Sakra Blu-ray Review: Donnie Yen’s The Fugitive

Donnie Yen is still at it. In addition to facing John Wick he’s still making his own vehicles. Sakra is a martial arts period piece that takes Yen’s fighting to another level with modern enhancement.

CGI enhances Yen’s speed but it’s still his movies. That’s an interesting modern technology take on old school Kung Fu. They used to undercrank and use wires, but now they have another tool to make Yen look supernatural. They’ve been using CGI to erase wires for decades, but now they can vary the speed and rhythm of traditional choreography too.

The plot is sort of Donnie Yen’s The Fugitive. He’s framed for a murder so has to defend himself while looking for the real killer. It gets much more complicated, mythological and romantic before the first hour is even up.

Sakra looks gorgeous on Blu-ray with its widescreen fields and forest, historic towns and aerial shots of Chinese rooftops. Rain and mud add HD texture, as do sandstorms with blood on the ground.

The sound mix has fun whizzing and whooshing sounds surrounding the viewer too.

John Wick: Chapter 4 4K UHD Review: Chapter 4K

The John Wick movies always looked great in 4K with their neon colors and just everything in the frame carefully composed to make everything matter. John Wick: Chapter 4 continues that trend with some new added aesthetics.

The neon green is a given but the epic sequel adds more with the red Osaka hotel, the Marquis’s golden palace and the golden Arabian desert with the hero in black on a black steed pursuing villains in white robes on white stallions.

The lighting in interiors remains top notch. Shadows make the Continental hotels and clubs ominous settings for John Wick’s battles. Fighters in black suits, or in black armor, at night, in the dark, it all shows up with distinct levels in high dynamic range.

Sound is just as full bodied beginning with Wick’s punches that echo throughout the room. Gunshots ricochet and there are fun touches like disarmed weapons falling in the rear corner and horses circling in the stable.

There are 11 featurettes too, plus a preview of the Peacock series The Continental.

Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski are present throughout as their costars and below the line talent get highlighted. The philosophy of how to incorporate nunchucks highlights how unique that sequence was. Other fun tidbits include the fact that Tracker’s dog is played by five dogs, three girls and two boys.

You get to see all the elements of the Arc de Triomphe which shows why John Wick movies are far better at selling the illusion of complex sequences than the usual Hollywood fare. You also get to see how they built the water club.

Transformers 4K UHD Steelbook Collection Review: Rise of the Franchise

The impending release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts means we got an updated complete collection. The last 4K set was just the Michael Bay 5. Now it includes Bumblebee so when Beasts hits video it’ll be outsider until the next set. But if you haven’t upgraded yet these films are worth it in 4K. They’re like a shiny new toy.

Even the five Bay movies show an evolution of filming styles. They’re all sweaty but he goes from shooting film to experimenting with Imax and then digital for 3D. It is a shame the Imax versions aren’t included but you can tell which sequences were shot in Imax because it’s twice the visual information. That’s noticeable in 4K.

The complex robot designs are all shiny and brightly colored. You can also see the evolution from the first movie to adding more detail each time. The further along the technology goes, they add more battle damage and robots pick up environmental dirt.

But practical locations look like Nat Geo too. Bumblebee is 1.85 so it looks as grand as Imax on a big 4K TV, especially with the robots towering over you and your couch.

Each of the films have a ton of surround sounds and rumbles, whirring, vrooms  and mechanical sounds plus shooting and regular destruction.

Let’s do a quick recap of the first six movies before Rise of the Beasts. The first Transformers still really works. It has just enough Spielbergian awe at these new cinematic creations along with the Mayhem.

Revenge of the Fallen was made during the last writers strike with an unfinished script. It is aggressively repulsive and yet kind of remarkable. It takes a lot of risks (the human Decepticon, the racist robot sidekicks, the robot conspiracy theory truthers, robot testicles) and absolutely none of them work. That’s quite an achievement so it’s fascinating.

Dark of the Moon is the most dull and boring. The Wahlberg duopoly gets back on track to the tone of the first with new characters discovering the robots. And Bumblebee is the live-action Transformers movie we dreamed of in the ‘80s

Indiana Jones 4K UHDs Don’t Nuke the Fridge!

Two years ago, the Indiana Jones movies came to 4K just before I got my upgrade. Now I’m grateful Dial of Destiny warrants these single disc reissues. If you didn’t want last year’s steelbooks, these come with the original theatrical artwork.

These movies really emphasis shadow work in 4K. The way Spielberg loved to introduce Indy shrouded in shadow, he really emerges from total darkness now.

