Blu-ray/DVD Reviews


Currently showing posts tagged 1950s

  • The Founder (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Founder (2016)

    Director: John Lee Hancock

    Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak & Laura Dern

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the true story, The Founder charts the grassroots rise and eventual worldwide presence of the McDonald’s corporation.  Starring Michael Keaton (Spotlight) as struggling milkshake maker salesman Ray Kroc during America’s golden 50s, the discovery of a tiny yet, revolutionary fast-making burger eatery in Souther California sparks the wick of inspiration in the persistent businessman who sees nothing but endless possibilities.  Impressed by the operation and wooing its owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation and John Carroll Lynch, Channel Zero respectively), with fast talk of franchising, Kroc storms the midwest with undeniable success before desires of growing the McDonald’s brand become much more profound.  Robbed of an Academy Award nomination for his performance, Michael Keaton, although in excellent company with a stable of talent consisting of Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), singlehandedly commands the picture with restless energy and a mixture of ambition and underhanded practices that make his character bursting with depth and relatable flaws.  Looking beyond what the McDonald’s brothers envisioned while constantly being constrained by contractual terms, Kroc leverages his placement within the company by seedily taking credit for its creation before maneuvering a bonafide takeover.  A vastly intriguing character study that reveals its warts and all perhaps more so than Hancock’s charmingly saccharine Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder pulls no punches in detailing McDonald’s fascinating origin, littered with humor, mistrust and greed that could only be made and served in America.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents The Founder with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally composed with strong detail observed in Keaton’s facial features that reveal aging lines and rosy makeup choices in its female performers, the gorgeous vistas and greenery spotted along Route 66 are also prominently relayed.  In addition, the neon signage illuminating from the film’s many McDonald’s exteriors and their spotless kitchens pop most effectively with black levels observed during nighttime sequences and blacktop lots registering deeply.  Accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisply handled without a hiccup observed while, more frantic activity during kitchen sequences provide more notable atmospherics.  Special features include, a Behind the Scenes Gallery consisting of the following several featurettes, The Story Behind the Story (4:32), Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc (3:08), The McDonald’s Brothers (4:01), The Production Design (7:06) and Building McDonald’s: Time Lapse Video (1:21).  Furthermore, a Press Conference with Filmmakers and Cast (37:44) recorded in Los Angeles on January 12, 2017 closes out the on-disc extras while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.  An exemplary effort chronicling the advancements of one of the world’s most thriving fast food chains that deliberately challenged the values of its originators, The Founder is a sharply constructed feature with yet another fascinating performance from Keaton that unfortunately went vastly under seen.  Served with a side order of mediocre supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s high-definition presentation honors the film’s period setting with picturesque quality, making this trip to the golden arches as narratively revealing as it is visually pleasing.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Founder can be purchased via and other fine retailers.

  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

    Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson & Saniyya Sidney

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the award winning play by the late August Wilson who also contributed the film’s screenplay adaptation, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters) returns to the director’s chair after a decade long hiatus while reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the Broadway revival.  Set in the hardworking community of Pittsburgh during the 1950s, garbage collector Troy Maxson (Washington) carries on to provide for his loving wife Rose (Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder) and teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo, The Leftovers).  Strict and dismissive of Cory and his elder son Lyons’ (Russell Hornsby, Grimm) ambitions of playing football and music over committing to real careers, Troy’s troubling past of his own abusive father, lengthy imprisonment and unrealized potential as a baseball player weighs heavily on his complicated role as a husband and father.  Proudly promoted as the first African-American garbage truck driver while getting embroiled in an affair with another woman, Troy’s once dominantly controlled world comes under fire as friendships dissolve and family members rebel against him.  Recycling the majority of its talented cast from the 2010 revived production, Fences thrives on Wilson’s written words and powerful performances in its tale of blue-collar hopes and broken dreams.  Retaining the otherwise simplistic nature of a stage production with the rhythmic intensity of the thespians heightened thanks to Washington’s watchful direction, Fences is a powerhouse drama dependent on its first-rate performances, namely Washington in one of his most commanding roles and Viola Davis, who deservedly earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  

    Paramount Pictures presents Fences with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Beautifully shot on film and resulting in an equally filmic and impressively detailed home video experience, the earthy color palette shines while, the Maxson’s red brick house and aged outdoor furniture are handsomely preserved in all their lived-in condition.  Furthermore, skin tones are flawless with detail in facial wrinkles and graying hair reading immaculately.  A solid transfer from start to finish, Fences is built for perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that offers little to overly impress, the film’s dialogue-driven agenda never misses a beat with crisp exchanges throughout yet, the lack of musical interludes or other sonically-challenging moments excuse the track from a grander purpose.  Bonus features include, Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen (8:53) that explores the original stage production and its impact with interviews from its revival’s director Kenny Leon and cast members, The Company of Fences (9:17) details the play’s cast and their leap to bringing the show to the big-screen, Building Fences: Denzel Washington (6:56) sits down with the film’s star and director as he addresses his love for the source material and his artistic approaches in its adaptation, Playing the Part: Rose Maxson (6:57) finds Viola Davis discussing her character in-depth while, August Wilson’s Hill District (6:25) spotlights the real Pittsburgh locations used for the film’s shoot.  Lastly, Digital HD Codes for Fences and the Denzel Washington-starrer The Manchurian Candidate are also included.  One of last year’s critical darlings, Fences brings the work of August Wilson to life on film with the effort’s true calling card being its masterful performances.  Additionally, Paramount Pictures’ home video presentation does not disappoint with its limited supplements offering worthy anecdotes on the film’s making and its enduring stage production.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Fences can be purchased via and other fine retailers.

