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  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

    Director(s): Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally & Geoffrey Rush

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Crashing into the cinematic seas for its fifth adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds the flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Alice Through the Looking Glass) caught in the crosshairs of his most formidable foe yet, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, Skyfall).  After being outsmarted by Sparrow years earlier and cursed upon entry into the Devil’s Triangle, the vengeful Salazar seeks to make the endlessly drunk pirate pay.  Meanwhile, young Henry Turner’s (Brenton Thwaites, Maleficent) determination to locate the Trident of Poseidon to free his own father from sea-drifting captivity pits him with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner), a resourceful astronomer whose curiosity and intelligence make the journey possible.  Also welcoming Captain Jack’s established frenemy, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Genius), back to the proceedings, the young newcomers find themselves, for better or worse, in the company of Jack as Salazar hunts the swashbucklers to the Trident’s island in an action-packed climax.

    Billed as the franchise’s curtain call, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to the ghoulish roots of its original chapter with a fresh-faced cast of newcomers playing strongly against Depp’s eccentric captain who continues to prove the chameleon-like thespian is having more fun than ever in the role.  Kickstarting with a hilarious and technically impressive bank robbery by Jack’s crew who accidentally steal the entire bank itself, Javier Bardem sends chills down audiences’ spines as the demonic Captain Salzar whose mouthful of black slobber and undead appearance casts an effectively foreboding shadow upon the film.  With several surprises in store for longtime fans of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales also gives the treasured Captain Barbossa far more depth than before making the film perhaps the most gratifying for the series veteran.  Far more in line with the charm of the Disney film’s debut outing and boasting top-tier spectacle value, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an above average delight that proves Captain Jack still commands the high seas.

    Marveling with its 1080p transfer, presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment continues to prove its pristine abilities with this flawless presentation that accentuates sharp skin tones, exacting black levels and crisp details spotted in Salazar’s deathly appearance and his man-eating zombie sharks.  Accompanied with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply projected while, the film’s swelling themes provide bonafide boosts to the action-packed proceedings.  Notably shorter than previous Pirates films, special features include, Dead Men Tell More Tales: The Making of a New Adventure (47:50), a seven-part featurette exploring the creation of the epic production with interviews from some of the film’s young stars, the film’s many visual effects and the franchise’s enduring presence in pop culture.  Furthermore, Bloopers of the Caribbean (2:58), a Jerry Bruckheimer Photo Diary (1:40) and Deleted Scenes (2:59) round out the on-disc supplements while, a DVD copy and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Earning a respectable near $800 million while dividing critics and audiences, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a return to form for the franchise that once left fans dizzied by its third adventure before sticking to simplicity with On Stranger Tides.  Harkening back to what made the original film so special without overthrowing it, the fifth installment does an admirable job with its renewed mojo hinting that this may not be Captain Jack’s final sail at sea after all to which we say yo-ho!  Although less desirable in its scant offering of bonus features, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film in a quality as visually and sonically rich as the Caribbean itself.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Power Rangers (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Power Rangers (2017)

    Director: Dean Israelite

    Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cycler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston & Elizabeth Banks

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Revitalizing the television phenomenon for the big-screen, Power Rangers centers on five ordinary teens, chosen by destiny, to form a superhuman team of defenders to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa’s wrath.  Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) directs from a screenplay by John Gatins (Real Steel, Flight).

    Marking the famous franchise’s return to cinemas in two decades, Power Rangers uses the original and arguably, most popular iteration of the series as a springboard to reintroduce modern audiences and longtime fans back to an Angel Grove in desperate need of heroes.  Establishing an apocalyptic world where the Power Rangers, led by Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), are losing the battle against their former friend and betrayer Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games), the fading leader seeks to preserve the safety of the desired Zeo Crystal by hiding the coveted power coins in hopes of a new team one day emerging to protect Earth.  Juxtaposing to modern day Angel Grove, high school football star turned delinquent Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, A Few Less Men) pulls an unruly prank, landing him in detention for the rest of the school year.  Shortly after befriending bullied and autistic classmate Billy Cranston (RJ Cycler, Me and Early and the Dying Girl), Jason is convinced to join Billy at a mine site where an explosion and chance encounters with several other troubled teens including, Kimberly (Naomi Scott, The 33), a former popularity queen now ditched by her friends, Zach (Ludi Lin, Monster Hunt), a wild teen tasked with caring for his ailing mother and Trini (Becky G., Empire), a loner struggling with her own sexuality, converge in an experience that will change their lives.  Discovering the hidden power coins and the nerve center of Zordon, now constrained to its matrix system, and his faithful robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader, Inside Out), the teens are appointed as new members of the Power Rangers and must prepare for the inevitable threat of their awakened nemesis, Rita Repulsa.  Learning to trust one another and believe in themselves prove difficult as the fate of Angel Grove and the world hang in the balance against the forces of evil.  

    Darker than its bubble gum pop series but never overly brooding, Power Rangers greatly impresses with its diverse up and coming cast that convey relatable teenage troubles with organic conviction.  Noticeably influenced by the works of John Hughes with so few modern day attempts at capturing youthful voices succeeding, Power Rangers is the rare feat that does so and genuinely makes audiences care through deep character development that, for better or worse, comes at the cost of more high-octane action.  While their self-doubts restrict them from morphing into their costumed counterparts for an extended period, the film’s final act finds the the heroes finally adorned in their eye-catching armored suits to do battle against the bolder-looking Putties and Rita’s visually disappointing henchman, Goldar.  Although a shameless product placement opportunity rears its head into the plot, Elizabeth Banks delivers an enjoyably over-the-top and occasionally frightening performance as lead baddie Rita while, the city-destructing climax of the Rangers facing off in the mighty Megazord is nothing audiences haven’t seen before.  Minor grievances aside for the film’s action set pieces which unfortunately seem to have caused the ballooning $100 million budget, Power Rangers is a surprisingly fresh and energetic effort that although, based on the nostalgically campy series of the same name, takes itself and its audience seriously while having a morphinominally fun time doing it.

    Lionsgate presents Power Rangers with a striking 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptional-looking from start to finish, skin tones are naturally pleasing and detailed while, black levels seen during nighttime sequences at the mine appear deep and inky.  Digital manifestations such as, Alpha 5 and the literal looking Goldar all dazzle with the bolder colors of the rangers suits and Rita’s shimmering green garb leaping off the screen.  Without a false note to report, Power Rangers morphs into action with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an equally perfect Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with action scenes from the rangers’ training montages to the film’s final zord battle filled with explosive action greatly impress with grand authority.  Furthermore, song selections including, a contemporary rendering of the infamous theme song, all make noticeable statements on the track that push speakers to work overtime.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dean Israelite & Writer John Gatins, The Power of Present (2:20:12), a comprehensively morphin’ nine-part featurette that looks back at the franchise’s early years to this film’s culmination.  Insight from original series creator Haim Saban as well as the cast and crew are on-hand while, the development of the film’s costumes, the cast’s intensive training and music are all explored in this perfect companion piece to the feature.  Also included, Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (33:39), Outtakes (3:41) and the Theatrical Trailer with Audio Commentary by Director Dean Israelite (2:21).  Lastly, an Also from Lionsgate (4:40) section offers trailers and promos for Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection, Allegiant and Now You See Me 2.  Additionally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Although struggling to be the massive moneymaker hoped for by the studio, Power Rangers may be the year’s biggest blockbuster surprise that balances the delicate line of respecting its franchise roots while injecting a youthful, harder-edged voice that lifelong fans will appreciate.  Planned for a whopping six-film story arc and teasing the arrival of a certain character of the green persuasion, Power Rangers is hopefully only the beginning in a great new series that deserves more installments.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s phenomenal high-definition release is a technical marvel with a staggering supply of bonus content ranger fans will eat up.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Power Rangers can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) Blu-ray Review

    No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

    Director: Corey Yuen

    Starring: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter Cunningham, Kent Lipham & Jean-Claude Van Damme

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unquestionably reminiscent of other more prominent teenage-geared martial arts pictures, No Retreat, No Surrender plays far more emphasis on its combat sequences as evidenced by its unoriginal narrative and charmingly cheesy performances.  After a pack of threatening mobsters with plans of taking over every dojo in the country descends on his father’s establishment, Bruce Lee obsessed teen Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney, Guiding Light) and his family head to Seattle to start anew.  Finding a pal in the break-dancing R.J. Madison (J.W. Fails, 21 Jump Street) and rekindling a romance with a former flame, Jason finds himself targeted by overweight bully Scott (Kent Lipham, Extreme Prejudice) and local karate hothead Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby, Ring of Fire) on the regular.  Consistently outmatched by his peers and punished by his father for his improper use of fighting, Jason seeks solace at the gravesite of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.  Training in an abandoned house with a shrine to his hero, Jason is stunned when the ghost of Lee returns to personally guide him on his path to becoming a prized fighter.  Trouble strikes again when a local tournament is disrupted by the mobsters and their deadly enforcer Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kickboxer) who ravages the competition with only young Jason left to defend the community and his family’s name.  An unsurprisingly first time effort for much of the principal talent, No Retreat, No Surrender is a ridiculous fight feature with hilarity to be had at the expense of the film’s goofy screenplay and unexpectedly silly plot device of Bruce Lee returning from the grave to play sensei.  Adorned with amusing training montages, a feverishly high-powered theme song and a fast-paced final round bout between the American teen and oh-so-80s Russian villain, No Retreat, No Surrender can’t help but be a fun time, using its amateurish shortcomings to its full advantage.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Retreat, No Surrender for the first time on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing surface scrapes and scratches throughout its runtime, colors are bold and exacting seen through the bright costume choices with sharp detail observed in facial closeups.  Furthermore, skin tones are consummately natural with a solidly filmic presence left intact.  Joined by a rather shoddy DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that struggles to make any definable distinctions, dialogue is serviceable while, music, roaring crowds and the clatter of punches being thrown fall flat and underwhelming.  Although pops and other such anomalies are virtually absent, a large increase in volume during viewing is essential for the rather subdued track.  

    Containing both its recommend International (1:38:55) and U.S. Theatrical Cuts (1:24:01), additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, Stand on Your Own with Kurt McKinney (17:12) where the film’s star recalls training in martial arts his entire life, landing the gig during an open casting call and the production spending more rehearsal time on fight choreography than the actual performances.  In addition, McKinney delves into the rather shady circumstances that convinced both he and Van Damme to pass on the sequel.  Lastly, Trailers for the International Cut of No Retreat, No Surrender (3:20), An Eye for an Eye (1:52), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Avenging Force (1:18), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41) and Steele Justice (1:36) are also on hand.  Delightfully silly with respectable fight sequences featured, No Retreat, No Surrender may technically be a poorly made effort but, one that cult enthusiasts will revel in for all its dodgy issues and valiant efforts.  Making its Blu-ray debut with both cuts included, KL Studio Classics delivers a roundhouse kick of satisfaction to fans anxiously awaiting for this Cold War of martial arts movies.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Retreat, No Surrender can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • One Million Years B.C. (1966) Blu-ray Review

    One Million Years B.C. (1966)

    Director: Don Chaffey

    Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick, Robert Brown, Percy Herbert & Yvonne Horner

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Exchanging gothic ambiance and monsters for prehistoric excellence, One Millions Years B.C. would skyrocket to become Hammer Film Productions’ biggest box-office smash and one of science fiction’s finest efforts of the era.  After being banished by his own tribe, Tumak (John Richardson, Black Sunday) scours the desolate wasteland and stumbles upon the generous and resourceful Shell People.  Finding a kindred spirit in the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch, Fantastic Voyage), the two decide to face the land on their own, confronting a siege of deadly dinosaurs and other ferocious beasts on their journey.  Guided only by a documentary-like narration by Vic Perrin (The Outer Limits) and grunts of caveman lingo, One Million Years B.C. thrives on its visual splendor of gorgeous rocky vistas and fantastical elements that find our heroes pitted against giant iguanas, spiders and brilliantly conceived stop-motion dinos.  Engineered by Harryhausen-effect driven wizardry and keen direction by Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts), the scantly-clad sight of sex symbol Raquel Welch in the starring role not only is invaluable to the film’s success but, a lasting testament to its impact on popular culture.  Featuring barbaric beatdowns amongst the many tribesmen, soaring Pteranodons flying off with victims and a volcanic finale, One Million Years B.C. is a towering achievement of special effects magic, ranking as one of the best fantasy features of its time.

    Gorgeously restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes One Million Years B.C. to domestic high-definition with a flawless 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Colorful and crisp, filmic quality is excellent while, skin tones remain immaculate with detail in the film’s stop-motion critters relaying their many intricacies with ease.  A first-rate achievement that will leave fans young and old bewitched by its restoration, stampedes of praise can only be recommended.  Equipped with an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that gives prominence to the thundering crash of dinosaur attacks and the more subtle grunts of its human characters, the track satisfies on all fronts.  Appreciatively appeasing completists of the film, the preferred International Cut (1:40:37) and shorter U.S. Cut (1:31:59) are included on separate discs with Disc 1’s supplemental offerings featuring an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, an Animated Montage of Posters and Images (3:05) and the Original International Theatrical Trailer (3:00).  Joining the U.S. Cut on Disc 2, bonus features include, vintage offerings such as Raquel Welch: In the Valley of the Dinosaurs (7:45), An Interview with Ray Harryhausen (12:29) and a 2016-shot Interview with Martine Beswick (16:36).  Lastly, the Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:08) rounds out the disc’s extras.  A fantastical fun time that highlights some of Harryhausen’s finest stop-motion effects work and the sexy radiance of Raquel Welch, One Million Years B.C. is a primeval journey into the past that glows with imagination and wonder.  Already ranking as one of the year’s genre must-haves, KL Studio Classics’ 4K restoration is a stunning sight that includes both cuts of the film and a healthy spread of bonus content sure to please cavemen from all walks of life.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, One Million Years B.C. can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Doctor Strange 3D (2016) Cinematic Universe Edition Blu-ray Review

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachael McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, Doctor Strange offers shades of familiarity while conjuring enough freshness and action-packed spells to make the stay an entertainingly magical one.  After suffering a debilitating accident, accomplished neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) travels to Nepal seeking guidance beyond what his world can offer.  Taken under the wing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Strange learns the art of sorcery and the impending threat of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a former student deceived by the dark and brooding Dormammu of the Dark Dimension.  Ditching his trivial arrogance and opening his mind to his new teachings, Strange yields his new powers, with invaluable assistance from the Cloak of Levitation, to stand with his fellow sorcerers and save the planet from Kaeciliius’ wrath of destruction.  Bringing to life their trickiest character to date with his own unique challenges, Marvel Studios welcomes Doctor Strange to their expansive universe with passionate direction from Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) who handles character development, humor and the film’s trippy action sequences with seamlessness.  In addition, the core cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor (12 Years a Slave) as the Ancient One’s second-in-command Mordo, the underused but competent Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as Strange’s former flame and the controversial yet, inspired turn from Tilda Swinton as Strange’s sorceress mentor are all excellent in their respective roles.  With its intense fight choreography and building bending visual effects bringing prestige to their thrilling sequences, Doctor Strange suffers mildly from perhaps an unavailable case of origintitis that fans have become all too accustomed to.  While Doctor Strange’s narrative may appear predictable at times, fun remains in ample supply with the sorcerer’s anticipated future adventures already looking brighter.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Doctor Strange with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  With its mind-bending sequences of skyscraper turning set battles and eye-popping destruction featuring immersive depth, Marvel Studios’ latest adventure awards viewers with their finest 3D release to date.  In addition, the equally strong 2D presentation handles skin tones, bold color grades in Strange’s cloak and the Dark Dimension as well as exceptionally inky black levels, of which their are many, up to the usual standards viewers have come to expect from Marvel’s latest superhero epics.  Equipped with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that honors immaculate clarity in dialogue exchanges and thrilling emphases in action scenes and Michael Giaccino’s (Jurassic World, Star Trek Beyond) effective score, the track is nothing short of a stunner.  

    Plentifully packed, special features include, an Introduction by Director Scott Derrickson (1:06), an Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson, A Strange Transformation (9:42), a fairly standard EPK overview of the production with interviews from key participants, Strange Company (12:37) covers the film’s supporting cast while, The Fabric of Reality (12:32) explores the costume and set design.  Furthermore, Across Time and Space (13:21) details the film’s impressive fight choreography and visual effects with The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51) examining Michael Giacchino’s score with footage of its actual orchestral recording process.  Also included, a Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28), the hilarious Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38) short, Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52), a Gag Reel (4:12) and Sneak Peeks at Marvel Contest of Champions (1:32), Marvel Future Fight (1:32) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (1:34).  Lastly, in addition to separate 3D and 2D Blu-ray’s, a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code are included alongside an Exclusive Collectible Lenticular.  In closing, Doctor Strange’s bold debut into the MCU has landed with surreal excellence and a strong cast to guide its mystical maneuvers.  While Strange’s fall to rise story from neurosurgeon to superhero sorcerer feels largely paint by numbers, the embracement of his powers and battle against darker forces are what makes the film the visual treat it is.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provides viewers with not only their most noteworthy 3D release to date but, one of stuffed supplements well worth exploring after the film’s curtain call.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Doctor Strange can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Park Is Mine (1985) Blu-ray Review

    The Park Is Mine (1985)

    Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

    Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver & Yaphet Kotto

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the suicide of his fellow solider, The Park Is Mine centers on a disgruntled Vietnam war veteran (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men) whose disappointment in his country’s respect for vets turns dangerous.  Staging an elaborate take over of New York’s Central Park, the ex-solider’s attempt to bring attention to the bigger issues are met with resistance by the city’s police force and equally skilled commandos.  Helen Shaver (The Believers) and Yaphet Kotto (Alien) costar.

