Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Kino Lorber Studio Classics
  • Tales from the Hood (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Tales from the Hood (1995)

    Director: Rusty Cundieff

    Starring: Corbin Bersen, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, David Alan Grier, Anthony Griffith, Wings Hauser, Paula Jai Parker, Joe Torry & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Tales from the Hood unspools an anthology of urban frights set against the backdrop of inner city social issues as frightening as the monsters depicted in them.  Nightmares and reality are forever blurred when a trio of hoodlums retrieving a stash of missing drugs from an eerie mortician find themselves subjected to several tales from beyond the grave.

    Released in a dire genre year just ahead of Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher masterpiece rejuvenating audiences thirst, Tales from the Hood stands as one of the few crowning achievements from the lumpish decade that offers genuine frights with effectively delivered messages entwined in their narratives.  Seldom seen during the scatterbrained era but nonetheless serving as one of the best anthology efforts of its day, Tales from the Hood’s urban slant provides a chillingly fresh perspective on a proven formula with its commentary on issues such as, police brutality, domestic abuse and gang violence unfortunately still potent today.  Guiding his trigger-happy guests around his funeral home, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III, Mod Squad) weaves a web of ghoulish stories in accordance with their own ethnic environment.  When an African-American rookie cop watches on as a civil rights leader is attacked by corrupt officers, Rogue Cop Revelation finds his lack of action comes at a haunting price while, Boys Do Get Bruised finds a child’s fear of the monster in his closet foreshadowing the real-life domestic abuse he suffers and the power of his own imagination that puts an end to it in this Twilight Zone-esque episode.  Furthermore, KKK Comeuppance centers on former Klansman and running politician Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen, L.A. Law) learning his former plantation homestead is overrun by vengeful slave dolls brought to life by stop-motion wizardry.  Lastly, gang violence, hate and a failed attempt to rehabilitate a murderous convict in Hard Core Convert strikes genuine fear into the hearts of viewers with its grizzly imagery of real-life lynchings.  While most films of its kind leave audiences cherry-picking their favorite segments, Tales from the Hood continuously tops itself throughout its duration with its seamless blending of terror and gritty, urban realism making it one of the most smartly conceived efforts of the 90s.

    Reportedly thought to have no workable prints to remaster from, Scream Factory comes through to deliver Tales from the Hood with a strong 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Leaps and bounds better than its nearly decade-old discontinued DVD release, colors are striking while, skin tones are naturally pleasing with black levels, evident during the film’s overwhelming nighttime sequences, looking deeply inky with no intrusions of digital crush.  Scant speckling traces aside, the transfer is a remarkable sight that will leave fans yearning for a trip back to the hood more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue sharply and emphasizes its rap soundtrack authoritatively, an Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 culled from the film’s LaserDisc release is also included for your listening pleasure.  Joining its place alongside other worthy Collector’s Edition releases, supplemental offerings include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff also recycled from its LaserDisc release, the newly-produced and exceptionally well made Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13) featuring interviews from Cundieff, Co-Writer/Producer Darin Scott and several cast members, a Vintage Featurette (6:04), the Theatrical Trailer (1:41), TV Spots (3:26), a Photo Gallery (9:46) and Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet.

    Retrieved from Universal’s vaults after rampant requests from fans, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem from a decade largely considered in peril with few redeeming genre efforts.  A horrific journey of eerie episodes with much more on its mind than simply scaring its audiences, this socially conscious and wickedly fun frightfest is urban horror at its finest.  Bestowed with new luridly crafted artwork by Joel Robinson (The Vincent Price Collections), Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release brings the hood back to life with a sightly high-definition makeover and a quality serving of mostly vintage supplements while, its brand-new, nearly hour-long retrospective doc is the disc’s towering extra.  Gather round the casket and don’t be left out on the streets without this recommended anthology of nightmares!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Scream Factory, Tales from the Hood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

    Starring: Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander, Michael Lane, Julie Gray & Monique St. Pierre

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, Stryker finds a world devastated and water its most valued treasure.  As several bands of survivors battle each other over short supplies, a secret water source has been exposed leading a lone woman with knowledge of its whereabouts to depend on renowned warrior Stryker (Steve Sandor, Fire and Ice) to protect its safety against the evil Kardis (Michael Lane, The Harder They Fall) and his army.