  • Parents (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Parents (1989)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt & Sandy Dennis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the suburban comfort of the 1950s, Parents centers on ten-year-old outcast Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky in his only film role) who suspects that his model mother and father (played by Mary Beth Hurt, The World According to Garp and Randy Quaid, Kingpin respectively) are up to more than meets the eye.  As Michael’s curiosity grows regarding the family’s limitless supply of leftovers, the nightmarish truth is revealed.  Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) costars in Bob Balaban’s (My Boyfriend’s Back) directorial debut.

    Painted with stark black comedy and horror undertones of cannibalism, Parents is a quirky slice of life from yesteryear demonstrating father (and mother) know best, especially when they’re eating you.  Relocating from Massachusetts during the picturesque 1950s, quiet and peculiar youngster Michael Laemle struggles to fit in his new surroundings while, experiencing a wrath of hellish nightmares that feel all too real.  Hauntingly awkward and an incorrigibly picky eater, Michael sticks out like a sore thumb next to his seemingly perfect All-American parents.  Looks prove deceiving as Nick and Lily Laemle demonstrate their own eccentricities and questionable behavior alerting their young son that all is not kosher at home.  Further troubled by increased nightmares and bloody hallucinations, Michael’s imagination runs wild when determining the origin of the family’s nightly supply of meat.  Sneakily following his father to his job at the local chemical lab where human cadavers are tested upon, Michael’s suspicion blossoms into full-blown fear when discovering the source of the Laemle’s personal meat market.  Developing a trust with the school psychologist (Dennis) while attempting to concretely prove what he already knows, Michael pits himself and the few close to him in finger-lickin’ danger with mommy and daddy.  Never hysterical nor the bodycount picture prevalent at the time, Parents never makes fully clear when we should cackle or wince in terror, making such uncertainty all part of its Rubik’s Cube of unconventional attraction.  Recreating the time with Rockwellian precision, Quaid and Hurt are inspired casting, if not slightly one note, making the entirety of the Laemle family appear rather and perhaps intentionally, subdued throughout the film.  Featuring a grossly underdeveloped friendship between Michael and a female classmate who insists she's an extraterrestrial from the moon, Parents is not immune to miscalculations while serving as an offbeat statement on yesterday’s rarely discussed domestic dilemmas that’s earned its place amongst cult circles.

    (image not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, presents Parents with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally restored and appearing appreciatively filmic throughout, the bright canvas of suburbia brings attention to the Laemle’s orderly household while, bolder colors found in Nick’s bright yellow sweater vest and the family’s turquoise Oldsmobile pop graciously.  Detail is also strongly admired in facial features and closeups on the cannibalistic parents carving into cooked meat with skin tones reading naturally.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that hones dialogue levels strongly for such a character-driven film, Michael’s nightmares provide suspenseful boosts that rattle the mix comparatively.  

    Graced with a winning serving of supplemental features, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban & Producer Bonnie Palef is on hand with Isolated Score Selections and an Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias also included.  Additionally, Leftovers to Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne (16:48) reveals that prolific producer Ray Stark (Steel Magnolias) was attached to the project before Vestron opted out citing Stark’s high fee as the cause.  Furthermore, Director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) turned down the film before Balaban joined the production with the latter injecting much of his own childhood into the narrative.  Hawthorne also retells that the parallels between Quaid’s performance and his own father were so close, his parents refused to speak to him for a lengthy period of time.  Mother’s Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt (14:29) finds the cannibalistic homemaker recalling Balaban offering her the role during a regular charades game that was frequented by the likes of Tim Robbins and Al Franken.  Hurt also expresses her love for the film’s time period and the prospect of its costumes being her major draws to the project.  Next up, Inside Out with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon (13:58) finds that the cinematographer took over duties after original D.P. Ernie Day’s (Revenge of the Pink Panther) wife fell ill.  Shooting the majority of the film’s interior sequences, Vidgeon believes his work on Hellraiser landed him the job on Parents.  Lastly, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo (9:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:33), Radio Spots (1:42) and a Still Gallery (4:52) conclude the release’s extra features.

    (images not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    A satirical sendup of 50s family values with a taste for flesh, Parents uniquely portrays every child’s safeguards as the source of their nightmares in this cannibalistic comedy.  Served with a side order of limbs, Bob Balaban’s oddball feature arrives with a fittingly scatterbrained tone and an underlying statement on the romanticized notion of growing up in the wholesome decade.  A cooky concoction of cultish charisma, Parents joins the Vestron Video Collector’s Series with solid technical grades and a most revealing slate of extras sure to fill up the hungry horror fan.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, Parents can be purchased via, and other fine retailers.

  • The Iron Giant (1999) Signature Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Iron Giant (1999)

    Director: Brad Bird

    Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald & M. Emmet Walsh

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the small town of Rockwell, Maine circa 1957, The Iron Giant centers on imaginative nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal, American Pie) and his magical friendship with an extraterrestrial robot (Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious franchise).  When government officials investigate suspicious happenings, the giant’s protection becomes Hogarth’s prime responsibility.  Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Harry Connick, Jr. (Dolphin Tale), James Gammon (Major League), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), John Mahoney (Say Anything…), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore) and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) comprise the vocal talent in Director Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) feature-length debut.

