Evans Above

Dec 08, 2017

One Day At A Time: The Complete Series DVD box set review

Bonnie Franklin. Norman Lear. Pat Harrington as Schneider, the know-it-all superintendent. That magic combination provided laughs for nine seasons between 1975 and 1984 on the CBS sitcom One Day At A Time. The team over at Shout! Factory has now poured that magic into a new DVD box set called One Day At A Time: The Complete Series for you to take home and add to your entertainment library. I recently had a chance to look at a review copy and have spent the past few days getting reacquainted with the show.

The series follows Ann Romano (Franklin), a divorced mother who moves to Indianapolis to start a new life with her daughters, Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli). As Romano tries to balance giving the girls the freedom she never had with the boundaries teens sometimes need, she also has to contend with the unwanted advice of the always present superintendent Schneider (Harrington). New relationships, family dynamics and an abundance of “Very Special Episodes” had viewers tuning in week after week. Between the Emmys, Golden Globes and TV Land Awards, the show had eighteen nominations and five wins. The show didn’t turn away from difficult issues. Deadbeat exes, birth control, alcohol, women’s liberation and more were covered. In typical Lear fashion, the hard topics of the day were served with a heaping dose of laughs.

Shout! Factory’s box set features the series’ 208 episodes spread over 27 discs. The episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The set also includes new interviews with Mackenzie Phillips and Glenn Scarpelli (Alex Handris in seasons 6-8), the One Day At A Time reunion special and This Is It: The Story of One Day At A Time, another collection of interviews and clips. There’s also a twenty page episode guide.

Shout! Factory are the saviors of classic TV as evidenced by the painstaking work they did on clearing music rights for the release of WKRP in Cincinnati. They did the same here, making sure to clear the rights so we could see Barbara and Julie perform Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in season two. Shout! Factory frequently picks up the ball where it has been dropped by others. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released season one of One Day At A Time a decade ago, but then stopped. Shout! Factory has made sure that we can now take the whole run of this classic show home. They run disclaimers on the discs saying that the episodes are from the best available sources, but those disclaimers are hardly necessary with great audio and video transfers given that the show was videotaped and therefore transferred off of tapes that were up to 42 years old. While many shows in the 90s, like Frasier, Friends and Seinfeld were shot on film and therefore can be transferred from film masters to Blu-ray with HD quality, many of the sitcoms before then were videotaped and often don’t age as well. Given that bit of technical history, I thought that the transfer that Shout! Factory did looks great. Sure it’s not HD but it’s a very clean transfer and looks much better than the versions you might find airing on cable.

It’s a no-brainer that fans of One Day At A Time will want to add this show to their home entertainment library. If you’re a fan of Norman Lear’s productions or if you are interested in a sitcom that took on the issues of the day without fear, you won’t go wrong adding it to your collection either. Kudos to Shout! Factory for helping to preserve this important part of TV sitcom history.

Nov 06, 2017

Cars 3 Blu-ray review

Get ready to hit the road again with Lightning McQueen as Disney/Pixar releases a Blu-ray version of the animated racing franchise’s Cars 3 on November 7th, 2017. This time around the track, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) finds his top dog status in the racing world is being challenged by a younger car, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). When an on-track incident sends Lightning off to rehab, he needs to see where he fits in this world of newer cars.

The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer comes in the theatrical release’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. As with most Disney/Pixar home entertainment releases, the transfer to disc is excellent. The palette of paint jobs for the cars crosses the full spectrum and the various automotive surfaces really show off the colour depth and clarity. Surfaces from the track to the beach display amazing textural details. Black levels are great. There’s the odd bit of artifact noise but it nothing to distract or write home about.

On the audio side of things we get English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS-HD HR 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish. The racing scenes really put your surround speakers to the test, immersing you in the action as cars move from speaker to speaker. The roar of the engines and the general atmosphere of the track are beautifully presented here. Music has good clarity and dialogue is crystal clear in the front centre speakers.

Besides getting a DVD copy and a digital download code, the extras are enough to require a second Blu-ray disc to hold them. The first disc contains audio commentary, the short film Lou, and a look into some of the other characters. The second disc has a five part behind the scenes feature, a look at the film’s digital environment, deleted scenes and other goodies.

The presentation of this disc is great. Fans of the Cars franchise will want to park Cars 3 in their home entertainment library.

