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  • The BFG (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The BFG (2016)

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall & Bill Hader

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the beloved book by Roald Dahl, The BFG focuses on orphaned human bean Sophie (Ruby Barnhill in her film debut) and her wondrous friendship with an enormous giant (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies).  Experiencing unimaginable adventures and facing their biggest fears together, the two once lost souls discover what dreams are made of within each other.

    In a career spanning nearly 50 years filled with countless achievements ranging from fantasy to the factual, The BFG marks Director Steven Spielberg’s first production helmed under the magical Disney banner.  Reteaming with the creative talent responsible for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial including, the late Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, the long-awaited live-action adaptation maintains the whimsy and heartfelt connections to Spielberg’s more fanciful features with the technical advantages of today’s visual effects exquisitely bringing to fruition the film’s larger than life characters.  Exuding unfiltered innocence and bravery to the role of young Sophie, Ruby Barnhill joins the growing list of child actors appearing in a once in a lifetime Spielberg role and excelling beautifully.  Continuing their successful collaboration from Bridge of Spies, Academy Award winner Mark Rylance brings a childlike glee and emotional center to the titular role that enriches the film’s chemistry between the tender tall man and his sweet sidekick.  Furthermore, the combined efforts of Jemaine Clement (What We Do in the Shadows) and Bill Hader (Inside Out) welcome hilariously buffoonish and foreboding clout to the villainous residents of Giant Country in their pursuit for human nourishment and tormenting the BFG.  

    Faithfully adapted and retaining the signature tongue of the film’s towering characters, The BFG suffers from a simple-mindedness that although, charming and sweet, inhibits the fantasy feature from topping the flawlessness of Spielberg and Mathison's sci-fi classic.  Built and thriving on the BFG’s bond with Sophie, their dream-catching adventures and the effectively subtle hints into the giant’s previous friendship with a human, the film’s rather bland and uneventful military climax pales in comparison to its more intimate moments.  Bringing renewed laughs to the otherwise cheap gag of fart humor and cloaked with an enchantingly quaint score from go-to Spielberg Composer John Williams (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark), The BFG may not be an immediate classic but, lovingly reminds viewers of the power and necessity for innocent escapism.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The BFG with a reference quality 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Richly capturing the aging wrinkles and intricate gray hair follicles in the BFG’s motion-captured face, skin tones in the film’s human characters excel with natural bliss while, the fog-entrenched streets of London and the giant’s dimly lit cave showcase the utmost revealing of black levels.  In addition, textures in the costumes, both real and computer generated, are pristine with the luminescent colors of whizzing dreams glowing beautifully.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that captures the clarity of dialogue and the ambiance of floor creeks and meowing cats, the film’s track supports all areas with no disruption.  Furthermore, the bass heavy steps of the giants and John Williams’ highly recommendable score are worthy reminders of the film’s impressive soundscape.  Special features include, Bringing The BFG to Life (27:09), an in-depth series of video diaries hosted by Ruby Barnhill with onset footage and interviews from the likes of Spielberg, Executive Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Producer Frank Marshall and many others scattered throughout.  Furthermore, The Big Friendly Giant and Me (1:55) is a lovely short told through illustrations inspired from Dahl’s books that detail the BFG’s friendship with the bean that preceded Sophie, Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG (3:16) serves as a lighthearted resource to the film’s funky speech patterns and Giants 101 (4:57) finds fellow giants Jemain Clement and Bill Hader detailing the making of their characters and movements.  Lastly, Melissa Mathison: A Tribute (5:54) is a farewell featurette to the memory of Mathison containing priceless footage of her on The BFG set collaborating with Spielberg and company.  A Sneak Peek at 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37), a DVD edition and Digital HD Code formally conclude the release’s supplemental offerings.