    Capturing the golden age of American suburbia juxtaposed with the tenseness of Cold War paranoia, The Iron Giant stretches its impressive gears to deliver an animated spectacle, unafraid to tackle heavier themes while uplifting viewers to awe-inspiring heights.  After a lightning crash-landing strikes the fictional town of Rockwell, incessantly curious neighborhood tike Hogarth Hughes investigates his wooded surroundings with army helmet and toy rifle in tow.  Happening upon a skyscraper high iron giant feasting on electrical metal generating the town, Hogarth saves the colossal being from a near-fatal shock, forming the basis of an unexpected bond and quite likely the greatest discovery since television.  Teaching his new friend simple phrases and keeping him hidden from a panicky public, Hogarth befriends local beatnik and shrap metal yard owner Dean (Connick, Jr.) in order to better conceal their unsubtle pal.  As the otherworldly robot learns the value of friendship and the painful truths of life and death, investigative U.S. agent Kent Mansley (McDonald) arrives in Rockwell to validate recent reports of unexplainable phenomena and extinguish any potential threats.  Following an innocent game that reveals the giant’s intended purpose of construction, the nosey Kent catches onto Hogarth’s secret prompting troops to storm the idyllic community in search of the so-called national threat.  Through soul-searching and recognizing one’s destiny and true purpose in life, The Iron Giant navigates through emotional highs and lows while weaving a beautifully constructed anti-violence theme that celebrates the best in humans and those we open our hearts to.

    Underbudgeted and brought to fruition by a team of inexperienced animators, The Iron Giant would generate historic pre-release buzz that would be jeopardized by an uneventfully bland marketing campaign and a scatterbrained release date.  Based loosely on the book by Ted Hughes, Co-Writer/Director Brad Bird would take personal tragedy and his experience in breakneck episodic animation to mesmerize viewers with an underdog feature fueled purely on heart.  Touching the souls of all who experienced the film during its financially disappointing theatrical run, The Iron Giant has aged gracefully and appears even more potent in the troubling times of today’s violence.  Channeling the fears and childlike fascination of the Atomic Age with a Rockwellian design approach and seamless computer-generated artistry, The Iron Giant dazzles visually and relates universally to all audiences as one of the great under appreciated classics to be seen, animated or otherwise.

    Presenting both its Signature Edition (1:29:58) with two new scenes instated and its Theatrical Version (1:26:39), Warner Bros. Home Entertainment debuts The Iron Giant on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Masterfully transferred with gorgeous color grades and a handsome handling of nighttime sequences, this filmic-looking presentation spares any unsightly anomalies and awards viewers with an ideal watching experience, worthy of its director’s approval.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed with perfect clarity while, the iron giant’s heavy stomping, outdoorsy ambiance and the film’s ammunition geared finale shows off its impressive dynamics with the highest of praise.  

    The vast assortment of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Brad Bird, Head of Animation Tony Fucile, Story Department Head Jeff Lynch and Animation Supervisor (Giant) Steven Markowski.  Furthermore, the newly-crafted The Giant’s Dream: The Making of The Iron Giant (55:47) is a first-rate, deeply personal retrospective that charts Bird’s initial interest in animation to his Disney internship and subsequent firing from the company to the long, challenging road developing The Iron Giant.  Told predominately through animation, vintage footage and narration from invaluable players of the production team today, this heartfelt full circle is essential viewing for fans.  Meanwhile, vintage supplements from 2003 include, Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Brad Bird (15:16), Teddy Newton: The X Factor (5:38), Duck and Cover Sequence (2:23), The Voice of The Iron Giant (8:16), The Score (4:49), Behind the Armor (17:31) and a Motion Gallery (4:22).  Accompanied with a “Brad Bird” Trailer (1:29) and Signature Edition Trailer (2:32), 1999’s The Making of The Iron Giant (22:05), Vintage Easter Eggs (1:48), The Salt Mines (7:06) where Digital Effects Artist Andrew Jimenez travels to the underground Kansas storage facility where the film’s original art is held and Hand Drawn (1:40) featuring Bird expressing his eternal devotion to the art form concludes the virtually endless quantity of extras.

    Aesthetically and narratively perfect, The Iron Giant survived the fallout of box-office ruin and persevered to be rightly embraced for all its outstanding qualities.  Appreciated more than ever by curious new audiences and revisited by original believers, Director Brad Bird’s ironclad adventure of friendship and nonviolence bravely explores emotionally dense themes leaving viewers all the richer for its commitment.  Answering the pleas of devoted fans and its passionate creators, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment issues The Iron Giant in a long-awaited and flawlessly presented high-def debut, lovingly equipped with a generous share of nuts and bolts supplements.  Also available in a desirable Ultimate Collector’s Edition variant, The Iron Giant crash lands as one of animation’s greatest gifts and one of the year’s premier releases!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, The Iron Giant can be purchased via, and other fine retailers.

