Thursday, June 30, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: THE CONJURING 2

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on THE CONJURING 2 (2016, 134 minutes, R)

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As sequels go, this film does a fair job.  Director James Wan returns to helm this horror flick and proves he is not losing ground in the genre.  Lorraine and Ed Warren are called to London by the church to help a troubled family who is plagued by a malicious spirit.

The writing starts off shaky as the dialogue feels like a film student’s project when introducing the characters and building the story’s foundation.  The exchanges were too far from natural to be comfortable with, pulling you out of the scene.  But as you progress, everything settles in and the scares start to distract. 

Wan has now proven himself a master at building tension.  He keeps with a tried-and-true process, getting you to hold your breath at those special moments.  This film doesn’t play on the realistic as much as it does the grounded reality of everyday life.  You, as a part of the audience, get the multiple viewpoints so are privy to everything happening, but are also find yourself questioning the occurrences with the skeptics, and then suddenly realize you have already seen that they are proven wrong.  This has to be a mark of good story-building to get that kind of response as you are sitting there taking it in. 

I hate to say the acting is only passable, but it is excusable.  The kids do a better job than some of the adult actors, which is key since the story is driven by the children in more ways the to two lead adults.  The setting allows for play in realism and proven documentation since the 70’s were not know for their recording technology.  This gives license to the director to push the envelope further when dealing with the apparitions.

The hard question of “Is this better than the first?” is a tough one.  I think it could be.  As horror goes, this doesn’t strongly rely on the jump scares or the fantastic images, it blends all the aspects of a good ghost story and gives you a full experience.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 

TRIPLE 9 (2016, 115 minutes, R)

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It is projects like TRIPLE 9 that we should never discount those quieter titles as being worthy of our busy schedules.  If you missed this one in theaters, you must find a way to see this dark crime drama.  Director John Hillcoat adds another great notch to his belt of fantastic films, which includes LAWLESS and THE ROAD.  A group of intelligent and skillful thieves, to include some corrupt cops, are to pull a heist for a Russian mobster.  What follows seems the only inevitable conclusion.  The action is as intense as the storyline.

Grade: A-

Zoolander No. 2 (2016, 102 minutes, PG-13)

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What to say about this one???  You get what you deserve… maybe…  Yes, Blue Steel is back, and stronger than before.  This sequel lives up to the mind-numbing comedy the first induced, but not as clever as you would have hoped.  Some of the comedic energy feels as if they tried too hard forcing the jokes, but the end product is still worth a watch… if you enjoyed the first.  There are some great moments and the laughs will be forthcoming.  If nothing else, you will have the pleasure of seeing Justin Bieber get whacked!

Grade: B-

DIRTY GRANDPA (2016, 102 minutes, R)

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Robert De Niro as you have never seen him before.  The crassest old SOB to grace a family… ok, maybe not as bad as that… this was only rated R.  But nevertheless, he pulls it off in strong fashion.  And Zac Efron was not bad either.  I can’t say I’m a fanboy, but after this and NEIGHBORS, he is not completely disappointing in his performances.  De Niro plays a grandfather to a large extended family who all comes together after the passing of his wife.  He sees his uptight grandson (Efron) about to marry someone that just doesn’t seem quite the right fit, so De Niro tricks the grandson into driving him to Florida for spring break.  The insanity of this film doesn’t let up, not even in the last scene.  This is one to add to your summer viewing.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

“Felonies and Abject Incarcerations: The New Season You’re Missing on NETFLIX ” - ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

“Felonies and Abject Incarcerations: The New Season You’re Missing on NETFLIX ”

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (2013--, NR—definitely for MATURE audiences, 13 episodes, NETFLIX)

I had issues with Season Three, because, well, Piper was becoming a dick.

No easy way to say it, really. I was growing tired of her, despite the fact that the show was giving us plenty of Piper Interludes with separate plotlines concerning the other female prisoners of Litchfield. But by the end, I was ready to write off the show just based on the way her character had progressed to the Dark Side. She wasn’t even pulling a full-on Vader—she was more like an evil Ewok.

Season Four picks up right where the last left off—with the prisoners frolicking in a lake they gain access to via a whole in the fence. And, with Piper still being a jerk. Yet this season is smarter than the last, and thus more rewarding. Piper gets a taste of her own medicine, and we get the old Piper back: an insecure mess, just the way we liked her in the first two seasons.

Besides the usual Piper storylines (which, as usual, can go from relatable to what-the-monkey-testicle-just-happened in the blink of an eye), the major plots involve new prison inmate and television celebrity Judy King (played with a heavy dose of frivolity by Blair Brown), the budding romance between Poussey and Soso, a new job for Tasty, and the struggle of a warden in way over his head.

