Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Disney
  • Tales from the Hood (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Tales from the Hood (1995)

    Director: Rusty Cundieff

    Starring: Corbin Bersen, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, David Alan Grier, Anthony Griffith, Wings Hauser, Paula Jai Parker, Joe Torry & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Tales from the Hood unspools an anthology of urban frights set against the backdrop of inner city social issues as frightening as the monsters depicted in them.  Nightmares and reality are forever blurred when a trio of hoodlums retrieving a stash of missing drugs from an eerie mortician find themselves subjected to several tales from beyond the grave.

    Released in a dire genre year just ahead of Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher masterpiece rejuvenating audiences thirst, Tales from the Hood stands as one of the few crowning achievements from the lumpish decade that offers genuine frights with effectively delivered messages entwined in their narratives.  Seldom seen during the scatterbrained era but nonetheless serving as one of the best anthology efforts of its day, Tales from the Hood’s urban slant provides a chillingly fresh perspective on a proven formula with its commentary on issues such as, police brutality, domestic abuse and gang violence unfortunately still potent today.  Guiding his trigger-happy guests around his funeral home, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III, Mod Squad) weaves a web of ghoulish stories in accordance with their own ethnic environment.  When an African-American rookie cop watches on as a civil rights leader is attacked by corrupt officers, Rogue Cop Revelation finds his lack of action comes at a haunting price while, Boys Do Get Bruised finds a child’s fear of the monster in his closet foreshadowing the real-life domestic abuse he suffers and the power of his own imagination that puts an end to it in this Twilight Zone-esque episode.  Furthermore, KKK Comeuppance centers on former Klansman and running politician Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen, L.A. Law) learning his former plantation homestead is overrun by vengeful slave dolls brought to life by stop-motion wizardry.  Lastly, gang violence, hate and a failed attempt to rehabilitate a murderous convict in Hard Core Convert strikes genuine fear into the hearts of viewers with its grizzly imagery of real-life lynchings.  While most films of its kind leave audiences cherry-picking their favorite segments, Tales from the Hood continuously tops itself throughout its duration with its seamless blending of terror and gritty, urban realism making it one of the most smartly conceived efforts of the 90s.

    Reportedly thought to have no workable prints to remaster from, Scream Factory comes through to deliver Tales from the Hood with a strong 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Leaps and bounds better than its nearly decade-old discontinued DVD release, colors are striking while, skin tones are naturally pleasing with black levels, evident during the film’s overwhelming nighttime sequences, looking deeply inky with no intrusions of digital crush.  Scant speckling traces aside, the transfer is a remarkable sight that will leave fans yearning for a trip back to the hood more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue sharply and emphasizes its rap soundtrack authoritatively, an Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 culled from the film’s LaserDisc release is also included for your listening pleasure.  Joining its place alongside other worthy Collector’s Edition releases, supplemental offerings include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff also recycled from its LaserDisc release, the newly-produced and exceptionally well made Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13) featuring interviews from Cundieff, Co-Writer/Producer Darin Scott and several cast members, a Vintage Featurette (6:04), the Theatrical Trailer (1:41), TV Spots (3:26), a Photo Gallery (9:46) and Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet.

    Retrieved from Universal’s vaults after rampant requests from fans, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem from a decade largely considered in peril with few redeeming genre efforts.  A horrific journey of eerie episodes with much more on its mind than simply scaring its audiences, this socially conscious and wickedly fun frightfest is urban horror at its finest.  Bestowed with new luridly crafted artwork by Joel Robinson (The Vincent Price Collections), Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release brings the hood back to life with a sightly high-definition makeover and a quality serving of mostly vintage supplements while, its brand-new, nearly hour-long retrospective doc is the disc’s towering extra.  Gather round the casket and don’t be left out on the streets without this recommended anthology of nightmares!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Scream Factory, Tales from the Hood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

    Starring: Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander, Michael Lane, Julie Gray & Monique St. Pierre

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, Stryker finds a world devastated and water its most valued treasure.  As several bands of survivors battle each other over short supplies, a secret water source has been exposed leading a lone woman with knowledge of its whereabouts to depend on renowned warrior Stryker (Steve Sandor, Fire and Ice) to protect its safety against the evil Kardis (Michael Lane, The Harder They Fall) and his army.

    Piggybacking on the craze of post-apocalyptic mayhem set forth by Mad Max, Stryker burns rubber taking unapologetic cues from George Miller’s game-changing effort where muscular brutes, wasteland women and high-octane vehicles run amok in pursuit of dominance in a new ravaged world.  As the survivors of worldwide nuclear destruction struggle to locate viable water sources, Delha (Andria Savio, Death Screams), harboring knowledge of a shrouded spring and pursed by the death squads of Kardis for its location, is saved by the fearless Stryker and his companion.  Before long, the lone female finds herself captured and tortured by the vile Kardis until a successful daring rescue mission by Stryker puts her in pursuit of Trun, Stryker’s brother, for manpower to combat Kardis’s overwhelming forces.  Determined to seek vengeance against the wicked leader for the death of his own lover, Stryker joins the cause to protect the coveted spring and liberate those in peril.  Loaded with battered vehicle chases, scantly-clad women armed with crossbows and high-pitched Filipino midget warriors, Stryker delivers a respectable drive-in effort with action-packed bloodshed done cheaply although, its saccharine celebration of a conclusion at the height of battle shortchanges its outcome.  Marking the first of many post-nuke helmed efforts for Filipino native and dependable Corman colleague Cirio H. Santiago (Firecracker, Wheels of Fire), Stryker remains a mid-level Road Warrior ripoff that generally satisfies where it counts while, Santiago’s later experiments in the genre would greatly improve with each passing attempt.

