the series include Janet Varney, Seychelle Gabriel, David Faustino, P. J. Byrne, J. K. Simmons, Mindy Sterling, Aubrey Plaza, John Michael Higgins, Kiernan Shipka, Lisa Edelstein, Steve Blum, Eva Marie Saint, Henry Rollins, Anne Heche and Zelda Williams. Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that the discs in this set are the same as the 2016 box set. It’s the limited-edition packaging that’s different. I didn’t see the set back then, so let’s take a look now.

The 1080 AVC-encoded digital transfer is in the series’ original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image on the whole is very good. The line art is crisp. The colour palette ranges from muted tones to popping primaries. Black levels are deep and the contrast is quite good. CG effects blend in well with the animation. There is some colour banding and macroblocking but it’s not consistent and doesn’t detract too much from the overall quality.

On the audio side, there are some changes over the four seasons. Season One has an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks with English and English SDH subtitles. Season Two has an English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track with English SDH subtitles as does Season Three. Season Four has an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) and English SDH. The 5.1 soundtrack is very dynamic with excellent directional effects and ambient sounds to place you into the scene. Your subwoofer can probably give up its gym membership as the low-frequency parts give power to each battle in the series. The score is crystal-clear and dynamic and dialogue is clear and well-prioritized. It’s an excellent soundtrack.

The four SteelBooks are enclosed in a dark gray box with a cutout window on the front. Each SteelBook has colourful artwork on the front and back, with monochromatic images in the interior of the cases. Each individual season comes with multiple audio commentaries, storyboards, and other behind-the-scenes looks and dives into the story.

The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series Blu-ray SteelBook set is a great find for fans of the series and for SteelBook collectors alike. Recommended.

May 26, 2021

Supernatural: The Fifteenth and Final Season Blu-ray review

Supernatural, which saw the Winchester brothers fighting devils and demons, ended its run on the CW after 15 seasons. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has celebrated the conclusion with two releases: a Blu-ray box set of the complete series and a release of the 15th and final season. I had a chance to review the Supernatural: The Fifteenth and Final Season Blu-ray. Now let me dispense with the required WB disclaimer: though WB provided me with a copy of the season for me to review, the opinions below are mine and mine alone. With that out of the way, let’s get to it.

The 1080p AVC-encoded digital transfer is in the series’ original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation looks great with a sharpness and clarity that brings out the details in the image from facial features and hair to locations and other environmental aspects. Colours are great, with excellent contrast and good black levels. Though the picture sometimes has some noise in darker scenes it’s not too bad and other compression artifacts and noise is pretty much non-existent.

On to the audio side, your ears get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The surrounds are put to good use for both for action moving across them and for ambient effects to place us into the environment. The subwoofer gives some subtle low end reinforcement and dialogue is clear and centred.

The set comes with a digital code. The first three discs of this four disc set carry the episodes and deleted scenes, while a fourth dedicated bonus disc gives us some good material to wrap the series up. There are interviews with the cast and crew about how they’ve dealt with the show ending, a look at the on-screen and off-screen bonds of the characters and the cast, a look at the Winchester mythology and series motifs, an examination of the story arcs, a gag reel, a Comic-Con panel, and a look at the show’s iconic car.

A much loved series, Supernatural is given a send-off with an excellent video and audio presentation and a great bunch of extras. If you’ve already got the past seasons, you’ll want to grab the Supernatural: The Fifteenth and Final Season Blu-ray or if you’re taking the series home for the first time, grab the box set.

May 20, 2021

Wonder Showzen: The Complete Series DVD review

After a bit of a shipping delay, I finally got my hands on a review copy of Paramount Home Entertainment’s Wonder Showzen: The Complete Series DVD. For those who are unaware, Wonder Showzen is a twisted series that ran for sixteen episodes on MTV in 2005. Combining segments of animation, live action, and puppets, Wonder Showzen is what Sesame Street would be if Oscar the Grouch had a crippling crack addiction. As a warning at the opening of the show says, “Wonder Showzen contains offensive, despicable content that is too controversial and too awesome for actual children. The stark, ugly and profound truths Wonder Showzen exposes may be soul-crushing to the weak of spirit. If you allow a child to watch this show, you are a bad parent or guardian.” Guest stars on the series included the likes of Flavor Flav, Dick Gregory, Amy Sedaris, Christopher Meloni, David Cross, Judah Friedlander, Amy Poehler, John Oates, Rick Springfield, Corin Tucker, Todd Barry and Zach Galifianakis.