This season is also the most powerful. There is a major character death, which I won’t reveal here. It has already been spread all over the Internet, and I think it is a shame that spoilers for a show that is released with every episode available are so joyfully revealed. In this regard, social media can really suck swordfish nipples. Yet the death is meaningful, and the writing this year is sharp enough and smart enough to know how to handle the impact it has on the prison. It is also the funniest season yet; where the first was all about establishing characters, families, and back stories, this continues in that vein—but also gives us a peek into the past lives of the guards themselves, offering up the question as to whether they, too, are prisoners.

Whereas last season ended on a high note, this one ends with a definite cliffhanger. Netflix has already announced the release date of the fifth season, which this time around, I am actually looking forward to. It took me a few episodes this time around to stop asking myself “why is Piper even still in the prison, and WHO FREAKING CARES?!?”, yet get there I did. This surpasses the priors because the stories are better, the performances are stronger now more than ever before, and, even when the tides turn concerning the dominant “families” within the prison, it is done in a (mostly) believable way. Thank you for this one, Netflix.

Season Four Standouts: Lolly (the amazing Lori Petty), Poussey (Samira Wiley), Doggett (Taryn Manning), and, of course, Crazy Eyes (two-time Golden Globe winner Uzo Aduba)

Season Four Grade: A-
Series Grade: B

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (2016, 114 minutes, PG-13)

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The comedic force known as the ‘Hart Storm’ (ok, I made that up) is not at an end, yet.  Now pairing with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the winds only grow stronger.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is everything you see in the trailers, and more.  The story is simple enough, so no need to take notes, like some of the more complex spy movies.  Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) was at the top of his game in high school.  He was voted ‘The Most Likely to Succeed’ and a lettered senior for sports.  But after receiving his invitation to his high school reunion, he begins to feel his life as an account less fulfilling and not what he had envisioned his future to be.  Then enters Robbie Weirdicht (Dwayne Johnson), the most shamed kid in school.  Now going by Bob Stone, Robbie pulls Calvin into a bullet-flying mess with the CIA. 

If nothing else, there is one scene that is a ‘must see’ - the couples therapy session.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the interactions and the old school slapstick comedy.  These are the shining moments all comedies should strive for; veering away from the ‘stoner flicks’ we have been plagued with recently.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber (WE’RE THE MILLERS, DODGEBALL: THE TRUE UNDERDOG STORY) shows he still has a plan, and writing and/or directing some good material.  He is the one responsible for putting ‘The Rock’ into a unicorn t-shirt on the big screen.  What else is there in life?

Just sit back and laugh, you won’t be disappointed. 

Grade: A-

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

'Blu-ray or Bust'

There’s creepy, and then there is JOHN GOODMAN CREEPY.

When 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was released, it was a surprise attack by producer JJ Abrams. Up until the first preview was released, the entire production had been kept secret. The previews were incredible little teases, and they worked splendidly. The marketing, as brief as it was, turned out to be a stroke of genius; in its opening weekend, the film made nearly double the production costs. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but there is one visceral performance that keeps you on the edge throughout the entire film.

CLOVERFIELD LANE tells the tale of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, doing an amazing job of performing a resilient and thoughtful character), who, after leaving her fiancĂ©, gets into a car accident and winds up chained to a bed in a fallout shelter. But is she a captive, or his her savior right about the outside world now being unlivable, either due to “Ruskies, or the space worms”? That is the question that drives this film to a conclusion you may not see coming. But even if you do figure it out beforehand, that means you are not giving nearly enough of your time and attention to Mr. Goodman.

Playing the part of “Howard”, the man whom has rescued Michelle and his handyman Emmett (John Gallagher Jr, who did an equally likable job in SHORT TERM 12), you never can put your finger on what is wrong with this guy. There is something there, but that’s what drives this film: not figuring out what lies in wait for them outside of the shelter, but what lies within. Goodman’s performance is enough to have “Oscar nod” written all over it—it’s just too bad the Academy regularly ignores art in this form. His delivery, his timing, his attention to Howard’s quirks and mannerisms are so convincing as to make him a person of interest in your brain well after the film has ended. Does every Good Samaritan really have your best interest at heart? That chubby guy walking down the street with the scraggly beard—is he trustworthy? (No, was not describing myself…I have a goatee, not scraggly…)

First-time director Dan Trachtenberg shot this film in sequence, and it helps to see the characters develop together. There is an obvious dynamic going on here, and he could not have cast three better people to convey his story. And for a new director to come right out of the gate with a film that captures the tone of Hitchcock and the claustrophobic mood of Ridley Scott is magic that you do not see that often.