    KL Studio Classics presents Stryker with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  No stranger to speckling and occasional scratches, this expectedly soft-looking effort looks as good as can be expected given its tight budget and dry, desolate locations.  Skin tones look decently with instances of blood popping well and costume choices relaying mediocre detail.  Furthermore, black levels, evidenced in Kardis’s torture dungeon and the cave harboring the desired water spring, look rather drab and harder to make out.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that translates the obviously dubbed dialogue with ease, soundtrack cues and action-oriented moments of explosions and firepower offer slightly more oomph to the proceedings.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Jim Wynorski, moderated by Bill Olsen & Damon Packard.  B-movie legend and fellow Corman protégé, Wynorski, although having nothing creatively to do with the film outside of knowing Santiago rather well and taking over directorial duties on its remake after the Filipino filmmaker fell ill, provides chatty conversation and an obvious love for the genre making the track an unexpected treat.  In addition, a Trailer Gallery featuring Stryker (2:03), Wheels of Fire (2:04), Equalizer 2000 (1:39), The Sisterhood (1:26) and Dune Warriors (1:12) is also included.

    From what seems like a bottomless pit of post-apocalyptic knockoffs, Stryker neither burns out nor exceeds what’s expected of it.  Living up to its colorfully exploitative poster art, blood, babes and savagery reign in this New World Pictures produced feature that stands as a mere stepping stone for Santiago’s more refined wasteland followups.  Never a pretty looking picture since its inception, KL Studio Classics ensures the film a most welcome upgrade for the HD generation.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Stryker can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967)

    Director(s): John Moxey / Jeremy Summers

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Marddern & Maurice Kaufmann / Bob Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm & Maria Perschy

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presenting a double serving of Edgar Wallace crime tales, Blue Underground proudly presents Circus of Fear where a calculated car heist leads to a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a traveling circus.  Featuring an ensemble cast including, Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Klaus Kinski (Venom), greed, revenge and red herrings reign supreme in this British whodunit.  Next up, Five Golden Dragons finds wealthy American Bob Mitchell (Bob Cummings, Dial M for Murder) embroiled in the crosshairs of a deadly crime syndicate during his Hong Kong getaway.  Struggling to survive, Mitchell attempts to discover the identities of his mysterious misfortune makers.  

    Released in America as Psycho-Circus in a heavily edited form to appease the later half of its double feature bookings, Circus of Fear’s impressive onscreen talent matched with the directorial knowhow of John Moxey (The City of the Dead) does little to salvage this tiresomely dull caper.  After successfully shaking down an armored vehicle of riches, a gang member stashes the loot in Barberini’s Circus before falling victim to a mystery throwers blade.  With a full-scale investigation initiated, the eccentric personalities of the traveling roadshow are introduced and suspected including, but not limited to, masked lion tamer Gregor (Lee).  Although top billed, Lee, whose performance appears rather stiffly, remains shrouded for much of the film, reportedly hiding a severely scarred appearance that is anything but.  The deeper the authorities, led by Detective Elliot (Leo Genn, Moby Dick) dig, the more circus performers turn up dead.  While captivating character actor Klaus Kinski appearing as a chain-smoking crook is yawningly reduced to hiding in the shadows, blonde bombshell Margaret Lee’s (Venus in Furs) glamorous looks help offset the disappointment.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an overly complicated plot of family pasts involving slain fathers and escaped convicts, Circus of Fear is never wholly thrilling or terribly exciting.  Like a carnival barker baiting viewers with its intriguing title and respectable cast, Circus of Fear is an unfortunate big-top bust.

    Appearing in his final film effort before returning to television indefinitely, funnyman Bob Cummings brings his all-American lightheartedness to the B-grade comedy caper antics of Five Golden Dragons.  Shot on location in Hong Kong and the infamous Shaw Brothers Studios, Cummings’ chewing gum salesman Bob Mitchell receives a peculiar note from a murdered man with links to an illegal, top secret operation.  Much like a fish out of water, Mitchell finds himself in over his head as the crime syndicate looks to eliminate the clueless tourist before their organization is jeopardized.  Circus of Fear Producer Harry Alan Towers and Screenwriter Peter Welbeck re-team on this mildly entertaining mystery, recycling several thespians from their previous collaboration including, the very sexy Margaret Lee appearing as corrupt singer Magda while, Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are relegated to forgettable cameo appearances.  Bumbling his way through secret passages and making nervous conversation at gunpoint, Cummings, although far older than imagined for the part, is likable enough as he attempts to keep his poolside crush Ingrid (Maria Rohm, Count Dracula) safe while, hoping to unmask the identities of the criminal Five Golden Dragons with assistance from Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies, Witchfinder General) who makes quoting and citing Shakespeare a necessity.  Capturing the beautiful surroundings of Hong Kong’s seaport and featuring a charming musical performance from guest singer Yukari Itô, Five Golden Dragons is only sparingly humorous with its greatest unintentional laugh arriving at the expense of the titular villains who interface under the hilarious disguises of oversized dragon heads.

    Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly remastered from their original negatives with 1080p transfers.  While Circus of Fear sports a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Five Golden Dragons debuts with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting healthy skin tones, pleasingly bold colors in wardrobe choices and strong detail in backgrounds, black levels are richly defined in tuxedos and Lee’s dark mask while, no glaring evidence of age-related artifacts are present on either transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films offer easy to follow tracks with audible levels of clarity although, Five Golden Dragons appears to have a tinnier effect during dialogue delivery.  With no noticeable cracks or pops detected, each mix is more than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, supplements on Circus of Fear feature a recycled Audio Commentary with Director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory, an International Color Trailer (2:29), International B&W Trailer (2:30), a U.S. Color Trailer (2:02), U.S. B&W Trailer (2:04) and a Poster & Still Gallery (87 in total) whereas, Five Golden Dragons includes its Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and a Poster & Still Gallery (92 in total).

    Inviting viewers to the crime-filled menagerie of Edgar Wallace’s mysteries, Circus of Fear is a grave disappointment with an alluring poster design and surefire cast that unfortunately fails to thrill yet, succeeds in being overly complicated.  Joined by its more comedic co-feature, Five Golden Dragons also stumbles to be memorable although Cummings’ personality matched with Margaret Lee’s jaw dropping beauty and the gorgeous sights of Hong Kong all make for worthy notices.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground treats viewers with praiseworthy restorations of both features that are noticeable advancements over their more than decade old standard definition releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Circus of Fear / Five Golden Dragons can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Mafia Style (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Mafia Style (1974)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Vic Caesar, Lorenzo Dodo, Louis Zito & Cara Salerno

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A jack of all trades, Italian-American actor and nightclub singer Duke Mitchell would write, direct, produce and star in his response to The Godfather.  In Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell portrays Mimi Miceli, the son of a mafia kingpin determined to carve a name out for himself by embarking on a bloody crime spree through Hollywood.  Low-budget and intensely violent, Massacre Mafia Style promises “more, guts, action and dynamite” than Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed gangster opus.

    As a noted nightclub singer who would transition to film with such appearances in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Duke Mitchell would graduate to producing his own feature ingrained in his Italian heritage.  Following the massive success of 1972’s The Godfather, Mitchell found a low-budget mafia picture a natural fit to spread his creative wings, wearing several hats on the production including, directing and starring.  Opening with an office building massacre at the hands of Mimi Miceli (Mitchell) and his associate to the upbeat tunes of Mitchell’s own recordings, Massacre Mafia Style makes firm on its promise of more violence than its Academy Award-winning predecessor.  Deported back to Sicily following his rampant crime activity in America, mafia kingpin Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo) is confronted with his son Mimi’s desire to reenter the mafia underworld.  Intent on relocating the action of New York City to Hollywood, Mimi travels to sunny California to rekindle his friendship with bartender Jolly (Vic Caesar, Alice Goodbody).  Joining forces with the former drink pusher, Mimi rattles the chains of west coast mob bosses by taking one ransom and wooing the girlfriend (Cara Salerno) of another to prove he means business.  As his notoriety rises, Mimi focuses his attention on bringing down Superspook (Jimmy Williams, Cockfighter), a noted pimp claiming ownership of prime real estate in the city.  Unwilling to easily surrender his turf and women, Mimi is at odds with his violent rise to power and may have bargained for more than he can handle.

    Unquestionably produced on a lower scale than Coppola’s masterpiece, Massacre Mafia Style pushes its exploitative nature of rampant shootouts and over-the-top bloodshed, juxtaposed with jovial music to delightful measure.  Independently funded and shot over the course of weekends in Los Angeles, Duke Mitchell embodies a captivating presence as a ruthless crime boss with a genuine knack for earnest mafioso speech most notably, during a sequence where Mitchell explains how men like himself have disgraced their Sicilian heritage.  Underneath its undeniable cult appeal and entertaining performances, Massacre Mafia Style injects a genuine context for fathers and sons that elevates the picture from other exploitation cash-in attempts.  A goldmine discovery for cult enthusiasts, Massacre Mafia Style stands as a testament of Duke Mitchell’s uncorrupted vision that takes gangster pictures to bloody, fun heights.

    Grindhouse Releasing presents Massacre Mafia Style with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Painstakingly restored, Duke Mitchell’s directorial debut bursts onto high-definition with excellent clarity putting to shame hazy VHS releases from yesteryear.  Appearing near immaculate with only scant traces of scratches, Massacre Mafia Style dazzles with warm skin tones and crisp detail in facial features.  Colors pop magnificently with bright red bloodshed bursting off the screen and black levels in top shape with no crushing on display.  A labor of love, Grindhouse Releasing’s transfer is the definitive statement on this cult favorite.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the digital restoration of the original soundtrack keeps dialogue audible and clear with climatic gunshots and Mitchell’s songs packing a solid punch while, hiss is kept at bay and never intrusive.  Overflowing with impressive bonus content, special features include, Like Father, Like Son: Duke and Jeffrey Mitchell (43:33), an in-depth featurette detailing the relationship between the film’s star and real life son as well as Mitchell’s career highlights.  Also included, Matt Climber and Jim LoBianco Interviews (10:11), Duke Mitchell Home Movies (52:00), a Theatrical Trailer (2:18), five Radio Spots, five Still Galleries consisting of over 200 images, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Cara Salerno Filmography and Grindhouse Releasing Prevues.  In addition and most excitingly, a bonus feature film, 1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (74:19) is included along with its Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and Still Gallery (34 in total).  Plus, a bonus TV special, An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante (37:05), accompanied with Durante 16mm Dailies (6:31), a 10-page booklet with an essay from David Szulkin and a DVD edition of the release round out the grandiose supplemental package.   