    A surprising made-for-TV effort that exudes cinematic flair, The Park Is Mine, a byproduct of the era’s lucrative Canadian tax-shelter program and a home video mainstay guaranteed to be seen in local shops’ action sections, manages to pack a suspense-filled feature of firepower.  Based on the book by Stephen Peters while deviating from its source’s much darker tones and casting a far more humble light upon its protagonist, The Park Is Mine finds jobless and directionless war veteran Mitch (Jones) grieving over the loss of his former brother-in-arms and uncovering his friend’s unfulfilled attempt to make the masses reappraise their view of sacrificing soldiers.  Examining his fallen comrade’s detailed plans and already implemented tactics to successfully take over the city’s expansive Central Park, Mitch, equally dissatisfied with his own life’s hand, takes command of the operation.  Decorated in war paint, a Yankees hat and heavily loaded with artillery and explosives, Mitch’s terroristic takeover is met with unsuccessful thwarts by New York’s finest before the city’s under appreciated citizens see the system-shaker as a hometown hero.  While the film is complimented with supporting turns by Yaphet Kotto, a pillar of police procedurals and gangster pictures as a cautious officer, Helen Shaver as a daring news camerawoman who gets personally embroiled in Mitch’s one-man war and Gale Garnett (Mad Monster Party) as Mitch’s estranged wife who supplies unintentionally welcome comic relief as she hassles her husband with phone calls during his coup, Tommy Lee Jones’ performance single-handedly dominates the film with the precise blending of a calculated war expert and the shakiness of a distressed man winging his uncertain actions.  Climaxing with a fatal showdown against deadly mercenaries, The Park Is Mine may keep its bodycount low but maintains a tight pace and explosively well-handled action set pieces.  Further cementing its big-screen aura, Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Risky Business) electronically-charged score adds a cherry-topping flavor to this effectively dramatic showcase of urban warfare and anti-heroes defending their turf and wrongly overlooked commitments to their country.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Park Is Mine with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Excusing minor instances of speckling, natural grain is apparent and most pleasing while, skin tones are nicely preserved with Mitch’s fading warpaint and perspiration also well-detailed.  In addition, colors found in Central Park’s robust greenery and the police officer’s bullet-proof vests pop strongly with nighttime sequences demonstrating easy-to-see black levels throughout.  Although several quick drops in volume occur during a diner sequence between Shaver and her colleague, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 handles the duration of all other dialogue with crispness and clarity while, the film’s machine gun blasts and other explosions make respectable racket on the track.  Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream’s underrated synth-score is nothing short of a listening pleasure whenever its head is reared.  Special features include, a highly informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson that covers the intriguing background of the film’s Canadian production backers, the tonal and character development changes made between the book and its adaptation plus, the onscreen acting talent and plenty of other worthy film recommendations that come up in discussion.  Furthermore, Trailers for The Park Is Mine (2:08), Blown Away (1:35), The Package (2:18), Report to the Commissioner (2:21) & Busting (2:45) round out the on-disc supplements with a Reversible Cover Art also on hand.

    Impressing with its big-screen bravado, superior acting talent and choice score compliments of electronic mavericks Tangerine Dream, The Park Is Mine appears more brutal than what is presented while orchestrating well-conceived suspense and a vastly underrated turn from Jones.  Airing on HBO and routinely stocked on video store shelves before their decline, The Park Is Mine remains a worthy thriller to take to the front lines.  A most welcome addition to their wildly diverse catalog, KL Studio Classics salutes this Vietnam vet feature with a top-notch HD debut and a valued commentary track, as informative as its film is entertaining.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Trouble Man (1972) Blu-ray Review

    Trouble Man (1972)

    Director: Ivan Dixon

    Starring: Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, William Smithers, Paula Kelly & Julius Harris

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When full-time hustler and licensed private eye Mr. T (Robert Hooks, N.Y.P.D.) is hired by two thugs to investigate their compromised gambling operation, Trouble Man finds the smooth talking enforcer engaged in a web of gang wars and murder in order to clear his slandered name.  Paul Winfield (The Terminator), Ralph Waite (The Waltons), William Smithers (Scorpio), Paula Kelly (Soylent Green) and Julius Harris (Super Fly) costar.

    A step above the average blaxploitation feature, Trouble Man highlights the bustling lifestyle of South Central’s own Mr. T whose expert pool skills, fashionable style and ladies man swagger compliment his no-nonsense street smarts and sharp business savvy as the ghetto’s personal problem solver.  Approached by local thugs Chalky (Winfield) and Pete (Waite) to uncover the masked thieves responsible for disrupting their gambling circuit, Mr. T finds himself entangled in a gang war when rival crime lord Big (Harris) is gunned down, laying the blame on the very capable hands of the inner city private detective.  Pursued by vengeful gangsters and local law enforcement, Mr. T unbuttons his expensive jacket and leads a one man army to bring his foolish framers down.  Charismatically charged, Robert Hooks headlines as the smooth soul brother whose martial arts expertise and whip-cracking demeanor ignites the film’s contagiously cool aura while, Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s choice musical accompaniments can’t be overstated.  Tightly edited by Michael Kahn before his career spanning collaborations with Director Steven Spielberg, Trouble Man is wickedly fun with memorable performances and action-packed gang warfare justifying itself as one bad motha worth investigating.

    With the exception of speckling observed during dimly lit sequences, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is overwhelmingly clean with no overt levels of damage while, the film’s inherent softness, as a product of its time, remains intact without compromising detail.  Meanwhile, flesh tones are eye-pleasing with more flamboyantly colorful attire and vibrant 70s decor popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that occasionally requires volume increases, dialogue is largely audible with few softer spoken exchanges registering not as strongly.  Thankfully, Marvin Gaye’s main title theme and other melodic queues are projected sharply with gunfire effects throughout the film’s final act making appropriate statements.  Relatively scant, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathanial Thompson & Howard S. Berger with a Trailer Gallery featuring Trouble Man (2:30), Truck Turner (5:13), Across 110th Street (2:58), Cotton Comes to Harlem (2:11) and Report to the Commissioner (2:21) concluding the extras.

    Absurdly included amongst the fifty worst films of all time in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ 1978 paperback, Trouble Man is far better and more entertaining than its reputation suggests.  Battling to clear his name while always ensuring time for beautiful girls, Robert Hooks leads the way with an entertaining turn loaded with attitude and leaving his enemies calling for mercy.  Boasting a soulful score from Marvin Gaye and a film appreciators audio commentary, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ HD treatment of this underrated blaxploitation picture is as cool as the original Mr. T.

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Purge: Election Year (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Purge: Election Year (2016)

    Director: James DeMonaco

    Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria & Betty Gabriel

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    At the height of a heated political season, The Purge: Election Year centers on survivor turned security chief Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) whose duty to protect presidential nominee Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) is compromised.  As her controversial policies to end the savage Purge are despised by the corrupt, navigating dangerous streets and trusting strangers desperate for change may be the only chance to survive the lawless evening.  Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), Joseph Julian Soria (Max) and Betty Gabriel (Good Girls Revolt) costar.

    In a society overrun by one’s anxious desire to brutally slay for one evening, The Purge: Election Year pits the sadistic holiday against a force for change.  Following the murder of her own family during the first annual Purge, Senator Charlie Roan seeks to abolish the barbaric event and expose higher society’s gains from it with her determined presidential run.  Igniting a movement throughout the country and threatening the stability of the corrupt NFFA, Senator Roan, protected by her head of security Leo Barnes and his team, make the necessary preparations ahead of the new year’s Purge where, for the first time in its history, targeting governmental figures is fair game.  Betrayed and forced to evacuate their shelter, Leo and Charlie trek the anarchic streets of Washington D.C. where alliances with working class citizens and anti-Purge rebels is essential to their survival and the Senator’s destiny to alter the course of the country.  Even more fast-paced and action-packed than its predecessor, The Purge: Election Year polishes its simplistic formula with a marketing campaign and over the top violence that cheekily comments on the slogan of one presidential nominee’s to “make America great again”.  Host to choice soundtrack cuts from T. Rex and a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.”, Producer Jason Blum’s (Insidious, Sinister) third installment welcomes Uncle Sam costumed killers, candy bar craving looters and white supremacist soldiers stacking the odds against our heroes while, a bloody gun battle in a church paints the walls red and waves a not-so subtle finger at the seething corruption found within political figures and religious organizations.  Financially soaring past its previous entries, The Purge: Election Year arrives with even more refined energy and violent aggression making it the best of the bunch thus far.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Purge: Election Year with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Although not boasting a broad color scheme, skin tones are nicely detailed and true to appearance while, the film’s level of bloodshed and neon-lit masks of various assailants make for the most eye-popping of visuals.  Furthermore, cast under the shadows of night and taking place in dimly lit bunkers and storefronts, black levels are generally pleasing with only occasional hints of digital noise and murkiness in facial closeups.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that handles dialogue with ease and authority, gunfire blasts, explosions and eerie street ambiance dominate the track for a mostly strong presentation.  Special features include, Deleted Scenes (8:05), Inside The Purge (5:31) where returning Director James DeMonaco and his cast reflect on the political themes and increased violence in the film plus, Character Spotlight: Leo (3:34) allows Star Frank Grillo to briefly touch upon his character’s development.  Lastly, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code conclude the supplemental package.

    Darkly fun and serving as good escape from the overwhelming presidential race, The Purge: Election Year paints the screen blood red, white and blue with higher stakes than ever before.  Returning anti-hero Frank Grillo leads a small yet effective ensemble cast to survival as masked Abe Lincoln’s and Lady Liberty’s practice their right to purge in our nation’s capital.  Earning its vote for the franchises most violently entertaining entry to date, Universal Studios Home Entertainment supports the onscreen anarchy with above average technical grades but, lacks more substantial bonus content.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Purge: Election Year can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D (1983)

    Director: Charles Band

    Starring: Jeffrey Byron, Mike Preston, Tim Thomerson, Kelly Preston & Richard Moll

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on the desert planet of Lemuria, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D finds a miner and his daughter Dhyana (Kelly Preston, Death Sentence) caught in the crossfire of the titular warlord.  Joining forces with brave space ranger Dogen (Jeffrey Byron, The Dungeonmaster) after the murder of her father, the peacekeepers seek to stop Syn and his crusade to enslave the Cyclopian race.  Mike Preston (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior), Tim Thomerson (Trancers), R. David Smith (Fletch Lives) and Richard Moll (Night Court) costar.

    Melding the post-apocalyptic with a fantastical science fiction flair, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D memorably blasts space-age action with in-your-face depth at the cusp of 3D’s short-lived return.  Otherworldly and futuristic, Cyclop warriors, intergalactic wizardry and wasteland armored vehicles permeate this wild west sendup set amongst the stars.  As the human population of Lemuria struggle to survive, crystals become the sole item of value to the mining community of scavengers.  As the evil Jared-Syn (Preston), aided by his half-cyborg son Baal (Smith), break a sacred treaty and wage war for power, Syn’s life draining crystals help further his control on the weak.  Combining their efforts after the death of her father, Dhyana and savior Dogen seek justice when Baal’s dangerous green acid submerges Dogen into a nightmarish state, allowing Dhyana to be captured.  Determined to save her, the lone warrior travels to Zhor and reconnects with grizzled warrior Rhodes (Thomerson).  Risking their lives on a journey to the Cyclopian mainland to recover a sacred mask to aid them in their battle, leader of the pack Hurok (Moll) confronts the duo, prompting a hellish battle for survival that proves invaluable on their road to defeating Syn.  Enlightening the Cyclopian people of Syn’s true motives, a climactic battle between good and evil takes place before a laser-blasting skybike chase between Dogan and Syn through the mountainous landscape transpires.  

    Although sporting memorable moments of action-geared fun and impressive mutant design work, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D struggles to fully live up to its imaginative poster art, remaining in first gear for much of its runtime.  Achieving a considerable amount of eye candy on its limited budget, Director Charles Band’s (Pulse Pounders, Doctor Mordrid) second 3D effort following 1982’s Parasite lifts off on a shaky screenplay that never catches up with its nonstop visual agenda.  An imperfect genre smash set at the end of the universe, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D may not achieve all it hoped yet, remains a mildly entertaining B-grade space adventure with intentions of more installments that never came to fruition.

    Newly remastered in both 3D and 2D, Scream Factory presents Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  In their first 3D-related release since Amityville 3-D, the horror/cult subdivision of Shout! Factory supplies each version of the film on their own Blu-ray disc.  Kindly alerting viewers of unresolvable issues on the source material for its 3D form, depth reaching attempts from Baal lunging with his cyborg arm and laser blasts whizzing towards the screen work nicely while, occasional out of focus photography creates hazier outlines around characters that can be sometimes dizzying to the eye.  Additionally, and true to Scream Factory’s disclaimer, darker smudges in corners of the frame arise throughout the film that although unpleasant, are understandable given the state of the vault materials.  A retro serving of antiquated 3D effects work, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn is hardly reference quality for the format but, still offers several moments of depth-filled goofiness that may or may not rattle your vision.  More preferable for obvious reasons, the 2D version has healthy layers of film grain that only occasionally teeter into murky waters given the film’s desert-like location.  Otherwise, skin tones are pleasing, detail is revealing in Moll’s Cyclops makeup and print damage is largely infrequent.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the track is very middle of the road offering audible dialogue levels while, more action-oriented sequences and accompanying sound effects fail to make stronger impacts.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix of comparable quality is also included.  

    Special features (located on the 2D disc version) include, Ballyhoo Motion Pictures’ latest featurette High Noon at the End of Universe: The Making of Metalstorm (42:13).  Catching up with a multitude of talking heads including, Director/Producer Charles Band, Actors Jeffrey Byron, Richard Moll, Tim Thomerson, Screenwriter/Co-Producer Alan J. Adler and former Fangoria Editor-in-Chief Michael Gingold, Daniel Griffith’s excellently edited and nicely constructed effort is an enjoyably interesting watch.  Also included, a Still & Promotional Gallery (10:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:23) and a Radio Spot (0:30).

    Concluding on an open-ended note that was never explored again, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D may not be nearly as cool as its advertisements built up but, achieves a vast array of special effects and nifty creature designs that can be enjoyed by all ages.  A welcome and overdue return to hi-def 3D, Scream Factory rolls the dice on this science fiction fantasy from Empire Pictures founder Charles Band that although plagued with inherent issues, appreciatively provides viewers with both 2D/3D options.  Joined by Daniel Griffith’s wonderful new retrospective that’s worth the price of admission alone, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D’s mileage will vary by viewer but, will be a no-brainer for lifelong fans of Band’s illustrious career in the world of cult cinema.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn 3D can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dead-End Drive-In (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Dead-End Drive-In (1986)

    Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

    Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Dave Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hall & Wilbur Wilde

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Aussie exploitation maverick Brian Trenchard-Smith (Stunt Rock, BMX Bandits), Dead-End Drive-In takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the economy has crumbled and crime runs rampant.  When the government orders local drive-ins to become concentration camps for society’s wild youth, lone rebel “Crabs” (Ned Manning, Looking for Alibrandi) plots his escape from the imprisoning wasteland.  

    An unquestionable by product of George Miller’s motor-charged Mad Max game changers, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead-End Drive-In takes unexpected sharp turns to deliver a unique, neon lit offering of nuclear punkery.  Home to a ravaged world of polluted red skies, gang warfare and food shortage, cars and their associated parts are the leading commodities in a devastatingly unemployed and substance addicted society.  After sneaking off with his older brother’s prized 56 Chevy, physically fit Jimmy, better known as “Crabs”, whisks his foxy, leather-wearing girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry, Cassandra) to the Star Drive-In for a night of exploitation movies and backseat intimacy.  After the local police force steal Crabs’ wheels leaving the couple stranded, the government implements a strict lockdown for all patrons of the drive-in.  Populated by face painted punks, new wavers and skinheads, the outdoor movie house keeps its rowdy guests pacified with B-grade pictures, junk food and endless drugs to occupy their extended stay.  While Carmen forms friendships with the local crowd, Crabs’ cabin fever and growing suspicion that all is not what it seems generates friction amongst other rebel rousers.  When countless refugees are transported to the already overpopulated space, racism and hate dominates the self-medicating punkers from realizing their true status as prisoners.  Going for broke, Crabs forms a getaway plan pitting himself against the gun-carrying police and the Star Drive-In’s corrupt owner (Peter Whitford, Running from the Guns).  

    Although a much different beast than expected, Dead-End Drive-In paves its own path that raises intriguing political commentary on the stranglehold of materialistic addictiveness and  racism.  Impressively art directed with graffiti tattered vehicles and brickwork shepherded by Muralist Vladimir Chevepanoff, Dead-End Drive-In stylistically soars with its trashcan burning, drive-in warzone and vibrantly vile supporting players making the film one of the visually richest of the endless wave of post-nuke imitators.  Disappointingly lighter on action until the film’s climactic escape where Crabs literally leaps away from his oppressive environment in a thrilling car stunt, Dead-End Drive-In still makes good with its new wave heavy soundtrack, oddball characters and effective sense of dystopian depravity that solidly leaves Trenchard-Smith’s anarchic Ozzie mark.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dead-End Drive-In with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shining brightly through the film’s vast neon-signage, colorful makeup designs on its many punk performers and Crabs’ bright red Chevy, skin tones are naturally pleasing while, black levels waver from solidly inky to areas of speckling that are apparent yet, never overly distracting.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is clearly projected with the film’s excellent new wave cuts booming loudly.  Mildly restrained, quality is generally efficient while, slightly more authority during action sequences would have been preferred.  Special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Brian Trenchard-Smith, The Stuntmen (48:46), Trenchard-Smith’s 1973 documentary on Aussie stuntmen Bob Woodham, Grant Page and others plus, Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! (24:10), an Aussie pubic service film shot by Trenchard-Smith circa 1978 detailing the dangers of in-patient smoking.  Furthermore, a Vladimir Cherepanoff Gallery (19 slides in total), the Theatrical Trailer (1:36) and a 27-page booklet featuring stills and musings on Dead-End Drive-In and Trenchard-Smith’s other accompanying on disc films from Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell are included.  Finally, a Reversible Sleeve boasting newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon and the film’s original poster design conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Not quite the punk free for all it’s advertised to be, Dead-End Drive-In follows similar post-nuke guidelines such as a dependency on vehicles while, its greater focus rests on the imprisonment of disillusioned youth and their subsequent brainwashing of complacency.  Fantastically designed and boasting few but, still wildly impressive stunts, Trenchard-Smith’s Ozploitation odyssey of a destructive future may not always live up to all expectations but, succeeds in carving out its own identity.  Arrow Video continues their liberation of the New World Pictures catalog with another praiseworthy transfer and a pleasing spread of supplements that will be of particular interest to Trenchard-Smith completists.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Dead-End Drive-In can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Road House (1989) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Road House (1989)

    Director: Rowdy Herrington

    Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliot, Ben Gazzara, Marshall R. Teague & Julie Michaels

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the brawling bar business, Road House stars Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing) as cool-headed and physically fit bouncer Dalton.  When the chaotically run Double Deuce hires him to clean up their image, the widely respected and increasingly disliked pub protector finds himself at odds with corrupt business tycoon Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara, The Thomas Crown Affair).  Kelly Lynch (Curly Sue), Sam Elliot (Grandma), Marshall R. Teague (The Rock) and Julie Michaels (Witchboard 2 ) co-star.

    Teetering on the cusp of ridiculousness and unabashed entertainment, Road House serves up viewers with a tidal wave of bottle breaking, beat ’em up insanity in a dead end Missouri town with hunkish ladies man Patrick Swayze kicking ass and taking names politely.  Highly regarded for his uniquely qualified skills, one-of-a-kind cooler Dalton is persuaded to restore balance to the dangerous Double Deuce bar when the price proves right.  Quietly observing the reckless environment and the temperamentally unfit and dishonest employee roster, Dalton’s take charge persona quickly earns him enemies.  As his junker of a vehicle is consistently trashed and new lethal threats find their way to the Double Deuce, Dalton meets town baddie Brad Wesley who pawns off small businesses and strikes fear into the local community.  After teaching several of Wesley’s henchmen a lesson in barroom manners, a knife wound and emergency room visit introduces the muscled drifter to the supremely sexy Dr. Elizabeth “Doc” Clay (Lynch) with romance and bed-sharing hobbies percolating soon after.  With business and security thriving at the newly renovated bar, Wesley’s distaste for Dalton increases following a business refusal, prompting the corrupt mogul to derail the Double Deuce from succeeding further.  Seeking assistance from his grizzled mentor Wade Garrett (Elliot), Dalton’s liberation of the locals causes neighboring businesses to be set aflame and those closest to the bouncer to be put in harm’s way.  Outnumbered and overpowered, Dalton’s feud with the powerful Wesley will be the deadliest last call of his life with only one man left standing.

