4K Review: “The Raid: Redemption”

 

The Raid: Redemption, a high-octane action thriller released in 2011, redefined martial arts cinema’s boundaries. Directed by Gareth Evans, this Indonesian masterpiece captivates with its raw intensity and breathtaking fight choreography, offering an adrenaline-pumping experience you’ll never forget!

 

Set in the heart of Jakarta, the film follows an elite SWAT team’s mission to infiltrate a high-rise building run by a ruthless crime lord. With limited resources and overwhelming odds, the team must navigate a maze of danger and deception. It’s a race against time and survival, where every floor presents a new challenge. All this culminates in a swarm of heart-stopping action sequences.

 

That is to say, The Raid: Redemption is a masterclass in action choreography. Each fight sequence is a symphony of brutality and grace, showcasing the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat. The relentless nature of these sequences keeps you on the edge of your seat, making The Raid an unforgettable experience for action lovers. Also, the close-quarter combat scenes are mesmerizing, displaying a blend of speed, power, and precision. Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono capture every bone-crushing hit and agile movement, immersing the audience in the relentless pace of the battles. Watch the hallway fight scene if you want a perfect example of this. It’s thrilling and artistically executed, elevating it beyond mere action into cinematic art.

 

The movie isn’t just about style; The Raid also has some substance — the dramatic stakes are also at play here. Each scene intensifies the peril, with the protagonist facing increasingly formidable foes in a claustrophobic environment. The film cleverly uses its limited setting to heighten tension, transforming the building into a character itself — an obstacle course of traps, challenges, and foes. This ingenious use of space amplifies the action, making each encounter a physical battle and a strategic play for survival. Sort of reminding me of the Bruce Lee film Game of Death, where Bruce faced a more lethal combat as he progressed up in the building.

 

While primarily action-driven, The Raid doesn’t skimp on performances. Iko Uwais delivers physically and emotionally, portraying a compelling hero with determination and vulnerability. Though limited in character development, the supporting cast adds depth to the narrative, making each character’s struggle in this high-stakes environment feel genuine and urgent. Overall, The Raid: Redemption is a groundbreaking action film, setting a high bar for the genre. It’s a must-watch for action enthusiasts and those who appreciate movies that push the envelope.

VIDEO

The Raid: Redemption hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an upscaled 4K color corrected picture. The Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Raid: Redemption presents a significant upgrade in video quality over its Blu-ray predecessor. Scenes are illuminated with a brightness that adds depth without any issues. At the same time, black levels are notably deeper, ensuring darker scenes retain detail and texture. With the film’s limited and mostly mute color palette, Dolby Vision can’t showcase its power.

Nevertheless, the colors that do appear on-screen look more vibrant and accurate, adding to the film’s intense aesthetic. Additionally, the clarity of detail is remarkably improved. Every sweat droplet, facial expression, and intricate background detail is rendered stunningly sharp. Film grain is present but handled carefully, preserving the film’s original texture without becoming distracting.

AUDIO

The Raid: Redemption hits Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos or a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio presentation if Atmos is not supported. This review will cover the Blu-ray’s Dolby Atmos mix. While The Raid: Redemption‘s Dolby Atmos mix on Ultra HD Blu-ray might sound like an immersive feast for the ears, it’s more of a front-loaded mix. It’s not all that surprising since most of the film’s action takes place front and center. Thus, it doesn’t allow for any sense of dynamic sound because that’s how the movie is. Regardless, the object placement is precise — aligning perfectly with the on-screen events, putting you in the middle of the action.

EXTRAS

The Raid: Redemption doesn’t have any bonus features on the Ultra HD disc. However, there is plenty of bonus features on the HD Blu-ray Disc including a very immersive Director’s Commentary and Anatomy of a Scene breaks down key scenes, providing an in-depth look at the cinematic techniques and storytelling strategies employed in the film.

FINAL THOUGHT

Finally, this limited-edition steelbook packaging pays homage to the film’s iconic imagery, featuring key imagery of Rama in the back and the film’s key art in the front. The design captures the essence of the movie in a beautiful, matte metallic finish.

Overall, The Raid: Redemption is a groundbreaking action film, and it’s still one of the best action films since its debut thirteen years ago. Additionally, the video and audio quality surpasses the Blu-ray version, making it a must-have for fans of the film. Unfortunately, there aren’t any brand new bonus features included in this release. But you get previously released features.

Film… ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Presentation…⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Extras…⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

4K Review – “Oppenheimer”

 

Before I launch into – spoiler alert – a rave review for what I consider to be the best film of 2023 (sorry Barbie), I want to say right up front that I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan. I respect Nolan immensely as a director and writer, I find his movies to be epic creations. I love Memento and the Batman trilogy and appreciate the visceral power of Dunkirk, and the dazzling Inception continues to amaze me and Intersteller left me spellbound. Tenet was a big hit for me, too, so inspired by all the hype for Oppenheimer, I went into the IMAX screening this past summer with great anticipation, Excited of how this massive epic about the man who spearheaded the development of the atomic bomb would hit me.

To say Oppenheimer blew me away would be not only a bad pun and tired cliché but also a gross understatement. Nolan outdoes himself, crafting an ambitious, innovative, and beautifully constructed film that absorbed me from the get-go and held me spellbound for three solid hours. (I can’t recall a more enriching cinematic experience over the past decade.) Intelligent, intricate, thought-provoking, emotional, visually stunning, and brimming with potent performances, Oppenheimer is the complete cinematic package, a movie that satisfies on multiple levels and demands repeat viewings to absorb all the nuances. Of course, the big bang that occurs about two-thirds of the way through is the film’s central component, but it’s the small, intimate moments that reverberate the loudest and make this movie so memorable.

Oppenheimer isn’t just a biopic about an arrogant genius who’s driven by ambition, wracked by demons, and tortured by guilt. That would be enough. But Nolan goes further. The most fascinating parts of Oppenheimer actually occur after the bomb goes off. The repercussions and fallout (and I’m not talking about radiation) resonate so much more strongly than the intrigue surrounding the weapon’s development. Yes, this is a tale about scientific breakthroughs, crossing dangerous boundaries, grappling with weighty moral issues (like the potential destruction of mankind), and creating a beast that can’t be controlled, but more importantly, it’s about political persecution, unbridled ego, and the petty jealousies and insecurities that fuel small-minded men and inspire them to destroy the lives of others.

The bomb is the elephant in the room, but the crux of Oppenheimer is the bitter conflict between J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and government official Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). As the film opens, both men face critical trials that will ultimately scrape away their smug veneers and expose their faults, frailties, and carefully guarded secrets. Oppenheimer meekly battles a biased group of political operatives seeking to revoke his security clearance due to his prior association with the Communist party, while Strauss (pronounced Stroz), President Eisenhower’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, must endure the probing questions of a Senate confirmation committee to secure his crowning career achievement. Nolan the writer, who based his screenplay on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, deftly and lyrically tells their parallel and intertwining tales, while Nolan the director keeps their stories distinct by filming Oppenheimer’s perspective in color and Strauss’s in black-and-white. The device may be off-putting at first, but it’s a stroke of genius that not only helps simplify the challenging narrative structure, which continually jumps forward and backward in time, but also adds even more style to an already visually arresting film.