The 16 episodes of this collection are presented in the series’ original 1.33:1 or 4:3 aspect ratio. For those who are too young to remember the days before HD televisions, this almost square image is how TV was in the “good old days” and it means that on today’s TVs you’ll have vertical black bars on either side of the image. Your TVs not broken kids, this is how TV looked. The image is of good quality for a DVD presentation and on the audio side you get an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

The 4 disc set comes with about 80 minutes of bonus material including audio commentaries from Screamin’ Steven J. Hawkins, the art collective PFFR, Dick Gregory, and Gordon Lish. There are a slew of auditions and outtakes, a music video, promos, crazy bits, and a Flava Flav book reading.

If you’re easily offended or don’t have a taste for the bizarrely funny, the Wonder Showzen: The Complete Series DVD set is not for you. Otherwise, enjoy!

May 19, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon digital review

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon ©2021 Disney

Raya and the Last Dragon, the latest from Disney Animation Studios, starts with a little history lesson. The fictional land of Kumandra – inspired by the countries of Southeast Asia – was a unified country where humans thrived and dragons brought rain and prosperity. When menacing energy ball creatures called the Druun arrived to turn people into stone, one dragon, Sisu, spared humankind with a powerful gem. Still the greed and ambition of people divided the kingdom into five separate regions called Fang, Heart, Spine, Tail and Talon. Five hundred years later, the protector of the gem (Daniel Dae Kim) and his young daughter, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), try to broker peace but a betrayal by a young Fang princess, Namaari (Gemma Chan) shatters that dream and the Druun once again rise in power, turning many to stone.

With the history lesson over, we flash forward a few years to the beginning of our adventure. Raya is a young woman with a mission and the fighting skills to match. Traveling with her cute and easily distracted pet/transportation Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), she searches the desolate world and manages to conjure up the long lost dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina).

I’ll leave the details of the adventure for you to discover, as writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim have woven a quest full of friendships and betrayal, laughs and sadness, fights and feedings. Directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada – along with co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa – led their animation team to create a movie of sweeping vistas and epic battles that can just as easily focus on smaller comic scenes and emotional moments. The computer animation is beautiful and details such as hair and water and facial movements illustrate how far the technology and art has come over the last twenty or so years.

The characters are just as good. Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya with a strength and purpose that shows that modern Disney princesses are not waiting around to be saved by a prince anymore. Awkwafina gives us a Sisu whose vocal performance is full of humour but tinged with sadness. Gemma Chan’s Namaari is a warrior princess with layers. Even standard comic relief characters like Tong (Benedict Wong), Boun (Izaac Wang), and Little Noi (Thalia Tran), bring us nuanced performances that are informed by the losses they have suffered.

Disney has just released a 4K Ultra HD Combo pack with an accompanying Blu-ray and Digital code. Disney sent me an HD digital review code, and though my recommendation would always be to get the physical media with its superior bitrate and audio presentation, my review is based off watching it on Google Play. It’s currently available for an extra Premiere Access fee on the Disney+ streaming service, though it will be available as part of the regular Disney+ offering in June.

The video presentation is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The colour palette is wide, ranging from lush jungle greens and desolate desert browns to the iridescent blue glow of the dragon gem. The scenes and characters have amazing detail and I was particularly impressed by the hair, movement of fabrics, and the appearance of the water scenes.

The soundtrack of my digital experience was a Dolby 5.1 experience and the surrounds immerse us in Raya’s world with both atmospheric effects and action moving through the soundscape. Dialogue is clear and centred.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a fun adventure for the whole family and if you want it in your home entertainment library, I’d recommend going for the physical media experience.

