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On 4K UHD for the first time – a month ahead of the theatrical debut of its latest sequel — Paramount’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has at last generated a worthy home video release. Available in five separate 4K UHD combo packs, the Tom Cruise franchise finally hits its small-screen stride thanks to transfers that are markedly better than their prior Blu-Ray releases, which – while sufficient for the early days of high-def – were quickly outdated via their poor encoding and wildly inconsistent visual attributes.

The new 4K releases of the original MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (**½, 110 mins., 1996, PG-13) and John Woo’s guilty-pleasure MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 (**½, 123 mins., 2000, PG-13) both surpass their Blu-Ray counterparts thanks to stronger, more vibrant colors – accentuated by HDR – as well as enhanced detail. Even if there’s still a hint of inconsistency in the image of Brian DePalma’s first “Mission” (likely due to the uneven look of the film itself) and the first sequel, both presentations are highly satisfying and well worth the upgrade for fans – particularly when you bounce back to the MPEG-2 Blu-Ray transfers contained in these combo packs, which reprise the previously-available BDs and show off their shortcomings all the more against these spiffy new 4K, Dolby Vision-mastered versions.

Visually, the most consistent presentation among the initial three MI films is unsurprisingly found in  J.J. Abrams’ belated sequel, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (**, 125 mins., 2006, PG-13), a so-so adventure that strips away the outlandish action of Woo’s installment for a story (written by Abrams and his associates Alex Kurtman and Roberto Orci) that strives for a human dimension but doesn’t entirely come off. Tom Cruise’s performance as Ethan Hunt is nicely dialed down but the uneven pacing makes “M:I III” seem like an episode from one of Abrams’ TV series, with lots of handheld camera and action that comes in fits and starts. Indeed, the film’s ending even plays like a typical “Lost” episode, with a weepy montage of emotional shots backed by a somber Michael Giacchino score (sound familiar?). Looking back on III now, it’s difficult to envision that the initial version of the film – which was to have been directed by David Fincher and co-star Carrie-Ann Moss and Kenneth Branagh – wouldn’t have been far more interesting.

Visually, III’s 4K UHD is superb at every turn, offering a more consistent visual pallet than its predecessors on home video. The Dolby TrueHD mixes are finely engineered across the first three MI films and, in the case of I and II, provide a major upgrade on their respective Blu-Ray Dolby Digital tracks (that’s how outdated those discs are). Supplements on the first three MI films have all been ported over from their “Collector’s Edition” releases (various featurettes from the mid 2000s) and, in regards to III specifically, include a self-congratulatory commentary with Cruise and Abrams and a good amount of featurettes. Included among the Making Of footage is Giacchino at work on his score, even visited by Cruise on the set (it’s nice to hear Cruise’s fondness for Lalo Schifrin’s theme), plus deleted scenes and other goodies — most in HD as well.

Despite their lucrative receipts, I hadn’t been crazy about the franchise as a whole heading into 2011’sMISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (***, 131 mins., PG-13). DePalma’s 1996 original was a poorly-scripted adventure with some memorable, if outlandish, action set-pieces; Woo’s sequel (a worldwide smash and the highest grossing film of 2000) was a guilty pleasure for some (I count myself in that camp), but again pretentious and much more of a Woo picture than a “Mission: Impossible” story; and Abrams’ serviceable, though not overly inspired, third entry proved to be good enough to produce another sequel though not much more (it also performed well under its predecessors at the box-office).

With Cruise’s interest seeming to pick up every few years, I’m not sure audiences were, initially, that excited about “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” but this entertaining and playful sequel proved to be an enormous hit – grossing over $600 million worldwide and ranking still as the most satisfying picture in the entire series.

It’s also much more of a throwback to the original TV series – and the old James Bond movies – than its predecessors. The globe-trotting plot once again finds Ethan Hunt (Cruise) escaping from a Russian prison in time to reunite with his team (here comprised of Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner) for a mission requiring them to infiltrate the Kremlin. Unfortunately, the complex is bombed, with the IMF team being framed as terrorists responsible for the crime, sending all on the run in a hunt for the actual villain: a mysterious figure named “Cobalt” who killed an IMF agent (“Lost”’s Josh Holloway) in the film’s opening prologue.

