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Currently showing posts tagged 2015

  • The Dead Room (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Dead Room (2015)

    Director: Jason Stutter

    Starring: Jed Brophy, Jeffrey Thomas & Laura Petersen

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in New Zealand, The Dead Room centers on a trio of ghost hunters as they investigate strange happenings at an abandoned farmhouse.  Before long, skepticism morphs into full-blown fear when supernatural forces make their presence known to the unwanted visitors.

    Inspired by the local legend of Central Otago, New Zealand, the contrasting methods of science and faith converge to uncover the unsettling truths behind a haunted home in this slow-build snoozer.  Descending upon the forsaken abode, two technologically savvy and scientifically minded paranormal investigators (Jed Brophy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Jeffrey Thomas, The Light Between Oceans respectively) joined by twentysomething medium Holly (Laura Petersen, Shopping) waste little time rigging their equipment in hopes of capturing evidence of the otherworldly to no such avail.  With little exposition and minimal character development, The Dead Room crawls at a snail’s pace before yawn-inducing bumps in the night and howling winds finally signal the trio’s cameras and nerves into believing ghostly apparitions are near.  While Holly intuitively senses her intrusion upon the homestead, uneasy techie Liam is urged by his scientific superior Scott to remain together until conclusive evidence can be obtained of their supposed haunting.  Swinging doors and thrown furniture continue the parlor tricks of the entity as onscreen fear fails to convert restless viewers.  With a promising setup and breezy runtime, The Dead Room attempts to desperately possess audiences in its fleeting moments with the discovery of an unexpected guest and a ghostly twist that feels far too rushed and questionably unexpected to make any redeeming impact.  Establishing little to no emotional connection to its characters and making sluggish strides in suspense, The Dead Room is unfortunately all bark and no bite.

    Scream Factory presents The Dead Room with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Reading expectedly sharp for a feature of its era, skin tones from Holly’s pale-pigment to the aging lines of lead scientist Scott are natural and well-defined.  Meanwhile, textures in the green and purple wall paint of the haunted home are strongly relayed with black levels appearing generally inky with no heavy instances of crush with only minimal splotchiness in facial features during the film’s basement set climax.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is effortlessly handled with the creaky floors, glass breaking and door slamming sound effects of the specter making excellent motions on the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided.  Lastly, the disc’s sole supplement is the film’s Trailer (1:43).

    Exhaustively sedate and gapingly monotonous, The Dead Room strives to use its slow-pace and less is more approach to its strengths while, colorless character development and uneventful occurrences sacrifice its true potential.  Shortchanging its runtime and concluding on a go for broke jump scare, the Kiwi-based production gravely disappoints whereas its high-def presentation at least makes worthwhile strides in its crisp photography and effective soundscape.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Dead Room can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)

    Director(s): Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon

    Starring: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala & Jayson Lamb

    Released by: Drafthouse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Transfixed by Director Steven Spielberg’s trailblazing 1981 blockbuster, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made documents the journey of three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi who took home movies to an unprecedented level with their own shot-for-shot adaptation, filmed over the course of seven grueling years.  With the exception of the film’s explosive airplane sequence, the tenacious trio and their loyal supporters reunite 20 years later to complete their ambitious project.

    A testament to childhood dreams coming true and quite possibly the most disciplined example of sticktoitiveness, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made recounts the unbelievably true tale of Mississippi youths who, from the wreckage of divorced families and introverted personalities, escaped their realities to capture the greatest adventure of their lives on videotape.  After bonding over their mutual love for Spielberg’s archeological hero and his cinematic debut, Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos would forge a friendship built on their love for film and their desire to helm their own grassroots adaptation.  Teaming with fellow eccentric Jayson Lamb and a revolving door of younger siblings and neighborhood kids, Zala, acting as director in addition to playing multiple onscreen roles while, Strompolos dons the iconic fedora and whip as Indiana Jones, sacrifice summer vacations and weekends over several years to do their treasured feature justice.  Risking life and limb with little to no interference from overprotective parents, Zala and Strompolos leap and drag themselves from moving vehicles while nearly burning their house and selves on fire to capture the perfect shots during the pre-Internet days of youth.  Juxtaposing the two friends detailing the early origins of the film and their regrettably final missing sequence, filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and Raiders of the Lost Ark star John Rhys-Davies make talking head appearances expressing their admiration and discovery of their diamond in the rough accomplishment.

