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  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

    Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson & Saniyya Sidney

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the award winning play by the late August Wilson who also contributed the film’s screenplay adaptation, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters) returns to the director’s chair after a decade long hiatus while reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the Broadway revival.  Set in the hardworking community of Pittsburgh during the 1950s, garbage collector Troy Maxson (Washington) carries on to provide for his loving wife Rose (Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder) and teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo, The Leftovers).  Strict and dismissive of Cory and his elder son Lyons’ (Russell Hornsby, Grimm) ambitions of playing football and music over committing to real careers, Troy’s troubling past of his own abusive father, lengthy imprisonment and unrealized potential as a baseball player weighs heavily on his complicated role as a husband and father.  Proudly promoted as the first African-American garbage truck driver while getting embroiled in an affair with another woman, Troy’s once dominantly controlled world comes under fire as friendships dissolve and family members rebel against him.  Recycling the majority of its talented cast from the 2010 revived production, Fences thrives on Wilson’s written words and powerful performances in its tale of blue-collar hopes and broken dreams.  Retaining the otherwise simplistic nature of a stage production with the rhythmic intensity of the thespians heightened thanks to Washington’s watchful direction, Fences is a powerhouse drama dependent on its first-rate performances, namely Washington in one of his most commanding roles and Viola Davis, who deservedly earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  

    Paramount Pictures presents Fences with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Beautifully shot on film and resulting in an equally filmic and impressively detailed home video experience, the earthy color palette shines while, the Maxson’s red brick house and aged outdoor furniture are handsomely preserved in all their lived-in condition.  Furthermore, skin tones are flawless with detail in facial wrinkles and graying hair reading immaculately.  A solid transfer from start to finish, Fences is built for perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that offers little to overly impress, the film’s dialogue-driven agenda never misses a beat with crisp exchanges throughout yet, the lack of musical interludes or other sonically-challenging moments excuse the track from a grander purpose.  Bonus features include, Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen (8:53) that explores the original stage production and its impact with interviews from its revival’s director Kenny Leon and cast members, The Company of Fences (9:17) details the play’s cast and their leap to bringing the show to the big-screen, Building Fences: Denzel Washington (6:56) sits down with the film’s star and director as he addresses his love for the source material and his artistic approaches in its adaptation, Playing the Part: Rose Maxson (6:57) finds Viola Davis discussing her character in-depth while, August Wilson’s Hill District (6:25) spotlights the real Pittsburgh locations used for the film’s shoot.  Lastly, Digital HD Codes for Fences and the Denzel Washington-starrer The Manchurian Candidate are also included.  One of last year’s critical darlings, Fences brings the work of August Wilson to life on film with the effort’s true calling card being its masterful performances.  Additionally, Paramount Pictures’ home video presentation does not disappoint with its limited supplements offering worthy anecdotes on the film’s making and its enduring stage production.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Fences can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Purge: Election Year (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Purge: Election Year (2016)

    Director: James DeMonaco

    Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria & Betty Gabriel

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    At the height of a heated political season, The Purge: Election Year centers on survivor turned security chief Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) whose duty to protect presidential nominee Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) is compromised.  As her controversial policies to end the savage Purge are despised by the corrupt, navigating dangerous streets and trusting strangers desperate for change may be the only chance to survive the lawless evening.  Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), Joseph Julian Soria (Max) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) costar.

    In a society overrun by one’s anxious desire to brutally slay for one evening, The Purge: Election Year pits the sadistic holiday against a force for change.  Following the murder of her own family during the first annual Purge, Senator Charlie Roan seeks to abolish the barbaric event and expose higher society’s gains from it with her determined presidential run.  Igniting a movement throughout the country and threatening the stability of the corrupt NFFA, Senator Roan, protected by her head of security Leo Barnes and his team, make the necessary preparations ahead of the new year’s Purge where, for the first time in its history, targeting governmental figures is fair game.  Betrayed and forced to evacuate their shelter, Leo and Charlie trek the anarchic streets of Washington D.C. where alliances with working class citizens and anti-Purge rebels is essential to their survival and the Senator’s destiny to alter the course of the country.  Even more fast-paced and action-packed than its predecessor, The Purge: Election Year polishes its simplistic formula with a marketing campaign and over the top violence that cheekily comments on the slogan of one presidential nominee’s to “make America great again”.  Host to choice soundtrack cuts from T. Rex and a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”, Producer Jason Blum’s (Insidious, Sinister) third installment welcomes Uncle Sam costumed killers, candy bar craving looters and white supremacist soldiers stacking the odds against our heroes while, a bloody gun battle in a church paints the walls red and waves a not-so subtle finger at the seething corruption found within political figures and religious organizations.  Financially soaring past its previous entries, The Purge: Election Year arrives with even more refined energy and violent aggression making it the best of the bunch thus far.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Purge: Election Year with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Although not boasting a broad color scheme, skin tones are nicely detailed and true to appearance while, the film’s level of bloodshed and neon-lit masks of various assailants make for the most eye-popping of visuals.  Furthermore, cast under the shadows of night and taking place in dimly lit bunkers and storefronts, black levels are generally pleasing with only occasional hints of digital noise and murkiness in facial closeups.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that handles dialogue with ease and authority, gunfire blasts, explosions and eerie street ambiance dominate the track for a mostly strong presentation.  Special features include, Deleted Scenes (8:05), Inside The Purge (5:31) where returning Director James DeMonaco and his cast reflect on the political themes and increased violence in the film plus, Character Spotlight: Leo (3:34) allows Star Frank Grillo to briefly touch upon his character’s development.  Lastly, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code conclude the supplemental package.

    Darkly fun and serving as good escape from the overwhelming presidential race, The Purge: Election Year paints the screen blood red, white and blue with higher stakes than ever before.  Returning anti-hero Frank Grillo leads a small yet effective ensemble cast to survival as masked Abe Lincoln’s and Lady Liberty’s practice their right to purge in our nation’s capital.  Earning its vote for the franchises most violently entertaining entry to date, Universal Studios Home Entertainment supports the onscreen anarchy with above average technical grades but, lacks more substantial bonus content.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Purge: Election Year can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.