“Ghost Protocol”’s tone and sense of fun are undoubtedly due to director Brad Bird, an animator best known for his work on “The Incredibles” pictures and “The Iron Giant” (and going further back, the “Family Dog” episode of Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories”). A sense of humor? Check. Gadgets? Check. International locales and dynamic set-pieces? Check (the entire Dubai sequence is inspired from start to end). While it’s disappointing that it took Cruise four films to get the formula right – here Hunt actually has a team, not fragments of one – Bird adds a notable visual dynamic that was absent from the third installment, resulting in a picture that’s thoroughly lively and inspired.

What’s also impressive is the film’s tone. This sequel is almost completely devoid of profanity, which in this day and age is something to be admired. The violence is likewise toned down, the worst of it occurring off-camera. At a time when PG-13 movies feel more like Rs, “Ghost Protocol” is also old-fashioned in the best sense of the word. Its only drawbacks are overlength (like a lot of modern action films, the fun seems to run out about 20 minutes before the end), and Michael Giacchino’s hardworking but unmemorable score, which does, at least, recycle more of Lalo Schifrin’s themes from the old series. Outside of that, “Ghost Protocol” was one of 2011’s biggest cinematic success stories, serving as a most successful relaunch for the MI film franchise.

Paramount’s Blu-Ray combo pack of “Ghost Protocol” was already excellent so it’s no surprise its 4K UHD proves a mild enhancement with HDR and Dolby Vision, as well as Dolby TrueHD sound. Special features are mostly housed on a second Blu-Ray disc (previously exclusive to Best Buy), comprised of a number of HD featurettes taking viewers behind the scenes, running the gamut from a look at the special effects to Giacchino’s scoring. There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes with Bird’s commentary – some of which are interesting but none essential – along with trailers.

Having finally settled on a winning formula, Cruise has reteamed with his “Jack Reacher” director, Christopher McQuarrie, for the stylish, classy MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (***, 131 mins., 2015, PG-13; Paramount).

Cruise is, of course, back as Ethan Hunt, here tailing a mysterious “Syndicate” around the world that he believes is responsible for igniting chaos in various pockets of the globe. His latest pursuit takes him to London, at the same time the IMF team – led by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – is being threatened by the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin) back in Washington. With Hunt’s actions taking him off the grid for the time being, he opts to go after the Syndicate and its gravelly-voiced leader (Sean Harris) with a minimum of help from his cohorts (including returning cast members Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) but with an assist from a covert British agent (the fetching Rebecca Ferguson) whose allegiances are forever in question.

Writer-director McQuarrie, who also penned “The Usual Suspects,” follows “Ghost Protocol”’s formula by offering a number of memorable set-pieces in between playful bits of espionage, including a rousing opening, a dynamic motorcycle chase in Casablanca, and a superb, Hitchcock-esque sequence staged at the Vienna State Opera House during a performance of “Turnadot” (it’s regrettably missing one final set-piece that could have put the film completely over the top, seeing as the concluding act is its weakest portion). The editing is fast-moving but the movie isn’t frenetic, and while there’s surely some special effects enhancement(s) going on, the stunts look and feel real, not excessively augmented with cartoony CGI.

As for Cruise, it’s fascinating to go back and watch his comparatively tense – and far less relaxed – performances in the early films of this series and see the progression of his character – as well as the gradual evolution of the “Mission: Impossible” movies altogether. This is a series that was criticized in its early installments for being less an adaptation of the old show than a vanity project for its star – but while raking in the box-office receipts (people forget Woo’s “Mission: Impossible II” was a bona-fide commercial juggernaut), Cruise discovered that playing off an ensemble wasn’t just good for his aging appeal, it also injected life into material that was played far too stoically in those early pictures (the DePalma film, in particular, is nearly devoid of humor).

As a result, “Rogue Nation” feels – in a very good way – like a genuine, modern day updating of the old series. The double-crosses, hissable villains, and team work between its leads is played up perfectly, and Joe Kraemer’s confident, brassy score – with ample doses of Lalo Schifrin’s original series music – is the best of the series yet. Its strongest asset, though, turns out to be Ferguson’s heroine – a dynamic, star-making performance that steals the movie away from the rest of its talented cast (not all of whom, Renner and Rhames in particular, have a whole lot to do here). She’s as adept at doling out the fisticuffs as the leading man, in a film whose main weakness is an unexciting climax that its filmmakers couldn’t quite crack.