Oct 05, 2017

The Wizard of Lies Blu-ray review

HBO’s The Wizard of Lies takes a look at Bernie Madoff’s real-life Ponzi scheme that cost his clients over 60 billion dollars. It also delves into the family dynamics and how it destroyed the Madoffs, with their son Mark committing suicide two years after his father’s arrest. Robert De Niro portrays Bernie, while Michelle Pfeiffer takes on the role of his wife, Ruth. HBO Canada gave us an opportunity to look at the Blu-ray release.

The AVC encoded 1080p transfer comes in the production’s original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally, a lot of the office and prison scenes appear quite flat with a muted palette, but then again, whose mind thinks first of prisons and offices when they hear “colours pop”? The palette warms up when looking back at the family sharing happier times. Detail levels are very high though some get lost in darker scenes and black levels are okay. Again, this is a made for TV movie, not the latest edition of Star Wars.

On the audio side, viewers get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track as well as French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Though some courtroom scenes occasionally use the surround tracks to great effect, this isn’t the type of film that’s presenting an immersive experience. The all-important dialogue is crisp and clear.

On the extra side, remembering this is a TV movie, there is a short 7 minute featurette that features interviews with director Barry Levinson and the cast. Obviously a promo for the flick that aired on HBO.

Should you be adding The Wizard of Lies to your home library? With great performances by the cast and Levinson’s direction, it turns one of the largest financial frauds in history into a compelling look at the man who created it. It’s worth a look.

Sep 15, 2017

Rough Night Blu-ray review

Rough Night, now available as a Blu-ray release, confirms the old adage that it’s never good when a stripper dies during your bachelorette party. The comedy stars Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz and Kate McKinnon.

The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is presented in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally, the transfer is very good with only a small amount of noise noticeable in darker scenes. The colour palette around Miami pops, whether it’s the sparkling blue waters or the neon signs of the night life. Details, from people’s faces to clothing and structure textures are sharp. Black levels are deep.

Moving from the eyes to the ears, Rough Night’s disc comes with an English, French, Italian and Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Whether it’s a campaign office or a nightclub, the surround channels immerse you in the environment and the low frequency obviously gets a workout with the thumping bass on the dance floor. Dialogue is clear.

Besides a digital copy code, the extras include the usual deleted scenes and bloopers. There’s also a sing-along, the cast improvising lines and talking about each other.

Rough Night isn’t the type of comedy that will go down in the history of the genre, but if you’re a huge fan of one of the cast you’ll probably add it to your collection for completeness.

Aug 12, 2017

Big Little Lies Blu-ray review

Big Little Lies, the HBO dark comedy-drama miniseries written by TV icon David E. Kelley and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is now available to bring home on Blu-ray. HBO Canada gave us a look at the release, which is based on the novel by Liane Moriarty. The miniseries, whose actors like Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgård are all nominated for Emmys, takes us to Monterey, California, where the sand and surf and well-heeled mothers are at the centre of a murder. Fans loved peeling away the layers to get to the truth in the seven episodes of season one.

The 1080p Blu-ray is presented in the series’ original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and spans three discs. Vallée and cinematographer Yves Bélanger shot mostly with natural light but the video presentation doesn’t lose any of its detail or sharpness, though some night scenes tend to have a bit of a bluish hue. Scenes have a bit of gauziness to them, but I file that under a style that Bélanger and Vallée were going for as opposed to a problem with the video presentation. Black levels are good but not great.

On the audio side of things, viewers get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack as well as a French DTS 5.1 track and a Spanish DTS 2.0 track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. The surround channels get a good workout and you’re immersed in the landscape’s ambient sound well enough that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re getting hit with salt spray. The dialogue is obviously important when you’re uncovering all the murky details of a mystery and its presentation here is clean and crisp.

In the extras department we get Inside the Episode clips for the show with the cast and crew talking about each episode. There’s also a slightly longer featurette with more commentary.

Great writing, wonderful direction and a solid cast leading us through a mystery where we not only don’t know whodunnit, but to which person it was done to. You’ll love adding Big Little Lies to your home library.

Aug 09, 2017

Pure Country: Pure Heart Blu-ray review

We were recently given the chance to preview Pure Country: Pure Heart, part of the Pure Country series of family-friendly movies produced by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and WWE Studios. It was released exclusively through Walmart on August 1st, 2017 and is available in-store and on Walmart.com, though I have yet to see it pop up on the Walmart.ca site. I reviewed the combo pack, which comes with Blu-ray and DVD discs as well an option for a digital download.

Pure Country Pure Heart Blu-ray cover
Pure Country: Pure Heart is available exclusively at Walmart.

