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  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #8: Army of Darkness Collector's Edition (1993), Pixels (2015) & Get Mean (1975) Blu-ray Reviews

     

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #8

    Army of Darkness (1993)

    Director: Sam Raimi

    Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie & Richard Grove

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the conclusion of The Evil Dead trilogy, Bruce Campbell (Maniac Cop) headlines Army of Darkness as the chainsaw-wielding Ash, whisked away to the Dark Ages by demons.  Forced to recover the Necronomicon in order to return home, Ash must first lead a castle of knights against an undead army and save his medieval lover (Embeth Davidtz, Matilda) from a devilish version of himself.  Much like its predecessor, Army of Darkness reinterprets its simplistic backstory to offer a uniquely fitted tale without compromising the charms and quirks of its headlining hero.  Transported to the year 1300, Ash finds himself out of his element amongst chivalry until the all too familiar demons of his recent past make their presence known once again.  Using his offbeat charm, Ash woos the beautiful Sheila before awakening an army of skeletons following his own buffoonish missteps in reclaiming the Book of the Dead.  Preserving the horror and comedy of its previous entries, Army of Darkness increases the silliness with slapstick gags at every turn and action-packed sword battles.  Inspired by Jason and the Argonauts, the film’s exciting finale finds our heroes doing battle against a siege of skeletons, impressively brought to life by stop-motion artistry.  In addition, the horrific Deadites, excellently designed by KNB’s Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Howard Berger (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), mark a series high for the franchise.  Absurdly entertaining and lovingly over the top, Army of Darkness is arguably the grooviest of The Evil Dead three with a grander scale of charming effects work and Campbell’s dependable charisma packing a shotguns worth of fun.

    Marking its definitive release, Scream Factory proudly presents Army of Darkness’ multiple cuts across a sprawling three discs.  Bearing 1080p transfers, the film’s Theatrical Version (1.85:1, Disc 1), Director’s Cut (1.78:1, Disc 2) and International Cut (1.78:1, Disc 3) arrive with varying pros and cons.  Although a brief omission of footage located in the Theatrical Version has been recognized by the distributor with corrective measures taking place, all three transfers range from respectable to excellent with healthy filmic appearances.  Admittedly, the Director’s Cut, although decently presented, boasts moments of inherent dirt and debris with occasionally splotchy black levels while, the International Cut, sourced from a new 4K scan from the inter-positive, packs the cleanest punch.  Although slight imperfections are noted in each varying transfer, Scream Factory’s efforts have unquestionably surpassed previous releases for the better.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes and optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is efficient and robust while, the film’s goofy sound effects and sword clattering battle sequences ring appreciatively loud.  

    Practically possessed with extensive special features, the well deserved Collector’s Edition release offers on Disc 1, Red Shirt Pictures’ latest and possibly greatest retrospective Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness (1:36:35), the Original Ending (4:37), an Alternate Opening with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (2:58), Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (11:06), Theatrical Trailer (2:05), TV Spots (1:56) and a U.S. Video Promo (0:32).  In addition, Disc 2 boasts an Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi, On-Set Video Footage Compilation (4:40), Creating the Deadities (21:29) where KNB’s Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger showcase how the film’s memorable monsters were concocted, Behind the Scenes Footage from KNB Effects (53:54), Vintage Making of Featurette (4:51) and Extended Interview Clips (5:02).  Furthermore, Disc 3 contains the film’s TV Cut (presented in 1080i, Fullscreen 1:33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix), the International Theatrical Trailer (2:08), Still Galleries with Rare Behind-the-Scenes Photos (28:16), Still Gallery of Props and Rare Photos (4:05), Storyboards (7:37) and The Men Behind the Army featurette (18:58).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art including the film’s 1-sheet poster is also included on Scream Factory’s prominently packed release of this cult treasure.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Army of Darkness can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Pixels (2015)

