Blu-ray Review “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Actors: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Run Time: 136 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Is there simply any stopping Marvel at this point? “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the latest film in the Cinematic Universe that Marvel is building, all so well! The film is really well done. It follows the events of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and of course “The Avengers”. There are tons of Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. It is well-paced and takes a very important stand in Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris Evans is great as always. Scarlett Johansson gets some more screen time and a chance to chat as Black Widow…but when is that solo movie going to be announced. I have to say I think that Anthony Mackie steals the show as Falcon for sure. I wanted more of him. Sebastian Stan, played the Winter Soldier, signed a nine picture deal with Marvel/Disney, so are going to be seeing a lot more of him. Can’t wait to see how this all comes together now in “The Avengers 2”.

Official Premise: From the Studio that brought you the greatest Super Hero movie of all time, “Marvel’s The Avengers”, comes “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, the global phenomenon that teams Captain America (Chris Evans) with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), in a fight for the future of mankind. Following the cataclysmic events in New York with the Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the entire world at risk. As the conspiracy deepens and it’s no longer clear whom to trust, Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon must join forces to overthrow their insidious enemy’s most mysterious and powerful weapon yet – the Winter Soldier.

Disney/Marvel Studios deliver easily one of the best Blu-rays this year. The 1080p transfer is absolutely perfect and just visually amazing. I was disappointed not seeing it in 3D but in 2D it was just so impressive still. Same goes for the very epic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, which delivers an amazing experience. The film is very action packed and this works extremely well. Special features are good but not outstanding. There is a audio commentary track with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, which is very extensive. “On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America’s Battlegrounds” takes a look into the production. “On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check!” focuses on Falcon. Steve Rogers’ Notebook looks into the film’s differences in various international versions of the film. Lastly there are a few deleted, extended scenes and gag reel included.

Film Review “Captain America: the Winter Soldier”

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 16 mins
Walt Disney Pictures

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars


Fresh from his adventures in New York with his Avengers buddies, Steve Rogers (Evans) is still trying to adjust to his life in the 21st Century. Each day he refers to a notebook he keeps, where he writes down new information to research. A couple entries: NIRVANA (Band?) and ROCKY (Rocky 2). While jogging along the tidal pool in Washington D.C. he meets fellow soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who gives him another name to put in his notebook, telling him that listening to his “Trouble Man” album will give him all the answers he needs. The artist: the great Marvin Gaye.

It’s almost an understatement to say that, since his revealing to the world, the nation has fallen in love with Captain America. In fact, there is an exhibit detailing his life (so far) in the Smithsonian. Sometimes, when he’s feeling low, Steve visits the exhibit incognito, taking in the sights. And, each time, he finds himself thinking about his friend Bucky Barnes, who gave his life so many years ago. Right?

As exciting as the first film, with wall to wall action from start to finish, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is another perfect piece in what is becoming the most profitable super-hero puzzle of all time. Long time television directors Anthony and Joe Russo (yes, they’re brothers) have crafted an exciting tale that perfectly encompasses not only the adventure that is happing on screen but helping to foreshadow what will probably be the highest grossing film of 2015: “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I’m hedging my bets and saying probably because that is the same year that “Star Wars: Episode VII” is due. I wonder if I can buy a movie theatre between now and then.

This adventure finds Cap and friends taking on a new Russian villain known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Cap is a little taken aback because his new adversary bears a strong resemblance to someone from his past. Led by Nick Fury (Jackson) and assisted by Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and his new friend Sam, Cap soon finds himself battling a member of his own government, the slick and weasely Alexander Pierce (a well cast Robert Redford) as well as the evil group known as HYDRA.

The filmmakers do an incredible job of keeping the action front and center and I dare say there isn’t a boring minute in the films two hour plus run time. The visual effects are outstanding and comic book fans will enjoy the various hints dropped for future films, including a very quick Doc Strange reference! A great addition to the Marvel heroes family, “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” is another testament to the powers that be at Marvel Studios that anything worth doing is worth doing well!

