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Currently showing posts tagged George Lucas

  • 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.

  • Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)

    Director(s): Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon

    Starring: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala & Jayson Lamb

    Released by: Drafthouse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Transfixed by Director Steven Spielberg’s trailblazing 1981 blockbuster, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made documents the journey of three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi who took home movies to an unprecedented level with their own shot-for-shot adaptation, filmed over the course of seven grueling years.  With the exception of the film’s explosive airplane sequence, the tenacious trio and their loyal supporters reunite 20 years later to complete their ambitious project.

    A testament to childhood dreams coming true and quite possibly the most disciplined example of sticktoitiveness, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made recounts the unbelievably true tale of Mississippi youths who, from the wreckage of divorced families and introverted personalities, escaped their realities to capture the greatest adventure of their lives on videotape.  After bonding over their mutual love for Spielberg’s archeological hero and his cinematic debut, Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos would forge a friendship built on their love for film and their desire to helm their own grassroots adaptation.  Teaming with fellow eccentric Jayson Lamb and a revolving door of younger siblings and neighborhood kids, Zala, acting as director in addition to playing multiple onscreen roles while, Strompolos dons the iconic fedora and whip as Indiana Jones, sacrifice summer vacations and weekends over several years to do their treasured feature justice.  Risking life and limb with little to no interference from overprotective parents, Zala and Strompolos leap and drag themselves from moving vehicles while nearly burning their house and selves on fire to capture the perfect shots during the pre-Internet days of youth.  Juxtaposing the two friends detailing the early origins of the film and their regrettably final missing sequence, filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and Raiders of the Lost Ark star John Rhys-Davies make talking head appearances expressing their admiration and discovery of their diamond in the rough accomplishment.

    In addition, Zala and Strompolos’ parents, wives and supportive crew members are on hand to shape the narrative that is littered with as much agony as there are triumphs.  Endless frustration, high school romances, jealousy and an eventual fallout between the two friends would halt production for years creating two very different life paths that would merge once again following the cult popularity of their circulated childhood tape.  Potentially sacrificing their day jobs to fulfill what they started in their southern backyards years earlier, Zala and Strompolos, tighter than ever before, attempt to finally wrap their long in-development shoot with the highly explosive airplane sequence from the original film.  Plagued with horrendous weather conditions, ballooning budgets and a frightening onset accident, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is emotionally riveting and overwhelmingly inspiring.  Living vicariously through the colorful subjects who never lost sight of a vision that seemed impossible, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made will leave viewers joyously teary-eyed and tipping their own fedoras at real-life heroes that will make you feel that all dreams are within reach.

    Drafthouse Films presents Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Produced in the high-def digital age, footage is pleasingly sharp and well-detailed during the predominate interview sequences and onset footage with only snippets from the VHS sourced Raiders adaptation being of expected lesser quality.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is excellently captured while, the chaotic footage of the airplane sequence boasts several explosions that bode nicely on the track.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tim Skousen & Producer/Director Jeremy Coon plus, a second Audio Commentary with The Raiders Guys Eric Zala & Chris Strompolos.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (32:39), Outtakes from the Adaptation (19:33), the Q&A at Alamo Drafthouse Premiere of the Adaptation (40:43) captured on May 31, 2003, Trailers for Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’s Theatrical Trailer (2:08) and other Drafthouse Films features including, 20,000 Days on Earth (2:15), A Band Called Death (2:12), The Final Member (2:02) and I Declare War (1:47) are also included.  Lastly, a 16-page booklet containing reproductions of Zala’s hand drawn storyboards for the adaptation, a DVD edition, Digital HD Code and Reversible Cover Art round out the supplements.

    Akin to Indy defying the Nazi’s and heroically saving the day, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is the embodiment of movie magic come to life.  Retracing their ambitious, troubled and above all, dedicated passion project from their preteen years to its midlife conclusion, John Williams’ goosebump-inducing anthem will no longer conjure images of just everyone’s favorite archeologist but also, the Mississippi boys to men who dared to dream with the Holy Grail always in their mind’s eye.  Drafthouse Films’ acquisition and top-notch presentation of this first-rate documentary makes for one of the most emotionally uplifting chronicles of the year!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Drafthouse Films, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made can be purchased via DrafthouseFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Elstree 1976 (2015) DVD Review

    Elstree 1976 (2015)

    Director: Jon Spira

    Starring: Various

    Released by: MVD Visual

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Documenting the lives of those behind the countless masks and helmets of George Lucas’ original sci-fi phenomenon, Elstree 1976 centers on the diverse personalities of the bit actors and extras that would ultimately comprise the film’s vast galaxy and how their lives have since been affected being apart of its global impact.  

