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REVIEW:

BLU-RAY ROUND-UP


April & May 2015


By Daniel Lammin, 31st May 2015
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BLU-RAY ROUND-UP

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APRIL & MAY 2015

HOME ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW
Daniel Lammin
By Daniel Lammin, 31st May 2015
Since our last Home Entertainment Round-Up, we’ve been swamped with amazing titles, both from film and television. From the Second World War to the halls of Henry VIII, from a womens prison to the fairy tale woods, this is a bumper of a Wrap-Up!
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THE IMITATION GAME
In the Battle of the biopics last year, one of the few to emerge unscathed and with some serious awards recognition was Morten Tyldum’s ‘The Imitation Game’, the story of controversial codebreaker Alan Turing. Though not an extraordinary film by any stretch, it did offer a handsome retelling of Turing’s story with an impressive cast at the helm. However, like any biopic of an historical figure as maligned and important as Turing, it courted its own controversy.

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was one of the most important figures in the breaking of the mysterious Enigma code used by the Nazis during the Second World War, but even after essentially helping to win the war, he was arrested years later for his homosexuality and accepted chemical castration as his punishment before committing suicide at 41. ‘The Imitation Game’ moves between the arrest and his days working on the code at Bletchley Park, where he formed a strong relationship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) who would become his greatest confidant. Working from a screenplay by first-time writer Graham Moore (who won an Oscar for the film), Tyldum follows all the rules in telling Turing’s story, but does so with tremendous skill and sensitivity. It’s a beautifully made and carefully paced film, benefitting from a superb ensemble and a surprisingly sharp edge. The film received a lot of criticism for appearing to wash over Turing’s sexuality and the brutality of its punishment, but by contrast I found ‘The Imitation Game’ to be a quietly angry film, holding back its punch till its final moments, where it hits with the force of a sledgehammer. Its chief concern is to tell the story of Turing and the Enigma Code, but only after showing his incredible work and his volatile, tortured personality does it comment and ultimately damn his fate. This might not be enough for some viewers, and I completely understand that, but as a young gay man seeing the destruction of one of the most important figures in queer history, I found myself choking back unexpected angry tears.

A lot of this is down to the superb work of the two leads. Benedict Cumberbatch has been threatening a performance this good for years and his work as Turing is stirring, detailed and unforgiving. Lesser hands would have fallen into the trap of mythologising him or skipping over his less amicable traits, but Cumberbatch totally embraces them. Just as impressive is Knightley as Joan, delivering one of her best performances. I’ve always loved Keira Knightley, and her work in this film is a perfect example of why. It’s gentle and human, and in the end it's Joan that delivers the film’s final vicious blow. The chemistry between the two leads is an absolute delight. There’s also tremendous work from Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, the MI5 contact for the Bletchley team, as well as Matthew Goode, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear.

What Morten Tyldum does with ‘The Imitation Game’ isn’t classic filmmaking by any means, but there’s something strangely haunting about the film. Turing was a remarkable figure, but as much a remarkably tragic one, a man who saved his country before his country damned him. Its subtle handling of his sexuality might not be quite enough, but any mention is a step forward, especially when handled as sensitively as this. For Cumberbatch and Knightley alone it’s a film worth seeing, but unlike ‘The Theory of Everything’ which was only worth it for the performances, ‘The Imitation Game’ is a gently angry film just as worth seeing on its own terms.

Click here to read our theatrical review of ‘The Imitation Game’.

PICTURE & SOUND
There’s not much to fault with Roadshow’s Blu-ray release of ‘The Imitation Game’. Tyldum and his cinematographer Oscar Faura shot it on film, and the 1080p 2.39:1 transfer maintains that important organic quality. Colours are saturated and subdued, full of autumnal tones and textures, with beautiful detail and clarity throughout. There’s also a gorgeous DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which brings the aural world of the film to life with a wholesome and rich sound, especially in regards to the beautiful score. As expected, the dialogue comes through with great clarity.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There’s a small collection of extras, but all of them shed a lot of light the making of the film. ‘The Making of The Imitation Game’ (22:44) is structured like a standard EPK, but ends up becoming quite an in-depth discussion of Turing and his work, and how the filmmakers adapted his story into film. It also discusses frankly his sexuality and the tragedy of his persecution. ‘Q&A Highlights’ (29:11) offer a collection of moments from the various Q&A sessions conducted around the film’s release and the awards season, featuring all the major players. Two small deleted scenes and an excellent commentary from Tyldum and Moore round out the set.

