Category Archives: On Blu-ray

iFeature | MARVEL STUDIOS 10 Years… Not Just a Phase (Part 1)

In the beginning, 10 years ago, it would have hardly been imaginable that a cinematic universe was in the making, now Marvel Studios has redefined the “blockbuster” and it all began something invincible, incredible and mighty!

The summer movie landscape was always the playground for Hollywood’s big-budget bonanzas! The studios figured it was the most operative and lucrative of opportunities to roll-out the popcorn fair, and it gave them the funds to drop big money into their prestigious Fall Movie releases, which were often star-power draws and dramas ready for awards season. It all started to drastically change when the studios started to see big box office returns from genre-faves like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men.

Warner Bros. always had itself a cash cow with the Batman franchise, but when the studio decided to reboot the franchise and handed it over to visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan Batman Begins jumpstarted a whole new way to envision the superhero film. Marvel was starting to pick up on this as well, and although it saw an interesting swing handing Ang Lee Hulk in 2003, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were really the path of least resistance for Marvel to take, especially if its plans to control how their properties got adapted to screen was to materialize.

When Kevin Feige the president of Marvel Studios inherited the reigns, Feige imagined something not unlike the popular pulp series books that Marvel Comics introduced and had been publishing for 80 years. He saw a universe of interconnected stories, stand-alone film franchise with characters that inhabited the same linear narrative and would potentially interact with one another, and when the time was right — the people, their stories and worlds would intersect into one — just like the superheroes that Stan Lee brought to life in the Marvel Universe of comics.

Marvel Studios IRON MAN

In 2008 Marvel Studios took its biggest gamble, and it paid off when it handed the reigns of Iron Man to director Jon Favreau. The largely untested filmmaker had certainly carved a niche for himself in comedies and starred in several of his own features, but Favreau had a very deep understanding of the technological wonder that is the character and was a natural fit to bring The Invincible Iron Man to the big screen. The story goes that Favreau called in several favors, including reaching out to Academy Award Winner Gwyneth Paltrow to appear in the film.

The director’s greatest advantage came from landing Robert Downey, Jr. to star as billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark, who after getting kidnapped by terrorists who want him to build them super weapons instead constructs for himself a life-saving armor. Stark becomes the Iron Man and heralds in a new hit at the box office. Iron Man took in a gross of 585.2 million and inspires a new movement with the post-credits “stinger”. At the conclusion of his epic battle with Iron-Monger (Jeff Bridges), Stark is approached by a mysterious secret agent with a proposal.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury suggests to Stark that it’s the beginning of a New Age and that he’s recruiting a team to tackle the threats that will require some “avenging”. This stinger sent a seismic shift through Hollywood introducing the idea of “The Avengers Initiative” — and the Marvel Studio cinematic universe was born! Favreau and Feige had a plan, a bigger picture in mind, a narrative that would run a thread through several big-screen franchises, but lead to a larger scale adventure the realm of which audiences couldn’t imagine would ever make it to the big screen.

Marvel Studios THE INCREDIBLE HULK

Perhaps the unlikeliest follow-up to the success of Iron Man was the release of The Incredible Hulk especially given how recently the big Green Goliath had been adapted for the big screen. Ang Lee took a stab at the monster’s story five-years earlier with his near art house adaptation starring Eric Bana. Credits were not amused and that movies ending left a lot to be desired, but Marvel Studios plowed forward with a “reboot” with Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair and Edward Norton now filling the role of the gamma radiated Dr. Bruce Banner.

The film almost feels like a sequel to its predecessor, although it recasts all the major roles including Liv Tyler as Betty Ross and William Hurt as General Ross, who has made it his mission to hunt down the fugitive Banner who has proven most elusive. Banner has taken to moving all over the world in an endless and tireless quest to contain the beast within him; that proves precarious when Banner gets wind of a possible cure and resurfaces. Ross has also recruited the bloodthirsty Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) — who becomes an Abomination!