One character calls Oppenheimer “a dilettante, a womanizer, a suspected Communist, unstable, theatrical, egotistical, neurotic,” and that’s all true, but he also possessed one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. Other films like A Beautiful Mind and The Imitation Game have explored such brilliance and shown it to be a burden and a curse. Oppenheimer treads similar territory but on a larger scale and broader canvas. The stakes are higher here and some of the film’s themes strongly resonate in our current social climate. We can relate to a world in crisis that’s hurtling toward chaos and possible destruction, where political enemies are targeted and attacked. And with the dawn of Artificial Intelligence, we now have our own debate about a new technology that can potentially threaten human existence.

Oppenheimer asks important questions: How far do we take science and how do we deal with the consequences of what we unleash? One of the film’s most powerful scenes shows a shell-shocked Oppenheimer addressing his colleagues after the A-bomb test. As he delivers his remarks, we see how the weight of what his team has produced and the devastation it will soon deliver hit him with almost the same force as the world-changing detonation he just witnessed. That detonation, the lead-up to which instills palpable dread, fear, and uncertainty despite the fact there’s no mystery about the test’s success, is breathtakingly depicted. I won’t spoil it, but it’s just one more example of Nolan’s brilliance. He leads us down a well-worn path, then rips the rug out from under us. It’s tough to creatively depict a seminal event, especially one as monumental as this, but Nolan finds a way to combine artistry with the sobering gravity and sheer awe of the moment.

While I often enjoy seeing films with star-studded casts, sometimes the plethora of high-profile personalities can be distracting and take me out of the movie. “Oh, there’s so-and-so. Wow, I didn’t know he/she was in this! What a great cameo!” I had none of those feelings here. Yes, the initial glimmer of recognition causes a spark, but the roles are so well cast, the actors disappear inside them. The list of luminaries in Oppenheimer is large. In addition to Murphy and Downey, there’s Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Tom Conti, Matthew Modine, Tony Goldwyn, and others. All of them nail their parts (though Pugh is saddled with a sketchily drawn role), but Murphy and Downey shine the brightest. Both men deserve Oscars for their finely etched portrayals of complex, fascinating, and deeply flawed men who scale massive heights, but must live with the consequences of their deeds and misdeeds. Murphy is riveting throughout, never striking a sour note, and Downey is a revelation. After far too many Marvel movies, he reminds us what a terrific actor he can be when given the opportunity to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

Oppenheimer isn’t perfect. Some of the story’s time shifts can be confusing and with so many characters popping in and out of the story – often for only a few fleeting moments – remembering all the names and how they relate to the narrative can be a challenge. Like almost every biopic, there are historical inaccuracies and liberties taken with facts for dramatic effect. The pivotal exchange between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein upon which much of the story hinges is complete invention, but it’s nevertheless an inspired device to set up the division between Strauss and Oppenheimer and define the finer points of Strauss’ character.

Nolan bites off a lot here, but never more than he can chew. Yes, Oppenheimer is long, but unlike its fellow 2023 epics Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon, it doesn’t feel long. The pacing has a lovely ebb and flow as it mixes massive scope with searing drama, bits of humor, and a whole lotta visual stimuli. With insight, deep commitment, and tremendous care, Nolan has made a movie for history buffs, science nerds, political junkies, and – most importantly – movie fans. Oppenheimer is what cinema is all about. I Dug in and enjoyed it.

The video presentation of the 4K disc is flawless. Sound will shake your house and certainly give your system a true workout. The 1080p Blu-ray is certainly acceptable, but definitely a big step down from the exceptional 4K rendering. Flatter, duller, and a bit murkier, Oppenheimer on Blu-ray keeps the viewer at arm’s length. When I ejected the Blu-ray and went back to 4K, I felt as if I was looking at a totally different movie. The 4K disc is reference-quality stuff and anyone who enjoyed Oppenheimer in any theatrical format will be dazzled by this A-plus presentation.

The bonus featurettes are housed on a separate Blu Ray and they are aplenty. Included are all teasers and trailers. So much to delve into, that you could spend time on the bonus disc as much as the length of the film! 

2023’s best film is a slam-dunk on 4K UHD. This epic portrait of both a controversial scientist and turbulent era in American history is enlightening, entertaining, and exquisitely mounted by a master craftsman at the very top of his game. With a breathtaking HDR transfer, potent audio, and hours of supplements, Oppenheimer demands a spot on every movie-lover’s shelf. Must Own. Film ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Film Extras ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five stars)

4K Review: “Rudy”

 

 Some become legends through all-American grit and determination. For college football fans, the story of Dan “Rudy” Ruttiger is well known. Even if you’re not a sports fan. If you were a kid growing up in the 80s or if you didn’t read his book about his determination to play football for Notre Dame, he may have dropped by your school as a motivational speaker. Reuniting the team behind another classic sports drama Hoosiers, Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo with composer Jerry Goldsmith set out to tell the tale of how one poor working-class kid fought his way to play for the Fighting Irish.

We first meet Rudy (Sean Astin) as he’s finishing high school. From a steel-working family, his father Dan Senior (a lovely turn from Ned Beatty) loves Notre Dame football, but can’t believe his young son or any Ruttiger could ever attend the university. But little Rudy has a dream and he’s ready to prove himself to anyone and everyone that doubted him. Beyond getting accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the country, he’ll also have to make it onto one of the hardest-hitting most competitive football teams in the country.

I personally come from Wolverine country and the sight of the Irish blue and gold is usually a rage-inducing eyesore. But for Rudy – I love this film. Rudy is to college football as Rocky is to boxing. It’s a human drama first with sports as a backdrop. A classic underdog story, it’s a movie that inspires you to try to achieve your dreams and then in the face of repeated failures – keep trying. I saw this film in theaters and I’ve watched it countless times since. It’s remained a rousing inspirational film three decades later. It also happens to feature one of my very favorite Jerry Goldsmith scores.

Now when this film was announced for 4K, I was just happy to have the version of the film I’ve known and loved for three decades (DVD). But to sweeten the pot, Sony includes Anspaugh’s new Director’s Cut (via seamless branching) for a longer and I have to admit more fulfilling film. Not just frivolous scene extensions, the new cut gives more weight to a variety of characters. We see more of Robert Prosky’s Father Cavenaugh, he doesn’t just disappear now in the second act. We see more of Rudy trying to fit in with the Notre Dame team setting up their antagonistic struggle earlier while also giving them more time to ease into their redemptive actions in the final stretch. More interesting and meaningful, we see more of Greta Lind’s Mary. Thankfully this cut doesn’t force Rudy and Mary into a silly weightless romance but instead bolsters a more valuable friendship through to the end.

