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  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

    Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph & Jack Holt

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Produced by famed auteur Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie), Cat People centers on Serbian immigrant Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) whose marriage to American architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Spiral Staircase) is put in peril when her homeland fears of transforming into a savage feline during intimacy are suggested.  Tom Conway (101 Dalmatians), Jane Randolph (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Jack Holt (They Were Expendable) co-star.

    Stylish and mysteriously evocative, Producer Val Lewton’s debut effort and his first for RKO Pictures accentuates what haunts viewers in the shadows and rises above its genre label to deliver a gem of psychological madness and tragic love.  Gorgeously shot by Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) and under the refined direction of Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the Demon), Cat People, unlike the prominently displayed Universal Monsters from the same era, uses calculated suspense and an increasingly dreadful tone to suggest more onscreen horror than what is showcased.  After a chance encounter at the city zoo prompts a love at first sight romance, gorgeous Serbian artist Irena is overwhelmed with her feelings for the handsome Oliver only to have childhood myths cloud her happiness.  Terrified that a mere kiss from her new husband will transform her into a cat-like person with wicked intentions, Irena’s mental state comes into question, forcing Oliver to second-guess his own feelings for the foreign beauty.  Coupled with a scandalous love triangle that surges Irena’s jealously while maintaining the very real possibility that her darkest fears of an ancient curse are true, Cat People, realized on a shoestring budget and utilizing recycled sets, delivers a frightening tale of marital woes and forbidden sexual desires under the subtext of witchcraft that strikingly stands out from other horror-billed efforts of the 1940s.  Strongly performed and leaving audiences to imaginatively paint their own dark pictures where the fog resides, Cat People purrs with consummate atmosphere, leaving an indelible impact on those looking into its poetic cage of horror.

    The Criterion Collection presents Cat People with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally restored in 2K, the monochrome photography arrives with gorgeous detail and a remarkable emphasis on black levels giving the film’s shadowy presence new dimensionality.  In addition, age-related scratches and scuffs are all but vanished making the viewing experience all the greater.  Bearing black bars on either sides of the frame to preserve its intended format, Cat People has never looked more splendid.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly carried with even Simon’s thick accent never falling on strained ears while, Composer Roy Webb’s (Notorious) classy score is effectively laid.  Special features include, a 2005 recorded Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (1:16:40), the accomplished 2008 documentary by Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) that delves into Lewton’s short-lived yet, revered career with narration from Director Martin Scorsese.  Furthermore, Ciné Regards (26:37) presents a vintage 1977 interview with Director Jacques Tourneur on his career, the newly-crafted John Bailey (16:36) catches up with the director of photography of 1982’s Cat People and As Good As It Gets to discuss Musuraca’s mesmerizing approaches to the original feature while, the film’s Trailer (1:04) and an Essay entitled Darkness Betrayed by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien featuring a reversible poster rounds out the impressive supplemental offerings that could have only been made perfect by the inclusion of the 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People.

    Far more restrained than most genre efforts of the decade but arguably more effective, Cat People uses subtlety and psychological intrigue to lure audiences into its shadowy realm of a troubled marriage and catastrophic curses.  Just in time for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection celebrates one of Lewton’s finest efforts and a towering achievement of elegant frights with its definitive presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras to claw into.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 20th from The Criterion Collection, Cat People can be purchased via Criterion.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Captain America: Civil War (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Captain America: Civil War (2016)

    Director(s): Anthony & Joe Russo

    Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen & Daniel Brühl

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the cataclysmic destruction of The Avengers’ last battle, Captain America: Civil War finds the government and international leaders urging the powerful team to fall under order.  Creating a sharp difference of opinion between Captain America (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes), the two friends become each other’s worst enemies, simultaneously dividing their fellow teammates.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Community) return to helm the exciting followup to their 2014 smash hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  

