Sep 23, 2018
During production, it sometimes seemed that most of the drama with Solo: A Star Wars Story was happening behind the scenes. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of The Lego Movie had creative differences with Lucasfilm over the standalone’s tone and direction and the production was then put in the hands of Ron Howard. Critics and fans had mixed reactions, but with Disney releasing 4K and Blu-ray versions on September 25th, you can take it home and decide for yourself. Father and son screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan have done a good job of balancing new elements with the Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) backstory die-hard fans think they know by heart. We’re taking a look at the Blu-ray version.
The movie’s AVC-encoded transfer is released in the theatrical version’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Digitally shot, the transfer is full of detail, from the wear and tear on worn fabrics to the scrapes and dings on older vessels and droids. The underworld that Han Solo operates in is a dark place and the resulting colour palette is a bit flat with the occasional pop of colour from Lando Calrissian’s more colourful wardrobe. Black levels are a bit off witch means that details are sometimes lost in the darkest of scenes. There is also some occasional noise.
On the audio side of things, the disc offers an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, and Spanish. While the video presentation isn’t exactly reference level, the audio side is a blast. Like several recent Disney releases, the audio is a little quieter at usual volume levels but cranking it up a bit (not to 11, Nigel) solves those issues. Ambient sounds make excellent use of your surround speakers, enveloping the listener in laser blasts, reverberations and natural environments. The explosions and other fun moments make good use of your subwoofer. Music is of course an important part of the Star Wars experience and here it is given great clarity. Dialogue is also crisp and clear.
Besides getting a download code for a digital copy, Solo: A Star Wars Story also comes with a second disc full of extras. There’s a 21 minute round-table with the cast moderated by Rom Howard. The Kasdan’s discuss working together and their love of the franchise. We get to see the build process for the Millennium Falcon, as well as several timeline breakdowns of key scenes. We also get deleted scenes.
Solo: A Star Wars Story to your collection. Fire up the popcorn and have a good time.
Aug 05, 2018
Breaking In is a competent thriller about a mother (Gabrielle Union) who finds herself on the outside of her well-protected home while her children are facing threats from home invaders. In order to protect her children, she must break in to her own home, hence the title. The movie ticks off all the necessary genre boxes without much flair. The title is now available in a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download combo pack from Universal Home Entertainment. Let’s look at this release from a technical perspective.
The disc contains two versions of the film, one 88 minutes and an 89 minute director’s cut. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is presented in the movie’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is quite flawless, with only a very rare amount of aliasing in some scenes. Details are crisp and clear, whether it’s natural surfaces, structural textures or facial features. The colours are natural and the black levels are excellent, which is important given the number of nighttime scenes. It’s an excellent video presentation.
Moving over to the audio side of things, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish DTS 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish. The 5.1 soundtrack is workmanlike. It gets the job done but you’re not going to be knocked off your feet by it. Dialogue is clear and centred, low frequency elements add some “oomph” when needed and the amount of ambient material in the surround tracks does its job.
The disc has a small collection of extras as well as a DVD copy and a digital download code. There are two versions of the film, the theatrical release and one more minute of action that qualifies it as an unrated director’s cut. The extras also include an optional opening with commentary from director James McTeigue and writer Ryan Engle, deleted extra scenes (again with commentary), a featurette on Gabrielle Union and female empowerment, a look at McTeigue’s take on the story, a piece on the action scenes, another look at Union and finally a full audio commentary track from McTeigue and Engle.
If you like having a very complete library and love Gabrielle Union, then you’ll want to add Breaking In to your library. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to catch the film on a streaming service.
Jun 05, 2018
Celebrating it’s 65th birthday, Peter Pan joins Disney’s Signature Collection with an Anniversary Edition Blu-ray combo pack.
Like many releases from the Signature Collection, Peter Pan has the same video and audio presentation of the classic film’s initial Blu-ray release (2013) but adds to the legacy extras with a new bunch of extra material.
The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, just a hair off the film’s original ratio of 1.37:1. This was the ratio back then so those expecting a widescreen presentation can stop hitting their TVs. The presentation has been cleaned up, removing the film’s original grain, so purists will have something to argue over besides whether or not the M&M’s should go in the popcorn or not. Besides that quibble, the colours are rich and deep. There’s excellent contrast and the black levels are deep. The detail of the hand-drawn line art is well-preserved and there’s nary a moment of artifacts or other digital glitches.
On the audio side we get a Dolby Digital version of the movie’s original mono soundtrack as well as an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track does a great job of putting the film into a modern soundscape while remaining true to the original. The surround tracks do a good job of giving a 65-year-old film some ambient effects. The musical numbers sound great while the low-frequency parts give a little oomph when needed. Dialogue is clear and centred.