    Also known as Like Father, Like Son and The Executioner, Massacre Mafia Style’s appeal has grown increasingly through theatrical revival screenings and steady word of mouth.  After nearly 20 years of tireless labor and dedication, Grindhouse Releasing’s Bob Murawksi and the late Sage Stallone’s efforts have paid off in spades with one of the finest treatments and restorations granted to a nearly forgotten gem of cinema.  Exploding with bloodshed and action, Duke Mitchell’s vision of mafia lifestyles and criminal activity unloads a firestorm of exploitation greatness that will easily appease the most casual of cult enthusiasts.  If you’re not in with Massacre Mafia Style, you’re in the way!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Massacre Mafia Style can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Into the Woods (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Into the Woods (2014)

    Director: Rob Marshall

    Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Johnny Depp

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Into the Woods centers on iconic fairy tale characters including, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, young Jack (and his beanstalk) and Rapunzel as their stories intertwine with a childless baker and his wife, tasked to reverse a witch’s curse put upon them.  The impressive ensemble cast includes, Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), James Corden (The Three Musketeers), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Tracey Ullman (The Tracey Ullman Show) and Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger).

    Beloved for its sensational music and risqué interpretations of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes certain liberties with its big-screen adaptation while, remaining true to the spirit of its stage production.  With all changes and revisions approved by its original creators, Disney’s modestly budgeted spectacle charms viewers with Dennis Gassner’s (Big Fish) rich production design and eclectic cast that all manage to carry Sondheim’s music with ease.  Incorporating characters from several Brothers Grimm tales, Into the Woods centers on a husband and wife baking team (Corden and Blunt), unable to have children due to a wicked witch’s (Streep) curse.  In order to break the spell, the couple must fetch various items belonging to fellow characters including, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Cinderella’s shoe, Rapunzel’s hair and Jack’s cow.  Accustomed to each character and their respective stories, Into the Woods turns audience expectation on its head with twists that playfully poke fun at the sappy and clichéd tales.  While, more adult content and heavier violence may be softened, suggestive sequences involving Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford in her film debut) and The Wolf, in a minor role by Johnny Depp re-teaming with his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director, remain intact and inject a splash of innuendo.

    No stranger to the musical world, Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) delivers a fantasy world of wonder and fear that takes viewers‘ breath away.  Unsurprisingly loaded with musical sequences, Into the Woods bewitches with its rich soundtrack including, the film’s catchy prologue and the hilariously passionate “Agony” performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.  While, its on-screen talent never lacks, the film’s standout performance belongs to Emily Blunt whose comedic timing and beautiful singing voice elevate the picture to even higher standards.  Although, captivating and gorgeous, Into the Woods experiences pacing issues in its final act that tend to drag the picture down.  Whilst, “happily ever after” doesn’t exactly apply as one would expect, characters dissatisfied with their fates seek to rectify them as danger looms from a violent female giant threatening the villagers of the woods.  A mild setback but, one that attempts to cram too much into a timeframe that would have benefitted from more breathing room.  Regardless of these mishaps, Into the Woods is a magical journey based on the fairy tales you thought you knew but, tweaked on a grand scale with astounding production detail and exhilarating musical performances.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Into the Woods with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Although, doused in dimly lit, fog-entranced settings, Into the Woods astonishes with inky black levels that reveal no crushing and crystal clear visibility.  Skin tones register naturally and remarkably detailed while, more prominent colors found in Little Red Riding Hood’s cape and Cinderella’s gold gown pop and sparkle magnificently.  In addition, mildly used but, wildly effective, Into the Woods  visual effects sequences light up the screen with zero imperfections on display.  Simply put, Into the Woods casts a perfect spell of a transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Into the Woods sings perfect harmonies with exceptional dialogue levels that project with sheer crispness.  Meanwhile, the plentiful musical sequences excite the mix with solid depth and range that will leave viewers enraptured by the powerful sound.  In one of Disney’s more recently packed releases, special features run aplenty including, an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall, Streep Sings Sondheim - “She’ll Be Back” (4:48).  Introduced by Marshall, this newly crafted song was shot for the film but ultimately cut.  Also included, There’s Something About the Woods (13:23), The Cast As Good As Gold (10:10), Deeper Into the Woods, a four-part featurette covering From Stage to Screen (8:33), The Magic of the Woods (7:24), Designing the Woods (7:07) and The Costumes of the Woods (6:53).  Finally, Music & Lyrics allows viewers to jump directly to their favorite songs of the film or watch the entire film with optional lyrics while, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:32), Once Upon A Time (0:32), The Lion King Broadway Musical (0:32) and Disney’s Descendants (0:17) are included with a Digital HD Code of the release rounding out the supplemental material.

    Capturing the wondrous and fantastical realms of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes the familiar and delivers an entirely unique, slightly adult-oriented revision of happily ever after.  Richly conceived and supporting one of the most talented ensemble casts put forth in a musical, Disney’s big-screen adaptation does justice to its original production, giving movie audiences an effort well worth venturing into.  In addition, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is unquestionably perfect with an informative and ample amount of supplements.  Wishing upon a star, Disney enthusiasts and the musically-minded will find magical delight journeying Into the Woods.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available today from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Into the Woods can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Big Hero 6 (2014) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Big Hero 6 (2014)

    Director(s): Don Hall & Chris Williams

    Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining the action and adventure of Marvel Comics with the heart and style of Disney animation, Big Hero 6 focuses on the young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter, Senior Project) after a devastating accident costs his older brother’s life.  Comforted by Baymax, a lovable robotic health companion, Hiro, with the help of his loyal friends, become an unlikely group of superheroes, determined to bring a diabolical villain to justice.  Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch), Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl), Genesis Rodriguez (Tusk), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Alan Tudyk (Frozen) and James Cromwell (The Green Mile) provide voice talent.