  • Susan Slept Here (1954) Blu-ray Review

    Susan Slept Here (1954)

    Director: Frank Tashlin

    Starring: Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Alvy Moore & Glenda Farrell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When Oscar winning screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell, Murder, My Sweet) is overcome with writer’s block, unexpected inspiration arrives in the form of a 17-year-old delinquent (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain).  In order to save her from a Christmas behind bars, Mark does the unthinkable and marries the teen with intentions of annulling the affair when she turns of age.  Uncertain whether she wants to be the ex-Mrs. Christopher, Susan Slept Here delivers comical hijinks in a tale of possibly mismatched love.  Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet), Alvy Moore (Green Acres) and Glenda Farrell (Little Caesar) co-star.

    Based on the play by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb with the latter contributing the film’s screenplay, Susan Slept Here is a romantic comedy of taboo sized proportion by today’s standards.  Starring in not only his final film performance before leading a successful television career but, also his only feature photographed in color, Dick Powell appears as acclaimed yet, stumbling screenwriter Mark Christopher whose detective pal unloads teenage hooligan Susan Landis (Reynolds) with him in order to pull Mark out of his creative rut.  Against his better judgement, Mark takes the underage beauty in only to be met with understandable confusion and rage from his dynamite fiancée and actress Isabelle Alexander (Francis).  Although Mark’s best buddy Virgil (Moore), in a role originally considered for Mickey Rooney, and his loyal secretary Maude (Farrell) try to keep a lid on the scandalous situation, the harsh reality of Susan likely spending her remaining days in juvenile detention until her 18th birthday prompts the sympathetic screenwriter to scurry to Las Vegas with Susan for a shotgun wedding.  Originally joined together to showcase Susan’s status as an upstanding citizen, true feelings develop as Mark hastily retreats to the mountains to put pen to paper on his new script, based on his own very unusual situation.  Refusing to sign annulment papers while, Mark’s own uncertainty about their age difference subsides, a chance at true love may still be imminent for the odd couple.

    Helmed by former animation director Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models) whose kinetic energy crafting toons is evident in his live-action output, Susan Slept Here’s charm lies heavily in the adorable bubbly personality of Reynolds whose alluring looks and sense of humor make indelible impressions on viewers and her elder beau.  Cheekily narrated, in quite possibly a cinema first, by an Oscar statuette while, graciously being nominated twice for Best Music, Original Song and Best Sound Recording, Susan Slept Here plays its once controversial premise with sheer heart and tastefully romantic notions.  Topped with a late musical-fantasy sequence bursting with exuberant colors, Susan Slept Here may be wired formulaically but, makes for breezy, light-hearted entertainment from simpler times.

    Warner Archive presents Susan Slept Here with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  From RKO Pictures’ hot pink opening logo to the film’s glowing skin tones, the vibrant Technicolor photography is ushered in with warm detail and exceptional, natural grain levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s opening song debuts with a strong, if not slightly sharp, presence before relaying crystal clear dialogue, free of cracks or other observable distortion.  Lastly, the only supplement included is the film’s Trailer (2:17).

    Released to modest success before then studio head Howard Hughes sold off RKO Pictures, Susan Slept Here is a warmly conceived rom-com for a rather head-turning love story.  Reynolds’ youthful exuberance and remarkable beauty matched with Powell’s tender performance makes his feature film finale an endearing one alongside Reynolds’ rising stardom.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive welcomes the Hollywood set charmer with an outstanding hi-def treatment, making sharing a bed with the hearty picture a pleasure.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available April 19th from Warner Archive, Susan Slept Here can be purchased via, and other fine retailers.

  • Bridge of Spies (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Bridge of Spies (2015)

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan & Alan Alda

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Inspired by true events, Bridge of Spies centers on Brooklyn attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump) who finds himself at the center of an international exchange involving a suspected Soviet spy (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl) and a captured American U-2 pilot during the Cold War.  Amy Ryan (Win Win) and Alan Alda (The Aviator) co-star.

    In their fourth collaboration together, Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and Star Tom Hanks re-team for their latest fact-based opus set during the unpredictable days of the Cold War.  Following the FBI’s capture of suspected Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) in Brooklyn, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is summoned to his defense as a show of good faith to the American public that even their enemies are offered a fair trial.  Strongly believing that every person matters regardless of their stature, Donovan takes the case seriously much to the dismay of his firm and the watchful country.  Unsurprisingly found guilty, the determined lawyer’s abilities spare Abel’s life with a 30 year sentence, further infuriating the public who believes the elderly man should be put to death.  While sacrificing his respected reputation and risking the livelihood of his family, American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell, Whiplash) is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured while, American grad student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers, The Bay) is arrested as a spy on East Berlin soil.  With equal interests at play for their countries, Donovan is called upon to negotiate the risky transaction of Abel for the two Americans in the dangerous sector of East Berlin.

    A courtroom drama played on the battleground of war torn Europe, Bridge of Spies is a character-driven thriller that firmly establishes its associated time period and the uneasy fears of its citizens.  As the modern day Jimmy Stewart of his generation, Tom Hanks delivers yet another stellar performance as the common man whose beliefs are put to the test against larger than life circumstances.  Aided by an equally hailed supporting performance, Mark Rylance injects a gentleness and dry humor to his role as the accused Soviet spy making Donovan’s delicate role in ensuring his safety all the more emotional for viewers.  Although responsible for revising Matt Charman’s (Suite Française) screenplay, Ethan & Joel Coen’s (No Country for Old Men) contributions can largely be felt during the impactful negotiation sequences that easily rank as some of the film’s finest moments.  While some viewers may find themselves entertained yet, mildly restless following the Lincoln director’s third drama in a row, make no mistake, Bridge of Spies is as powerful and potent as anything Spielberg has undertaken.  