Few actors have so expertly navigated between comedy and drama like Billy Murray. Whether it be in classics like ‘Ghostbusters’ (1984) or beloved films like ‘Lost In Translation’ (2003), he’s maintained a career of memorable work, helped by the fact that he’s become much more pedantic in his choice of project. His most recent film, ‘St. Vincent’, finds Murray balancing humour and tragedy in a gorgeous ensemble film from first-time writer and director Theodore Melfi.

Vincent (Murray) is a cantankerous gentlemen, always cursing and often drunk. His solitary stupor is disturbed by his new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). With Maggie working long hours as a nurse, she employs Vincent as Oliver’s after-school babysitter. With little regard for what is appropriate, Vincent drags Oliver along on his adventures, a decision that not only helps to build Oliver’s confidence, but even brings some humanity out of Vincent. It’s not the most original of stories, but ‘St. Vincent’ is so beautifully and earnestly executed that this tried-and-true material feels fresh again. Melfi has a wonderful delicacy of touch with his direction, which helps enormously with some of the more clunky writing in his screenplay. This is a film full of so much heart that it’s impossible not to be taken up by it. Perhaps Malfi’s best move though is to step out of the way of his impeccable ensemble. Bill Murray is predictably superb as Vincent, relishing his grumpy disregard yet fully embracing his humanity when the moment arrives. And yet the film doesn’t become the Billy Murray Hour, thanks to his generosity with his peers. McCarthy proves she has some serious dramatic skills she’s been hiding as Maggie, and Naomi Watts shows some unexpected comedy gold as Vincent’s pregnant Russian prostitute girlfriend Daka. In fact, she almost walks away with the film, she’s so funny! The quiet star of the film though is young Lieberher, who is absolutely gorgeous as Oliver. His transformation from a closed little kid to a passionate young man is wonderful to watch. There’s also charming work from Chris O’Dowd as Oliver’s teacher Brother Geraghty.

So many films spend so much time these days trying to break the mould or change the form that sometimes it’s nice just to find a film that tells a good story with some great characters. ‘St. Vincent’ is a quietly wonderful film, the kind that makes you roar with laughter then have a bit of a cry before sending you off with a spring in your step. The film might be built around Bill Murray, but it’s a real sign of his talent that he sits better as part of an exceptional ensemble of actors. This is the kind of film that will win a second life on Blu-ray, as audiences inevitably discover and embrace it.

Click here to read our theatrical review of ‘St. Vincent’.

PICTURE & SOUND
‘St. Vincent’ is given a gorgeous 1080p 1.85:1 transfer that captures the sleepy visuals of the film. The high definition transfer doesn’t boost the colours unnecessarily, keeping the subdued blues and greens of the colour palette. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is likewise wonderful, balancing the subtle sound design and score with the dialogue. Roadshow have given ‘St. Vincent’ a modestly perfect video and audio presentation.

SPECIAL FEATURES
This release offers a small collection of features, but both options have merit. ‘Bill Murray is St. Vincent: The Patron Saint Of Comedy’ (19:55) is complied from various Q&A sessions conducted around the film’s release. There are tid-bits on the making of the film, but mostly it praises Murray for his work on the film and his career. It’s interesting stuff but a tad aggravating as it comes at the cost of the film itself. There’s also a collection of short deleted scenes.