The Anniversary Edition also comes with a DVD version and a digital download code. As mentioned earlier, the Anniversary Edition includes a handful of new supplements that weren’t on the previous 2013 release. “Stories from Walt’s Office: Walt & Flight” is a featurette that looks at the filmmaker’s fascination with flight and love of airplanes. Then there’s “A Darling Conversation with Wendy & John: Kathryn Beaumont and Paul Collins”, which reunites two of the voice talent as they talk about their work and the live action scenes that were shot to help the animators. The disc also features sing-along versions of “You Can Fly” and the deleted “Never Smile at a Crocodile.” Legacy supplements include a look at deleted scenes, deleted songs, the making of the film, a look at Tinker Bell, audio commentary, sing-alongs and many others.
If you bought the first Blu-ray release in 2013 and the extra supplements don’t make you want to fly, then you can give this release a pass. But if this is the first time you’re discovering the original Peter Pan on Blu-ray and you want a complete Disney library, you’ll want to add this Disney classic to your collection. A warning to parents that I gave in the review of the 2013 release and that still isn’t addressed in the new supplementary material: this film is a product of its time and the film’s portrayal of Native Americans is stereotypical and viewed by many as racist especially in the “What Makes the Red Man Red?” musical number. Though there’s no revisionism in this release and we’re seeing the film as it was intended to be seen in the Fifties, I am a little surprised that Disney handled the controversy by ignoring it. Surely there could have been a small bonus feature on the disc that parents and teachers could have used as a discussion point.
A Wrinkle in Time is based on the classic Madeleine L’Engle novel and as an adaptation faced some critics who said it deviated too far from its source material. If you’ve never read the book, or can look upon it as a distinct piece separate from the book, you’ll find a tender story about a girl’s self discovery. It’s now available as a Blu-ray combo pack from Disney.
The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is presented in the film’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally, the transfer is rightfully pretty flawless with nothing of note to report in terms of digital noise. The palette explodes off the screen but still doesn’t lose its nuance. The detail on everything from clothing to makeup to environment is crisp and textured. Shadow detail is excellent and black levels are very strong. If we were marking the video presentation, it would be at the top of its class.
On the audio side, Disney gives us an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, and Spanish. Like many of the recent Disney releases this disc is a little on the quiet side, so you’ll be turning your system up a bit. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find a soundtrack whose music fills the soundscape. Surround tracks pull you in to the otherworldly destinations and the low frequencies will give your subwoofer an appropriate workout. Dialogue is always clear and centred.
Besides the Blu-ray disc, the combo pack also comes with a DVD version of the film and a digital download code. There’s a half-hour featurette on the film’s production, deleted scenes, and commentary from director Ava DuVernay, screenwriter Jennifer Lee and other members of the production team. There’s also bloopers and music videos from DJ Khaled and Demi Lovato as well as Chloe X Halle.
A Wrinkle in Time has an excellent video presentation, a very good audio presention and a fair amount of extra material. Those willing to look past a less than perfect adaptation from the novel will enjoy adding it to their collection.
May 12, 2018
Black Panther was a huge hit and struck a chord with audiences, bringing to the screen the first superhero of African descent. This epic film is now available to take home an enjoy (and enjoy and enjoy) as Disney releases the Blu-ray on May 15th, 2018.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is presented in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally, you expect the transfer to be clean and this presentation doesn’t disappoint with only the odd bit of macroblocking and digital noise. Details of environment, skin and fabrics, whether natural or computer-generated, are crisp and clear. The colour palette is wide-ranging but never muted or blown-out. Except for a few early issues, black levels are deep and crisp.
On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish. Like a few other recent Disney releases, the disc needs to be played at slightly higher volume in order to fully appreciate its dynamic range. The use of the full surround soundscape drops the listener into the middle of the action. Dialogue is always clear and positioned front-centre.
On the extras side, you not only get a digital download code, but also a good selection of behind-the-scenes featurettes. They include a look at Black Panther’s place in the Avengers, an exploration of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, the prominent role of women in the story and the usual gag reels, commentary and deleted scenes. There’s also a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its upcoming films.
All in all, Black Panther is a beautifully presented Blu-ray and a worth addition to your home theatre library.
Apr 05, 2018
Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, tells the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a skier who seemed to be headed for the Olympics until a freak accident ended that dream. After getting employment at a club, she found herself hosting high-stakes poker games that attracted high-rollers and A-listers until an FBI investigation becomes more than a hiccup. Molly’s Game is now available in a Blu-ray combo pack.
The AVC-encoded 1080p disc is presented in the movie’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Though the video presentation does have a few issues with banding near the beginning, it is otherwise a very good transfer of a digitally shot production. Details, whether they be clothing, surfaces or skin textures, are crisp. The color palette is pleasing, and hair, skin tones, cards and those all important poker chips look great. Black levels are very good too, except for some issues at the beginning. All in all, the issues are nothing to write home about and this is a well-done video presentation.