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents Bridge of Spies with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exquisitely handled, skin tones are remarkably defined and natural while, the mood setting lighting of Academy Award winning Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) further accentuate its 1950s time period.  In addition, textures found in various costume choices and the unique color palettes of each country make impressive strides while, black levels are refreshingly inky and absent of any intrusive artifacts.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with city street ambiance, machine gun fire and Powers’ plane crashing sequence greatly impressing in this effective mix that mirrors its perfect video transfer.  Special features include, A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies (17:45) where the filmmakers and their real-life counterparts detail the true events and its cinematic retelling, Berlin 1961: Re-creating The Divide (11:35) presents the historical locations of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and other behind-the-scenes moments and U-2 Spy Plane (8:45) explores the film’s plane crashing sequence with insight from Gary Powers, Jr.  Finally, Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act (5:42) investigates the monumental exchange on the Glienicke Bridge and its shooting while, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    Substituting more fantastical flair for his latest historical drama, Bridge of Spies is another absorbing effort that continues to prove Spielberg’s eye for story and compelling visuals have yet to wither.  Headlined by the consummate performances of Hanks and Rylance, this Cold War based tale has all the markings of another Spielberg great.  Meanwhile, Touchstone Home Entertainment presents the film with unquestionably perfect technical merits and informative supplements that explores the film’s making and its fact-based history.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 2nd from Touchstone Home Entertainment, Bridge of Spies can be purchased via and other fine retailers.                                           

  • Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1: Voice Without a Shadow (1958), Red Pier (1958) & The Rambling Guitarist (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 (1958-1959)

    Director(s): Seijun Suzuki / Toshio Masuda / Buichi Saitô

    Starring: Yôko Minamida, Hideaki Nitani, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Takahara, Shinsuke Ashida & Jô Shishido / Yûjirô Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Yukiko Todoroki & Shirô Ôsaka / Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Nobuo Kaneko, Sanae Nakahar & Jô Shishido

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating Japan’s oldest film studio, Arrow Video proudly presents Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1, boasting three wildly memorable genre pictures from the late 1950s.  From Director Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Voice Without a Shadow stars Yôko Minamida (House) as switchboard operator Asako who misdials a number only to hear the voice of a murderer following his depraved act.  Years later, her husband’s boss Hamazaki (Jô Shishido, Youth of the Beast) is invited over sounding suspiciously close to that of the killer.  Before long, Hamazaki is found dead making her dear husband a prime suspect.  Joining forces with a persistent journalist, Asako vows to prove his innocence.  Next up, Yûjirô Ishihara (Crazed Fruit) stars in Red Pier as a stylish young hoodlum who after offing a selected victim is sought by the authorities.  While evading capture and other intended hits from his own organization, the delinquent youth unexpectedly falls for his victims sister.  Finally, Akira Kobayashi (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) headlines The Rambling Guitarist as a wandering musician who falls in the company of a powerful mobster and is conflicted when ordered to evict an offshore fishery. 

    Based on Seicho Matsumoto’s short story, Voice Without a Shadow begins with a suspenseful turn of events as an attentive switchboard operator makes the fatal mistake of dialing the wrong number.  Serving as the unfortunate listener to a murderer’s bragging, Asako's (Minamida) voice selecting ability proves unsuccessful in obtaining a suspect.  After several detached years, Asarco’s marriage to her husband (Toshio Takahara, Pigs and Battleships) is steadily improving after Kotani gains employment with noted blackmailer Hamazaki (Shishido) who Asako strongly believes is the murdering culprit from years past.  Unapologetically extorting money from others through strong-arming or gambling, Hamazaki’s bad habits catch up to him after being mysteriously murdered.  Marked as the likely offender of his bosses brutal killing, Kotani’s life is in jeopardy as he pleads his innocence.  Morphing into a journalistic investigation with a determined reporter guiding the narrative, Voice Without a Shadow is a rubik’s cube of danger and deceit as the truth behind Hamazaki’s murder is explored.  Occasionally complicated with a finale composed of over-explanations, Voice Without a Shadow remains an intriguing combination of mystery and thriller that takes bold narrative steps.

    A modernization of Julien Duvivier’s popular thriller, Red Pier thrives on other rebel youth pictures of the era with teen superstar Yûjirô Ishihara headlining as yakuza youth “Lefty” Jiro.  Cocky and sharply dressed, Jiro oversees the “accidental” killing of his assigned target before taking shelter in the city of Kobe.  Suspected of the crime, Detective Noro (Shirô Ôsaka, Tokyo Story) relentlessly trails the teen while forming an unusually sympathetic relationship with him.  Upon falling in love with Keiko (Mie Kitahara, I Am Waiting), the well-educated sister to Jiro’s fallen victim, the smooth criminal finds his world crumbling when close friends are killed and his own organization are intent on ridding him as well.  Booming with personality and killer instinct, Ishihara impresses in the role as an abandoned youth who has thrived on the streets of gang warfare.  Although littered with thrilling sequences of trigger happy thugs, Red Pier largely stands out due to Jiro and Keiko’s romantic subplot, elevating the film to one with true emotions invested.  Beautifully photographed by Shinsaku Himeda (Vengeance is Mine), Red Pier’s tale of rebellious youth shines with its stylistic noir touches juxtaposed with its love story of two contrasting spirits.  Concluding with a somewhat heavy-handed message warning youths of the dangers of crime, Red Pier is a well-crafted exploration of criminalized youth.