John Hyams talks about directing "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning"

John Hyams is the writer and director of “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, officially the fourth film in the series. John breathed new life into this franchise with “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” also reuniting Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with John about this franchise and the latest film.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us where “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” fits in the franchise?
John Hyams: When I first became involved with the Universal Soldier franchise in 2009 (with Regeneration) the idea was to focus on the broad mythological themes while ignoring specific storylines from the previous films. Although it was an action movie, I immediately responded to the Frankenstein myth elements, which kept one foot firmly planted in the sci-fi and horror genres. I felt that a movie made 20 years after its predecessors should be a stand alone film, while at the same time pay respect to the mythology of the first movie. With Day of Reckoning, the idea was to embrace the very same challenge – to make a movie that picked up where Regeneration left off, from a mythological standpoint, but could also stand alone as a unique interpretation of the material. This time we focused more on the psychological horror elements. We aimed to create a subjective, often hallucinatory experience, punctuated by moments of explosive action and violence. So, to me it fits right next to Regeneration, where they both can stand together or alone.

MG: Tell us about working with and also reuniting Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme?
JH: Regeneration served as a more formal reuniting of Dolph and Jean-Claude, since that movie pitted the two against each other, and allowed for a dramatic showdown more reminiscent of the scenario from the first movie. This time, their characters served a different function – as obstacles standing in between our protagonist, played by Scott Adkins, and his goals. As for working with them, I know them better this time around and we have a comfortable working relationship. I like them both as people and collaborators, but they’re very different from each other and present unique challenges. Jean Claude is emotional and leads with his heart, whereas Dolph is more analytical, and thinks in more technical terms. We all had a good time working on this one.

MG: What made take on the role of writer, as well, this time around?
JH: It’s always better to be involved with a story from the ground up. By coming up with the story and writing the script I could take part in the evolution of the mythology, and take it into directions I’d like to see it go. Ultimately, it leads to a much more interesting, challenging experience.

MG: After four films in the franchise, tell us about turning the hero Luc Deveraux into the villain?
JH: Regeneration ended with Luc Deveraux escaping. Day of Reckoning answers the question of what happened to him after he escaped. In order to facilitate this story, it was necessary that we introduce a new protagonist, whose journey was to find Luc Deveraux and, in this case, attempt to kill him. Therefore, Luc is the antagonist of the story… however, whether or not he is actually the villain is the central idea the film seeks to explore.

MG: Tell us about the decision to shoot “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” in 3D and was it a challenge?
JH: It wasn’t my decision to shoot in 3D, the producers sold it that way oversees, so it was part of the deal. 3D is a huge challenge because, quite simply, it costs more money and takes longer. So, on a budget as low as ours, it leaves you with less shooting days and less hours each day to work with. Therefore, the fact that it was going to be shot in 3D directly affected the content of the story. In essence, the decision to focus on subjective, horror thriller elements instead of large scale spectacle was informed by our budgetary constraints, due in large part to working in 3D. From an aesthetic standpoint, we used 3D to create an immersive environment. Since the perspective of the movie is very subjective, we felt that 3D could help enhance that feeling of being in the room with the characters while they interact. Conversely, we avoided the ‘comin-at-ya’ gimmickry often associated with 3D. The goal was to make the film work just as well in 2D as 3D.

MG: How did the productions differ from “Regeneration” To “Day of Reckoning”?
JH: Regeneration was shot in 2D, had a bigger budget and was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, whereas Day of Reckoning was shot in the US. Therefore, Regeneration had a shooting schedule of almost 47 days, vs Day of Reckoning, which was shot in 29. So, Regeneration was larger in scope, involved more group battles, and was more of a straight action movie. Day of Reckoning, because of it’s schedule, became a much more intimate movie, though in some ways I think we achieved some even better action this time around.

MG: With 2012 being 20 years from the first film, how do you feel this franchise has evolved?
JH: I feel like the first Universal Soldier film was a product of its time, when movies like Terminator and Robocop had inspired an interest in bio-mechanical ideas. That coupled with the tongue in cheek nature of action movies from the 80s and early 90s, led to an aesthetic that was very much of its time. It did not take itself too seriously, and, in fact, embraced the comedic aspects of the story. For Regeneration and Day of Reckoning I took my cues from films like Alien, Sorcerer, The Terminator, as well as films by John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, among others, to create an aesthetic that took the mythology seriously, and tried to create a believable aesthetic. That idea led to the dark, serious tone that ended up dominating the proceedings.