    A redecorated western trading hats for mullets and horses for monster trucks, Road House makes no apologies for its absurd premise and over the top personalities yet, wins viewers over with its commitment to the material and colorful conflict between unconventional heroes and money-driven baddies.  Eliciting hilariously quotable dialogue and featuring generous doses of gratuitous nudity including, but not limited to, a skintastically revealing Kelly Lynch and the bare backside of Swayze, Road House stands tall with the blazing tunes of blind, blues virtuoso Jeff Healey who appears as the featured house band in the film.  Boasting commendable stunt work and fight choreography overwhelmingly achieved by the actors themselves, Director Rowdy Herrington’s (Jack’s Back) bar battering feature is throat-rippingly rockin’, exceeding common misconceptions of being “so bad, it’s good”, Road House is flat-out fun from its first drink served to its last punch thrown.

    Featuring a new 2K scan of the interpositive, supervised and approved by Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park), Shout Select presents Road House with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A welcome and preferable upgrade over MGM’s previous HD release, skin tones are effectively natural-looking with pleasing detail.  In addition, overall picture quality is noticeably brighter than its more brooding predecessor with pastel colors in costumes and neon lighting seen in bar sequences casting effective shades.  While slight softness rears its head occasionally during outdoor scenes, Shout Select’s notably cleaned-up and eye-pleasingly filmic transfer looks in top form.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, while not troubled by hiss or distortion, is decently relayed while, bar brawls, revving car motors and Jeff Healey’s guitar-dominating music make much stronger notices on the track.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included.  Spanning two Blu-ray’s, special features on disc 1 include, the ported over Audio Commentary with Director Rowdy Herrington and the fan-favorite Audio Commentary with Road House Fans Kevin Smith & Scott Mosier.

    Kicking off disc 2’s Collector’s Edition release is several newly-crafted supplements including, the impressive I Thought You’d Be Bigger: The Making of Road House (1:03:14) featuring new interviews with Herrington, cast members Kelly Lynch, John Doe, Julie Michaels, Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Lisa Niemi Swayze and many others in this definitive look back on the cult classic.  Next up, A Conversation with Director Rowdy Herrington (29:38), Pain Don’t Hurt: The Stunts of Road House (22:29), Pretty Good for a Blind White Boy: The Music of Road House (9:22) and Remembering Patrick Swayze (15:06) with beautiful insight and shared memories of the late actor from his lovely widow and cast members.  In addition, vintage supplements On the Road House (17:23) and What Would Dalton Do? (12:26) are joined by the Theatrical Trailer (1:57), On the Set (3:44) featurette, a Patrick Swayze Profile (2:41), Selected Soundbites (11:00) and a Photo Gallery (3:20) marking the last word in bonus content for the late 80s favorite.

    A bar bouncing good time with enough action, foxy ladies and hard-rockin’ tunes to make it last all night, Road House plays to the crowd with its hammed up plot and contagiously fun characters rightly earning its stripes in the pantheons of cult cinema awesomeness.  Reintroducing viewers to the tirelessly rented and cable darling hit, Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition release will make fans graciously tipsy with their Cundey approved 2K transfer and keg-sized offering of bonus features, making the Double Deuce the only roundhouse kicking dive you’ll want to be in.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Road House can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Captain America: Civil War (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Captain America: Civil War (2016)

    Director(s): Anthony & Joe Russo

    Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen & Daniel Brühl

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the cataclysmic destruction of The Avengers’ last battle, Captain America: Civil War finds the government and international leaders urging the powerful team to fall under order.  Creating a sharp difference of opinion between Captain America (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes), the two friends become each other’s worst enemies, simultaneously dividing their fellow teammates.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Community) return to helm the exciting followup to their 2014 smash hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  

    Carrying on from its politically-charged and throughly action-packed sequel, the star-spangled hero returns in top form as governmental pressure creates a dividing rift between the Brooklyn native and his billionaire ally.  As the world recovers from the devastation at Sokovia, Captain America and select members of The Avengers experience another tragedy of civilian lives lost during an enemy pursuit in Lagos.  With worldwide pressure mounting, a controversial agreement is proposed amongst the United Nations that would sanction the actions of the mighty team creating unexpected friction amongst its members.  Haunted by the guilt of their unintended harmful actions, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) seeks to oblige by the orders of the world governments by supporting the motion while, Steve Rogers (Evans) refuses to stand back if a global threat arises and The Avengers are ordered to not intervene.  Agreeing to disagree, supportive Avengers prepare to sign the peaceful accord in Vienna when an explosion takes the lives of many and holds Rogers’ childhood best friend and the ruthless Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Stan) as the culprit.  Fearing for his friend’s life and adamant on finding him first, Captain America, now considered a fugitive, locates his former foe who insists he was not responsible for the attack.  Apprehended alongside Cap’s loyal comrades, Barnes finds himself at the mercy of the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Brühl) after confidential Hydra documents are recovered revealing insight into Barnes’ psychological triggers.  Breaking out of custody and once again reuniting with his friend, Captain America, joined by Falcon (Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Hawkeye (Renner) and the tiniest of titans Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Role Models), go rogue to reveal the truth before Zemo’s reign of terror continues.  Meanwhile, forced to do battle, the accord agreeing Iron Man, alongside War-Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany) and others, seek to bring their former friends to justice for the safety of the world.

    Righting the ship of its character abundant and narratively choppy Avengers predecessor with ease while, maintaining the high standards of The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War raises another notch in quality for the impressively depth-filled cinematic universe.  Covering a global scale and containing explosively action-packed sequences throughout, the third Captain led adventure keeps the film exceptionally balanced with a loaded cast that never fight for screen time or loses the focus of its titular hero’s emotional path.  Injecting perfectly timed touches of humor natural to the Russo’s sensibilities and pushing The Avengers into complexities not seen before, Captain America: Civil War also marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42) and the high-school web-slinging Spider-Man (Tom Holland, In the Heart of the Sea) who rob scenes from their fellow costumed performers, leaving viewers yearning for more.  In addition, while Brühl compliments the film with his calculated presence, his antagonists motivations feel generally contrived and one-dimensional in a film that otherwise burns brightly.  Arguably containing Marvel’s most exciting battle sequence to date that finds the divided Avengers dueling on an airport tarmac and Ant-Man growing to mammoth heights, Captain America: Civil War will leave audiences anything but split on its outcome.  Terrifically paced and infectiously entertaining, Marvel’s juggernaut threequel lives up to expectations and emerges as one of their best efforts yet!

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Captain America: Civil War with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Stunning in every frame, skin tones are naturally balanced while saturation is exceptionally handled.  Colors are sharp and exacting with the ever-changing locations of the sunny Lagos to the snowy Siberian climax beautifully relayed.  Crisp and devoid of imperfections, Marvel’s latest looks showstoppingly strong.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible while, Cap’s metallic sounding shield, missile blasts and building explosions rock the track in all the right ways.  Furthermore, hand-to-hand combat, street ambiance and high-speed car chases are equally prioritized, offering the mix a universally balanced and reference quality presentation.  Wonderfully packed, special features include, An Audio Commentary with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and Screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, United We Stand, Divided We Fall - The Making of Captain America Civil War Part 1 (22:25) and Part 2 (23:18) expertly covers the development and cinematic arc of the character with interviews from key Marvel talent and behind the scenes footage.  In addition, Captain America: The Road to Civil War (4:11) and Iron Man: The Road to Civil War (4:27) chart the unique paths and emotional challenges each character has gone through leading up to the 2016 sequel while, Open Your Mind: Marvel’s Doctor Strange - Exclusive Sneak Peek (4:02), Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52) and a Gag Reel (2:53) are also included.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Doctor Strange (2:03), an Audi Promo for Captain America: Civil War (2:10) and Marvel Contest of Champions (0:32) are joined by a Digital HD code.

    Earning over $1 billion at the worldwide box-office, Captain America: Civil War is the latest of Marvel’s laborious universe stretching achievements that also ranks as one of its greatest.  An expansion to the universally hailed Winter Soldier storyline that delivers where Age of Ultron fell short, Team Cap’s battle with Team Iron Man is emotionally tested and rollercoastingly intense with a star-studded cast of fan favorite heroes and colorful newcomers on hand for the battle of the century.  Continuing the ascension of Marvel’s commitment to quality and popcorn bursting entertainment, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers the superhero blockbuster with quintessential technical grades and a superior assortment of bonus features worthy of investigation.  While its heroes may be left divided, Captain America: Civil War will surely unite fans with its spectacle and edge of your seat spirit. 

    RATING: 5/5                      

    Available September 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Captain America: Civil War can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Return of Godzilla (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Return of Godzilla (1984)

    Director: Koji Hashimoto

    Starring: Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yosuke Natsuki, Keiju Kobayashi, Shin Takuma & Kenpachiro Satsuma

    Released by: Kraken Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A direct sequel to the original Japanese classic, The Return of Godzilla finds the gargantuan monster awakening following a volcanic eruption on Daikoku Island.  With a local sea vessel left destroyed and only one surviving mate, a young Tokyo reporter, joined by a brilliant professor and his assistant’s technological advancements, seek to stop the destructive beast before nuclear means bring an end to the attacked country.  

    Following flailing box-office returns and decreased interest in their once treasured franchise, Toho would seek to rejuvenate their nuclear powered star after nearly a decade of hibernation and false starts.  Excluding any monster-sized costars and recapturing the darker tone of its originator, The Return of Godzilla is a powerhouse redemption that makes the titular character once again a menacing force to be reckoned with under a clout of anti-nuclear sublimation, heightened by the real world fears of Cold War armageddon.  Awarded an increased budget and a higher stature for Godzilla than ever before, the long-awaited sequel impresses with detailed miniature sets of the bustling metropolis, a robotically controlled and emotionally prevalent head for its monster, and franchise veteran Kenpachiro Satsuma (Godzilla VS. Hedorah, Godzilla VS. Biollante) bringing destructive grace to the character under its rubber suit.  After Godzilla’s return is quietly downplayed by the government and an attacked Soviet submarine increases tension between the region and the United States, the truth of Japan’s ultimate destructor can no longer be contained.  As diplomats and the military scramble to combat expected attacks from the monster, local reporter Goro Maki (Tanaka), Godzilla survivor Hiroshi Okumura (Takuma), his sister Naoko (Sawaguchi) and the noted Professor Hayashida (Natsuki) develop an experimental homing device to lure the beast away from civilization.  As other nations gear up for defense, a destructive Soviet missile is accidentally launched creating further chaos and increased energy for the battered Godzilla.  Skyline rampages and explosive wreckage ensues before the civilians succeed in luring the King of the Monsters to the actively volcanic Mt. Mihara  in hopes of a fatal eruption.

    While the bulk of its runtime is regulated to governmental squabbling and laboratory developments to thwart the beast, The Return of Godzilla makes the wait well worth it with an entertainingly catastrophic third act that pits Godzilla against the armored fortress known as Super X that temporarily defuses the enemy with cadmium shells.  Earning Japan’s Academy Award for Special Effects, The Return of Godzilla would prove moderately successful for the studio with overseas versions, namely New World Pictures’ Americanized Godzilla 1985 effort, making controversial changes and drifting away from its intendedly darker approach.  Regardless of its preferred viewing form (presented here only in its uncut original incarnation), The Return of Godzilla succeeds in diminishing the colorful hero of sorts the character evolved into and reverting the beast and the franchise back to its gloomier roots of nuclear devastation.

    Kraken Releasing presents The Return of Godzilla with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Repurposing the master utilized on its Japanese counterpart, quality appears relatively dated and lacking sharpness in skin tones while, select costume choices featuring bolder colors pop appropriately.  While no severe age-related scratches or scuffs are on hand, black levels are serviceable yet, suffer from inherent graininess.  Although not quite as desirably crisp as hoped for, The Return of Godzilla looks as good as to be expected.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the Japanese dialect, joined by English subtitles (including burned-in captions applied over occasional non-Japanese dialogue), is satisfactory while missile blasts, building destruction and Godzilla’s iconic roar suffer from lackluster pushes on the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English mix has also been included.  Unfortunately minimal, bonus features include, a Theatrical Promo (3:03) and an Also Available from Kraken Releasing section featuring trailers for Ebirah - Horror of the Deep (2:16), Godzilla VS. Gigan (2:11) and Godzilla VS. Hedorah (2:09).

    Anxiously awaited although hardly definitive with the legally convoluted Godzilla 1985 cut notably absent, The Return of Godzilla, presented in its original uncut Japanese glory, ranks as one of the series’ best offerings that channels the original film’s anti-nuclear message and returns the radioactive breathing monster back to his villainous standing.  Continuing their domestic releases of the Godzilla franchise, Kraken Releasing welcomes the 1984 sequel with serviceable grades that while imperfect, will leave fans satisfied enough to fill the void in their monster collections with.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 13th from Kraken Releasing, The Return of Godzilla can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Jungle Book (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Jungle Book (2016)

    Director: Jon Favreau

    Starring: Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken & Neel Sethi

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the timeless tale, The Jungle Book centers on young Mowgli (Neel Sethi in his film debut), a man-cub raised by wolves, as he embarks on an adventure of self-discovery where great danger and unexpected friends lie.  Featuring the talented voice work of Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Ben Kingsley (The Walk), Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Giancarlo Esposito (Once Upon a Time) and Christopher Walken (Hairspray), Jon Favreau (Iron Man) directs this modern adaptation.

    Seamlessly blending the magical whimsy of Walt Disney’s animated classic with cutting-edge visual effects, Director Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s masterwork balances emotional gravity and awe-inspiring moments of marvel for a mesmerizingly audacious experience.  Scripted by Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li), The Jungle Book remains true to the spirit of its cinematic predecessors while, injecting more of its source material back into its finished product.  Raised by wolves in the Indian jungles, man-cub Mowgli struggles to keep up with the daily challenges of his adopted family.  Plagued by a dry spell, the animals of the jungle congregate at a peaceful drinking location where the feared and severely scarred tiger Shere Khan (Elba) voices his animosity and desire to kill Mowgli.  After much deliberation, the young man-cub solely decides to leave his family for their own safety with assistance from the trusted panther Bagheera (Kingsley).  Journeying to the nearby village, Shere Khan strikes, separating the two and leaving the child to navigate exotic depths of the jungle unknown to him.  Following a near-death encounter with a hypnotic python, Mowgli is rescued by the lovably lazy bear Baloo (Murray), forging a new friendship built on ingenuity and honey consumption.  After reuniting with his former protector Bagheera and news of tragedy is reported, Mowgli overcomes a labyrinth of monkeys and their royal King Louie (Walken) to face his destiny back in the only home he knows.

    Retaining the beloved musical tunes of Terry Gilkyson and the Sherman Brothers, The Jungle Book guides viewers through a computer-generated realm of unbelievable reality populated with photorealistic animals that break new ground in movie magic wizardry.  Stunningly realized by a voice cast of Hollywood’s finest including, the pitch-perfect Bill Murray as Baloo and the briefly seen yet, wholly impactful Scarlett Johansson as the seductively sneaky Kaa, newcomer Neel Sethi brings a youthful energy and wide-ranging charisma to his role as the film’s only central human character.  Epically conceived and pushing the boundaries of adventure to new heights, The Jungle Book delivers far more than the bare necessities, ensuring a heartwarming and intensely packed avenue of escapism for all ages.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Jungle Book with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Flawless in every aspect, the lush greenery of the jungle to its more rainy and overcast skies read with exceptional clarity.  Meanwhile, Mowgli’s skin tone breathes with natural ease while, scars and the delicacy of all animal furs appear with impressive detail.  Finally, black levels found in Bagheera’s coat and King Louie’s dilapidated kingdom are exquisitely inky and deep making Disney’s latest transfer yet another mark of visual perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is solidly relayed with the natural ambiance of a jungle setting nicely supported.  In addition, John Debney’s (Sin City, Iron Man 2) score packs immersive depth while, animal roars, bass heavy stampedes and of course, Murray and Walken’s renditions of “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You”   making reference quality statements.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau that is both highly informative and passionate, The Jungle Book Reimagined (35:02) presents a roundtable discussion with Director Jon Favreau, Producer Brigham Taylor and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato on the long, rewarding process of making the film, I Am Mowgli (8:18) explores the charming qualities that earned newcomer Neel Sethi his role in the film and his unique interactions working on an imagined set while, King Louie’s Temple: Layer by Layer (3:14) presents a nicely edited rendition of “I Wan’na Be Like You” juxtaposing from Walken’s recording, the computer-generated developments of the sequence and John Debney’s conduction of the music.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43) and Zootopia (1:37) are included alongside a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    A visual splendor from start to finish, The Jungle Book continues Disney’s long, storied tradition of timeless tales and breathtaking adventure.  Achieved through dazzling technological advances, Director Jon Favreau’s modern rendition honors its animated forefather with the utmost respect while, pushing cinematic boundaries that Walt Disney himself would be impressed by.  Serving its feature rightly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers a pristine high-definition experience with a delightful dose of supplements including, a highly enjoyable commentary with Favreau that will leave viewers swinging from the trees in excitement.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 30th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Jungle Book can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Midnight Run (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Midnight Run (1988)

    Director: Martin Brest

    Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina & Joe Pantoliano

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After embezzling millions from the mob to donate to charity, sensitive accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin, Beethoven) skips bail and becomes a moving target for his former employers.  When the financial opportunity of a lifetime arises, Midnight Run finds ex-cop turned bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro, Goodfellas) jumping to haul The Duke cross-country back to Los Angeles for a $100,000 payday.  Pursued by both the FBI and the mob, Jack and Jonathan find themselves working together throughout their hilarious adventure to stay alive.  Yaphet Kotto (The Running Man), John Ashton (Beverly Hills Cop), Dennis Farina (Get Shorty) and Joe Pantoliano (Memento) co-star.

    A hilarious road trip that takes thrilling turns and action-packed shifts, Midnight Run boasts one of the decade’s most unexpectedly funny and brilliantly matched casting combinations with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro blending laughs with his valued tough-guy persona and the wildly underrated Charles Grodin’s subtle gentleness and dry demeanor both collectively earning the comedy its true payoff.  Earning a living as a skilled bounty hunter, former Chicago cop Jack Walsh hopes to leave the business behind for good after securing and safely delivering white-collar criminal Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas for a handsome six-figures.  Uncomfortable with his standing as an unbeknownst employee of the mafia, Jonathan embezzles $15 million from mob kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Farina) and nobly donates the funds to charity.  Rightly fearing for his life while the FBI is determined to have The Duke testify against Serrano, Jack hightails it to New York to bring his bounty back west which proves easier said than done.  Comically clashing from their introduction, Jack grows disgruntled with Jonathan by the second after the latter’s fear of flying derails their quick getaway to Los Angeles.  Through trains, automobiles, grand theft auto and dwindling cash, the two polar opposites can’t catch a break as Serrano’s men, the feds and an opposing bounty hunter (Ashton) who continuously falls for Jack’s false kindness close in on them.  From one misadventure to the next, Jonathan’s attempts to get to know his cold companion are typically met with knee-snappingly profane responses before an expected friendly bromance that will save their necks kicks in.