    Piggybacking on the craze of post-apocalyptic mayhem set forth by Mad Max, Stryker burns rubber taking unapologetic cues from George Miller’s game-changing effort where muscular brutes, wasteland women and high-octane vehicles run amok in pursuit of dominance in a new ravaged world.  As the survivors of worldwide nuclear destruction struggle to locate viable water sources, Delha (Andria Savio, Death Screams), harboring knowledge of a shrouded spring and pursed by the death squads of Kardis for its location, is saved by the fearless Stryker and his companion.  Before long, the lone female finds herself captured and tortured by the vile Kardis until a successful daring rescue mission by Stryker puts her in pursuit of Trun, Stryker’s brother, for manpower to combat Kardis’s overwhelming forces.  Determined to seek vengeance against the wicked leader for the death of his own lover, Stryker joins the cause to protect the coveted spring and liberate those in peril.  Loaded with battered vehicle chases, scantly-clad women armed with crossbows and high-pitched Filipino midget warriors, Stryker delivers a respectable drive-in effort with action-packed bloodshed done cheaply although, its saccharine celebration of a conclusion at the height of battle shortchanges its outcome.  Marking the first of many post-nuke helmed efforts for Filipino native and dependable Corman colleague Cirio H. Santiago (Firecracker, Wheels of Fire), Stryker remains a mid-level Road Warrior ripoff that generally satisfies where it counts while, Santiago’s later experiments in the genre would greatly improve with each passing attempt.

    KL Studio Classics presents Stryker with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  No stranger to speckling and occasional scratches, this expectedly soft-looking effort looks as good as can be expected given its tight budget and dry, desolate locations.  Skin tones look decently with instances of blood popping well and costume choices relaying mediocre detail.  Furthermore, black levels, evidenced in Kardis’s torture dungeon and the cave harboring the desired water spring, look rather drab and harder to make out.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that translates the obviously dubbed dialogue with ease, soundtrack cues and action-oriented moments of explosions and firepower offer slightly more oomph to the proceedings.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Jim Wynorski, moderated by Bill Olsen & Damon Packard.  B-movie legend and fellow Corman protégé, Wynorski, although having nothing creatively to do with the film outside of knowing Santiago rather well and taking over directorial duties on its remake after the Filipino filmmaker fell ill, provides chatty conversation and an obvious love for the genre making the track an unexpected treat.  In addition, a Trailer Gallery featuring Stryker (2:03), Wheels of Fire (2:04), Equalizer 2000 (1:39), The Sisterhood (1:26) and Dune Warriors (1:12) is also included.

    From what seems like a bottomless pit of post-apocalyptic knockoffs, Stryker neither burns out nor exceeds what’s expected of it.  Living up to its colorfully exploitative poster art, blood, babes and savagery reign in this New World Pictures produced feature that stands as a mere stepping stone for Santiago’s more refined wasteland followups.  Never a pretty looking picture since its inception, KL Studio Classics ensures the film a most welcome upgrade for the HD generation.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Stryker can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Circus of Fear (1966) / Five Golden Dragons (1967)

    Director(s): John Moxey / Jeremy Summers

    Starring: Christopher Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Marddern & Maurice Kaufmann / Bob Cummings, Margaret Lee, Rupert Davies, Klaus Kinski, Maria Rohm & Maria Perschy

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presenting a double serving of Edgar Wallace crime tales, Blue Underground proudly presents Circus of Fear where a calculated car heist leads to a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a traveling circus.  Featuring an ensemble cast including, Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula) and Klaus Kinski (Venom), greed, revenge and red herrings reign supreme in this British whodunit.  Next up, Five Golden Dragons finds wealthy American Bob Mitchell (Bob Cummings, Dial M for Murder) embroiled in the crosshairs of a deadly crime syndicate during his Hong Kong getaway.  Struggling to survive, Mitchell attempts to discover the identities of his mysterious misfortune makers.  

    Released in America as Psycho-Circus in a heavily edited form to appease the later half of its double feature bookings, Circus of Fear’s impressive onscreen talent matched with the directorial knowhow of John Moxey (The City of the Dead) does little to salvage this tiresomely dull caper.  After successfully shaking down an armored vehicle of riches, a gang member stashes the loot in Barberini’s Circus before falling victim to a mystery throwers blade.  With a full-scale investigation initiated, the eccentric personalities of the traveling roadshow are introduced and suspected including, but not limited to, masked lion tamer Gregor (Lee).  Although top billed, Lee, whose performance appears rather stiffly, remains shrouded for much of the film, reportedly hiding a severely scarred appearance that is anything but.  The deeper the authorities, led by Detective Elliot (Leo Genn, Moby Dick) dig, the more circus performers turn up dead.  While captivating character actor Klaus Kinski appearing as a chain-smoking crook is yawningly reduced to hiding in the shadows, blonde bombshell Margaret Lee’s (Venus in Furs) glamorous looks help offset the disappointment.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an overly complicated plot of family pasts involving slain fathers and escaped convicts, Circus of Fear is never wholly thrilling or terribly exciting.  Like a carnival barker baiting viewers with its intriguing title and respectable cast, Circus of Fear is an unfortunate big-top bust.

