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  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    Director: Gareth Edwards

    Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen & Forest Whitaker

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a time of ruthless Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds an unlikely band of heroes headed by the daring Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) as they plot to steal the coveted plans to the Empire’s most destructive weapon, the Death Star.  Ben Mendelsohn (Una), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange), Alan Tudyk (Frozen), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival) costar.

    Marking the first of many planned stand-alone films in the popular sci-fi saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers an action-packed and emotionally riveting tale based on a crucial footnote, often referred to but never explored in the film universe on such a profound scale.  Following the murder of her mother and capturing of her scientist father (Mikkelsen) fifteen years ago, Jyn Erso, resorting to petty theft and anything else to survive in the war-ravaged world the Empire has fashioned, is rescued from incarceration by rebels with an imperative message from her thought to be dead father, Galen Erso.  Using his brilliance to design the Empire’s most invaluable weapon for total domination, Galen alerts Jyn of the Death Star’s near completion and its sole vulnerability.  Aided by rebel officer Cassian Andor and the series’ most hilariously blunt droid to date, K-2SO (Tudyk), to retrieve the elder Erso in an effort to assist the Alliance, Jyn must scour distant and dangerous worlds, confront old foes and ensure the plans to the Death Star are captured in a mission built entirely on hope and outnumbered by the odds.  

    A far riskier endeavor than its previous Episode-connected installment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story forges on with an adventure, visually and thematically, engrained in the spirit of Lucas’ franchise-starting wave of films.  Grittier and focusing on a new breed of unlikely and richly diverse heroes that come together to aid Jyn’s deathly mission, the prequel to A New Hope flourishes with stunning visual effects and a groundbreaking achievement that resurrects the deceased Peter Cushing’s likeness to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  As strong and appealing as these new rebels including, the determined Jyn and blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) are individually, their chemistry as a unit lacks and is a far cry from the charming connections seen between the stars of George Lucas’ original trilogy.  While character development issues, also present in his 2014 Godzilla reboot are repeated here, Director Gareth Edwards handles the wealth of the narrative with a steady hand and an obvious appreciation for the detailed universe.  Complimented by a distinct yet familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Tomorrowland, Doctor Strange) that seamlessly taps into John Williams’ beloved themes and featuring the most viciously exciting appearance by Darth Vader on film yet, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although leading to an unavoidably predictable finale, is a thrilling journey into the galaxy’s past that stands strongly on its own merits.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Immaculately handled, the digital photography detailing the various planet landscapes and colder color textures seen early in the film make for a flawlessly crisp picture.  Furthermore, skin tones are naturally preserved with the deepest of black levels observed during high-flying space battles, death trooper armor and of course, Darth Vader’s iconic garb.  A picturesque high-definition experience on all fronts, the Force is triumphantly strong with this transfer.  Equipped with a fittingly perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that delivers dialogue with the swiftest of precision, Michael Giacchino’s swelling score boldly supports the spectacular visuals while, the whizzing sounds of TIE fighters, X-wings and explosive laser blasts all make reference-worthy statements on the track.

    Respectably stocked and presented on a separate disc, supplements found under The Stories banner include, A Rogue Idea (9:00) that finds ILM’s John Knoll discussing how he came up with the film’s concept that would ultimately launch the Star Wars stand-alone projects, Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) explores the lead character’s traits and backstory with insight from Actress Felicity Jones, Cassian: The Spy (4:14) hosts Actor Diego Luna as he discusses Cassian’s own complexities being a hero against immeasurable odds, K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) details the technical process bringing the droid to life through Alan Tudyk’s performance, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) digs deeper into the characters’ backstories and the Chinese superstars playing them, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35) finds Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflecting on their very unique roles as an extremist rebel leader and Imperial pilot gone rogue while, The Empire (8:18) gives a revealing look into the film’s antagonists, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) explores the production’s challenge with making a film that could visually fit into the realm of the original trilogy’s appearance, The Princess & The Governor (5:49) sheds light on the impressive movie magic that brought a younger Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin back to the big-screen and Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) finds the filmmakers and cast reflecting on the experience with footage from the film’s world premiere included.  In addition, Rogue Connections (4:31) points out all the Easter eggs and references to other films in the Star Wars universe found in the film with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code concluding the bonus feature offerings.