    Boldly casting the lesser known Grodin over prominent funnyman Robin Williams, Producer/Director Martin Brest’s (Scent of a Woman) instincts wisely paid off as the improvisational spirit and inherent chemistry with co-star De Niro is what makes the film a comedy standout.  Excellently juxtaposed with high-speed chases, intense shootouts and perfectly cast supporting turns from veteran character actors, Midnight Run continues Brest’s flawless handling of action and humor following the wild success of the original Beverly Hills Cop.  A modest hit that would continue the further exploits of Jack Walsh with three TV movie sequels starring Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore) in the De Niro role, Midnight Run is a flawless romp bursting with hysterical energy and excellently crafted characters that annoy, enlighten and rescue one another, much to the endless enjoyment of backseat viewers along for one of the era’s most undervalued rides.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Shout Select presents Midnight Run with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing strongly organic with natural grain firmly intact, skin tones are quite pleasing with admirable detail while, the textures of Jack’s leather jacket are well presented.  Sunny rural exteriors are lush with black levels containing evidence of speckling that seeps its way into other various sequences.  Commonly spotted in striped clothing or dimly lit moments, the aforementioned speckling may not be deal breaking yet, makes its presence known with varying degrees of intrusion.  Thankfully free of any scratches or scuffs, Midnight Run makes a solidly definitive leap to domestic high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, effects work and Composer Danny Elfman’s (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman) excellent score arrive with sharp clarity and robust range.  An equally pleasing optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Granted Collector’s Edition treatment, special features are headlined with a newly recorded Interview with Robert De Niro (8:51).  Although brief and overly reliant on voiceover narration, De Niro speaks highly of working with Brest who he wishes would produce more features and praises Grodin’s comedic abilities with warm memories all around for the film.  Meanwhile, We Got the Duke: An Interview with Actor Charles Gordin (12:24), Moscone Bail Bonds: An Interview with Actor Joe Pantoliano (14:19), Hey Marvin!: An Interview with Actor John Aston (17:23) and I’m Mosely!: An Audio Interview with Actor Yaphet Kotto (7:36) have all been ported over from Second Sight’s international release.  Lastly, Midnight Writer: An Interview with Screenwriter George Gallo (24:43), a Vintage Making-Of Featurette (7:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:12) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s impressive supplemental offerings.

    Ballooning into a bonafide cult favorite, Midnight Run is the vehicle that fully embraced De Niro’s  comedic diversity while his superb chemistry with the understatedly hilarious Grodin makes the film a cross-country adventure classic.  Making significant improvements over foreign releases, Shout Select’s 2K scan is top-tier with previously available but, nonetheless excellent bonus features ported over on top of a very special new De Niro interview capping this Collector’s Edition on a strong note.  With a tough bounty hunter and a sensitive criminal as your co-passengers on this odyssey of thrills and laughter, Midnight Run is simply the best ride to catch!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Midnight Run can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Nice Guys (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Nice Guys (2016)

    Director: Shane Black

    Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David & Kim Basinger

    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the City of Angels circa 1977, The Nice Guys centers on alcoholic private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive) and Irish Brooklyn brute enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind) as they team up to locate a highly desired missing girl.  Simultaneously juggling the unrelated death of a foxy porn starlet, the conflicting pair uncover a ring of conspiracy far beyond what they expected.  Angourie Rice (Walking with Dinosaurs 3D), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers), Keith David (The Thing) and Kim Basinger (Batman) co-star.

    Developed and failing to drum up interest in 2001, Co-Screenwriter/Director Shane Black’s (Iron Man 3) throwback to pulpy neo-noirs and hard-nosed buddy comedies gestated in earnest with the double barrel casting blasts of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling pushing the cinematic case through.  Capturing the time and place of the hardy-partying 70s with ease, The Nice Guys finds private investigator Holland March hired by the elderly Mrs. Glenn to locate her recently deceased porn star niece who she firmly believes is still alive.  Identifying an Amelia Kutner (Qualley) as a person of interest, hired tough guy Jackson Healy is paid by the woman in question to rough Holland up to keep her whereabouts unknown.  Shortly after meeting on unpleasantly physical terms, Jackson and Holland find themselves in the crosshairs of several thugs also looking for Amelia, prompting the two to join forces to crack the case they are now embroiled in.  Aided by Holland’s resourceful teenage daughter Holly (Rice), the investigative duo connect Amelia, the murdered centerfold and an experimental film with a political agenda regarding Los Angeles’ increasing smog problem to an intricate web of conspiracy with potential ties to the United States Department of Justice and the mob.  

    Comedically charged and consummately character driven, The Nice Guys is a refreshing reminder of Hollywood filmmaking that is all but extinct.  True to its tone and era without ever dependent on its nostalgia for the past, Black’s love letter to underdog private eyes in way over their heads is amusingly witty and action-packed when it needs to be with the smoggy streets of Los Angeles, host to flashy lights, iconic digs like The Comedy Store and billboards promoting Jaws 2 and the such, making the city a star in its own right.  Unabashedly drunk throughout and yelping like a girl at the sound of gunshots, Gosling’s eccentric performance as “the world’s worst detective” matches perfectly with Crowe’s dry man approach who lets his fists do most of the talking.  In addition, supporting turns from workaholic character actor Keith David as a senior ruffian and the forever gorgeous Kim Basinger as Amelia’s concerned and suspected mother bring added class to the funky feature.  Packing several twists along the way, The Nice Guys makes the strong case that blockbusters mustn’t always be tremendous in scale to make the proper impact with moviegoers.  Playing in the sandbox of multiple genres, Black’s period piece takes it to the max with a snappy screenplay and delightfully fun performances that stay contagiously cool from beginning to end.

    Warner Bros. presents The Nice Guys with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Beautifully relaying the occasionally soft lighting palette of L.A. with gorgeous color reproduction in pastel costume choices and lavish neon lights during a memorable nighttime house party, The Nice Guys presents skin tones and facial details including, wrinkles and five o’clock shadows with the utmost clarity.  Lastly, black levels are solidly inky leaving no room for error in this sharply handled transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisp while, more action-geared moments of gunfire, screeching cars, revving motors and a party rendition of Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It” deliver knockout punches.  Unfortunately limited, special features include, the paint by numbers EPK Always Bet on Black (5:27) and Worst. Detectives. Ever. Making The Nice Guys (6:16) that explores the lengthy road to production for the film, its countless evolutions and character tweaks.  Finally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included with the package. 

    Celebrating the era where private dicks soared and genres were enjoyably blurred with little contemplation, The Nice Guys honors the best of both worlds with the casting combination of Crowe and Gosling earning their comedy team badges and Black’s cinematic prowess once again on its A game.  While the lack of supplements are disappointing and desperately in need of a writer/director commentary, Warner Bros.’ high-definition treatment flies and lights up the screen in style.  Can you dig it?

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Bros., The Nice Guys can be purchased via WBShop.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.

  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

    Director: W.D. Richter

    Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Smith & Ronald Lacey

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A cocktail of genre mashups, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension stars Peter Weller (RoboCop) as the titular, jack of all trades hero who dabbles in neurosurgery while, fronting a popular rock band and saves the world for kicks.  After his breakthrough matter traveling device, the Oscillation Overthruster, is sought after by a threatening squad of aliens, Banzai and his pals seek to protect humanity from the wrath of their thick-accented leader Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow, Raising Cain).  

    Bodaciously bizarre and quirky as can be, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cinematic odyssey of science fiction insanity coupled with rock n’ roll style and madcap extravagance.  After the exceedingly cool and brilliant Buckaroo Banzai breaks the sound barrier and travels through solid matter to return with an alien organism in tow, the enviously unhinged and incarcerated Dr. Emilio Lizardo, whose failed experiment into the 8th dimension from years past, caused his mind to be consumed by the wicked Lord John Whorfin prompts the physicist to spring himself from the looney bin to snatch Banzai’s working invention.  As leader of the martian-esque Red Lectroids who operate under human disguises, Whorfin seeks to overthrow their nemeses, the Black Lectroids, reclaim their home Planet 10 and annihilate Earth.  Respected for his brains and beloved for his rockin’ six-string skills, global hero Buckaroo Banzai, joined by his loyal comrades The Hong Kong Cavaliers and a peaceful Black Lectroid with Jamaican flavor, stand in Whorfin’s path of inter-dimensional dominance.  After falling for his former flame’s twin sister, Whorfin’s abduction of the blonde barfly makes Banzai’s protection of the great state of New Jersey and the rest of the planet extremely personal and chaotically action-packed.

    An otherworldly product of its time, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension abolishes standard categorization, thriving on its unusual tone, skyrocketingly over the top performances and colorfully cooky inclusions of space aliens, scientific jargon and Star Peter Weller successfully pulling off blindingly red framed eyeglasses and bowties in his mission to save mankind.  Further complimented by appearances from Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) as Banzai’s piano playing lieutenant and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) hamming it up in a cowboy outfit, the film’s villainous trio including, the brilliant John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Vincent Schiavelli (Batman Returns) are a trifecta of planet invading fun.  While the film appropriately arrives with no adherence to any one genre, Banzai’s head over heels interest in his late wife’s literal doppelgänger (Ellen Barkin, Sea of Love) and determination to rescue her feels forced and largely underdeveloped.  Promising a sequel that would never come to pass, a scatterbrained marketing campaign and a difficult to peg plot left the eccentric effort lost at the box-office.  With repeat viewings sometimes necessary to fully embrace its full absurdity, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension would rightfully explode into the cult charmer that it is.  Tuned with a dizzyingly catchy synth score from Composer Michael Boddicker (Get Crazy), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is understatedly unlike most pictures.  Akin to a wild and crazy improvisational guitar solo, this little bit of everything feature easily ranks as one of the 80s most bonkers times put to celluloid.

    Shout Select presents The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Looking notably clean and absent of age-related damage, skin tones are exceptionally natural and well-detailed while, bold and softer colors alike burst in every frame.  In addition, black levels boast welcome inkiness with beautiful natural film grain apparent throughout.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is crisp and easily heard while, Banzai’s brief rock club gig and Composer Michael Boddicker’s equally satisfying score shake things up nicely.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Kicking off the Blu-ray disc, supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Director W.D. Richter & Writer Earl Mac Rauch plus, a second Audio Commentary with Michael & Denise Okuda.  Unquestionably, the true gem of the release is the newly produced Into the 8th Dimension (2:08:16).  This exhaustive eight part featurette covers the origins, visual effects, casting, design work and many other aspects of the film and its lukewarm release before its acceptance as a cult classic.  With insight from Director W.D. Richter, Producer Neil Canton, Stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Composer Michael Boddicker and countless others, this first-rate achievement from Producer Brian Ward is the holy grail for Buckaroo devotees.  

    Presented in standard definition on its DVD counterpart, additional special features consist of the vintage making-of featurette Buckaroo Banzai Declassified (22:41), an Alternate Opening (7:12), 14 Deleted Scenes (14:11), the New Jet Car Trailer (2:25) and the Theatrical Trailer (1:17).  Lastly, in addition to Paul Shipper’s top-notch new design work, the Reversible Cover Art hosts the film’s original 1-sheet imagery.

    Fun, flashy and enjoyably insane, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension has always been an acquired taste for many, leaving others perplexed by its inter dimensional zaniness.  A one of a kind original, W.D. Richter’s sole directorial effort concocts a sloppy joe of genre touches with an eclectic cast having the time of their lives facing off against reptilian spacemen with oddball tech, ingenuity and the power of rock n’ roll as their tools of defense.  For the inaugural release of Shout! Factory’s film fan driven Shout Select line, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension Collector’s Edition blasts to soaring heights with its virtually flawless presentation and jaw-droppingly impressive special features that have raised the bar in terms of fan service and definitive documentation.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 16th from Shout Select, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Deadly Trackers (1973) Blu-ray Review

    The Deadly Trackers (1973)

    Director: Barry Shear

    Starring: Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand & William Smith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After his wife and child are murdered, The Deadly Trackers finds orderly Sheriff Kilpatrick (Richard Harris, Unforgiven) seeking vengeance on the ruthless Frank Brand (Rod Taylor, The Birds) and his trio of thugs.  Tossing jurisdiction to the side, Kilpatrick continues his pursuit into Mexico where the only law the matters is his own.  Al Lettieri (The Godfather), Neville Brand (Eaten Alive) and William Smith (The Mean Season) co-star.

    In what began as a Sam Fuller directed adaptation of his own novel, The Deadly Trackers would ultimately halt production only to return under the watchful eye of Director Barry Shear (Across 110th Street).  Protecting his community of Santa Rosa with the highest regard for the law and a responsible stance on firearms, Irish Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick’s world quickly shatters when a bank robbery explodes into a deadly storm of slaughter leaving his wife murdered and young son trampled to death by horses.  Altered in the blink of an eye, Kilpatrick’s former-self is abolished as his vengeance-fueled pursuit of the criminal quartet leads him into Mexico.  Led by the dastardly Frank Brand in an effectively against type performance by Taylor, the ruthless baddie is assisted by lazy-eyed Schoolboy (Smith), iron handed Choo Choo (Brand) and the eloquent Jacob (Paul Benjamin, Some Kind of Hero) whose race finds him consistently scorned by Brand.  Sidetracked by a law-abiding Federali (Lettieri), Kilpatrick’s rogue journey through the Mexican land finds himself in custody and nearly hanged, only to escape and continue his relentless chase.  Harris delivers a powerful turn as a man with nothing left to lose who suffers physically and emotionally to invoke his own personal justice.  Although never overwhelming and far more suggestive than presented, The Deadly Trackers’ violence of slit throats, point-blank head shots and children in peril make suspenseful sequences all the more tense.  Constantly at odds and resulting in several tussles with his on-off again Mexican sheriff ally, Kilpatrick, virtually blind from a near-fatal gunshot, traces his foe to a convent where Brand’s young daughter is being raised, allowing for an emotionally humanizing sequence between the film’s unforgiving antagonist and his half-Mexican daughter.  Demanding what it means to be a hero and at what cost vengeance must come, The Deadly Trackers is a heart-pounding western, boasting sterling performances from both its leads and Mexican standoff levels of suspense.                           

    Warner Archive presents The Deadly Trackers with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously filmic, the grand vistas of the western environment are sharply presented while, the grassy fields during the Mexican sequences are notably vibrant.  Impressing with natural skin tones that strongly detail perspiration and facial hair, only a blemish or two are spotted on this virtually immaculate transfer that transports viewers to the film’s scorching climate while crisply capturing stark levels of bloodshed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is handsomely relayed with no hiss or pops detected while, the uncredited Fred Steiner’s (Gunsmoke) poignant score and unloading sounds of ammunition all make stirring impacts.  Unfortunately scant, the sole special feature included is the film’s Trailer (2:45).

    Largely underrated, The Deadly Trackers is a simple story of revenge carried out by a small-town sheriff.  Packed with ample levels of emotion and suspense, Harris and Taylor are spectacularly cast as adversaries with the latter’s performance as badman Brand being of particular note.  Ever diverse, the inclusion of this largely neglected western into Warner Archive’s impressive catalog is treated with expected quality and care that will greatly satisfy movie lovers.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available July 26th from Warner Archive, The Deadly Trackers can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Two-Minute Warning (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Two-Minute Warning (1976)

    Director: Larry Peerce

    Starring: Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Baslam, Beau Bridges, Marilyn Hassett, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Walter Pidgeon & Gena Rowlands

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set during the biggest professional football game of the season, Two-Minute Warning finds a crazed gunman perched atop the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as he plots a murder spree across the sold out arena.  Determined to end the reign of terror before it begins, Captain Peter Holly (Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes) leads a tense mission with the responding SWAT team to protect the 91,000 potential victims.  

    Based on the novel by George LaFountaine, Two-Minute Warning joins the ranks of other disaster based epics from the decade where quiet, lone assailants struck fear into the hearts of its ensemble cast.  Juxtaposing between the unsettling viewpoint of the mysterious sniper and the journey to his next elaborate target, Two-Minute Warning bounces around several different groups of personalities ranging from Police Captain Peter Holly, a quarreling middle-aged couple (David Janssen, The Fugitive and Gena Rowlands, The Skeleton Key), a nervous gambler (Jack Klugman, The Odd Couple) and a clergyman (Mitchell Ryan, Dharma & Greg), a family of four headed by Mike (Beau Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) and Peggy (Pamela Bellwood, Dynasty) Ramsay, a pair of pickpockets (Walter Pidegon, Mrs. Miniver and Julie Bridges, Bitter Heritage) among others, all of whom are connected by the championship football match between Los Angeles and Baltimore.  Patiently biting his time in an arena packed with thousands of innocent lives including, several politicians, the gunman is spotted by television cameras before Captain Holly is called into action alongside the trigger-itchy SWAT team, led by Sergeant Chris Brown (John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby).  Attempting to thwart the sniper’s actions, difficulties arise when the motiveless madman realize he’s been had, igniting a deadly showdown during the game’s fleeting moments.

    Boasting an undeniably awesome cast of thespians that defined pictures of this caliber, Two-Minute Warning kicks off intensely enough as our antagonist target practices on an unsuspecting biker before a long, although quite enjoyable, introduction to the film’s many supporting players ensues.  Stadium filled with star power, Two-Minute Warning unfortunately comes up short developing the characters as strongly as desired while, suspense can run dry as the uniformed, Ray-Ban wearing heroes prepare for the worst which doesn’t come until, you guessed it, the game’s final moments.  Thankfully, the SWAT team’s cover being blown results in a pandemonium-filled spree of gunfire causing the hysterical crowd to charge the field and elbow anyone within reach.  As bleak as realities own headlines, Two-Minute Warning refuses to supply any answers for the killer’s motives leaving the wounded warriors triumphant if not, bewildered by the insanity.  A decently-sliced serving of terroristic thrills with Merv Griffin showing up to sing the National Anthem, Two-Minute Warning entertains in waves with star and future NRA President Charlton Heston’s appearance as a skeptical gun-use police captain being oh so charmingly ironic.

    Shout! Factory presents Two-Minute Warning with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing lusciously filmic, skin tones are consistently natural with strong detail admired in closeups while, bolder colors found in the film’s surprising levels of bloodshed and the football players uniforms popping sharply with only very fleeting instances of dust and debris noticed throughout.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed with ease as the roar of the Los Angeles crowd and the powerful blasts from the sniper’s firearm provide admirable boosts in reach.  Special features include, the Television Broadcast Version (2:21:28).  Although sworn off by its director, this alternate version, presented in standard definition, is noticeably lengthier and devises an alternate subplot revolving around an art theft.  In addition, an extensive, newly recorded Interview with Director Larry Peerce (25:35), Radio Spots (2:53), the Theatrical Trailer (1:46) and a Photo Gallery (4:52) round out the disc’s supplements.  Furthermore, while advertised with a new Audio Commentary with Director Larry Peerce, the release does not in fact include one.  

