ByBrian Salisbury, writer at Creators.co
Brian Salisbury

12 Rounds Reloaded

The Film

Since Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was able to so masterfully make the transition from professional wrestler to actor, Fox, and later WWE Studios, has been desperately trying to recapture lightning in that neckless bottle. To no avail. The closest they got was a parade of watered down action flicks starring . They felt themselves so close to the mark with Cena however, that they have been churning out direct-to-video sequels of both The Marine (which now boasts a franchise of three films starring three different wrestlers) and now the followup to 12 Rounds. Randy Orton's effort is admirable, but little more can be said for his screen presence. Given that 12 Rounds was itself a poor knockoff of Die Hard with a Vengeance, and considering 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded feels like a carbon copy of the first, we end up with an imitation of an imitation that fails to delight.

Sight & Sound

Typical of a low-budget action film, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded leans way too heavily on grey tones, blues, and shadows. Unfortunately, in the hands of someone who appears to be under-practiced at the art of cinematography, what this leads to is a hopelessly overly-dark presentation. So much of the contrast is washed out in black levels cranked to the max. Forget making out finer details of faces in hallways or alleyways, even the police stations are apparently working in the middle of a blackout. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is competent, but not impressive. However, a rare feature offered by this Blu-ray is that when hitting the chapter skip button, the audio on the current scene will slowly fade out before the next scene begins. Doesn't serve any particular function, but it is interesting to note.

The Goodies

A smattering of featurettes accompany the obligatory director's commentary here. The "Randy Orton Unloaded" feature is meant as little more than a sales pitch; selling Orton as an actor to an audience who has undoubtedly already viewed the film and therefore knows he isn't that.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

If you were a fan of 12 Rounds, the dip in quality in the sequel is not so pronounced that you won't enjoy it. Also, if you happen to enjoy the wrestling trope of heels turning face, go ahead and check out 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded and watch Orton play a hero for a change.

Adventure Time Season 1 & Season 2 (Sold Separately)

The Show

One of the most off-the-wall fever dreams currently masquerading as children's television is Pendelton Ward's Adventure Time. As each episode sprints through a gauntlet of jaw-dropping absurdity, children are enraptured by the colorful characters (both literally and figuratively) and, at a cursory glance, parents may think the series too silly for them. However, there is a tremendous grasp of comedic timing and advanced joke mechanics demonstrated amid the silliness that loses nothing in its flight right over the kiddies' heads. The first two seasons are an ever-escalating series of remarkable oddball triumphs.

Sight & Sound

The Blu-ray transfer on each of these season sets is beautiful, but not so overly polished that the charming harsh lines of the characters are lost. So much of the appeal of the series is tied up in the style of its animation, and the high-def upgrade allows the spectacle of its universe to thrive. The colors are bright, deep, and rich and the sound mix wonderfully supports both the wildly imaginative sound effects work and the eerily gentle music.

The Goodies

True to form, the bonus features on these Blus are just as adorably whacked out as the show itself. Truth be told, season one is far more crammed with bonus content than its second season counterpart. The first season boasts one of the most wonderfully weird behind-the-scenes featurettes ever constructed, and is accompanied by a followup featurette fictionalizing how the first was created. Also included on the first season are featurettes about the music, storyboard breakdowns, and promotional material. Not to be missed is a hilarious selection of episode commentaries featuring the great (voice of Jake the Dog), (voice of the Ice King), Jeremy Shada (Finn), and show creator Pendleton Ward.

The second season extras are not as plentiful, as previously mentioned, but are, if possible, even more unusual. The only featurette is one in which Ward brings in his entire staff and interviews them before making them watch internet videos. Yeah. And then we come to the commentaries. Upon accessing each episode's commentary, a note appears on the screen informing the viewer that certain portions of each commentary were cut out and replaced with Ward playing the ukelele. Sure enough, at certain points, sometimes mid-conversation, the commentary audio drops out and Ward begins to play and sing. It's such a head-scratcher for which one must own season two if for no other reason than to experience it.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

If you are a parent who prefers to offer your children programming that also provides something unique for your own viewing experience, Adventure Time is the series you hope for. Grownup fans of post-apocalyptic fantasy fiction, and well-crafted absurdist humor, drop what you're doing and go pick up these first two algebraic seasons on Blu-ray.