    In addition, Zala and Strompolos’ parents, wives and supportive crew members are on hand to shape the narrative that is littered with as much agony as there are triumphs.  Endless frustration, high school romances, jealousy and an eventual fallout between the two friends would halt production for years creating two very different life paths that would merge once again following the cult popularity of their circulated childhood tape.  Potentially sacrificing their day jobs to fulfill what they started in their southern backyards years earlier, Zala and Strompolos, tighter than ever before, attempt to finally wrap their long in-development shoot with the highly explosive airplane sequence from the original film.  Plagued with horrendous weather conditions, ballooning budgets and a frightening onset accident, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is emotionally riveting and overwhelmingly inspiring.  Living vicariously through the colorful subjects who never lost sight of a vision that seemed impossible, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made will leave viewers joyously teary-eyed and tipping their own fedoras at real-life heroes that will make you feel that all dreams are within reach.

    Drafthouse Films presents Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Produced in the high-def digital age, footage is pleasingly sharp and well-detailed during the predominate interview sequences and onset footage with only snippets from the VHS sourced Raiders adaptation being of expected lesser quality.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is excellently captured while, the chaotic footage of the airplane sequence boasts several explosions that bode nicely on the track.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tim Skousen & Producer/Director Jeremy Coon plus, a second Audio Commentary with The Raiders Guys Eric Zala & Chris Strompolos.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (32:39), Outtakes from the Adaptation (19:33), the Q&A at Alamo Drafthouse Premiere of the Adaptation (40:43) captured on May 31, 2003, Trailers for Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’s Theatrical Trailer (2:08) and other Drafthouse Films features including, 20,000 Days on Earth (2:15), A Band Called Death (2:12), The Final Member (2:02) and I Declare War (1:47) are also included.  Lastly, a 16-page booklet containing reproductions of Zala’s hand drawn storyboards for the adaptation, a DVD edition, Digital HD Code and Reversible Cover Art round out the supplements.

    Akin to Indy defying the Nazi’s and heroically saving the day, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is the embodiment of movie magic come to life.  Retracing their ambitious, troubled and above all, dedicated passion project from their preteen years to its midlife conclusion, John Williams’ goosebump-inducing anthem will no longer conjure images of just everyone’s favorite archeologist but also, the Mississippi boys to men who dared to dream with the Holy Grail always in their mind’s eye.  Drafthouse Films’ acquisition and top-notch presentation of this first-rate documentary makes for one of the most emotionally uplifting chronicles of the year!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Drafthouse Films, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made can be purchased via DrafthouseFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #10 - Scream Factory Edition: The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Collector's Edition & Bite (2015) Blu-ray Reviews

    The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)

    Director: Nathan Juran

    Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Elaine Devry, Scott Sealey & Robert J. Wilke

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a father-son camping excursion results in dear old dad getting bit by a bloodthirsty beast, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf focuses on curly-haired son Richie (Scott Sealey, Emergency!) and his unsuccessful attempts to prove to the local townsfolk that his father will morph into a turtleneck wearing hairy savage at the next full moon.  In his final directorial effort, Nathan Juran (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) reteams with leading man Kerwin Mathews for this rather bland, modern day retelling of the famous folktale.  Highlighting the sign of the times with Richie’s parents being divorced and turning to child psychology for answers to their son’s manic stories, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf exudes a TV movie atmosphere that struggles to scare while, unintentionally bringing smirks to viewers’ faces courtesy of the film’s enjoyably dated werewolf design.  As Richie’s pleas go unanswered, secondary characters including, a camper humping couple, a monster believing psychologist (George Gaynes, Police Academy) and most hilariously, a bible hugging cult of hippies led by a Jerry Garcia looking messiah cross paths with the beast, few leaving with their lives.  Concluding uneventfully with a setup to a sequel that was not meant to be, this harmless PG rated opus mildly charms with its yesteryear plotting during such an artistically groundbreaking decade while, remaining largely forgettable for its bygone approach.  Paired with the snake-slithering shocker Sssssss throughout its drive-in heyday, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf earnestly howls for suspense but, unfortunately comes up scareless.