    A fine inclusion into the popular disaster epics predominately produced by Universal Studios during the 70s, Two-Minute Warning is a tense, slightly underdeveloped thrill ride that props itself up with a memorable cast whose appearances more than make up for its slow build.  Rescued from the vaults, Shout! Factory awards fans with a sharp transfer and a commendable selection of bonus features including, the never before available television broadcast version of the film for completists.  With so little time to think, Two-Minute Warning might be the only warning you’ll have to experience disastertainment, vintage style!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 28th from Shout! Factory, Two-Minute Warning can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Jeepers Creepers (2001) / Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) Collector's Editions Blu-ray Reviews

    Jeepers Creepers (2001) / Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

    Director: Victor Salva

    Starring: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck & Eileen Brennan / Ray Wise, Jonathan Breck, Eric Nenninger, Nicki Aycox & Luke Edwards 

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Knowing precisely what’s eating horror fans, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents the definitive home video releases of Director Victor Salva’s (Powder) modern monster features!  In Jeepers Creepers, siblings Trish (Gina Philips, Chained) and Darry (Justin Long, Tusk) are nearly ran off a desolate highway road only to later investigate what they believe are bodies being disposed of down a sewer pipe.  Literally biting off more than they can chew, the terrified teens find themselves targeted by a mysterious monster with a scent for fear.  Next up, Jeepers Creepers 2 centers on a broken down school bus transporting a team of high school athletes who have just become the Creeper’s newest course of flesh.  Testing their fears and own loyalty to one another, the team must stick together in order to survive the final night of the monster’s feeding cycle.   

    Debuting at the tail end of the waining slasher movie cycle, Jeepers Creepers is a consummately constructed ode to the monster movies of yesteryear with an antagonist that appropriately remains shrouded in the shadows and free of a deconstructive backstory.  Headlined by up and comers Gina Philips and Justin Long, the rural set shriekfest wisely makes the leads brother and sister in order to shatter the predictable lovers in peril scenario with the film’s focus prominently placed on their fear of what’s stalking them.  From a tense road game between the traveling teens and an eerie high-speed truck, Jeepers Creepers submerges viewers into the grim underworld of its monster as Trish and Darry foolishly investigate their attackers homestead only to discover a mausoleum of death.  Seeking salvation from the proper authorities, the unsuspecting officers are no match for what awaits them, ultimately leaving the siblings to fend for themselves.  Excellently performed by Jonathan Breck (Everybody Wants Some!!) while doused in impressive makeup design work, the mysterious otherworldly creature packs a sufficiently scary presence with only its computer-generated wingspan showing its age.  Sniffing out the desirable scent of fear, the film’s climax at a blacked-out police station welcomes several opportunities for jump scares and a tense conclusion that surprisingly doesn’t include a celebratory moment of relief for its survivors.  A box-office smash during its original release, Jeepers Creepers was a refreshing jolt of fear during a time when the genre found itself scatterbrained yet again.  Aging gracefully with a simplistic story that makes terror its central priority, Jeepers Creepers still entertains accordingly.

    Emerging two years after its predecessors instant success and downward slide following the September 11th attacks, Jeepers Creepers 2 returns to the scene with its terrorizing monster hungry for seconds.  Following the attack and abduction of his young son, Jack Taggart Sr. (Ray Wise, RoboCop), vows to take vengeance on the winged creature responsible.  Juxtaposing to the final day of the creature’s last eating cycle for the next 23 years, a school bus of athletes are stranded on a backcountry highway with jealousy, racial tension and homophobia tearing them apart.  As nightfall comes, the Creeper sets his sights on the tattered bus, sniffing out his potential victims in what proves to be the longest night of the students’ young lives.  With a larger budget and a bigger cast, Jeepers Creepers 2 follows common sequel tropes by increasing the body count and action set pieces yet, lacking the more intimate punch of its originator.  In addition, although Justin Long returns in a ghostly dream sequence warning clairvoyant cheerleader Minxie (Nicki Aycox, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead) of the doom awaiting her friends, the lack of former lead Gina Philips also returning greatly disappoints while, the current crop of characters are mostly unlikeable and almost always out for themselves.  Fortunately, the Creeper is far more high-powered in his latest outing, taking to the skies more frequently and serving up an especially fun decapitation via wing.  Restraining the cast to the enclosed school bus for the bulk of its runtime backfires as the thrills decrease with each passing minute while, Ray Wise’s revenge plot, awesomely carried out by a makeshift harpoon, arrives much later than anticipated.  Exceeding the box-office performance of the original film, Jeepers Creepers 2 proved there was more bite left in the franchise with plans for a third movie still being touted.  While the Creeper truly comes into greater form in the sequel and allows for a larger playing field for its action, Jeepers Creepers 2 ultimately lacks the tighter eeriness of its first effort.            

    Previously released in high-definition by MGM, Scream Factory presents both films with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios respectively.  With the original film bearing a new 2K scan of the interpositive, the sunny, rural exteriors appear even more lush than before while, skin tones are topnotch and black levels appear sharply inky with only fleeting instances of speckling.  Meanwhile, its sequel, presumably carrying its originally released transfer, remains equally as pleasing.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, each film makes dialogue prioritized for maximum clarity while, the films suspenseful scores and emphasis on gunshots and expected screams give tremendous rise to their designated sequences.  Furthermore, both film comes equipped with optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes as well.  

    Joining the ranks of Scream Factory’s lauded Collector’s Editions, Jeepers Creepers arrives with a new Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva and Stars Gina Philips & Justin Long plus, a vintage Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva.  Located on the original film’s second disc, Jeepers Creepers: Then and Now (36:45) is a newly recorded look back at the film, its making and continued impact with new insight from Writer/Director Victor Salva, Producer Barry Opper, Director of Photography Don FauntLeRoy, Editor Ed Marx and Actor Tom Tarantini.  Also included, From Critters to Creepers with Barry Opper (19:38) sits down with the film’s producer as he discusses his career highlights leading up to Salva’s monster movie including work on Android and the Critters franchise.  Next up, The Town Psychic with Patricia Belcher (16:34) catches up with the film’s clairvoyant character and how she landed the role while, Behind the Peepers: The Making of Jeepers Creepers (59:02) is ported over from its previous release alongside Deleted Scenes (17:13), a Photo Gallery (7:56), the Theatrical Trailer (1:54), a Radio Spot (1:00) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the film’s original 1-sheet design rounding the abundance of special features.

    Surprisingly more packed than the previous film, Jeepers Creepers 2 kicks off disc 1 with an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Victor Salva and Stars Eric Nenninger, Josh Hammon, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Marieh Delfino, Garikayi Mutambirwa & Shaun Fleming.  In addition, a second Audio Commentary with Actor Jonathan Breck, Production Illustrator Brad Parker & Special Effects Makeup Artist Brian Penikas is also included.  Located on its second disc, Jeepers Creepers 2: Then and Now (22:34) finds Writer/Director Victor Salva, Producer Barry Opper, Director of Photography Don FauntLeRoy, Editor Ed Marx and Actor Tom Tarantin returning to discuss the success of the original film and the steps to produce a sequel of equal worth.  Next up, A Father’s Revenge with Ray Wise (15:20) captures a newly recorded sit-down with Wise on his involvement in the project and his love for horror while, Don’t Get off the Bus! (20:52) finds Actors Tom Tarantini, Thom Gossom Jr. and Diane Delano also reminiscing on their experiences.  Vintage supplements ported over include, A Day in Hell: A Look at the Filming of Jeepers Creepers 2 (26:43), Light, Camera, Creeper: The Making of Jeepers Creepers 2 (14:23), Creeper Creation (11:29), Jeepers Creepers 2: The Orphanage Visual Effects Reel (5:23) and Creeper Composer (9:26) featuring interviews with Composer Bennett Salvay and Writer/Director Victor Salva.  Finally, Storyboards (5:35), Deleted Scenes (15:51), two Photo Galleries (15:37), the Theatrical Trailer (2:13) and a Reversible Cover Art sporting the original 1-sheet design concludes the extensive bonus features.

    Separating the art and scandal of its creator, Writer/Director Victor Salva’s twosome of creepy efforts gave modern audiences a new and effectively realized monster of their own.  While the original Jeepers Creepers may be imperfect in its own right, its smaller-scale and mysterious aura of its antagonist makes it the preferred feature to its bigger budgeted and increasingly tiresome sequel.  Making previously available releases virtually unneeded, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Editions are a treasure trove of high quality with their expansive special features requiring two discs to be contained.  Topped off with phenomenal new cover designs by fan-favorite artist Justin Osbourn (Phantom of the Paradise), both releases will surely fill up hungry horror fans.

    Jeepers Creepers RATING: 4/5

    Jeepers Creepers 2 RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 14th from Scream Factory, Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers 2 can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hired to Kill (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Hired to Kill (1990)

    Director(s): Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader

    Starring: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy & José Ferrer

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bursting with explosive action, Hired to Kill stars Brian Thompson (Cobra) as mercenary Frank Ryan whose latest assignment sends him into a crumbling country to locate a rebel leader.  Undercover as a flamboyant fashion designer, Thompson is aided by seven seductively dangerous female soldiers to overpower the totalitarian regime controlled by the corrupt Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed, Spasms).  George Kennedy (The Delta Force) and José Ferrer (Dune) co-star in this gun-toting spectacle co-directed by Nico Mastorakis (The Zero Boys).

    Reimagining The Magnificent Seven with women, Hired to Kill stars the poor man’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Brian Thompson as skillfully trained mercenary Frank Ryan whose weakness for money presented in leather briefcases leads him to the fictional country of Cypra where an imprisoned leader requires busting out to restore balance to his corruptly tainted homeland.  In order to operate safely, Ryan trades in his macho card for an undercover identity as a fashion designer.  Making clear of his disdain working with women, Ryan is sent into the field with seven  deadly bombshells, acting as his supermodels and his only team of soldiers.  Rubbing elbows on their mission with Cypra’s criminal mastermind Michael Bartos, Oliver Reed’s eccentric and occasionally tipsy performance as the film’s baddie, adorned by a no-nonsense handlebar mustache is pure entertainment that reaches its apex when testing Ryan’s suggested homosexuality by grabbing a handful of crotch inviting a smooch from the muscular American.  Interspersed with training montages of Ryan’s female squad, comprised of such notable names as Barbara Lee Alexander (Psycho Cop Returns), Michelle Moffett (Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans) and Jordana Capra (After Midnight), as they perfect their runway skills while sharpening their aim, Hired to Kill throws political double-crosses and fallen heroes into the mix to expectedly up the ante for its final act.  Slightly overlong with its machine gun fueled sequences growing redundant, Hired to Kill is an enjoyable toast to over the top action cinema that entertains more than its direct-to-video reputation would suggest.

    Newly restored in 4K, Arrow Video presents Hired to Kill with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking sharper than ever, detail greatly impresses in facial closeups while, skin tones are always natural and clear.  In addition, the grassy locale of the fictional country (shot on location in Greece) offers strong contrast as the film’s presentation appears free of any scuffs or scratches.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is excellently handled with zero issues in audibility.  Furthermore, sequences of heavy firepower, helicopters and explosions appropriately rattle the speakers to good measure.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Editor Barry Zeitlin, Hired to… Direct: Behind the Camera with Nico Mastorakis (27:26) where the film’s co-director and producer sits down for a lengthy discussion detailing the film’s beginnings, casting, Reed’s turbulent onset behavior and the unfortunate tragedy that resulted in the death of Stuntman Clint Carpenter.  Also included, Undercover Mercenary (17:33) features a new interview with Star Brian Thompson where the action hero recalls his early memories catching the acting bug, juggling college and securing film work and memories from the Hired to Kill shoot including an instance where Reed dropped his pants and urinated during a take.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), a Stills Gallery (7:18), the Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-Rom content), a 23-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay by James Oliver plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the extra feature offerings.

    Plastered with babes, bullets and a deliciously silly performance from Oliver Reed, Hired to Kill is precisely what one comes to expect from the ultra machismo days of action cinema.  Delivering an impressive scale of explosive anarchy for its stature, Brian Thompson brings the proper equipment to this gun show with unexpected, yet nonetheless humorous touches through his eccentric undercover identity.  Meanwhile, Arrow Video delivers a remarkable presentation for this cult loved DTV effort with an enjoyably candid spread of new bonus features that viewers will be thrilled with.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Hired to Kill can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Finest Hours (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Finest Hours (2016)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

    Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Holliday Grainer, John Ortiz & Eric Bana

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the fascinating true story, The Finest Hours retells the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history where a deadly storm threatened the lives of countless sailors aboard a sinking oil tanker.  Led by Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine, Star Trek), the determination and actions of his crew would ultimately define unparalleled heroism.  Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Ben Foster (The Program), Holliday Grainer (Jane Eyre), John Ortiz (Togetherness) and Eric Bana (Deliver Us from Evil) co-star.

    Detailing the frightening 1952 rescue mission off the coast of Cape Cod, The Finest Hours is the latest of Disney’s inspirational tales lifted from the pages of history.  In one of his best roles to date, Chris Pine stars as disciplined Coast Guard crewman Bernie Webber whose love for local beauty Miriam Pentinen (Grainer) quickly escalates to a charming engagement.  Before long, the seas are struck with a devastating storm that leaves two separate oil tankers split in two with   their crews struggling to survive.  Tasked with an impossible mission, Webber is dispatched to rescue his fellow seamen with a limited crew and only a small boat as their steed.  Juxtaposing between the crew of the sinking ship, led by the resourceful Ray Sybert (Affleck), Webber’s own confrontations with 60-foot waves and the worried citizens on shore, The Finest Hours weaves a historically accurate account that submerges viewers through its increasingly tense circumstances with effective realism.  While Pine leads the film with heavy emotion, Grainer’s chemistry with her onscreen beau is equally noteworthy.  Meanwhile, Ben Foster, alongside Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body) and John Magaro (Carol), provide powerful supporting performances as Webber’s crew mates while Eric Bana, appearing as Webber’s superior officer is largely forgettable.

    Helmed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm and Fright Night, the latter released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner), The Finest Hours may appear predictable yet, the exceptional staging of its disastrous sea sequences and uplifting finale greatly outweigh its foreseeable developments.  Theatrically released in 3D during the dead of winter, The Finest Hours would prove to be Disney’s first financial failure in a year of other box-office winners for the Mouse House.  Unfortunate and grossly unwarranted, The Finest Hours may possess shades of saccharine but ultimately triumphs as an important footnote in Coast Guard history, warmly retold with solid performances and impressive visual effects.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Finest Hours with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Cloaked in constant darkness, nighttime sequences on dry land and at sea demonstrate impressive inkiness while skin tones are beautifully handled.  Although the film’s color scheme is far from vast, details are sharply identified in wardrobe choices making for an exceptional viewing experience.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is always audible with the crashing sounds of the sea’s violent waves making tremendous impact.  Bonus features include, Against All Odds: The Bernie Webber Story (14:10) where Director Craig Gillespie, Authors Michael J. Tougias, Casey Sherman and other key talent discuss the film’s true events with footage lifted from the actual town of Chatham, Massachusetts.  In addition, Deleted Scenes (4:28), Brotherhood (1:49), a standard EPK focusing on the camaraderie amongst the male actors, Two Crews (2:02) where the unique circumstances confronted by both crews in the film are briefly detailed and What Is Your Finest Hour? (1:02) where a Coast Guard member retells their most heroic moment are also included.  Finally, The Finest Inspiration: The U.S. Coast Guard (1:42) and a Digital HD Code round out the disc’s remaining supplements.

    Disney’s commitment to real world underdog tales has paid off once again with The Finest Hours.  While its basis may appear predictable from the onset, the emotional subtext and unbelievable odds confronted by the characters gives viewers a thrilling ride that will surely increase one’s appreciation for the fearless members of the Coast Guard.  Furthermore, Disney’s high-definition release is a remarkable sight that makes up for its limited bonus features.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Dolemite (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Dolemite (1975)

    Director: D’Urville Martin

    Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Lady Reed & Jerry Jones

    Release by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Capitalizing on his comedic antics, Rudy Ray Moore (Disco Godfather) lit the blaxploitation genre on fire with his feature film debut Dolemite.  After being released from prison following a frame job, badass pimp Dolemite seeks to reclaim his hotspot club and take revenge on his nemesis Willie Green (D’Urville Martin, Sheba, Baby).  Dressed from top to bottom in the flyest outfits South Central has ever seen and aided by his squad of sexy Kung Fu trained bombshells, Dolemite is determined to take his streets back.  In what lacked in professional training, Moore easily makes up for with his hilarious charisma that comes to life through his larger than life urban superman.  In order to restore his reputation and avenge the murder of his nephew, Dolemite hits the ground running pressing local junkies and a trustworthy Reverend for information while sparing time to spit beat poetry and make sweet love to his flock of lingerie wearing beauties.  Complimented by a soundtrack of funky grooves written by Moore and performed by The Soul Rebellion Orchestra, Dolemite is never in short supply of car chases, shootouts and a climactic table turning brawl concluding with a deliciously over the top, organ ripping death cementing Dolemite’s explosive strength.  With a corrupt honkey mayor puppet mastering the city’s crimewave, Dolemite, with unexpected assistance for a smooth brother from the FBI (Jerry Jones, The Long Goodbye), brings stone cold justice to his tormentors in one of blaxploitation’s first and funniest quasi-parodies.

    Beautifully restored in 2K from the rare 35mm negative, Vinegar Syndrome presents Dolemite with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the few exceptions of mild scuffs and scratches, the film is a remarkable upgrade with an undeniable filmic appearance bursting with bold colors, handsome skin tones and solid detail in city streets and interior club dwellings.  An alternate “Boom Mic” version, presented in full screen, is also included showcasing the intrusion of filming equipment and other intendedly offscreen activity.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is well preserved with the film’s music cues and firepower effects making stronger mentions on the satisfyingly handled track.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Rudy Ray Moore Biographer Mark Jason Murray, I, Dolemite (24:01), Elijah Drenner’s (That Guy Dick Miller) newly crafted making-of doc on the feature and Lady Reed Uncut (23:14), a vintage sit-down with co-star Lady Reed on her experiences working on the film.  Furthermore, Dolemite Locations: Then and Now (1:47), a Dolemite Theatrical Trailer (2:55), The Human Tornado Theatrical Trailer (2:45), a DVD edition of the release and a Reversible Cover Art preserving the original 1-sheet artwork wraps up the supplemental offerings.  Flashy and unapologetically fun, Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive restoration of this blaxploitation favorite, joined by a loaded barrel of bonus features, proves that Dolemite is nothing short of dynomite!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Dolemite can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Invasion U.S.A. (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

    Director: Joseph Zito

    Starring: Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch & Melissa Prophet

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Confronted for the first time with terroristic chaos on American soil, the Cannon Group responds with the action-packed Invasion U.S.A.!  Co-scripted and starring Chuck Norris (Lone Wolf McQuade), the bearded martial artist appears as former CIA agent Matt Hunter, living a quiet life in the Florida swamps, wrasslin’ with gators and offering airboat rides to tourists.  When seedy Soviet agent Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch, Bad Dreams) leads an international squad of terrorists to invade the country, Matt is pulled back into the game to bring his longtime foe down.  As Rostov’s men strike fear into the hearts of citizens, authorities can’t be fully trusted leading Matt to wage a one-man war against hundreds.  Spewed from the infamous Cannon Films during the decadent 1980s, Invasion U.S.A. easily ranks as one of the most over-the-top and entertainingly absurd B-movie action pictures of the era.  Donned in denim and strapped with machine guns, Norris unloads endless rounds of ammunition into the mercenaries as the streets of Miami run rampant with race riots and unprecedented guerrilla warfare.  Other notable highlights include, Rostov slamming a cokehead’s snorting pipe through her nostril while, shooting the gonads off anyone who questions him.  Filming in an Atlanta suburb destined for demolition, a Christmastime celebrating neighborhood is impressively blown to smithereens with another soon-to-be demolished shopping mall equally destroyed by Norris’ 4x4 plowing through its walls.  Littered with bullet holes by its finale, Norris demonstrates hand to hand combat on Lynch’s face before bazooka blasting his enemy in one of the genre’s finest mic drops of all time.  Igniting a war only the 80s could offer, Invasion U.S.A. remains as insanely fun as ever and stands as one of Norris’ best in a career filled with extensive macho ridiculousness.