    Spearheaded through a Kickstarter campaign, Director Jon Spira’s (Anyone Can Play Guitar) love letter to the unsung beings that donned heavy makeup and increasingly difficult to see through headwear in the original Star Wars are interviewed to divulge their unique tales landing fleeting yet, generally memorable roles in arguably the greatest blockbuster of all-time.  With many barely grasping the scope of what they were associated with at the time, Elstree 1976 allows each subject to reveal their early beginnings, long before the acting bug took hold.  Emerging from all walks of life across North America and overseas, the selection of interviewees spend considerable time sharing personal childhood memories and their earliest ambitions, providing a deeply rich portrait of each speaker.  Surprisingly, the film’s non-Star Wars related moments prove to be the most engaging as each subject’s candidness makes them solidly grounded and sympathetically relatable.  Featuring David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back) as the more prominent talking heads of the documentary, Elstree 1976’s other participants including, Derek Lyons (Temple Guard / Medal Bearer), Angus Maclnnes (Gold Leader) and John Chapman (Drifter), although loquacious in their interviews, have such “blink and you’ll miss them” appearances in the original film that their insight grows tiresome quickly.  

    With many of the participants no longer in the business, Elstree 1976 winds down with an interesting overview of the thriving Star Wars conventions that many of the film’s costumed players attend for financial means.  The interviewees discuss at great length the politics of their appearances and what they consider in bad taste when other unsung extras join the circuit to make a quick buck themselves.  No matter how minuscule their roles may have been, the subjects of Elstree 1976 hold warm memories of their once in a lifetime experiences onset yet, the overwhelming majority of the interviews related to Star Wars are never deeply interesting with the documentary suffering as it drags itself to a conclusion.  A well-intentioned salute to the background players that comprised both sides of the Force, Elstree 1976 is hardly a definitive document on Lucas’ runaway hit but, contains several worthy interviews that Star Wars devotees will find of interest.

    Shot digitally, Elstree 1976 is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that appears as acceptable as can be.  Restrained to tight closeup style interviews, colors are presented adequately while, film clips from several films and onsite footage from autograph conventions also appear with ease.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the controlled settings of each interview allows for perfectly audible dialogue levels to be captured.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mix has also been included.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.

    Earning the adoration of fans worldwide for their brief but, endearing appearances, Elstree 1976’s willingness to shine an honorary light on Star Wars’ many costumed characters and the men and women behind those faces is a gracious notion yet, one that stumbles with one too many monotonous asides.  While the film’s earliest moments prove most interesting, only dedicated fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi saga will take interest.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 28th from MVD Visual, Elstree 1976 can be purchased via MVDShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

    Director: J.J. Abrams

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew & Max Von Sydow

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finds the galaxy confronted with a new threat in the form of the First Order.  When a rebellious young heroes are caught in the crosshairs of the galactic war, resistance fighters from the past aid them in their battle against the dark side.  Featuring franchise veterans and impressive up and comers, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Stark Trek) directs the anticipated seventh episode of George Lucas’ enduring saga.