    Following up on the massive success of Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studios would take full advantage of the recently acquired Marvel Comics for inspiration.  Deviating from its comic book source material, Big Hero 6 would become the first animated Disney production to incorporate Marvel characters into its timeless tradition that has birthed such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the more recent Wreck-It Ralph.  Carving out a tale with a strong emphasis on brotherly relationships, child prodigy Hiro Hamada mourns the death of his older brother, Tadashi, with the help and comfort of Baymax, a robotic nurse developed by Tadashi before his passing.  After learning of a kabuki mask-wearing villain who is violating Hiro’s own groundbreaking technology, the young genius is certain his brother’s death was no accident.  Upgrading Baymax and himself with state of the art armor, Hiro drafts Tadashi’s college friends to aid him in bringing the masked man down.  Encompassing a unique group of individuals including, speed demon Go Go (Chung), safety cautious Wasabi (Wayans Jr.), chemistry ditz Honey Lemon (Rodriguez) and comic nerd Fred (Miller), Hiro forms a team of six unlike any other before.  Filled with hilarious humor and emotional depth, Big Hero 6 flies with soaring colors in virtually every department.  The loss of Tadashi and Hiro’s immediate melancholy tugs at viewers before melting their hearts away at the introduction of the cuddly Baymax.  Adorably clumsy and endlessly caring, Baymax is the breakout character of the film that will leave audiences delighted for knowing him.  

    With solid characters and top-notch action sequences, Big Hero 6 may be slightly predictable in its narrative but, never quits entertaining.  From the cocktail blending setting of San Fransokyo to the brightly colored eye-candy costume designs, the film’s visuals leave a lasting impression and undeniable mark of the highest quality that Disney animation is accustomed to.  Critically acclaimed and taking the best of both Marvel and Disney’s imaginative worlds, Big Hero 6 is a resounding success that takes viewers on a sky high ride of excitement and fun.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment debuts Big Hero 6 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Expectedly, vibrant colors burst off the screen in every shot with picture perfect clarity always on display.  Showcasing exceptional inky black levels in Hiro’s microbot creations and its antagonists‘ black attire, Big Hero 6 is nothing short of perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film’s soundtrack is yet another work of flawlessness with crisp dialogue levels, explosive action sequences handled accordingly and music, including Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals” title track, offering a solid bass sound that will leave you bopping to the beat.  Special features included are the Oscar nominated theatrical short Feast (6:13).  Marking the directorial debut of Patrick Osbourne (Tangled, Paperman), this uplifting tale focuses on the relationship of an adorable puppy and his owner throughout the years.  Without question one of the finest Disney shorts to emerge in recent years, Feast will leave you teary-eyed and longing to hold your own K9 best friend.  Furthermore, The Origin of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey (15:10), hosted by Jamie Chung (Go Go), finds Directors Don Williams & Chris Williams, Producer Roy Conli and other creative talent discussing the film’s early beginnings and the long road to its completion.  Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters (6:39) sits down with the animation team as they discuss their earliest passions for animation and their specific roles in the production.  In addition, Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Directors Don Hall & Chris Williams (13:10), a Big Hero 6 Theatrical Teaser (1:41) and a Sneak Peeks reel including promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Infinity 2.0, Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions are included with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code rounding out the supplemental features.

    Yet another knockout effort for Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 packs heart, humor and action with outstanding results.  Crafting an important focus on brothers and friendship, the Marvel Comics adaptation is an often touching piece of stunning animation, sealed by its well-received characters.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment issues their Oscar nominated opus with impeccable technical features and a decent lineup of bonus content including, the also Oscar nominated and highly recommend short, Feast.  Released theatrically in 3D, Big Hero 6 is unfortunately the latest contemporary Disney release to not carry its extra dimensions over for home viewing, much to the dismay of enthusiastic fans.  Regardless, the strength and sheer entertainment factor of Big Hero 6 and its fabulous presentation on Blu-ray allows it to pack a solid punch for the whole family.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 24th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Big Hero 6 can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 101 Dalmatians (1961) Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

    101 Dalmatians (1961)

    Director(s): Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton S. Luske & Wolfgang Reitherman

    Starring: Rod Taylor, Cate Bauer, J. Pat O’Malley, Betty Lou Gerson & Ben Wright

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Dodie Smith’s beloved 1956 children’s novel, 101 Dalmatians centers on an adorable litter of dalmatian puppies as they are kidnapped by the bumbling accomplices of the wicked, fur-obsessed Cruella De Vil.  Determined to retrieve their children, Pongo and Perdita, with the assistance of other fellow city animals, brave their London surroundings before the puppies fall victim to Cruella’s cruel fashion fixation.  Rod Taylor (The Time Machine), Cate Bauer (The Third Man), J. Pat O’Malley (The Jungle Book), Betty Lou Gerson (The Fly), Ben Wright (The Sound of Music) & Lisa David (Queen of Outer Space) provide vocal talent.