As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I can say one thing for sure – kids these days have no idea what they’re missing out on. Those days, there were classic kids films popping up every five minutes, from ‘The Goonies’ to ‘The Little Rascals’ to ‘Richie Rich’ to ‘Dunston Checks In’. These days, all kids get are never-ending superhero films, young-adult dystopias and bland princess films. What happened to slapstick silliness, family adventures and a bit of a gross-out? This might be the reason I loved ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day’ so much. I went in expecting a awful hyped-up made-for-television waste of time. Instead, I got to be ten again and giggle through my hands at something kinda naughty and kinda wonderful.

Poor Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) never has much luck. His over-achieving family, including parents Ben (Steve Carell) and Kelly (Jennifer Garner) always have everything go right for them, but Alexander’s life is just a succession of accidents and bad luck. This all changes though when, on his birthday, he wishes for the tables to turn and, to his surprise his entire family, from his parents to his older brother and sister to his baby brother, fall into absolute chaos. It’s a cute, simple premise, based on the beloved children’s book by Judith Viorst, and one that’s mined for all its comic potential. Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Rob Lieber do a sterling job with this film, keeping the pace cracking and the gags flying, but with a dangerous irreverence that lifts it high above its contemporaries. There are so many unexpected and cheeky surprises in this film, and like the best family films, brims with detail that appeals to almost any age group. With so many movies being suffocated by pedantic political correctness, it’s great to see some characters in jeopardy from being set on fire, attacked by wild animals or being caught in a high-wire act after overdosing on cough medicine. The supporting cast, from Carell and Garner right through the other Cooper siblings, throw themselves into the proceedings with spectacular commitment, while rising Australian star Ed Oxenbould holds the film together with his honesty, integrity and earnestness. Together, they make one hell of a family unit, and as they navigate through the curse Alexander has placed on them, their understanding of one another only becomes stronger.

To understand what makes ‘Alexander’ such a great film, you have to see it in the context of family films. It’s full of heart, humour, danger and fun and it doesn’t apologise or hold back on anything. If you’re young or just young at heart and in the mood for something silly, I cannot recommend this film enough. With so much sound and fury being thrown on the cinema screen these days, a film this much fun is a rare find indeed.

Click here to read our theatrical review of ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day’.

PICTURE & SOUND
‘Alexander’ practically leaps of the screen in a vibrant and colourful 1080p 2.39:1 transfer. The bright and bouncy visuals look terrific in high definition, with colour jumping off the screen and detail striking across the board. The same can be said for the wonderfully active DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, brimming with aural detail, and balanced beautifully with the dialogue. Overall, the film could not have asked for better.

SPECIAL FEATURES
All of the extras are aimed at a younger audience, but they aren’t without charm. ‘Alexander In Real Life’ (5:00) features interviews with author Judith Viorst and her son Alexander, on whom the book is based. ‘Snappy Crocs and Punchy Roos’ (7:00) focuses on the penultimate party scene, while ‘Walkabout: A Video Diary’ (6:00) is a personal view of the making of the film from star Ed Oxenbould. There’s also a Gag Reel (of course) and a music video.

As part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, we took a look at Peter Weir’s 1981 masterpiece, still arguably the finest film on this important event. It also coincided with the long-awaited restoration and Blu-ray release of the film. You can read my thoughts on the film in that feature article, but I thought I’d make some room here to look at the Blu-ray release itself, and whether it does justice to this incredibly powerful and important piece of Australian cinema.

Click here to read our retrospective feature on Peter Weir’s ‘Gallipoli’.

PICTURE & SOUND
‘Gallipoli’ was restored by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, and it is this restoration that Fox have used for the 1080p 2.35:1 transfer. While the film looks better than it ever has, with excellent clarity and detail throughout, the transfer does give away the age of the film. There are scratches and marks across the print, understandable for a film of its age, and the only way to eliminate them would have been a more extensive restoration. That said, it’s still an excellent transfer that maintains the cinematic look of the film. The same applies to the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, a modest expansion of the original stereo tracks that does its best dealing with the limitations of the original source. The original stereo track is included, but not in a lossless source. Considering all this restoration work was conducted locally, this is an excellent presentation of an important classic.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Most of the features from the original 2-disc DVD are included, with further material included from the History Channel’s ANZAC 100 celebration. Material on the film includes the original DVD interviews with Peter Weir (15:48) and Mel Gibson (12:08), along with a new interview with Mark Lee (15:21). All three discuss the film in detail and their experiences working with such sensitive material. The rest of the features cover the campaign itself, chief of which is the vintage documentary ‘Boys of the Dardanelles: Why Do We Remember’ (22:28), which includes interviews in 1984 with men who served at Gallipoli. There’s also a number of short featurettes from the History Channel, and discussion of the vital Keith Murdoch Letter, which helped change the course of the campaign. There’s also a number of text features as school resources.