    Appearing in his final film effort before returning to television indefinitely, funnyman Bob Cummings brings his all-American lightheartedness to the B-grade comedy caper antics of Five Golden Dragons.  Shot on location in Hong Kong and the infamous Shaw Brothers Studios, Cummings’ chewing gum salesman Bob Mitchell receives a peculiar note from a murdered man with links to an illegal, top secret operation.  Much like a fish out of water, Mitchell finds himself in over his head as the crime syndicate looks to eliminate the clueless tourist before their organization is jeopardized.  Circus of Fear Producer Harry Alan Towers and Screenwriter Peter Welbeck re-team on this mildly entertaining mystery, recycling several thespians from their previous collaboration including, the very sexy Margaret Lee appearing as corrupt singer Magda while, Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee are relegated to forgettable cameo appearances.  Bumbling his way through secret passages and making nervous conversation at gunpoint, Cummings, although far older than imagined for the part, is likable enough as he attempts to keep his poolside crush Ingrid (Maria Rohm, Count Dracula) safe while, hoping to unmask the identities of the criminal Five Golden Dragons with assistance from Commissioner Sanders (Rupert Davies, Witchfinder General) who makes quoting and citing Shakespeare a necessity.  Capturing the beautiful surroundings of Hong Kong’s seaport and featuring a charming musical performance from guest singer Yukari Itô, Five Golden Dragons is only sparingly humorous with its greatest unintentional laugh arriving at the expense of the titular villains who interface under the hilarious disguises of oversized dragon heads.

    Blue Underground proudly presents both films newly remastered from their original negatives with 1080p transfers.  While Circus of Fear sports a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Five Golden Dragons debuts with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting healthy skin tones, pleasingly bold colors in wardrobe choices and strong detail in backgrounds, black levels are richly defined in tuxedos and Lee’s dark mask while, no glaring evidence of age-related artifacts are present on either transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films offer easy to follow tracks with audible levels of clarity although, Five Golden Dragons appears to have a tinnier effect during dialogue delivery.  With no noticeable cracks or pops detected, each mix is more than satisfactory.  Meanwhile, supplements on Circus of Fear feature a recycled Audio Commentary with Director John Moxey, moderated by David Gregory, an International Color Trailer (2:29), International B&W Trailer (2:30), a U.S. Color Trailer (2:02), U.S. B&W Trailer (2:04) and a Poster & Still Gallery (87 in total) whereas, Five Golden Dragons includes its Theatrical Trailer (2:49) and a Poster & Still Gallery (92 in total).

    Inviting viewers to the crime-filled menagerie of Edgar Wallace’s mysteries, Circus of Fear is a grave disappointment with an alluring poster design and surefire cast that unfortunately fails to thrill yet, succeeds in being overly complicated.  Joined by its more comedic co-feature, Five Golden Dragons also stumbles to be memorable although Cummings’ personality matched with Margaret Lee’s jaw dropping beauty and the gorgeous sights of Hong Kong all make for worthy notices.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground treats viewers with praiseworthy restorations of both features that are noticeable advancements over their more than decade old standard definition releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, Circus of Fear / Five Golden Dragons can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Mafia Style (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Mafia Style (1974)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Vic Caesar, Lorenzo Dodo, Louis Zito & Cara Salerno

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A jack of all trades, Italian-American actor and nightclub singer Duke Mitchell would write, direct, produce and star in his response to The Godfather.  In Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell portrays Mimi Miceli, the son of a mafia kingpin determined to carve a name out for himself by embarking on a bloody crime spree through Hollywood.  Low-budget and intensely violent, Massacre Mafia Style promises “more, guts, action and dynamite” than Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed gangster opus.