    Struggling after the box-office failure of Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney heavily considered shutting down his animation division fearing its increased expenses would destroy the studio.  Nevertheless, Disney rebuffed the idea, remaining loyal to the artistry that his very empire was founded on and righteously continued to move forward.  After falling in love with Smith’s original novel, Disney quickly snatched up the rights, finding the property a perfect fit for his studio to weave their animated wizardry.  Cost conscience as ever, Ub Iwerks, in charge of special processes, modified a Xerox camera allowing drawings to be transferred directly to cels, saving immeasurable time and capital for the studio.  Able to capture the spontaneity of the animators work, 101 Dalmatians has more in common visually with the loose, free-spirited style of Dumbo than the delicate precision of Cinderella.  Told through the perspective of dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, 101 Dalmatians charms the viewer with cuddly characters and yet another memorable antagonist in Cruella De Vil.  Skeletal-looking and draped in a gaudy fur coat with a slimline cigarette holder always in hand, Cruella De Vil is the genius of Disney Legend Marc Davis whose endless talents brought such characters as Snow White, Alice, Tinker Bell and of course, Maleficent to life.  In addition, the film’s contemporary London setting, gorgeously realized by Production Designer Ken Anderson (Sleeping Beauty, The Aristocats), is a stunning sight, once again stylistically different from previous animated Disney productions but, perfectly fitting.  Aided by the support of several other local animals, the puppies are able to evade their dimwitted captors via hilarious, slap-sticking means retaining the heart and humor audiences have come to expect from a Walt Disney production.

    While, the film would prove to be a smashing success becoming the highest grossing film of 1961, Disney was apparently unhappy with the look and style of the finished product.  Meanwhile, audiences have adored the film for its noticeably unique animation, humorous characters and memorable songs, most famously “Cruella De Vil”, from famed songwriter Mel Leven.  Serving as one of the final animated films released under Walt Disney’s supervision before his untimely death in 1966, 101 Dalmatians has stood the test of time as a bonafide Disney classic where it will most assuredly remain for another 101 years and beyond.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents 101 Dalmatians with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Admittedly, there is minor digital tinkering at hand on the transfer, removing instances of natural grain making way for an intendedly squeaky clean presentation.  Far from deal-breaking, 101 Dalmatians still stuns in high-definition with bold colors, inky black levels, most appreciatively in Cruella’s hair and of course, the dalmatians‘ endless spots, along with fine detail allowing the viewer to appreciate the animators looser than usual pencil lines.  A solid sight from start to finish, 101 Dalmatians has never looked quite as vibrant before.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, 101 Dalmatians satisfies once again with crisp dialogue levels and the film’s soothing jazzy score nicely handled throughout its runtime.  No noticeable instances of hiss or distortion were heard throughout this well-handled mix.  In addition, the film’s original Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Celebrating its Diamond Edition status, newly added special features include viewing the film in optional DisneyView which incorporates artsy panels to fill out the otherwise black bars as the film plays, The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt, a brief episode of the Thunderbolt television show the puppies view in the actual film (1:46), Lucky Dogs interviews several Disney alumni including Floyd Norman, Lisa Davis, Burny Mattinson, Carmen Sanderson and more as they discuss what working at the studio was like (9:08), Dalmatians 101: Hosted by Cameron Royce finds Royce, star of The Disney Channel’s upcoming Descendants as he counts down the top five coolest anecdotes about 101 Dalmatians (5:20).  In addition, the best treat of the new supplements is Walt Disney Presents: “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” (1961 Version), a vintage episode of the memorable television series presented in HD (51:05).  Finally, the Diamond Edition ports over the following classic bonus features from its previous DVD release with Redefining the Line: The Making of 101 Dalmatians (33:55), Cruella De Vil: Drawn to Be Bad (7:10), Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney (12:48), several Trailers and TV Spots (7:80), Promotional Radio Spots (1:40) and Music & More (33:46).  Finally, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Dog With a Blog, Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions, Big Hero 6 and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast round out the bonus content.

    Long considered a Disney classic, 101 Dalmatians is unquestionably one of the finest efforts the Disney Studio produced in the 1960s, cementing its appeal with later generations through successful re-releases, a live-action remake, an animated television series and a belated direct-to-video animated sequel.  Possessing a stylistic departure from animated efforts before it, 101 Dalmatians is a dazzling sight with a story filled with charm and substance to match.  101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition makes its long-anticipated domestic Blu-ray debut with a colorfully bursting transfer, quaint sound mix and a robust spread of special features, both newly produced and vintage, that total over two hours worth of content.  Heart-filled and humorous, 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition is essential for Disney devotees and animation aficionados alike.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 10th, 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #4 - STUDIO GHIBLI EDITION: Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997) & The Wind Rises (2013) Blu-ray Reviews

    Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman & Debbie Reynolds

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the creative mind of Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), his timeless coming-of-age tale about a young witch celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Kik’s Delivery Service on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Newly remastered and accompanied with countless special features, this magical adventure invites you to take flight once again.

    Kiki’s Delivery Service centers on a young witch who on her 13th birthday must follow tradition and venture out into the world for a year of training and adventure.  Along with her faithful black cat, Jiji, Kiki lands in a beautiful new city where she forms her own personal delivery service while, learning responsibility and building confidence.  Kirsten Dunst (Small Soldiers), Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites), Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live), Matthew Lawrence (Mrs. Doubtfire) and Debbie Reynolds (Singin‘ in the Rain) provide vocal talent in this English translation.  