    In the first installment of what would become an enduring nine part saga, The Rambling Guitarist centers on Taki (Kobayashi), a wandering musician with a concealed past, entering the town of Hakodate.  After handling himself well in a bar brawl, albeit with unfocused fight choreography, the drifter catches the attention of mob boss Akitsu (Nobuo Kaneko, Ikiru) who offers him a position.  Reluctantly accepting, Taki grows uncomfortable after being ordered to evict Akitsu’s sister and brother-in-law to construct an amusement center for tourists.  Donned in a leather jacket and musically talented in several areas, Taki unsurprisingly gains the attraction of his employer’s beautiful daughter Okuni (Ruriko Asaoka, Machibuse) allowing them to open up to each other given their unique ties to a powerful mobster.  Undoubtedly inspired by American westerns, The Rambling Guitarist is a rapidly paced oeuvre with Kobayashi’s introverted character handling himself fearlessly when his deceitful employer no longer desires his services.  Appearing as Taki’s revolving enemy/ally, Jô Shishido (Gate of Flesh) delivers an entertainingly sinister performance that wavers from nearly shooting Taki dead to just as quickly saving his life to repay a favor.  While hand-to-hand combat is not nearly as coordinated as other productions of its ilk, The Rambling Guitarist is an exceptional feature that bears eastern and western influences for a solid stranger comes to town, beat’em up opus.

    Transferred from their original film elements, Arrow Video presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With its first two features containing various levels of flakes and occasional splice marks, the monochrome photography is filmically preserved with striking detail and exceptionally inky black levels retained.  Meanwhile, serving as the sole colored feature of the collection, The Rambling Guitarist was granted additional clean-up that greatly benefits the viewing experience.  Skin tones are lively and natural while the film’s opening mountain vista is an inspiring sight.  In addition, colors found in bar room stained glass windows and bright green pool tables pop admirably with black levels equally pleasing.  With only mild age related causes of debris present, all three films shine remarkably in high-definition.  Equipped with LPCM 1.0 Mono mixes, the Japanese dialogue in each film is perfectly audible while gunshots and other dynamic sound effects make their marks as aggressively as possible.  Furthermore, newly translated, optional English subtitles are also provided for all films.  Special features include, Diamond Guy: Yujiro Ishihara (15:24) and Diamond Guy: Hideaki Nitani (10:21) with Japanese Cinema Expert Jasper Sharp waxing intellectual on the famed Nikkatsu action stars of yesteryear.  Also included are Trailers for Voice Without a Shadow (3:08), Red Pier (3:22), The Rambling Guitarist (3:18) and Vol. 2 Preview Trailers (11:46) for Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Paws and Murder Unincorporated.  Furthermore, Galleries for each feature (amounting to 92 stills), a 39-page booklet with enthralling essays from Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling are accompanied with a Reversible Cover Art and two standard definition DVD discs.

    Continuing their preservation of Japanese cinema, Arrow Video’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 collection is an impressive trio of gangster infested, shoot’em ups all worthy of investigation.  Excellently transferred to high-definition for their American Blu-ray debuts, scholarly supplements further underscore Nikkatsu’s thriving output during this era.  An exciting trove of Japanese content with future installments planned, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 serves as an excellent crash course into the famed studios’ golden years.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 26th from Arrow Video in a limited 3,000 unit release, Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume 1 can be purchased via, and other fine retailers. 

  • The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) Deluxe Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)

    Director: Bill Rebane

    Starring: Steve Brodie, Barbara Hale, Robert Easton, Leslie Parrish & Alan Hale Jr.

    Released by: VCI Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Becoming one of the top money grossers of 1975, The Giant Spider Invasion takes place in the rural community of Merrill, Wisconsin where an abrupt black hole appears, ushering in a swarm of giant deadly spiders.  As scientists struggle for a solution, the local population falls victim to the outer space monsters.  Steve Brodie (Out of the Past), Barbara Hale (Perry Mason), Robert Easton (Needful Things), Leslie Parrish (The Devil’s 8) and Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island) co-star.

    An ode to the sci-fi efforts of the 50s, The Giant Spider Invasion does little to improve on the low-budget production values set forth by its inspirations while, simultaneously retaining their cheesy charm.  Headlined by a surprisingly memorable cast despite the film’s campy nature, Director Bill Rebane’s (Blood Harvest) Wisconsin shot effort tends to press the viewers’ patience with the increased dramatics of a redneck family resulting in a Z-grade interpretation of The Last Picture Show.  Not soon enough, a meteorite-like explosion takes place on their farmland opening a black hole for eight-legged monsters to wreck havoc on Earth.  As the film’s scientific minds, Dr. Jenny Langer (Hale) and Dr. J.R. Vance (Brodie), are called into the area to better understand questionable data, a drawn out exposition of scientific mumbo jumbo ensues.  Although more desirable spider-centric sequences are withheld until its climax, The Giant Spider Invasion passes time with an enjoyable appearance from Alan Hale Jr. as the town sheriff.  Mainly restrained to his office fielding phone calls, Hale Jr. appears to be having a fun time that is undeniably infectious.  At long last, the hairy-legged critters make their full blown appearance that lives up to their ridiculousness.  Crafted by covering a Volkswagen beetle with fur and mechanical legs, the queen spider is a hilarious concoction that quickly washes away the film’s previous attempts at yawn-inducing NASA explanations and forgettable character development.  Affectionately roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Giant Spider Invasion is by all accounts, not the poster child for higher art but, instead a glorious staple of B-movie mayhem that remarkably laughed its way to the bank.

    Celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary, VCI Entertainment presents The Giant Spider Invasion with a 1080p transfer and preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relatively soft at times with instances of vertical lines on display, the transfer still manages to relay strong colors and moderately warm skin tones.  Shot cheaply, black levels fall on the muddier side but still worlds above previous releases that made visibility near impossible.  Considering its low-budget and less than stellar home video releases, VCI Entertainment has done an admirable job on this drive-in throwback.  Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is clean and free from distortion making the film’s listening experience a pleasant one.  Containing a tremendous cobweb of supplements, special features include, Daniel Griffith’s informative and well edited Size Does Matter!  Making The Giant Spider Invasion (15:20).  In this Ballyhoo Motion Pictures featurette, Director/Producer Bill Rebane sits down to trace his early beginnings in the industry before climbing into the director’s chair.  Also included, a re-edited Super-8 HD Version (30:17), a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (14:32) and the Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spots (8:14).  Found on the release’s DVD, Archival Interviews with Director Bill Rebane, Members of the Cast & Crew and TV News Reports (2:13:09!), Archival Interviews with Actor Robert Easton (17:00), Kevin Murphy & Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Introduce Bill Rebane (7:06), a worn but nostalgic Super-8 Version of the film (28:25) and an Archival Newsreel - Bill Rebane on the Set of Rana (7:36).  Finally, a bonus CD containing 14 tracks from the forth-coming stage play of The Giant Spider Invasion - The Musical, a Mini The Great Spider Invasion Collectible Comic and Liner Notes by Tom Stockman of round out the nearly endless bonus features.

    Hailed as a film “so bad, it’s good”, The Giant Spider Invasion is a well-intentioned crash course in campiness.  Achieved on a shoestring budget and starring a web of notable character actors, Director Bill Rebane’s giant-monster opus is a hilarious love letter to the 50s that will leave viewers doused in cheese.  VCI Entertainment celebrates this schlockterpiece’s 40th anniversary with its finest home video release to date and a glut of bonus features that will leave fans caught in its web for an extended time period.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from VCI Entertainment, The Giant Spider Invasion can be purchased exclusively through

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) Blu-ray Review

    Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

    Director: Henry Levin

    Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson & Thayer David

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    Journey to the Center of the Earth is another grand science fiction film entrée from the 1950s, a great blending of classic actors with a movie that has many fantastical elements and monsters.  The great James Mason (North by Northwest, Odd Man Out) leads an expedition to the center of the Earth along with Pat Boone (All Hands on Deck), Arlene Dahl (Slightly Scarlet) and Peter Ronson (his only film).  On their journey they encounter both wonderful and treacherous findings along the way.

    Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (Mason), an Edinburgh science professor has stumbled upon centuries old evidence from another scientist, Arne Saknussemm, detailing a pathway located in Icelandic volcanoes leading to the center of the Earth.  Lindenbrook assembles his team, student Alec McKuen (Boone), farmhand Hans (Ronson), his duck Gertrude and Carla Goetaburg (Arlene Dahl).  Previously, Carla’s late husband Peter Goetaburg, was prepping his own expedition to the bowels of the Earth but was killed by Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) to claim the glory of his ancestor.  Continuing his tradition, the Count intends to follow the Lindenbrook expedition to the center and eventually kill them.  Once the team is assembled, they head inside the volcano to find many different exotic and dangerous areas.  Unknowingly, the group is followed by Count Saknussemm but, join alliances as they continue their treacherous journey.  Once at the bottom, the five of them nearly get eaten by a group of Dimetrodon but manage to escape to the water which then gets sucked into a whirlpool.  Landing in the lost city of Atlantis, the team discover the century-old remains of Arne Saknussemm pointing a way to get back to the top of the volcano.  With escape in sight, a giant chameleon stands in the way of the crew getting back from within the Earth. 

    Once inside the volcano, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a highly entertaining film as we follow the cast into parts unknown.  The first half of the film could be considered a drama with heavy dialogue with the inclusion of a musical number.  A very well-known singer, songwriter and entertainer, Pat Boone does such that in one scene during the film.  The last half of the film becomes pure science fiction when the cast heads down the paths inside the volcano.  While the film may be considered slow to some expecting full-blown action, the ample running time allows the film to build as the characters congregate to form their expedition.  Upon entering the volcano, we are treated to some wonderful visuals and gorgeous cinematography including lakes, a land of large mushrooms and some convincing, practically achieved prehistoric monsters.  James Mason is especially great as Lindenbrook, showing both a serious side as a Professor and his adventurous side as the explorer of a new world.  He also has some snappy dialogue with Arlene Dahl playing the widow of a man who planned his own expedition.  Reportedly, the two of did not get along very well during the making of this film and it shows in their scenes together. 

