Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Jumanji: The Next Level Blu-ray Review

After the huge success of the previous Jumanji movie we all knew the gang would be back for the inevitable sequel and here we are. Jumanji: The Next Level is a by-the-numbers sequel that checks off all the boxes for a holiday blockbuster title; one that would dare compete with the Star Wars finale a week later. Somehow I never found the time to see this in theaters – probably because Star Wars kicked it out of my IMAX before I had the chance – so I was super-excited to check this out at home on my recently upgraded home theater setup. Sadly, I only got a Blu-ray copy for review which is what I will cover and score in this review, but I did get the IMAX-Enhanced UHD on my own just to make some comparisons.

Straight up, Jumanji: The Next Level isn’t as good as the original. The sequel seems more concerned with visual spectacle and wild special effects than quality storytelling. Admittedly, the creators try to mix things up by doing the old body-swap trick…multiple times…before realizing their folly and resetting the cast back to “normal”. Part of the travesty lies in adding two new characters, Milo (Danny Glover) and Eddie (Danny DeVito). I love these two actors and the parts they played in the real-world were just fine, but when everyone starts getting sucked back into the game (which is now all busted up and barely working) certain changes take place. Martha (Karen Gillan) is the only one who retains her original avatar of Ruby Roundhouse. Eddie is now Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) while Milo becomes Mouse (Kevin Hart). Fridge is now Professor Oberon (Jack Black) and Spencer, who goes into the game ahead of everyone else, becomes a new cat burglar character, Ming (Awkwafina). Bethany gets left behind initially, but after seeking out Seaplane (Nick Jonas) manages to get sucked into the game as a horse. If that sounds confusing just wait until the group finds magical green waters that allow them to swap characters within the game.

My main complaint with the movie is the performances, mostly from Johnson and Hart. In the original movie everyone just played their natural selves but now we have Johnson doing an incredibly lame impersonation of DeVito and Hart doing a slightly better (but still bad) impersonation of Glover. There are minor moments of amusement but for most of the movie these characters are exaggerated caricatures of themselves that simply distract and annoy. At least Jack Black was able to pull off an angry young black man. Having two new people (old people) enter Jumanji then constantly explaining and re-explaining the concept of being “inside a game” was as annoying as putting VR goggles on your grandpa and trying to make them good at a game without crashing into the furniture.

The story didn’t flow nearly as well as the first film. Once again we have a stolen gem that needs to be rescued from the evil Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) who is just as impressive as he was in Game of Thrones, towering over the Rock by at least two feet. The quest for the gem meanders across a self-revealing map of various climate changes and two action-packed set pieces; one with a herd of stampeding ostriches and another with our heroes getting chased across a massive array of rope bridges while being chased by vicious Mandrill monkeys. I got the distinct impression that the creators had these two epic scenes in mind from the beginning then just tried to fill in around them to create a movie and reach the big boss fight at the end.

Plot aside, I’m here mostly for the technical aspects of these home video reviews and unfortunately the Blu-ray edition did not impress me even before I re-watched the UHD version. I don’t want to come off as a UHD-snob but with the exception of my weekly network TV viewing nearly everything I watch is sourced at 4K/UHD whether on Netflix or Disney+ and when you throw HDR into the mix I instantly know when something is off. When HDR mode kicks in I have to shield my eyes from the glow coming off my 85” Sony, so when I fired up Jumanji: The Next Level on normal Blu-ray the picture was rather dull and lifeless. Sure, my Sony 4K player and my TV were doing an admirable job upconverting the 1080p image to 4K but scenes that should have been blinding, like in the desert, weren’t and there was just an overall softness to the live-action scenes that contrasted the ultra-sharp CG-only scenes. Colors were natural and black levels were decent during the nighttime scenes. Compared to the UHD version where the 2160p resolution means better detail in both characters and backgrounds as well as colors that leap off the screen and HDR that greatly enhances those same nighttime scenes without crushing the blacks…well, there is no comparison. The 4K version is clearly the better movie.

The audio mix is also lacking, and with no Atmos support we only get a DTS-HD 5.1 MA mix on the Blu-ray while the UHD version at least gets a DTS: X to capture the overhead effects. The sound mix is rather dull and lifeless compared to other action movies releasing at this time. There is good prioritization of the dialogue and some quality LFE moments (mostly the tribal drums), but you don’t realize how flat the mix is until you hear the DTS: X on the UHD version and things really open up. It’s like “shaking the water out of your ears” different.

Don’t be fooled by the surprising amount of extras on this disc; most are short and disposable. The 5-minute Gag Reel offers up a few chuckles and the 5-minute Body Swapping: Snapping into Character details the new characters and the old characters playing new characters. The 4-minute Back Together: Reuniting the Cast talks with the cast about how they knew all along there would be a sequel and their excitement to return to Jumanji. Level Up: Making Jumanji: The Next Level is the first substantial feature that covers numerous facets of making the sequel while Creating the Scene are two short features on the digital and physical creations of the Ostrich Chase and Mandrill Bridge. Rhys Darby Wants to Jingle is a disposable bit that ultimately ends with a lame music video. Awkwafina Cat Burglar gives the actress less than two minutes to discuss her new character in the film while NPC Confessions: Jurgen the Brutal gives the hulking actor three minutes to discuss his part as the new villain. Next up are three one-minute snippets; Grow Up, Telenovela, and Trick or Treat. Last up is more coverage on the Ostrich Chase and Mandrill Bridge scenes; this time using side-by-side comparison of CG previz and the final production; one of the better bonus features of the batch. There are some Sony previews and a digital Movies Anywhere code also tossed in to top things off.

Jumanji: The Next Level falls short of what I expected after such an amazing predecessor. In their attempt to change the formula enough to make it fresh they ultimately spoiled a lot of the charm and storytelling that captured us the first time. Watching Dwayne and Kevin’s lame impersonations of the two Danny’s was distractingly annoying, and I only truly enjoyed myself during the final act when everyone was back in their original avatars. Still, the flick is a fun ride although severally limited in its Blu-ray form. With good, but not good enough visuals and an uninspired sound mix you will certainly want to step up to the UHD version for the best home viewing experience.

Bombshell Blu-ray Review

I despise Fox News. They are the closest thing to state-run media since Pravda, so when I heard about the #metoo scandal over at Fox being turned into a movie I was admittedly excited and expecting a full-on Hollywood hit piece. Bombshell is anything but. Part bio and part docudrama, the film is a surprisingly blend of facts and creative license, focusing on two well-known Fox personalities, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron). The fictional third character, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) was created to represent a collage of all the other female staffers at Fox who share similar stories of harassment. The end result was something unexpectedly entertaining and totally captivating from start to finish with well-balanced storytelling sprinkled with dashes of humor, interesting fourth-wall breaks that turned the drama into a brief documentary, and some truly amazing performances by the entire cast – even the secondary characters were fun to watch.