    Spielberg’s movie magic teamed with Dahl’s timeless tales may be the cinematic embodiment of pure imagination.  A technical marvel with the relationship between human and giant being the film’s true strengths, The BFG, remaining true to its source material, underwhelms in a third act attempt at action excitement.  Nonetheless, while Spielberg’s latest may be imperfect, the reunion amongst the human beans behind E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial still offers enough heart and a fine farewell from Mathison worth celebrating alone.  Disney’s high-definition presentation is nothing short of remarkable while, its bonus offerings are limited but offer respectable insight into the film’s making.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The BFG can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bridge of Spies (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Bridge of Spies (2015)

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan & Alan Alda

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Inspired by true events, Bridge of Spies centers on Brooklyn attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump) who finds himself at the center of an international exchange involving a suspected Soviet spy (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl) and a captured American U-2 pilot during the Cold War.  Amy Ryan (Win Win) and Alan Alda (The Aviator) co-star.

    In their fourth collaboration together, Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and Star Tom Hanks re-team for their latest fact-based opus set during the unpredictable days of the Cold War.  Following the FBI’s capture of suspected Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) in Brooklyn, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is summoned to his defense as a show of good faith to the American public that even their enemies are offered a fair trial.  Strongly believing that every person matters regardless of their stature, Donovan takes the case seriously much to the dismay of his firm and the watchful country.  Unsurprisingly found guilty, the determined lawyer’s abilities spare Abel’s life with a 30 year sentence, further infuriating the public who believes the elderly man should be put to death.  While sacrificing his respected reputation and risking the livelihood of his family, American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell, Whiplash) is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured while, American grad student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers, The Bay) is arrested as a spy on East Berlin soil.  With equal interests at play for their countries, Donovan is called upon to negotiate the risky transaction of Abel for the two Americans in the dangerous sector of East Berlin.

    A courtroom drama played on the battleground of war torn Europe, Bridge of Spies is a character-driven thriller that firmly establishes its associated time period and the uneasy fears of its citizens.  As the modern day Jimmy Stewart of his generation, Tom Hanks delivers yet another stellar performance as the common man whose beliefs are put to the test against larger than life circumstances.  Aided by an equally hailed supporting performance, Mark Rylance injects a gentleness and dry humor to his role as the accused Soviet spy making Donovan’s delicate role in ensuring his safety all the more emotional for viewers.  Although responsible for revising Matt Charman’s (Suite Française) screenplay, Ethan & Joel Coen’s (No Country for Old Men) contributions can largely be felt during the impactful negotiation sequences that easily rank as some of the film’s finest moments.  While some viewers may find themselves entertained yet, mildly restless following the Lincoln director’s third drama in a row, make no mistake, Bridge of Spies is as powerful and potent as anything Spielberg has undertaken.  

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents Bridge of Spies with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exquisitely handled, skin tones are remarkably defined and natural while, the mood setting lighting of Academy Award winning Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) further accentuate its 1950s time period.  In addition, textures found in various costume choices and the unique color palettes of each country make impressive strides while, black levels are refreshingly inky and absent of any intrusive artifacts.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with city street ambiance, machine gun fire and Powers’ plane crashing sequence greatly impressing in this effective mix that mirrors its perfect video transfer.  Special features include, A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies (17:45) where the filmmakers and their real-life counterparts detail the true events and its cinematic retelling, Berlin 1961: Re-creating The Divide (11:35) presents the historical locations of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and other behind-the-scenes moments and U-2 Spy Plane (8:45) explores the film’s plane crashing sequence with insight from Gary Powers, Jr.  Finally, Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act (5:42) investigates the monumental exchange on the Glienicke Bridge and its shooting while, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    Substituting more fantastical flair for his latest historical drama, Bridge of Spies is another absorbing effort that continues to prove Spielberg’s eye for story and compelling visuals have yet to wither.  Headlined by the consummate performances of Hanks and Rylance, this Cold War based tale has all the markings of another Spielberg great.  Meanwhile, Touchstone Home Entertainment presents the film with unquestionably perfect technical merits and informative supplements that explores the film’s making and its fact-based history.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 2nd from Touchstone Home Entertainment, Bridge of Spies can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.