 

The film looks and sounds absolutely wonderful for the age that it has. Skin tones come alive and the football field has never looked so green! The set comes with a Blu Ray copy as well but that only contains the theatrical version. The extras come with a bit of old and new features. For the new stuff, Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo team up for a new Director’s Cut exclusive audio commentary. It’s a lively discussion about making the film, their long working relationship, and comparing the versions of the film. Then we come to a little over three minutes of deleted scenes that are separate from the new cut. They’re interesting in their own right, but I can see why they wouldn’t make it on either cut. Then we have the film’s trailer all on the 4K disc. Then we come to the archival material that’s housed on the included Blu-ray. 

As big a fan as I am, in the crowded pantheon of sports films, Rudy may not be the greatest of the pack, but it’s an emotional heavy hitter. Truthfully one would need to be a pretty jaded individual to not connect to this story in some way. Sean Astin is amazing as he headlines an excellent cast for this true (mostly) story of grit and determination winning the day. I’ve loved this film for three decades now and it’s a genuine pleasure to see it look and sound this good in 4K – in two cuts no less! For fans of the film, this is a no-brainer essential pickup. Newcomers will need to invest in a few boxes of tissues.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Extras ⭐️⭐️⭐️

(Out of five stars)

4K Ultra HD Review: Expend4bles

I have been a fan of The Expendables franchise since day one. My personal fav is The Expendables 2
due to my main man Chuck Norris…I even liked the PG-13 entry with The Expendables 3. Unfortunately, this latest installment is my least favorite of the four films. It is definitely watchable but it feels forced and kind of unnecessary. They obviously were trying to turn the focus onto Jason Statham’s character and some new younger cast leaving behind the oldtimers like Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture.

This film definitely has a lot of options for you to choose from for its home release. First up what we got to review there is the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital combo pack. There is also a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital combo pack, plus an Amazon has an exclusive release with lenticular artwork and exclusive bonus materials while Best Buy has an exclusive SteelBook®, and Walmart also packs an exclusive SteelBook® Collection featuring all four of The Expendables films. Plenty of options when purchasing this film.

Official Premise: A new generation of stars is added to the adrenaline-fueled adventure of The Expendables as action legends Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture are joined for the first time by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, and Andy Garcia. As the highly skilled mercenaries take on an arms dealer and his private army with every weapon they can get their hands on, the new recruits bring daring styles and tactics that give “new blood” a whole new meaning.

Personally, I thought that the visual effects in this fourth entry was quite weak and cheap looking even though it packed a $100 million budget. Still the 4K transfer for Expend4bles delivers a stunning Dolby Vision HDR with a room-shaking Dolby Atmos audio mix. All of the formats released are loaded with behind-the-scenes special features and an audio commentary from director Scott Waugh. The version I would recommend if you don’t care about SteelBook®, the Amazon-exclusive release features two additional special features not available anywhere else that dive deep into the bone-crunching fight choreography and the styling behind the badass look of The Expendables team members. So if you are a hardcore fan of The Expendables series, I would definitely check this out just keep expectations low.

4-K Review: “Godzilla” (1998) STEELBOOK

Matthew Broderick takes on the biggest beast of his career with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s 1998 special effects creature feature Godzilla. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the film is still a delightful collection of 90s blockbuster ideas and a lot of the visual effects haven’t aged well, but it’s still a good hunk of hammy fun. Secondly, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray yields a new SteelBook, a slightly improved Dolby Vision transfer, but otherwise the same package as before. If you didn’t buy it already. However, 25 years later this film remains a piece of good dumb summer movie fun. From Broderick and his earthworms to Jean Reno’s chewing gum to every New Yorker reminding everyone they’re from Newe Yawk, it’s an entertaining show even if it doesn’t always succeed at hitting what it’s aiming for. Watching it again after all these years I almost wish we got those sequels! But considering all of the great kaiju action we’ve had the last few years, it’s probably for the best the franchise moved on.

 

Godzilla is released onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for the second time thanks to Sony. Celebrating the film’s 25th Anniversary, we get a new SteelBook packaging for the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs to sit in. The 4K is again pressed on a BD-100 disc while a BD-50 showcases the 1080p picture. The 1080p disc is the same old disc that’s been on the market for a while now. Also included is a digital copy slip. The disc loads to Sony’s standard static image main menu with bonus features panel along the right side.

 

At Sony, the motto seems to be “If we did it great in HDR10, let’s do a new Dolby Vision disc with SteelBook packaging!” Similar to some of their previous efforts in this arena like Air Force One. The Dolby Vision grade is sharp and clear as before and film grain still retains its natural cinematic appeal with just a little extra barely discernable improvement. I did feel like depth was a little improved for this disc, but that largely extends to live-action sequences. I now have both the older 4K release and this new Steelbook version. Bitrate has a healthier average overall but not so high as to blow the doors off what we saw before. Dolby Vision adds a little extra refinement most felt in the black levels and shadows. This film is fairly dark, rainy, and steeped in shadows and that little extra nuance in the HDR grade is appreciated. The third act where they’re trying to find Godzilla’s nest and the full sequence in Madison Square Garden really felt better there. However, as before, the film’s heavy CGI use has its visual drawbacks. The entire chase scene through the city or any of the CGI babies still feel weightless or just outright soft or poorly rendered. Not even Dolby Vision and a higher bitrate can compensate for that. So yes, this presentation is technically better, but the mileage isn’t going to get most viewers far enough to warrant a double dip purchase.

 

On the audio scale we get the same very aggressive Dolby Atmos audio track. Playing back through several sections on both discs, I didn’t notice any difference. Now I liked this mix better than the previous release, however my biggest issue with this Atmos track was more with volume than element placement. While height channels hear plenty of action and the whole surround soundscape is quite expansive, I also felt like volume was used to compensate for nuance. When big action set-pieces kick in, big explosions do still sound a little distorted or tinny. In the end, that’s a fairly mild complaint. It’s a big loud movie and this audio track matches that effort. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is an alternate option but in all honesty, flipping between the two sounded rather silly. If you’re rolling Atmos, stick with that.

 

Bonus features are pretty much the same bag as before. Sadly, nothing new was added for this film’s 25th Anniversary effort. Once again, the audio commentary is still only available on the Blu-ray disc. However, on the 4K disc we get all of the teaser and theatrical trailers.

 

Coming off the high-flying intergalactic success of Independence Day, Devlin and Emmerich were the go-to filmmakers for big-money special effects summer blockbusters. 1998’s Godzilla seemed like the perfect fit for their sense of cinematic destruction and mayhem, but the film was savaged by critics and longtime kaiju fans, and was ultimately profitable but still underperformed. 25 years later, we have Toho punching out their own new Godzilla flicks while Warner Bros. keeps cooking up new ways for the big beast to fight Kong or some other giant creature. Now celebrating its anniversary milestone, 1998’s Godzilla scores a new 4K UHD SteelBook release. The new Dolby Vision transfer offers up a slightly better image but probably not enough of an improvement to push for a double-dip. However, if you haven’t already bought this on 4K disc, this is the set to snag.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Special Features ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five stars)

Blu-ray Review: “Gran Turismo”

 

As a fan of the iconic gaming franchise, I had cautiously optimistic expectations about Gran Turismo. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. Neill Blomkamp delivers a visually stunning and emotionally charged racing experience. At the same time, the cinematography beautifully captures the sleek curves of the racing cars, the intensity of the tracks, and the breathtaking landscapes that serve as the backdrop for the races. The sound design also deserves special mention, with the roar of engines, screeching tires, and Lorne Balfe and Andrew Kawczynski’s score combined to create an auditory experience that complements the visual spectacle.