Bombshell makes great use of actual events to tie their story into reality, either by showing actual news clips from the time or recreating specific events like the 2016 Presidential debate where Megyn called out Trump on his abusive disrespect of women on national TV. And while much of the runtime seems focused on Megyn Kelly there is a nice balance taking place between the three women and their stories. Gretchen Carlson is the host who first gets demoted and eventually fired, spurring her to seek out legal counsel and sue Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment. Her assistant, Kayla, an innocent Florida weather girl, has just accepted a promotion with Bill O’Reilly’s staff and is about to discover how things really work at Fox News, especially after a disturbing encounter behind closed doors in Ailes’ office.

The film hits all the infamously documented facts while taking just enough creative license to keep things entertaining while not diminished the terrible indignities these women suffered for decades. We see lots of behind-the-scenes moments, both at work and home for these women and their families depicting the pressure of working for a major news outlet, let alone one that mistreats and objectifies their female staff through short skirts, hair extensions, and transparent desks, not to mention unsolicited sexual expectations to “prove your loyalty” to the boss.

The casting and performances are phenomenal and it’s not surprising this movie won an award for make-up and hair. Theron becomes Kelly and is totally believable throughout with only two moments (a certain laugh and a certain smile) where a recognizable “Charlize” broke through. Lithgow’s transformation into Roger Ailes was nothing short of magical and Kidman was a convincing Carlson. Background players like Geraldo, Hannity and especially Jeanine Pirro also looked and played the part, but the film made good use of title cards for each significant character introduction just in case.

Admittedly, I was hoping that Bombshell would stoke the fires of my disdain for Fox News but at the end of the day (and the film) I realized this is happening everywhere where rich powerful men (and I suppose some women) can use their position of power to pressure their subordinates into unspeakable indignities. Thankfully, these women rose up to take on one of the most powerful men in broadcasting and brought him down. You think you might know the story behind these events from the carefully curated news clippings and reports, but Bombshell tells a much bigger story and entertains while it does it.

Bombshell is available on Blu-ray and DVD with a rather striking 1080p image. Seeing as how the movie was mastered in 2K it makes sense that no 4K/UHD version is being marketed, and considering the style and source of the material the resulting film is quite pleasing with great colors, textures and detail. There are plenty of close-ups on characters wearing pounds of make-up and prosthetics, but you could never tell from the photography. Speaking of, I really enjoyed the documentary-style handheld feel to the camera work where the view would rapidly shift from character to character or unexpectedly zoom in on a face or object on a desk. It really helps put the viewer in the movie in a convincing and sometimes uncomfortable voyeuristic way.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the audio presentation; not that this film offered any opportunities to shine. There was very little (if any) LFE, even in the soundtrack to drive my subwoofer and minimal use of the surround channels mostly to immerse you in the office scenes. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix just seems cheap and lazy when almost every other movie is outputting lossless audio.   The mix we do get manages to get the job done with clear and prioritized dialogue from the front and center. The soundtrack is catchy and there are a few instances of vocalization/chanting in the score that are quite haunting.

Bombshell has a single bonus feature, broken down into seven parts. No Easy Truths: The Making of Bombshell is a 94-minute documentary that is as long as the feature film and just as interesting for those who want to know more about the movie and how it was made. When it’s over you will know everything about the film from its origins, casting, makeup, hair, wardrobe, and more. The only thing missing would have been a feature commentary.

I had no interest in Bombshell when it arrived in theaters and even less interest for its inevitable home release, but when given the chance to review this now-award-winning film I decided to give it a shot and am totally glad I did. I quickly realized that what little I knew of these events was just a fraction of the story. Bombshell educates while it entertains and does so with some incredible performances from some talented actors and great production values from the director and everyone on his team. This is definitely a movie worth seeing.

Good Boys Blu-ray Review

Coming of age stories have been a popular genre for decades, even after they shifted into raunch-coms around the turn of the century with the American Pie saga. The concept keeps evolving as filmmakers push the limits of humor and good taste.   Superbad was immensely popular in 2007 and this year we get Good Boys; a film that lowers the bar as much as the ages of its stars. We started in college with films like Animal House then moved into high school with films like the ones just mentioned, but Good Boys takes us into middle school territory where much of the humor is based on the idea of “I can’t believe they just did/said that!” For some reason I guess it’s funnier when pre-teens swear like sailors and dabble with sex toys and porn, or at least it would have been if South Park hadn’t already cornered the market with 23 seasons of animated 8yr-olds do the same thing; perhaps even better.

Good Boys adds a few years to the South Park kids, with our trio of Beanbag Boys residing firmly in those awkward days of sixth grade where variable levels of maturity threaten to tear apart even the best of friends.   Max (Jacob Tremblay) has just got invited to a kissing party hosted by the cool kids; the perfect chance to proclaim his love for his first crush. Max and his friends, Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith Williams) all set out to help Max learn how to kiss. It’s a seemingly innocent setup for what turns out to be an apocalyptic series of events proving that raging hormones can easily overpower good decision making. Things go really bad when Max uses his dad’s new drone to spy on the girl next door kissing her boyfriend. The girls capture the drone and the boys end up stealing their bag, which has some Ecstasy inside. An exchange deal is setup but the drone gets destroyed and now the boys are forced to ride their bikes to the mall – well outside their permitted travel distance – to purchase a new one.   More hijinks ensue as the girls get there first, buy the last drone and use it to barter for their drugs, which the boys have already turned over to the cops.

The various comedic scenes are fairly by the numbers and even a bit boring at times. The one shining moment in the movie is when Max tries to buy more drugs at a nearby frat house and ends up shooting up the place with a paintball gun. There are some attempts at heartfelt moments that felt a bit awkward in the overall scheme of things, like when Max’s dad (Will Forte) catches his son about to masturbate to a character he just created on an online video game and proceeds to have “the talk” in a scene not unlike American Pie. Much of the humor relies solely on the kids dropping the f-bomb just as casually as adults, and some of the jokes are clearly based on visual gags like a sex doll, a satchel full of sex toys, and a fancy sex swing. Of course the hilarity in these moments is that the kids have no idea what these items are or their intended used, so when Max mistakes the sex doll for a CPR dummy and uses it for his first trial kiss the scene is almost adorable until he pulls back and removes a pubic hair from his mouth.  Gross! Just as funny is when they use a massive dildo to jam the doors of the convenience store to lock a cop inside.

I skipped this movie when it came out in theaters, secure in the knowledge that movies of this type always get an unrated version for home release, but Good Boys still retains its R rating, although there are some unrated extras like an alternate ending and some extended scenes, but even those pale against the accumulated works of South Park. I mean, this is an R-rated movie about adolescent sexual awakening with no nudity. Personally, I thought Sausage Party was edgier than this…and funnier.