    Cinematically dormant since the concluding chapter of Lucas’ prequel trilogy in 2005, fans worldwide came to the unfortunate realization that further adventures set in a galaxy far, far away were to be left only to the imagination.  A force was truly awoken in 2012 following Disney’s purchase of Lucas’ illustrious company and the Star Wars franchise with the intent of continuing the beloved legacy set forth in 1977.  With scripting duties by its director, franchise favorite Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns viewers to a world not quite seen since the fall of Darth Vader and the destruction of the evil Empire.  Perfectly encapsulating the dirty, lived-in environments we remember while, setting its course on a journey yet unknown, the latest installment finds the galaxy at the mercy of the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls) and the First Order, both born from the ashes of the Empire.  Following the disappearance of sole Jedi master Luke Skywalker, lonesome scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley, Scrawl) and Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a former stormtrooper gone rogue, team up with war hero Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Resistance to locate Skywalker and restore balance to the Force.  Joined by the accomplished Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) as rebel pilot Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens welcomes back its seasoned cast of original stars including but not limited to, Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Harrison Ford who, after years of resistance returning to his famed role, has an absolute blast as everyone’s favorite smuggler.  Juggling the delicate realms of nostalgia and forward-thinking storytelling, Star Wars: The Force Awakens accomplishes both in spades as familiar faces are integral to its narrative yet, never outshine the new and exciting characters introduced to carry the franchise’s respected torch.  

    Furthermore, Abrams and his talented crew restore the charming practicality of the original trilogies special effects and creature designs while, flawlessly injecting modern techniques such as, motion-capture and CG into its narrative that feels both seamless and visually stunning.  Although detractors have sighted the film’s similar structure to A New Hope as a grave flaw, the reoccurring theme between the light and the dark is ever-present in all Star Wars films and can hardly be viewed as a setback in a film crafted with so much heart and obvious respect for its source.  From its scroll defining intro blessed with John Williams’ iconic score to its thrilling cliffhanger conclusion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wildly exciting adventure bursting with action, heartbreak and nonstop fun.  Through the power of the Force, Abrams and company have magically transported viewers back to a euphoric state of youth where old friends have gathered to welcome us as we warmly embrace the path of our new heroes.  An absolute return to form for the beloved franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has restored the magic for all generations to marvel.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Impressive from start to finish, skin tones are naturally presented with impeccable detail picking up perspiration caused on Jakku and Poe’s blood-spattered face.  In addition, the film’s unique environments from desolate desert landscapes to the lush greenery of Maz Kanata’s planet leap off the screen while, the delicacies of shadowy sequences, prominently seen in the film’s opening battle, are handled beautifully.  Meanwhile, black levels found in the film’s many space battles and Kylo Ren’s costume are brilliantly inky with no disruptions.  A remarkable accomplishment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ transfer is the epitome of perfection.  Equipped with an equally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is exacting and crisp while, the whizzing noises of high-flying TIE Fighters, X-Wings and of course, the Millennium Falcon make thunderous impressions on your speakers.  In addition, explosions, laser blasts and the thrashing of lightsabers provide ample activity in their respective scenes with the mix only enriching their impact.  Presented on their own Blu-ray disc, special features include, Secrets of the Force: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14), a four-part overview of the making of The Force Awakens from pre-production to its completion with interviews from cast and crew, The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01) finds the cast reflecting on the first group reading of the script with footage from the actual day, Crafting Creatures (9:34) showcases how the various creatures were brought to life using a multitude of different techniques, Building BB-8 (6:03) documents the complicated process of realizing the franchise’s favorite new droid, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02) explores the making of the film’s climactic lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren while, ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force (7:55) dives into the film’s magnificent digital effects work.  In addition, John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51) spotlights the iconic composer as he reflects on his enduring involvement with the Star Wars saga, six Deleted Scenes (4:15) of trivial value and Force For Change (3:22) exploring the series’ humanitarian initiative across the globe round out the healthy assortment of bonus features.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    A marvelous journey back to a familiar world plagued with new dangers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sends viewers on an exhilarating ride that reignites a 30 year old magic like never before.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment awards the box-office juggernaut with pitch perfect technical grades and an equally pleasing spread of bonus content which, although not entirely definitive and sure to be expanded in future rereleases, still offer tons of enjoyment.  Easily the standout feature of last year and a shoe-in for one of this year’s most impressive home video releases, Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieves our highest recommendation!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available April 5th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015) DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015)

    Director(s): Michael Hegner & Martin Skov

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the pint-sized adventures of the galaxy’s finest heroes, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is the exciting five-part mini-series centered around C-3PO and R2-D2’s many exploits.  As the gold protocol droid retells their tales to various listeners, his faithful companion is abducted by a mysterious figure prompting him to save his short, spunky friend.