Jungles are full of shadow patches to make it even more ominous. Caves make you appreciate just how subtle the designs of these ancient temples are. They’re not just dark caves. There are light beams that highlight production design and also hide some subtle delights.

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These 4Ks really let you rediscover the classic adventures. Red fire glows on the faces in Marion’s bar, or the Thuggee temple.

I read Crystal Skull got new color grading to match the other three better. That’s a little above my pay grade but there’s no hiding it still looks like a movie made decades later.

Still, Crystal Skull doesn’t deserve quite the extreme hate. It gave our sister site the name Nuke the Fridge.

DVD and Blu-Ray releases probably generated the 5.1 mixes (maybe even laserdisc) so the John Williams score fills the room. Bullet whiz by, chimes ring behind you, snakes hiss, thunder cracks and every vehicle zooms around. That goes for jeeps, boats, planes, blimps and everything. The best punch sound in cinema history remains in the front.

When Dial comes home we’ll have to reconcile the Paramount sets and singles, but we’ll worry about that later. Extras were on the Blu-rays but the 4Ks do include trailers. It is great to see that Last Crusade behind the scenes teaser in high definition with all the film grain.

The Last Starfighter 4K UHD Review: 4K 4000 Lightyears Away

Summer movie season continues in 4K with this winner from 1984. I remember seeing it one because my parents needed something to take the kids to, so I had no idea a video game would lead to real space battles, though that hook would’ve certainly got me in.

In 4K deep space looks as epic as Star Wars. That goes for the earth scenes too as the starry night above ground is beautiful.

The interiors of those spaceship and station sets are slick and shiny. Early CGI consists of simple shapes in solid colors but that works in 4K. It’s pure and simple though it’s what previs looks like now.

Back on earth, the red tint of the Trailer Court neon sign casts a striking hue over scenes. The campsite under the stars almost makes me want to go outside. Almost.

Lasers surround you, even in the arcade game which wouldn’t have sound behind Alex but it’s fun in surround sound. There are some space flyovers too.

I never got Arrow’s Blu-ray release from 2020 so a lot of these are new extras to me since the Universal  Blu-ray. Catherine Mary Stewart names some other ‘80s icons she saw in auditions, and talks about imagining the VFX just like today’s blockbuster stars do.

Composer Craig Safan talks about the value of a non action theme and the John Williams elephant in room (I.e. how he distinguished Starfighter from Star Wars).

Screenwriter Jon Betuell, special effects supervisor Kevin Pike and even arcade collector Esti Vance have interesting stories to tell. Author Greg Bear provides the insight into the CGI company Digital Productions as he was privy to their work on the film.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 4K UHD Review: Inside Jarnathan

The Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 4K UHD (and DVD or Blu-ray editions) will give you a little tidbit about fan favorite character Jarnathan. He’s one of the film’s many creatures discussed in a 10 minute bonus feature. Legacy Effects’ Shane Mahon describes the costume.

“He’s walking on basically an articulate pair of high heel shoes,” Mahon says. “And then to add even more misery to him we’ve got a set of articulated wings. They weigh probably 60 lbs.”

That particular costume took six months to make. The feature really highlights how the film mixed animatronics and CGI. Some creatures went from motion capture directly into the animatronic on the set. They also show some of the CGI creatures superimposed at ILM campus as tests.

The 4K UHD really shows off all those varied techniques. Both practical and digital creatures show off fine detail.

Likewise, the 4K shows of detail in the corridor walls, peeling and scuffed. Lavish colors and jam packed CGI backgrounds show dungeons aflame with piles of skills that must be enhanced from practical set dressing.

Edgin’s bright lush village begins the film and the journey traverses mountain snowbanks. The giant castle is way bigger than Downton Abbey. Meadows are lush green and even dark towers and graveyards look great.

Magic provides heightened 4K colors. The bright glow of magic portals, evil green swords and smoke, and the blue light tendrils in caves stand out against already popping scenes.

The soundscape envelops you in the Forgotten Realms from the snowy prison blizzard to the dragon cave rumble and assorted creature roars. The score fills the room too.

There are more featurettes about other aspects of the film. 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes include a bit more comic banter, some character and mythology tidbits and a lot more with the reanimated knight.

The People Under the Stairs 4K UHD: Home Alone in the Dark

My favorite horror movie is now on 4K UHD. I always loved The People Under the Stairs as a kids vs. parents tale, like an R-rated Home Alone, but it holds up even more as the 1% oppressors getting their comeuppance. I still admire Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams)’s bravery going back in. I don’t know if I’d have the balls to go back after I escaped.

The 4K transfer still looks like film with the grain. There is a glow on Ving Rhames in the van and his African colors stand out in the dark house.