The video quality on this Blu-ray release was fine, and nothing stood out as exceptional; just competent. After all, you probably aren’t watching this for its visual fidelity. There were no visible artifacts and contrast was sharp with great colors and lighting. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix was equally as proficient with some good use of spatial audio and a nice mix that prioritized dialogue front and center so you don’t miss a single naughty word.

Honestly, I enjoyed the extras for Good Boys more than the main feature; especially the feature commentary with director/co-writer, Gene Stupnitsky, and producer/co-writer, Lee Eisenberge. They had all sorts of humorous insights into the making of this movie, especially about keeping the kids in the dark about some of the more adult elements by telling them to “ask your parents”. It was also fun to learn that the kids were not allowed to swear once the director called “cut” – truly a separation of work and home life.

There is a nice assortment of features including nearly a dozen Unrated Deleted/Extended Scenes, a fun Gag Real and a look at the casting of the stars in Boys For Real. Welcome to Vancouver follows Jacob Tremblay around his home town as well as his actual school where they filmed. A Fine Line and Ask Your Parents talks about how the kids were able to deliver such colorful dialogue and play with adult toys while having no real knowledge of what they were saying or doing. Bad Girls introduces the female villains of the film, Molly Gordon and Midori Francis, and the challenges of being so mean to such adorable boys. Guest Stars showcases a few of the cameos you may have spotted during the movie. The bonus package wraps up with a DVD version of the film and a Movies Anywhere digital copy.

Good Boys isn’t as much a bad movie as it is an unnecessary one. I hate to keep coming back to it but South Park has pretty much explored every facet of the tawdry tween genre and there is nothing left to shock or surprise us no matter how young or seemingly innocent you want to make the stars. Yes, you are likely to laugh almost constantly during the film but they are unearned laughs targeting your discomfort for what you are seeing and hearing, which is admittedly a bit more shocking when it’s coming from non-animated characters being voiced by adults. If you’re in the market for cheap laughs and Good Boys is on sale for $10 it might be worth a purchase, but honestly, this was meant for streaming and really isn’t worth a space on your video shelf. 

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw Blu-ray Review

I’m not ashamed to admit that I did not like Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw when I saw it in the theater, but I always hold out that small bit of hope that movies I don’t like in theaters might be better when I watch them a few months later at home. Sadly, that was not the case with Hobbs & Shaw. Everything I disliked about the film the first time; tone, script, humor, was just as juvenile and distasteful at home; perhaps more so now that I didn’t have an audience telling me when I should be laughing.   To make matters worse, the commentary and much of the bonus footage kept focusing on the parts I didn’t like as “their favorite parts of the film”.

I realize humor is subjective and while I tolerated Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart adding their own styles of humor into this story I bounced hard off the incessant bickering and sophomoric exchanges between Statham and Johnson. Seeing two grown men going back and forth like 12-yr olds was exhausting, and not just once when they first met but even a second time onboard the plane where these exchanges go on for far too long. I expect better from stars of this caliber.   If you can manage to avoid, skip, or just tolerate these two problematic scenes the rest of Hobbs & Shaw is pretty enjoyable.

Reprising their roles from the past few Fast & Furious movies, Hobbs and Shaw must join forces and team up with Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) who has injected herself with a super-virus capable of destroying the planet, or worse, getting programmed to destroy part of the planet if Black Superman, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) gets his hands on the virus. We have the obligatory opening virus heist followed by a rather cool split-screen opening montage of Hobbs and Shaw waking up and starting their respective days, both leading up to spectacular fight scenes for each. Once our two heroes are united in London and finish up their first round of insults the real action starts as Brixton pursues Hobbs and Shaw while they try to protect Hattie and get the virus removed before it activates. It’s one major car chase, gun fight, enemy base infiltration, and Samoan family reunion all leading up to the big Fast & Furious finale that defies logic as much as your expectations.

Perhaps the best part of the movie is the villain, Brixton, a former associate of Shaw who was shot in the head and left for dead before his new employers enhanced him with all sorts of cool cybernetics and augmented reality, creating a villain powerful enough to face off against Hobbs and Shaw at the same time. The movie runs a bit long in places – removing those two extended arguments would make it just right – but otherwise the pacing is fairly nonstop with only minor moments of exposition before dropping you into the next spellbinding set piece. The chemistry is all over the place with non-stop hatred between Hobbs and Shaw until that scripted moment near the end where they become “best buds”. There are at least two moments of forced romantic tension between Hattie and Hobbs; once in a truck and once during a Samoan sunset and neither felt right.  I really enjoyed the final battle and the clever way they took guns out of the equation and made the fight more authentic to the Samoan people…at least until the movie spun off the rails for the finale with the helicopter and a string of specialty autos playing tug-of-war.

I typically don’t review non-4K movies but Blu-ray was what we got for this review and I have to say I was impressed with the quality. My 4K Sony player and 4K HDTV all worked to upgrade the image to 4K resolution even if I didn’t get any HDR enhancements. The picture was immaculate with razor-sharp details on both the wide shots and the extreme close-ups. Colors and skin tones were great and there were no artifacts, grain or noise. Contrast was sharp with solid blacks and some vibrant lighting for explosions and sunlit Samoan landscapes.

At least the Blu-ray edition comes with a Dolby Atmos track, so I was able to completely immerse myself in this powerful and explosive audio experience. Every speaker was working overtime with prioritized and positional audio, even from above, and the dialogue was perfectly balanced to the front and center channels and mixed so that you didn’t miss a word no matter how loud the sound effects and score got. This was truly a fantastic audio experience.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw comes loaded with extras kicking off with an Audio Commentary with Director David Leitch who covers every aspect of making this film in a comprehensive and entertaining track. Next up is an Alternate Opening that totally remixes the first ten minutes of the film to intercut Hobbs and Shaw’s opening montage with the virus heist. Both options were pretty cool but I could see how the more linear storytelling worked better for mass audiences. Then you have 34-minutes of Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes, before going into a breakdown of Johnson & Statham: Hobbs & Shaw detailing the actors’ relationship compared with their characters’. Progress of a Fight Scene with Director David Leitch takes a deep dive into physical and weapons-based combat while Practical Action explores fight choreography and how the actors prepared for the epic battles.