    Never before available, Scream Factory presents The Boy Who Cried Werewolf with a new 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Amid instances of minimal speckling, occasional cigarette burns and sporadic nighttime scenes possessing overly grainy appearances, the film’s color scheme is strong and vibrant with detail looking pleasingly sharp.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed while, werewolf howls and the film’s few music cues make decent, if not limited, impacts on the otherwise basic track.  Unsurprisingly limited, special features include, a Photo Gallery (3:32) and the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:24).  However lackluster the tame, fang-toothed feature is, horror/cult saviors Scream Factory must be graciously thanked for rescuing and presenting, for the first time on home video, a cobweb invested picture such as The Boy Who Cried Werewolf for horror enthusiasts to experience in noteworthy quality.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum & Veronica Cartwright

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kickstarting a movement of science fiction makeovers for golden age classics that would permeate the following decade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes place in San Francisco where Department of Health associates Matthew (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now) and Elizabeth (Brooke Adams, The Dead Zone) discover a dark phenomenon of mysterious pods cloning the population and discarding the human originals.  Plagued by fear and paranoia, the silent overtaking of the planet increases aggressively as the desperate duo and their equally frantic friends rush to save the human race.  Impressively hailed by audiences and critics alike for its gloomy tone and nail biting suspense, Director Philip Kaufman’s (The Right Stuff) modernization earns the rare honor of taking a revered concept and pollinating it with unique touches that both adheres and expands upon its foundation.  Featuring an eclectic pool of talent from Sutherland and Adams to genre legend Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek), Veronica Cartwright (The Birds) and an early appearance from a youthfully scrawny Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) as a failed poet, all are perfectly in synch while, original Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy returns for a glorified cameo as a frightened civilian forewarning the danger coming.  Seeped in a cloud of dread that the cast admirably conveys through their frightened performances, Invasion of the Body Snatchers impresses doubly with its gooey special effects work that spotlights unsettling reproductions of the cast being birthed via pods.  In addition, a crossbred dog possessing its human owners face stands as yet another unforgettable snippet of disturbing imagery that enhances the film’s fear inducing aura.  While Jack Finney’s novel has inspired two more adaptations in the wake of Kaufman’s slow-building box-office favorite, 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a championed chiller that will leaves audiences in a state of hypnotic fear all the way to its shocking conclusion.

    Scream Factory presents Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appreciatively scanned in 2K from the interpositive, the pod people redo looks refreshingly crisper than previous releases with a filmic quality throughout and colors respectfully leveled to more natural appearances.  Furthermore, detail is most impressive during pod birthing scenes allowing viewers to marvel at the intricate cob-like effects work on the bodies.  While the atmospherically dark cinematography still possesses moderate levels of noise speckling, Scream Factory’s handsome new transfer is a breath of preferable fresh air that should easily appease viewers.  Equipped with a perfectly satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that relays dialogue and startling sound effects effortlessly, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Entered into the label’s esteemed Collector’s Edition series, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman plus, a second vintage Audio Commentary with Director Philip Kaufman.  Other newly recorded supplements courtesy of the relentlessly talented Cavetown Pictures include, Star-Crossed in the Invasion with Brooke Adams (9:06) where the leading lady recounts her working relationship with Kaufman who allowed her to write her own scene in the film as well as her reservations appearing nude on screen.  Next up, Leading the Invasion with Art Hindle (25:04) who portrayed Adams’ quickly overtaken beau recalls his lifelong obsession with science fiction in this chatty featurette while, Re-Creating the Invasion with W.D. Richter (15:43) finds the writer discussing the San Francisco setting of the film and his original intentions and ultimate alterations that occurred throughout the film’s making.  In addition, Scoring the Invasion with Denny Zeitlin (15:34) explores the composer’s sole film credit and his unique approaches to the material.

    Ported over from MGM’s previous Blu-ray release, Re-Visitors from Outer Space, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pod (16:14) features insight from Kaufman, Sutherland, Richter, Cartwright and others on the film’s enduring impact.  Practical Magic: The Special Effects Pod (4:38) allows SFX Artist Howard Preston to detail the creation of the film’s impressive opening sequence while, The Man Behind the Scream: The Sound Effects Pod (12:47) and The Invasion Will Be Televised: The Cinematography Pod (5:24) explores the film’s evocative sounds and camerawork respectively.  Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer (2:13), TV Spots (1:02), Radio Spots (4:46), a Photo Gallery (74 in total) and a bonus episode of Science Fiction Theatre’s “Time Is Just A Place” (25:53) based on Finney’s short story and directed by Jack Arnold (The Creature from the Black Lagoon) is also included.  Beautifully packaged bearing Justin Osbourn’s newly rendered artwork, a Reversible Cover Art featuring the film’s original 1-sheet poster concludes the stacked supplemental offerings.  At the risk of pumping a dry well by upgrading a previously available favorite, Scream Factory has made the decision a no-brainer with a new top-notch 2K transfer, a pod sized offering of new and vintage extra features and an exceptional new cover design that trumps the original poster art.  If the seed hasn't been planted more firmly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers Collector’s Edition easily earns a spot in your growing collection of cult gems.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available August 2nd from Scream Factory, Invasion of the Body Snatchers can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bite (2015)