    Taking place after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales finds the celebrating rebels gathering together as their dependable droids C-3PO and R2-D2 recall their many adventures dating back to the Clone Wars.  Voiced once more by Anthony Daniels, C-3PO engages listeners with the events unfolded in the prequels The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones before R2-D2 is stolen away by a hooded figure.  Struggling with his own fears, the timid droid pursues the mysterious individual in order to reclaim his closest friend while, continuing to tell more of their many escapades to anyone who will listen.  Chocked full of hilarious commentaries on the films and never shying from flinging Jar Jar Binks into space for laughs, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales coasts too closely to events fans have long been accustomed to, making unique storytelling opportunities limited.  Fortunately, an early encounter with Kanan and the Ghost crew of Star Wars Rebels makes for some of the series’ finest moments while, the final episode leading C-3PO to the planet of Geonosis and a confrontation with General Veers makes for a fun sendoff to a mini-series that may lack originality but excels as usual with comedy and delightful animation.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales digitally mastered in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although not nearly as sharp or defined as high-definition, colors are plentiful and pop nicely while, black levels are quite respectable and lack any intrusions of crush.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally clear but may require increases in volume to capture their full extent.  Furthermore, Composer John Williams’ original music, along with his iconic reused themes, offer sizable boosts to the track’s limited capabilities.  Although scant, special features include Sneak Peeks (5:00) at Star Wars Rebels, Zootopia and Disney Movie Rewards.  In addition, an Exclusive Trading Card Set is included inside the packaging.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016) DVD Review

    The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016)

    Director: David Doi

    Starring: Felix Avitia, Anndi McAfee, Aria Noelle Curzon, Jeff Bennett, Rob Paulsen, Barry Bostwick, Reb McEntire & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the latest prehistoric adventure of the long-running series, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave centers on young Apatosaurus Littlefoot (Felix Avitia, Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything), who after learning of his father’s disappearance, sets out to rescue him.  Joined by his faithful pals, Littlefoot travels across strange landscapes and encounters new friends, Etta (Reba McEntire, Charlotte’s Web) and Wild Arms (Damon Wayans Jr., Big Hero 6) on a courageous adventure that enriches their friendship.

    Following a near decade of extinction, the whopping fourteenth installment of The Land Before Time franchise invites a new generation of dinosaur lovers back to the Great Valley.  Centering once again on series mainstay Littlefoot (Avitia), the tiny, long-necked dino anxiously awaits the return of his father Bron (Scott Whyte, City Guys) and the rest of the herd on their annual visit.  Excitement quickly turns to panic when the comically coward Wild Arms (Wayans) alerts the village of a volcanic explosion that resulted in Bron sacrificing his safety for the others.  Too dangerous to trek back, Littlefoot, along with Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike, secretly journey to rescue Bron from impending danger.  Confronted with countless geographical obstacles and overwhelming risks at the hands of hungry Tyrannosaurs Rex, the gang encounter friendly Pterodactyl Etta (McEntire) to help aid in their search for Bron.  Singing their way to save Littlefoot’s father, the young dinosaurs develop a deeper appreciation for each other that will last a lifetime.

    Highlighting a newly recored tune by Reba McEntire, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave fits seamlessly into the franchise’s previous efforts that demonstrate the value of friendship and working together for more impressionable audiences.  With the advent of computer animation, the latest sequel stylistically adheres to the traditional, hand-drawn quality of its predecessors while, its vocal talent comprised of newcomers and guest celebrities entertain accordingly.  Although its plot is fairly paint-by-numbers in the context of the series, this harmless direct to video offering will easily appeal to younger viewers who will take delight in its colorful characters and cheery musical numbers.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave in anamorphic widescreen, boasting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Lacking the sharpness of hi-def releases, the animated effort delivers nicely balanced colors of its many characters and backgrounds, making the viewing experience a perfectly suitable one.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible and efficient while, the film’s several musical moments have a slightly wider reach to get heads bopping along.  Appropriately catered to little ones, special features include, Sing-A-Long Songs for “Look For The Light” (2:01), “Today’s the Day” (2:56), “Hot and Stinky” (2:48) and “Better off Alone” (2:02).