The generous special features (about thirty-seven minutes worth) give you behind-the-scenes looks you do not normally get. You are shown every separate element that affects the way the story is told; from the captivating, emotional score by Bear McCreary (“Battlestar Galactica”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) to the gritty and personal cinematography by Jeff Cutter (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET-2010), you see how even the lighting gets a special nod. Not to mention the DIY HAZMAT suit…

Abrams has teased that while this is not a direct sequel to 2008’s CLOVERFIELD, he has hinted that it takes place in the same universe. If any additional films are released anytime soon in the same vein, we would be so lucky.

Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Most Definitely
-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: WARCRAFT

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 
on WARCRAFT (2016, 123 minutes, PG-13)

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This year has been a raging storm of action films.  We finally have WARCRAFT to add to the list of entertaining forays into the video game adaptation.  This was one in the making, a number of restless years waiting for the right release date.

I, for one, know enough about the PC game "Warcraft" to recognize similar aspects incorporated into the film but never stepped foot on their "World of Warcraft" servers.  I know if I had, there would be large gaps of time lost to that game... large.  This movie pays homage to both - bird's eye view of the towns and battles, the rich visuals of the settings, the depth of worldbuilding shown in the people and places.  They went so far as to make the scenes both gritty and yet have those clean textures found in the video game.  That had to be a chore.

Director Duncan Jones is more known for being the son of the late David Bowie.  His top billing is MOON, and he took on this project with the right mindset.  His results were shockingly good.  The story was made stronger after a rumor of 'tropish' beginnings in script writing and the level of CGI for the orcs is astounding.  This is a major reason that this film can be respected rather than left in a gutter thinking it a shameful work. 

With a film with so many moving parts and rich background, it is hard to not be distracted from the many brief glimpses of character building.  There is enough to see Travis Fimmel, of "Vikings" fame, show his usual quirks you have come to love.  Paula Patton (of M:I GHOST PROTOCOL and PRECIOUS), even as a half-orc, is a lovely and talented female lead.  And to round out this strong casting, you have Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Robert Kazinsky, and Daniel Wu.

The US reception was poor but the international sales made the movie a success.  I am thankful for this since America seems to want controversy and hate more than just enjoying a good flick.  Hollywood is doomed to soon bow to the whims of a larger world rather than its continental audience.  I think this maybe a chance for greater success to those smaller projects that deserve a fair shake.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


'Blu-ray or Bust'

Occasionally, I find it necessary to purchase a movie twice. Sometimes, it’s because I’m stupid and I lose it. Other times, it’s because I’m stupid and I start drooling over added special features or the promise of additional stupid.

So this week, basically, I was drooling over Matt Damon.

In my original review of this spectacular survival story, I opined about Ridley Scott’s ability to take a good story and make it even better. “He is a visual storyteller with a literary conscience, and it soars to new heights with his adaptation.” (Yes, I just quoted myself…) (…because I can…) (…and because no one else does, even though I do come up with a good line every three months or so.)

Andy Weir’s book is chock full of scientific know-how. The story is about a botanist/astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars after a violent storm necessitates the quick evacuation of the science team. Left for dead, Watney (Damon, not acting very Damon-ish AT ALL) must rely on his scientific knowledge to survive. Trust me, it is more entertaining than that little synopsis I just threw out there. But Scott gives us the scientific details the book did with a little less aplomb. Author Weir is a self-proclaimed science geek and former software engineer, so you know the science behind every step of this story will be terribly accurate. Whereas Weir could make you feel a teeny bit mentally inferior at times, Ridley reigns all that science in and gives it to you practically. He keeps too much of the same language, dialogue, and story points that Weir did, but he does it with Damon’s voice, and it changes things dramatically.

But with the new disc, Scott throws in ten minutes more of Damon and Co. which actually makes the film work a bit better. There are more bad words, a sequence involving Watney using some of his spare time to finish up some of the abandoned research, and, praise the Sweet Baby Hey-Zeus, more of the amazing Donald Glover. Glover pays homage to every smart kid on the planet that has a social anxiety disorder with his performance of Rich Purnell, Genius. His added screen time, as little as it may be, is one of the best bonuses of the added footage. And not necessarily because it is funny—it isn’t, but it adds even more depth to a character that would have been a one-trick-pony in any other actor’s hands.