The Bad Guy gives us a brief look at the film’s super villain and how Idris Elba’s embodied the role. The Sister is a nice character profile on Hattie Shaw and how she relates to the story and other characters, and then we climb the Hobbs’ Family Tree where we learn the importance of family in the franchise. The Matriarch gives us a peek at Queenie’s cameo as Hobbs’s mamma while New Friends showcases Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart and their contributions to the film. Elevator Action goes into detail on one of the film’s major action set pieces then Stunt Show and Tell dives into a few of the film’s top action sequences and how they were made. Keeping it in the Family: A Conversation with Roman and Dwayne continues the theme of family when the actors discuss their relationship in and out of the WWE ring. Blind Fury is a nice tribute to Dwayne’s grandfather and finally, Dwayne and Hobbs: Love at First Bite is a short look at Dwayne’s actual dog that starred in the show and got to hang out on the set. There is also a DVD copy of the film as well as a Movies Anywhere digital code.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a bit hit and miss for me. Now that I have seen and reviewed it I can rewatch as often as a like and skip the parts I don’t like. I don’t mind arguing as long as the banter is witty, but the words coming out of these two major stars’ mouths were painful to hear. Thankfully the action, car chases, running down buildings, skydiving into a power plant, and epic Samoan battles saved the film from being a total loss. The presentation quality of this Blu-ray is astounding from the pristine picture to the immersive audio, and with plenty of extras to keep you entertained after the movie, this is definitely worth adding to your Fast & Furious collection.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle Blu-ray Review

I was a big fan of the original Charlies Angels TV series that aired from 1976-1981. I was the quintessential 12-17 year old hormonal teen at the time; their target audience and sucker for all the posters, fan mags, etc. and managed to stick with the show through the years as various Angels got replaced with new actresses, so it wasn’t a huge leap when Drew Barrymore teamed up with McG to reboot the franchise in 2000 and follow it up with a sequel in 2003. It is those two movies that have just been re-released; the original to a stunning 4K/UHD edition and the sequel to the Blu-ray I’m reviewing here.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is easily the superior movie between the two, which only begs the questions, “Where is the 4K release?” Clearly the only reason this edition even exists is to coincide with the 4K edition of the original film and to support the new reboot of Charlies Angels coming soon to theaters. There is even a 2-minute clip of the new movie in the bonus section, but they should have included some movie cash to get people into theaters because judging from this clip alone, Elizabeth Banks is about to destroy one of my favorite franchises.

McG is one of my favorite directors, and while I don’t go out actively searching for his stuff whenever I see his name pop-up on a TV show or movie it’s kind of like that seal of approval that you’re about to have a great time. McG got his start with commercials and music videos as you’ll clearly notice mere moments into this film. The entire movie is basically a montage of action, comedy, and a few dramatic moments, all about 10-15 minutes long, all with their own signature soundtrack, and all miraculously coming together to tell a cohesive story. One minute you’re in this Russian bar, the next you’re posing as CSI agents investigating a murder before heading to a California beach to go surfing, then you’re off to an underground motocross event or posing as nuns at the Playboy Mansion that’s posing as a convent/orphanage or maybe doing some surveillance as ship welders before slipping into something more comfortable to dance with the Pussycat Dolls. This is truly a compilation sketch movie for those with short or no attention spans and I love it.

Yes, there is an underlying backstory that shouldn’t need recapping after 16 years but basically somebody has stolen these two rings that when combined can unlock a list of everyone in witness protection. There are almost too many cameos and guest stars to count including an almost unrecognizable Bruce Willis, a stunning Demi Moore and perhaps an even more stunning Jaclyn Smith reprising her Kelly Garrett character. Bernie Mac tries to replace Bill Murray as Bosley and fails, and Crispin Glover returns as the still-creepy Thin Man who we learn much more about with some exposition from Carrie Fisher.   Of course the movie would be incomplete without our angelic trio; Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Alex (Lucy Liu), and Dylan (Drew Barrymore), all just as gorgeous and committed to their characters as before; perhaps more so, as they are clearly doing most of their own stunts to really sell the action.

Shot on 35mm, this would have been the perfect source material to scan into a 4K master. Just look at how awesome the original movie turned out on 4K. But even at a lowly 1080p Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle still shines with some super-sharp textures, minimal film grain, and some eye-popping colors. Colors are accurate, especially skin tones that are shown in extreme facial close-ups as well as gorgeous lighting for interior sets and outdoor environments. There are some fun camera shots including a cleverly edited “single-shot” at the beginning and plenty of McG’s famous whip-pans and flash-zooms. The film has never looked this good, which only had me thinking how much better it would be in UHD with HDR support.

There’s no Dolby Atmos or 7.1 mix here; just a fairly standard and competent DTS-HD MA 5.1 presentation that gets the job done, making the most with most of the speakers in my Atmos home theater. Without the side channels in play the surround transitions seemed rather abrupt going from front to back. The dialogue was perfectly mixed and balanced to front and center and was never overwhelmed by the sound effects or non-stop montage of licensed music. There were plenty of explosions and some thumping bass on the soundtrack to keep my subwoofer working overtime.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle goes crazy with the extras to the point where you will need to watch the movie at least three times to experience it all. Plus you get the theatrical cut and an unrated version, although I couldn’t see any differences. The first and likely biggest bonus feature as far as the studio is concerned is a two-minute clip from the new Charlie’s Angles movie coming to theaters November 15th. I was seriously not impressed with the cast or the overall theme and tone of the new film; at least from what I saw in the clip. Charlie’s Angles has always been about “girl power”, but this has “Get Woke Go Broke” written all over it.

There are four feature-length tracks tied to the theatrical cut; the first being McG’s Telestrator Commentary where you get to hear the director talk about the movie while marking up the screen like John Madden used to do during football games. If you don’t like the white markings you can simply opt for the standard McG’s Commentary – it’s the same audio track minus the markings. There is a lot of interesting information and stories in this track and McG manages to maintain a steady pace and flow to keep it entertaining. For something a bit more casual check out the Writers’ Commentary where John August, Cormac Wibberley, and Marianne Wibberley all discuss the movie, both as fans and as writers. The final feature track is Angel-Vision Trivia where all sorts of trivia pops-up on the screen while you watch the film.

There are a bunch of features that made it over from the original DVD release; nothing updated or enhanced and a lot of it not too pretty on a 4K display. Some pieces play in 4×3 like it was shot on VHS and most of it is interlaced so there are plenty of jagged edges and overall fuzziness to the image. Up first is Pussycat Dolls, a short look at the dance troupe and how the angels committed to their parts. Rolling with the Punches discusses the girls’ commitment to the action sequences and how their training for the first film carried over into the sequel. XXX-Treme Angels goes into detail on the Motocross sequence with several interviews with riders who appeared in the film, and Full Throttle: The Cars showcases McG’s love of cars and his commitment to including the classics as well as the very latest rides. Designing Angels: The Look goes into the nuances of cinematography and lighting to keep our girls looking angelic. There’s No Such Thing as a Short Shot, Only an Overworked Producer is a brief look at the challenges of scheduling and orchestrating a complex movie production. Angels Makeover: Hansen Dam shows how matte paintings were used to turn a flat dam in Northern LA into what we see in the movie’s opening. Angel Scouts looks into scouting out the perfect locations for the movie while Dream Duds showcases the movie’s wardrobe using sketches, photos, and film clips.