On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as a Spanish DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. Please note that I was reviewing a Blu-ray meant for the U.S. market. The Canadian bilingual version does contain a French soundtrack and subtitles. I’m assuming it would be DTS 5.1 as well, but will update this when I can confirm. The surround tracks put us into the scenes with natural ambient effects. The score has great fidelity and though this isn’t a super kinetic action film, the low end is effective when used. Aaron Sorkin is known for his all-important dialogue and it’s presented crisply, cleanly and properly centered.
Usually after video and audio presentations, I talk about the extras, but on this disc it’s just an “extra” called Building an Empire, in which Chastain and Sorkin talk about Molly Bloom and her story. Considering this is based on a true story, I would like to have seen some extra featurettes looking more into the story’s background and talking to Bloom herself. The combo pack also comes with a DVD copy and a digital download code.
The issue with the bonus feature is just a quibble. With great performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, as well as excellent audio and video presentations, Molly’s Game is a good addition to you home entertainment library.
Mar 24, 2018
When I reviewed the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (or for sticklers, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi), I said it could be summarized in four words: “Fun. Humour. Heart. Go.” With the release of the Blu-ray, that fun and adventure can now be part of your home entertainment library.
The 1080p AVC-encoded Blu-ray disc is presented in the movie’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Textures and details are amazing from facial hairs and fabrics to the battered and worn spaceships of the Resistance. While the Resistance is battle-worn, the First Order’s ships and equipment sparkle like an evil regime that went on a shopping spree. The colour palette is dull where necessary but pops when we visit Canto Bight. Black levels are deep and there is nothing worth reporting in terms of digital noise. Simply put, this is an amazing looking disc.
On the audio side, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are presented in English SDH, French and Spanish. If you’re looking for a Dolby Atmos track, you’ll need to go 4K and get the UHD release, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on the Blu-ray is great. The surround tracks are put to great use as spaceships fly through the soundscape. You’re so immersed in the action, you might as well get a uniform. Low-end frequencies give the soundtrack some weight and scope, the music of John Williams has exceptional clarity, and dialogue is clear and centred. Just like the video presentation, the audio presentation is a master class on what Blu-ray audio can be.
Besides a digital download code (Movies Anywhere in the US, iTunes in Canada), The Last Jedi has over 2 hours of extras that warrant a second Blu-ray disc. Besides audio commentary from writer/director Rian Johnson, which gives great insight into his process, there’s a 90+ minute documentary called The Director and the Jedi that gives us insights from Johnson and the cast and crew, set visits and the rehearsal process. Johnson also discusses The Force and Luke, Rey and Ren’s place in it in another ten minute doc. There’s also detailed breakdowns on the making of three pivotal scenes in the film. There’s a look at Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as Snoke and the usual look at deleted scenes.
A great film gets a great Blu-ray disc release. There’s no reason not to add this to your home library.
Mar 18, 2018
The Pitch Perfect franchise obviously has an audience, perhaps people who watched Glee and thought, “Gee, I wish the comedy was raunchier.” It’s been a good audience, because I’ve just used the word “franchise” and the films have taken in about a half-billion at the box office. So for those fans, sing for joy because Pitch Perfect 3 is now available to take home on Blu-ray.
The disc’s 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is presented in the movie’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The colour palette pops, skin tones are natural, and the black levels have good amount of depth. Details on skin, clothing and structures are very good. The transfer does have some digital noise in it and artifacts are especially visible in one scene but doesn’t really take away from the whole presentation.
On the sound side, you get English DTS:X and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks as well as a French DTS 5.1 and a Spanish DTS-HD HR 7.1 track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French. A movie whose whole purpose in being is song performances should have a great listening experience, right? Well, then you won’t be disappointed. The soundtrack uses the surround speakers perfectly, placing you on the stage with the singers and immersing you in the experience. The notes are clear and rich, the low-end is just right and not overpowering and yes, the non-musical moments are just as well done. An excellent soundscape.
One the extras side, Pitch Perfect 3 hits the right note, too. (Oh, c’mon, I’m allowed one musical joke.) There’s a DVD copy, a Movies Anywhere download code, additional music performances, extended musical performances, deleted scenes, bloopers, some featurettes, and two audio commentary tracks from director Trish Sie and producers Paul Brooks and Max Handelman.
Fans of the Pitch Perfect series will want to add this final hurrah to their collection.
Feb 28, 2018
If you’re in Toronto and looking to really get into the movie swing of things this Oscar weekend, then check out the 8th Annual Toronto Irish Film Festival. It’s being held at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from Friday, March 2nd to Sunday, March 4th.