    Shout! Factory presents Invasion U.S.A. with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, daytime swamp sequences appear mildly soft while, skin tones read naturally with Norris’ iconic beard and Lynch’s scarred neck relayed with detailed clarity.  Excellently cleaned up with dirt and debris overwhelmingly unseen, slight speckling appears in black levels without ever compromising their overall inky appearances.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is effortlessly delivered with precision as the film’s nonstop shootouts and explosive anarchy provide room to showoff.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also provided.  Special features include, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Joseph Zito, Loose Cannons with Screenwriter James Bruner (29:04) and Cannon Carnage: The Make-Up Effects of Invasion U.S.A. (17:48) with interviews from Howard Berger, Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero.  Furthermore, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:33), TV Spot (0:31), a Still Gallery (30 in total) and a Braddock: Missing in Action III Theatrical Trailer (1:32) round out the disc’s supplemental content.

    Trading in his slasher movie card for this action bonanza, Director Joseph Zito’s (The Prowler, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) Invasion U.S.A. assaults viewers with a war on our home turf that can only be fought by the machine-gun toting bearded one.  Co-starring beloved character actor Richard Lynch, this balls to the wall effort remains a Cannon Films gem for its sheer firepower and preposterously awesome destruction.  Shout! Factory welcomes the long-anticipated cult favorite with a top-notch HD presentation and newly produced supplements sure to catch fire with fans of this fiery feature.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 15th from Shout! Factory, Invasion U.S.A. can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015) DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales (2015)

    Director(s): Michael Hegner & Martin Skov

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the pint-sized adventures of the galaxy’s finest heroes, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales is the exciting five-part mini-series centered around C-3PO and R2-D2’s many exploits.  As the gold protocol droid retells their tales to various listeners, his faithful companion is abducted by a mysterious figure prompting him to save his short, spunky friend.

    Taking place after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales finds the celebrating rebels gathering together as their dependable droids C-3PO and R2-D2 recall their many adventures dating back to the Clone Wars.  Voiced once more by Anthony Daniels, C-3PO engages listeners with the events unfolded in the prequels The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones before R2-D2 is stolen away by a hooded figure.  Struggling with his own fears, the timid droid pursues the mysterious individual in order to reclaim his closest friend while, continuing to tell more of their many escapades to anyone who will listen.  Chocked full of hilarious commentaries on the films and never shying from flinging Jar Jar Binks into space for laughs, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales coasts too closely to events fans have long been accustomed to, making unique storytelling opportunities limited.  Fortunately, an early encounter with Kanan and the Ghost crew of Star Wars Rebels makes for some of the series’ finest moments while, the final episode leading C-3PO to the planet of Geonosis and a confrontation with General Veers makes for a fun sendoff to a mini-series that may lack originality but excels as usual with comedy and delightful animation.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales digitally mastered in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Although not nearly as sharp or defined as high-definition, colors are plentiful and pop nicely while, black levels are quite respectable and lack any intrusions of crush.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is generally clear but may require increases in volume to capture their full extent.  Furthermore, Composer John Williams’ original music, along with his iconic reused themes, offer sizable boosts to the track’s limited capabilities.  Although scant, special features include Sneak Peeks (5:00) at Star Wars Rebels, Zootopia and Disney Movie Rewards.  In addition, an Exclusive Trading Card Set is included inside the packaging.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Pray for Death (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Pray for Death (1985)

    Director: Gordon Hessler

    Starring: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi & Matthew Constantine

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Longing for a better life for his family, Pray for Death finds Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi, Enter the Ninja) relocating with his wife and two children to achieve the American dream.  When their new beginning is threatened by a gang of dangerous jewel thieves, Akira must rely on his deadly ninja skills to protect his loved ones.  James Booth (Zulu), Donna Kei Benz (The Challenge), Norman Burton (The Towering Inferno), Kane Kosugi (Ninja sentai Kakurenjâ), Shane Kosugi (Nine Deaths of the Ninja) and Matthew Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) co-star.

    Released at the height of ninja fever, Pray for Death hosts skilled martial artist Sho Kosugi as he powerfully kicks his way through the decay of urban America.  After closing the door on his ninja roots that previously divided Akira and his late brother, the Japanese businessman happily agrees to relocate to Los Angeles to appease his American-born wife Aiko.  Joined by their two sons, the Saito’s stake claim in a crumbling neighborhood where their new business was previously home to shady dealings.  After a corrupt copper gets greedy and snatches a flashy Van Adda necklace for himself, mobster Mr. Newman and his associates grow understandably concerned.  Convinced Akira and his family are responsible for stealing their merchandise, efforts, courtesy of Newman’s deadly enforcer Limehouse Willie (Booth who also provided the film’s screenplay), are made to fatally punish the new residents.  Savagely running down his wife and child while, abducting his other son, Akira is forced to resurrect his roots as a ninja assassin to make the gang pay.  

    Admittedly going through the generic motions of most revenge tales and containing plenty of unintentionally hilarious performances from its thugs, Pray for Death is easily forgiven for what it lacks in originality, makes up for in action-packed combat.  Relentlessly barbaric, Limehouse Willie never bats an eyelash when taking a crowbar to an elderly man before setting him ablaze while, paying a hospital visit to a recuperating Aiko only to shred her clothes off and brutally stab her to death.  Widowed and determined to protect his children, the gloves are off as Akira crafts a new katana blade and dons a metallically intimidating getup to bring the fight to Newman and his baddies.  Oddly enough, the towering Limehouse gives the ninja much too hard a time as he punctures his leg repeatedly amongst a warehouse of creepy mannequins.  For as many ninja stars thrown, bloody fatalities are a plenty in this martial arts beatdown with slashed throats, snapped necks and for good measure, an exploding pickup truck permeating the runtime.  In addition, as the Japanese ninja restores his dignity during the intense final battle with Limehouse, Akira unloads swift nun chucking skills on his skull before sending his wife’s murderer through a spinning wood saw.  Intriguingly directed by Gordon Hessler, better known for helming such Vincent Price starrers as The Oblong Box and Cry of the Banshee, Pray for Death comes well recommended for ninja nuts who never tire of the sword-clashing excitement that was best served in the 80s.  

    Arrow Video presents Pray for Death with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a clean picture with only fleeting instances of dust on display, natural grain is firmly intact with skin tones and color choices making fine leaps in high-definition.  With the exception of reinstated uncut footage which is noticeably softer and at times grainier, black levels are acceptable with no crushing artifacts seen.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, the stereo presentation projects distinctly clear dialogue levels while, Peggy Abernathy’s reoccurring synth jam “Back to the Shadow” sounds especially solid.  In addition to the Unrated (1:38:27) and R-rated (1:34:31) versions of the film, special features include, Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja (19:05) featuring a newly shot sit-down with star Sho Kosugi, Sho Kosugi on Martial Art Forms (18:57) is a vintage interview with the leading man from 1985.  Furthermore, a Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery presenting Enter the Ninja (2:53), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41), Pray for Death (2:11) and Rage of Honor (1:35) are also included with a 23-page booklet featuring stills and an essay by James Oliver.  Finally, a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate imagery round out the supplements.

    Destroying his American dream before it was ever realized, Pray for Death would appear paint by numbers but, this revenge-fueled opus slashes its way to greater ranks thanks to its stylized martial arts sequences and gritty violence.  Arrow Video may bow its head in honor for preserving the film’s uncut presentation and supplying another batch of engaging supplemental content for one of the decade’s fast-kicking ninja highlights.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Pray for Death can be purchased via MVDB2B.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Sheba, Baby (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Director: William Girdler

    Starring: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger & Dick Merrifield

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a local mob boss threatens her father’s life and loan business, Sheba, Baby finds Chicago based private detective Sheba Shayne (Pam Grier, Coffy) returning home to Louisville to even the odds.  Joined by her father’s loyal partner, Sheba proves to the roughest thugs that her killer instincts are on par with her good looks.  Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13), D’Urville Martin (Dolemite), Rudy Challenger (Detroit 9000) and Dick Merrifield (The Hellcats) co-star.

    Returning to the Blaxploitation genre that catapulted her career, buxom beauty Pam Grier continues her reign of making jive-ass criminals pay the piper with the help of her trusty .44.  A joint production between American International Pictures and Mid-American Pictures, Sheba, Baby finds Grier trading her vigilante antics for a career as a private eye.  After returning home to Kentucky after her father is threatened to sell his business to mobsters, the tough as nails Sheba wastes little time interrogating local scumbags for information.  Using her curvy figure and sexy looks to her advantage, Sheba finds her way to crime boss Pilot (Martin) and his dimwitted cronies.  Engaged in a series of risky run-ins with her prime suspects at a local amusement park, the determined vixen never stops applying pressure, leading her to head honcho Shark (Merrifield) on his high-profile yacht.  Shootouts, water chases via jet skis and Grier’s badass attitude permeate the film until the goon population cowers in defeat.

    Continuing in the tradition of Grier’s other strong-willed roles for AIP, Sheba, Baby lacks the down and dirty edge of Coffy and Foxy Brown although, Grier’s acting abilities and action handling are never in doubt.  Helmed by notable cult director William Girdler (Abby, Grizzly) and produced by David Sheldon (Lovely But Deadly, Just Before Dawn), Sheba, Baby’s increased budget is apparent and effectively put to use in the film’s oceanic climax while, Grier’s rising star power unfortunately kept the bombshell from shedding any skin.  Advertised as “hotter ’n’ Coffy, meaner ’n’ Foxy Brown!”, Sheba, Baby may not quite live up to those expectations but, still greatly entertains with its action-packed sequences and funky tunes establishing the proper groove.  

    Arrow Video presents Sheba, Baby with a 1080p transfer struck from a new 35mm Interpositive, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Scratches and scuffs are nowhere to be seen while, skin tones appear natural and pleasing.  Sunny, exterior moments occasionally appear soft with colors found in the flashy 70s attire making striking statements.  Meanwhile, black levels are excellent with no evidence of crush in this wonderfully, filmic looking transfer.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is well supported and free of any distortion with gunfire and the film’s few music selections making strong deliveries.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Co-Screenwriter David Sheldon and Audio Commentary with Historian Patty Breen.  In addition, Sheldon Baby: An Interview with David Sheldon (15:16), Pam Grier: The AIP Years (11:54) finds Film Historian Chris Poggiali dishing the skinny on Grier’s knockout roles during her tenure at the drive-in cinema production factory.  The film’s Trailer (1:54), a Still Gallery (18 in total) and a 15-page booklet featuring an essay by Patty Breen are also joined by a Reversible Cover Art utilizing the original 1-sheet poster and a DVD edition of the release.

    Quite possibly the definitive figure of Blaxploitation, Pam Grier exudes attitude and sexiness while letting the barrel of her gun do much of the talking.  Although perfecting her craft with each new role during her formative years, Sheba, Baby lacks the grittiness of Grier’s collaborations with Director Jack Hill while, still upholding many of the entertaining tropes of its popular genre.  Admittedly not her finest outing, Arrow Video expectedly treats this cult favorite like gold with another eye-pleasing transfer and always enthralling new bonus features.  Fans of grindhouse cinema and Blaxploitation beauty Pam Grier cannot be without Sheba, Baby.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Sheba, Baby can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Ice Pirates (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Ice Pirates (1984)

    Director: Stewart Raffill

    Starring: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston & Jack Matuszak

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an intergalactic future where water is of utmost value and controlled by the evil Templars, The Ice Pirates centers on a motley crew of swashbuckling adventure seekers who dare to rebel.  Accompanied by an attractive princess, the unlikely heroes charter a mission to locate her missing father on a rumored planet engulfed with the prized resource.  Robert Urich (S.W.A.T.), Mary Crosby (Dallas), Michael D. Roberts (Rain Man), Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) and Jack Matuszak (The Goonies) comprise the ensemble cast.

    Influenced by George Lucas’ Star Wars saga and the post-apocalyptic insanity of Mad Max, The Ice Pirates protrudes its tongue into cheek for an inherently comic space adventure.  Ravaged by the villainous Templars, the future of the galaxy appears grim with water in short supply.  Led by the daring Jason (Urich) and his loyal team of pirates, the understandable thieves attempt to steal ice from the regime before crossing paths with the royal Princess Karina (Crosby).  While others evade capture, Jason and best friend Roscoe (Roberts) are sentenced to slavery where the unpleasant procedure of castration is performed before joining other high-pitched, leotard wearing prisoners.  Fortunately, the princess has other plans when she hires Jason and his soon to be reunited crew on a dangerous mission to recover her father.  From valiant sword fights to destructive droid battles and a trippy time-warp conclusion, the fate of the universe rests on the futuristic pirates discovering a mythical water planet that may or may not exist.

    Modestly successful at the box-office, The Ice Pirates adheres to the tropes of other such space epics of the era while, taking itself none too seriously much to the enjoyment of viewers.  Marking an early appearance from Ron Perlman (Hellboy) as one of Jason’s fellow cronies and one of the respected John Carradine’s (House of Frankenstein) final efforts, The Ice Pirates delivers top-notch special effects magic and enthralling production design that unashamedly caters to its over the top decade.  Packed with hilarious racial jokes and sexual innuendoes that unquestionably flew over the heads of its intended PG-rated audience, The Ice Pirates is a bonafide cult favorite that keeps its action rolling while laughing all the way to the end credits.

    Warner Archive presents The Ice Pirates with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a noticeably filmic appearance, detail is sharp with textures in costumes choices and skin tones pleasing throughout.  Colors found in the neon buttons of various space shuttles and other robotic characters pop nicely while, black levels waver from moments of satisfaction to instances of speckles and mild noise.  A healthy upgrade from previous releases, The Ice Pirates makes an impressive high-definition debut.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clean and audible with action sequences involving laser blasts, explosions and other chaos registering with a slightly restrained presence.  Meanwhile, special features include, the film’s Trailer (2:20).

    Although imperfect, The Ice Pirates is a genuinely fun and engaging exploration of 80s science fiction that aligns impressive visuals with harmless mockery of its very genre.  Warp speeding to Blu-ray for the first time ever, Warner Archive presents the cult hit with an overly pleasing presentation sure to quench the thirst of the nostalgic and first time curios.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, The Ice Pirates can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Undercover Blues (1993) Blu-ray Review

    Undercover Blues (1993)

    Director: Herbert Ross

    Starring: Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, Stanley Tucci, Larry Miller, Park Overall & Tom Arnold

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When undercover spies Jane (Kathleen Turner, Romancing the Stone) and Jeff (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie) Blue take a well-deserved vacation with their infant daughter, their exploits in espionage are not far behind.  Set in the gorgeous locale of New Orleans, Undercover Blues finds the wildly in love couple pulled back into the fold to stop Czech arms dealer, Novacek (Fiona Shaw, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).  Never ones to take their job too seriously against dangerous odds, hilarity and action ensue during the Blues’ unconventional getaway.  Stanley Tucci (Spotlight), Larry Miller (10 Things I Hate About You), Park Overall (Mississippi Burning) and Tom Arnold (True Lies) co-star.

    From Director Herbert Ross (The Sunshine Boys, Footloose), Undercover Blues matches the comically capable talents of Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid for a family-oriented spy adventure set in the romantic Jazz capital of the country.  Shortly after arriving in New Orleans for their long overdue vacation with their new baby, unsuspecting spies Jane (Turner) and Jeff (Quaid) Blue find themselves tangling with street thugs (Academy Award nominated Tucci and comedian Dave Chappelle in his first role) before local law enforcement grow suspicious of the tourists.  Summoned back into field work by their superior (Academy Award nominated Richard Jenkins, The Visitor) to retrieve experimental C-22 explosives from a villainous arms dealer, the Blues see no reason why business should interfere with pleasure.  Taking their daughter to the local zoo and enjoying fine dining while conducting their investigation, the Blues’ sarcastic demeanor and endless tussles with vengeful local criminal Muerte make for the film’s limited highlights.  Although Turner and Quaid create wonderful chemistry together and appear to be having a ball, Undercover Blues’ story is far too generic with lackluster action presented, offering little outside of the Blues’ personality quirks and hilariously unruffled reactions.  Shot on the actual streets of New Orleans, Undercover Blues failed to register with audiences during its original release but, manages to squeeze several laughs out of its otherwise bland plot.

    Olive Films presents Undercover Blues with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Culled from what appears to be a dated master, the opening credits open softly with countless instances of dirt and debris spotted.  Transitioning to the film, skin tones are moderately pleasing ranging from warmly accurate to occasionally softer appearances.  Exterior footage of New Orleans streets and wild animals at a local zoo sport pleasing boosts in color definition while, the few nighttime sequences appear free of any disrupting digital artifacts.  Although dust and speckles continue to arise throughout the runtime, instances are of little to no dilemma.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is pleasantly satisfactory with delivery always audible and crisp.  Meanwhile, jazz parades and the film’s final act involving several explosions, a getaway helicopter and gunfire provide marginal yet, pleasing quality boosts in this otherwise tame mix.  Expectedly scant, the sole special feature included is the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (1:55).

    Although lacking in originality, Undercover Blues delivers entertaining comic performances from Turner and Quaid who make the most of their New Orleans adventure with baby in tow.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Olive Films welcomes this forgotten effort with suitable audio and video specifications that should appease most viewers.  While by no means essential, Turner and Quaid’s charm and undeniable likability make Undercover Blues a curious effort.    

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Undercover Blues can be purchased via OliveFilms.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Ant-Man 3D (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Ant-Man (2015)

    Director: Peyton Reed

    Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña & Michael Douglas

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Kicking off Phase Three of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man centers on master cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, Role Models) who joins forces with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) in order to protect the secrets of his breakthrough technology from falling into villainous hands.  Equipped with Pym’s powerful shrinking suit, Scott must pull off the heist of a lifetime before those closest to him and the rest of the world suffer the consequences.  Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris), Bobby Cannavale (Win Win) and Michael Peña (End of Watch) co-star.