    Director: Chris Columbus

    Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage & Josh Gad

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the 2010 short film by Director Patrick Jean, Pixels finds a decades old video feed misinterpreted by alien lifeforms as a declaration of war.  Utilizing popular characters from 1980s video games to attack Earth, President Will Cooper (Kevin James, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) calls on best friend and former video game champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania) and his fellow cronies to use their unique skills to save the planet.  Marking yet another box-office success in Sandler’s long history of triumphs, Pixels blends arcade nostalgia with cutting-edge visuals for a spirited execution in humor and planet destructing action.  Joined by a supporting trio including Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), Peter Dinklage (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Josh Gad (Frozen), Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) finds a playful middle ground allowing him to harken back to his earliest experiences at Amblin Entertainment while, effortlessly catering to Sandler’s comedic sensibilities.  With notable appearances from video game titans such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Qbert and more, Pixels keeps laughs fully stocked and our heroes’ colorfully pixelated brawls with extraterrestrials thoroughly entertaining.  Proving to be one of Sandler’s more unique family entertainment offerings in recent years, Pixels is unashamedly fun and fit for unpretentious viewers.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Pixels with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally crisp and vibrant, colors leap off the screen with the film’s video game antagonists greatly impressing with their bigger than life appearances.  In addition, skin tones appear natural and excellently detailed while, black levels during climactic battle sequences are consistently inky and excused of any digital disturbances.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong and authoritative while, the film’s many action sequences serve the track its highest merits.  From car crashes and laser blasts to the iconic sound effects of its 8-bit characters, depth and impressive volume levels never disappoint.  Meanwhile, special features include, the cast and crew discussing the appearances and creations of Pac-Man (4:32), Donkey Kong (4:07), Centipede (3:36), Galaga (3:33), Dojo Quest (4:20) and Qbert (2:32).  In addition, God of the Machine (1:36) finds Pac-Man Creator Toru Iwatani discussing his cameo as an arcade repairman while, a “Game On” Music Video by Waka Flocka featuring Good Charlotte (3:59), The Space Invader (1:40) and a Photo Gallery (42 in total) are also included.  Finally, Previews for Goosebumps (2:32), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2:30), Aloha (2:41), Ricki and the Flash (2:40) and Hotel Transylvania 2 (1:52) are joined by a Digital HD Code and a Pixels Play Along Game App Code.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Pixels can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Get Mean (1975)

    Director: Ferdinando Baldi

    Starring: Tony Anthony, Lloyd Battista, Raf Baldassarre, Diana Lorys & David Dreyer

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the final adventure of the popular Stranger saga, Get Mean finds the mysterious drifter (Tony Anthony, Blindman) approached by a pack of gypsies to escort their princess (Diana Lorys, The Awful Dr. Orlof) back to their native Spain.  Promised a handsome reward upon her safe return, the Stranger finds himself entangled in a war between brutal barbarians and the Moors leading to an explosive showdown of violence.  Unquestionably kooky in comparison to standard spaghetti western fare, Get Mean finds our wild west hero defying time and space on a distant journey to a war-torn Spain littered with hotheaded barbarians.  In hopes of securing a large fortune for the return of Princess Elizabeth Maria De Burgos, the Stranger is confronted with the gloriously over the top barbarian leader Diego (Raf Baldassarre, Thor the Conqueror), his hilariously feminine advisor Alfonso (David Dreyer, Fuzz) and the consistently backstabbing hunchback Sombra (Lloyd Battista, Last Plane Out).  Shot on location in Spain, Get Mean serves as a bizarre time traveling western where historical inaccuracies reign supreme and astounding production value meets shotgun blasting, sword wielding action.  In addition to armies of fur decorated musclemen, the Stranger finds himself briefly overcome by wolflike characteristics at the hands of supernatural forces.  While its tone is intendedly eccentric, Get Mean is rarely uninteresting with a dependable finale that finds our hero taking on the cavalry with the assistance of a fearsome shotgun and a pair of poisonous scorpions.  

    Making its domestic Blu-ray debut, Blue Underground presents Get Mean with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring a brand new high-definition upgrade, colors appear strong with skin tones registering naturally.  Possessing a noticeably filmic appearance throughout its runtime with scratches virtually nonexistent, Get Mean makes its sprawling desert sequences and Spanish castles pop accordingly with rewarding detail found in costume choices.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with only mild hints of crush during several occasions.  While previous spaghetti western releases have been met with questionable results, Get Mean stands as one of Blue Underground’s crowning achievements.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently delivered while music and the abundance of explosions and gunshots make a greater impact.  Joined by a generous supply of extras, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Star Tony Anthony, Co-Writer/Star Lloyd Battista & Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider, The Story of the Stranger (23:12) finds Anthony recalling the history of his enduring character, Looking for Richard (11:33) sits down with Battista as he reminisces on the filmmaking experience and his longtime friendship with Anthony.  Also included, Beating a Dead Horse (9:50) where Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider shares his experiences, Tony & I (8:19) with Director Ferdinando Baldi discussing his onset relationship with Anthony, Deleted Scenes (8:28), a Theatrical Trailer (3:23), French Trailer (3:21), Radio Spots (2:00) and a Poster & Still Gallery (56 in total).  Finally, a 16-page Booklet with an engaging essay by Spaghetti Western expert Howard Hughes and a DVD edition of the release conclude the supplemental package.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground in a limited edition release, Get Mean can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.