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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Action > Martial Arts > Music > Comedy > Hong Kong > CGI Animation > Teens > Animals > Exploitatio > Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon 4K (1985/Tri-Star/Sony 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray Steelbook)/Knockabout (1979/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken (DreamWorks Animation)/Strays (both 2023/U

Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon 4K (1985/Tri-Star/Sony 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray Steelbook)/Knockabout (1979/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken (DreamWorks Animation)/Strays (both 2023/Universal Blu-rays w/DVDs)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B Picture: B-/B/B & C/B- & C Sound: B/B-/B & C+/B & C Extras: C+/C+/C/C- Films: C+/C+/C/D

Now for some brad action and comedy releases, old and new...

Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon 4K (1985) is directed by journeyman veteran Michael Schultz, whose films include Cooley High, Which Way Is Up?, Car Wash and the odd 1978 fantasy film comedy musical remake of The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Gordy felt he was the man for this new fantasy martial arts comedy and it turned out to be their last high-profile collaboration.

A martial arts student (Taimak) does not just want to get a Black Belt or become a master of the self-defense artform, but attain a state called ''The Glow'' and is ready for anything, but in Harlem, a very evil ''Shogun Of Harlem'' (Julius J. Carry III) is building an unseen evil empire and intends to let no one stop him, running night clubs and other fronts to commit endless crimes without a second thought. In the middle of this is a very sexy singer (real life singer Vanity, who recently left us too young) who the young man quickly finds affinity for and wants to save.

The set up is obvious and thanks to the massive success of Michael Jackson's massive-selling Thriller album, meant ideas of magic and fantasy were all over the place in music videos and feature films, partly by way of the Lucas/Spielberg successes as well. The press for the film at the time kept reminding us that Gordy had something to do with Jackson's success (partly true, of course, but Jackson's first number one solo song and only #1 for Motown was the theme to Ben!) was pushing it a little bit more as Gordy once again felt al the Motown stars should have stayed at the label for life. Many did just fine after leaving, which in some cases was inevitable.

Vanity is joined by the underrated DeBarge (the last big act Motown Records, in its original form, ever launched,) Stevie Wonder and a then-still-active Temptations made up the songs on the soundtrack and the film became the most expensive, ambitious, mostly African-American cast Hollywood big studio release since The Wiz (1978, issued the same year as that Sgt. Pepper's movie; they both disappointed at the box office) and is now an interesting time capsule of that time representing the presence of almost all the major music forces in soul and pop music (Prince is represented by Vanity by default, joining the Jackson connections) and has Gordy's movie producing period ending on a high note in style.

The resulting film is a mixed bag and some of it is obvious and predictable, but it is also very 1980s and looks good, the cast is all in for this and some of the fighting (even when optical 'glow' printing gets in the way like nothing since Olivia Newton-John made Xanadu a few years before) is not bad as well as interesting from a period martial arts films had tapered off in the U.S. Market and turned to (too much) comedy elsewhere.

It is a film that deserved to be restored and upgraded for all to see and enjoy, with this new steelbook edition offering nice art and the 4K presentation being the best way to see this outside of a near mint-to-mint 70mm blow-up film print.

Extras include Digital Code Copy, while the discs add Feature-Length Audio Commentary with Director Michael Schultz on both discs, while the Blu-ray adds a Return of the Dragon featurette and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

Sammo Hung's Knockabout (1979) is a film Hung also stars in that, as I noted in my DVD review has him joined by...

''Yuen Biao as one of two thieves, who have things going smoothly until they cross a kingpin thief (Hung). This fares better than the previous two films, but does not go as far in the grittier world of underworld crime that it does in hand to hand combat and has way too much humor injected into its fighting sequences.''

Still too much comedy for me, I like Hung even more now than before, but that does not change my feelings much on the film. Now you can judge it for yourself on this very worthy upgrade.

Extras are many for this upgrade and include:

  • Commentary on the HK Theatrical Cut by martial arts cinema experts Frank Djeng & Michael Worth

  • Commentary on the Export Cut by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema

  • Archival interview with Sammo Hung

  • Archival interview with Bryan 'Beardy' Leung Kar-Yan

  • Archival interview with Grandmaster Chan Sau Chang (aka The Monkey King), a master of Monkey Style Kung Fu

  • Deleted 'Red Room' scene, featuring stars Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung in a teaser promo for the film's Japanese release

  • Original theatrical trailer

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ilan Sheady

  • and FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors' booklet featuring new writing by Simon Abrams and original press materials.

Kirk DiMecco's Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken (2023) is a somewhat charming CGI animated comedy about being different and not necessarily being a monster, two gals in high school (Ruby and Chelsea) who are just trying to lead normal lives, only to find out more is ahead of them than they ever knew. This is DreamWorks Animation's latest attempt at a hit and possibly a franchise, as some of these CGI features like being water-bound to show off visual animation and effects to go with that theme.

I am not the audience for this one, found it very predictable and the voice-overs were slightly too hyped for their own good, but this is ambitious and veterans Toni Collette and Jane Fonda are joined by Lana Condor, Annie Murphy and Colman Domingo in a work that is at least ambitious, consistent and well-rounded enough to likely land with its young (and female skewing) audience. You'll have to see it for yourself to judge ultimately, but I would like to take a second look at it in 4K whenever I can to see if it works better that way.