While the plot may follow some familiar underdog movie tropes, it doesn’t shy away from exploring Jann’s journey and his sacrifices for the thrill of the race. The screenplay successfully weaves together elements of competition, friendship, and the pursuit of excellence, adding depth to the film beyond its fast-paced exterior.

At the heart of the film is Archie Madekwe, whose charismatic performance adds depth to the character and serves as a compelling guide through the high-stakes world of professional racing. The supporting cast, including Orlando Bloom and David Harbour, sweetens the ensemble with incredible performances that capture the camaraderie and competition inherent in the racing culture.

Unfortunately, it’s a shame that we didn’t get more extended sequences of the races and only watch bite-sized versions of these exciting tracks. Instead, the film gets slightly bogged down by an unnecessary love story. That run time that was used to cover the love story could’ve been used to provide us with more racing sequences. After all, that’s what you’ve come to see. Maybe that’s a minor complaint since I personally have so much experience playing Gran Turismo on PlayStation 2.

Overall, Gran Turismo is a triumphant celebration of the beloved gaming franchise wrapped in an inspiring underdog story. It captures the essence of the virtual and real-life racing experience, delivering a cinematic joyride that will resonate with fans and entertain audiences seeking an adrenaline-fueled escape. Watching the film I noticed some visuals and sound effects that I recognized from GT3. A total joyride to say the least!

The Blu-ray picture is stunning! The brightness levels are finely tuned to enhance realism without sacrificing details in this area. The picture also has inky blacks that create dramatic and immersive visuals. Colors burst forth with brilliance and intensity in the Gran Turismo Blu-ray. Also, the video renders each color with stunning accuracy and realism as the colors pop off the screen. Whether it’s the fine textures of road surfaces, the reflection of surroundings on car exteriors, or the subtle weathering effects, the detail quality in this release is excellent. I can imagine if the Blu Ray looks this good. How does the 4K look?

Gran Turismo hits Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos audio presentation. Prepare for an auditory racing experience as the Dolby Atmos takes Gran Turismo straight into your living room. The precision of dynamic pans adds a layer of immersion to the movie. Also, the audio dynamically shifts as vehicles move across the landscape, creating a three-dimensional auditory experience that places you right in the heart of the races.

Gran Turismo has some excellent overhead effects, from the thunderous roar of the engine to the subtle sounds of weather elements. Lorne Balfe and Andrew Kawczynski’s musical score adapts seamlessly to the pace of the race, enhancing the drama and excitement. The dialogue in Gran Turismo is delivered precisely, and every word is crisp and intelligible.

The Blu-ray has some interesting and unique elements, including how the games were made. The painstaking process of detailing the tracks around the world and the cars themselves. Real- life physics are applied to the games. If you spin out in real-life due to improper driving, you’ll spin out using that same technique in the games! The Plan featurette  uncovers the intricacies of adapting this compelling real-life story to the screen. Additionally, it looks at the role of simulators in the training process. Unfortunately, you don’t learn more about Jann—only what you find in the film.  Budding filmmakers will get a kick out of The Engine featurette. The feature delves into the film’s cinematography styles and Blomkamp’s vision for the film. The deleted scenes feature five scenes that offer a different perspective on pivotal moments in the movie. These scenes add an extra layer to the narrative. The Pit Crew featurette goes behind the scenes, showcasing the adrenaline-fueled choreography and usage of practical effects that make the racing sequences so exhilarating. With The Wheels, this featurette looks at the ensemble behind Gran Turismo, featuring interviews and insights into the actor’s experiences on set. The Garage featurette looks up close to the stunning cars that take center stage.

Overall, this is a must have for any gaming or racing fans. Gran Turismo is simply stunning.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Special Features ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five stars)

Blu-ray Review: “Insidious: the Red Door”

 

 ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ rejoins the Lambert family nearly ten years after the events of the second film. Shortly after the death of Josh’s mother, he and a now college-aged Dalton begin experiencing mysterious flashes and broken memories as the terrifying events they suffered years prior begin fighting their way back into the consciousness of each. Initially believing these curious visions and broken pieces to be nothing more than imagination, Dalton soon begins to realize that there is much more going on as his college experience kicks off on a horrifying note, soon leading to him fighting to recall what it is his memory is trying to hide which will eventually lead to a new fight for survival once he again begins to embrace his traveling ways.

 

Directed this time around by Patrick Wilson (marking his directorial debut) from a screenplay written by Scott Teems (Halloween Kills) and a story by Leigh Whannell and Scott Teems, Wilson does a quite capable job at the helm of ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ capturing much of the tone and aura that the franchise is beloved for. The film’s cast includes Ty Simpkins (The Whale), Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), Sinclair Daniel (TV’s The Other Black Girl), Hiam Abbass (TV’s Succession), Rose Byrne (TV’s Physical) and more with the majority offering decent or at least fitting performances for the most part in each of their respective roles. ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ reunites viewers with the Lambert family almost ten years after the events that concluded ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ and the result is a decent enough film that often has its heart in the right place and tries to establish a fitting conclusion for the family with a new, yet largely unnecessary chapter in their saga. The new film takes a more psychological approach than its predecessors with far less notable frights or terrifying moments occurring throughout and explores the concept of loss and struggle within the lives of Josh and a now adult Dalton who are once again plagued by the terrors that were believed to be eradicated from their mind years prior. Patrick Wilson takes on directing duties this time around in addition to reprising his role as Josh and he manages to bring the right vibe and overall tone to the latest installment, but unfortunately its lack of anything important or necessary to contribute to the family’s arc weighs it down at times and ends up making much of the film seem unnecessary or forced.

 

Those who have been following the franchise since the beginning and fans like myself will surely still want to make a point of checking this one out and should enjoy it quite a bit, especially if you don’t go in expecting anything groundbreaking or crucial to be added to their tale. Overall, ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ is a decent and enjoyable new installment in the beloved horror franchise that continues the story of the Lambert family and serves up some intriguing concepts and a handful of creepy moments while also taking a more psychological look at the characters and their internal struggles, but largely fails to contribute anything truly important or notable to their story in the process. While it may not be one of the most noteworthy installments in the franchise as a whole, ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ is still definitely recommended for fans of the franchise who will surely want to give this potentially final chapter a chance and form your opinion, especially with the majority of the original cast returning this time around. At the very least this one should be worth your time and the price of a rental whenever you have the opportunity.