The film was received with mixed reviews, but still made a dent with a take of 263.4 million in box-office; not Iron Man numbers but still proving lucrative by studio expectations. The film, in fact, did exactly perform as anticipated and served to set the ball rolling. The inclusion of a particularly important moment, at the end of the flick established Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) in this world with an interest in Banner’s extra angry alter ego. This may not have set well with the movie’s star. It had been reported that Edward Norton clashed often with the film’s director and producers.

Norton had his own ideas about how the story should have progressed and was very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the final edit. The actor had been approached about continuing with the role, and it was also rumored that Robert Downey, Jr. was brought in to persuade the actor to stay on with the studio. It appeared that Marvel Studios would have other plans and the next time that the Hulk would appear on screen he would be embodied by a new actor that would make his mark and a smashing addition to the ensemble.

Marvel Studios Iron Man (2008) directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.

Marvel Studios The Incredible Hulk (2008) directed by Louis Letterrier and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William hurt is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.

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iReview | LOST IN SPACE The Complete First Season

Available now on Blu-Ray and Digital HD, the Netflix Original Series is worth getting lost in. Danger seems to follow The Robinsons everywhere, even to the edges of the final frontier…

Get lost! When Netflix announced it was rebooting a science-fiction franchise to run counter to the subscription services award-winning series including House of Cards and documentaries like Making a Murderer few would have imagined that the network that was out to challenge the conventional successes of HBO’s Game of Thrones would have chosen to resurrect Lost In Space — the 1960s series loosely adapted from the book “Swiss Family Robinson” about a family that gets stranded on an alien planet in the farthest reaches of space.

Starring Holly Parker and Toby Stephens as Maureen and John Robinson, the matriarch and patriarch of The Robinson Family — along with their children, Judy, Penny and son Will, find themselves a million light-years away from home. As the story opens, The Robinsons find their shuttle, a Jupiter-class shuttle tossed into the atmosphere of an alien planet, amidst the plummeting debris of their space station which may be lost to them. In the first 24-hours since crashing into the snowy tundra on the surface, The Robinsons are immediately in survival mode.

Unlike the 1960s predecessor, which almost heavily relied on a bit of camp and simple practical effects to get its story across, Lost In Space The Complete First Season available now on Blu-Ray and Digital HD takes great measures to develop the family; all five of The Robinsons are fully fleshed and very realistic individuals — facing the unpredictability of their circumstances, they have little choice but to find a way to survive — and to do so they must stick together. And then there’s The Robot!

Skewing far from the conventions of the Original Series, or even the blockbuster bigness of the feature film that itself got lost, the First Season sets up an interesting bit of mythology, with characters that are full of duplicity and complication. There’s also a very healthy bit of science, as the more than capable Robinsons prove that they need to rely on more than CGI to get through their trials and tribulations. It’s fortunate that among them there’s an engineer, a military survivalist, a doctor, a practical thinker, and a Will Robinson – who knows how to speak Robot.

Lost In Space The Complete First Season is worthy for binging especially as the Second Season is fast approaching and will soon touchdown on Netflix “watchlists” everywhere.

Lost In Space The Complete First Season available on Blu-Ray and Digital HD | $24.99

iReview | ALIEN 40th Anniversary in 4K Ultra HD

Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece gets a 4K overhaul in this special 40th Anniversary edition that is certain to please fans of the sci-fi franchise that proved in space…no one can hear you scream.

While the world’s fandom reeled from the advent success of George Lucas’ Star Wars space opera, director Ridley Scott was far more focused on taking us from a galaxy far, far away into the deeper and darker realms of the unexplored regions of the galaxy. In the newly minted Alien 40the Anniversary reissue, the sci-fi horror classic gets a proper redux now presented in 4K Ultra HD. With 4K resolution Alien appears more vibrant, sharper and more lifelike — which is as terrifying as you can imagine!

Ridley Scott promised that in space “no one can hear you scream” and undoubtedly Alien remains the most terrifying of the franchise. The film released in theaters in 1979 turned Sigourney Weaver into a star and would inspire a series of three follow-ups featuring her heroic character at the center of a dangerous mission to repel the alien xenomorph, whose origins were further explored Ridley’s two prequel chapters Prometheus and the more recent Alien: Covenant also available in 4K Ultra HD.