    Director: Chad Archibald

    Starring: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Jordan Gray & Lawrence Denkers

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After returning from a Dominican Republic getaway, Bite centers on uncertain bachelorette Casey (Elma Begovic, Save Yourself) as she succumbs to an infected bug bite that grossly alters her both physically and mentally.  Introducing viewers to a trio of girlfriends through the lens of their shaky camera as alcohol consumption, self-doubt and infidelity paint the portrait of their tropical vacation, Bite spares viewers further found footage style filming as the narrative thankfully reverts to traditional means.  Nursing an itchy insect bite received abroad, Casey’s case of marital cold feet and guilty conscience weighs heavily on the soon-to-be bride as she contemplates her true desires.  Disdained by her fiancé’s mother who disapproves of premarital sex, Casey’s uncertainty of her future increases as her health rapidly declines in the days to come.  Developing hypersensitive hearing and an endless urge to purge, Casey’s metamorphosis into a yellow-eyed, larva spewing insectoid with a killer instinct breeds creepy carnage for those who cross her path.  Embraced by audiences at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Bite suffers from subpar acting, indubitably caused by its shaky screenplay that lacks meat on its bones.  While Casey’s troubling martial woes and dramatics brought upon by her jealous best friend are established if not, secondary to the film’s anticipated moments of gooey nastiness, Bite’s true saving grace is found in star Elma Begovic’s bold performance that strips away her attractive looks for the benefit of becoming a snarling, bug-eyed creature.  Much like Casey’s husband is forced to wait on consummating, viewers are tasked with settling for a mediocre tale until the anti-hero spews acidic vile upon her mother-in-law from hell and engages in a fatal girl on girl smooch while, a head crunchingly awesome blow befalls the creature formally known as Casey.  An impressive showcase of modern day special effects magic with minimal CG enhancements, Bite may not infest in all the right ways but, excels when living up to its creature feature markings.  

    Scream Factory presents Bite with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  While early POV footage ranks as some of the more crisper moments of the film, the remainder casts a colder, intentionally shadowier appearance that boasts respectable black levels yet, lacking continuous streams of detail.  Free of any unsightly anomalies, Bite looks as pleasing as can be.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is relayed with sterling clarity while, the slimy sound effects of Casey’s ever-changing body equally impresses.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Producer Chad Archibald and Co-Producers Cody Calahan & Christopher Giroux.  Furthermore, five behind-the-scenes featurettes consisting of Makeup (5:42), On Set (6:02), Fantasia (5:53), Chad’s Wedding (5:16) and Dominican (5:30) are also joined by the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:23) plus, a Reversible Cover Art.  Enjoyably revolting when it wants to be, Bite may make viewers wait for its more larva discharging moments but, thankfully makes the ride worth it in this commendable creepy crawly feature.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available August 2nd from Scream Factory, Bite can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

    Director: J.J. Abrams

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew & Max Von Sydow

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finds the galaxy confronted with a new threat in the form of the First Order.  When a rebellious young heroes are caught in the crosshairs of the galactic war, resistance fighters from the past aid them in their battle against the dark side.  Featuring franchise veterans and impressive up and comers, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Stark Trek) directs the anticipated seventh episode of George Lucas’ enduring saga.