The list goes on with Cameo-Graphy that highlights the many cameos in the film. Included are Bruce Willis, Béla Károlyi, Robert Forster, Eric Bogosian, Andrew Wilson, Pink, Eve, Mary-Kate & Ashley Olson, Carrie Fisher, The Pussycat Dolls, Chris Pontius, Ed Robertson, Big Boy, and Jaclyn Smith. Full Throttle Jukebox has McG and Music Supervisor John Houlihan discussing the song selection for the movie along with clips from the scene in which they appear. Included are; “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine, “Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys, “Feel Good Time” by Pink Featuring William Orbit, “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre, “The Pink Panther” by Hollywood Studio Orchestra, “A Girl Like You” by Edwin Collins, “Any Way You Want It” by Journey, “Firestarter” by Prodigy, and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” by Nickleback Featuring Kid Rock. Angels Film School is one of my favorite extras with useful info for those looking to work in film.   You’ll get a great look at the inner-workings of how a movie is made. Included are #1 – First Assistant Director, #2 – Script Supervisor, #3 – Storyboard Artist, #4 – Creative Advertising, #5 – Special Effects Supervisor, #6 – Visual Effects Supervisor, #7 – Driver, and #8 – Stunts. Topping off this mountain of movie extras is a Music Video for “Feel Good Time” by Pink Featuring William Orbit and some Trailers including a Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is a fun movie to watch with pretty girls, great action, awesome fights, cool cars, and a careless disregard for any type of serious story. The short sequences are practically standalone in their design yet manage to tell a complete, albeit thin, story with a satisfying ending. The audio and visual quality is about as good as you can expect for Blu-ray, and while I desperately wanted to see this in 4K I seriously doubt Full Throttle will ever get another release. For only $10, if you don’t already own a copy then now is your chance.

Alita: Battle Angel 4K/3D Blu-ray Review

Even as I was leaving the theater I knew that Alita: Battle Angel was going to be one of my favorite home video releases of 2019, and I was already resigning myself to the fact that I would have to double-dip for both the 3D and the 4K releases. Thankfully (and wisely), 26th Century Fox made the smart decision to bundle the two formats together. After all, there is no bigger supporter of the 3D format than James Cameron, although his motivation for 3D is to get people back into the theaters to see movies rather than staying home to wait for their inevitable release on disc – a smart tactic given the fact that with the proliferation of 4K screens 3D support is all but non-existent. My 4K Sony is one of the last models to even support 3D, but rest assured, if you have a 3D-capable TV this is definitely the format you’ll want to watch.

Alita: Battle Angel is the perfect storm of filmmaking; a movie born from James Cameron’s love of the original manga that led to his 180-page script nearly 20 years ago. But given his obligation to the Avatar franchise this was a movie that was likely to never be made until Robert Rodriguez came on as director. He promptly condensed the script to a manageable 130 pages and set off to create the opus we are privileged to view today. Combining some veteran acting talent along with the latest in motion-capture and performance-capture technology to create a totally believable CG heroine, Alita will grab you from the opening frame and won’t let go until the credits start to roll. The storytelling and pacing are outstanding; leaving me to wonder what was in those 50 pages that got cut. I guess I’ll have to read the manga to find out.

Alita takes place in the 26th century after The Fall, a major conflict between Earth and Mars that has left the world to thrive in a bustling metropolis that exists under the shadow of Zalem, the last floating city. In this class-based society the untouchably affluent live in Zalem while those below in Iron City work in the factories, producing goods for those above who respond by dumping their waste into a massive landfill. The movie opens with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) sifting through these mountains of waste looking for anything he can use in his cyborg repair business. Yes, human modifications and cybernetic implants are a normal part of existence in Iron City, which plays heavily into the story. Buried in the trash, Ido discovers the partial head and upper body of a female cyborg with an active human brain and an anti-matter heart built on forgotten technology from three centuries past. Ido takes her home and combines her with the cyborg body originally built for his crippled daughter, Alita whose name he bestows upon her.

Thus begins a totally compelling character arc for Alita, a CG character that is just as believable as any of her human co-stars thanks to the flawless casting and performance of Rosa Salazar. Once you get past the 125% scaled eyes you will quickly forget Alita is anything less than a real person. The performance capture is flawless down to 3mm, and you can even watch Rosa’s original performance with the suit and headgear in the bonus materials and her expressions and emotions transition to the digital world with nothing lost in translation. We watch Alita grow from a wide-eyed innocent girl to a semi-rebellious teenager and eventually into a powerful URM Berserker warrior, a forgotten remnant from an ancient war, or as she puts it, “Just a girl who got tossed out with the trash.”

There are some exciting subplots that swirl around our hero. Motorball is a sport that consumes the population of Iron City and is run by Vector (Mahershala Ali) who reports directly to Nova (Edward Norton) up in Zalem.   Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Dr. Ido’s ex-wife, separated after the death of their daughter, has joined with Vector to create the perfect Motorball cyber-athlete in hopes of a free pass back to Zalem. These characters along with a few cybernetic thugs will provide much of the conflict for Alita who is just trying to find love with Hugo (Keean Johnson), a seemingly charming young man by day and an agent of Vector by night who jacks cyborgs for their parts. He too strives to reach Zalem if he can only earn a million dollars on the black market. Even Dr. Ido has his secrets when Alita learns he is a Hunter-Warrior, a bounty hunter by night making some extra cash while working out his own personal demons surrounding his daughter’s death at the hand of one of his patients.

Alita comes to life with a style and art design reminiscent of other futuristic films but ultimately something wholly original. There are some amazing set pieces, especially when the camera pulls back to reveal wide shots of the city with Zalem floating above, or the hydro wall, or these giant machines harvesting crops outside the city. There is this cool mix of futuristic architecture built over layers of the past, as evident when Hugo takes Alita to his favorite spot in the city. The attention to design even goes down to the character level with the intricate porcelain doll textures of Alita’s first body to her final nano-suit. The supporting cast of characters, mostly villainous cyborgs, are all equally engaging with fantastic designs that will have you re-watching the alley fight and the Kansas bar fight multiple times.

I can count the number of 4K/3D combo releases on one hand, so I was pleased when I learned this 4K release came with the 3D Blu-ray in the box. What I was not prepared for was just how much better the Blu-ray version of this movie was versus the 4K version, both 3D and 2D. Cameron is the master of 3D and Alita does not disappoint with a perpetual level of depth to every scene. There are really only two or three moments of “in your face” 3D, and with the exception of some blurry moments during the fast-moving Motorball segments the 3D image is brighter, more colorful, and sharper than the 4K disc found in the same box.