The deeper into the house Fool goes contains exquisite dark with only his lighter flame. The corridor between walls provides many shades of dark.

Wes Craven plays with light through slats so there are always black bars across faces. Flashlights in the dark and those stair people shine theirs through the wood in the basement.

Daddy (Everett McGill)’s gimp suit remains distinct in dark. You’ll see all the detail in the peeling walls, decrepit background and corridors between walls. Fool’s apartment is full of just as much detail in the glimpses you get before and between trips to the landlords’ house.

This isn’t a big surround movie. 1991 was just on the cusp and a low budget horror movie might not have sprung for it. The stereo mix still sounds good and Authentic to my first theatrical viewing, and last year’s showing at the New Bev.

I remember the Blu-ray came out right after Craven died so it was a real treasure to have him in the extras. Those are still included.

I’m so happy to have The People Under the Stairs in my life for over 30 years. VHS kept it alive for so long, this upgrade truly matches theatrical viewings, if not exceeding them in some choice scenes.

Thelma & Louise Criterion Collection 4K UHD Review: On the Road Against the World

As summer begins here’s a pivotal summer movie. In summer of T2 and Robin Hood, Thelma & Louise rocked the nation. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, Thelma & Louise comes to 4K UHD.

The desert never looked so dry on film before. The 4K transfer doesn’t push the cliche orange sunny glow.  It’s bright without being sweaty, just dry. Of course a few shots get wavy Heat vision but the only sweat in movie is bicyclist with the joint.

Stops along the road match this look. A motel room is clean and stark. It really brings out the lighting in roadside diners and behind bars, not well lit places in real life but controlled for scenes at emotional points in Thelma and Louise’s journey.

Opening scenes provide a real contrast. Louise’s diner and Thelma’s kitchen are comparably cold, but Thelma’s suburban yard is bright and colorful, maybe the last time their lives are so bright. Even their shiny blue car gets dirty on the road.

Surround is mainly reserved for the twangs of the score, but a crop duster flies by behind you. There is some thunder in the rear as well as gunshots and the echoes of the tanker explosion.

The new extras are on Blu-ray. Ridley Scott’s interview is more origins but he touches on Thelma & Louise and it has his first student films too. The best tidbit is how John Barry found out he missed out on scoring Alien and Blade Runner.

Callie Khouri reveals some backstory so warning if you prefer to keep it ambiguous. But she also touches on how little has changed sadly and why her next movie had no guns.

Creed III 4K UHD Review: No IMAX but Intense Action

Us Rocky fans surely didn’t miss Creed III in theaters. The film’s epic opening weekend suggests most of us were there the first night. But we also want to add the film to our Rocky collection and the 4K UHD joins the other Creeds and first four Rockys nicely.

It’s too bad they did not include the IMAX version for the fight scenes, but the staging of the fights holds up in 4K. The focus on the kidneys, the gloves and trunks gives way to flesh rippling, sweat and blood glistening.

The training montages look nice too because Michael B. Jordan staged them in outdoor spots in scenic Los Angeles. The surreal 11th round of the final bout looks epic in 4K UHD too.

Four minutes of deleted scenes show Dame (Jonathan Majors) being kind and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and Donnie (Jordan) talking to Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) after her fight at school. The most poignant deleted scene is with Little Duke (Wood Harris) after the funeral, talking about their dads and staying together despite their conflict.

Two 10 minute behind the scenes features showcase Jordan directing and creating Dame. The Jordan feature is a lot of what we already heard in the lead-up to the film’s release, but Majors reflects on Dame in scene-specific ways. You also get to see the actors doing push-ups in the ring between takes.

Knock at the Cabin 4K UHD Review: An Apocalyptic Twist

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, Knock at the Cabin, takes place in one location. It’s not the most extravagant location, but the woods outside the cabin look beautiful in 4K UHD. The cabin itself has a nice rustic wood interior too, and the light changes the later it gets in the day.

The thriller has effective surround sound effects too, with bumps and rumbles, as well as an intense score.

Deleted scenes include good flashbacks with Eric (Jonathan Groff)’s parents. I’m not sure how they’d play as more departures from the cabin but they’re worth seeing, as well as a little more cryptic backstory from Leonard (Dave Bautista) on how the four horsemen met. There’s also a lot more of that air fryer infomercial featuring Shyamalan’s cameo.

A 23 minute behind the scenes feature and several more shorter ones cover many aspects of the film from the adaptation of the novel, to diverse casting and Shyamalan’s shooting style. You see on the set Shyamalan wears a suit some days, but not all like Sam Raimi does. And you get to see the roofless interior of the cabin.