    Cinematically dormant since the concluding chapter of Lucas’ prequel trilogy in 2005, fans worldwide came to the unfortunate realization that further adventures set in a galaxy far, far away were to be left only to the imagination.  A force was truly awoken in 2012 following Disney’s purchase of Lucas’ illustrious company and the Star Wars franchise with the intent of continuing the beloved legacy set forth in 1977.  With scripting duties by its director, franchise favorite Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3), Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns viewers to a world not quite seen since the fall of Darth Vader and the destruction of the evil Empire.  Perfectly encapsulating the dirty, lived-in environments we remember while, setting its course on a journey yet unknown, the latest installment finds the galaxy at the mercy of the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Girls) and the First Order, both born from the ashes of the Empire.  Following the disappearance of sole Jedi master Luke Skywalker, lonesome scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley, Scrawl) and Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block), a former stormtrooper gone rogue, team up with war hero Han Solo, Chewbacca and the Resistance to locate Skywalker and restore balance to the Force.  Joined by the accomplished Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina) as rebel pilot Poe Dameron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens welcomes back its seasoned cast of original stars including but not limited to, Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Harrison Ford who, after years of resistance returning to his famed role, has an absolute blast as everyone’s favorite smuggler.  Juggling the delicate realms of nostalgia and forward-thinking storytelling, Star Wars: The Force Awakens accomplishes both in spades as familiar faces are integral to its narrative yet, never outshine the new and exciting characters introduced to carry the franchise’s respected torch.  

    Furthermore, Abrams and his talented crew restore the charming practicality of the original trilogies special effects and creature designs while, flawlessly injecting modern techniques such as, motion-capture and CG into its narrative that feels both seamless and visually stunning.  Although detractors have sighted the film’s similar structure to A New Hope as a grave flaw, the reoccurring theme between the light and the dark is ever-present in all Star Wars films and can hardly be viewed as a setback in a film crafted with so much heart and obvious respect for its source.  From its scroll defining intro blessed with John Williams’ iconic score to its thrilling cliffhanger conclusion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a wildly exciting adventure bursting with action, heartbreak and nonstop fun.  Through the power of the Force, Abrams and company have magically transported viewers back to a euphoric state of youth where old friends have gathered to welcome us as we warmly embrace the path of our new heroes.  An absolute return to form for the beloved franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has restored the magic for all generations to marvel.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Impressive from start to finish, skin tones are naturally presented with impeccable detail picking up perspiration caused on Jakku and Poe’s blood-spattered face.  In addition, the film’s unique environments from desolate desert landscapes to the lush greenery of Maz Kanata’s planet leap off the screen while, the delicacies of shadowy sequences, prominently seen in the film’s opening battle, are handled beautifully.  Meanwhile, black levels found in the film’s many space battles and Kylo Ren’s costume are brilliantly inky with no disruptions.  A remarkable accomplishment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ transfer is the epitome of perfection.  Equipped with an equally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is exacting and crisp while, the whizzing noises of high-flying TIE Fighters, X-Wings and of course, the Millennium Falcon make thunderous impressions on your speakers.  In addition, explosions, laser blasts and the thrashing of lightsabers provide ample activity in their respective scenes with the mix only enriching their impact.  Presented on their own Blu-ray disc, special features include, Secrets of the Force: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14), a four-part overview of the making of The Force Awakens from pre-production to its completion with interviews from cast and crew, The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01) finds the cast reflecting on the first group reading of the script with footage from the actual day, Crafting Creatures (9:34) showcases how the various creatures were brought to life using a multitude of different techniques, Building BB-8 (6:03) documents the complicated process of realizing the franchise’s favorite new droid, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02) explores the making of the film’s climactic lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo Ren while, ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force (7:55) dives into the film’s magnificent digital effects work.  In addition, John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51) spotlights the iconic composer as he reflects on his enduring involvement with the Star Wars saga, six Deleted Scenes (4:15) of trivial value and Force For Change (3:22) exploring the series’ humanitarian initiative across the globe round out the healthy assortment of bonus features.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    A marvelous journey back to a familiar world plagued with new dangers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sends viewers on an exhilarating ride that reignites a 30 year old magic like never before.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment awards the box-office juggernaut with pitch perfect technical grades and an equally pleasing spread of bonus content which, although not entirely definitive and sure to be expanded in future rereleases, still offer tons of enjoyment.  Easily the standout feature of last year and a shoe-in for one of this year’s most impressive home video releases, Star Wars: The Force Awakens achieves our highest recommendation!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available April 5th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Crimson Peak (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Crimson Peak (2015)

    Director: Guillermo del Toro

    Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain & Charlie Hunnam

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the acclaimed director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak centers on Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) who after suffering a personal tragedy, falls head over heels for the seductive Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers).  Whisked away to his dilapidated mansion, Edith encounters mysteries and spirits within her new home revolving around her newfound love and the darkest of truths.  Jessica Chastain (The Martian) and Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim) co-star.

