Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Universal Studios
  • 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.  

  • The Breakfast Club (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Breakfast Club (1985)

    Director: John Hughes

    Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall & Ally Sheedy

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered one of the defining films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club follows five uniquely different teenagers as they are subjected to a Saturday detention together.  Having little to nothing in common on the surface, the group bear their souls to one another, stripping the layers of their stereotypes away.  Judd Nelson (St. Elmo’s Fire), Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), Emilio Estevez (Repo Man), Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science) and Ally Sheedy (Short Circuit) comprise the teenage cast.

    Following up on his 1984 directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, Writer/Director John Hughes would re-team with Hall and Ringwald to tell his coming of age masterpiece that continues to speak to new generations of teenagers.  Fitting in and struggling to be understood as a teen has changed little since 1985 but, where The Breakfast Club maintains its universal appeal is within its ability to tap into the youthful emotions of those trapped within the often unpleasant realm of high school.  Shot in sequence, the talented quintet of Nelson, Ringwald, Estevez, Hall and Sheedy deliver phenomenal performances that capture the stereotypes of several high school cliques.  While, each performance is emotionally challenging and throughly engaging, Nelson, who reportedly stayed in character offset, delivers an angst-filled turn as class criminal John Bender.  Insistent on insults and highly perceptive to those around him, Bender carries baggage of a broken home, leaving him to take his aggression out on the world.  In addition, Ringwald as the fiery-haired richy Claire Standish and Estevez as star athlete Andrew Clark both reveal their inner demons that allow those closest to them to dictate their lives.  Meanwhile, Hall, the youngest cast member of the group, emulates the suffocating pressure of a teen pushed to his limit to excel at his classes while, the soft-spoken Sheedy as burnout Allison Reynolds is left to wander a world where her parents ignore her very existence.  The naturalistic quality of the performances matched with Hughes’ perfect screenplay brings to life a timeless story of youth that all ages can relate to.  

    Although, dramatically heavy as the teens open up to discover kindred spirits in one another, The Breakfast Club never forgets to have fun, mostly at the expense of their egotistical principal Mr. Vernon (the late Paul Gleason, Die Hard) and a memorable drug sequence that lightens the tone and increases the laughs.  Breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and high school pressures, The Breakfast Club captured lightning in a bottle with a cast that would soon be dubbed “The Brat Pack” and catapulted to immeasurable success during the decade of Reganomics.  Continually appreciated with each passing year, considering The Breakfast Club a classic may seem passé to some but, its impact continues to be felt by those walking locker-filled halls and others who refused to let their heart die, well after they grew up.

    Digitally remastered and restored from original film elements, The Breakfast Club arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Improving on its already pleasing 25th anniversary transfer, Writer/Director John Hughes’ sophomore effort maintains a remarkably clean appearance with no aging artifacts spotted.  In addition, skin tones are relayed warmly and natural while, detail is most pleasing in wardrobe ranging from Bender’s countless layers to the fibers of Brian’s green fleece sweater.  Taking place in virtually one location, The Breakfast Club manages to impress with popping colors in Andrew’s blue sports attire and Claire’s red hair with the library background appearing sharply.  Meanwhile, film grain is always naturally pleasing with no detection of digital manipulation whatsoever.  Dialogue heavy, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides perfectly audible levels with soundtrack selections injecting a solid oomph, most noticeably during the group’s dance off in the library.  Along with a newly added Accepting the Facts: The Breakfast Club Trivia Track, all special features from the previous anniversary release have been ported over including, an Audio Commentary with Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson, the lengthy 12-part Sincerely Yours (51:25) documentary, The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack (5:30), Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and a Digital HD Code.

    Celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Breakfast Club still strikes a nerve with the youth who combat the never-ending struggles of high school pressures.  Kicking off a movement of teen orientated films that took young adults’ fears and desires seriously, The Breakfast Club remains a defining effort of not only the 1980s but, the late John Hughes’ remarkable ability to relate to teenagers like few have, before or since.  A modest although, appreciable improvement over its previous release, Universal Studios’ 30th anniversary edition is the definitive word on this teen classic for those lacking in their collection.  In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, all brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses and criminals who ever had a teenage heart will always value the unforgettable effect of The Breakfast Club.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Breakfast Club can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Nightcrawler (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Nightcrawler (2014)

    Director: Dan Gilroy

    Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed & Bill Paxton

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the sleepless city of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) as Lou Bloom, a driven man determined to make a name for himself in the cutthroat business of breaking news coverage.  Dangerously chasing the next murder or car crash, Bloom becomes consumed with his calling and distorts the line between documenting and participating in the unpredictable world of local news.  Rene Russo (Thor), Riz Ahmed (Centurion) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Two for the Money, The Bourne Legacy), Nightcrawler takes viewers on a thrilling journey where police sirens equal dollar bills for sleep-ridden film crews willing to risk it all for the cameras.  Academy Award nominated Actor Jake Gyllenhaal delivers arguably, his fiercest role to date as Lou Bloom.  Unemployed and independently educated, Bloom finds his calling after witnessing local mayhem captured for profit by freelance camera crews.  Willing to lie, cheat and steal to muscle his way into the pack of seasoned nightcrawler’s, Bloom quickly shows promise selling footage to local TV news director Nina Romina (Russo).  As jobs pile up and his craft perfected, Bloom hires fellow inexperienced assistant, Rick (Ahmed), to further his blooming career.  Losing a staggering 20 pounds for the role, Gyllenhall embodies a starving wild animal, prepared to devour the latest gory story devoid of any professional principles.  Well-spoken and precise in his desires, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom feels hauntingly akin to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle as an introverted character disconnected from society yet, consumed by a city engulfed in crime and havoc.  Rarely blinking, Gyllenhaal conveys an emotional gamut of assertive control and  unpredictable rage like a time bomb waiting to explode.  Obsessed with capturing the hottest footage ahead of his competitors, Bloom finds himself witnessing murders and filming the scene instead of reporting the video recorded culprits.  Driven by capitalistic insanity, Bloom will stop at nothing to stage a series of events, pitting countless people in danger, including himself, to paint his personal picture of sensational news coverage.  

    Unpredictable and tense, Nightcrawler is a potent thrill ride for today’s unashamed TMZ-style coverage of current events.  Aided by compelling supporting performances from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as a veteran nocturnal stringer, Nightcrawler is a remarkable directorial debut from Dan Gilroy with apt style and a trance-like score from Composer James Newton Howard (Collateral, Maleficent).  Tragically shunned by the Academy Awards, Gyllenhaal’s eerily conniving performance ranks as not only one of the year’s finest but, also Gyllenhall’s most absorbing.  

    Universal Studios presents Nightcrawler with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Predominately shot in the evening, Nightcrawler marvels with exceptional inky black levels and well defined detail.  Colors are vivid and pop most appropriately in Lou’s bright red Dodge Challenger while, skin tones read gorgeously even under their dimly lit circumstances.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Nightcrawler soars with perfectly audible dialogue levels, to the more menacing sounds of roaring car engines and striking gunshots, all relayed with the utmost clarity.  Special features include an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Dan Gilroy, Producer Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy as well as If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Nightcrawler (5:15), a far too short overview of the production with brief interviews from the cast and Director Dan Gilroy.  Finally, a DVD edition and UltraViolet Digital HD Code of the film round out the supplemental offerings.