I actually watched the 4K version first; my first viewing since seeing the film in 3D IMAX, and instantly I knew something was off. It was like the entire image had been softened and the color-timing had desaturated the image making it dull and lifeless. Admittedly, the 4K resolution did offer an extra level of texture detail in both live action and the integrated CG elements, but often this added sharpness also created a level of disconnect between the two formats. Rather than making the CG look photo-real this enhanced resolution actually made the live action components look animated. Rather than sitting back and enjoying the story I was constantly trying to shake that uncanny valley feeling. Even the HDR didn’t seem to be doing much in this version, with only minor tweaks to some color tones you would never notice except in side-by-side comparisons. Inserting the 3D Blu-ray was like returning to the IMAX. The image was brighter and more colorful and the 3D image just popped with clarity and immersive depth. This was truly how Alita: Battle Angel was meant to be watched.

While the Blu-ray versions of Alita may offer a superior visual images there is a disappointing lack of a Dolby Atmos track. Rest assured, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track found on the Blu-ray is perfection for what it is, but the Atmos track, found only on the 4K disc, is even better. There are so many scenes that benefit from the added verticality of the sound design from the opening moment of the film where trash seems to be falling from your ceiling to the Motorball events and even the fight sequences that make use of every speaker in your home theater setup. The LFE is powerful. There is one scene where Alita punches the street and it shook my entire room. The sound mix is excellent for the most part, but both of the Motorball sequences and the bar fight shot up significantly in volume to near-uncomfortable levels.

Fox is going to make sure you use all three of those discs in the box by putting all of the bonus materials on the standard Blu-ray disc only. And while there is no commentary track there are more than two hours of extras that proved to be some of the best bonus material I’ve experienced on any home release this year. Alita’s World is a four-part animated feature that gives added depth and background information to a world we desperately want to know better. You’ll learn about The Fall, Iron City, What it Means to be a Cyborg, and the Rules of the Game that breaks down Motorball. From Manga to Screen is a 20-minute look at how James Cameron adapted the original Manga into a feature film. Evolution of Alita is a 20-minute look at the character of Alita and her transformation from the page to the big screen including some impressive training for Rosa. Motorball is a 6-minute look into this NASCAR/roller derby hybrid that could easily be turned into a video game.

Moving on we have the London Screening Q&A with James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz and Jennifer Connelly. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy 10 Minute Cooking School: Chocolate where Robert Rodriguez shares his secrets for making the perfect chocolate treats. The final two extras are my favorites. The first is 2005 Art Compilation that tells a shortened version of the movie with narration overlaid on original production artwork – simply stunning. The final feature is Scene Deconstruction where you can view four scenes from the movie in three stages of production by using the color buttons on your remote. You can watch these select scenes in their original format with Rosa in her motion-capture outfit or switch to animation that replaces Rosa with Alita in rough form or switch to final render with all the fancy effects. Just seeing the live action of Rosa was the best part of this feature.

Ironically, I don’t tend to watch anything on Blu-ray that’s also available in 4K, and I almost never go out of my way to seek out 3D versions of films. Thankfully, Fox saved me from myself with Alita: Battle Angel as both the 2D and 3D versions of this film appear to offer the preferred viewing experience. Yes, you’ll lose the Atmos support, but the added color and vibrancy does the best job of matching the theater experience, and if you have a 3D TV then prepare to transform from a viewer to a participant in one of the best 3D films since Avatar. This is easily one of my top picks for 2019 and one of my top ten films of all-time. Highly recommended.

Avengers: Infinity War Blu-ray Review

I keep a list of all the Marvel movies on my phone and sort them by favorites every time a new MCU film is added to the growing library. When Avengers: Infinity War released earlier this year it easily slipped into the number one slot; how could it not? It was a rare cinematic masterpiece, ten years and 18 movies in the making, assembling more major stars than any screenwriter would dare try to put in a single film or even a story spanning two feature films; but they did it and it worked. Expectations were exceeded, minds were blown, tears were shed, and we must now all wait until 2019 to see how it all works out, but meanwhile we can relive the majesty and the tragedy of one of the best movies of 2018.

By now, we all know the story. Thanos, who has been inching his way closer to earth in numerous post-credit teasers ever since his failed invasion in the original Avengers, has finally started collecting the legendary Infinity Stones, and once he has them all he is going to dispatch half of all life in the over-populated universe with a snap of his fingers in some twisted plot to balance universal supply and demand. It’s not so crazy when he explains it, which makes Thanos one of the best “heroes” in his own mind and in this particular story. Thanos, and his personal entourage of henchmen, spend all but the final few minutes of the film searching for the Stones, two of which are on earth, while the Avengers, now teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, try to stop him at every turn.

I won’t belabor the plot because, if you’re a Marvel fan like me, you’ve already seen the film a few times and are preparing to binge watch it a few dozen more in the comfort of your own home. I’m here to expand upon the technical virtues of Disney’s Blu-ray release of Avengers: Infinity War. You might be asking, “Where is the 4K review?”   Well, we only got the BD version in for review, so that’s the one we’re officially covering, but I did manage to compare this copy with the 4K version and the results were sadly disappointing for the UHD release, so you may want to save yourself $7-10 and stick with the standard BD if you’re on a budget.

The entire time I was watching Infinity War on Blu-ray I kept wondering, “How much better can this look on 4k?” and the answer is, “not much.” The standard 1080p video is, without a doubt, one of the finest images I’ve witnessed in the two years I’ve owned my Sony 940D HDTV. The Sony chipset is capable of amazing 4K up-conversion and I was seeing all sorts of details that other movies just can’t produce. Much of this has to do with the source, which was filmed at 6.5K and processed in 4K, so even when it gets compressed down to 1080p there is a lot of hidden detail waiting to be unlocked on the proper combination of player and TV. The colors were rich and vibrant without getting oversaturated. Skin tones were realistic…even the purple, blue and green skin. There were no artifacts or banding, and black levels and contrast were flawless with no crushing or loss of detail in the shadows. Conversely, the UHD edition of the film offers modest improvements in color, slightly more shadow detail thanks to HDR, and the obvious increase in resolution detail, but the UHD edition also tends to look unnatural, with shiny textures and colors that just aren’t as realistic as the Blu-ray. Given the added premium you pay for a 4K movie there just isn’t enough improvement to justify the cost.

Sadly, the Blu-ray version of Infinity War mirrors the low quality sound production of the UHD edition. This version only gives us a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track, which suffers from all the same sound issues Disney has been dealing with since their first Dolby Atmos release. Every Disney film to date has had a lousy Atmos track and Infinity War is one of the worst yet, forcing me to crank the volume to nearly 150% of normal listening volume to hear the dialogue then scramble to lower the volume back down for the action scenes. When listening at a normal (comfortable) level the LFE was weak and the ceiling channels appeared to be unused. The DTS-HD mix on both the UHD and BD versions of the film were equally just as weak and lifeless at normal levels as well, and I ultimately settled on turning on subtitles so I wasn’t constantly mashing the volume buttons. Sound is such a huge part of this movie experience, and epic moments like the battles in Wakanda and on Titan lost much of their gravitas due to poor sound. I put a lot of money into my THX Dolby Atmos home theater, and this film doesn’t scratch the surface of that tech.