If you do not purchase this film on Blu-ray, there is something inherently wrong with your brain. Your surround sound demands it, and your eyes demand it. Scott is a master visual storyteller, and this is a wonderful story to watch unfold. Besides—if your surround sound isn’t doing double duty when a Martian storm is blowing across the scene, or when Damon is looking right into screen sardonically while disco music blares in the background, you just aren’t doing it right. (Said every girl I’ve ever dated…)

So, yes, you should probably go buy this—again, if need be. There are a few additional special features, not to mention the added commentary by Scott himself, which was glaringly missing from the first release. If you won’t buy it for yourself, then do it for Watney and Rich Purnell. And for Mars; all three of these characters deserve your extra time and attention.

Grade: A
Special Features: A+
Blu-ray Necessary: Hell yes

-- T.S. Kummelman

Thursday, June 9, 2016


The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: 

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I apologize, for I can't give a review for this movie.  Why, you ask?  Because... simple... this is a kid's movie. 

As an adult, all I can give you is that this is your chance to see Bebop and Rocksteady in 3D.

Grade: C        

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - PRIDE & PREDJUDICE & ZOMBIES

'Blu-ray or Bust'

I would like to think that if Jane Austen, the classic author of “Pride and Prejudice”, ever met writer Seth Grahame-Smith, she might embrace him, sharing a giggle with what he did to her classic characters. In 2009, Seth published a rather unique and hysterical take on her classic by keeping the drama and characters of her work, but setting it all against the backdrop of a Victorian era zombie apocalypse.

I would also like to think that if Austen ever met director Burr Steers, that she would kick him soundly in his naughty bits. Not only has he eviscerated Grahame-Smith’s take on the Austen classic, but he does so with more of a nod to the original work. At first, it is hard to pinpoint the real problem (PUN ALERT!) plaguing this film, but by the time you get to the forty minute mark, it is abundantly clear: Steers does not buy into the entire ridiculousness of the reimagining of the tale. He tries to make the entire situation more plausible, thus hindering the story itself. Where Grahame-Smith (okay, really, what dude hyphenates his name, fer cryin’ out loud…getting tired of typing all that out…) exalted in the genre mash-up (hell, the book even had ninjas in it!), Steers treats it more as an aside.

The movie isn’t horrible—it just isn’t as good as it thinks it is. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are provided by Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”). His performance as the icky Parson Collins makes the film worth the watch. He alone seems to grasp the source material’s gleeful disregard to propriety, and steals nearly every scene he is in. Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with any of the performances, just with what they were given to do. Smith is the only one having fun, and when it is that obvious, your movie is going to suffer for it.

Steer’s other problem is the film’s rating. PG-13 zombie films just aren’t that good. You expect gore, or at least a certain amount of it (whether you are looking for it or not) in any zombie film. I mean, they eat people. There’s supposed to be gore. And there is some here, but it is almost as if they were afraid to dirty the tapestries and the settees. The most obvious scene lacking the biggest potential for gore is also the one that is supposed to sell us on the bad-assery of the Bennet sisters; you can see the implied stabbings as obvious misses. I know they aren’t supposed to actually be killing each other, but you can plainly see the swords going to the sides instead of straight on. This can be blamed on the choreography and the camera work. Movies are all about misdirection, but this one takes that a little too literally.

Another issue at work is the numerous plot holes, and unfinished story lines. For as long as this film is, he could have cut a few bits out and we never would have missed them. (SPOILER ALERT: the Four Zombie Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Totally useless.) I sure hope Steer isn’t saving things for a sequel—one try is enough, thank you.

There is absolutely no need at all to purchase this film on Blu-ray. There is very little to gain from the format here; the score is passable as background noise, but it never lifts any of the scenes up, never creates tension or passion. And cinematographer Remi Adefarasin (“The Pacific”, ME BEFORE YOU) must have been phoning this one in. Some of the images he captures are well shot, but the man has a tough time switching between tea parties and zombie raids.

Hopefully, Jane Austen will come back as a zombie one day and hunt down Burr Steer. I just hope she stops herself from eating his brains—she won’t find anything tasty in there.

Grade: C- (mostly because of Matt Smith, and partly because actress Lily James is dang hot)
Special Features: C (it was a chore to watch them, after watching the film—although they were the more entertaining of the two)
Blu-ray Necessary: Oh Hell NO

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic: on X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

The 'Not-So-Critical' Critic:
on X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016, 144 minutes, PG-13)

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In full disclosure, I am not the biggest fan of the X-MEN franchise.  I have enjoyed parts of particular films and then some, specially LAST STAND, totally fell flat.  Not everyone agrees since each movie seems to polarize the crowds, and not always in the same way.

To start off, I am glad they started this reboot project.  But FIRST CLASS, to me, was more like "First Ass".  The acting was horrible outside the two leads, McAvoy and Fassbender.  DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was a descent way to wash away the sins of the 'past' but still seemed lacking when it comes to the new standards of the successful superhero films.