    Based on the novel by Eiko Kadono, Miyazaki’s fantastic animated adaptation is bursting with colors and gorgeous production design.  Straying from common depictions of witches as evildoers, Kiki’s Delivery Service offers a charming adolescent witch that audiences can relate to and sympathize with.  In true coming-of-age-fashion, the young Kiki travels to a far away city where she can perfect her skills and develop her independence.  Intendedly unusual, Miyazaki took influences from Ireland, Sweden and San Francisco to craft a city of beautiful uniqueness and familiarity.  As she forms a friendship with a local baker and establishes her own delivery service, Kiki matures while, lacking self confidence.  After much hesitation, Kiki develops a friendship with Tombo allowing her to experience adventures unlike ever before.  Brewing with homesickness and struggling with her new environment, Kiki finds herself losing the ability to fly.  Miyazaki relays Kiki’s loneliness in gorgeous fashion, tapping into the pain all audiences experience while growing up.  Straying from the source material, Miyazaki incorporates an intense airship accident in the final act that finds Tombo in danger.  With no choice, Kiki builds her confidence to fly into action and save her friend from certain doom, allowing the young witch to shine again.  While, the relatable tale of growing up and finding your place in the world works on nearly every level, the alluring animation and paradise-like city setting are the film’s sharpest attributes.  In addition, the English-dubbed performances are lively and comedic.  Sadly, Phil Hartman’s contributions as Jiji would mark his final voice-performance before his tragic death in 1998.  Critically and financially adored, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a delightful effort that visually stuns and connects to those forever young at heart.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Kiki’s Delivery Service with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Vibrant and dashing, Kiki’s Delivery Service makes its Blu-ray debut with flourishing colors and rich detail, allowing the viewer to better appreciate the city landscape of the film.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Kiki’s Delivery Service comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is crystal clear while, Composer Joe Hisaishi’s romantic and adventurous score is relayed with splendor.  Special features are aplenty with a newly included Ursula’s Painting (3:18) featurette joining classic DVD features such as, an introduction by John Lasseter (0:51), original Japanese storyboards (1:43:01), original Japanese trailers (8:06), Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service (2:26), where Miyazaki details his approach to creating the unique setting of the movie, Producer Toshio Suzuki offers insight on Kiki’s influences in Kiki & Jiji (3:27), Flying with Kiki & Beyond (2:50), Producer’s Prospective: Collaborating with Miyazaki (1:47) allows Miyazaki’s longtime producer Toshio Suzuki to shed light on their collaborative process.  In addition, The Locations of Kiki (29:11), reveals the real world locations that shape many of Miyazaki’s films, Scoring Miyazaki (7:18), Behind the Microphone (5:00), with English cast members Dunst, Hartman, Garofalo and Lawrence commenting on the dubbing process along, with a DVD edition of the film round out the impressive supplemental package.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming tale of self discovery and independence.  A gorgeous sight of pastel colors and magnificently detailed settings, this coming-of-age story deeply connects with young audiences and those still young at heart.  Flawlessly remastered, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have ushered Kiki’s Delivery Service with a Blu-ray debut fans won’t be disappointed with.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thKiki's Delivery Service can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Princess Mononoke (1997)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton & Jada Pinkett Smith

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Becoming one of the highest-grossing films in Japan’s history, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s vision of a fantasy world of gods would garner Studio Ghibli vast attention from the Western world.  Awarded Best Picture winner of the Japan Academy Prize, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Princess Mononoke, newly remastered on Blu-ray.

    After contracting a deadly curse, Ashitaka, a young warrior, embarks on a journey through the forests in search of a cure.  Through his travels, Ashitaka becomes entangled in a fierce battle between Lady Eboshi and her loyal humans against Princess Mononoke, a brave woman, aided by animal gods.  Billy Crudup (Big Fish), Claire Danes (Homeland), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Billy Bob Thornton (Fargo), Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Keith David (The Princess and the Frog) provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Throwing out the rules of movie making, Miyazaki blends the worlds of historical drama and fantasy on a grand scale.  Epic in its scope and runtime, Princess Mononoke emphasizes several themes including the environment and lost innocence.  Filled with mythical creatures and armies of warriors, Princess Mononoke enforces noticeably more violent imagery, compared to some of Miyazaki’s more lighthearted fare.  Showcasing chopped off limbs and decapitations, the mature content and dramatic storytelling serves as Miyazaki’s response to the horrors of the real world.  Throughout his search for a cure to his deadly curse, Ashitaka encounters several groups of characters all with their own desires and selfish agendas.  Surrounded by hostility and slowly being consumed by death, Ashitaka hopes to forge peace between Lady Eboshi’s human army and Princess Mononoke’s clan of animal gods.  Countlessly risking his life to see a better tomorrow for others, Ashitaka begins to fall in love with the Princess while, the hateful instincts of others begins to take hold.  Gorgeously animated with several computer rendered moments, Princess Mononoke is an astonishing sight that ranks as one of Miyazaki’s finest artistic achievements.  Complex and at times, convoluted, Princess Mononoke demands its strictest attention as its narrative is densely structured and difficult to follow for younger viewers.  Incorporating many characters who come and go, Princess Mononoke experiences pacing issues in its final act that tends to drag longer than necessary.  While, not exactly a narrative knockout, Princess Mononoke is a breathtaking event in animation history with character designs and battle sequences that amaze.  Clocking in at over two hours, Princess Mononoke is a consuming viewing experience and one that will most likely grow in appreciation with repeated viewings.

    Arriving with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Princess Mononoke is yet another gorgeous example of Miyazaki in high-definition.  Relaying crisp colors and a clear picture free of flakes or speckles, Princess Mononoke is a stunner that will make viewers marvel at the sweeping battle sequences found within.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Princess Mononoke comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Presented with always audible dialogue, the violent battles and animal stampedes offer a considerable boost in the mix that will surely benefit the viewing experience.  Porting over previously available bonus features, Princess Mononoke provides viewers with original Japanese storyboards (2:13:21), original Japanese and English trailers (14:20), original TV spots (11:33) and the original English theatrical trailer (2:03).  In addition, a brief featurette with Jada Pinkett Smith, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Neil Gaiman and other creative talent offering insight on the English dub of the film is provided (5:05) along with, Princess Mononoke in the USA (19:57), a video record of Miyazaki’s US and Canadian travels to promote the film in 1999.  Finally, a DVD edition of the film rounds out the supplemental package.