MG: How was it getting to bring this series back to theaters after going DTV?
JH: I feel a sense of accomplishment that we took a franchise that had long been forgotten and reintroduced it in a way that created renewed interest. From the discussions I’ve had with people, whether during interviews, film festivals or on Facebook, there seems to be an appreciative audience out there that Is pleased with the direction we’ve taken things.

MG: Now that you have life back to “Universal Soldier”, do you see yourself continuing with this franchise?
JH: I have been developing a concept with the producers that we imagine as a larger scale production. If we are able to raise the budget necessary to execute these ideas, than I’d be interested.

MG: Can’t wait to see what you have planned next, any ideas?
JH: In addition to Universal Soldier, I’m developing a potential action franchise with a renowned sci-fi writer, as well as finishing an original screenplay of my own. Other than that, reading scripts and meeting with producers. Truth be told, I’m itching to get back in the trenches. When I’m not making a movie I feel like Captain Willard — drunk, naked and bleeding in a Saigon hotel room, just waiting for a mission.

Blu-ray Review "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning"

Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Dolph Lundgren
Directors: John Hyams
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Run Time: 113 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
EXtras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

First I would like to thank director John Hyams for breathing life back into the “Universal Soldier” franchise with “Regeneration”, which was a fun action packed ride. “Day of Reckoning” packs a nice punch as well but really focuses more in the horror/thriller genre (at least for the first 45 minutes). This installment brings back Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren but in very minor and rather useless roles, yet they are the focus on the box art – which is very misconceiving. The star and main focus of the film is Scott Adkins, who don’t get me wrong kicks some major ass but it really doesn’t feel like a “Universal Soldier” installment. Fans of the franchise should still check it out though (in 3D if possible) but don’t expect an action packed entry.

Official Synopsis: John (Scott Adkins) wakes up from a coma to discover his wife and daughter were slaughtered in a brutal home invasion. Haunted by images of the attack, he vows to kill the man responsible, Luc Deveraux (Jean Claude Van Damme). While John tries to piece his reality back together, things get more complicated when he is pursued by a relentless UniSol (Arlovski). As John gets closer to Deveraux and the rogue army of genetically enhanced warriors led by back-from-the-dead leader Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), John discovers more about himself and begins to call into question everything he believed to be true.

The story itself starts off really interesting with a quite haunting opening scene but where a normal film would then explain the plot, this drags a bit and never really regains focus. I originally had the privilege of watching this film in 3D and it really is the way to watch this film, without it you lose a lot of the added depth especially in the first half of the film. The 2D version still is decent but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. Unfortunately, there is no 3D US Blu-ray release planned by Sony. I watched it via VOD on DirecTV, so if you can catch it there, I would! Also there is an NC-17 cut of the film, which is also not on this Blu-ray release.  I am not sure why Sony missed the mark on both of these great aspects of the film, it would have made this quite more desirable to purchase. I would just put this Blu-ray now as a renter.

The release looks sharp with its 1080p transfer and watch out for the strobe light scenes (which look better in 3D, sorry I will stop now). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really comes in great for the second half of the film, where the action is amped up. The special features are not jam-packed but overall decent. There is a nice audio commentary track from the director John Hyams and Dolph Lundgren. Besides the commentary, there are also three behind-the-scenes featurettes. The first is called “Coming Into Focus”, which takes a look at the production, it’s challenges and the films characters. “There Is No End” is a look at the tools used to create the final scene. Lastly “Production Wrap” is an in-depth look on the last days on set with cast/crew.

Blu-ray Review “John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Directed by: John Irvin
Starring: Alec Guinness, Michael Jayston, Anthony Bate, George Sewell, Bernard Hepton
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Distributed by: Acorn Media
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Running Time: 324 minutes

Mini-Series: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I was not a fan of 2011’s remake of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” at all and thought it was completely confusing and boring. The original 1979 mini-series on the other hand is a lot more entertaining and stars the wonderful Alec Guinness (“Star Wars”) in the lead role. I think it was the fact that this complex and in-depth story was spread out over 5+ hours instead of being crammed into a 2+ hour movie. There is just something that is so classy about the PBS aired British series. In this American re-cut “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, the series is spread out over six episodes.