The Blu-ray release of ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ features a full 1080p High Definition presentation. The video presentation looks tremendous as a whole and delivers a clean, richly detailed presentation from start to finish that never suffers from any noticeable troubles or glitches to be uncovered along the way. The video presentation shows great detail in clarity on everything from characters, backgrounds and the creepy, gloomy environments during the Further-focused moments, all nicely balanced by clean, deep black levels that hold up splendidly. Overall, this is a great high definition video presentation that looks very good every step of the way and should more than satisfy fans and newcomers alike.

The Blu-ray release features a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This multichannel soundtrack serves up a crisp, clean and often quite aggressive audio presentation throughout. It repeatedly takes full advantage of all five available channels in order to send music, creepy effects and random noises along with plenty of other fitting tidbits throughout the various speakers at every reasonable opportunity, while never allowing any dialogue or other audio elements that might be occurring simultaneously to become distorted or negatively affected in the process. Overall, this is a very solid 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that makes a great complement to the film and shouldn’t have any trouble pleasing viewers.

The Blu-ray release of ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ includes a couple extras in the way of two brief Behind the Scenes Featurettes that include interviews/comments with the cast and crew, plus behind the scenes footage and more. The included Featurettes are ‘The Family: Past, Present and Further’ (running approximately 3 minutes in length) and ‘A Possessed Director’ (running approximately 5 minutes).

I personally give the film three out of five stars. Presentation of sound and picture I’d give four out of five stars. And extras, although interesting but anemic. I’d give two out of five stars.

Film ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Sound/Picture ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Extras ⭐️⭐️

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Dio “Dreamers Never Die” Deluxe Edition

Raise those horns up high as Dio – “Dreamers Never Die” delves deep into the legendary singer’s incredible rise from a ’50s crooner to his early rock days in Ritchie Blackmore’s RAINBOW to replacing Ozzy Osbourne in BLACK SABBATH – before finally cementing his rock star status with his own solo group. Dio “Dreamers Never Die” is jammed pack with archival footage and music from the singers storied career coupled with a slew of brand new interviews from friends, family and former band members

Clocking in at just over 2hrs. the initial film is everything you would expect in your standard “rockumentary”. Tons of rare behind the scenes and live performance footage make up a majority of the film which also features a spattering of newly filmed interviews with people such as Rudy Sarzo, Rob Halford and Dio’s wife Wendy among many others all sharing their own candid stories of the fabled singer. For fans looking for more than just the standard film a Deluxe Edition DVD/Blu-ray Set is available and comes brimming over with everything from 20 minutes of bonus interviews to DIO-branded trading cards, guitar picks, label pin, coasters, tissues and a fold-out poster from the film. The set also includes both DVD and Blu-ray Discs and comes housed in a high quality lift-off box which will look great on display.

We really enjoyed the film and the packing on the Deluxe Edition release was really nice however, I am not sure there is enough included in the set that warrants the $99 price tag. With only 20 minutes of additional footage and two identical copies of the film (1 DVD & 1 Blu-Ray) I felt there was a missed opportunity here to make something really special for the fans by including either a new live compilation DVD or Audio CD as the addition of one or both of those would have given fans wanting more than just the feature film something they would have really enjoyed. Sure you get the above mentioned DIO adorned items but for me these come off as just cheap promo items more than collector level pieces. If you are hardcore Dio Disciple with a few extra bucks to spend then you may want to grab the Deluxe set as the box alone is pretty awesome looking however, if you can do without a few extra minutes of “bonus” interview footage and a couple pieces of tchotchke then go ahead a grab the standard version of the film as even the most casual of Dio fans will want to check this film out.

4K Review: “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon” (STEELBOOK)

 

The newly released, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, which is an 80’s genre mash-up favorite of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Michael Schultz’ Motown flavored martial arts movie growing up. However, I will tell you that very few films from that time period stuck with me like this one. Was it the action? The music? The awesome over-the-top villain Sho’nuff portrayed by Julius Carry? The sweet scenes between Taimak and Vanity?  I would say it was all-of-the above. The Last Dragon had everything I wanted in a movie and nearly four decades later, it still rocks.

Leroy Green (Taimak) dreams of becoming a great martial artist. He has almost reached the final level of his training. However, Leroy’s master explains to him that the final level, knows as “The Last Dragon” must be found on his own. If Leroy can complete the final level, he will be able to harness the mystical energy that would allow him to physically glow. His master sends Leroy on a spiritual journey through the streets of New York to locate Master Sum Dum Goy, who might be able to teach him how to unlock the great power of “The Glow’.

Of course, Leroy’s journey is not an easy one. Sho’nuff (The Shogun of Harlem) sees Leroy as the only person standing in his way of being the true master. Each time Sho’nuff and his gang challenges Leroy, he refuses to fight. Leroy’s family even pays the price when Sho’nuff demolishes his parent’s pizza shop. Leroy’s journey becomes even more complicated when he rescues music video show host Laura Charles (Vanity), who is being abducted by goons hired by the sleezy video-arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney). He wants Laura to play his girlfriend’s music video on her show and he won’t take no for an answer. Aside from searching for Master Sum Dum Goy, Leroy must protect Laura from Arkadian, find a way to deal with Sho’nuff and reach the final level of his training. Leroy also didn’t expect to start falling in love either.

The Last Dragon is silly and there is no denying it, but it’s also so much fun with a great soundtrack. I mean, MOTOWN founder Berry Gordy produced it, so you know the music is gonna be great. The chemistry between Taimak and Vanity really works well here. This is definitely a love-letter to classic martial arts films and even though it is also a comedy, it truly respects the art form and films that inspired it.

The new 4K transfer does not disappoint. It was scanned from the original camera negative and presented with Dolby Vision. The streets of Harlem look incredibly detailed, especially during the daytime shots. Eddie’s office is filled with neon colors that absolutely pop, as-well-as the set of Laura’s video show. Don’t even get me started on how awesome the red and yellow glows look during Leroy’s final fight with Sho’nuff. As for the audio, we get an all-new Dolby Atmos track which is taken full advantage of, especially during the numerous fight sequences. As mentioned before, The Last Dragon has a stellar 80’s soundtrack and the new audio track puts a shine on that.  If you are a fan, I highly recommend picking up this release, which also comes packed in a great looking steelbook. Three out of five stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

4K Review: “The Blackening”

 

 

“The Blackening” was one of 2023’s best horror surprises. The Juneteenth slasher movie is a celebration of Black comedy, as it takes horror tropes and spins them on their head. While the Tim Story directed movie definitely delivers more laughs than scares, it’s worth revisiting — especially with the great collection of bonus features. 

 

The setup is one that’ll be familiar to fans — a group of friends rent out a cabin for a reunion, then get stalked by a serial killer. What makes “The Blackening” so fun is that it uses these familiar trappings to its advantage. Featuring an all-Black main cast highlighted by Grace Byers and Jermaine Fowler, the characters take the situation seriously, but they’re very self-aware of the situation and reference horror films. Think “Scream” rather than “Scary Movie.” The script is sharp, but what really makes the jokes land are the great deliveries, as the characters truly acts like a group of friends.