    Twilight Time has reissued Journey to the Center of the Earth using 4K technology and it’s a big winner.  The 4K restoration here is phenomenal, much improved over the first release. This is a very visually stunning encoded 1080p, 2:35:1 transfer.  The colors are even more vivid with a crisp, polished look to it and excellent contrast to boot.  In addition, the optional DTS- HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 mixes are top notch as well.  To add more icing on the cake, supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Actress Diane Baker and Film Historians Steven C. Smith & Nick Redman, an Isolated Score Track, the Original Theatrical Trailer and an 8-page Booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

    With a satisfying runtime, great cast and some really wonderful effects, Journey to the Center of the Earth stands out as not being just another low-budget B movie.  Rich in plot, with terrific acting, excellent cinematography, and of course, the great Dimetrodon scene for monster lovers, Journey to the Center of the Earth remains one of the better classic fantasy films of the 1950s. 

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Twilight Time in a limited 5,000 unit edition, Journey to the Center of the Earth can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • The Fly (San Diego Comic-Con 2013 Exclusive) (1958) Blu-ray Review

    The Fly (1958)

    Director: Kurt Neuman
    Stars: David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price & Herbert Marshall
    Released by: 20th Century Fox

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In a year that is quickly shaping up to be “The Year of Price”, Blu-ray enthusiasts will be able to add Scorpion Releasing’s The Monster Club, Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection and Warner Bros’. highly anticipated House of Wax 3D to their collection but 20th Century Fox is getting the jump on everyone first with one of Price’s best efforts.  Released exclusively at this year’s San Diego-Comic Con and with a wide release scheduled for September 10th, this particular edition of The Fly comes adorned with a slipcover that utilizes a very simplistic “Mondo” style poster design and a unique black Blu-ray case.  Snazzy packaging and nifty cover art aside, how does this 55 year-old flick stand today and has its Blu-ray debut been handled with care?  Grab your lab coat, bust out some sugar and let’s take a peek…

    When scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) attempts to successfully transfer matter through space, the good professor quickly becomes too ambitious for his own good and decides to transmit himself when things go terribly wrong.  Horrific man-fly hybrids are created and Andre isn’t looking quite like the man he once was.  With time running out and desperation high, his wife (Patricia Owens) and his brother (the great Vincent Price) are the only ones he can turn to before it’s too late.

    Coming strictly from the school of Cronenberg when it comes to these pesky little insects, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I had never seen the original classic before embarking on this review.  I know, it’s a crime that I should be punished for but then again we all harbor those films that you never want to admit you haven’t seen to others.  That said, in a way, I’m glad I waited so long to see a gem of this caliber because that’s exactly what this film is: a true gem.  The performances from the principal talent are all charming especially Price who clearly steals the show even if he isn’t the guy turning into a fly.  Patricia Owens is nothing short of stunning and this film marked her greatest success and most fondly remembered role and of course the lead David Hedison handles the role of brilliant scientist/family man turned man-fly beautifully.  The aspect that I loved most about this film is that it is a slow-burn, it doesn’t try to blow its load within the first act instead opting to firmly establish its characters and the scientific backdrop that the story is placed in.  For a film that some may pass off as a cheesy bit of 1950s sci-fi, it never talks down to the audience instead it allows us to learn and understand the science that Andre is developing.  It’s a film like this that chooses to take its time in order to send the audience on a journey they won’t soon be forgetting and that’s exactly what The Fly did for me.  I was as giddy as a school boy by the famous final scene where a certain spider is zoning in on some chow.  The Fly takes the viewer back to a time of innocence and genuine fun that seems to be almost extinct in this Facebook era we live in.  This classic film is tonally different from the Cronenberg redo from ’86 but both manage to deliver terrific entertainment that have earned them their due spots in history.  Now, not too be ungrateful but here’s hoping 20th Century Fox are preparing the sequels on the Blu-ray format because this newfound “Fly” lover can hardly wait!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    The Fly is presented in 1080p 2.35:1 encoded in MPEG-4 AVC (38 MBPS).  The film looks nothing short of breathtaking, no scratches or dirt to be found on this transfer but a nice layer of natural grain is present which really makes this older flick shine.  I honestly couldn’t believe how great this looked on the format, this truly is an older catalog title handled with nothing but respect.  Next time you think about commenting on how great older films like The Wizard of Oz or Casablanca look on Blu-ray, you might just want to add The Fly to that list.  Bravo, 20th Century Fox!
    RATING: 4.5/5

    The film is encoded in a 4.0 DTS-HD Master Audio format which sounds as clear as a whistle and really impresses especially when the terrific score goes from classy to foreboding at the drop of hat.  The soundtrack also is presented in Dolby Digital Mono in Spanish and French.
    RATING: 4/5


    The Fly comes with a nice assortment of special features which are presented in SD:

    - Commentary with Actor David Hedison and Film Historian David Del Valle

    - Biography: Vincent Price

    - Fly Trap: Catching a Classic

    - Fox Movietone News

    RATING: 4/5

    The Fly is a classic film that evaded me for many years but thanks to 20th Century Fox’s terrific Blu-ray release, it was worth the wait.  The film looks incredibly rich for one of its age and the sound packs a nice boost as well.  If the exclusive packaging isn’t your cup of tea, don’t forget that the wide release of the film is slated for September 10th, whatever you do, just don’t miss out on adding a classic Price flick like this to your HD library.
    RATING: 4.5/5