The mini-series reveals that a mole has infiltrated the Circus, code name for the British Secret Intelligence Service. Agent George Smiley (Guinness) gets the job of find out who can be the mole and finds that it can only be one of four men who sit at the very highest level. Throughout this task of digging through the world of Cold War-era espionage and also his own past. Alec Guinness really nails the heart of John le Carré’s character and gives a new view to the definition of a spy.

This new HD transfer comes packed with sharp and bright 1080p transfer. The audio overall is decent but only boasts a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Overall this Blu-ray release is not the best restoration ever but if you are a fan of the series, it is worth checking out and it definitely expands on the issues that the past DVD releases have had.

The special features are impressive including some new extras for this release. There is a very interesting exclusive interview with John le Carré, author of the book, who talks about the mini-series and his book. There is an all-new interview with Director John Irvin talking about the production and its cast. There are eleven of deleted scenes that were a part of the original series, which was cut down from seven episodes to six. It is also exclusive to this Blu-ray release. The production notes are included in text format and gives some interesting information about the series. There is a glossary of main characters and terms, which comes in very handy with this film, I would recommend printed them off the internet and keeping on you while watch. Lastly there are cast filmographies and John le Carré biography included.

Blu-ray Review “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong
Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Ciarán Hinds, Simon McBurney
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: March 20, 2012
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 127 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

I do not think I have been as confused during a movie as I was with “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.  I even found myself rewinding back to try and figure it out.  I know the film was a spy picture with a lot of surprises but this was a little too much for me.  It was not the worst movie I saw last year though, it packed some really fantastic performances.  Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt really brought their A-game and really transformed into their characters.

This is the second film from director Tomas Alfredson, who previously directed the original Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In”.  The film is a takes place in 1973 London during the height of the Cold War.  It is also based on the best selling novel by John le Carre. It focuses on an attempt to capture a Russian mole inside Britain’s MI6 organization. It goes wrong and it is up to Smiley (Oldman) to get to the bottom of it.  But who can be trusted?

The Blu-ray itself though is very impressive posting an really clear and sharp 1080p transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also impressive especially during the films action scenes.  This release besides the Blu-ray disc, also comes packaged with a DVD of the film and an Ultraviolet digital copy.  The Blu-ray also takes advantage of the following cool features: pocketBLU app and BD Live.

The special features are worth checking out despite enjoying the film or not.  It is packed with great interviews from actors Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy, irector Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter Peter Straughan.  Each interview runs about 7-8 minutes give or take.  There are five deleted scenes, short and totally about 6 minutes.  There are also four short featurettes, including “Smiley”, “Inside the Circus”, “Shadow World” and “John Le Carre”.  Lastly there is also a photo gallery and teaser and full trailers included.

Film Review “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Starring: Gary Oldman, John Hurt and Colin Firth
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Focus Features

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

1973. During the height of the Cold War, an attempt to capture a Russian mole inside Britain’s MI6 organization. When the operation goes horribly wrong, the head of MI6, known as “C” (Hurt) announces his retirement. “What about Smiley,” he’s asked. “Smiley is leaving with me,” is the reply.

Based on the best selling novel by John le Carre’, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a very faithful adaptation of the story. Filmed previously as a seven part mini-series that starred the great Alec Guiness as Smiley, the new version gives Oldman, one of film’s greatest chameleons, a rare starring role. And he certainly makes the most of it. Oldman has played a variety of characters from a rasta-style pimp to Lee Harvey Oswald and he has always managed to get inside the character and make them believable. The same here with George Smiley. His face almost hidden by oversized glasses, Smiley is the anti-James Bond. He is quiet and intellectual in his pursuits. The action here is spare. This is a thriller that you have to pay attention to. You will be rewarded for your efforts.

Director Alfredson, who created the original horror hit “Let the Right One In” proves that he doesn’t need vampires and blood to keep the audience on the edge of its seats. He keeps the story flowing smoothly, aided in part by an incredible supporting cast. Hurt. Firth. Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds. Every actor down to the smallest part has been properly cast. Special mention is due Mark Strong, who resembles a cross between fellow actors Stanley Tucci and Elias Koteas .

New Poster and Trailer for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Based on the classic novel of the same name, the international thriller is set at the height of the Cold War years of the mid-20th Century. George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a disgraced British spy, is rehired in secret by his government – which fears that the British Secret Intelligence Service, a.k.a. MI-6, has been compromised by a double agent working for the Soviets. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy opens on December 9th.

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