Paramount’s 4K UHD of “Rogue Nation” is robust and vibrantly enhanced with both HDR and Dolby Vision plus Dolby Atmos audio (the only film of the quintet to receive an Atmos mix). Extras again include a number of featurettes – mostly fluffy – taking viewers behind the scenes along with the original BD, digital copy, and commentary with Cruise and McQuarrie, whose latest series entry, “Fallout,” hits theaters in just over a month.

JACK REACHER 4K UHD Combo Pack (**, 130 mins., 2012, PG-13; Paramount): Exceedingly well-shot, would-be franchise-starter for star/producer Tom Cruise is a disappointingly downbeat affair that takes a long time to unravel a mystery that’s not particularly interesting.

Cruise plays Jack Reacher, the former military cop hero of Lee Child’s bestselling books. While traveling the country as a “ghost”, Reacher is called into Pittsburgh by a former squadmate – a troubled assassin wanted for the shooting deaths of a handful of innocent victims along the city’s River Walk. The District Attorney’s daughter (Rosamund Pike) has the unenviable task of defending him, but Reacher finds out his participation in the killings is tied to a cover up and a larger conspiracy.

Christopher McQuarrie wrote and directed “Jack Reacher,” which is notably distinguished by outstanding cinematography from Caleb Deschanel. The movie looks natural, crisp, and detailed – the transfer here on Paramount’s 4K UHD is likewise outstanding, with Deschanel capturing the essence of the city and the film’s characters without excessive use of filters or shaky-cam. McQuarrie as well ought to be lauded for a film that, despite its excessive running time, is refreshingly direct and old-fashioned in its editorial rhythms and overall approach – the issue is that the story, sadly, goes nowhere. Outside of a well-executed car chase, most of “Jack Reacher” is spent on our protagonist tracking down leads and getting to the bottom of a mystery that’s decidedly depressing and uninvolving. Ultimately, when we get to the real bad guys – including a Russian mobster played by Werner Herzog, of all people – the film collapses further into a bland battle of fists (not so much wits) between Reacher and the thugs.

Though many derided Cruise’s participation here as he doesn’t physically resemble the Jack Reacher of Child’s books, the star is suitably brooding and “tough”. The rest of the performances aren’t nearly as effective, however, with Pike straining to believably convey her justice-minded attorney and failing to ignite chemistry with either Reacher or her District Attorney father (Richard Jenkins). Robert Duvall does manage to inject some life into the later stages as an old military vet who helps Cruise, but this reunion between the “Days of Thunder” castmates ultimately provides only so much energy. McQuarrie, meanwhile, also struggles with a tone that’s almost unflinchingly “down,” interspersing some brief doses of humor in a film that could’ve used more of them – or at least something to shake up the one-note story (alas, “Reacher”’s sequel fared even worse, putting a final nail in the short-lived series’ coffin).

Paramount’s 4K UHD boasts the before-mentioned stellar HDR/Dolby Vision transfer as well as a strongly designed DTS MA track (the same one that was housed in the prior Blu-Ray). Extras include a pair of commentaries, one by Cruise and McQuarrie, and another with composer Joe Kraemer that also functions as an isolated score track. Other extras include a few featurettes on the original Blu-Ray and Digital HD copy.


In Theaters

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (***, 128 mins., PG-13): Having expectations set low admittedly might help, but nevertheless, this fairly energetic fifth entry in the “Jurassic” series is a cut-above its immediate adventure. In fact, I had a good amount of fun with director J.A. Bayona’s strange attempt to launch the “Park/World” franchise into “something else.” What that is in the long-term is up for debate, because it’s hard to envision another path that will reprise this film’s scenario of dinosaurs running around an isolated mansion.