    Following up on the momentum of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story successfully charts a new course in a universe of stand-alone features that overwhelmingly soars on its first flight.  Minor character development hiccups aside, the prequel invites viewers back to a familiar world, this time told via strangers eyes, who win the affections of its audience through compelling performances and mesmerizing visual effects.  While its ultimate destination may be easily foreseen, the journey and near-impossible mission at hand is as exciting as one could hope for from a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.  Unsurprisingly, Disney’s high-definition presentation is a lavish-looking, reference worthy example of excellence with a serviceable amount of supplements bested only by its own Target exclusive release containing additional on-disc content and a 3D presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 4th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Zootopia (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Zootopia (2016)

    Director(s): Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush

    Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk & Shakira

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a metropolis populated by animals, Zootopia centers on Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, Once Upon a Time), the first bunny on its force, as she seeks to prove her place by cracking her first case.  Confronted with overwhelming odds and minimal support, Judy must team up with scamming fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses) to solve the mystery behind what’s reverting residents back to their savage ways.  

    In Disney’s most creatively designed animated feature in recent memory, Zootopia’s buddy cop dynamic demonstrates exemplary levels of laughs and conflicting personalities that send its furry, mismatched protagonists on an adventure-filled journey of animalistic proportions.  Ginnifer Goodwin’s spunky energy infused into Judy Hopps is excellently matched with the dry wit of Jason Bateman’s conniving fox, setting the tone for a feature about the big city, overcoming social prejudices and making a positive difference in a very turbulent world.  With the exception of a knee-slapping sequence set in Zootopia’s DMV offices, Disney’s animated feature announced itself with a mediocre marketing campaign leaving viewers in the dark of its true potential.  Strongly encouraged by overwhelming word of mouth feedback, Zootopia continues the success of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ most recent hits with heart-filled characters, impressive moments of action and peril (most notably when Judy and Nick infiltrate a hidden underground laboratory responsible for targeting the predators of Zootopia) and the always charming touches of saccharine that Disney has perfected.  While Zootopia’s many merits can be simply identified by its comedic touches and dazzling animation, perhaps its greatest strength is its not-so subtle message that true changes of understanding can only come from us.  In a heated political season where targeting the differences between our fellow man is a source of vile negativity, Zootopia’s message of acceptance and embracement of the various critters that compile our own animal kingdom is a lesson that all audiences, particularly ones of a more mature generation, can forever benefit from.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Zootopia with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with never-ending colors that leap off the screen, detail is immaculate with impressive clarity picking up delicate animal furs and razor-thin whiskers.  In addition, the unique boroughs of Zootopia’s diverse city are all excellently captured while nighttime sequences are perfectly inky and free of any digital artifacts.  As strong and memorable as its narrative, Zootopia’s high-definition transfer is as perfect as one can get.  Equipped with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue and gives rise to Composer Michael Giacchino’s (Inside Out) eclectic score, special features include, Research: A True-Life Adventure (9:58) where the filmmakers dive into their characters real worlds for invaluable inspiration, The Origin Story of An Animal Tale (9:15) allows the makers to discuss the evolving changes made to the film and Zoology: The Roundtables (18:23), introduced by Ginnifer Goodwin, these three featurettes center on the characters, environments and animation of the film.  Furthermore, Scoretopia (4:59) dances on the wild side as Composer Michael Giaccino crafts the film’s score while Z.P.D. Forensic Files (8:23) investigates the film’s hidden easter eggs.  Lastly, the “Try Everything” Music Video by Shakira (3:21), Deleted Characters (3:16), Deleted Scenes (28:03), Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), the Disney Store (0:32), Girl Meets World (0:32) and Finding Dory (1:43) are also included alongside a DVD edition and a Digital HD Code.

    Eclipsing Frozen’s opening weekend returns at the domestic box-office, Zootopia would ultimately exceed $1 billion from worldwide grosses and be hailed by audiences and critics alike.  Warm, funny and offering an important lesson to embrace all the unique personalities that comprise our world, Zootopia is yet another glowing chapter in Disney’s tradition of timeless tales.  In addition, the Mouse House’s phenomenal high-definition presentation is nothing short of reference quality while, its supplements are nicely stocked and varied offering well-rounded insight into the film’s making.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Zootopia can be purchased via 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.