The movie is directed by Damon Santostefano and was written by best-selling author Holly Goldberg Sloan who has also written Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. It tells the story of two sisters, played by One Life to Live’s Kaitlyn Bausch and Dolphin Tales’ Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who stumble upon a letter about their late father, a Marine who died in Iraq while saving the lives of members of his unit. The wannabe country artists know very little about their father as their mother (Amanda Detmer) doesn’t like to talk about the past. Aided by their photographer friend (Dara Sisterhen) and a friendly Korean War vet (the always great Ronny Cox), they discover that their father was a budding country music star and sneak off to Nashville to learn about the father and hero they barely knew.

Pure Country: Pure Heart defines family-friendly and the whole gang will feel comfortable watching this film together. The saltiest the language gets is a couple of uses of the word “hell” which the speakers are quickly chastised for. The film is sweet as pie (and you’ll drool over the pies in this film) but it’s not saccharine. Look, I’m a jaded, big city guy, but even I was charmed by the simple, yet heartfelt, story.

The film is driven by music, featuring 23 songs of which 16 are new. Willie Nelson performs his classic “We Don’t Run”, Tony Award nominee Laura Bell Bundy sings “Grass Ain’t Greener” and Ronny Cox (who is also a singer-songwriter) performs his own “Silver City”. There’s also a performance by Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’s Matthew Barnes. The songs don’t slow things down at all and the story moves along at a nice, yet not breakneck, pace.

I have one issue with this release but it’s a small one. Willie Nelson, who has a lengthy acting resume besides being a country music icon, is featured prominently on the box art and his name is the only name gracing the cover. Taking out my stopwatch, Willie appears in about three minutes and fifty-two seconds of the film’s 84 minute running time. This is no knock against Mr. Nelson (again, the man’s a legend) but I think it detracts from the performances that carry this film. Bausch and Zuehlsdorff are engaging leads as sisters Ada and Piper and they harmonize beautifully when singing. Dara Sisterhen is the perfect combination of book smarts and adventure and Matthew Barnes will charm the women in the audience no matter the age. Cox’s veteran has sparkle of mischief in his eye. Myra Turley has the perfect amount of strength and love as the girl’s grandmother, who understands both her granddaughters’ need to find out more about their father and the pain and loss that keeps her daughter evasive to their inquiries. Amanda Detmer’s Elizabeth has both the backbone to raise two teenage girls alone and the softness to portray the loss that she’s still feeling. Laura Bell Bundy, whose Broadway pipe’s have also seen her work on a country music career, easily handles both her acting and singing duties. Music fans will also enjoy a small cameo by Ivan Neville, while wrestling fans will enjoy seeing WWE icon Shawn Michaels.

Pure Country: Pure Heart is a charming, heartfelt story that the whole family can enjoy.

Jul 22, 2017

Smurfs: The Lost Village Blu-ray review

Smurfs: The Lost Village can now be added to your home entertainment library as Sony Home Entertainment releases it on July 11th, 2017. We took a look at the Blu-Ray version, which also comes with the option of a digital download.

This time around, the Smurfs aren’t in a live-action/animated mashup, which in the previous two films allowed them to interact with actors like Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria, who played their nemesis, Gargamel. This is all animation, and this time, Gargamel is voiced by The Office’s Rainn Wilson. This film builds on the origin story of Smurfette, the female Smurf voiced by Demi Lovato.

On the video side of things, we get a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the movie’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray looks great. The world of the Smurfs has vibrant colours and the textures, from trees and grasses to clothing and buildings, have amazing detail and sharpness. Colours pop, shadow details have great black levels, and there are no digital glitches apparent.

On the audio side, we get DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks in English, French and Portuguese and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. The soundscape on this release is smurfing wonderful. The music is clear and dynamic, while the surround channels put you clearly in the Smurfs environment. Low end frequencies give oomph where needed and dialogue is clear and understandable.

The disc also comes with a great amount of extras including a audio commentary from director Kelly Asbury and members of his team, deleted scenes, a “making-of” featurette, voice auditions, a dance-along, a music video from Meghan Trainor, and more.

Families who love the Smurfs will enjoy the story and the production of this disc is excellent.

Jun 19, 2017

Bambi Signature Collection Blu-ray review

To celebrate the movie’s 75th anniversary, Disney has released the classic Bambi in a Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD combo pack. In a day and age when far too many films are being reimagined or simply remade, it’s great to see loving attention paid to a classic. The main movie’s presentation (video and audio) is the same as the Blu-ray released in 2011, but several new extras have been added to make this a member of Disney’s Signature Collection releases.