    Carrying on from its politically-charged and throughly action-packed sequel, the star-spangled hero returns in top form as governmental pressure creates a dividing rift between the Brooklyn native and his billionaire ally.  As the world recovers from the devastation at Sokovia, Captain America and select members of The Avengers experience another tragedy of civilian lives lost during an enemy pursuit in Lagos.  With worldwide pressure mounting, a controversial agreement is proposed amongst the United Nations that would sanction the actions of the mighty team creating unexpected friction amongst its members.  Haunted by the guilt of their unintended harmful actions, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) seeks to oblige by the orders of the world governments by supporting the motion while, Steve Rogers (Evans) refuses to stand back if a global threat arises and The Avengers are ordered to not intervene.  Agreeing to disagree, supportive Avengers prepare to sign the peaceful accord in Vienna when an explosion takes the lives of many and holds Rogers’ childhood best friend and the ruthless Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Stan) as the culprit.  Fearing for his friend’s life and adamant on finding him first, Captain America, now considered a fugitive, locates his former foe who insists he was not responsible for the attack.  Apprehended alongside Cap’s loyal comrades, Barnes finds himself at the mercy of the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Brühl) after confidential Hydra documents are recovered revealing insight into Barnes’ psychological triggers.  Breaking out of custody and once again reuniting with his friend, Captain America, joined by Falcon (Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Hawkeye (Renner) and the tiniest of titans Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Role Models), go rogue to reveal the truth before Zemo’s reign of terror continues.  Meanwhile, forced to do battle, the accord agreeing Iron Man, alongside War-Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany) and others, seek to bring their former friends to justice for the safety of the world.

    Righting the ship of its character abundant and narratively choppy Avengers predecessor with ease while, maintaining the high standards of The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War raises another notch in quality for the impressively depth-filled cinematic universe.  Covering a global scale and containing explosively action-packed sequences throughout, the third Captain led adventure keeps the film exceptionally balanced with a loaded cast that never fight for screen time or loses the focus of its titular hero’s emotional path.  Injecting perfectly timed touches of humor natural to the Russo’s sensibilities and pushing The Avengers into complexities not seen before, Captain America: Civil War also marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42) and the high-school web-slinging Spider-Man (Tom Holland, In the Heart of the Sea) who rob scenes from their fellow costumed performers, leaving viewers yearning for more.  In addition, while Brühl compliments the film with his calculated presence, his antagonists motivations feel generally contrived and one-dimensional in a film that otherwise burns brightly.  Arguably containing Marvel’s most exciting battle sequence to date that finds the divided Avengers dueling on an airport tarmac and Ant-Man growing to mammoth heights, Captain America: Civil War will leave audiences anything but split on its outcome.  Terrifically paced and infectiously entertaining, Marvel’s juggernaut threequel lives up to expectations and emerges as one of their best efforts yet!

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Captain America: Civil War with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Stunning in every frame, skin tones are naturally balanced while saturation is exceptionally handled.  Colors are sharp and exacting with the ever-changing locations of the sunny Lagos to the snowy Siberian climax beautifully relayed.  Crisp and devoid of imperfections, Marvel’s latest looks showstoppingly strong.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible while, Cap’s metallic sounding shield, missile blasts and building explosions rock the track in all the right ways.  Furthermore, hand-to-hand combat, street ambiance and high-speed car chases are equally prioritized, offering the mix a universally balanced and reference quality presentation.  Wonderfully packed, special features include, An Audio Commentary with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and Screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, United We Stand, Divided We Fall - The Making of Captain America Civil War Part 1 (22:25) and Part 2 (23:18) expertly covers the development and cinematic arc of the character with interviews from key Marvel talent and behind the scenes footage.  In addition, Captain America: The Road to Civil War (4:11) and Iron Man: The Road to Civil War (4:27) chart the unique paths and emotional challenges each character has gone through leading up to the 2016 sequel while, Open Your Mind: Marvel’s Doctor Strange - Exclusive Sneak Peek (4:02), Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52) and a Gag Reel (2:53) are also included.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Doctor Strange (2:03), an Audi Promo for Captain America: Civil War (2:10) and Marvel Contest of Champions (0:32) are joined by a Digital HD code.

    Earning over $1 billion at the worldwide box-office, Captain America: Civil War is the latest of Marvel’s laborious universe stretching achievements that also ranks as one of its greatest.  An expansion to the universally hailed Winter Soldier storyline that delivers where Age of Ultron fell short, Team Cap’s battle with Team Iron Man is emotionally tested and rollercoastingly intense with a star-studded cast of fan favorite heroes and colorful newcomers on hand for the battle of the century.  Continuing the ascension of Marvel’s commitment to quality and popcorn bursting entertainment, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers the superhero blockbuster with quintessential technical grades and a superior assortment of bonus features worthy of investigation.  While its heroes may be left divided, Captain America: Civil War will surely unite fans with its spectacle and edge of your seat spirit. 

    RATING: 5/5                      

    Available September 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Captain America: Civil War can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.