At first glance, Disney might seem the perfect place for Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s ground-breaking musical classic ‘Into the Woods’. Taking classic fairy tales and re-examining them with a revisionist bent, the musical features many characters already immortalised in the great Disney classics. However, ‘Into the Woods’ is far from straight-forward entertainment, Sondheim injecting it with his musical genius to make a complex, intelligent and almost academic work that engages its audience intellectually as well as emotionally. It’s fiendishly difficult to stage as it is, but in the hands of director Rob Marshall and with a stellar cast, there were high hopes this would be a rare success in translation from stage to screen. Unfortunately, like most transitions, it proved very much otherwise.

All the pieces suggest that ‘Into the Woods’ should have worked – the cast is incredible, including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, James Corden and Johnny Depp, the screenplay was adapted by Lapine himself, and most of the team behind the camera worked with Marshall on his Oscar-winning masterpiece ‘Chicago’ (2002). The biggest shock though is just how soulless and unimaginative the final result actually is. The film fails on both fronts – for those familiar with the musical, it’s a frustrating experience seeing much of the wit and emotional resonance disappear under lacklustre staging and plodding rhythms, and those unfamiliar will wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place, the film never adequately clarifying its message or purpose. Marshall’s usual flair, which even held him in good stead with misfires like ‘Nine’ (2009) is nowhere to be seen, with many of the numbers executed as if they were on a stage. The music does sound fabulous with a full orchestra (and unlike ‘Les Miserables’, you can actually hear it this time), and a few of the numbers land beautifully, like Cinderella’s lament on the steps of the palace or the perfectly pitched princes duet ‘Agony’, but for every great number, there are three bad ones.

The cast mostly emerge with their dignity, especially Emily Blunt who steals the film as the Baker’s Wife. Anna Kendrick is also wonderfully detailed as Cinderella, and the supporting players like Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman are all excellent. Even Johnny Depp does a great job as the Wolf. The biggest shock though is that, in the (almost) title role as The Witch, Meryl Streep… well… just isn’t very good. Her usual intelligence and power are strangely absent, and it’s not clear exactly what kind of performance she is pitching. Seeing Streep as anything other than spectacular is one of the most unnerving sights for a film lover.

Where there could have been a genuine film musical classic, what we have is very far from that. ‘Into the Woods’ is a missed opportunity, a rich piece of material stripped of its magic and heart, instead leaving it a cold mess. There are flashes of something there, a suggestion of the film it could have been, but these only make it all the more frustrating. This is not the sure-fire classic we were all hoping for, not by a long shot.

Click here to read our theatrical review of ‘Into the Woods’.

PICTURE & SOUND
The film itself might be lacklustre, but Disney’s Blu-ray presentation is anything but. The 1080p 2.39:1 transfer is sumptuous, filling the screen with colour and detail. Everything is crystal clear, showing off the best of the production design and cinematography, especially with the detail in the costumes. The film genuinely sparkles with its sleepy storybook aesthetic in high definition. It’s complemented by a gorgeous DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that takes full advantage of Sondheim’s beautiful score, balanced perfectly with the vocal performances without ever overpowering them. This is the kind of presentation every musical film needs and deserves.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Another huge surprise with this release are the substantial number of extras included, more than any Disney film in a very long time. ‘She’ll Be Back’ (5:00) will be of particular interest, a new song written by Sondheim for the film and performed by Streep which was eventually deleted. It’s a classic bit of Sondheim, though ultimately unnecessary. There are also a number of production featurettes, all top quality. ‘There’s Something In The Woods’ (13:00) gives an excellent overview of the production with key cast and crew speaking about the film and the original production. ‘The Cast As Good As Gold’ (10:00) then looks at the impressive cast and their experience making the film. The chief material though is in ‘Deeper Into The Woods’ (30:00), a four-part documentary that covers the production process in more detail. There’s also a commentary with Marshall and producer John DeLuca that adds more detail to the filmmaking process, and a Music and Lyrics option that lets you skip to individual numbers. If only the film itself were as engaging as the special features attached to it.