    Adrenaline-pounding and sinister, Nightcrawler sends the viewer on a journey through Los Angeles‘ dangerous labyrinth of stringer sensationalism.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as the intelligent but, unhinged Lou Bloom is a crowd-pleasing performance resting proudly at the top of his already impressive credentials.  Meanwhile, Universal Studios‘ Blu-ray release supplies perfect technical merits but, lacks a more comprehensive supplemental package.  Familiar of past societal reject tales and simultaneously a statement on press coverage, Nightcrawler is unquestionably one of the best of its kind.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 10th from Universal Studios, Nightcrawler can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Ouija (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Ouija (2014)

    Director: Stiles White

    Starring: Olivia Cooke, Douglas Smith, Bianca A. Santos & Daren Kagasoff

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the tragic death of her best friend (Shelley Hennig, Teen Wolf), Ouija centers on Laine (Olivia Cooke, Bate Motel) as she attempts to contact her using an antiquated Ouija board.  After tinkering with the superstitious relic, Laine, along with her friends, awaken a resident spirit leading to a series of horrifying events.  Douglas Smith (Big Love), Bianca A. Santos (Happyland), Ana Coto (DisCONNECTED), Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Robin Lively (Teen Witch) and Lin Shaye (Insidious) co-star.

    In the tradition of board game adaptations such as Clue and Battleship, Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse Productions, in association with Hasbro Studios, unveil their long in-development take on Ouija.  Previously intended as a big-budget spectacle with several directors including McG (Terminator Salvation) and Breck Eisner (The Crazies) attached, Ouija would ultimately settle on a tighter $5 million budget with first time director Stiles White at the helm.  With the game soaked in supernatural intrigue for generations, its modern day cinematic treatment is anything but memorable.  After Debbie (Hennig) unexpectedly commits suicide, Laine (Cooke), with the assistance of her friends, try to summon her through the means of a Ouija board.  After several contacts prove they are not communicating with their dearly departed friend, an evil spirit has instead been summoned, vowing to extract terror upon the teens.  Littered with painfully dull characters and cheap jump scares, Ouija, ripe with potential, fails to make a chilling impact.  As its cast slowly drops like flies, Laine investigates the history behind her deceased friend’s house where the board was found, leading her to its former inhabitant, Paulina Zander (Shaye), and her tragic history.  While, Blumhouse Productions‘ good luck charm, Shaye, delivers one of the more solid performances as a mentally disturbed woman with a questionable past, her screen time is quite limited.  In addition, talented lead actress Olivia Cooke, hot off her success on A&E’s Bates Motel, is vastly underwhelming due entirely to the film’s uneventful screenplay.  Amongst a forgettable supporting cast of newcomers, retro enthusiasts will appreciate the lovely Robyn Lively (The Karate Kid, Part III, Teen Witch) in a brief role as Debbie’s grieving mother.  

    Considered a massive financial success earning over $95 million at the box-office, Ouija is predictable as they come, lacking suspense and a worthwhile narrative with such a novel icon at its core.  As Platinum Dunes (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th) and Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, The Purge) add another bankable effort under their belts, Ouija is sadly one, if not their biggest, blunder to date.

    Universal Studios debuts Ouija with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Where the film miscalculates narratively, its high-definition presentation makes up for.  Sparkling with natural skin tones, deep, inky black levels and fine detail, Ouija looks hauntingly superior.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Ouija pleases with crystal clear dialogue levels and aggressive jump scares prioritized nicely in their delivery.  No distortion or any other such anomalies interfere in this otherwise tip top track.  Supplemental features include two Blu-ray exclusives, The Spirit Board: An Evolution, tracing the Ouija boards history through the years with various interview subjects including Director Stiles White and Co-Writer Juliet Snowden (4:07) plus, Icons of the Unknown takes a brief scientific look into how the game works (4:00).  In addition, Adapting the Fear interviews the cast and crew about turning the eerie board game into a feature film (3:45).  Finally, a DVD edition of the film and a Digital HD UltraViolet code round out the packages bonus content.

    With other board game adaptations including Monopoly and Candy Land in active development, Ouija most assuredly won’t be applauded for its memorability.  Uninspired and relying on shallow scares, Ouija remains a spirit not worth communicating with.  Universal Studios ushers the film onto Blu-ray with top-notch A/V standards and a small, rather uneventful spread of special features.  Worthy of a stronger narrative considering its rich, supernatural background, Ouija is as lifeless as the spirits conjured within it. 

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now, Ouija can be purchased through Amazon.com and other fine retailers.