Extras include Digital Code Copy and the following (per the press release) features on the discs that are plenty enough for its audience, including:

DELETED SCENES WITH INTROS: Introductions by Co-Director Faryn Pearl




  • OCEANSIDE DRAWING GUIDE: Head of story, Glenn Harmon, will teach everyone how to draw Ruby Gillman in her teenager and kraken forms, Grandmamah, Chelsea, and mermaid Chelsea.






  • MAKE YOUR OWN AQUARIUM: With a few simple products and a little imagination, you can bring the undersea world into your own home.




  • THE KRAKEN: MYTH OR MONSTER: In this animated piece narrated by Lana Condor and Annie Murphy, we dive deep into the mysteries of krakens and discover how stories of these mythical beasts have evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years.

  • MEET THE GILLMAN CAST: Meet the cast behind your favorite RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN characters and discover what they loved about lending their voices to this aquatic adventure!


  • PROM STORIES: Ruby's greatest wish was to attend prom with her friends and crush Connor! Here, the cast of the movie share their own prom stories and explain how they would design a promposal.

  • SUPER SEA GIRL BESTIES: If you can see it, you can be it! In this piece we meet the talented women involved in the making of RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN.

  • and FEATURE COMMENTARY: with Director Kirk DeMicco, Co-Director Faryn Pearl, Producer Kelly Cooney Cilella, Head of Character Animation Carlos Fernandez Puertolas and Head of Cinematography, Layout Jon Gutman.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel used to have a segment on their original half-hour reviews show Sneak Previews in the 1970s called 'Dog Of The Week' where they would name the worst film the studios had issued, though sometimes it would be a release from a smaller company. John Greenbaum's Strays (2023) with foul-mouthed talking fogs and equally pointless talking humans continues that tradition of bad cinema, though were at the point where releases like this are now not even being called that.

Will Ferrell voices a puppy who is abandoned by his owner (Will Forte) and the pup only starts to realize this when he meets a streetwise dog (voiced by Jamie Foxx) when left in the tough part of town. Instead of even trying to make this work, it ids just an hour and a half of obviousness, obscenities (we're told this is the R-rated version, so there was an NC-17 cut too?) and who is this really made for? It just goes on and on and on and on to no point, save the actors just doing a little voiceover work, picking up their paychecks and moving on. Dreadful and best skipped!

Extras include Digital Code Copy and a longer-than-expected set of lame extras on the disc (per the unfunny press release) including:

  • Talk Like a Dog: Meet the humans behind the dogs as Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park discuss how they got into the canine mindset to voice their roles.

  • The Ultimate Treat: Making STRAYS: Go on a journey with filmmakers and cast and share in their joy at bringing this unique film to the big screen.

  • Poop, Booms, and Shrooms: You'd be surprised how challenging it is filming big scenes with non-human actors. In this piece we take a look at how the filmmaking team executed some of the film's most memorable sequences.

  • Will Forte: STRAY Actor: Sit down with Will Forte and learn what it's like playing someone we all hate. Filmmakers and his castmates join in to reveal why Will was the best man for the job.

  • Training to be STRAY: Sit, stay, pee, hump? Take a look at the creative methods used by trainers to get the canines to perform.

  • A New Best Friend: The bond between human and dog is undeniable. So much so that director Josh Greenbaum couldn't resist bringing a stray from set home with him.

  • And feature commentary with Director/Producer Josh Greenbaum and Screenwriter/Producer Dan Perrault.

Now for playback performance. The 2160p HEVC/H.265, 1.85 X 1, Dolby Vision/HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image on Dragon is the best-looking release here with solid images, fine color range and a consistent image, but because of the way it was shot and some of the older visual effects, there is a built-in softness throughout that is authentic, but holds the overall image back a little. This is a fantasy genre film, music and martial arts taking second place, so that is to be expected. When compared to the 1080p regular blu-ray, which is much weaker and even disappointing, you can see just how good the better points of the 4K edition are.

That 4K version has a new Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixdown for older systems) that takes advantage of the original 70mm blow-up 4.1 Dolby magnetic soundmaster and likely the separate studio-recorded music soundtrack that was encoded with Dolby's older A-type analog noise reduction. With some solid work here, this film will never sound better, while the regular Blu-ray has a harsher, older 5.1 mix presented in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless sound that makes it sound older, aged and not as good as it could.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Knockabout is a nice upgrade from the older DVD with better color and a more solid look, holding up better than expected and the scan is well done. Instead of a DTS upgrade like the old DVD, all we get is PCM 1.0 Mono sound, but it is just fine, though it could have been 2.0 Mono and would have sounded a bit better.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Kraken has some slight motion blur, but decent colors, though I bet this would look better in 4K, while the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix is not bad, but sounds like a mixdown from a 12-track soundmaster. The combination is still good, but I felt like I was missing out throughout from a better presentation.

Finally, the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Strays Blu-ray is for the dogs with a motion-blur-filled presentation, flat cinematography and I doubt it can ever look better than this, even if it somehow got a 4K release. It likely won't. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix barely keeps a soundfield and is one of the most unimaginative multi-channel mixes we've heard in years, barely professional and unexciting.

Both title come with anamorphically enhanced DVDs that are too soft, have barely passable, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and are just their for convenience at best.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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