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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Noir > Poverty > Murder > Mexico > Horror > Supernatural > Superhero > Spy > Cable TV > Western > Serial > Sniper: Assassin's End (2020/Sony Blu-ray)

El Bruto (1953*)/Even The Wind Is Afraid (1968/aka Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo*)/Pennyworth: The Complete First Season (2019/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/Phantom Rider (1936/Universal/*all MVD/VCI Blu-rays)/Sniper: Assassin's End (2020/Sony Blu-ray)

Picture: B-/B-/B-/B+/B+ Sound: C/C-/C/B+/B+ Extras: D/D/C-/D/D Main Programs: C+/C+/C+/C/C

Here's a good mix of all kinds of genre releases...

We start with a lesser-seen Luis Bunuel film, the Noirish drama El Bruto (1953) with actor Pedro Armendariz as a worker from a slaughterhouse who gets in trouble with a few women in town and when someone is apparently killed, he gets blamed, though some might want to frame him. The actor is best known as Karim Bey, who helps Sean Connery's James Bond in the second Bond film: From Russia With Love (1963) to take on SPECTRE and SMERSH. He is really good here, more than holding his won in the lead role.

Support comes from a mostly unknown to U.S. audiences cast who are fine, but it also includes legendary Katy Jurado, who more than holds her own as a woman scorned, et al. Bunuel is known for his films having surrealism, politics and bold moments, but we do not get any of that here. What wee do get here is a raw, honest connection to the workers in this world where so many have so little and he juggles it all well, realistically enough and that makes this curio worth a look. Glad to see it saved.

Trailers for other Mexican cinema releases are the only extras.

Carlos Enrique Taboada's Even The Wind Is Afraid (1968/aka Hasta El Viento Tiene Miedo) is a haunted spirit supernatural film in the older mode that uses suggestion and suspense while treating the audience like it has intelligence and a brain, taking place at a girl's boarding school where a woman has a vision of a dead woman hanging dead and now, they will all be haunted by a mysterious voice and the threat of more death. Guillermo Del Toro remade this film in 2001 as The Devil's Backbone.

Part of this occurs when some of the gals go into a place they are forbidden to go into, breaking the lock and entering, which turns out to be a mistake. Like its remake, the film is not always successful in using its approach the most effectively, but it has some interesting moments and takes us places that are just a little different than the usual supernatural horror film, so it was worth a look at this. Now a curio thanks to that remake, even more people will be inclined to try it out.

Trailers for other Mexican cinema releases are the only extras.

In DC Comics lore, Alfred Pennyworth has always been one of Bruce Wayne / Batman's top ally and in this live action mini-series, Pennyworth: The Complete First Season (2019), we finally dive into the exploits of the young Alfred and how he came to be so seasoned. Initially premiering exclusively on premium channel Epix, the series is now available on Blu-ray disc courtesy of Warner Archive.

Similar to what Marvel did with Agent Carter, DC is trying here to make a sleek period action prequel series with a secondary character, but this is more British spy thriller/Kingsman knock-off than having much to do with Batman. It doesn't have any of the gothic style/vibe of the property where previous entries (such as Gotham) tried as hard as it could to fit in to the mythos or AT LEAST help build off of it. Here, we just have a few familiar character names being the main tie and the occasional easter egg reference. Kids (Americans anyway) will likely be bored by its overall British and adult tone, and comic book lovers and typical Bat-fans will likely be neutral to 'meh' on it. Regardless, it's coming back for a second season... and is now cemented forever on disc in this limited set for fans to make up their own minds.

A young Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) is a former British SAS Soldier, who ends up working for Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), who is the future father to Bruce Wayne. Set in 1960s London, the show has a British espionage feel and features many famous songs of the era.

Pennyworth stars a mostly British cast with Emma Corrin, Paloma Faith, Jessica Ellerby, Emma Paetz, Polly Walker, and Jason Flemyng to name a few.

Season One spans three Blu-ray discs and ten episodes which includes Pilot, The Landlord's Daughter, Martha Kane, Lady Penelope, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Julie Christie, Sandie Shaw, Alma Cogan, and Marianne Faithful. Of course, most of those names are iconic British women, fictional and in reality.

Surprisingly, no extras.

Pennyworth is big budget and big concept, but could have been a non-DC property with the change of some character names. Likely why the series was not pushed as hard on fans as other entries.

The Phantom Rider (1936) is the latest chapter play/Saturday Morning Movie Serial to make it to Blu-ray, with the mysterious title character warning land owners that a group of rogue thugs are out to steal their land and everything they have ever worked for and to be ready to fight back. No Heaven's Gate and not exactly The Lone Ranger, Buck Jones stars in this 15-part romp that has some good moments and interesting turns, but it is more a Western than anything else, but barely a superhero entry, though it might sound like it otherwise.

Being an earlier serial, it has more zip to it and has its moments where it shows how good Universal's serials could be (versus rivals Columbia and Republic) and fans of the genre (three years before John Ford's Stagecoach turned the Western into a full-fledged genre) shows the free-flowing B-movie, even pulp mentality these films were made with. Having seen this one decades ago, I was impressed at times in how well it held up for what it is. From a new 2K scan of all 15 chapters, it is spread across two discs and those interested will want to try it out.

The only extra is a paper insert with a solid essay on the serial by film scholar Toby Roan.

Finally, the sleek new action thriller Sniper: Assassin's End (2020) is a sequel to Sniper: Ultimate Kill (2017), and is on the lower budget spectrum of Sony. For what it's worth, the film has nice cinematography that mimics Michael Bay and color correction that gives it a bigger feel. With the most recognizable actor being Tom Berenger, there's lots of brainless action and some decently constructed sequences and makes for a fun watch for action movie junkies even if it can't shake its 'straight to video' feel.

The film also stars Sayaka Akimoto, Chad Michael Collins, Lochlyn Munro, and Ryan Robbins with direction by Kaare Andrews (Cabin Fever 3).

On a fast paced run from the bloodthirsty CIA, special ops sniper Brandon Beckett (Collins) and his legendary father (Berenger) take on badass Russian mercenaries and a Yakuza-trained assassin as they struggle to survive.

No extras.

Sniper: Assassin's End doesn't bring anything new to the table, but isn't necessarily as bad as one might think. I'd put it in the 'painfully average' category.

Now for playback performance.

Pennyworth is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.00:1 and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The show has a big production feel to it and is definitely reliant on a lot of green screen and digitally enhanced shots to help sell the time period better. Some of it works and some of it looks pretty fake. Aside from some of the digitally added in moments, the sets themselves are nicely constructed, fine acting, and there are some moments that feel like a big budget film.

Sniper: Assassin's End is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (along with a Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 mix). The score by Patrick Caird is chaotic and meant to keep you on the edge of your seat, and the overall presentation is of the norm for the Blu-ray format.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on both Bruto (from a new 4K scan) and Rider can show the age of the materials used, but both are far superior a transfer to all previous releases of either. That is not to say that they are without flaws. Bruto has issues money must not have been around to fix, while Rider is typical of all old serials we have seen on Blu-ray, with so much film footage to show, it is impossible like an early TV series, to expect not to see a few flaws. Otherwise, they look good and have a few shots that look great.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Afraid can also show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and I thought the color (Eastman 35mm negative) looked really good and consistent here, even if the detail was inconsistent. Otherwise, very watchable and solid.

The PCM 2.0 Mono sound on all three VCI Blu-rays can be clean, but for some odd reason, have been transferred at a lower volume than expected and Afraid has some distortion in its dialogue, so be careful of high playback levels and volume switching when watching.

- Nicholas Sheffo (VCI) and James Lockhart



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