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  • 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.

  • Doctor Strange 3D (2016) Cinematic Universe Edition Blu-ray Review

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachael McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, Doctor Strange offers shades of familiarity while conjuring enough freshness and action-packed spells to make the stay an entertainingly magical one.  After suffering a debilitating accident, accomplished neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) travels to Nepal seeking guidance beyond what his world can offer.  Taken under the wing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Strange learns the art of sorcery and the impending threat of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a former student deceived by the dark and brooding Dormammu of the Dark Dimension.  Ditching his trivial arrogance and opening his mind to his new teachings, Strange yields his new powers, with invaluable assistance from the Cloak of Levitation, to stand with his fellow sorcerers and save the planet from Kaeciliius’ wrath of destruction.  Bringing to life their trickiest character to date with his own unique challenges, Marvel Studios welcomes Doctor Strange to their expansive universe with passionate direction from Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) who handles character development, humor and the film’s trippy action sequences with seamlessness.  In addition, the core cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor (12 Years a Slave) as the Ancient One’s second-in-command Mordo, the underused but competent Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as Strange’s former flame and the controversial yet, inspired turn from Tilda Swinton as Strange’s sorceress mentor are all excellent in their respective roles.  With its intense fight choreography and building bending visual effects bringing prestige to their thrilling sequences, Doctor Strange suffers mildly from perhaps an unavailable case of origintitis that fans have become all too accustomed to.  While Doctor Strange’s narrative may appear predictable at times, fun remains in ample supply with the sorcerer’s anticipated future adventures already looking brighter.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Doctor Strange with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  With its mind-bending sequences of skyscraper turning set battles and eye-popping destruction featuring immersive depth, Marvel Studios’ latest adventure awards viewers with their finest 3D release to date.  In addition, the equally strong 2D presentation handles skin tones, bold color grades in Strange’s cloak and the Dark Dimension as well as exceptionally inky black levels, of which their are many, up to the usual standards viewers have come to expect from Marvel’s latest superhero epics.  Equipped with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that honors immaculate clarity in dialogue exchanges and thrilling emphases in action scenes and Michael Giaccino’s (Jurassic World, Star Trek Beyond) effective score, the track is nothing short of a stunner.  

    Plentifully packed, special features include, an Introduction by Director Scott Derrickson (1:06), an Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson, A Strange Transformation (9:42), a fairly standard EPK overview of the production with interviews from key participants, Strange Company (12:37) covers the film’s supporting cast while, The Fabric of Reality (12:32) explores the costume and set design.  Furthermore, Across Time and Space (13:21) details the film’s impressive fight choreography and visual effects with The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51) examining Michael Giacchino’s score with footage of its actual orchestral recording process.  Also included, a Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28), the hilarious Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38) short, Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52), a Gag Reel (4:12) and Sneak Peeks at Marvel Contest of Champions (1:32), Marvel Future Fight (1:32) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (1:34).  Lastly, in addition to separate 3D and 2D Blu-ray’s, a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code are included alongside an Exclusive Collectible Lenticular.  In closing, Doctor Strange’s bold debut into the MCU has landed with surreal excellence and a strong cast to guide its mystical maneuvers.  While Strange’s fall to rise story from neurosurgeon to superhero sorcerer feels largely paint by numbers, the embracement of his powers and battle against darker forces are what makes the film the visual treat it is.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provides viewers with not only their most noteworthy 3D release to date but, one of stuffed supplements well worth exploring after the film’s curtain call.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Doctor Strange can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.