May 02, 2021

Hot Docs 2021 Reviews: Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest

Danish director Mads Hedegaard brings the documentary film Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest to the 2021 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

The doc follows a group of arcade-loving friends in Copenhagen as the group’s leader tries to create a video game play record to honour a late friend.

Read our review.

Apr 29, 2021

Hot Docs 2021: Dark Blossom review

title

Dark Blossom

Danish director Frigge Fri brings her first feature-length documentary film, Dark Blossom, to the 2021 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Dark Blossom looks at the lives of three young Danish Goths — Josephine, Nightmare, and Jay — as they navigate the evolution of their world and their friendship.

Read our review.

Feb 22, 2021

The Croods: A New Age Blu-ray review

Universal Pictures has just released the sequel to 2013’s The Croods, the aptly-named __, which follows the prehistoric family in a new adventure that has them coming across a more advanced family. I had a chance to take a look at the Blu-ray combo set, which includes a digital code and a DVD.

The 1080p AVC-encoded Blu-ray disc is in the original’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image looks great, with an amazing amount of detail in the computer-animated characters and the world they live in. The colour palette pops with rich colours across the whole spectrum whether it’s characters, clothing, or flora and fauna. Sharp edges and deep black levels complete the picture. If it looks this good in Blu-ray, the 4K version will look even better.

On the audio side, your ears have a choice between an English Dolby Atmos/Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 track and, in Canada, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, and Spanish. Those with an Atmos setup might wish for slightly more use of the height speakers for atmosphere but other than that this is a very enjoyable surround track that places you into the Croods’ prehistoric world and even your subwoofer gets a nice workout in this soundscape. The dialogue, supplied by a voice cast that includes Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Clark Duke, and the late Cloris Leachman, is clear, centred, and well-prioritized.

As mentioned earlier, the Blu-ray combo set comes with a DVD copy and a digital code. There’s a nice selection of extras including audio commentary by director Joel Crawford, producer Mark Swift, head of story Januel Mercado, and editor Jim Ryan as well as two new Crood short films, Dear Diary: World’s First Pranks and Family Movie Night: Little Red Bronana Bread. There’s also a gag reel, another Dreamworks short, deleted scenes, a look at the voice actors and illustrators, and some other short features that are fun for the family.

A fun story, a great visual and audio experience, and a nice selection of extras make The Croods: A New Age a fun addition to your family’s collection.

Feb 14, 2021

Lovecraft Country: The Complete First Season Blu-ray review

The horror-drama Lovecraft Country, which combines paranormal and racist horrors, premiered on HBO in August 2020. Produced by show developer Misha Green, who co-produced with Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, the series is set in the segregated Jim Crow America of the 1950s and draws inspiration from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft as imagined by writer Matt Ruff. Lovecraft Country: The Complete First Season, which stars Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, Courtney B. Vance, and Michael K. Williams, has been released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. WBHE sent me a copy of the season for review, but as always, the views and opinions expressed below are my own.

The 1080p AVC-encoded set is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show looks great with excellent detail in clothing, hair, textiles, and facial features. The colour palette looks good and some of the outfits’ primary colours really pop. CGI creatures blend in well with the live action and black levels are deep and details still exist in the darker scenes. No sign of digital artifacts or compression issues. If you love a show, physical media will always be head and shoulders above streaming and cable TV in terms of video quality and this set just looks great.

On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack with subtitles available for English SDH, Spanish, French, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Norwegian, and Swedish. The show makes great use of the surrounds, which is always good in horrors, as a bump in the night is scarier when it’s coming from behind you. The score is dynamic and dialogue is clear and centred. Your subwoofer adds dramatic heft and gets a workout.

The set comes with a digital code (U.S. only) and a small collection of supplemental materials. These include a look at the graphic novel being created within the show, a look at the series’ gothic elements, a looks at the production side and visual effects, an overview of the characters presented by the cast, and the craft of the series as explained by the crew.

Great actors, great themes and a great video and audio presentation means Lovecraft Country: The Complete First Season is highly recommended.