As it is, the oddball concept (concocted by “World”’s director, Colin Trevorrow) works well enough for a one-off – another “brainless rollercoaster ride” that’s at least more interesting than “Jurassic World” and far more capably directed by Bayona, with a few effective set-pieces. The dinosaurs – the remnants of which are whisked away from a soon-to-be-extinct Isla Nublar, only to be sold off at auction by another greedy businessman (Rafe Spall) running what’s left of John Hammond’s estate — are more integral to the plot of this film, and they certainly look good. You wish the same could be said for the humans, who basically have nothing to do: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return but make even less of an impression as they run around from one near-disaster to the next. Meanwhile, Toby Jones (a Brit playing an American) and James Cromwell (an American playing a Brit) do battle for “Worst Accent of the Year” in a pair of especially weak supporting roles (Jones is also dressed up as Trump in a straight lampoon — right down to his hair flapping in the wind. Subtle this film isn’t – in any regard).

By now there’s no expectation a film in this series is ever going to make you care about its characters — but “Fallen Kingdom” does succeed in making you care about its creatures, and if you’re just looking for dino-action that’s well-executed for what it is, the film manages to satisfy on a less bombastic scale than its predecessor (though with no thanks again to Michael Giacchino’s score, capped here with a sledgehammer use of chorus on top).


 

 

Also New & Noteworthy

BLOCKERS Blu-Ray Combo Pack (102 mins., 2018, R; Universal): Adequate “raunch comedy” stars Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz as a trio of parents who go to extremes when they believe that their respective daughters are planning on losing their virginity after prom. Upon learning the news, they opt to stage an any-means-necessary intervention…only to make fools of themselves in the process. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen produced this Judd Apatow-wannabe that’s marked by some tasteless gags but at least a poignant undercurrent, making for a watchable affair for those with an appetite for a typical, modern R-rated comedy. Universal’s Blu-Ray combo pack, available July 3rd, includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, featurettes, commentary from director Kay Cannon (the writer of the “Pitch Perfect” films), a DVD and Digital HD copy, with a 1080p (2.40) AVC encode and 5.1 DTS MA comprising the technical package.

BLACK LIGHTNING Season 1 Blu-Ray (544 mins., 2017-18; Warner): DC Comics’ extensive TV empire taps into a more obscure good guy – the 70s African-American hero Black Lightning – for this new entry into their CW series. Joining the ranks of “Flash,” “Supergirl” and “Arrow” among others, “Black Lightning” updates Jefferson Peirce for the Trump era, meaning this Greg Berlanti production is heavy on stereotypical characters (mostly white villains who, in one instance, even tell you want to make the country “great again”) and messaging that’s predictable in its political posturing. All of it takes a toll on what’s an otherwise agreeable program, one that coasts along through its 13 episodes in Warner’s Season 1 Blu-Ray. Out this week, the set includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, three featurettes (including the 2017 Comic Con panel) and a Digital HD copy. The 1080p (1.78) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are all top notch.

TERMINAL Blu-Ray (95 mins., 2017, Not Rated; RLJ): Talented stars occasionally pick a totally out of whack project to participate in – case in point is “Terminal,” writer-director Vaughn Stein’s feeble attempt to channel Quentin Tarantino that ends up a wipeout for all involved. Here, that includes Margot Robbie (as a waitress/stripper), Dexter Fletcher and Mike Irons (as a pair of assassins), Simon Pegg (a suicidal professor) and even Mike Myers, nearly unrecognizable as a janitor. Stein tries to work stylish violence, neo-noir visuals and “hip” dialogue into a mix that’s all too easy to understand why it bypassed theaters altogether. RLJ’s Blu-Ray (1.78) is a nice looking affair at least, with three featurettes and a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack also on tap.

ANOTHER WOLFCOP Blu-Ray (79 mins., 2018; RLJ): Leo Fafard is back – a year after his initial transformation, Fafard’s Lou Garou has to deal with a villainous entrepreneur (Yannick Bisson), a new mayor (Kevin Smith) and chief of police (Amy Matysio), all of whom have to contend with the return of the local lycanthrope-warrior in Lowell Dean’s sequel. Fan-friendly for genre devotees, “Another Wolfcop” bows on disc July 3rd from RLJ sporting a Making Of and three additional featurettes, plus a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

NELLA THE PRINCESS KNIGHT: ROYAL QUESTS DVD (94 mins., 2017; Nickelodeon/Paramount): Eight episodes from the popular Nickelodeon series hit DVD next week, from a quest to track down the rare Bafflin to helping Clod discover his true talent. Episodes include Sir Coach’s Knightly Trading Card, A Knight’s Tale, In Hot Watermelon, Hooves Got Talent, The Dragon Bully, Royalicious Plumberry, Three’s a Crowd and More Than Meets The Eye, all in 16:9 transfers and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. Parents should note the disc, which streets next week, is a Target exclusive.