4K Up-Rez

With 4K presentation becoming the regular means by which home viewing is enjoyed, films like Alien which is four decades old appear to settle in nicely alongside their contemporary counterparts. Ridley Scott has directed two features in the last decade that serve as prequels to his 1979 feature, and even went back and released a 2003 Director’s Cut of the film, but the resolution in home video offerings has never been closer to the theatrical until now. The high-dynamic range offered from 4K Ultra HD takes Alien to an entirely new level.

The detail is astounding which reinforces the idea that Blu-ray HD presentation, although the most mainstream, is still somewhat lacking in capturing the cinematic experience that many home audiences are pushing to bring into their living rooms. The blacks are far more evident and apply a depth that has been lost even in the most recent Blu-ray releases of Alien. The disc includes both the Theatrical release and the 2003 Director’s Cut, both in 4K Ultra HD as well as several bonus features, most of which have been previously released.

Shorts

In celebration of the original theatrical release of Alien 20th Century Fox commissioned aspiring filmmakers to contribute to the mythology and selected to accompany this reissue are six of the best Short Films that take a fresh perspective on the franchise. The shorts were released as a series on IGN and were all set in the Alien universe. 20th Century selected from over 500 submissions and supported what they felt were the “biggest fans” able to deliver stories that best served the fan enthusiasm for the 40th Anniversary.

Alien 40th Anniversary directed by Ridley Scott and starring Sigourney Weaver the reissue is available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from all major retailers. 

iFeature | Marvel’s Cinematic Universe on AVENGERS Heading Towards the “ENDGAME”

The final curtain is about to drop on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and after “The Snap” heard around the universe, it’s anyone’s guess how it’ll all play out, but invariably MARVEL STUDIOS redefined the superhero movie!

All it may have taken was a single “Snap!” to tragically undercut the growing legacy of the Marvel Studios heroes, in Avengers: Infinity War the big bad that has loomed in the shadows, puppeteering events across a decade of blockbuster films, the Mad Titan Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) altered the course of the history by annihilating half of the entire galaxy’s population — and taking with him some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s newest stars including Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the newly integrated Spider-Man.

The third installment in the Avengers franchise, crushed under its heel any anticipated hope fans may have had of a new “phase” elaborating on an ever-expanding universe capturing the spirit of the Marvel Comics that many movie goers had been thrilled to see come to life, since the introduction of Robert Downey, Jr in 2008s Iron Man. Studio chief Kevin Feige envisioned a theatrical experience that replicated the serialized episodic world these characters had inhabited in their 2-D incarnations, fleshing them all out fully to properly transition to the big screen.

By the time all the main players converged onto widescreen for the Avengers team movies, the film just couldn’t get any better, the action more dynamic and the stakes always higher, but at its core the players remained rooted to the core of their origins — their creator Stan Lee had always believed in the premise that as extraordinary as the circumstances that were that made these individuals heroic, they were always as “real” as real could get — especially in the case of sharing hall space with a thunder god and a radioactively rage-filled hulk.

The Avengers (2012)
L to R: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)

A Marvel Indeed

When the titular heroes including Iron Man, Captain America and Thor (and arguably The Hulk) were corralled under one umbrella to be featured in the team film Avengers the studio blockbuster would immediately be altered forever! Successful franchise films had become regularly expected, especially with genre-inspired material like the X-Men or Spider-Man films, although by the time those features hit their third installments the narrative often felt stale, leading to the inevitable reboot. Kevin Feige imagined a longer, more linear experience and inspired a universal story arc.

Avengers bent that rule by landing all the separate or anticipatory franchise characters inside of a team roster. The first film released in 2012 introduced the “founding members”, its follow-up 2015s Avengers: Age of Ultron expanded upon the roster, and by the time we’d arrived at 2018s Avengers: Infinity War the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was recruited to take on the larger than life adversary. It was also necessary since the team was essentially disbanded.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo Captain America: Civil War (2016) the third film in that franchise disassembled our core heroes, but introduced Black Panther, initiated the Ant-Man and gave us an amazing Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Avengers may have come to an impasse but movie audiences knew that the real war was infinitely on the horizon, and that when the stakes were raised to upwards of a cosmic scale, it would take all of our muscle to fight back — unfortunately we hadn’t factored in that the bad guy might win in the end!