    As a noted nightclub singer who would transition to film with such appearances in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Duke Mitchell would graduate to producing his own feature ingrained in his Italian heritage.  Following the massive success of 1972’s The Godfather, Mitchell found a low-budget mafia picture a natural fit to spread his creative wings, wearing several hats on the production including, directing and starring.  Opening with an office building massacre at the hands of Mimi Miceli (Mitchell) and his associate to the upbeat tunes of Mitchell’s own recordings, Massacre Mafia Style makes firm on its promise of more violence than its Academy Award-winning predecessor.  Deported back to Sicily following his rampant crime activity in America, mafia kingpin Don Mimi (Lorenzo Dodo) is confronted with his son Mimi’s desire to reenter the mafia underworld.  Intent on relocating the action of New York City to Hollywood, Mimi travels to sunny California to rekindle his friendship with bartender Jolly (Vic Caesar, Alice Goodbody).  Joining forces with the former drink pusher, Mimi rattles the chains of west coast mob bosses by taking one ransom and wooing the girlfriend (Cara Salerno) of another to prove he means business.  As his notoriety rises, Mimi focuses his attention on bringing down Superspook (Jimmy Williams, Cockfighter), a noted pimp claiming ownership of prime real estate in the city.  Unwilling to easily surrender his turf and women, Mimi is at odds with his violent rise to power and may have bargained for more than he can handle.

    Unquestionably produced on a lower scale than Coppola’s masterpiece, Massacre Mafia Style pushes its exploitative nature of rampant shootouts and over-the-top bloodshed, juxtaposed with jovial music to delightful measure.  Independently funded and shot over the course of weekends in Los Angeles, Duke Mitchell embodies a captivating presence as a ruthless crime boss with a genuine knack for earnest mafioso speech most notably, during a sequence where Mitchell explains how men like himself have disgraced their Sicilian heritage.  Underneath its undeniable cult appeal and entertaining performances, Massacre Mafia Style injects a genuine context for fathers and sons that elevates the picture from other exploitation cash-in attempts.  A goldmine discovery for cult enthusiasts, Massacre Mafia Style stands as a testament of Duke Mitchell’s uncorrupted vision that takes gangster pictures to bloody, fun heights.

    Grindhouse Releasing presents Massacre Mafia Style with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Painstakingly restored, Duke Mitchell’s directorial debut bursts onto high-definition with excellent clarity putting to shame hazy VHS releases from yesteryear.  Appearing near immaculate with only scant traces of scratches, Massacre Mafia Style dazzles with warm skin tones and crisp detail in facial features.  Colors pop magnificently with bright red bloodshed bursting off the screen and black levels in top shape with no crushing on display.  A labor of love, Grindhouse Releasing’s transfer is the definitive statement on this cult favorite.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, the digital restoration of the original soundtrack keeps dialogue audible and clear with climatic gunshots and Mitchell’s songs packing a solid punch while, hiss is kept at bay and never intrusive.  Overflowing with impressive bonus content, special features include, Like Father, Like Son: Duke and Jeffrey Mitchell (43:33), an in-depth featurette detailing the relationship between the film’s star and real life son as well as Mitchell’s career highlights.  Also included, Matt Climber and Jim LoBianco Interviews (10:11), Duke Mitchell Home Movies (52:00), a Theatrical Trailer (2:18), five Radio Spots, five Still Galleries consisting of over 200 images, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Cara Salerno Filmography and Grindhouse Releasing Prevues.  In addition and most excitingly, a bonus feature film, 1952’s Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (74:19) is included along with its Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and Still Gallery (34 in total).  Plus, a bonus TV special, An Impressionistic Tribute to Jimmy Durante (37:05), accompanied with Durante 16mm Dailies (6:31), a 10-page booklet with an essay from David Szulkin and a DVD edition of the release round out the grandiose supplemental package.   

    Also known as Like Father, Like Son and The Executioner, Massacre Mafia Style’s appeal has grown increasingly through theatrical revival screenings and steady word of mouth.  After nearly 20 years of tireless labor and dedication, Grindhouse Releasing’s Bob Murawksi and the late Sage Stallone’s efforts have paid off in spades with one of the finest treatments and restorations granted to a nearly forgotten gem of cinema.  Exploding with bloodshed and action, Duke Mitchell’s vision of mafia lifestyles and criminal activity unloads a firestorm of exploitation greatness that will easily appease the most casual of cult enthusiasts.  If you’re not in with Massacre Mafia Style, you’re in the way!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Massacre Mafia Style can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Cover Up (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Cover Up (1949)

    Director: Alfred E. Green

    Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Barbara Briton, William Bendix & Art Baker

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a charming Midwest town in the wake of a possible suicide, Cover Up stars Dennis O’Keefe (Raw Deal) as insurance investigator Sam Donovan following up on his deceased policyholder.  Convinced murder is at hand but, struggling to receive assistance from fellow citizens, least of all the local sheriff (William Bendix, Detective Story), Sam finds love and answers in local bombshell Anita (Barbara Briton, Mr. & Mrs. North) as the truth slowly unravels.