    Masterfully animated and inhabited with deep themes, Princess Mononoke is an intensely epic animated film with few others like it.  Astonishing in its scope, Princess Mononoke challenges the viewers with characters who are not simply good or evil but, very much human in their layered personalities.  Complex and at times, difficult to follow, Miyazaki’s environmentally conscience picture can be a tough pill to swallow but, one that will surely benefit from additional viewings throughout the years.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment does domestic Miyazaki fans proud with another splendid transfer that preserves the elegance of this critically-acclaimed effort.  While, scant on newly produced content, the existing supplements suffice with Princess Mononoke in the USA being the package highlight.  Not quite Miyazaki’s finest effort, Princess Mononoke remains an animated epic with visuals ranking as some of Japan’s best from the last 20 years.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 18thPrincess Mononoke can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Wind Rises (2013)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci & William H. Macy

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hailed as Miyazaki’s final film before announcing his retirement, a wondrous tale of a brilliant airplane designer would become the Academy Award-winner’s swan song.  Loosely influenced by actual designer Jiro Horikoshi and Miyazaki’s own manga of the same name, this inspiring story ends a five year silence since Miyazaki’s 2008 effort, Ponyo.  Touchstone Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents The Wind Rises on breathtaking Blu-ray.

    The Wind Rises centers on the young Jiro Horikoshi who longs to become a pilot.  After realizing his poor eyesight will prevent him from doing so, Jiro is determined to become an aeronautical engineer and design the most beautiful airplanes.  Visualizing his goals through his dreams and working tirelessly for years, Jiro reconnects with a woman from his past and falls in love.  Conflicted by what his efforts have produced, Jiro looks within his thoughts for his hero, Giovanni Caproni, to guide him.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), John Krasinski (The Office), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), William H. Macy (Shameless) and Werner Herzog (Jack Reacher) all provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Recently admitting he will continue making anime until his death, Hayao Miyazaki’s possible final feature film is yet another visual slice of perfection.  Set at the turn of the century, The Wind Rises casts a light on Jiro Horikoshi whose determined to make his goals a reality.  Brilliant and friendly, Jiro is reminiscent of every young soul who wishes to change the world with their ideas.  Crosscutting between Jiro’s daydreams where he meets his mentor, fellow engineer Giovanni Caproni, Jiro can visualize his ideas and see their pros and cons.  These dream sequences are not only beautiful but, offer insight into the creative mind of Miyazaki and how his genius operates.  With close friend Kiro Honjo at his side, Jiro works through the years to make a difference in his overwhelmingly poor and dated country.  After reconnecting with a woman from his past, Jiro asks for her hand in marriage, against somber circumstances.  Never giving up, Jiro continues his efforts and is conflicted with the results after witnessing the use his creations have been put to.  Coming under criticism for utilizing heavy smoking characters and a protagonist responsible for war machines, Miyazaki’s feelings are complex, much like the lives of his characters, and insists while he does not approve of the planes’ usage, they were one of the few creations the Japanese could be proud of.  Regardless of their wartime agenda, Jiro’s creation and passion is the central theme of the movie that urges viewers to follow their own dreams and find their happiness.  While, Jiro’s affection for his wife, Nahoko, tends to be dry and lacking in sincerity, Miyazaki crafts several sequences between the couple that are the very essence of romance.  Finding love and living life to its fullest are the defining messages viewers take away from this dreamlike journey into the mind of a creative soul.  Becoming Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2013, The Wind Rises is a captivating tale told through Miyazaki’s visually intoxicating imagery that define wonder and romance.

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents The Wind Rises with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  As Miyazaki’s most recent effort, colors are thunderously bold and consistent throughout the runtime.  No anomalies of any sort intrude on the gorgeous imagery, allowing viewers to appreciate the countless flying sequences and early 20th century surroundings.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Wind Rises comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is rich and clear with the roar of airplane engines soaring through your speakers.  Composer Joe Hisaishi’s Italian influenced score comes across with wonderful elegance, setting the mood for the film.  In addition, a startling earthquake sequence offers a suitable rumble to the mix that adds nice emphasis to the visuals.  For what is considered to be Miyazaki’s final effort, special features are rather light but, still worthwhile.  The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone (10:46) finds English Version Director Gary Rydstrom discussing the project along with fellow cast members Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stanely Tucci, William H. Macy, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski offering their flattering opinions on Miyazaki’s work.  In addition, storyboards (2:06:29), original Japanese trailers and TV spots (9:07), an announcement of the completion of the film (1:22:46) featurette which documents a press conference with Miyazaki, Voice Actor Hideaki Anno and Singer/Songwriter Yumi Matsutoya along with, a DVD edition of the film round out the supplemental package.

    Universally acclaimed, The Wind Rises is a gorgeously realized effort from Miyazaki’s never-ending imagination.  Brought to life by complex and layered characters, The Wind Rises is a dreamlike tale of chasing your goals and injecting beauty back into the world.  Touchstone Home Entertainment sends Miyazaki’s final work off on a high note with stunning picture, crisp audio and decent, if not, slightly light special features.  True to his inspiration, Miyazaki not only accomplished making something beautiful with The Wind Rises, but leaves viewers with a sense of determination to make their own dreams come alive.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thThe Wind Rises can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.