‘House of Cards’ may be the crown jewel for streaming juggernaut Netflix, but possibly their finest achievement is this modest show about a group of women in an all-female penitentiary. Expertly straddling the gap between comedy and drama, ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is one of those lightning-in-a-bottle television events that constantly subverts expectations, not only with its narrative but with the form itself. The series is built around Piper (Taylor Schilling), who finds herself behind the walls of Litchfield Penitentiary after she pleads guilty to a drug trafficking charge from her younger days. We follow her as she navigates through the prison system and the most extraordinary collection of women we’ve seen on film in a long time, each as distinct and remarkable as the last. That’s perhaps the most impressive thing about 'OITNB' – the cast is practically flawless, each member of the ensemble as exemplary as the last. Just look at the Emmy nominations from last year and the comedy category was pretty much dominated by these great women.

Under the watchful eye of creator Jenji Kohan ('Weeds'), the series manages to pull off the tricky balancing act of commenting on current issues relating to the rights and safety of women without ever making it feel topical or self-conscious. Rather than simply ticking the boxes of relevant current issues, the series weaves these themes through the characters and their complex situations, and by doing so actually makes them resonate and connect all the more potently. Its representation of women of all colours, sexualities and backgrounds is genuinely ground-breaking, but it never asks for any points for doing so. And to top it all off, even while handling so much sensitive material, it’s a tremendous amount of fun, swinging from crass humour to situational comedy to flat-out surrealism. It might have some serious things to say, but it does so with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

With the release of Season Two on Blu-ray, Roadshow have made up for past mistakes and also released Season One on the format as well, and this is one of those shows that deserve a repeat viewing. Even with more great television around than you could ever watch, ‘Orange Is the New Black’ distinguishes itself as something very special indeed – radical, dangerous, hilarious and heartbreaking. This is one little miracle of a show.

PICTURE & SOUND
'OITNB' isn’t one of the flashiest shows on television, but it still scrubs up a treat on Blu-ray. Shot for high definition television, both seasons boast strong 1080p 1.78:1 transfers across all episodes with striking detail and clarity. More importantly, the transfers don’t lose the verite quality of the visuals, more documentary than the cinematic spit-and-polish of a show like ‘House of Cards’. The same applies for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, modest yet impressive, with the dialogue placed in the centre and balanced with the score and sound effects. It won’t blow you away, but the video and audio presentation of this series is still top-notch.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Similar features are offered on both seasons, with all the material ported over from the U.S. releases, a mix of featurettes and commentaries on selected episodes. All the featurettes are full of cast and crew interviews, including the real Piper, who wrote the book on which the series is based. Season One offers two commentaries from the producing team on the pilot and season finale, and four featurettes – ‘New Kid On The Block’ (6:55), a short yet thorough overview of the series, ‘It’s Tribal’ (7:36) on the racial politics of the show, ‘Mother Hen’ (6:35) on Kate Mulgrew’s series matriarch Red, and ‘Prison Rules’ (7:42) on the rules and regulations of prison life. It all tidies up with a Gag Reel (6:34).

Season Two also features two commentaries, this time with members of the cast. They cover the third and sixth episodes. The featurettes on offer are ‘Back Before The Potato Sack’ (15:26) on the more complex storytelling in the second season, ‘Orange Peeled’ (15:44) on the writing team behind the show, ‘A Walk Around The Block’ (7:26) looks at the production design, and ‘The Vee.I.P. Treatment’ (10:51) discusses the ‘villain’ of the season Vee.

