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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.

  • Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

    Director: James Bobin

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Producer Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie), Alice Through the Looking Glass finds the yellow-haired heroine (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) on a quest to save her ailing friend, The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).  Reuniting with old friends, Alice must run against the villainous Time (Sacha Baron Cohen, Hugo) to right a past wrong before all that she knows seizes to exist.  James Bobin (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted) directs this fantastical followup to the 2010 box-office hit.

    Sailing the seas since her last wondrous adventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass welcomes the titular character back down the rabbit hole for another dreamlike journey into Underland.  Escaping the realities of her own world where her home and beloved ship are jeopardized, Alice is informed of the Hatter’s deteriorating state due to the loss and assumed death of his family.  Determined to restore her friend’s muchness, Alice sets a course to visit the embodiment of Time in order to return to the past to save Hatter’s loved ones from their grim future.  Resistant to accept the notion of impossibility, Alice steals the powerful Chronosphere to travel through time, igniting a wave of repercussions and revived vengeance from her former foe, The Red Queen (Bonham Carter).  From the clown-faced Johnny Depp to the late Alan Rickman in his final role returning to the psychedelic festivities, newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen adds a complimentary touch of eccentricity as the film’s surprisingly layered and not-so evil antagonist while, Helena Bonham Carter once again bobs her bulbous noggin and uncontrollably shouts as the film’s returning baddie.  

    Featuring a gothic fairy tale-esque score from Composer Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), extravagantly loud costume designs and zany computer-generated environments, Alice Through the Looking Glass remains true to the spirit of its predecessor while forging a daring new tale for our characters with a well juggled balance of humor and magic.  While its narrative may not be wholly groundbreaking, Director James Bobin’s apparent love and enthusiasm for the works of Lewis Carroll is evident in his approach that whisks viewers on a journey where time is of the essence.  Although detractors of Burton’s original film may find its sequel of little value, like-minded viewers of Alice Through the Looking Glass will find its results most entertaining and even improving in various cases on its financially successful yet, widely divided originator.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Alice Through the Looking Glass with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally capturing the natural tones of Alice’s facial features to the rainbow colored makeup of the Hatter and the unpigmented appearance of The White Queen, clarity is nothing short of astounding.  In addition, detail in Time’s gear orchestrated dwelling is top-notch while, black levels found in his attire and Alice’s thunderous journey on sea is deeply inky and absent of any crush.  Bursting with a wide variety of colors through costumes, VFX driven sets and characters, their bold appearances are always in the healthiest of contrasts.  Continuing to lead the pack for best consistently handled transfers from a major studio, Disney delivers yet another exemplary effort.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, sound quality is of the highest order with ideal dialogue levels and a handsome handling of thematic moments including, crashing waves, the Jabberwocky’s fire breathing blasts and Danny Elfman’s effective score all making grand impressions.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director James Bobin, Behind the Looking Glass (8:39) with insight from Bobin and his talented cast, A Stitch in Time: Costuming Wonderland (4:24) where Costume Designer Collen Atwood discusses the trickiness of approaching a sequel, Characters of Underland (4:47) explores the otherworldly costars of the film and their importance in the story and Time On… (1:46) featuring a humorous interview with Sacha Baron Cohen in character as Time.  Also included, Alice Goes Through the Looking Glass: A Scene Peeler (2:27) and Alice Goes Through Time’s Castle: A Scene Peeler (1:33) showcases the blue screen shooting of the sequences and their finished appearances in the film.  Next up, a “Just Like Fire” by P!nk Music Video (3:58), Behind the Music Video (3:02) and Deleted Scenes with optional Audio Commentary with Director James Bobin (8:56) are also on hand.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43), Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments (0:32), Once Upon a Time (0:32), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Finding Dory (1:39) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also accompanied with the release.

    Although not the billion dollar success its previous entry was, Alice Through the Looking Glass may appear upon first look to be more of the same yet, repeat tumbles down the rabbit hole prove the sequel to be even more charming.  With a visually rich design and entertainingly over the top performances, Disney’s fairy tale followup is fine tuned for those as mad as the Hatter himself.  Hosting a flawless visual and sonic presentation with a satisfying slate of supplements including, an appreciated commentary track from the enthusiastic Bobin, Alice Through the Looking Glass is littered with magical muchness worth exploring.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Alice Through the Looking Glass can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Into the Woods (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Into the Woods (2014)

    Director: Rob Marshall

    Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Johnny Depp

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Into the Woods centers on iconic fairy tale characters including, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, young Jack (and his beanstalk) and Rapunzel as their stories intertwine with a childless baker and his wife, tasked to reverse a witch’s curse put upon them.  The impressive ensemble cast includes, Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), James Corden (The Three Musketeers), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Tracey Ullman (The Tracey Ullman Show) and Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger).