    Honoring such classics as The Haunting and The Innocents, Director Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Gothic Romances and chilling ghost tales is as visually ravishing as it is tragically compelling.  Co-written by Brian Robbins (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark),  Crimson Peak, taking place in the late 19th century, follows independent spirit Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) as she attempts to get her novel published despite her gender.  Juggling responsibilities at her father’s respected business, Edith encounters the dashingly handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) as he attempts to gain investments from Mr. Cushing on his unproven clay-mining invention.  Unimpressed by the privileged baronet and his suspicious sister Lucille (Chastain), Mr. Cushing discovers unsavory details about the siblings, demanding them to return to their homeland despite Thomas’ expressed love for his daughter.  Suffering a heartbreaking tragedy and with no other family remaining, Edith and Thomas are joined together in Holy matrimony before relocating back to the Sharpe’s English mansion.  Haunted by ghostly apparitions and progressively growing more ill, Edith uncovers the house’s darkest secrets while fearing for her life from those now considered loved ones.  Equally concerned for her well-being, longtime friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) travels to the imposing Allerdale Hall for a terrifying discovery, one that he and Edith may not survive.

    Dripping with potent atmosphere and unafraid to shock audiences with grizzly imagery despite its classy appearance, Crimson Peak is an exceptional tour de force of gothic cinema.  Empowered by del Toro’s flawless visual touches, the auteur’s haunting romance makes dazzling statements through its rich production design and spot-on wardrobe choices, both of which were astoundingly ignored by the Academy.  Excellently casted, the innocence of Wasikowska, Chastain’s unhinged demeanor and the conflicted emotional state of Hiddleston greatly impress while, the Sharpe’s questionable correlation and eventual reveal sends the film down even darker hallways than anticipated.  Combining onset performers with effective uses of CGI, the film’s predominately blood red ghosts are genuinely frightening with a particular specter paying homage to del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone.  Although making modest strides at the box-office and graciously appreciated by critics, Crimson Peak is a beautifully haunting masterpiece that impressively ranks as del Toro’s finest effort to date.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents Crimson Peak with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying skin tones with natural ease and well-defined detail, the dreary location of Allerdale Hall and its various lighting choices ranging from reds to blues, are effectively highlighted.  Costume choices, realized by newcomer Kate Hawely (Edge of Tomorrow), read beautifully with various stitching methods and textures easily seen and better appreciated.  Doused in considerable darkness, black levels are quite exquisite in the shadowy halls of the haunted house and Thomas’ jet black attire with no evidence of crushing on display.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is always audible while, quieter ghostly ambiance, rainy wailing winds and Fernando Velázquez’s (The Orphanage, Mama) frightful music queues never disappointing.  Special feature include, an enthralling Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro, Deleted Scenes (4:26), I Remember Crimson Peak (Blu-ray exclusive), a four part featurette consisting of The Gothic Corridor (4:06), The Scullery (4:24), The Red Clay Mines (5:18) and The Limbo Fog Set (5:42) all of which host interviews with del Toro and his remarkable cast.  In addition, A Primer on Gothic Romance (Blu-ray exclusive) (5:36) traces the roots of the genre with the interviewees using their own feature as a springboard, The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak (7:53) spotlights the film’s impressive production design, Hand Tailored Gothic (8:58) (Blu-ray exclusive) details Costume Designer Kate Hawley’s gorgeous contributions, A Living Thing (12:11) (Blu-ray exclusive) explores the artistic efforts designing the haunted Allerdale Hall, Beware of Crimson Peak (7:51) finds Thomas Hiddleston acting as tour guide on a walkthrough of the house and Crimson Phantoms (7:02) (Blu-ray exclusive) takes a look at the film’s unique approaches to its many specters.  Finally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    A personal favorite of last year’s theatrical releases and arguably del Toro’s finest achievement yet, Crimson Peak presents an unforgettably haunting experience, respecting the Gothic romances that came before while, delivering a distinct visual feast firmly rooted in the imagination of its maker.  As gorgeously realized as its feature, Universal Studios Home Entertainment delivers an outstanding high-def presentation with a stimulating selection of special features for those who dare to take an extended stay at Allerdale Hall.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Crimson Peak can be purchased via Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com and other fine retailers.                                           

  • Cinderella (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Cinderella (2015)

    Director: Kenneth Branagh

    Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård & Helena Bonham Carter

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the timeless fairy tale, Cinderella centers on kind-hearted Ella (Lily James, Downton Abbey) whose world is turned upside down following the passing of her father.  Reduced to the equivalent of a servant by her cruel stepmother and her dimwitted daughters, a chance encounter with the prince and a touch of magic restores hope to the enchanting young lady’s life.  Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) co-star.