 

Every member of “The Blackening”’s cast is given a chance to shine throughout the film (especially Diedrich Bader in a great supporting role) and no subject matter is off limits. Everything from Donald Trump to “Friends” and O’Reilly Auto Parts are mentioned in hilarious one-offs. Things never get too tense despite the subject matter, and jokes are rapid-fire. You’ll never get too much of a reprieve from laughing. 

 

What really makes “The Blackening” 4K and Blu-ray special is the wide array of special features that are just as funny as the feature film. The meatiest segment is “Do the Write Thing,” a 13-minute featurette focused on the writing process and how the film came together. A fun Q&A segment and a hilarious game show are also highlights, while a deleted scene and a reel of outtakes are also fun to watch. Overall, there are over 40 minutes of special features here and I enjoyed them all. The commentary track is well worth checking out, too. It features Story and writers Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins, who stars in “The Blackening” and wrote the original short that inspired the film. This was Perkins’ first time writing a movie, so it’s interesting to hear how Oliver helped the talented comedian find his voice for the script. The stories of filming are a blast, and it’s an easy listen. As a film, “The Blackening” is a reminder of the sharp comedies that used to be a regular presence in movie theaters.

 

As a home video release, the 4K and Blu-ray release is a throwback to when home releases were filled with bonus content rather than the streamlined affair most are now. From the hilarious commentary track that delivers plenty of laughs and insight to the well-edited featurettes, this is a home release worth supporting if you dig horror comedies. It’s an inherently rewatchable comedy that offers some great laughs and a fun twist on the horror genre. Three out of five stars. ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Blu-ray Review: “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

 

In 2012, Sony Animation struck gold when they debuted their own unique horror-inspired family movie, Hotel Transylvania. The quirky, fun comedy united the talents of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, and Jon Lovitz — to name a few. The success of the movie went on to spawn three sequels, the latest of which released last year exclusively to Amazon Prime as an “Amazon Original.” Although I did enjoy the first 2012 film, I was never able to get my hands on any of the sequels before, and so when 2022’s Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (AKA Hotel Transylvania 4) was sent to me, it was the first time I was seeing something new featuring these characters in the 10 years since I saw the first movie. With that said, I can’t say anything about the second and third entries, but as a sequel to the original, Transformania certainly feels like the stereotypical superfluous fourth entry.

One thing that never bodes well for a sequel to an animated movie is when two of the central cast don’t return. Comedians Adam Sandler and Kevin James both don’t return as Dracula and Frankenstein, respectively. Dracula is really the film’s central character, alongside Andy Samberg’s Johnny and Selena Gomez’ Mavis, so it’s kind of surprising to find the movie’s main star sitting this one out. However, this is the first movie in the series to bypass theaters altogether and go straight to streaming (which is ultimately today’s version of a movie going straight-to-video). Those not willing to spring for a subscription to Amazon Prime just to watch this fourth entry to the franchise can finally access the movie through all digital retailers or grab it on disc. Unfortunately, as the movie started, I got the vibe pretty quickly as to why Sandler and James are absent… this is basically the kind of sequel you’d expect to go straight-to-video.

Then again, to be fair, adults aren’t the intended audience for a movie like this one. While I remember really enjoying the 2012 original — since many animated movies these days really work for all ages — there’s a pretty good chance Hotel Transylvania 4 is deliberately crafted to appeal to a younger audience. With that said, Hotel Transylvania 4 finds Johnny and Mavis in line to inherit the hotel from Dracula, however Drac is having second thoughts and invents a nonsensical rule that says only a monster can inherit the hotel. Johnny turns to unhinged scientist Van Helsing who uses a ray on him to turn him into a monster. Drac tries to undo this, but accidentally turns many of the monsters in the hotel into humans instead. Events that unfold find a few of the gang hitting the road on a quest, forcing Drac to do some much needed – although entirely unexpected – soul searching along the way. This makes for some decent emotional beats that help make the movie just a tad better than it deserves to be, but its cheap crude gags and corny humor keep Hotel Transylvania: Transformania from being more than just a forgettable entry in the saga. Don’t get me wrong; Hotel Transylvania: Transformania does have its moments. It’s silly and still a little entertaining — even if adults are less of the intended shared audience this time. Brian Hull replaces Adam Sandler as Drac, and does a pretty decent job making you forget you’re not actually listening to Sandler’s performance. Still, knowing we have a bit of an imposter voicing such a now-familiar character cheapens the overall feel of the movie. It also doesn’t help that little-known voice actor Brad Abrell is taking over for Kevin James as Frankenstein. Considering that Abrell’s most known role is of the “Worm Guy” in the first three Men in Black movies isn’t all that reassuring. But with Frankenstein having little impact of the plot of this entry, it’s probably a bit more forgivable. The fact Andy Samberg is back as Johnny and Selena Gomez as Mavis certainly helps things, but Johnny seems more annoying as this stage in the story than I previously recall. The animation style is of the more hyper and spastic variety, even to the point where I felt it making me a bit anxious. Sometimes this approach works fine for the story, but overall, I felt it detracted. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania‘s content warrants the PG rating — mostly because a lot is made of the fact that the Invisible Man is naked all the time while invisible. So, when we see him in the flesh finally, we’re given several views of his bare butt, and then several shots where something is shown barely covering his naked crotch. It’s played for laughs, but the gag wears thin pretty immediately. It’s kind of interesting when Dracula becomes mortal, because he finds he can finally relate to Johnny being human and lacking any kind of magical powers. While the transforming element drives the plot in an emotional way for Dracula’s story arc, it’s ultimately used as a gimmick for all the other monster characters. The only other content to be cautious about is some mild language, especially a moment where some wolf children accidentally rearrange some letters in a “Happy Anniversary” sign to “A Very Phine As…” and Drac scrambles to stop them before another “S” is tacked onto the end there. (And for a split second — you’d have to pause it to see this — you can see the letters kind of disjointedly arranged in that order.)

 

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is a pretty unnecessary sequel, but it gives fans a fourth chance to see these beloved characters together once more. I don’t know if this is intended to be a final chapter or not, but it could work well as a last entry, but is left open just enough if they decided to continue it. My opinion, though, is this is probably a good opportunity to let the characters of Hotel Transylvania checkout before they’ve officially worn out their welcome. Two out of five stars ⭐️ ⭐️

4K Review: “Fast X”

 

It’s hard to believe that The Fast and the Furious franchise kicked-off 22 years ago with a simple little movie about the Los Angeles street-racing scene. It made stars out of Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker.  From there the street racing moved to Miami and then Tokyo. However, something shifted after that. We got a mediocre fourth film that reunited the original cast, but Fast Five took things in a whole new and exciting direction. Fast & Furious was no longer about racing. Justin Lin brought the series into a big budget action spectacle. Things continued to shine with the sixth and seventh films, which was also where we said goodbye to Paul Walker. Unfortunately, the next two installments and the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off did very little to keep the series feeling fresh. Here we are now with Fast X, the tenth film and the one that kicks off the three-film finale. While the latest installment is basically 141 minutes of pure dumbness, it takes a few steps into course-correcting the wayward series.