The disc’s 1080p AVC encoded transfer is in a 1.35:1 aspect ratio, only slightly off the original’s 1.37:1 ratio. The restoration work here is simply breathtaking and it’s hard to believe that they were working with original materials from 1945. The forest landscape has natural colours whether it’s in the green foliage of the summer and fall or winter’s cold whites and grays. The black levels are nice and deep and contrast is top-notch. The line art of this hand-drawn animation is clean and crisp. There also doesn’t appear to be any digital transfer issues like artifacts or banding. Simply put, it’s a wonderful video presentation.

On the audio side of things we get an English DTS-HD HR 7.1 track, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track of the film’s original audio presentation and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The work to put the origanal soundtrack into the ambient surround of a 7.1 track is admirable and given the source material they’ve done quite well moving some elements into the surround a low frequency channels.

Though the audio and video presentation is the same as the 2011 Blu-ray release, for the Signature Collection release there are some new extras and three missing extras from the 2011 release. The video presentation includes three ways to watch the film: the Original Theatrical Edition, a Disney View version that has artwork on the sidebars, and a Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Extended Edition that presents the film alongside filmed storyboard meetings with Walt and his team. The extras include archival clips, deleted scenes, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short, and a variety of featurettes.

If you already own the 2011 Blu-ray release, you don’t really need to pick this one up, but if Bambi is not in your home theatre library, this is a must-have.

Jun 17, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray review

When the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast came out earlier this year, I said that it was “A worthy reimagining of its legendary predecessor…” and now it’s available to take home and enjoy as Disney releases the Blu-ray.

The AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is in the theatrical releases 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This film has a wide-ranging colour palette from moody winter landscapes to dazzling ball scenes and the sharpness and colour depth is impressive. Black levels in the darker scenes are excellent and details are still present in low light scenes. The detail of the images is great, whether we’re talking about the stitching on costumes or the hairs on the Beast. Buildings and landscapes have the right detail to put you in the scene. It’s simply a great video presentation.

On the audio side of the equation, we get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish. Whether immersing us in the environment or entertaining us with the musical numbers, this soundscape is more than up to the task. The surround tracks envelope us with ambient details and the musical numbers are bright and clear with dialogue and lyrics clear and centered. Low-frequencies are put to good use during bad weather and action scenes.

The package does not skimp on extras, starting with a DVD copy and a code for a digital copy download. The disc can also be played in karaoke mode, presenting the lyrics for each song. There’s a table read featurette, a look at the motion capture technology used to create the Beast, cast and crew interviews, a look at staging the musical numbers, deleted scenes, and an Ariana Grande/John Legend music video.

If you love Beauty and the Beast you should definitely be adding it to your home entertainment collection. If you want to see a great Blu-ray disc presentation you should definitely be adding it to your home entertainment collection. So what are you waiting for?

Apr 01, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Blu-ray review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a standalone story film that fills in some of the gaps between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The events that unfold and the characters we meet take us right up to the opening moments of the film that enthralled audiences starting in 1977. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now available for your home library as a Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combo pack.

Shot digitally, the 1080p transfer is gorgeous and in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Textures sing in this release, from the grit and the grime, the rain and the dirt, to the cold interiors of the Death Star. While Rebel costumes are gritty and frayed, the shine of spit and polish on the Stormtroopers’ uniforms only underline the order and lack of individuality in the Imperial forces. The depths of space are obviously a great test of black levels and the depth and detailing are flawless. And in a story so full of CGI, the digitally-created environments and characters blend excellently into the real actors and sets. All in all, this is an excellent video presentation.

On the audio side of things, viewers get an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. The soundtrack is gorgeous and makes perfect use of the channels. Dialogue is clear. The score, from composer Michael Giacchino and with John Williams’ famous refrains, is rich and powerful but never overpowering. The surround and low-frequency tracks put you in the middle of the action, whether it’s the pounding footsteps of the Imperial walkers or a rebel X-Wing fighter roaring from one side of the screen to the other. A perfect soundtrack to complement a perfect video presentation.

The package for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is also overflowing with extras. We get detailed looks at many of the new characters introduced in this film as well as the actors behind them. There are also looks at the production design as well as a look at the various cameos and character secrets.

All in all, the home entertainment release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a must-have. You won’t be disappointed adding it to your collection.

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