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  • Cars 3 (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Cars 3 (2017)

    Director: Brian Fee

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt & Kerry Washington

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Riding high as renowned champion for years, Cars 3 finds racing legend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris) being pushed out of the limelight by a new generation of hotshot racers.  Recognizing times are a-changin’, McQueen teams with an enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo, Cristela), to prove he still has what it takes to go the distance.

    Reverting back to the bluegrass roots of its originator, Cars 3 comes full circle as Lightning McQueen, the once arrogant rookie turned lovable champ, becomes the aging pro to face his biggest and most emotional challenge yet.  Continuing to enjoy a successful winning streak and unanimous respect amongst his peers, McQueen and others of his breed are quickly sideswiped by a new crop of determined and technologically superior vehicles with their eyes on racing glory.  Rattled by the speed and cockiness of his new foe, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger), and the retirements of longtime pals, McQueen begins to feel his time may also be up after suffering a near fatal wreck.  Recovering in Radiator Springs and longing for guidance from his late mentor Doc Hudson, McQueen’s spirits are lifted by his Route 66 family and his determination renewed by new Rust-eze owner, Sterling (Nathan Fillion, Castle).  Teamed with spunky motivational trainer Cruz Ramirez, McQueen, through soul-searching and additional support from Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper, The Muppets), navigates his way through the evolving world of racing while learning to see a future beyond just his own career.  

    Ditching the sillier espionage hijinks of its predecessor, Cars 3 is a leaps and bounds improvement, reverting the spotlight back onto Lightning McQueen in a tale that resonates with an aging audience who have grown much since happening upon Radiator Springs a decade ago.  While humor is in noticeably shorter supply with franchise mainstays such as, McQueen bestie Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, Jingle All the Way 2) surprisingly regulated to background decoration, the third installment recaptures the small-town charms and big city dreams that was sorely lacking in its internationally sprawling and mindlessly mundane sequel.  Taking over directorial duties from John Lasseter, longtime Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee (Cars, WALL-E) paints a picturesque installment with photorealistic animation including, the most devastatingly heart wrenching sequence of the series and a tender core that reaffirms audiences deep-rooted love for these chatty cars.  Incorporating flashback sequences and previously recorded dialogue from Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, Cars 3 is a lightning fast return to form for the series that, in its presumable last lap, whizzes past the finishing line as the best effort since its 2006 debut.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cars 3 with a pristine 1080p transfer, fitted in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Sparkling from start to finish, the wide spectrum of unique car colors burst off the screen while finer details appearing in rust and asphalt boast equal levels of crisp quality.  Matching its glorious high-definition picture, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 excels during high-speed races and heart-pounding wrecks with dialogue exchanges rightly prioritized for ideal listening.  Sprawled across two discs, special features on Disc 1 include, an in-depth Audio Commentary with Director Brian Fee, Co-Producer Andrea Warren and Creative Director Jay Ward, Lou (6:43), Pixar’s latest short film about a schoolyard’s magical lost-and-found bin and Miss Fritter’s Racing Sckoool (5:40), an exclusive new mini-movie/commercial attracting cars on how to get their mojo back.  Furthermore, Ready for the Race (5:40) sits down with actual race car driver William Byron on his passion for the sport and Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could (7:46) takes a deeper look into the evolution and vocal talent attached to Lightning McQueen’s new coach.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:32), Dolphins (1:16), Coco (1:37), Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (1:34) and The Walt Disney Signature Collection (1:33) are also provided.  

    Meanwhile, Disc 2 kicks off with an extensive five-part Behind the Scenes featurette including, Generations: The Story of Cars 3 (11:20), Let’s. Get. Crazy (7:41), Cars to Die(cast) For (5:21), Legendary (11:22) and World’s Fastest Billboard (5:30) that explores the film’s tricky development, new and returning characters, the making of the toys based on the film and the many logos and faux brands implemented in the sequel.  Furthermore, Fly Throughs puts viewers in the driver seat for some of the film’s digital environments including, Thomasville (1:10), Florida International Speedway (0:37) and Rust-Eze Racing Center (0:56).  My First Car finds cast and crew participants discussing their very own first ride in A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington (1:53), Old Blue (1:21) and Still in the Family (2:16).  Also included, Deleted Scenes (26:17) with optional director introduction, Trailers featuring Crash - North American Teaser (0:56), Icon - North American Trailer (2:33), Theatrical Payoff - Japan Trailer (2:02), All New - International Teaser (0:31) and Rivalry - Global Trailer (2:10).  Finally, Promos for Cars D’Oeuvres (4:27) and Cars Reveals spotlighting the characters of Lightning McQueen (0:39), Cruz Ramirez (0:41) and Jackson Storm (0:39) close out the on-disc supplemental content while a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Speeding onto home video as Pixar’s next anticipated effort lights up theaters, Cars 3 is a true return to form for the franchise once thought to be left in the dust.  An endearing tale about the trials of aging gracefully, Lightning McQueen’s last lap is one that sends viewers off into the sunset with warm memories of the residents of Radiator Springs.  Unsurprisingly, Disney has once again ensured an extravagant audio and visual presentation while its bonus content covers considerable ground for fans of behind the scenes happenings.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Cars 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.