Breaking Bad: Season 5

The Show

Breaking Bad rests comfortably upon the top echelon of currently running television programs. Heck, it should even be in the discussion of greatest series of all time. In Season 5, the series strikes an interesting balance between its ever increasing degree of darkness and some lighter comedic moments. The most captivating element of the fifth season has to be the evolution of the character Todd. Elaborating too much would spoil some very intriguing surprises in this regard, but suffice to say, is given many unique opportunities to shine this season.

Sight & Sound

Further testament to the greatness of Breaking Bad as a series is how well it is shot. The cinematography, yes I believe that term should apply to TV shows of this caliber, is phenomenal. Sony has done a fantastic job ensuring zero loss from broadcast to home release. Though I was only sent the DVD to review, much of the photography is still exemplary in its home release. The images are accompanied with a thriving 5.1 mix that can, and frequently does, allow certain sound effects to linger as trademarks for certain characters.

The Goodies

Scattered throughout the DVD release are several featurettes, gag reels, commentaries, and deleted and extended scenes. There is even a uncensored original scene entitled "Chicks 'n' Guns" exclusive to the home release. Also enjoyable is the Chris Hardwick All-Star Celebrity Bowling supplement; silly, but lots of fun.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

Though I would still highly advise purchasing the Blu-ray, the DVD of Breaking Bad Season 5 needs little in the way of a sales pitch from me. Those interested in picking it up are those who are already enamored of the show. After all, it's not as if novices are going to jump in at season five as their introduction.

House of Cards Season 1

The Show

leads a stellar cast in this made-for-Netflix drama based on 1990 British miniseries. As House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, Spacey plays his masterfully manipulative antihero with wry, slimy panache. His getting passed over for Secretary of State proves to be an act of betrayal tantamount to the shooting of Michael Corelone's father; his vengeance being only slightly less severe but just as cold. Watching Frank align his pawns, maneuver through elaborate schemes, and unleash the full payload of his wrath is what makes this series so arresting. Though many have complained, I actually find the fourth-wall-busting narration to be slick and captivating.

Sight & Sound

I was only sent the DVD for the first season, so expounding too much about the picture quality would be counterproductive. After all, the DVD offers a picture quality hardly different from that of the Netflix stream. The audio is a fair 5.1 Dolby.

The Goodies

None on the DVD, though not surprising when considering the show was produced exclusively for Netflix. The question is, should we then expect no bonus content on the inevitable Blu-ray/DVD release of Arrested Development Season 4?

Optimal Purchase Conditions

If you are a fan of the same sort of Machiavellian drama epitomized in shows like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and Boss, you owe it to yourself to check out House of Cards. Though honestly, given that it's the flagship Netflix-produced series, the DVD seems a totally superfluous buy. It's gotta be Blu-ray or you might as well be watching online.

Ninja III: The Domination

The Film

An especially dopey entry in the catalog of 80s ninjasploitation, Ninja III: The Domination is technically a followup to Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, one could just as easily assign any other random duo of 80s ninja actioners as its predecessors. Though shackled by a low budget, Ninja III's gleefully over-the-top conceit, even for this subgenre, and ceaseless and often dangerous action scenes more than facilitate genuine entertainment.

Sight & Sound

Shout Factory, via their Scream Factory arm, has shown more deference to Ninja III: The Domination than has anyone since it's 1984 debut. Never released on DVD, Ninja III looks inexplicably great on Blu. The grain is reduced to next to nil without the plastic-like falsity of DNR. Sharp contrast, a high level of detail, and a crispness that often belies the film's age and obscurity. It really is beautiful. Despite harboring only a two-channel audio mix, it is in fact a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 mix. Though it does sound surprisingly dynamic, the hilariously sloppy Foley seems to have its own defined audio track.

