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Category:    Home > Reviews > Superhero > Action > Adventure > Martial Arts > Mystery > Comedy > Fantasy > Mysticism > Exotic > Philosophy > Doctor Strange (2016/Marvel Comics/Disney Blu-ray 3D w/Blu-ray 2D + DVD)/Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1954/Republic Pictures/Olive Blu-ray)/The Yakuza (1974/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

Doctor Strange (2016/Marvel Comics/Disney Blu-ray 3D w/Blu-ray 2D + DVD)/Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1954/Republic Pictures/Olive Blu-ray)/The Yakuza (1974/Warner Archive Blu-ray)



3D Picture: B+ Picture: B & C+/B-/B Sound: B+ & C+/B-/B- Extras: B-/D/B- Films: B/C+/B-



PLEASE NOTE: The Yakuza Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.



One job of films, especially genre films, are to take us to another world. In their own ways, each of the following does it best to do just that.



Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange (2016) is the latest triumph form the Marvel studios, taking their great classic superhero characters and making them into remarkably palpable feature films. In yet another brilliant move, Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect casting as legendary medical surgeon Dr. Steven Strange, a man who has it all, works hard and is a pretty good guy if one that is isolated in odd ways. One night when racing to keep an date in his Lamborghini, he has a hideous accident that destroys his hands and ends his career, yet he does not want to accept that and takes his horrific circumstances as a call to find a new way and new answers.


His search leads him to discovering another dimension and searching for a hard to find figure known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton in more killer casting, in some of the best work of her career) who eventually will have to help Strange find his soul before he can continue with any kind of life again. Too bad she and the world are being challenged by a new threat headed by a deadly opponent Kaecilius (the great Mads Mikkelsen, proving once again to be a formidable villain as much as a good guy or fine comic actor) so the conflict happens to arrive at the same time Strange's crisis.


There is so much that could have gone wrong here, but the big money is on the screen with a perfect cast, excellent pacing, great fight scenes and the otherworld of the Strange comics realized in a way that would have been almost inconceivable when those comic books first arrived decades ago. Again, the gang at Marvel Studios and their love of the world of the publisher as well as their understanding of it. The film has the guts to get as abstract as the comic book in the end, which may have thrown off some viewers, but not the fans who love him and know better.


The result is another surprise blockbuster for Marvel like the first Iron Man showing the advanced way they have their act together more than just about any other commercial filmmakers working today. This is out at its best in Disney's Blu-ray 3D with 2D Blu-ray and DVD that will let you see the film about every way you can at home or on the run to date (save 4K, which we expect will be later), which is what an instant genre classic like this deserves.


One last thing. The makers were critical of Swinton taking on the role that had been that of an Asian man in the comics, but by 2017, two versions of the Karate Kid franchise (from a DC comic by the way) and its many imitators (Gremlins, Remo Williams, etc.), that kind of casting had become a bad 1980s cliche. Marvel was right to rethink it as they have with the ethnicity of some other characters (Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury the best previous excellent example) so it is a story and movie of now and tomorrow, not yesterday. It may be one step backwards not to have an Asian male in the role, but is two steps forward for women and due to Swinton's great non-typicalness, a move that I believe will be vindicated in the long run.


Others in the cast include Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Stuhlberg, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro and of course, Stan Lee.


There is Digital Copy included with this set, while we also get many Blu-ray bonus extras including A Strange Transformation which deals with how to bring Dr. Steven Strange to life, Strange Company gives the director & cast insight on working on this kind of film, The Fabric of Reality covers the extensive set design, Across Time and Space shows us the unusual fight choreography, The Score-cerer Supreme features composer Michael Giacchino and full orchestra during live recording sessions delivering the solid music score, Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look, Team Thor: Part 2 shows more of the hilarious partnership between Thor and his roommate Darryl in this satirical short, a feature-length audio commentary track with Scott Derrickson, Deleted Scenes and a Gag Reel.



Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1954) is among the last of the Saturday Morning Chapter Play Serials that were produced before TV killed them. Starting in the silent era, the forum found its calling in the 1930s (pre-WWII) as sound arrived and three small studios make them: Columbia, Universal (neither majors at the time) and Republic Pictures (which merged out of two other companies who helped start them), but Republic's were considered the best for stunts, fist-fights and sometimes pacing. Phyllis Coates is the title character (she eventually dawns a panther head to connect with 'natives' as like most serials and films of the times, jungle-based tales came with their stereotypes (that you would never see today) and cliches (which we still suffer through) all over the place) who is sold as and should be the heroine, but lands up passing out and screaming often.


Thus, Larry (Myron Healey) is really the lead as a mad scientist is growing oversized animals and a duo of goofs want to rob the area of its valuables among other conflicts in this 12-chapter, 168 minutes romp. It has some amusing moments and the actors are a hoot, not acting well, but look at the material. This does not have the snap or energy of the best serials, as the form was played out by then, but it is one of the last hurrahs and is worth a look. Just expect some downtime, especially as the otherworld jungle we are taken to is obviously the Republic backlot, save archive footage they dug up wherever they could.


