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  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

    Director(s): Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally & Geoffrey Rush

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Crashing into the cinematic seas for its fifth adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds the flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through the Looking Glass) caught in the crosshairs of his most formidable foe yet, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, Skyfall).  After being outsmarted by Sparrow years earlier and cursed upon entry into the Devil’s Triangle, the vengeful Salazar seeks to make the endlessly drunk pirate pay.  Meanwhile, young Henry Turner’s (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) determination to locate the Trident of Poseidon to free his own father from sea-drifting captivity pits him with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a resourceful astronomer whose curiosity and intelligence make the journey possible.  Also welcoming Captain Jack’s established frenemy, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Genius), back to the proceedings, the young newcomers find themselves, for better or worse, in the company of Jack as Salazar hunts the swashbucklers to the Trident’s island in an action-packed climax.

    Billed as the franchise’s curtain call, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to the ghoulish roots of its original chapter with a fresh-faced cast of newcomers playing strongly against Depp’s eccentric captain who continues to prove the chameleon-like thespian is having more fun than ever in the role.  Kickstarting with a hilarious and technically impressive bank robbery by Jack’s crew who accidentally steal the entire bank itself, Javier Bardem sends chills down audiences’ spines as the demonic Captain Salzar whose mouthful of black slobber and undead appearance casts an effectively foreboding shadow upon the film.  With several surprises in store for longtime fans of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also gives the treasured Captain Barbossa far more depth than before making the film perhaps the most gratifying for the series veteran.  Far more in line with the charm of the Disney film’s debut outing and boasting top-tier spectacle value, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an above average delight that proves Captain Jack still commands the high seas.

    Marveling with its 1080p transfer, presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment continues to prove its pristine abilities with this flawless presentation that accentuates sharp skin tones, exacting black levels and crisp details spotted in Salazar’s deathly appearance and his man-eating zombie sharks.  Accompanied with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply projected while, the film’s swelling themes provide bonafide boosts to the action-packed proceedings.  Notably shorter than previous Pirates films, special features include, Dead Men Tell More Tales: The Making of a New Adventure (47:50), a seven-part featurette exploring the creation of the epic production with interviews from some of the film’s young stars, the film’s many visual effects and the franchise’s enduring presence in pop culture.  Furthermore, Bloopers of the Caribbean (2:58), a Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:40) and Deleted Scenes (2:59) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD copy and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Earning a respectable near $800 million while dividing critics and audiences, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a return to form for the franchise that once left fans dizzied by its third adventure before sticking to simplicity with On Stranger Tides.  Harkening back to what made the original film so special without overthrowing it, the fifth installment does an admirable job with its renewed mojo hinting that this may not be Captain Jack’s final sail at sea after all to which we say yo-ho!  Although less desirable in its scant offering of bonus features, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film in a quality as visually and sonically rich as the Caribbean itself.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Maleficent (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Maleficent (2014)

    Director: Robert Stromberg

    Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple & Sam Riley

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Paying homage to their own legacy, the Mouse House invites you to take a closer look at one of its most vile antagonists.  Marking the directorial debut of Academy Award-winning Art Director Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland), experience the fairy tale you thought you knew.  With a screenplay by Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) and a magnificently sinister performance from Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes you to the evil beginning of Maleficent.

    Reimagining the 1959 Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty, Angelina Jolie stars as the scorned fairy Maleficent.  Bestowing an evil curse on the king’s newborn daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8), Maleficent finds herself conflicted among rival kingdoms as the young princess matures.  Before long, she realizes Aurora may be the key in a life-altering course of action for both of their worlds.  Sharlto Copley (District 9), Juno Temple (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Sam Riley (Control) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Retaining several moments of the iconic animated film, Maleficent strives and succeeds in becoming its own beast.  Providing a thorough backstory for the famed villain, the viewer is granted access into the tragic events that would propel Maleficent on her downward spiral.  Once a beautiful, winged fairy, Maleficent is betrayed by Stefan (Copley), her sole human friend with whom she grew to love.  Fueled by greed and the succession of the king, Stefan robs Maleficent of her prized possessions, causing a dark cloud of despair to emerge between their kingdoms.  Echoing the classic setup of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, now riled with hate, casts an unbreakable curse on King Stefan’s daughter, Princess Aurora (Fanning), to compensate for what was taken from her.  While, the three good fairies tasked with keeping Aurora safe appear, albeit by different names, they are far more clumsy and neglectful than their animated counterparts.  Meanwhile, Maleficent, along with her raven-morphing servant Diaval (Riley), keep a watchful eye on the young child, inadvertently becoming her unofficial fairy godmother and develop an unexpected relationship.  Channeling the demeanor of Eleanor Audley’s performance, Angelina Jolie stuns as the horned fairy, adding a new layer of sympathy and elegance to the role.  In addition, the natural beauty and charm of Elle Fanning raises the rather shallow Aurora to new heights, providing a genuine connection with the audience.  As King Stefan’s paranoia and fear escalates, a war between his kingdom and Maleficent is imminent.  Stunning visual effects and gorgeous art direction send the characters through intense battle sequences that rival those in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings franchise.  Continuing to evolve, Maleficent injects plenty of unique twists in its final act that will firmly separate itself from its predecessor.