The Goodies

Shockingly few supplements for a Scream Factory release. The photo gallery does feature several gorgeous hand-painted pieces of original promotional art, and the commentary with director and stunt coordinator reveals, among several other rather humorous anecdotes, that Ninja III: The Domination was inspired by Poltergeist.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

Fans of the best of the worst 80s martial arts cinema will flip for this release; possibly double backflip onto a moving police car.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)

The Film

breaks out his ruby slippers, or whatever his directing footwear of choice may be, and takes audiences back to the merry old land of Oz. Epic in its scale and production, Oz The Great and Powerful does succeed in reminding us of why we loved The Wizard of Oz in the first place and the references to canon are, more often than not, naturally sewn into the narrative so as to not feel like desperate nods. plays the titular wizard with amiable impishness; a mixture of hero and conman. If the film has a weak link, it's unfortunately who plays her witchy role with an awkward cartoonishness.

Sight & Sound

Though a dazzling act in theatrical 3D presentation, Oz The Great & Powerful loses a great deal of its magic in 2D home viewing. The brilliant color is just as vivid, and props should be lent to maintaining sharp contrast even in the black-and-white portion of the film, but those scenes taking place in Oz in the daylight suddenly make obtrusive the film's digital seams. The night scenes hold up much better, but those in daylight look intensely false in 2D. Also, the telltale 3D issues are spotlighted in traditional presentation; namely the lack of focus in medium conversation shots. As to the sound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 nicely handles the softer dialogue moments as well as the roaring action sequences. However, it boggles the mind as to why the Blu-ray defaults to the 2.0 mix and forces the viewer to navigate through the options to change it.

The Goodies

Disney has stuffed this Blu-ray with enough bonus content to burst an overripe scarecrow. Featurettes covering everything from the production design to Kunis' makeup to the myriad ways the filmmakers brought China Girl to life. Also included are a blooper reel and a music video (seemingly a Disney staple these days). The two most interesting features are "Walt Disney and the Road to Oz," in which the iconic dream-maker's many attempts to bring his version of L. Frank Baum's novels to the big screen are explored, and "My Journey in Oz," in which Franco directs a personal behind-the-scenes journal. The one complaint here is that it appears that the most comprehensive featurette, The Second Screen Experience, requires the downloading of a separate app. Call me a luddite, but I believe all the bells and whistles on a Blu-ray should be contained within the Blu-ray itself.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

For those whose passion for the world of L. Frank Baum burn as brightly as a recently-ignited scarecrow, I promise that will be the last scarecrow analogy I use, Oz The Great and Powerful provides plenty to click your heels about. If you happen to own a 3D television, I highly recommend picking up the 3D Blu-ray and avoiding the 2D presentation whenever possible. Funny, I never thought I'd find myself saying those words.

Snitch

The Film

We begin and end our list this week with films starring wrestlers. stars in this action/drama about a father who goes undercover into a drug distribution outfit in order to free his incarcerated son. Functioning far more as a drama than a thrilling actioner, the biggest roadblock to Snitch's success is its script, which at times ventures into the nonsensical in order to construct its family drama narrative. Not to spend too much time picking apart its screenplay, let's just say that when the entire conceit of a film comes crashing down were it for the intervention of a character with but a year's worth of legal training, the audience is being expected to swallow too much.

Sight & Sound

Snitch is not a film that boasts memorable cinematography, and therefore it's high-def transfer is, at best, passable. In other words, what was on the screen is translated near perfectly to the Blu-ray, but for all its digital clarity, the film's photography lacks style and depth. There are a few moments of action that warrant the DTS-HD 7.1 sound mix, but the movie is so dialogue heavy that it feels like a bit of a waste overall.

The Goodies

Snitch comes with a limited collection of extras. Director appears on a commentary with his editor, there is one, admittedly extensive, making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a short set of deleted scenes.

Optimal Purchase Conditions

If you've always been a fan of The Rock, but wished he would quit doing those pesky blockbusters in favor of an After School Special...go ahead and pick up Snitch.