Olive has been able to issue it all on one single Blu-ray and that's very convenient (versus several film reels, videotapes of even old 12-inch LaserDiscs) for fans and especially casual viewers who might pass seeing it might be overwhelming to take on os much material. The three Flash Gordon serials from Universal remain the most commercially successful serial releases in home video history, but there are so many more and even obscure ones like Panther deserve Blu-ray releases so we can all enjoy them as much as intended. Cheers to Olive. I hope other home video companies follow.


There are no extras, though anything extra would have been interesting in this case.



Sidney Pollack's The Yakuza (1974) started out as a martial arts action script by no less than the great Paul Schrader and his brother Leonard, but when Pollack got involved, he called in no less than Chinatown writer Robert Towne, so we get more of a drama amongst the characters and story situation. Robert Mitchum is a man with a past and one-time detective who goes back to Japan to see an old lover (Kishi Keiko) when he has to deal with the Japanese Mafia (specifically with the name of the film's title) with old and new trouble coming out of nowhere.


There is the American businessman (the underrated Brian Keith) he knows, as well as an assistant (Richard Jordan) and a web of politicians, gangsters, other businessmen, family ties unknown and more that add up to a story that is also a mystery work. Add to the then-fresh and new ideas of Japan as a closed world (pre and post-WWII) and it is a fine film definitely worth seeing. The martial arts moments are not bad, the film holds up enough and the Schraders returned to this world later for the underrated Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (also worth seeing), so it has authenticity throughout and is not a joke.


Warner Archive has issued this Blu-ray looking particularly great often and delivering the film like nothing since the best 35mm and 16mm film prints. Prior to this film, Hollywood trips to Japan where a little cliched or stereotypical, though the Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967, co-produced by the Toho Studios) took an authentic step closer to that world in a naturalistic way. Yakuza may not have done well (no one apparently wanted to see gangsters other than Italians in the year of The Godfather, Part 2) in its original release, but it is a film waiting to be rediscovered.


It later inspired Michael Cimino's underrated Year Of The Dragon (1985, though that was Chinese triads in New York City, the detective able to penetrate an opaque Asian world has many common denominators) and both foreran Philip Kaufman's Rising Sun and Ridley Scott's Black Rain more than a decade later. This, it is an important genre work and simply a good solid film, maybe Pollack's most underrated. Ken Takakura, James Shigeta and Herb Edelman also star.


Extras include an archival feature length audio commentary track by Director Sydney Pollack, plus the Promises To Keep vintage featurette promoting the film an the Original Theatrical Trailer, both in HD.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 MVC-encoded 3-D - Full Resolution digital High Definition image on Strange has a 2.35 X 1 and at times, 1.90 X 1, aspect ratio (the IMAX footage). It is also the best presentation here, is one of the best 3D film releases of any kind narratively by adding otherworldly dimension to the world that mirrors the original comic books. It is impressive and picks up where films like Alex Proyas' Dark City (1997) left off in worlds that dissolve and change in all kinds of ways instantly and at all angles. This is an HD shoot with some Super 35mm film included. I still like the 1080p 2D version and it looks and plays fine, but the 3D opens up the film in fun ways that make the story more involving. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 DVD is also included, but it is passable at best.


The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on the Panther chapters can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the serial and the flaws are not unlike an old TV series on Blu-ray where some parts of the prints are better than others. Sometimes the shots lack detail and are a close second-generation source, but it is also a cheap production, so one only expects so much. This looks as good as any serial we've reviewed in about 15 years and look forward to more hitting Blu-ray.


Finally we have the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Yakuza, with two Directors of Photography, in a brand new transfer that rarely shows the age of the materials used.

Some shots show their time period and look just fine in their gritty 1970s glory, but there are many shots here with such superior color, detail and depth that they rise above their letter grade, are demo quality and could almost be 4K 2160p presentations. I have never seen the film looking this good, so the efforts Warner went through to fix and save it were more than worth it and make it a whole new film on some level.


As for sound, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix on Strange is well mixed and presented, but is also a mixdown from its Dolby Atmos 11.1/IMAX 11.1 best theatrical presentations. Sound is thought out and mixed in superior fashion, is more than just showing off they have the tracks, but doing very smart things with them that integrate into the visuals nicely and increase the impact of the film. Both Blu-rays offer this mix, while the DVD version has a much more watered-down, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1


Panther and Yakuza both offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 mono lossless mixes, but Panther is going to show its age more, as well as its budget. Yakuza has the benefit of quiet moments, more careful recording, more professional circumstances and a more extensive music score (by Dave Grusin) that underlines its more serious narrative. I cannot image any of these Blu-rays sounding better than they do.



To order The Yakuza Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


http://www.wbshop.com/



- Nicholas Sheffo


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