The BBC has always had a reputation for crafting the best period and historical dramas for television, but they’ve really outdone themselves with ‘Wolf Hall’. Adapted from Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, this remarkable series takes the well-known saga of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and strips it to the bone, as told through the eyes of Henry’s chief advisor Thomas Cromwell. Familiar figures such as Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey, and the intricate political turmoil of Tudor England are revised under the collective eyes of Mantel, screenwriter Peter Straughan and director Peter Kosminsky, and a period of history so often revisited becomes something fresh and intriguing once again.

The six-part series charts the rise of Cromwell (Mark Rylance) from a common-born lawyer in the service of disgraced Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce) to the right-hand man of Henry VIII (Damien Lewis), who enlists Cromwell to push for the separation with the Roman Catholic Church that will allow him to divorce his wife and marry the beautiful and ambitious Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy). Now amongst men of higher birth than himself, Cromwell works to maintain his position and the favour of the king and emerging queen, all the while plotting the downfall of the noblemen who brought about Wolsey’s disgrace and death. What makes ‘Wolf Hall’ a far more vital and extraordinary telling of events is its startling realism, shot in a documentary style under natural light, the production design forgoing opulent trappings for large sparingly decorated spaces. I can’t think of any historical drama that somehow manages to be as historically authentic and yet as modern as ‘Wolf Hall’, which may be thanks to the philosophy of both the books and the series, discussed in the special features, that these characters have no idea they are a part of history. Each twist and turn, regardless of its familiarity, feels immediate and as it builds towards its devastating climax, the inevitability of events become far more potent than they have been in a very long time. The final moments of the series will send shivers down your spine. With so much TV and film leaning towards excess and romanticism, ‘Wolf Hall’ is a shock to the system, a series that takes itself very seriously and refuses to play by any rules. Filled with startling images and bolstered by a powerful score by Debbie Wiseman, what should feel stuffy and over-told becomes as arresting as any tale of a modern country in crisis.

Matching the incredible work behind the camera is the extraordinary ensemble, one of the finest ever assembled for a BBC series. Mark Rylance is spectacular as Cromwell, a quiet and detailed performance that holds the series together. There is a silent, suppressed fury to Cromwell, and Rylance keeps us on the edge of our seat waiting to uncover even a glimpse of it. Lewis is fantastic as the petulant yet good-hearted Henry before he descends into his own personal form of tyranny, and Foy fills Anne Boleyn with just the right balance of venom and vulnerability. There’s also Jonathan Pryce, Bernard Hill, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kate Phillips, Joanne Whalley, Mathieu Amalric and Tom Holland, and there’s little doubt that such an impressive cast could only have been assembled for a television series on the strength and reputation of its material. Not a single member of the ensemble lets the series down, and the cumulative talent lift it high above its contemporaries.

For ‘Wolf Hall’, history is not a playground and its figures aren’t play toys. Rather, it is a rich and dangerous field from which to dig into the complex mechanisms of human relationships. This is an extraordinary piece of television, well deserving of its status as a prestige drama from the BBC. By taking a unique perspective on a well-known period and bring it to life with a phenomenal collection of artists, the team behind the series have rewritten the rules of the historical drama and set a new bar for the future. And with the BBC already committed to adapting Mantel’s yet-to-be-published final Cromwell novel, there’s more yet to come. I’m already beside myself with anticipation.

PICTURE & SOUND
It’s an absolute tragedy that Roadshow haven’t released ‘Wolf Hall’ on Blu-ray, as the series would look terrific in high definition. That said the DVD is still an excellent presentation of the series, the 1.78:1 image showing off the beautiful cinematography with vibrant colours and detail. Kosminsky chose to shoot the series only using natural light and candlelight, so it’s a credit to the transfer that as much detail in the image is as visible as it is. There’s also a simple yet effective Dolby Digital 2.0 that balances the sound design with the dialogue, placing it in the forefront. It’s a wise decision, considering the complexity of the language. Hopefully with the eventual release of ‘The Mirror and the Light’ in the future, Roadshow will bring ‘Wolf Hall’ to Blu-ray.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There are only a small collection of features spread across the two discs. On the first, three featurettes cover ‘The People and the Politics' (10:05), ‘History and Design’ (5:18) and ‘Bring It to the Screen' (6:27). Most of the creative team and cast discuss in depth in the short space of time what was involved in bringing the novels to the screen, and though a commentary would have been terrific, there’s a lot of great information here. The second disc follows with over 18 minutes of interviews, much of it used in the other features.