At first glance, Avengers: Infinity War appears to have a great selection of extras kicking off with a fantastic feature commentary with Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who reveal all sorts of interesting info on writing, designing, and shooting this epic adventure. There are also several bonus features strung together in the Play All section of the extras or you can view them individually.   A brief Intro preps you for Strange Alchemy that talks about how they were able to mash multiple movies into a single story while The Mad Titan provides cool insight into the film’s villain and how Josh Brolin was able to performance capture the role with a stunning degree of detail. Beyond the Battle: Titan and Beyond the Battle: Wakanda goes behind the scenes of the two big battle sequences, one shot on set and one shot on location in Georgia. Ten minutes of Deleted Scenes along with an arguably lame Gag Reel of actors cracking up on set round out a merely average bonus package. There is also a Movies Anywhere digital code.

Avengers: Infinity War remains one of my all-time favorite movies and will likely hold the #1 slot in the MCU library for a long time to come. The UHD home release is disappointing at best, but the Blu-ray version really steps up and shines as one of Disney’s ultimate home releases; at least when it comes to visual purity. Sadly, neither the DTS-HD nor the Dolby Atmos (UHD only) sound options are a worthy match for the graphics; a disturbing trend for Disney for almost a year now. 4K aficionados will likely purchase the UHD anyway, but anyone on the fence or on a budget can rest easy that the Blu-Ray edition of Infinity War looks just as good and offers the same level of thrills, joy, and tragic sadness.   Tissues not included.

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Pacific Rim: Uprising 4K Blu-ray Review

Pacific Rim is one of my favorite sci-fi movies of this generation and while Pacific Rim: Uprising is arguably superior in pacing, structure, and pure intensity of action, I wasn’t prepared for how much better this sequel would take advantage of the UHD format when it made its way to home release.

Guillermo del Toro took a chance turning over the sequel to rookie director, Steven S. DeKnight’s, but thanks to a fantastic script that made the most of new and existing characters and continued the timeline from the original film, Uprising feels more like an extension of the first film rather than a sequel. The opening prologue catches us up on the ten years that have transpired since the end of Pacific Rim. The world is still rebuilding as is the Jaeger program, who now recruits drift-proficient teens to their ranks. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) plays the son of the hero from the first film, but has lost his way since dropping out of the program. He now scavenges illegal Jaeger tech to fund his lavish lifestyle. On one such mission he meets up with Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), a young female mechanical protégé who has built her own Jaeger from spare parts, but when they are both apprehended by the “police” they are sent to the Jaeger training camp where Amara begins her pilot training and Jake teams up with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) to mold these youngsters into tomorrows pilots.

Despite not seeing a Kaiju until the third act of the film, Uprising is surprisingly engaging, with a great momentum and pace throughout. Even when giant robots aren’t fighting giant monsters the story is captivating with plenty of intrigue and betrayal, and not all of it is telegraphed to the audience so first-time viewers get several surprises. One of the very first battles is robot-vs-robot and proves to be one of the better fights in the movie. And when the Kaiju finally do appear, nothing can prepare you for the epic level of destruction leading to the grand finale on Mount Fuji.

I have to admit I was disappointed to learn that Uprising, while shot at various resolutions ranging from 2.8K to 3.4K, was ultimately finished at 2K, which sadly is still the de facto standard resolution for special effects studios to render their effects at a timely and costly method. All too often these 2160p releases seldom see much, if any, noticeable improvement over their Blu-ray counterpart, especially when viewed on a quality 4K HDTV with a capable up-conversion processor. I am happy to report that in direct comparison viewing with the BD and UHD copies that the UHD version is a far superior to the standard BD, boasting better clarity, texture detail, and thanks to some impressive support of 12-bit Dolby Vision and HDR-10 the lighting and color saturation is off the charts. This boost in lighting gives greater clarity to the interior scenes while maintaining perfect visuals when things get blown out in the snowy white exteriors of the final battle. While there was no 3D version included in this package, some of the Jaeger HUDS looked like they were popping off the screen.

Matching the visuals in superior quality is an impressive Dolby Atmos mix that had my sub shaking the house while making the most of all the surround channels including the overhead speakers in a few specific scenes. There is so much positional audio happening in this movie you be instinctively ducking for cover in numerous battle sequences, but even more impressive amongst all this audio shock and awe was the perfectly balanced dialogue track that was always front and center and never suppressed by the powerful effects or emotionally engaging soundtrack.

Pacific Rim: Uprising is my 98th UHD movie, and while I have several other UHD movies that are on the BD-100 format none of them have included the extras on the actual 4K disc until now. Not only is all the bonus material featured on the 4K disc as well as the commentary track, all of the featurettes are presented in 4K resolution. Big bonus points for this, and now that we know it can be done I expect no less from every other 4K Blu-ray moving forward. There is nothing more annoying than having to swap discs to watch bonus features or watch a movie in 1080p just to listen to the commentary track.

First up is a fantastic feature commentary with director, Steven S. DeKnight who offers up an entertaining and educational exploration of the film while you watch. Much of his material is also covered in the individual featurettes, so there is a bit of redundancy if you binge all the bonuses in a single sitting. That long list of extras includes nearly seven minutes of Deleted Scenes with optional director commentary. The Hall of Heroes is a cool museum style kiosk of info narrated by John Boyega who talks about the hero Jaegers in the film. Bridge to Uprising talks about the thematic elements that gave birth to this sequel, while The Underworld of Uprising explores the beginning of the film and the origins of the new characters.

Becoming Cadets explores the colorful secondary cast of pilot trainees while Unexpected Villain explores and spoils the surprise traitor in the story. Next Level Jaegers discusses the new Jaeger designs and how they were meant to show a decade of advanced technology as well as how they integrate into the environments. I Am Scrapper highlights the delightful new robot created by Amara. Going Mega explores the new Kaiju designs and abilities and we wrap up with two character pieces, Secrets of Shao and Mako Returns, that go into depth on a new and a returning character.

I saw Pacific Rim: Uprising in the theater and the first thing I said walking into the lobby when it was over was, “I can’t wait for this to come to 4K”, and now that it has I couldn’t be more pleased. I was already in love with the story and characters, and with this reference level of technical expertise at work for this UHD release I’ll be using Uprising to show off the advantages of 4K tech for a long time to come. Universal Pictures knocks this release out of the park with a superior AV package and loads of 4K extras actually on the 4K disc, making this a must own addition to anyone’s 4K library.