The first thing is tying the events of the series best, Fast Five to this one. However, the big difference between the latest film and all of the ones that came prior, is that for the first time, we get a fun villain. Jason Momoa plays Dante, the son of Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). When Dominic killed the elder Reyes at the end of the fifth film, he had no idea that his somewhat psychopathic son would eventually come for revenge. Few years have passed since the events of the last film. Dominic Toretto is living in his family home with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). Things are going along nicely. Even Abuelita (Rita Moreno) swings by to visit with her family. Things don’t stay nice for long. When Toretto’s team go to Rome for a mission, they soon discover it was a setup. Dante was there waiting, and Dom’s family was the bait he needed. It turns out that Dante went after Dom’s other nemesis, Cipher (Charlize Theron) to grab the God’s Eye, which is a piece of tech that can track anyone in the world, including Dom’s son. Since family is the most important thing to him, you know what that means.

Much like the last few films, there is a ton of globetrotting going on and way too many characters. Jason Statham’s Shaw and his mother Queenie (Helen Mirren) are only in the film for a matter of minutes. However, it is made clear that they will have larger roles in the upcoming films. Like usual, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) is given the funniest lines. John Cena’s Jakob is much more entertaining as the good uncle here than he was as the villain in the last film. While Brie Larson can handle the action for sure, I would like to see her character given a little more of a punch up. Fast X is heavy on the action, as one would expect. Some of the CGI explosions are distractingly bad, including the big one in Rome and the final act drive down an exploding dam. I still can’t help but laugh at how Dom never has a single scratch. No human could take the kind of physical punishment he takes.  Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) took over directing duties when Lin suddenly left production. He is a proven capable action director and definitely a good fit for the franchise. Still, it is Momoa who truly saves the day here. He adds such an abundance of life and steals every scene he is in.

The producers of the series finally figured out that for such a ridiculous series of films, you need an equally ridiculous heavy to deliver a true joygasm. Thankfully, Dante is not a one and done character. For the first time in years, I actually want to see what happens next. As expected, the 4K release of Fast X looks absolutely splendid. This is a big expensive franchise that takes us all around the world and gives us some great locations. Thanks to Dolby Vision and HDR, the vast number of colors and textures will make your eyes pop. A perfect example is when Dom shows up at a race in Brazil, where he meets Dante for the first time. All the pretty cars, lights and people take full advantage of what Dolby Vision has to offer. Of course, for audio, the Dolby Atmos track is no slouch either. If there is one thing this franchise takes seriously, is its’ sound design (probably one of the only things it takes seriously). A lot of guns, engines and explosions. Plus, of course the always consistent soundtrack. Vin Diesel’s voice alone demands Atmos. While this series has its’ ups and downs, there is no denying the presentation rocks, even if the film doesn’t. Three out of five stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Blu-ray Review: “Kandahar”

 There’s a method to the madness that makes a great chase movie. In the strictest sense, it’s “Get characters from Point A to Point B” and have them avoid the deadly obstacles in between. It’s that gray area of “obstacles” that can muddy the waters a bit. Sometimes there doesn’t even need to be a Point B so long as our heroes are moving and out-maneuvering the villain. The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Mad Max: Fury Road, Apocalypto, Duel, the list of great chase movies is a long one, but even longer is the list of mediocre-to-bad chase movies where the setup is there, but the middle guts never quite come together. Sadlym Gerard Butler and Ric Roman Waugh’s latest adventure Kandahar falls in that latter category. Although I admit the film does have its intense moments.

 

International man of mystery Tom Harris (Leonidas) just completed a mission posing as a Swiss telecom company wiring in new high-speed internet lines to Iran. His target was to implant a bug into the wiring so the CIA could permanently disrupt a nearby nuclear facility’s capacity to enrich uranium. Mission complete, he’s ready to tackle one more mission and go home, but thanks to a mole in the CIA, reporter Luna Cujai (Nina Toussaint-White) has obtained sensitive documents about the mission. When those details are broadcast across the globe on every major news network, Tom’s cover is blown. In less than forty hours, Tom and his interpreter ‘Mo’ (Navid Negahban) must travel 400 miles to a rescue flight that will be on the ground for less than a minute with every mercenary and assassin hot on their heels.

 

With Kandahar, I actually ran into two hang-ups. Hang-up one for Kandahar hits early and that has more to do with poor timing. This film is nuts and bolts nearly the same flick as Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant,  which I conveniently saw just a couple of days before viewing this film. “Soldier X partners with interpreter to get across country under fire – GO!” Kandahar is “Spy X partners with interpreter to get across country under fire – GO!” So familiarity with another film is hangup number one.

 

Hang-up number two for me is this film just doesn’t do anything interesting with its time. I hadn’t seen the trailer before going in so I was as cold as could be, but as soon as Gerard Butler’s Tom Harris is revealed (which is pretty much right away), I knew exactly where it was going to go. You could practically have Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman play-call the pregame and this screenplay by Mitchel Lafortune wouldn’t deviate a beat.

 

Through the heaps of familiar plot points, character setups, and action set pieces, I did think the film was entertaining, just not amazing. As I said, Kandahar isn’t going to win points for originality, but I admit I was interested, invested, and ultimately entertained with the venture. The interplay between Butler and Negahban is the biggest strong point of the film and helped it salvage any sense of urgency. I’ll say The Covenant did a better job with the concept, but if you’re aiming for some easy entertainment this should hold your attention. Just don’t expect to remember much when it’s all over.

 

As far as middling predictable action movies go, Kandahar isn’t the worst or best but still pretty good. I mean, if you want a better version of practically the same story, check out The Covenant. I was hoping this would have been better given Butler’s more recent action output, but this is perfectly serviceable if unmemorable entertainment. On Blu-ray, the film scores a respectable A/V presentation with a nice sharp and clear picture and an engaging audio mix. Bonus features simply don’t even exist. Not a terrible movie by any stretch, but this one didn’t hook me like Plane or other recent Butler outings. Three out of five stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Blu-ray Review: “Knights of the Zodiac”

Live-action adaptations of animated films and series have succeeded in Japan, but few have overcome the transition to Hollywood. For every Alita Battle Angel there is Ghost in the Shell, Dragon Ball Evolution, and Death Note. The cultural barrier aside, there has never been the right balance between ambition and execution. Sony’s Knights of the Zodiac is a valiant attempt to bring the Saint Seiya animation to life with a modest budget and recognizable actors just below the A-list. The result is a visually impressive movie with some franchise potential that ends up being squandered by a bland screenplay that barely scratches the surface of the vast mythology from the long-running Saint Seiya manga and animation series.

