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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.

  • Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty & Busy Philipps

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Striking a cord with audiences before being unfairly cancelled after only 12 of its 18 short episodes aired, the legacy of Freaks and Geeks continues to grow with each new generation fortunate enough to discover its timeless themes and painfully relatable characters.  Created by admitted high school nerd Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), the 80s set coming-of-age series takes place at the fictional McKinley High School in Detroit where two groups of opposing outsiders comprised of pot-smoking, misbehaved toughies and brainy, Dungeons and Dragons playing squares navigate the often difficult course of their teenage years.  Ditching her bookish personality, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini, Scooby-Doo) attaches herself with the school’s infamous freak population consisting of dreamy burnout Daniel Desario (James Franco, The Pineapple Express), awkwardly friendly Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel, The Muppets) who develops a crush on Lindsay, sarcastically off-putting Ken Miller (Seth Rogen, Neighbors) and Daniel’s hotheaded on/off again girlfriend Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps, Cougar Town).  Overcoming social hurdles with her new clique, Lindsay’s newfound friendships and their many mischievous adventures guide the series while, her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley, Bones) and his geeky pals, comedy connoisseur Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine, The Inglorious Bastards) and four-eyed Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr, Silicon Valley), charter their own path to fit in despite their social status.  

    Executive produced by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), Freaks and Geeks digs into the heart and soul of what growing up is all about.  Although set at the dawn of Regan’s presidency, this beloved, gone too soon program universally appeals to any teenager that felt uncomfortable in their own skin while, learning the ropes of life through humorous and heart wrenching experiences that stay with you forever.  High school crushes, bullying, accepting yourself, family dilemmas and sticking by your friends are reinforced throughout the flawless sole season with the utmost sincerity and appreciation for its audience who have walked similar paths as McKinley’s students.  Reminiscent of The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks guides its characters through their suburban surroundings with an astonishing selection of hits from Van Halen, Joan Jett, Styx, The Who, KISS, Kenny Loggins, Rush, Billy Joel and many more, making it one of television’s most authentically utilized and unstoppably entertaining soundtracks.  Although concluding on an open-ended note in its unplanned series finale, Freaks and Geeks is the rare perfect storm that announced itself on audiences with its unwavering heart, hilarious comedy and beautifully true writing.  Although wrongly stripped of its full potential, Paul Feig’s achingly honest depiction of high school and those we share the locker-filled halls with continues to fill the hole in our teenage hearts long after we’ve left the training ground of our lives.

    Painstakingly restored from new 4K scans of the original camera negatives, Shout! Factory treats die-hard fans with remastered episodes in both their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and a special 1.78:1 widescreen presentation.  Overseen by series Cinematographer Russ T. Alsobrook, the series has never looked better with dirt and scratches removed while, filmic quality exceeds episodes’ original broadcast airings.  Skin tones are splendid, wardrobe choices reveal more detail than previously seen and interiors of McKinley High and the Weirs’ often seen home are appreciatively lush.  While purists may instinctively stick with the original broadcast ratios, the newly crafted widescreen transfers reveal a third more content of what was shot than what televisions could capably screen during its original run.  Boasting crystal-clear picture quality, the widescreen counterparts are an exceptional inclusion and one fans won’t be disappointed with.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue is perfectly audible while, Nick’s roaring drum fills and the show’s unforgettable soundtrack cuts make impressive appearances throughout the 18 episode run.  In addition to 28 recycled commentary tracks from cast, crew and even fans over the entire series, the newly included In Conversation with Creator Paul Feig and Executive Producer Judd Apatow (45:59), moderated by Los Angeles Times Critic Robert Lloyd leads the virtually endless supply of other previously available supplements including, hours worth of audition footage, deleted scenes, outtakes, bloopers, alternate takes, behind-the-scenes footage, original show promotional footage and a 36-page booklet detailing the episodes, their song selections, stills and much more!

    A one of a kind program that instills the foundation and pain of youth, Freaks and Geeks took the trials and tribulations of teenage rebels and their uncool subordinates on an unforgettable journey that was suspended from class after just one season.  From the ashes of their defeat, its cast and crew have graduated to blossoming careers as Hollywood’s most talented voices while, their glory days at McKinley High continue to speak to audiences like most longer-running shows never could.  Treating it like the gem it is since their original 2004 DVD release, Shout! Factory have given fans the definitive edition of their favorite high school series with beautiful HD presentations in both its original and newly crafted widescreen aspect ratios.  Overloaded with vintage bonus content and a brand new sit-down with Feig and Apatow, Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series will conjure your teenage spirit like your yearbook could never do.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 22nd from Shout! Factory, Freak and Geeks: The Complete Series can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.