    Taking a cue from Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Double Indemnity, Dennis O’Keefe stars as ace insurance investigator Sam Donovan arriving in a peaceful, small-town community to uncover the answers surrounding a policyholders supposed suicide.  Before exiting his train, Donovan catches the attention of the strikingly attractive Anita (Briton), beginning a romance that will persist throughout the picture.  Getting right down to business, Donovan finds the suicide’s circumstances questionable after the murder weapon is reported missing and the local sheriff highly uncooperative.  As townspeople grow weary of Donovan’s questions and likely suspects including, the niece of the deceased and her probable husband, coming into focus, Donovan is more than convinced that someone wanted his universally hated policyholder dead.  With the investigation taking longer than expected, Donovan and Anita’s brief encounter escalates to true love until, several clues indicate someone close to her may be responsible for the crime.  With the writing seemingly on the wall, Cover Up descents into a tense final act that throws viewers for a satisfying twist most will not see coming.

    With snappy dialogue and stylish cinematography courtesy of Ernest Laszlo (Ten Seconds to Hell), Cover Up is an intriguing mystery that keeps viewers guessing until the end.  Dennis O’Keefe possesses the looks to woo his leading lady and the tenacity to crack the case while, Barbara Briton turns heads in every frame with her perfect smile and effortless grace.  In addition, William Bendix steals scenes as the secretive sheriff who gives O’Keefe’s Donovan a run for his money.  Filmed in gorgeous black and white photography and guided under the well executed direction of Alfred E. Green (Baby Face), Cover Up is an underrated murder mystery gem, ripe for rediscovery.  

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Cover Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor speckling and brief instances of softness,Cover Up achieves strong detail in facial features and its small-town setting.  The period photography offers satisfyingly inky black levels with only a later sequence in a dimly lit room bearing signs of noise.  Generally clean looking, Cover Up looks as good as it plays.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Cover Up relays underwhelming dialogue levels that project on the low side, requiring a vast increase in volume.  With a hint of hiss apparent on its mix, dialogue levels are still audible with no other distracting occurrences to mention.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Well shot and cleverly crafted, Cover Up is a tightly paced mystery thriller with admirable performances and a left field twist ending.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new high-definition remaster is a valued effort that preserves this lesser discussed picture for a whole new generation to discover.  Although, set during the Christmas season, Cover Up will hardly keep viewers out in the cold with a crime tale this satisfying.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio ClassicsCover Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • At War with the Army (1950) Blu-ray Review

    At War with the Army (1950)

    Director: Hal Walker

    Starring: Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Mike Kellin & Polly Bergen

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking their debut as a comedy team, At War with the Army stars Dean Martin (Ocean’s Eleven) and Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor) as a bossy first sergeant and clumsy private stationed at an army post during World War II.  Equally yearning to escape their surroundings for various reasons, the childhood friends find themselves in a variety of comical situations while, putting their singing and dancing chops to the test.  Mike Kellin (On the Yard) and Polly Bergen (Cry-Baby) co-star.

    Based on a play by James B. Allardice, At War with the Army would reunite Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis following their brief appearances in My Friend Irma and its sequel, My Friend Irma Goes West.  In their first effort as a comedy duo, Jerry Lewis appears as the geeky Pfc. Alvin Korwin, rarely capable of doing anything right in his troop and desperately attempting to receive permission to see his wife and newborn baby.  Meanwhile, Dean Martin co-stars as Korwin’s childhood friend and higher ranking 1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli who longs to leave the mediocrity of his respected desk position to transfer overseas for active duty.  Stuck in the day to day activities of maintaining their compound, the two find themselves in a series of situations involving their need to rehearse for an upcoming talent show and Korwin trying his best to avoid higher-ranking officials determined to make his life miserable.  Weaving in the duo’s endless talents, Martin and Lewis inject entertaining musical numbers into the film along with several notable gags including, Lewis dressed in drag and the duo performing very spot-on impersonations of Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby.  In addition, Mike Kellin (Sleepaway Camp) makes his film debut as Korwin’s least liked superior, Sgt. McVey, who drunkenly takes a liking to Lewis while adorned in dress and wig.  