Now we have X-MEN: APCOCALYPSE as the follow-up to launch into this new era.  I will say that my hopes and expectations were quite low.  And I was rewarded with a decent experience.  The story and acting were not half-bad.  The settings in Egypt were exciting to see.  The cage match was a typical play, but worthy for an adrenaline push.

I remember as a kid when everyone would make lists of who should play the X-Men parts if they were to ever make films.  Some seemed like they would be dead on, other in total dispute among the purists.  I, for one, thought Rutger Hauer would have been the best Magneto.  Still feel the same to this day.   

But we have a new generation of actors, a very different pool to pull from.  Michael Fassbender proves he can have an acting presence in a muddled plot, and is probably the top choice for Magneto in today's world.  There are so many pieces moving to make this film work smoothly, and yet he still shines.  James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), although an integral part, doesn't command the your attention as he should.  This is thanks in part to the writing, in my opinion.  Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) does nothing for me.  I feel like I'm watching the HUNGER GAMES again.  Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse) was okay but I stand by what I initially felt about his costume design - not even close to how Apocalypse should look.  So watching him work was very distracting as I snarled every time he popped up.  The one standout was Evan Peters as Quicksilver.  Even though he was a small cog in the machine, his contribution was something to remember.

This one will sit as one of the top X-MEN movies.  The action sequences were average at best until the final battle.  Everything finally comes together and mutants clash into a furious crescendo.  There are no major surprises and everything fits the Hollywood model, which maybe why the critics are not giving the love.  Either director Bryan Singer or the studio wanted to play it safe.  To prove this, you only need to see the destruction wrought by Wolverine.  Seemed so plain and generic without the blood and full violence.  We need that R rating, boys!

Grade: B+

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

'Blu-ray or Bust' - RIDE ALONG 2

'Blu-ray or Bust'
RIDE ALONG 2 (2016, PG-13, 102 minutes, UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

2014’s RIDE ALONG was a nice shot of comedy adrenaline that cinema sorely needed. The lead characters had great chemistry, and the perspective of two black cops cleaning up the streets of Atlanta could not have been handled better by any other actors.

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube (“N.W.A.”, BOYZ N THE HOOD), reuniting with director Tim Story, nearly recreate the magic that the first film so enjoyable. The only problem is that he lingers just a little too long in some places, and the editing issues distract from the comedy and action. Case in point would be the finale—too many explosions, too long of an unnecessary chase scene…for a film built upon humor that is less than subtle, you feel like Story was trying to outshine his comedic actors with a smash-bang finale that falls kind of flat.

This time around, Ben Barber (Hart) is still trying to impress his girlfriend’s brother James Payton (Cube). He wants to be a detective, and Payton doesn’t think he has what it takes. So, this time around, we get a ride-along to Miami. The south Florida hot spot is where Payton has tracked a computer nerd named “AJ” (Ken Jeong, who finally gets to act without a Korean accent), who may hold the key to a drug kingpin back in Atlanta.

Hart, my friends, is a comedic genius. Coupling that with a darn fine acting technique, nearly every scene he is in seems tailor-made to suit his style. Which, of course, clashes with Cube’s. Character wise, it makes the odd-couple pairing work. But when Hart isn’t in the scene, the tone of the film switches gears so palpably, you almost feel like you are watching a different movie. Keeping Cube as the straight man the entire film is a crime to his own comedic timing, and it is quite evident here.

Including Jeong in the mix helps breathe life into the film, making it feel fresher than it should be. But he, too, falls victim to the Hart Trap; there is a lot of talent in this film, but it is all a bit overshadowed by Little Hurricane Kevin. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a better, shorter film here somewhere.

The special features are just as inclusive and complimentary as the first film’s were, including a love letter/advertisement to Georgia (which almost seems oddly placed, considering much of the film was made in Miami). But you almost get the feeling, this time around, that too much is included. For a film that feels a bit long, you cannot quite share all of that behind-the-scenes enthusiasm. But if you are going to get this one, get it on Blu-ray; the music and action kind of demand it, as does Hart’s high-pitched screams.

Thus far, no sequel has been announced, which might be a good thing. Better to leave this as a two-film series, rather than try to come up with another reason for a ride along. Besides—Story and Cube are busy with HUMBUG, and Hart is…well, he’s Kevin Hart. He has two more films slated for release this year, and two in production now for 2017. Good to know that this is a sequel that won’t kill any careers, even if it is barely good enough to use to kill some time…

Grade: C+
Special Features: A-
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended

-- T.S. Kummelman