PBS New Releases

A new presentation from PBS’ American Experience, THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT (160 mins., 2018)chronicles the May 6, 1882 decision by President Chester Arthur to sign into law a specific restriction that made it both illegal for Chinese workers to immigrate to the U.S. as well as for Chinese nationals, already in the country, to become citizens. A shameful law that was kept in place until it was repealed in 1943, this lengthy, in-depth study from Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu provides viewers with an enlightening look at the law and its implementation. PBS’ DVD includes a 16:9 transfer and over 15 minutes of bonus video, including the 2012 Congressional Acknowledgement of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Also new from PBS this month is a new Secrets of the Dead program, HANNIBAL IN THE ALPS (60 mins., 2018), profiling Hannibal’s trek through the Alps with 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 war elephants – all in order to attack Rome from the north. Forensic experts have spent some 2,000 years trying to prove which way Hannibal took through the Alps, and have now conclusively proven his course with newly-discovered evidence. A fascinating hour-long documentary now on DVD from PBS with a 2.0 soundtrack and 16:9 transfer…From Nova comes DECODING THE WEATHER MACHINE (120 mins., 2018)a new attempt at figuring out the ever-changing climate on our planet, whether or not man-made warming is real and what can be done to change it. PBS’ DVD is available June 26th with a 16:9 transfer and 2.0 stereo sound.

Now on Blu-Ray, the Masterpiece production MAN IN AN ORANGE SHIRT (110 mins., 2017) is an original feature from British writer Patrick Gale, following a closeted gay relationship during WWII between a British Army Captain and a war artist. Decades later, as the captain’s grandson enters into a similar relationship, Gale and director Michael Samuels contrast, and compare, the respective eras as related to homosexuality and open relationships in a handsomely shot production. PBS’ Blu-Ray offers a 1080i transfer, 2.0 stereo sound and extras including interviews with the cast, Gale and Samuels…Finally, ENDEAVOR: The Complete Fifth Season (9 hours, 2017) nets a Blu-Ray release on July 10th from PBS. Shaun Evans and Roger Allam return with Lewis Peek on hand as new recruit Fancy — all investigating a series of crimes in Oxford circa 1968. This popular ITV series, airing on PBS’ Masterpiece domestically, includes six mysteries in its fifth season (Muse, Cartouche, Passenger, Colours, Quartet and Icarus), with PBS’ Blu-Ray boasting 1080p transfers, 5.1 sound and three supplemental featurettes.

Well Go New Releases: Director-writer-star tandem Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson return with THE ENDLESS (111 mins., 2017, Not Rated), the story of two brothers who receive a mysterious message that leads them back to a “UFO Death Cult” that they managed to escape years before. The duo doubt their own sanity as well as the cult’s belief system after they return to the camp and begin to experience some of the phenomena they thought was entirely fake in this follow-up to Moorhead and Benson’s “Resolution,” which utilized the UFO cult as a peripheral element. Well Go’s Blu-Ray includes commentary, a Making Of, deleted scenes, VFX breakdown, “Ridiculous Extras,” trailers, extended bonus features, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

MVD New on DVD: A trio of new DVD releases hit stores this week from EPF Media and MVD. Sophie Nahum’s SEARCHING FOR VICTOR “YOUNG” PEREZ: THE BOXER OF AUSCHWITZ (64 mins., 2018) is a documentary that follows actor Tomer Sisley on a journey to find what happened to the world’s youngest boxing champion, later transported to the Nazi death camp in the 1930s. ASCENT OF EVIL: THE STORY OF MEIN KAMPF (52 mins., 2018) profiles Hitler’s 720-page manifesto, looking at some often overlooked components and the dark impact his evil screed had on the world. Finally, Mary Zournazi’s DOGS OF DEMOCRACY (57 mins., 2018) chronicles the plight of stray dogs in Athens as well as the locals who take care of them. All three titles street from MVD this week.

NEXT TIME: July sizzler edition! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

 

 

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