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave can be purchased exclusively through Walmart.com and their respective retail outlets. 

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set before the events of the original 1977 film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a crew, each individually affected by the Galactic Empire, but determined to change things for the better.  Led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr., Scooby-Doo), the crew befriends Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray, Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures), a teenage con artist with abilities of the Force to aid them in their rebellion against The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs, Peter Pan) and the Empire.  Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice), Steve Blum (Transformers: Rescue Bots) & Tiya Sircar (The Internship) also comprise the vocal talent.  

    Capturing the excitement and thrills of George Lucas’ original saga, Star Wars Rebels finds the galaxy disrupted following the rise of the Empire.  Focusing on the earliest origins of the Rebel Alliance, a crew, led by Kanan Jarrus (Prinze Jr.), does what they can to disrupt any further damage committed by the Empire.  Circulating the galaxy aboard their starship known as the Ghost, Kanan, along with Hera (Marshall), Zeb (Blum), Sabine (Sircar) and their spunky droid Chopper, crosses paths with the orphaned Ezra Bridger (Gray) struggling to survive, before welcoming him into their motley crew.  Stealing from the Empire in order to aid civilians, the low-profile crew quickly find themselves targeted by The Inquisitor (Issacs), a soulless henchmen of the Empire tasked with hunting surviving Jedi’s.  Conflicted with keeping his Jedi status a secret while training Ezra in the ways of the Force, Kanan must confront his destiny in order to restore balance to the galaxy.  

    With iconic characters including, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda and Lando Calrissian making guest appearances, Star Wars Rebels propels Disney’s first tackling of the franchise into a hyperspace of adventure and nonstop action.  Highlighting a period of the saga never cinematically seen before, the debut season delights viewers with topnotch CG animation and well crafted tales that develop characters of continuously growing appeal.  Co-created by Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Carrie Beck, Star Wars Rebels takes the very best elements of the sci-fi phenomenon fans have come to love and developed a new chapter of weekly adventures of equal worth.  Returning viewers to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels is an animated spectacle giving audiences young and old restored hope that the Force is very much back.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars Rebels with 1080p transfers, each bearing 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  On par with Disney’s respected animated releases, Star Wars Rebels greatly impresses with vibrant colors and nicely detailed textures while, black levels remain inky and pleasing throughout.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is audible and consistent, if not slightly underwhelming.  Meanwhile, action sequences with tried and true lightsaber sound effects and starship blasts along with the show’s Williams-esque music provides suitable boosts to the soundscape.  While not quite as impactful for such an adventurous show of its ilk, the mix is more than sufficient.  Located on Disc 1, special features include, Rebels Recon (36:10) providing behind the scenes insight into several episodes of the season and Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52) and Aladdin Diamond Edition (1:19).  In addition, Disc 2’s supplements include, Rebels Recon (45:02) providing more in depth looks at the remaining episodes of the show’s debut season while, Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (4:03) gives viewers a brief look at the events hosted this past year in Anaheim, CA in this Blu-ray exclusive featurette.  Furthermore, Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22:05), Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead (7:06) and four promotional shorts - The Machine in the Ghost (3:02), Art Attack (3:02), Entanglement (3:02) and Property of Ezra Bridger (3:02) - round out the season’s bonus features.

    In Disney’s first attempts at restoring balance to the Force, Star Wars Rebels succeeds in delivering enthralling new tales centered around original characters that have quickly become fan favorites amongst Star Wars enthusiasts.  Matched with high-octane action and stellar animation, this prequel series has deservedly morphed into Disney XD’s must watch program.  Arriving with all 15 episodes of its inaugural season and a respectable batch of bonus features, Star Wars Rebels shines on Blu-ray proving the Force has indeed been awoken for the best.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Assault on New Releases #2: Krull (1983), Salvador (1986) and Grave Halloween (2013) Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

    Krull (1983)

    Director: Peter Yates

    Starring: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones & Francesca Annis

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Krull centers on the daring Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) who embarks on a dangerous mission to save his young princess bride (Lysette Anthony).  Imprisoned by the Beast and his fellow slayers, Colwyn must first recover the legendary Glaive blade and join forces with several traveling strangers to overthrow the dark powers that oppress their planet.  