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Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K Blu-ray Review

I’m going to do my best not to get into all the “problems” with The Last Jedi, partly because they are all rooted in story and script and ultimately subjective, and partly because after watching the tremendous amount of bonus content I actually started to come around to Writer/Director Rian Johnson’s mindset when creating the eighth installment in the numbered Star Wars franchise. That’s not to say I’m ready to forgive him for mercilessly crushing all the intrigue J.J. Abrams setup in The Force Awakens – in fact I’m more inclined to blame Abrams for turning over such a treasured franchise to a guy whose only real claim to fame is Looper. I guess J.J. can think about what he’s done while trying to get the train back on track in Episode IX.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi begins with the traditional title crawl followed by a rather spectacular space battle inspired by an evening of the filmmakers watching WWII flicks. Much how George Lucas drew inspiration for his dogfighting X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter scenes from similar movies, Rian and crew chose to replicate dramatic bombing run sequences for Last Jedi’s opening moment. It’s also in these early moments we get a bit of Monty Python humor; the first of several out-of-place comedic tangents in the film. One ship against a fleet, Poe should be soiling his flight suit instead of making prank phone calls, or at least be engaging General Hux more seriously.

But sadly, there isn’t much serious about this movie. The entire film boils down to a chase in space where the first one who runs out of gas loses. Forget the fact that in space you don’t require sustained engine burns to maintain speed, only acceleration. And why can’t the more powerful Imperial fleet close the distance to the rebels? And since you couldn’t possibly have the entire movie taking place on ships, Rian crafts this B plot where Finn and new character, Rose need to sneak aboard the Empire’s Destroyer to shut down a tracking device, but to get onto the ship they have to visit a casino planet to find “a guy” who can get them on the ship. This is truly a video game plot if I ever heard one where the quests keep stacking up, and even worse, the entire B plot is for naught when their plan ultimately fails in the eleventh hour.

For those looking for answers to the questions asked or hinted at in Force Awakens, prepare for disappointment. Snoke is a joke, Rey is trailer trash, Poe goes from hero to jerk, and Leia trades her hair buns for previously unseen Jedi powers that Ben Kenobi wishes he had. It’s one thing to be “Force sensitive” but to somehow use the Force to withstand the vacuum of space and then fly through it is guaranteed to rile up the fan base. It was the perfect opportunity, one of two actually, for the film to give Carrie Fisher’s character a heroes’ ending, but I guess we had to have that one last moment with Luke.

I’m going to stop talking about the story because it just makes me grumpy on what could have been, but sadly, this was not my movie. I’m merely a spectator to the vision of Rian Johnson, much like how Mark Hamill was quite vocal in his displeasure for the direction Luke was taking in this film, yet was obligated to portray Rian’s vision. What I can say is that this third trilogy of films does not share the cohesive narrative arc that George Lucas had in his mind when creating Episodes 4-6 and even 1-3. As bad as those prequels were, there was a follow-through plot from Jar Jar on Naboo to Anakin’s transition into Darth Vader. It will be interesting to see how J.J. Abrams can save and finish this franchise in Episode IX.

Setting aside the subjective elements of The Last Jedi, there is no doubt this is technically one of the finest 4K offerings to come from Disney since they started doing 4K releases. Captured on film, the movie retains a perfect amount of grain on the 1080p Blu-ray, and while a bit more obvious on the native 4K disc, never gets distracting. If anything, the added levels of texture detail and improved contrast, thanks to near-flawless HDR and 12-bit Dolby Vision support, put this movie into the reference class of home video. Skin tones are perfect, star fields are sparkly, and with inky darks and blinding whites, it looks like every Stormtrooper just bleached his armor. All the colors and wonderful details in makeup and costumes glimpsed during the smooth pans and flythrough of the casino must be viewed numerous times to appreciate the detail of the source material and the way it was captured to disc.

The Last Jedi features an epic Dolby Atmos mix that makes spacious use of all the channels to put you into the movie. While the DTS 7.1 mix on the Blu-ray is reference quality in and of itself, the added Atmos height channels really add to the immersion of space battles or crazy casino city escapes. Side channels are employed to swirl the audio in this mystical way when Rey and Ren are doing their Force Skype chats, and the LFE is off the scale when Fathiers are stampeded through Canto Bight or space ships are blowing up. Of course, the best audio cue in the entire film (perhaps cinematic history) is the one of pure silence – you’ll know it when you don’t hear it. Sound levels are perfectly balanced and mixed so you won’t miss a word of dialogue, even when the triumphant John Williams’ score soars to chilling heights.

I was totally blown away with the scope and quality of the bonus material found in this Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Sure, you get the standard Blu-ray along with the 4K disc and the digital copy, but the encyclopedic nature of the bonus disc really made me see the film in a new light. You’ll have to watch the BD copy to enjoy the feature Audio Commentary with writer/director Rian Johnson who does an admirable job defending his choices even before I had the chance to confront him – not like that will ever happen. He explains how he analyzed the characters from the last film and chose their best journey, and while that may not match my vision or millions of other fans, none of us were asked to write this movie.

Moving on to the dedicated Bonus Disc we start off with a 95-minute, all-encompassing documentary called The Director and the Jedi, which I honestly enjoyed a bit more than the movie. Quality video coverage mixed with interviews and a behind the scenes look at soundstage and location shooting was educational and entertaining and shows just how much collaboration goes into a project of this size. Balance of the Force is a short look that mirrors much of the commentary discussion on the place the Force has in the Star Wars universe and how it all relates to Luke, Leia, Ren and Rey.  Andy Serkis Live! gives us a rare look at Snoke’s throne room encounter with Rey before the digital puppet was put in place. We get to marvel at Andy Serkis’ raw and powerful performance, as he embodies the villain in body and subtle facial movements. Forget the Oscar…just give this man a lifetime achievement award.

Scene Breakdowns provide extensive looks into making three of the film’s major set pieces; Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle, Snoke and Mirrors, and Showdown on Crait.  You’ll certainly have more appreciation for these scenes after watching this. Next up are 14 Deleted Scenes totally 23 minutes that can be viewed with or without Rian Johnson commentary. Several of these scenes should have been left in the movie while other scenes should have definitely been recut to include at least a portion of what got left on the cutting room floor. There is some really good stuff here and even Rian Johnson laments having to cut a lot of it. His and our only condolence is that we at least get to see these scenes on the home release.

Thankfully, it’s the bonus features that not only turn Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi from a flop to a hearty recommendation, but also managed to change my entire opinion of the film. While I still disagree with much of what Rian Johnson did with the material given to him, at least after hearing why he did what he did I can respect those choices and even appreciate the film in a new light. And for those looking for their next reference quality UHD title, it doesn’t get much better than the flawless audio and video ensemble Disney has managed to create showcasing the best of the tech.   It’s just sad that such a marvelous technical achievement had to be attached to such a divisive movie.

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