    For their first outing, At War with the Army gives glimpses into the fine-tuned chemistry of Martin and Lewis that would prevail in later efforts.  Although, occasionally humorous, At War with the Army suffers from sharing its spotlight too generously with supporting characters that are never as charismatic as its stars.  In addition, as the film progresses, Martin and Lewis’ shared screen time runs scant until their enjoyable Army act allows both their strengths to shine.  Concluding with an overlong gag of miscommunicated information amongst characters, Korwin and Puccinelli obtain what they wanted and find themselves once again on equal ground.  A decent debut that would fall into the public domain after an endless legal bout, At War with the Army won’t leave viewers overly impressed but, offers a fun point of reference for an iconic duo whose collaborations would carry on another 13 films.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents At War with the Army with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Newly remastered in high-definition, the film opens with a heavily scratched title sequence that transitions to a transfer bearing scuffs and vertical lines.  Considering its public domain stature and assumed lack of care for its elements, At War with the Army still maintains a satisfying filmic appearance and decent detail in facial features.  While, the transfer has its obvious drawbacks from age, At War with the Army still easily satisfies for a film with its heavily distributed history.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, At War with the Army maintains a mild hiss as dialogue kicks off restrained before slightly improving to more audible conditions.  Meanwhile, song numbers offer better clarity and another light boost in quality.  On par with its video transfer, At War with the Army sounds respectable given the circumstances.  Finally, no special features have been included on this release.

    A partnership long considered one of entertainment’s finest, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ debut effort finds the duo comfortable in their skin but, doesn’t offer them the ideal canvas to let their showmanship truly shine.  Separating them for one too many instances and crowding moments with forgettable supporting characters, At War with the Army while, capturing several colorful moments, lacks the punch from later Martin and Lewis entries.  Nestled in the public domain since the 1970s, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ high-definition transfer is a valiant effort that will leave Martin and Lewis fans pleased so long as expectations are maintained.  Like Abbott and Costello before them, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ efforts continue to be cherished by generations young and old.  Admittedly, At War with the Army is far from comedy gold but, the uninitiated need look no further to begin their cinematic journey with Martin and Lewis.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, At War with the Army can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 52 Pick-Up (1986) Blu-ray Review

    52 Pick-Up (1986)

    Director: John Frankenheimer 

    Starring: Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, Vanity, John Glover & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The Manchurian Candidate, 52 Pick-Up centers on successful Los Angeles entrepreneur Harry Mitchell (Roy Schieder, Jaws) who, along with his city council running wife (Ann-Margret, C.C. & Company), lead the good life.  When Harry is confronted by a trio of blackmailers, led by the sadistic Alan Raimy (John Glover, Gremlins 2: The New Batch) with video evidence of his secret affair, tensions mount as Harry attempts to pit the criminals against one another.  Clarence Williams III (The Mod Squad), Vanity (Never Too Young to Die), Robert Trebor (Talk Radio) and Kelly Preston (Death Sentence) co-star.

    While, best remembered for their enjoyable cult classics and over the top action extravaganzas, the stars would align several times for Cannon Films, pitting A-list talent both behind and in front of the camera to deliver something truly worthwhile.  Releasing films at a rapid pace, 1986 would see the juggernaut company, led by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, reach their pinnacle with a whopping 43 films.  Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard (“3:10 to Yuma”, “Get Shorty”), 52 Pick-Up is a suspenseful thriller combining exceptional directing and memorable characters with remarkably sleazy Los Angeles locations.  Roy Scheider leads the film as a lucrative businessman and former soldier who refuses to bow down to the demands of pornographic blackmailers.  Confronted with evidence of his affair with a young stripper (Preston), Alan Raimy (Glover) demands $105,000 per year from Harry to keep the tarnishing footage out of the limelight.  John Glover’s maddening performance as the lead blackmailer is the film’s highlight with his striking eyes and ruthless perseverance to obtain Harry’s money a magnetizing sight.  In addition, Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor both offer worthwhile turns as Raimy’s partners with Trebor, greatly impressing as an openly gay strip club owner with emotional depth for his slimy yet, sympathetic character.  Set in some of Los Angeles‘ seedier bars and strip clubs, 52 Pick-Up finds our blackmailers hosting a party with scantly clad guests including, appearances from porn icons Ron Jeremy, Amber Lynn and Jamie Gillis.  Coming clean to his devoted wife (Margret), Harry ultimately risks both their lives choosing to resist the very serious threats, leading to one chilling turn after another.  

    With critical opinions mixed and a poor box-office reception, 52 Pick-Up still remains an engaging thriller with a top-notch cat and mouse story between blackmailers and their  target who fights back.  Joined by a welcome appearance from the gorgeous Vanity as a fellow stripper, 52 Pick-Up stands as one of Director John Frankenheimer’s strongest efforts of the decade and another intense performance from Scheider.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents 52 Pick-Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Opening with a softer image and light speckling, the film proceeds to a much cleaner picture with warm skin tones.  Meanwhile, detail is crisp in Scheider’s gruff complexion, wardrobe choices and backgrounds.  Black levels are handled nicely in the many dingy bar and underlit strip club sequences with no crushing to speak of.  Bearing a healthy layer of grain without any digital manipulation applied, 52 Pick-Up pleases on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always nicely relayed and appropriately prioritized with Composer Gary Chang’s score of synth and jazz elements richly captured.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (1:44) is the sole special feature of the disc.  