    Following countless years of development and fan-favorite director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) departing during pre-production in lieu of creative differences, Ant-Man was plagued with endless obstacles and more uncertainty than any other previous Marvel production.  Replaced by the unusually selected Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and additional screenplay contributions by Rudd and Adam McKay (Step Brothers, The Other Guys), Marvel’s pint-sized hero would debut strongly, albeit with minor warts, along the way.  Determined to start anew with its latest phase, Marvel’s Ant-Man brings together the heroes elderly originator (Douglas) with a later iteration of the character (Rudd) in order to pull of a challenging heist for the protection of the world.  Cracking his former mentors formula, Darren Cross (Stoll) crafts his own design of the powerful suit to become the evil Yellowjacket with plans of selling the weaponry to the familiar Hydra organization.  Aided by Pym and his daughter Hope (Lilly), Scott, turning his back on his previous lifestyle and caring only for his young daughter, dons the Ant-Man suit to recover Hank’s technology and battle the Yellowjacket on small scales with explosively large stakes.

    Considering its less than smooth road to completion, Ant-Man is an admirable addition to the Marvel Universe with the charismatically funny Rudd leading the pack.  In addition, Evangeline Lilly provides ample support as the film’s strong female lead, ensuring a more heroically-fitted role in later adventures.  Furthermore, Michael Douglas offers an excellent performance as the elder Pym with easily identifiable chemistry with Rudd and Lilly that showcases the sheer fun Douglas had with the role.  Meanwhile, Michael Peña consistently steals scenes with his comedic-timing and hilarious retellings of stories plagued with unimportant details.  Although the film’s fight sequences impress as Ant-Man and Yellowjacket battle amongst toy train sets and inside briefcases with immersive scale and exciting effects work, Darren Cross’ villainous plan feels largely clichéd with his motivations left foggy and underdeveloped.  In addition, Lang’s commitment to his daughter is sweet but, could have benefitted from a stronger push to make Scott’s journey more emotional.  While minor setbacks are apparent in its finished product, Ant-Man remains serviceably entertaining with top-notch action and charming performances that will most definitely continue to blossom in future installments.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Ant-Man with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Given the character’s scaled-down size, the film’s 3D presentation soars with immersive depth and excellent detail that makes viewers feel like they are in the action.  Not shy of injecting more popping effects work, Ant-Man’s fight sequences offer many in-your-face moments of laser blasts and Thomas the Tank Engine leaping off the screen.  Furthermore, the film’s 2D presentation is nothing short of pristine with natural skin tones, vibrantly detailed colors and wonderfully presented black levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is effortlessly projected while, the film’s score and bombastic action sequences elevate the mix to a first-rate effort.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Peyton Reed & Star Paul Rudd, the Making of An Ant-Sized Heist: A-How-to Guide (14:34) featuerette, Let’s Go the Macroverse (8:06) detailing the macro photography utilized in capturing Ant-Man’s scaled-down tale, WHIH NewsFront (9:12) hosts a series of faux news clips while, Deleted & Extended Scenes with optional commentary from Reed and Rudd (8:39), a Gag Reel (3:25) and Sneak Peeks for Avengers: Age of Ultron (1:36), Agent Carter (2:42), Ultimate Spider-Man VS. The Sinister 6 (2:15), Avengers: Ultron Revolution (2:25) and Playmation Marvel Avengers (0:32) are also included.  Finally, in addition to separate standard Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D discs, a Digital HD Code has also been provided.

    While it may fall short next to the politically charged Captain America: The Winter Solider or the breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s Ant-Man makes an enjoyable debut on a smaller scale than his Avengers brethren.  With its humor mostly hitting and its impressive effects work standing out, Ant-Man still stumbles with a case of predictable originitis and an underdeveloped antagonist.  Fearing for certain disaster following auteur Edgar Wright’s departure, Ant-Man manages to entertain where it counts with an even brighter future on the horizon.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers Marvel’s latest with glorious high-definition video quality, wildly immersive 3D and a satisfyingly booming sound mix.  Also accompanied by a suitable spread of supplements, Ant-Man infests home video with a powerful punch that Marvel enthusiasts will not swat away.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available December 8th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Ant-Man can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set before the events of the original 1977 film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a crew, each individually affected by the Galactic Empire, but determined to change things for the better.  Led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr., Scooby-Doo), the crew befriends Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray, Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures), a teenage con artist with abilities of the Force to aid them in their rebellion against The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs, Peter Pan) and the Empire.  Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice), Steve Blum (Transformers: Rescue Bots) & Tiya Sircar (The Internship) also comprise the vocal talent.  

    Capturing the excitement and thrills of George Lucas’ original saga, Star Wars Rebels finds the galaxy disrupted following the rise of the Empire.  Focusing on the earliest origins of the Rebel Alliance, a crew, led by Kanan Jarrus (Prinze Jr.), does what they can to disrupt any further damage committed by the Empire.  Circulating the galaxy aboard their starship known as the Ghost, Kanan, along with Hera (Marshall), Zeb (Blum), Sabine (Sircar) and their spunky droid Chopper, crosses paths with the orphaned Ezra Bridger (Gray) struggling to survive, before welcoming him into their motley crew.  Stealing from the Empire in order to aid civilians, the low-profile crew quickly find themselves targeted by The Inquisitor (Issacs), a soulless henchmen of the Empire tasked with hunting surviving Jedi’s.  Conflicted with keeping his Jedi status a secret while training Ezra in the ways of the Force, Kanan must confront his destiny in order to restore balance to the galaxy.  

    With iconic characters including, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda and Lando Calrissian making guest appearances, Star Wars Rebels propels Disney’s first tackling of the franchise into a hyperspace of adventure and nonstop action.  Highlighting a period of the saga never cinematically seen before, the debut season delights viewers with topnotch CG animation and well crafted tales that develop characters of continuously growing appeal.  Co-created by Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Carrie Beck, Star Wars Rebels takes the very best elements of the sci-fi phenomenon fans have come to love and developed a new chapter of weekly adventures of equal worth.  Returning viewers to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels is an animated spectacle giving audiences young and old restored hope that the Force is very much back.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars Rebels with 1080p transfers, each bearing 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  On par with Disney’s respected animated releases, Star Wars Rebels greatly impresses with vibrant colors and nicely detailed textures while, black levels remain inky and pleasing throughout.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is audible and consistent, if not slightly underwhelming.  Meanwhile, action sequences with tried and true lightsaber sound effects and starship blasts along with the show’s Williams-esque music provides suitable boosts to the soundscape.  While not quite as impactful for such an adventurous show of its ilk, the mix is more than sufficient.  Located on Disc 1, special features include, Rebels Recon (36:10) providing behind the scenes insight into several episodes of the season and Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52) and Aladdin Diamond Edition (1:19).  In addition, Disc 2’s supplements include, Rebels Recon (45:02) providing more in depth looks at the remaining episodes of the show’s debut season while, Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (4:03) gives viewers a brief look at the events hosted this past year in Anaheim, CA in this Blu-ray exclusive featurette.  Furthermore, Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22:05), Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead (7:06) and four promotional shorts - The Machine in the Ghost (3:02), Art Attack (3:02), Entanglement (3:02) and Property of Ezra Bridger (3:02) - round out the season’s bonus features.

    In Disney’s first attempts at restoring balance to the Force, Star Wars Rebels succeeds in delivering enthralling new tales centered around original characters that have quickly become fan favorites amongst Star Wars enthusiasts.  Matched with high-octane action and stellar animation, this prequel series has deservedly morphed into Disney XD’s must watch program.  Arriving with all 15 episodes of its inaugural season and a respectable batch of bonus features, Star Wars Rebels shines on Blu-ray proving the Force has indeed been awoken for the best.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) Blu-ray Review

    Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere & Toshishiro Obata

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Los Angeles, Showdown in Little Tokyo centers on muscled American detective Chris Kenner (Dolph Lundgren, Rocky IV) steeped in Eastern traditions and the way of the samurai.  When ruthless Yakuza drug lord and murderer of Kenner’s parents Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mortal Kombat) sets up operation in the local Japanese community, Kenner teams up with Valley born Japanese detective Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, The Crow) to protect gorgeous witness Minako (Tia Carrere, Wayne’s World) and bring down the narcotics ring.

    Showcasing the wildly diverse directing duties of Mark L. Lester (Roller Boogie, Class of 1984), Showdown in Little Tokyo packs equal doses of punches and laughs for a fast-paced action adventure.  Starring Dolph Lundgren as Detective Chris Kenner, the underworld of Japanese drugs and crime rings threaten the local community with the arrival of Iron Claw Yakuza leader Yoshida (Tagawa).  Following the murder of his parents by Yoshida’s blade years prior, Kenner was raised in the Japanese culture, becoming skilled in combat and weapons.  When fellow Japanese detective Johnny Murata (Lee), raised in sunny California with little to no knowledge of his culture, is teamed with Kenner, the two highly-trained martial artists are determined to see Yoshida brought to justice.  Shortly after taking control of various operations in Little Tokyo, Yoshida beheads a disloyal party girl much to the dismay of her friend and club singer Minako (Carrere).  Willing to testify against the deadly crime leader, Kenner and Murata must keep the attractive damsel protected as they wage a two man war against the overpowering drugs lords.  

    In a yin and yang role reversal with Lundgren as an American absorbed by Japanese culture and Lee as the oriental raised on MTV and California hotspots, Showdown in Little Tokyo provides a solid canvas for the two opposites to comically bounce off one another.  With the ability to leap over moving vehicles and brawl with coffee in hand, Lundgren continues the machismo of entertaining over the top action heroes while, Lee serves as the dominant comedic relief, hilariously complimenting his partner on the size of his “personal pistol”.  With the eternally beautiful Tia Carrere appearing as Kenner’s eventual love interest, Showdown in Little Tokyo offers sizable moments of heavy shootouts and a final samurai sword duel between Kenner and Yoshida in the neon lit streets of Little Tokyo.  Unquestionably silly and excellently action-packed, Showdown in Little Tokyo failed to leave a lasting impression on domestic audiences before being shunned directly to video in international territories.  With a lightning fast runtime and worthwhile laughs to be had, Showdown in Little Tokyo serves as an explosive blast of buddy cop shenanigans and a memorable comedic turn for the late Brandon Lee in one of his final roles.

    Preserving its R-rated cut, Warner Archive presents Showdown in Little Tokyo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing free of any intrusive instances of dirt or debris, colors are solid with skin tones reading naturally and warm.  With a noticeably filmic representation, the film provides excellent inky black levels with detail found in the Yakuza’s multicolored tattoos and various facial features impressing.  Continuing their dedication to quality transfers, Warner Archive delivers another effort worthy of its praise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is crystal clear while its respective score and massive moments of gunfire are adequately prioritized providing viewers with a solid listening experience.  Lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:13) is included as the sole special feature.

    Treating likeminded viewers to more cult fare, Warner Archive unexpectedly welcomes the martial-arts laughfest Showdown in Little Tokyo to Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Delivering enjoyable onscreen chemistry and explosive action, Lundgren and Lee are excellently matched as L.A. detectives thwarting a Yakuza drug leader’s plans, leaving a trail of bullets and bloodshed along the way.  Appearing in its finest presentation to date, Warner Archive provides action aficionados with this unsung effort from the director of Commando.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 21st from Warner Archive, Showdown in Little Tokyo can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Reviews

    1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) / The New Barbarians (1983) / Escape from the Bronx (1983)

    Director: Enzo G. Castellari

    Starring: Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory & Stefania Girolami / Giancarlo Prete, Fred Williamson, George Eastman, Anna Kakis & Giovanni Frezza / Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici, Timothy Brent & Antonio Sabato

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blue Underground braces viewers for three doses of post apocalyptic devastation and motorcycle street gangs, Italian style!  First up, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the no man’s land of the Bronx circa 1990 where attempts at law and order have been eliminated.  When a wealthy woman from Manhattan escapes into the wasteland, her corrupt father hires a trained mercenary to recover her.  Unfortunately for the cities corporate brass, gang leader Trash unites rival street dwellers to wage war in order to protect their turf.  Vic Morrow (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Christopher Connelly (Manhattan Baby), Fred Williamson (Hammer), Mark Gregory (Thunder) and Stefania Girolami (The Last Shark) star.  Next up, set in the year 2019, The New Barbarians takes place in the aftermath of nuclear devastation where the brutal Templars and their leader One rule with an iron fist.  When the lone warrior Scorpion rescues the gorgeous Alma from their grasp, Scorpion joins forces with the tactical Nadir and a struggling group of survivors to battle their evil oppressors.  Giancarlo Prete (Street Law), Fred Williamson (The Legend of Nigger Charley), George Eastman (Stagefright), Anna Kakis (2019: After the Fall of New York) and Giovanni Frezza (The House by the Cemetery) star.  Finally, continuing the exploits of Bronx Warrior Trash (Mark Gregory), Escape from the Bronx takes place in the year 2000 where a wealthy corporation seeks to bulldoze the entire borough to create an upscale community.  Sending death squads to clear out the remaining inhabitants, Trash and fellow gang members refuse to go out without a fight.  Henry Silva (Trapped), Valeria D’Obici (Midnight Killer), Timothy Brent (Ladyhawke) and Antonio Sabato (Grand Prix) co-star.      

    Reminiscent of 1979’s The Warriors, 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the gang-infested wasteland of the Bronx where police presence and public safety is nothing but a memory.  When the wealthy and attractive Ann (Girolami) travels to the dangerous area to escape her Manhattan existence, she quickly falls for sympathetic gang leader Trash (Gregory).  Heiress to the family’s powerful company, her corrupt father hires ruthless mercenary Hammer (Morrow) to retrieve her only to be met with resistance from the Bronx’s motorcycle riding deviants.  Shot on location in the increasingly dangerous borough, 1990: The Bronx Warriors comes loaded with top-notch production value from a grittier New York that no longer exists.  Action is a plenty when Ann is captured by the rival Zombies gang, prompting Trash and his loyal Riders to risk life and limb trekking across their danger zone.  Seeking assistance from the King of the Bronx himself, The Ogre (Williamson), Trash and his companions battle countless goofy gang members from tunnel dwelling freakazoids to glitter-faced baton twirlers with hand to hand combat and deadly spears.  As Hammer simultaneously infiltrates the Bronx with blowtorch equipped troops, alliances are compromised amongst Trash and his friends leading to an explosive conclusion with the ruthless Hammer receiving a gloriously pointy demise.  An excellent product of gang war wastelands protecting their turf from the man, 1990: The Bronx Warriors is action-fueled spaghetti cinema at its finest.

    Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, The New Barbarians rides high on the post-apocalyptic success of 1981’s The Road Warrior.  Following a similar plot line, this Italian production once again realized by Director Enzo G. Castellari (Light Blast) takes place in the not too distant future of 2019 where nuclear devastation has eliminated virtually all life.  Predominately populated by the book hating, totalitarian warriors The Templars and their leader One (Eastman), innocent civilians starve and fear for their lives.  Unapologetic in his disdain for the ruthless gang, lone warrior Scorpion (Prete) rescues the beautiful Alma (Kanakis) from them, determined to find permanent salvation for her.  Shot on location in Rome, The New Barbarians injects an added production value of futuristic vehicles and laughable space age costumes matched with a funky, synth-heavy score courtesy of Claudio Simonetti (Demons) of Goblin fame.  Although teaming up with ace marksman Nadir (Williamson) to protect a group of innocent survivors and Alma, Scorpion suffers the wrath of The Templars by being captured and unexpectedly raped by the skunk-haired One before retaliating full force.  While explosive car stunts impress with plenty of decapitated heads and impaled torsos, The New Barbarians falls somewhere in the middle of mediocrity during a time where Mad Max ripoffs were reaching their maximum.  With plenty of fun to still be had and Williamson stealing scenes with his amusing performance, The New Barbarians entertains but, oftentimes sticks too close to formula to stand on its own merits.

    Following the events of 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx takes place a decade into the future where the neglected borough has continued to rot into further decay.  Former leader of The Riders, Trash (Gregory) is now a respected loner who is once again pulled back into the fire following the murder of his parents by a mega-corporation.  Hellbent on exercising the existing Bronx in order to make way for an idyllic community, the General Construction Corporation send in countless death squads, headed by the savage Floyd Wangler (Silva), to exterminate any remaining occupants.  Joining forces with hometown reporter Moon Gray (Dobson), underground dweller Strike (Brent) and his young son Junior (Alessandro Prete, Ironmaster), the trio rally the support of fellow gangs to fight off the man once again.  Bursting with action and featuring nearly 200 casualties, Escape from the Bronx is a no holds barred followup that manages to bring the Bronx to an even more rubbled state.  With the exception of Henry Silva’s excellent appearance and Timothy Brent’s Strike bludgeoning a villain with the butt of a shotgun, the sequel lacks more memorable supporting characters to compliment Trash’s war against corporate tycoons.  Shot on location in the Bronx and Rome, Escape from the Bronx, under its alternate Escape 2000 title, was lovingly roasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its seventh season awarding it even more cult acclaim.  While falling slightly shorter than its originator, Escape from the Bronx will ultimately leave action buffs raging with testosterone at the sheer volume of over the top fatalities and nonstop explosions.

    Newly transferred in high-definition, Blue Underground presents all three films with 1080p transfers, sporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios.  With all films appearing free of any prominent scratches or scruffs, skin tones look pleasing and non waxy with respectable detail on display.  While not entirely free of digital noise, instances of pixelation can be spotted most prominently in the backgrounds of dilapidated buildings seen in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.  Fortunately, these issues are far from deal breaking and are still a vast improvement over their standard definition predecessors.  Colors spotted in flashier costume choices and gore pop nicely offering solid contrast to the bland and desolate environments of the films.  In addition, black levels during the films’ underground sequences can often appear murky and lacking inkier levels.  Admittedly, the transfers do have their shortcomings but, the effort to deliver upgraded products is equally evident with their lush colors and noticeably cleaner appearances leaving expectant fans generally pleased with the results.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is always robust and clear without a trace of hiss or distortion.  Each film’s respective score along with sequences of intense gunfire, laser blasts and fiery explosions emerge from the speakers with noticeable authority that is well balanced throughout.  Bestowed with Collector’s Edition banners, each film arrives with a plethora of exciting bonus content with 1990: The Bronx Warriors including, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 1 (14:09), Sourcing the Weaponry (11:55) where Castellari guides us through the Italian Weapons Rental House of Paolo Ricci and Adventures in the Bronx (7:20) with Stuntmen Massimo Vanni interviewed about his experiences on the film.  In addition, Theatrical Trailers including, the International Trailer (2:42), Italian Trailer (2:41), Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25) are also provided with a Poster & Still Gallery (100 in total) and a DVD edition of the release rounding out the supplemental package.  Next up, The New Barbarians arrives with an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 2 (13:55), Tales of the Hammer (20:22) with Star Fred Williamson offering a fascinating career retrospective that stands as the disc’s standout feature.  Also included are Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:25), Italian Trailer #1 (3:26), Italian Trailer #2 (1:58), 1990: The Bronx Warriors Trailer (2:42) and Escape from the Bronx Trailer (3:15).  Finally, a Poster & Still Gallery (97 in total) and a DVD edition of the release conclude the bonus offerings.  Lastly, Escape from the Bronx includes, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari, Enzo G. Castellari and Fabrizio De Angelis In Conversation Part 3 (13:16), The Hunt for Trash (12:42) with Bronx Warriors Superfan Lance Lanley sharing his passion and enthusiasm for the films along with Theatrical Trailers for the International Trailer (3:15), Italian Trailer (3:15), 1990: The Bronx Warriors (2:42) and The New Barbarians Trailer (3:25).  A Poster & Still Gallery (77 in total) and a DVD edition of the release are also included.  