    In the successful wake of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, Disney reaches new heights with their latest live-action revisionist tale of Cinderella.  Providing slightly more background on its title character than its 1950 animated counterpart, a young Ella is seen surrounded by her loving parents and picturesque household.  In a brief but charming appearance, Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) as Cinderella’s mother urges her daughter to keep courage and kindness forever in her heart as she lie on her deathbed.  As years pass and Ella’s father learns to love anew, Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and her two gaudy daughters move in, bringing with them a noticeable coldness towards Ella.  Away on business and falling ill, Ella’s father tragically passes away leaving his only daughter in the trenches of the now widowed Lady Tremaine.  Unloading an unspeakable wave of cruelty on her stepdaughter, Ella becomes the sole servant of the household, forced to wait on her wicked stepmother and selfish stepsisters.  Maintaining her promise to her late mother, Ella attempts to keep her spirits high while caring for friendly mice and always thinking of others first.  Overwhelmed with taunts by her new family leads Ella to a chance encounter with a dashing prince, known only as Kit (Madden).  Enraptured by her presence and urged by his father to wed a princess, Kit vows to see her again by inviting all citizens to the royal ball.  With the assistance of her magical Fairy Godmother (Bonham Carter), the newly nicknamed Cinderella enjoys a romantic evening with Kit, solidifying their love for one another.  With her royal-like appearance available for so long and fearing Kit’s reaction to her peasant status, Cinderella flees the castle as the definitive search for the prince’s true love unfolds.

    Beautifully realized, Director Kenneth Branagh’s captivating adaptation takes the simplistic fairy tale and enriches its narrative with majesty and rich visual grandeur.  Perfectly selected, Lily James casts a spell on viewers with her dizzying elegance as Cinderella while Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett offers humanizing new depth to the detestable Lady Tremaine.  Complimented by lush costume design by Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator) and gorgeous production design by Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Hugo), Cinderella is the nearest example of a fairy tale come true.  Abundantly faithful to its animated predecessor, Cinderella manages to weave its own identity that can safely be praised and cherished as Disney’s finest reimagining to date.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cinderella with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Much like its protagonist, picture quality is perfect in virtually every way.  Skin tones are warm and inviting while, the wide spectrum of colors found in costumes, most noticeably in Cinderella’s sparkling blue gown, pop beautifully.  Meanwhile, detail from settings to computer-generated creations are crisp with black levels always appearing deep and inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is flawless while more intense moments involving horseback chases and Composer Patrick Doyle’s (Brave) rousing score gives listeners a most exceptional soundscape.  Special features include, A Fairy Tale Comes to Life (9:23) where key talent including Producer Simon Kinberg, Director Kenneth Branagh, Screenwriter Chris Weitz and the cast discuss the impact of the timeless tale and the opportunities their adaptation has to add to its legacy.  In addition, Costume Test Fun (2:39), Staging the Ball (11:27), where the various creative departments discuss their roles in realizing the film’s key sequence, an Alternate Opening: Ella’s Childhood (3:02), Ella’s Fury Friends (3:43) and Frozen Fever (7:56), the Frozen inspired short film attached to the film during its theatrical release are also included.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (1:02), Once Upon A Time (0:31), Monkey Kingdom (1:02), Born in China (1:14) and Inside Out (1:27) round out the supplements while, a DVD edition of the film and Digital HD Code also accompany the release.

    Bursting with magic and whimsy, Cinderella, while adjusting minor components, pays homage to Disney’s iconic animated masterpiece to deliver an even finer film.  Masterfully casted and beautifully designed, Disney’s latest live-action redo is a splendid accomplishment that will leave viewers entranced.  Exceptional looking with a vigorous sound mix, Cinderella sparkles in high-definition confidently leaving viewers of all ages happily ever after.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Cinderella can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.