    Tense and gripping, 52 Pick-Up is a fast-moving concoction of thrills and endless suspense.  Highlighted by performances from Roy Scheider and its unhinged antagonist John Glover, 52 Pick-Up blends blackmail and the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles to deliver a first-rate effort from Cannon Films during the height of their success.  Furthermore, Kino Lorber Studio Classics‘ Blu-ray treatment compliments the film with a visually pleasing transfer and well balanced audio mix.  Cannon Film completists will relish in this darkly engaging effort, destined to leave you on the edge of your seat.

    RATING: 4/5    

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, 52 Pick-Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Ten Seconds to Hell (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)

    Director: Robert Aldrich

    Starring: Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance, Martine Carol, Virginia Baker & Wes Addy

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Ten Seconds to Hell takes place in the aftermath of WWII where a group of German demolition experts have been assigned the very dangerous duty of defusing unexploded Allied bombs.  Karl Wirtz (Jeff Chandler, Broken Arrow), Eric Koetner (Jack Palance, Batman) and the rest of the group agree to a morbid pact where a percentage of their pay is added into a pool to be split between any survivors of their high-risk job.  As stress and tensions mount, Wirtz and Koetner begin vying for the affection of Margot Hofer (Martine Carol, The French, They Are a Funny Race) making matters worse.  Virginia Baker (Something Wild), Wes Addy (Network) and Robert Cornthwaite (The Thing from Another World) co-star.

    Co-produced by Hammer Film Productions slightly before their outings with gothic horror would propel them to greater success, Ten Seconds to Hell is a postwar study that pits our characters in no safer conditions than during their wartime service.  Returning home from the battlefields and offered the high-paying position of defusing bombs, Eric Koetner (Palance) is grateful but, equally cautious.  Joined by their fellow soldiers, Karl Wirtz (Chandler) provokes Eric insisting he will outlive him in their new assignment.  Before long, a decision is agreed upon for the small outfit to contribute half their pay to be awarded to whomever survives their defusing duties.  Intelligent and genuinely concerned for the safety of his men, Eric is constantly at odds with the increasingly untrustworthy Karl.  Moving into an approved boarding house maintained by the beautiful Margot Hofer (Carol), Eric and Karl’s personalities continue to clash as Karl’s drunken advances to Margot incenses Eric, revealing a genuine fondness for the widow.  As several assignments result in fatal outcomes for their team, Eric and Karl must find a way to coexist and trust one another in order to survive.

    Based on the novel “The Phoenix” by Lawrence P. Bachmann, Ten Seconds to Hell is endlessly tense as Aldrich commands the camera during the deactivation scenes with expert detail.  In addition, Palance and Chandler’s conflicting personalities of a noble man and devious ex-soldier make for excellent drama in this period character study.  Shot on location in Berlin, Ten Seconds to Hell offers haunting imagery of a war-ravaged city, exceptionally captured by Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (Stalag 17, Logan’s Run).  Containing sporadic narrations that carry a hokey, radio serial vibe, Ten Seconds to Hell’s only drawback is the forced love affair between Eric and Margot that feels wholly unnecessary as a means to create additional conflict between Eric and Karl.  While, Martine Carol’s performance as Margot is admirable, Eric and Karl’s years of wartime experiences would have sufficiently painted a history revealing their quarreling friendship without the involvement of a generic love triangle.  Nonetheless, Ten Seconds to Hell is a riveting picture with captivating performances and a suspenseful pace, leaving audiences on the edge of their seat.

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Ten Seconds to Hell with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of noticeably scratchy stock footage during its opening credits, Ten Seconds to Hell possesses inky black levels and vivid detail in its black and white photography.  Aging wrinkles and perspiration in closeups are clearly captured with only minor flakes and slight blowouts during sunnier, exterior shots making themselves modestly known.  Nearly 60 years after its original release, Ten Seconds to Hell looks fantastic on high-definition!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is surprisingly crisp with no overly intruding static to report.  Other components including, the film’s score and bomb blasts offer appropriate contrast when implemented.  Finally, a Theatrical Trailer (2:15) serves as the disc’s sole special feature.