Also reviewed at SWITCH...

SPIRITED AWAY
After an almost impossible wait, one of the finest animated films ever made finally arrives on Blu-ray. Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning masterpiece follows a young girl thrown into the mysterious and magical realm of the gods when she is forced to work in bathhouse built specifically for them. Featuring a beautiful transfer and a solid collection of features, this is the one film in the Studio Ghibli catalogue we’re been waiting for.

Click here to read the full Blu-ray review of ‘Spirited Away’, and here to read our retrospective on the career of Hayao Miyazaki.

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
Studio Ghibli have long been the most powerful force in animation, pushing the medium in terms of both artistry and storytelling. Nothing though prepares you for the sheer elemental force of ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’, the final film from founding Ghibli animator Isao Takahata. Painfully beautiful and executed in a visual style that needs to be seen to be believed, this adaptation of the oldest of Japanese folk tales is one of Ghibli’s crowning achievements.

Click here to read our full Blu-ray review of ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’, and here to read our retrospective on the career of Isao Takahata.

MR TURNER
Acclaimed director Mike Leigh lends his unique talents to the life of artist J.W. Turner in this award-winning biopic. Visually sumptuous and featuring a career-defining performance by Timothy Spall, this is a rare biographical film that lets you into the soul of an artist rather than giving you a tick-the-boxes synopsis on their life.

Click here to read the full Blu-ray review of ‘Mr Turner’.

DINOSAUR 13
Filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller stumbles upon one hell of a story for his impressive documentary ‘Dinosaur 13’. Chronicling one of the most important archaeological finds of all time and the titanic legal battle that followed it, the film takes us down a legal rabbit-hole where the definition of ownership over fossilised discoveries comes into question. Like any great documentary, ‘Dinosaur 13’ is a tale stranger than fiction and brimming with tension and endless twists.

Click here to read the full DVD review of ‘Dinosaur 13’.

THE SALVATION
Denmark tries its hand at the western with this handsome if undercooked tale of revenge. Mads Mikkelsen is Jon, a man who loses his wife and son in a robbery and begins a trail of retribution that leads him to the doorstep of a powerful and dangerous gang with their own vicious streak of revenge. There’s a lot going on to admire in ‘The Salvation’, but unfortunately it never quite becomes the sum of its parts.

Click here to read the full Blu-ray review of ‘The Salvation’.

CAMP X-RAY
First-time writer and director Peter Sattler takes on one hell of a subject for his debut feature, looking at the mysterious and controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay. At the heart of this impressive film is the growing relationship between a guard, Cole (Kristen Stewart) and an inmate, Ali (Peyman Moaadi), and the tricky internal politics that come with it. It’s tricky material, and ‘Camp X-Ray’ does an admirable job tackling it.

Click here to read the full DVD review of ‘Camp X-Ray’.

AMERICAN SNIPER
Clint Eastwood’s latest, covering the life and military career of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, gained much awards attention even though it left many divided on its politics. The greater issue though is just how poorly made and ill-conceived the film is, and even with a strong central performance by Bradley Cooper, the end result is a pointless, self-important waste. There was a great film to be made here, but a great film is not what we have.

Click here to read the full Blu-ray review of ‘American Sniper’.

THE GAMBLER
Terrific filmmaking and a electric central performance from Mark Wahlberg elevate what could have been a pedestrian remake of the original 70s classic into something more curious and impressive. Following a literary professor with gambling problems on a path of ultimate self-destruction, ‘The Gambler’ is definitely a film worth checking out.

Click here for our full Blu-ray review of ‘The Gambler’.

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