    Hailing from an esteemed visual effects and art direction background, first time director Robert Stromberg successfully brings a fairy tale to life with rich colors and fanciful environments.  Disney alumni Linda Woolverton’s screenplay captures the essence of the original tale while, providing a whole new light on a mysteriously misunderstood character.  Exciting and magical, Maleficent gives new meaning to one of Disney’s most evil and equally beloved villainess’ with relatable themes and arresting performances.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Maleficent arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Engulfed in a fantasy world of lavish colors and computer-generated creatures, Maleficent casts an immediate spell of quality.  The cheery, warm complexion of Fanning to the pale, porcelain skin tone of Jolie comes through remarkably.  In addition, colorful details ranging from Jolie’s glowing green eyes and Copley’s prosthetic scars pop with clarity.  Maleficent, cloaked in inky black gowns and hidden in shadows, registers beautifully with no crushing or disruptive noise to be found.  Disney has graciously provided viewers with a bewitching visual experience that is nothing short of magnificent.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Maleficent sounds wickedly solid in all areas.  From Janet McTeer’s soft-spoken narration to the thunderous battle cries, dialogue is always crisp and well balanced.  The roaring sounds of Maleficent’s wings and blazes of inferno offer strong emphasis with a firm force.  From quieter, more character driven moments to the evil fairies roaring conjuring of spells, Maleficent hits every note perfectly.

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Aurora: Becoming a Beauty (4:53): Actress Elle Fanning offers her personal experiences growing up with Sleeping Beauty and her approaches to differentiate Aurora from the original film.  Star Angelina Jolie and Producer Joe Roth also provide insight.

    • From Fairy Tale to Feature Film (8:13): Angelica Jolie, Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, Executive Producer Palak Patel, Director Robert Stromberg and others address the challenges reinventing the classic fairy tale from the antagonists’ perspective.

    • Building An Epic Battle (5:48): Screenwriter Linda Woolverton and Producer Joe Roth discuss the staging and complexities of shooting the first act battle sequence with insight from Stunt Coordinator Eunice Huthart, SFX Supervisor Michael Dawson and Senior VFX Supervisor Carey Villegas.

    • Classic Couture (1:34): Millinery Designer Justin Smith provides voiceover, explaining the making of Maleficent’s head mask and various accessories.

    • Maleficent Revealed (4:45): A montage of several scenes from their onsite filming appearance to their finalized, effects heavy, completion.

    • Deleted Scenes: Stefan in King’s Chamber (2:34), Pixies Seek Asylum (1:51), Pixie Idiots (0:22), Diaval Asks about The Curse (1:00) and Suitor (0:51).

    • Sneak Peeks: Promos for Disney Parks, Star Wars Rebels, Once Upon a Time and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Complete First Season.

    • DVD Edition

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Containing the rough structure of Disney’s 1959 classic, Maleficent dared to be unique and succeeded, creating a box-office smash.  Perfectly cast, Angelina Jolie captures the beauty, mystery and suffering of the horned fairy with a wonderfully layered backstory.  Briskly told and gorgeously designed, Director Robert Stromberg along with Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, carry the magic of Disney animation into the live-action world.  As wonderful as the film itself, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have bestowed a gorgeous Blu-ray with flawless detail and strong audio specifications.  While, the included special features are decent, covering various degrees of the production, a domestic 3D Blu-ray release is unfortunately lacking for this visually delightful film.  Nonetheless, Maleficent is a wickedly fun time with compelling performances and brilliant production value that Disney enthusiasts will find enchanting.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available November 4thMaleficent can be purchased via Disney.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.