    Far less harrowing than most war pictures, Ten Seconds to Hell welcomes soldiers home with an equally dangerous mission that maximizes suspense and drama.  Continuing to feel its effect in recent pictures such as 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Ten Seconds to Hell guides the viewer into the frightening reality of bomb defusing with less trust for those guarding your life.  Jack Palance and Jeff Chandler offer assertive performances keeping viewers transfixed to the screen while, the tense defusing sequences leave nail-biting impact.  Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers Ten Seconds to Hell with a beautifully filmic video transfer and an approving sound mix.  While, the finished film differed from Director Robert Aldrich’s original vision, prompting him to remove his name as producer, Ten Seconds to Hell remains a grim and powerfully suspenseful picture highlighting the high-risk role of bomb defusers.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Ten Seconds to Hell can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) Blu-ray Review

    The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)

    Director: Norman Jewison

    Starring: Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters & Paul Ford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studios Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on the fictional island of Gloucester off the coast of Massachusetts, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming centers on a Soviet submarine of non-threatening Russians as they run aground near the American island.  Stuck and embarrassed to seek international help, a group of soldiers embark on U.S. soil to locate mechanical assistance, igniting a storm of hilarious panic on the local population.  Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Eva Marie Saint (Grand Prix), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Brian Keith (The Wind and the Lion), Theodore Bikel (The Defiant Ones), Jonathan Winters (The Smurfs) and Paul Ford (The Phil Silvers Show) lead the ensemble cast.

    At the height of Cold War tension and amongst other cinematic wartime responses including The Bedford Incident and Fail-Safe, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming would offer a noticeably more humorous approach to the grim subject.  Based on the novel by Nathaniel Benchley, this satire of wartime worries and Soviet paranoia would headline a charismatic ensemble cast including, Alan Arkin in his film debut and a screenplay from William Rose (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner).  In an instance of art and life coming together, comedic genius Carl Reiner plays vacationing comedy writer Walt Whittaker joined by his loving wife Elspeth (Saint) and their two children.  Soaking in the New England island, an unexpected Soviet submarine, innocently enjoying the American scenery, grounds to a startling halt.  Unable to move, Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov (Arkin), aided by several others, leads a mission to summon local reinforcement to help free them when a series of incidents convince the quiet island’s population that their international enemies have invaded.  Nominated for several Academy Awards, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming follows the local police chief (Keith), along with fellow officer Norman Jonas (Winters), as they attempt to make sense of the fast-traveling news of a Soviet attack.  Meanwhile, the Whittaker’s, aware of the Russians‘ harmless intentions, have little luck improving the situation as hilarious rumor after rumor emerges, increasing the havoc.  As the film follows several groups of characters, as well as highlighting a blooming romance between the Whittaker’s babysitter (Andrea Dromm) and a handsome Russian (John Phillip Law), The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming often feels dated, never fully living up to its uproarious reputation.  Comedy icon Carl Reiner as the leading straight man feels vastly underused while, the young Arkin steals the thunder with his uncanny accent and difficulty with the English language.  While, several moments of genuine humor take place, most notably when Reiner and Gloucester’s switchboard operator attempt to escape from Russian capture, the overwhelming lack of music makes most sequences appear drier than intended.

    Notable for shining Russians in a positive light, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming concludes with a heroic display of courage between the local population and their onetime foes sending the film off on a charming note.  Admired for its favorable impact in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming may not be the most efficient comedy of its kind but, does offer a handful of laughs within its rather lengthy 126 minute runtime that are well worth a shot.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Littered with its fair share of flakes and speckles, colors waver from the satisfying sight of warm skin tones and beautiful exterior shots to the slightly dingy black levels seen in nighttime sequences.  Retaining its natural grain with digital tinkering spared, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming should appease most.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming arrives with dialogue sounding rich and clear while, its brief uses of music and other striking sound effects offer a suitable boost without ever overwhelming.  Special features include a vintage Making-of Featurette hosted by Producer/Director Norman Jewison as he explains the picture’s history in this absorbing watch (23:00) joined by an Original Theatrical Trailer (4:29).

    A critical and commercial hit, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming dares to look into the face of raging war and laugh, side by side with our proposed enemies.  Starring an endlessly talented cast, Director Norman Jewison’s (In the Heat of the Night) wartime parody ultimately suffers from being a dated product of its time and falling short on more laughs than anticipated.  Luckily, Kino Lorber Studio Classics‘ Blu-ray treatment shines with satisfying tech-specs and a worthwhile interview with Jewison.  Worthy of experiencing, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming  contains decent humor but, should not be expected to issue full-blown war on viewers‘ funny bones.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.