    Beloved for its sensational music and risqué interpretations of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes certain liberties with its big-screen adaptation while, remaining true to the spirit of its stage production.  With all changes and revisions approved by its original creators, Disney’s modestly budgeted spectacle charms viewers with Dennis Gassner’s (Big Fish) rich production design and eclectic cast that all manage to carry Sondheim’s music with ease.  Incorporating characters from several Brothers Grimm tales, Into the Woods centers on a husband and wife baking team (Corden and Blunt), unable to have children due to a wicked witch’s (Streep) curse.  In order to break the spell, the couple must fetch various items belonging to fellow characters including, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Cinderella’s shoe, Rapunzel’s hair and Jack’s cow.  Accustomed to each character and their respective stories, Into the Woods turns audience expectation on its head with twists that playfully poke fun at the sappy and clichéd tales.  While, more adult content and heavier violence may be softened, suggestive sequences involving Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford in her film debut) and The Wolf, in a minor role by Johnny Depp re-teaming with his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director, remain intact and inject a splash of innuendo.

    No stranger to the musical world, Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) delivers a fantasy world of wonder and fear that takes viewers‘ breath away.  Unsurprisingly loaded with musical sequences, Into the Woods bewitches with its rich soundtrack including, the film’s catchy prologue and the hilariously passionate “Agony” performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.  While, its on-screen talent never lacks, the film’s standout performance belongs to Emily Blunt whose comedic timing and beautiful singing voice elevate the picture to even higher standards.  Although, captivating and gorgeous, Into the Woods experiences pacing issues in its final act that tend to drag the picture down.  Whilst, “happily ever after” doesn’t exactly apply as one would expect, characters dissatisfied with their fates seek to rectify them as danger looms from a violent female giant threatening the villagers of the woods.  A mild setback but, one that attempts to cram too much into a timeframe that would have benefitted from more breathing room.  Regardless of these mishaps, Into the Woods is a magical journey based on the fairy tales you thought you knew but, tweaked on a grand scale with astounding production detail and exhilarating musical performances.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Into the Woods with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Although, doused in dimly lit, fog-entranced settings, Into the Woods astonishes with inky black levels that reveal no crushing and crystal clear visibility.  Skin tones register naturally and remarkably detailed while, more prominent colors found in Little Red Riding Hood’s cape and Cinderella’s gold gown pop and sparkle magnificently.  In addition, mildly used but, wildly effective, Into the Woods  visual effects sequences light up the screen with zero imperfections on display.  Simply put, Into the Woods casts a perfect spell of a transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Into the Woods sings perfect harmonies with exceptional dialogue levels that project with sheer crispness.  Meanwhile, the plentiful musical sequences excite the mix with solid depth and range that will leave viewers enraptured by the powerful sound.  In one of Disney’s more recently packed releases, special features run aplenty including, an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall, Streep Sings Sondheim - “She’ll Be Back” (4:48).  Introduced by Marshall, this newly crafted song was shot for the film but ultimately cut.  Also included, There’s Something About the Woods (13:23), The Cast As Good As Gold (10:10), Deeper Into the Woods, a four-part featurette covering From Stage to Screen (8:33), The Magic of the Woods (7:24), Designing the Woods (7:07) and The Costumes of the Woods (6:53).  Finally, Music & Lyrics allows viewers to jump directly to their favorite songs of the film or watch the entire film with optional lyrics while, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:32), Once Upon A Time (0:32), The Lion King Broadway Musical (0:32) and Disney’s Descendants (0:17) are included with a Digital HD Code of the release rounding out the supplemental material.

    Capturing the wondrous and fantastical realms of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes the familiar and delivers an entirely unique, slightly adult-oriented revision of happily ever after.  Richly conceived and supporting one of the most talented ensemble casts put forth in a musical, Disney’s big-screen adaptation does justice to its original production, giving movie audiences an effort well worth venturing into.  In addition, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is unquestionably perfect with an informative and ample amount of supplements.  Wishing upon a star, Disney enthusiasts and the musically-minded will find magical delight journeying Into the Woods.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available today from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Into the Woods can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.