The Next Phase

So perhaps now would be a good time to catch our breath before the next, and fourth film in the franchise hits theaters worldwide. Avengers: Endgame is not shying away from admittedly letting its audience know upfront — however this plays out, the title should be taken very seriously. Inevitably some of our favorite characters may live, and others might die, and still some others have to determinately crawl themselves back from where ever they may have found themselves after that fateful “Snap!”

Marvel Studios has proven in its premiere decade its dominance over the superhero film franchise, a formula that others have attempted to emulate with mixed results, but never as effortlessly as Marvel appeared to master the medium. With the theatrical experience marking a steadfast transition to the home, the Marvel catalog is now getting the 4K respect that it widely deserves. In the Ultra HD resolution that 4K offers the Avengers franchise especially has never looked or sounded so epic!

Picture quality is unmatched and this is most evident in the heavily CGI moments that often occur when the screen is inhabited by Hulk and an army of Ultron robots. 4K also enhances the environment that these actors exist in, turning their highly futuristic war rooms and battle sites, whether deep on the edges of the earth or on the streets of New York appear all the more textured and tangible. The cinematically profound depths of the audio bombardment is also something to behold! With all three of the current film’s available on 4K, this is the only way to assemble proper!

iReview | BUMBLEBEE

Sent on a mission to find a safe planet that the Autobots can call their next home Bumblebee goes back a generation and presents the origin story of one of the most valiant Transformers of them all.

As a movie franchise the Transformers have outpaced any expectations in Hollywood. No one could have imagined that a feature-length film based on a popular line of action figures from the 80s that also inspired a companion animated television series would have box office bankability a decade after the first film hit the multiplex. Five installments later, Michael Bay’s epic has continued to ignite the imagination, and in the latest spin-off, Bumblebee establishes the origin story of one of the franchise favorites.

On a mission to find a safe haven, the Autobot B-127 finds his way to Earth.

After several attempts at elaborating on the Transformers mythology, an intergalactic race of intelligent robots that are engaged in a civil war over their world’s depleting resources, Bumblebee is the first at successfully recreating the familiar aesthetic of the “Generation 1” Transformers many of us grew up with. The film opens with a look at the warring factions on their home world of Cybertron. The heroic Autobots led by Optimus Prime sends his most valuable agent B-127 on a mission to secure on outpost on Earth away from the prying eyes of the evil Decepticons.

As the battle rages B-127, the eventual titular hero of our story, is blasted into space and crashes in a blaze of glory on the planet Earth in the midst of military war games — and its 1987! The military give chase to the alien robot in their midst, but B-127 has bigger problems when an enemy agent discovers his location and attacks, merciless ripping out B-127’s vocal chords and severely damaging his memory processor. B-127 deals his assailant a final blow, but in the end he’s rendered nearly inoperable and goes into hibernation.

Hiding in plain site as expected n the guise of a yellow classic VW Bug, the Autobot is discovered by a young woman, Charlie played by Hailee Steinfeld, and the pair immediately develop a bond. Charlie names the alien “Bumblebee” and proceeds to uncover his true mission, introducing Bumblebee to 80s music in an effort to help him to learn to communicate, especially with his audio vocalizer still damaged. It isn’t long before two Decepticon agents uncover the fugitive and proceed to converge on Bumblebee’s position.

Prequel vs Origin Story?

When it was first announced that a stand-alone feature focusing on Bumblebee would be spinning-off of the film franchises, many assumed it was in an answer to the growing mass-proliferation of the Star Wars universe after Disney had purchased the brand from George Lucas. With the exception of perhaps Optimus Prime himself, it made since that if any of the characters in the arsenal of the toy brand could be made to stand on its own Bumblebee would emerge the likely asset. It also helps that he is introduced the Transformers film franchise.