While the original manga consisted of 28 volumes published over four years, the Saint Seiya animated franchise is comprised of 315 episodes across seven series along with six feature films released from 1986 through 2022. Knights of the Zodiac is the first live-action take on the series in any language which means this film is highly anticipated internationally. Filmed entirely in English with an international cast from across the globe, Knights of the Zodiac streamlines the vast storylines from the animated and manga into an origin story that attempts to simplify the concept into a digestible scale. In Knights of the Zodiac, Seiya is played by Mackenyu (the son of the legendary Sonny Chiba). Seiya makes ends meet as a low level fighter for Cassios (Nick Stahl) when he is pulled away by Alman Kiddo (Sean Bean), a scientist who explains about the impending reincarnation of the goddess Athena. Currently dormant in the body of Sienna (Madison Iseman), Athena must be protected by powerful knights and Kiddo belieces Seiya is the Pegasus Knight. Kiddo needs Seiya to protect Sienna from the evil Guraad (Famke Janssen) who wants her dead. Reluctantly, Seiya agrees and begins to unlock his gifts and abilities.

Within minutes, Knights of the Zodiac defines its tone with tedious dialogue that does not match the abilities or presence of the actors delivering it. In their first sequence together, Nich Stahl and Mackenyu give steely-eyed stares at each other and engage in a solid fight sequence choreographed by Andy Cheng. Cheng gives the numerous fight scenes a balance of ethereal power reminiscent of wuxia movies along with the expected tracers, shadows, and glowing energy from animated fare. The combination makes for action that varies from living cartoon to cartoonish and silly. When Knights of the Zodiac is heavy in martial arts and battles, it looks great. When it slows down to a crawl with exposition-heavy moments, the film drags and cannot overcome the weakness of the dialogue. With references to Greek dieties and the film’s silly name for powers (“Cosmos”), Knights of the Zodiac cannot quite reach the suspension of disbelief we offer Marvel and DC adaptations.

Of the cast, everyone is bought into the silliness of the material, but some carry it better than others. Mackenyu makes for a decent leading man, but his line delivery is often wooden and dull. Similarly, Madison Iseman makes for a more energetic performance as Sienna/Athena, but she is mired in scenes of her sitting around convulsing or wearing one of multiple over-the-top wigs. Nick Stahl does his best as a secondary villain with wasted screen time while Diego Tinoco is meant to be the primary antagonist but his delivery is often laughable. Of the veteran performers, Sean Bean has the least to do and is included more for exposition than anything. Mark Dacascos is underused as well but his placement hints at more should sequels get made. Caitlin Hutson delivers a solid, masked performance as Marin the Eagle Knight. Famke Janssen (whom I personally have a slight crush on) is the best aspect of this adaptation as Guraad, the villain and one of the sole characters of the cast to get a complete arc through the movie.

Director Tomek Baginski, whose credits are primarily on animated shorts and video game intros, does his best with what he is given, but much of this film looks like a cutscene from any number of Playstation video games. The green screen is obvious through the entire final act which is supposed to be the set-piece this movie is built around. While the training scenes and dream sequences benefit from the special effect work, the finale is mired in so many computer generated effects that it undermines the action itself. The cinematography by Tomasz Naumiuk replicates the slow motion and sharp angles of anime films but falls prey to overuse as the film plods through its two hour run time. Even the music by Yoshihiro Ike, which at times is quite stirring, feels out of place and drowns out some dialogue and ruins the rhythym. There is so much set up in this film that is designed to support further sequels that they didn’t manage to give this movie a heart of its own.

Knights of the Zodiac ultimately does not leverage the vast potential of the Saint Seiya source material despite a willing cast and a serviceable budget. While the actions sequences are well choreographed and special effects start out strong, the movie fails to capture enough energy or charisma from the main characters. When your villain has more presence than your hero, your story is in trouble. Had this movie invested in being an animated epic come to life, like the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, it may have worked. Otherwise, it should have gone as gritty as Robert Rodriguez did with Alita Battle Angel. As it stands, Knights of the Zodiac looks and feels like a compromise designed to kickstart a franchise that seems unlikely to happen.

Finally let’s discuss the video performance, which is very good. Blu Ray picture is bright and sharp. There are plenty of visual effects to show off the strength of Blu Ray. Sound is amazing as the disc encompasses at Dolby 5.1 mix with plenty of LFE (subwoofer) activity. I’d be interested in checking out a 4K copy (not really sure if it really exists). In short, Knights of the Zodiac will give your system a great workout. 

Blu-ray Review: “The Pope’s Exorcist”

Starring Russel Crowe, “The Pope’s Exorcist” casts out tone and horror surprises. Instead of jump scares and body distortion, this film relies on psychological horror keeping things grounded rather than providing action beats every few minutes. The result is something special with a fantastic performance from Crowe. This 1080p HD transfer looks stunning in the darkness and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mis sounds even better. So, wait until night and turn off all the lights because this horror film is a stunner. 

The number of demonic possession films is staggering these days. Ever since “The Exorcist” was released in theaters in 1973, many filmmakers have tried to capitalize on both the financial and critical success it conjured up fifty years ago. Some have stood the test of time and others haven’t. One thing is for sure though, the recent possession movies were more related to showcasing jump scares and strange body movements for cheap audience reactions. While some of those work, most are immediately forgotten with a laugh and an eye roll. This is not the case with “The Pope’s Exorcist,” which takes its cues from the original “Exorcist” film in terms of its tone and grounded character work. Like “The Exorcist,” this particular movie draws from real experiences, particularly a real-life Catholic priest named Father Gabriele Amorth who was the Chief Exorcist of the Vatican. Russell Crowe plays the role of Amorth with such class and vigor during those climactic moments that it proves that Crowe has not lost one step in his perfected craft over the years. This priest is a charismatic man who must save a young boy who is possessed and is being hidden from the church to prevent mass hysteria. Again,  “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t mess about with a possessed person climbing the walls like an insect or contorting their bodies into unnatural positions. This focuses more on the back and forth between the human and the demon, while each sits down and verbally fights trying to outsmart the other. Being a demon though, allows for certain hidden truths to appear within Amorth and the boy’s family, which ultimately try and tear a banded team of God from completing the exorcism – something that was shown in the original Exorcist. These scenes are terrifyingly brutal and breathtaking all at the same time. For horror fans though,  “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a breath of fresh air where jump scares and those usual suspected elements don’t creep up to bring the film to a downgraded action romp. This is character driven with some elements of horror to keep things on pace. Crowe is delightful and the psychological horror of his relationship to this demon and to the church is poignant and relates to how the church might act today if something of this caliber were to go down. It’s a horrifying story, one that is true that the filmmakers kept their class telling it correctly without all the hoopla of a modern-day action horror flick. It’s grounded and scary and should satisfy those horror buffs out there. 

In closing, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a surprisingly great and  grounded horror film which relies on character development and the psychological horror of the narrative rather than jump scares. The 1080p HD image looks great in its low light filters and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio sounds amazing

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