    Highly expensive at the time of its making, Krull clearly borrows from the worlds of George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien to convey its mythic tale of magic and fantasy.  A simple plot of rescue and restoring balance to a fading planet, Prince Colwyn’s mission to locate The Black Fortress proves difficult and teams with a ragtag group of rebels including several fugitives (one played by a young Liam Neeson) and Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), a hilariously clumsy magician, willing to stand by his side.  While, the journey should be as exciting and cinematic as the destination, Krull hits minor speed bumps maintaining its sense of adventure.  Entertaining when they do occur, battle sequences are rather scant for a film Variety labeled “Excalibur meets Star Wars”.  Luckily, the characters are memorable and Composer James Horner’s (Avatar) grand score gives Krull a thrilling soundscape.  Originally a box-office bomb, Krull has gone on to achieve cult status amongst moviegoers that continue to appreciate this massive production decades later.  Beautifully photographed and capturing an epic scale like few productions at the time, Krull is a decent ride that ultimately feels borrowed from too many other sci-fi cinematic milestones.  Fun and sporting impressive visual effects for its time, Krull will most likely be best appreciated with repeated viewings for those who weren’t swept up in its allure during its original run.  

    Lacking with any special features, Mill Creek Entertainment presents Krull in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually clear of any aging artifacts, Krull impresses with healthy skin tones and impressive detail that allows the viewer to best appreciate the film’s whopping 23 sets.  Slight softness occurs during moments of on-screen visual effects while, black levels satisfy with clear visibility and no intruding crushing.  In addition, Krull comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that captures dialogue reasonably well with only several moments coming across lower than expected.  Intense moments of battle and Composer James Horner’s score are the true areas where this mix shines and gives your speakers a nice run for their money.

    Released in a decade of impressive sci-fi productions, Krull tells an all too familiar tale of a damsel in distress and her loving prince, joined by his own army, to save her.  Sparing no expense, Krull is an epic looking film that achieves a gorgeous, otherworldly appearance.  While, it’s easy to see why Krull registers so highly with fans, Director Peter Yates‘ (Bullit) opus isn’t an immediate home-run but, one that can be better appreciated in time.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Krull is available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Salvador (1986)

    Director: Oliver Stone

    Starring: James Woods, James Belushi, Michael Murphy, John Savage & Elpidia Carrillo

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Writer/Director Oliver Stone’s Salvador centers on sometime journalist Richard Boyle (James Woods, Casino) who embarks to capture the Salvadoran revolution through the eyes of his camera.  Along with his friend Doctor Rock (James Belushi, Curly Sue), Boyle finds himself in dangerous situations with little hope while, trying to protect his local girlfriend and her children.  Michael Murphy (Batman Returns), John Savage (The Deer Hunter) and Elpidia Carrillo (Predator) co-star.

    Politically charged, Salvador served as a last ditch effort for Writer/Director Oliver Stone to convey a more personal story beyond his previous genre fare.  Detailing the Salvadoran revolution, Richard Boyle (Woods), travels via car with fellow down on his luck buddy, Doctor Rock (Belushi) to the war-torn location.  Fueled by alcohol, drugs and the promise of cheap women, Boyle and Rock remind viewers of the Gonzo journalists found in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but, with more agenda.  Caught in the middle of a chaotic, contrived war, Boyle finds himself at odds with the country’s increasing danger and his personal desire to protect his girlfriend (Elpidia Carrillo).  Woods is brilliant in this Oscar-nominated performance of a self-proclaimed weasel of a man who scams and boozes his way to make a living.  Matched with his unforgettable work in Videodrome and Once Upon A Time in America, the 1980s can arguably be seen as Woods‘ most enduring decade.  In addition, Belushi’s Doctor Rock is the perfect yin to Woods‘ yang.  Desperate, broke and scared of his new surroundings, Belushi quickly adapts to El Salvador by drinking with young children, eager to start bar fights at the drop of a hat and falling in love with a prostitute.  Belushi’s rambunctious attitude is refreshing against the grim imagery of murdered civilians by the military government.  Constantly rattling the political cages and putting himself in harms way, Boyle is relentless in trying to establish a story and the pictures to go along with it.  Vastly underrated, Salvador is an intense, fictional account of the Salvadoran revolution spearheaded by Woods and Belushi’s incredible performances of two Americans willingly placed in hell.  In addition, Stone’s rebirth as a filmmaker helped launch a career of other politically fueled and critically acclaimed projects that continue to this day.  