The fest’s opening gala will be A Date for Mad Mary, which won Best Film at the 2017 Irish Film & Television Awards. Directed by Darren Thornton and starring Seána Kerslake, Carolyn Bracken and Charleigh Bailey, it’s a heartfelt dramedy about a woman recently released from prison seeking a date for her best friend Charlene’s wedding.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars, Nora Twomey’s The Breadwinner will return to Toronto as part of the festival’s Saturday screenings. The Irish/Canadian co-production tells the story of an Afghan girl who finds strength in the love of her family and the power of storytelling. The film, which was executive produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin and Angelina Jolie, stars Saara Chuadry as the voice of Parvana.
Saturday afternoon will also feature the Irish Short Film Showcase, which will see the Canadian premieres of Aoife Doyle’s Departure, Lynne Davison’s The Climb, Sinéad O’Loughlin’s Homecoming, Mia Mullarkey’s Throwline, Selina Cartmell’s The Date, and Vanessa Perdriau’s The Widow’s Last.
Stephen Burke’s feature, Maze, will have its Canadian premiere on Saturday night. Starring Peaky Blinder’s Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, the film is based on the 1983 prison escape by 38 IRA prisoners from Northern Ireland’s infamous Maze prison. Burke has said the film is not just a prison escape action film, but also look at the lives and complex relationships of people on both sides of The Troubles.
On Sunday afternoon, Game of Thrones fans can see Art Parkinson in Colin McIvor’s Zoo. Based on true events, the film, which also stars Penelope Wilton and Toby Jones, tells the story of a 12-year-old boy and his friends as they struggle to save a baby elephant during air raids on Belfast in World War II. After German bombing hits Belfast hard, the city government decided to slaughter 38 animals to prevent them running amok in the city if the zoo should get hit. The veterinarian’s son takes it upon himself to save the young pachyderm. It’s a great tale for families and played last fall at the Chicago Film Festival.
Sunday afternoon will also see the premiere of the Daniel Gordon documentary George Best: All By Himself. As a kid, I remember hearing about Best as my dad played the British football pools. A Belfast boy, Best was a football phenom and achieved his biggest fame playing for the legendary Manchester United. He was a sports hero but a flawed one, as he was ultimately felled by a staggering addiction to alcohol. Hearing about Best as a boy, but not really knowing much about him, I was glad to have a chance to screen Gordon’s doc before the festival. The director uses a lot of audio recorded by Best himself, so in a way the famed footballer narrates his own story, with former teammates and friends filling in the other details of his storied career. As things begin to unravel, former girlfriend Jackie Glass and Best’s two ex-wives, Angie and Alex, fill in the details of his decline. This isn’t a whitewash and like so many of these stories there doesn’t seem to be a turning point but rather a decline from talent and skill driven one drink and bender at a time.
Finally, the festival will close on Sunday night with another documentary, In the Name of Peace: John Hume in America, which is being co-presented by the Irish Embassy of Canada. Directed by Maurice Fitzpatrick and narrated by Liam Neeson, the doc uses footage from The Troubles alongside interviews with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Bono and Tony Blair as they discuss the long-serving Derry politician John Hume and his pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Toronto may have 250,000 residents of Irish descent, but we’re also blessed with a diverse community that’s open to learning about their neighbours and in the case of this festival, checking out each other’s film industries. The Irish film industry has grown from about 1,000 directly employed craftspeople to about 6,000 in just the past seven years or so. The Toronto Irish Film Festival celebrates that film community and has been selling out screenings since 2010, thanks to the hard work of TIRFF founders Michael Barry and John Galway and their team. You’ll be doing yourself a favour checking this festival out. More information and tickets can be found at www.toirishfilmfest.com.
Feb 25, 2018
Disney/Pixar’s heartwarming and heartfelt Coco was a hit with moviegoers and now you can take it home with you as Disney releases it in a Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD combo pack.
The disc’s 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in the theatrical releases 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The video is amazing with rich textures and details everywhere from rough-hewn structures to wise old faces. The colour palette is wide and bold, and black levels are deep. Nothing is lost in the movie’s darker scenes. All in all, the video presentation is amazing.
On the audio side, your ears will be treated to an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track as well as an English DTS-HD HR 5.1 track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish. Musical details are rich with great clarity that captures the strums of the guitars wonderfully. The surround tracks put you into the scenes and vocal clarity is never an issue.
Coco comes with a plethora of extras, from audio commentary by director Lee Unkrich, co-director Adrian Molina, and producer Darla Anderson to a series of featurettes focusing on music and animation development.
Coco is a film that the whole family can enjoy and adding this Blu-ray to your collection is a no-brainer.