Michael Bay may have set a tone with his first five Transformers movies, but perhaps passing Bumblebee along to Travis Knight may have been the right call. Setting the film in the late 80s is fittingly meta, but it also gives the mythology of the Transformers room to breathe. As a lead character Bumblebee works really well, because similarly to other benevolent E.T.s, the hero is incredibly relatable, and not to mention very cute. That doesn’t mean the VW Bug can’t pack a punch, and proves a formidable soldier.

As a sidekick Hailee Steinfeld is wonderfully appealing and organically fits in to the time and place of this particular adventure. It’s also a welcome change from the highly charged testosterone of its predecessors. Steinfeld’s Charlie may not continue with the next installment of Bumblebee but that’s OK. The real hero has been established and the audience is already invested in his journey. Perhaps the next time around, the eager young scout will be joined by other Autobot favorites like Wheeljack or Ironhide, before the next major threat, in the meantime Bumblebee can handle it.

Bumblebee starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Sena, directed by Travis Knight is available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Rated PG-13

ICYMI | HALLOWEEN (2018) on Digital HD

Available now on Digital HD the sequel a generation has been waiting for! Halloween continues the story of the night that he came home. The original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the nightmare that started it all.

In the horror film genre there is perhaps no more terrifying film than Halloween — the original released in 1978 directed by John Carpenter turned its leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis into a star and ignited a phenomenon. Carpenter’s original, produced on a shoe-string budget, did more with very little and terrified audiences while hardly showing any blood on film. In its wake there came a series of sequels and reboots and even some more far fetched stories that would turn Michael Myers, the film’s psychopath, into something supernatural.

For the most current interpretation of the series, director David Gordon Green revisited Carpenter’s original and focused completely on that film’s “Final Girl” answering the question: What kind of life did Laurie Strode (Curtis) have after the fateful babysitter massacre of 40 years ago. Co-written by Danny McBride the film explores the lengths to which Strode has gone to survive, choosing not to be victimized in the murderous wake of Michael Myers. Unfortunately, she has existed only in the memory of the terror she experienced that night.

When Myers escapes from the mental asylum, the monster returns to Haddonfield, Illinois to finish what he’s started, though Myers may not have anticipated the distance to which Strode has gone to protect those that she loves. Curtis is exceptional as the film’s iconic heroine and doesn’t miss a beat stepping back into the skin of one of cinema’s most legendary roles, and by Halloween’s conclusion you’ll be reminded of why this has proven one of the most endurable blockbuster franchises, but has the nightmare finally ended? After all Halloween comes once every year.

Sequel or Reboot?

Green and McBride approached their screenplay from a uniquely unexplored perspective. While many of the previous films in the franchise put the peril of the antagonist as the driving narrative for Halloween (2018) the pair decided that the story would be more interesting if it was perceived through the experience of the original’s lone survivor: Laurie Strode. Curtis admits, in one of the home releases bonus features, that she was committed to their vision after only reading the first few pages. 

At the beginning of the feature, a pair of investigative journalists are chasing down the legend of Michael Myers…

…the pair set in motion a series of events that lead back to Strode her has dedicated her life extreme survival, and in the wake of that clear focus compromised the life of her daughter, who is now all grown and steadily convinced that Laurie is not far from a good influence on her granddaughter. When Strode’s worst premonition comes true and Michael returns reign terror on their town on Halloween, this time Laurie is ready! Green convinced John Carpenter to return, and the filmmaker who created the mythology bestowed his seal of approval on Halloween (2018).

Though it may disappoint some of the fandom that this installment erases many of the stories that followed after the original (including the landmark H20: Halloween 20 Years Later) as a proper sequel to John Carpenter’s narrative it stands up and is very well made to appeal to contemporary audiences. Choosing to dictate the story from Strode’s own psychosis has given Curtis a reinvigorated entry into the franchise with a very deliberate purpose and direction that is truthful and appealing.

Available for home viewing the feature includes bonus content including Extended and Deleted Scenes not seen in theaters, a Making Of featurette and several behind-the-scenes looks at the film including “The Legacy of Halloween”.

Halloween (2018) directed by David Gordon Green and starring Jamie Lee Curtis is available now in 4K Ultra HD | HDR digital download on iTunes and will be available in additional formats on January 15, 2019.