    Presented in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Salvador looks remarkable with a crisp appearance and rich detail found in facial features and the hot Salvadoran climate.  Complexions are always spot-on while, black levels are impressive especially in the dark, jungle settlings where visibility reads well.  Equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, dialogue is relayed clearly with no distortion and only minor shake-ups during some of the film’s more chaotic war sequences that can overwhelm speaking bits.  In addition, a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mix has also been provided.  Meanwhile, special features run a plenty with a worthwhile audio commentary with Writer/Director Oliver Stone, an isolated score track, the impressive and lengthy Into the Valley of Death - The Making of Salvador (1:02:52), deleted scenes (27:47), an original theatrical trailer (1:58) and a MGM 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06).  Plus, a 6-page booklet with Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo lending her expertise on Salvador’s significance round out the disc’s supplements.

    Limited to just 3,000 units, Twilight Time’s impressive treatment of this criminally underrated Stone effort is beyond recommending.  Woods and Belushi’s powerhouse performances guide the viewer on this tour of the hellish El Salvador during a time of revolution and chaos.  As complicated and wild as the war itself, Boyles‘ personal desires are at constant odds with the safety of those closest to him, making Salvador an intensely, captivating ride that never lets up, leaving the fewer with more questions about the state of the world.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Salvador is available now and can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

    Grave Halloween (2013)

    Director: Steven R. Monroe

    Starring: Kaitlyn Leeb, Cassi Thomson, Dejan Loyola, Graham Wardle & Hiro Kanagawa

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When American exchange student Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings) travels to Japan’s Suicide Forest to uncover the truth of her dead birth mother, a college documentary crew captures her journey.  Unfortunately, on October 31st, the group will disturb something sinister in the grim forest that may destroy them all.  Cassi Thomson (Big Love), Dejan Loyola (Evangeline), Graham Wardle (Heartland) and Hiro Kanagawa (Godzilla) co-star.

    Originally premiered on the SyFy network and “inspired” by true events, Grave Halloween feels like a marriage between The Blair Witch Project and J-Horror imagery found in The Ring.  A decent setup of an attractive exchange student hoping to learn the truth behind her birth mother’s suicide, finds our core cast in an atmospheric, backwoods area near Japan’s Mount Fuji.  Littered with subpar performances, Grave Halloween slightly rises above most TV-movie dreck with crafty practical effects in the form of long hair ripping limbs from a victim.  Intercut with ghostly flashbacks to Maiko’s childhood and digital camera POV shots, Grave Halloween grows tiresome as the Suicide Forest becomes a giant maze causing the group to constantly lose each other for most of the runtime.  Weak jump scares and more Japanese phantoms that bombarded cinemas a decade ago appear to underwhelm the viewer.  As the group dwindles and safety is near for the survivors, a twist, open-ended finale concludes Grave Halloween.  Far from the worst made for TV effort, Grave Halloween is competently shot and possesses some worthy practical gore effects but, never manages to be very memorable.  Ultimately, Grave Halloween is a frankenstein concoction of genres we’ve seen before, only with lesser results.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Grave Halloween in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Drenched in heavy fog, detail is nicely picked up in wardrobe and the eerie backwoods setting while, moments of bloody gore pop nicely.  In addition, black levels read respectively well for DVD quality and should please those tuning in.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Grave Halloween picks up dialogue with no hitches and moments of shrieking terror come across with an added bump.  Unfortunately, no special features are included.

    For TV-movie fare, one could do way worse than Grave Halloween.  Borrowing from different subgenres, namely the tired J-Horror realm, Grave Halloween never manages to be anything wildly original or noteworthy.  On a positive note, the usage of practical effects are worthwhile and serve as the film‘s leading strongpoint.  With the Halloween season in full swing, Grave Halloween is not the worst way to kill 90-minutes, but it certainly won‘t be worth revisiting either.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Grave Halloween is available now and can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.