Dec 11, 2020

Tenet 4K review

Christopher Nolan once again explores the concept of time in the thriller Tenet, which stars John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, and Robert Pattinson. It’s now arrived on 4K for your physical media collection. I had a chance to preview it, and though Warner Brothers provided me with a review copy, the opinions below are my own.

The native 4K 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded HDR10 video presentation has a mix of 1.78:1 and 2.20:1 aspect ratios. Simply put, Tenet looks great. There’s a ton of detail in the visuals, encompassing all aspects of facial features, textiles, and environments. The colour palette is bold and stylized, while the black levels are deep and maintain detail in even the darkest scenes. If you want to show off your new 4K TV, then Tenet is one of the discs you’d put in your player.

What can your ears expect? Though there isn’t an Atmos track, Tenet comes with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, as well as English Descriptive Audio, French (Canadian), German, Spanish (Castilian and Latin American), and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish (Castilian and Latin American), and Portuguese. To answer those who wonder why there isn’t an Atmos track, well, Nolan is a very particular director and since not all cinemas on the planet are capable of handling the technology, he doesn’t want the home version to be better than the theatrical release. He’s also not a fan of ADR so dialogue can sometimes be incomprehensible. This was an issue with those who saw Tenet in theatres, but the mix here tends to prioritize the dialogue in the mix a bit better. Your surround speakers will immerse you in the story and action does pan well throughout the soundscape. LFE elements will give your subwoofer quite a bit to do.

The Tenet 4K comes with a Blu-ray copy, a digital code, and an additional Blu-ray for the bonus features. There are over 76 minutes of featurettes exploring everything from casting and production design to cinematography, with many in the cast and crew taking part. There’s also a selection of trailers.

Not everyone is a fan of Christopher Nolan’s style, but if you are, or if you’re a collector who wants to grab an excellent 4K presentation, you’ll want to add the Tenet 4K to your home entertainment library.

Dec 04, 2020

Blade 4K review

Warner Brothers has now given 1998’s Blade, which stars Wesley Snipes, the 4K treatment. The gang over at WBHE sent me a copy to review but rest assured, the thoughts and opinions below are my own.

The HEVC / H.265 encoded native 4K 2160p transfer has HDR10 and appears in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image packs a lot of detail, from Snipes’ leather jacket, to facial features and set environments. The HDR helps the colour palette a lot. Though there’s a lot in this film with a steel-grey hue, colours like blood reds, neon signs, and sunlight really pop. The black levels are deep and there’s detail and only occasional crush in the darkest scenes. My complaint would be in the amount of digital noise reduction used on this transfer and purists will be annoyed by the smoothness of the visuals. Also, some of the digital effects haven’t aged so well. Though an improvement from the 2012 Blu-ray, this is a very good but not reference level transfer.

On the audio side, this release of Blade has been upgraded with an English Dolby Atmos track as well as an English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, French, German, Polish, and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and Spanish and Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Japanese, Spanish, Czech, and Polish. The Atmos soundtrack is a welcome addition to this release and the height speakers are put to good use in many scenes. The rest of your surround system will immerse you in the action so much that you might want to wear garlic to protect yourself from the vampires. Dialogue is clear, though there does appear to be a source issue where some lines have a bit of distortion. A very good audio presentation.

The Blade 4K set comes with a Blu-ray copy and a digital code. The special features are on the Blu-ray, but the audio commentaries appear on both discs. The first audio commentary features actors Wesley Snipes and Steven Dorff, cinematographer Theo van de Sande, screenwriter David S. Goyer, producer Peter Frankfurt, and production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli. The second commentary is an isolated score commentary by composer Mark Isham. There’s interviews with the production team on the film’s genesis, a look at the production design, a discussion with Stan Lee and others about the evolution of darker-themed antihereoes, a look at blood in theology, lore, and mythology, and a theatrical trailer.

The Blade 4K updates a good antihero story anchored by Wesley Snipes. With a pretty good video presentation, an excellent audio presentation, and a nice selection of extras, this release is an upgrade over previous Blade home entertainment releases and a recommended disc for fans of the film.

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