    Submerging viewers with a trinity of post-apocalyptic warfare and urban gang battles, Blue Underground ensures an action-packed serving of spaghetti cinema for cult enthusiasts.  While 1990: The Bronx Warriors is the fan favorite of the three, The New Barbarians still offers a fun dose of futuristic goofiness with Escape from the Bronx assaulting viewers with endless action.  Newly transferred in high-definition, each film makes earnest strides, with a few warts along the way, in delivering noticeable upgrades from their past releases.  With impressive remastered mixes and brand new, quality bonus features, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx make their Blu-ray debuts with a thundering crash, ready to wage war on your cult library!

    1990: The Bronx Warriors RATING: 4/5

    The New Barbarians RATING: 3.5/5

    Escape from the Bronx RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The New Barbarians and Escape from the Bronx can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dog Soldiers (2002) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Dog Soldiers (2002)

    Director: Neil Marshall

    Starring: Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby & Liam Cunningham

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones), Dog Soldiers focuses on a team of soldiers dispatched to the Scottish Highlands for routine training.  After discovering Captain Ryan, the lone survivor of a Special Ops team who were savagely torn to shreds, the soldiers realize the same bloodthirsty creatures are still lurking in the forest.  When a local girl guides them to a desolate farmhouse for shelter, the same pack of deadly werewolves track them leading to a tense standoff.  Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy), Sean Pertwee (Gotham), Emma Cleasby (Doomsday) and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) star.

    Considered one of the finest werewolf pictures of the 21st century, Dog Soldiers is an adrenaline-fueled experience, leaving little room to catch your breath.  Overflowing with chilling suspense and terrifying with its effective creature designs, Neil Marshall’s feature-length debut casts a hypnotic spell that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats.  After being dispatched to the Scottish Highlands for training procedures, a band of soldiers find themselves in a fight for their lives against a pack of ravenous werewolves.  Filled with likable characters exchanging naturalistic chemistry, the soldiers never shy from humorously heaving obscenities at one another and expressing their disappointment at missing a football game for this uneventful training mission.  After discovering Captain Ryan and the bloody remains of his Special Ops team, the soldiers quickly realize the dire situation they have entered.  Struggling to hold their ground in the forest, a local girl rescues the team and ushers them to a secluded farmhouse to battle the deadly werewolves.  With ammunition and men running low, the surviving soldiers must get creative in order to stay alive through the night.  Opting for a traditional approach, Dog Soldiers utilizes animatronics and costumed performers for its hairy antagonists that breathes an authentic tone of terror.  Blending high-octane action and atmospheric carnage, Director Neil Marshall’s frightening tale of lycanthropes reinvigorates the subgenre with its accomplished cast and claustrophobic setting, placing the film amongst the finest werewolf efforts of all-time.

    After nearly a year delay, Scream Factory proudly presents Dog Soldiers with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Scanned in 2K with supervision and approval from Director Neil Marshall, Dog Soldiers sports a slightly soft picture credited to its original 16mm roots that were blown up to 35mm for its theatrical distribution.  With occasional instances of scuffs and vertical lines on display, colors are decently relayed with the film’s bloodier moments popping most effectively.  Shrouded mostly in darkness, the film offers sufficiently inky black levels that allow for appropriate clarity and minimal speckling.  Based on previous subpar home video releases and the scarcity of desirable elements, Scream Factory, with the assistance of Marshall, provide fans with the closest representation of the director’s vision.  While viewers may still feel divided, there’s no denying this is the best Dog Soldiers has ever looked on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is clear and free of distortion while, moments of heavy artillery, explosions and werewolf shredding make a thunderous statement that are balanced accordingly.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  True to its collector’s edition banner, Scream Factory provides an exuberant amount of special features including, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Neil Marshall while, Aine Leicht (Night of the Demons, Class of 1984) delivers another top-notch featurette with Werewolves VS. Soldiers: The Making of Dog Soldiers (1:01:50).  Featuring new interviews from the cast and crew, this lengthy look back ranks as one of Scream Factory’s finest retrospectives and easily the crowning jewel of the disc’s supplemental offerings.  In addition, A Cottage in the Woods: Building the Sets of Dog Soldiers with Simon Bowles (13:26), Trailers (5:02), a Dog Soldiers Photo Gallery (47 in total), Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (22 in total) and Director Neil Marshall’s early short film Combat (7:37) are also included.  Finally, a reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release wrap up the impressive bonus features.  

    A successful hybrid of intense action and effective frights, Dog Soldiers turns the werewolf subgenre on its head for a unique experience that understands the art of suspense.  Starring an ensemble cast delivering earnest performances and containing noteworthy practical effects, Director Neil Marshall’s bloody excursion through the Scottish Highlands is a career highlight that still ranks as one of the most impressive pictures of the genre.  Far from a simple undertaking, Scream Factory delivers Dog Soldiers with its finest home video presentation to date that will easily trump previous releases.  With the original negative lost, Scream Factory and Director Neil Marshall have gone to great lengths to preserve the film’s vision, resulting in a successful outcome that should greatly appease fans.  In addition, Aine Leicht’s impressive array of special features and Nathan Thomas Milliner’s newly crafted artwork treats this collector’s edition like horror royalty that will ultimately leave fans howling at the moon in delight.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 23rd from Scream Factory, Dog Soldiers can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • An Eye for an Eye (1981) / Hero and the Terror (1988) Blu-ray Reviews


    An Eye for an Eye (1981) / Hero and the Terror (1988)

    Director(s): Steve Carver / William Tannen

    Starring: Chuck Norris, Christopher Lee, Mako & Maggie Cooper / Chuck Norris, Brynn Thayer, Steve James & Jack O’Halloran

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Serving up two explosive action outings from the 1980s, Kino Lorber Studio Classics proudly presents An Eye for an Eye, starring Chuck Norris (Missing in Action, The Delta Force) as San Francisco detective Sean Kane (Norris).  Consumed with revenge following the murder of his partner, Kane ditches the badge for vigilante justice to expose a powerful drug ring responsible for the crime.  Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Mako (Sidekicks), Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s) and Maggie Cooper (Falcon Crest) co-star.  Next up, Chuck Norris headlines as Los Angeles detective Danny O’Brien in Hero and the Terror.  After nearly losing his life to capture ruthless serial killer Simon Moon A.K.A “The Terror”, O’Brien is haunted by nightmarish memories of the ordeal.  Escaping prison years later, The Terror is back on the loose and claiming victims left and right with O’Brien the city’s only hope to stop him.  Bryan Thayer (Kansas), Steve James (American Ninja) and Jack O’Halloran (Superman II) co-star.      

    Following the murder of his partner, San Francisco detective Sean Kane quits the force in order to wage a war of revenge on those responsible.  After his fallen partner’s girlfriend Linda (Chao) informs Kane that a massive drug cartel was behind the murder, Linda falls prey to the deadly wrath of the organization.  Appearing in one of his first starring roles, international superstar Chuck Norris takes hold of the part as a broken police officer determined to find his friends killer’s with a staunch seriousness that lets his fists do most of the talking.  Far from lacking a sense of humor, Kane seeks out his martial arts mentor and Linda’s father, Chan (Mako), to aid him in the hunt while, simultaneously providing viewers with a comedic chemistry as Chan constantly criticizes his protege’s concentration during dangerous encounters.  Surrounded by a colossal cast of living legends and character actors, An Eye for an Eye pits Kane against the charming yet, merciless drug lord Morgan Canfield (Lee) who intends to unload a major import of narcotics into the country, unless he can be stopped.  While the film’s premise may feel generic, An Eye for an Eye plays to its strengths with sequences of heavy gunfire and explosions plus, countless opportunities for Norris to partake in hand to hand combat or lack thereof when Kane’s hands are bound allowing him to only kick his assailants.  Uncovering a web of police corruption throughout his investigation and engaging in a steamy fling with Linda’s news editor, Kane puts those closest to him in danger the deeper he digs.  Marking their first collaboration (followed by 1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade), Director Steve Carver injects the necessary bits of adrenaline to keep the film moving while, the beardless Norris roundhouse kicks his way to a final standoff with Canfield’s impenetrable, elevator-shoe wearing bodyguard.  An entertaining and well-cast production, An Eye for an Eye delivers in the action department while, serving as an admirable early effort for Norris as his star status rose to greater prominence.

    Based on the novel by Michael Blodgett, Hero and the Terror would serve as an attempt for star Chuck Norris to grow beyond his traditional martial arts star roots.  Reteaming once again with Cannon Films, Norris plays the lead role of detective Danny O’Brien, haunted by his past of a serial killer he captured years prior.  Preparing for the birth of his daughter with his girlfriend Kay (Thayer), O’Brien’s world is turned upside down when news emerges that Simon Moon has escaped.  Presumed dead after a motor vehicle accident, O’Brien is confident The Terror has not only survived but, claiming new victims.  Meanwhile, as the city of Los Angeles celebrates the renovation of a theater Moon once used as a hideaway, women who were last seen on the premises begin disappearing.  Convinced The Terror has returned home, O’Brien begins hunting  for the unstoppable killer in the secret passages of the theater.  With an intriguing plot and suspenseful opening, Hero and the Terror quickly derails as O’Brien’s relationship with his pregnant girlfriend and her commitment issues take center stage.  Focusing too deeply to be considered mere character development, the tame action-thriller begins to share more in common with a soap opera.  As more victims emerge including a fellow officer, O’Brien uncovers Moon’s secret whereabouts leading to the most exciting brawl of the film on the rooftop of the theater.  Lacking a conscience and possessing virtually supernatural strength, Moon’s character feels slightly out of touch in a film that appears grounded in reality.  Failing to capture an audience at the time of its release, Hero and the Terror tanked at the box-office and would ultimately end Norris’ relationship with Cannon Films.  Although the skeleton of its premise is inviting, Hero and the Terror unfortunately fails in its execution.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents both An Eye for an Eye and Hero and the Terror with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  While possessing minimal softness, An Eye for an Eye bolsters a filmic appearance with healthy colors and clear detail in facial features.  Arriving later in the decade and appearing slightly sharper than its predecessor, Hero and the Terror also relays a strong sense of color and texture.  In addition, both films possess respectable black levels while, instances of flakes and mild murkiness are captured but not overwhelming.  Satisfying in both cases, Hero and the Terror squeaks by as the favored transfer.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, both films deliver dialogue respectfully although, moments of hushed tones can sometimes be overwhelmed by external factors.  The heavier shootouts and fireworks explosion in An Eye for an Eye deliver an added sharpness while both film’s scores are implemented nicely.  Special features found on An Eye for an Eye include, an Audio Commentary with Director Steve Carver, An Eye for an Eye Theatrical Trailer (1:52) and the Hero and the Terror  Theatrical Trailer (1:26) while, Norris’ 1988 effort recycles the An Eye for an Eye Theatrical Trailer (1:52) and the Hero and the Terror Theatrical Trailer (1:26).

    Pulverizing retro action fans with a double helping of Chuck Norris, An Eye for an Eye may possess a routine plot but, delivers where it counts with fun doses of action and an entertaining cast that easily trumps the missed opportunity of Hero and the Terror.  Riding high on the success of his previous Cannon Films efforts, Norris’ attempt to diversify himself was an honorable move that unfortunately backfired and ended his Cannon alliance.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents both films with appreciable boosts in quality that will please likeminded action buffs as they kick and punch these adventures into high gear.

    An Eye for an Eye RATING: 3.5/5

    Hero and the Terror RATING: 2/5

    Available June 16th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, An Eye for an Eye and Hero and the Terror can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Scarecrows (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Scarecrows (1988)

    Director: William Wesley

    Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael Simms & Richard Vidan

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on a band of ex-military criminals, Scarecrows finds the team pulling off a multi-million dollar heist and boarding a getaway plane for Mexico.  Taking hostage a civilian pilot and his teenage daughter, one of their own betrays the group leading to a ground search through a desolate area of farmland.  As night sets in, the heavily armed group find themselves confronted with a nightmarish array of deadly scarecrows.

    Blending the realms of action and horror seemed a novel idea during a decade of much testosterone-induced debauchery.  Unfortunately, Scarecrows never rises above its unique concept to be anything more than mediocre.  Substituting horny teenagers for military criminals, a betrayal by one to keep millions for himself sends his former cronies hunting for him in backwoods country, eerily surrounded by a heavy dose of scarecrows.  Armed to the teeth and with an innocent pilot’s daughter held hostage, the criminals set their new course to locate their backstabber and reclaim their fortune.  While the scarecrow designs, compliments of Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (Drag Me to Hell) are impressive, the film dawdles for most of its runtime following the criminals’ endless hunt while genuine scares and thrills are kept to a bare minimum.  Admittedly, chemistry between the thugs is apparent and lends itself to moments of humor while machine gun shootouts are plentiful in this unlikely hybrid.  With its true horror colors reserved for its final act where the haunting antagonists finally take center stage, Scarecrows makes a valiant attempt to test new waters but, ultimately suffers from bland characters and overly emphasizing one subgenre over another leading to an uneven tone.

    Scream Factory presents Scarecrows with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Although shrouded in darkness, black levels appear welcomingly inky with no crushing levels even if visibility, attributed to the dimly lit production, isn’t always ideal.  In addition, detail shines through most effectively in Cabrera’s scarecrow designs with skin tones generally pleasing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible with moments of gunfire and Composer Terry Plumeri’s (Sometimes They Come Back) chilling score registering nicely.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  Stuffed like hay, Scarecrows arrives with a plentiful selection of special features including, an Audio Commentary with Director William Wesley & Producer Cami Winikoff, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter Richard Jeffries, Director of Photography Peter Deming & Composer Terry Plumeri.  In addition, The Last Straw with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (16:35) finds Cabrera recalling the nonprofessional learning ground the production was for him while, Cornfield Commando with Actor Ted Vernon (8:46) finds the mustached musclemen warmly looking back on his role in the film.  Finally, Original Storyboards (3:48), a Still Gallery (60 in total), Theatrical Trailer (1:32) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s supplements.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scarecrows holds a charm for those won over by its action-horror hybrid approach.  While impressing with its make-up designs and awarded for its attempted originality, Scarecrows ultimately procrastinates for much of its run time ditching suspense and scares until its final fleeting act.  Luckily, Scream Factory’s efforts shine with a pleasing technical presentation and a generous helping of quality special features sure to please dedicated fans of this scarecrow stalking cocktail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Blind Woman's Curse (1970) Blu-ray Review

    Blind Woman’s Curse (1970)

    Directed by: Teruo Ishii 

    Starring: Meiko Kaji, Hok Tokuda, Toru Abe & Hideo Sunazaka 

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by David Steigman

    Blind Woman’s Curse is a martial arts tale about betrayal, honor, and revenge, told in a truly unique and colorful way. It’s a brilliantly conceived mix of horror, comedy, martial arts action and drama. Hoki Tokuda (Nippon Paradise) stars as a blinded swords-woman seeking revenge on Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood), the leader of the Tachibana clan. Helping her seek revenge are members of another Yakuza clan, the Dobashi, and its leader Toru Abe (Return of Daimajin).  Hideo Sunazuka (Ebirah: Horror of the Deep/Godzilla VS. the Sea Monster) and Makoto Sato (The Lost World of Sinbad) co-star.

    A young girl, Aiko Gouda (Hoki Tokuda), who is inadvertently blinded and cursed by the Tachibana clan leader’s daughter, Akemi (Meiko Kaji), via a sword thrust to her eyes during a battle between two rival clans. The curse is created by a black cat that licked the blood of Aiko after she was struck in the eyes.  A few years after she had been blinded, Aiko becomes a master swords-woman and is ready to have her revenge on Akemi. She then seeks her nemesis out, ready to put a curse on her and her clan. Aiko is accompanied by both an insane looking hunchback servant that assists her in murdering some of Akemi’s clan, but also the same black cat that licks the blood of her victims, including a decapitated head. She also joins forces with a rival Yakuza clan, the Dobashi, to eliminate the Tachibana clan. Dobashi (Toru Abe) himself starts the revenge by hiring some thugs to kill members of the rival clan and getting local workers arrested by planting narcotics in the village that they reside in.  Other clan members get killed in a bizarre stage show attraction.  The last half hour is filled with bloody sword fights and the inevitable climatic battle between Aiko and Akemi.  Adding some horror elements into the film, we even get a few zombie swordsmen which are a few of the dead Tachibana clan brought back to life. 

    Blind Woman’s Curse has some pretty graphic gore and a great deal of eclectic visuals.  In addition, some of the characters in this film are a real trip including, a group of naked, screaming Japanese women lying around using opium, the already mentioned hunchback with a strange grin on his face who bounces around all over the place and a man who wears a top hat and lion cloth to add some comedy to the film.  Due to the psychedelic nature and taste in martial arts films, this movie may not be for everyone.  It’s not quite as bizarre as other Japanese oddities such as House but, this film does have its fair share of strange moments.  

    Arrow Video’s presentation of Blind Woman’s Curse is a beautiful, vibrant 1080p single layered MPEG-4 AVC letterboxed 2:44:1 transfer.  Colors are rich, with excellent dark black levels and scenes appearing much clearer and detailed than the previous DVD release.  There is some minor print damage here and there but overall it is a great presentation.  The Audio quality on this release is a very pleasing 2.0 PCM mix.  The film’s Japanese language comes accompanied with easy to read English subtitles as well.  As with all of their releases, Arrow Video has given us plenty of supplements including, an Audio Commentary with Jasper Sharp, a Theatrical Trailer, Stray Cat Rock Trailers, newly commissioned artwork, a collector’s booklet and an NTSC DVD with all of the same features.

    Fans of Blind Woman’s Curse can now rejoice as Arrow Video has given this film the best treatment and presentation possible.  What makes this title more appealing is its duel region A/B  release, giving non-region free fans a chance to own this rare oddity in whatever system or format they use.  For those on the fence, with its blend of humor, drama, splattering gore and just really strange “way-out-there” storytelling, Blind Woman’s Curse is worth checking out.

    RATING: 4/5

    Previously scheduled for March 24th from Arrow VideoBlind Woman’s Curse has been delayed to an undetermined date.

  • Big Hero 6 (2014) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Big Hero 6 (2014)

    Director(s): Don Hall & Chris Williams

    Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Combining the action and adventure of Marvel Comics with the heart and style of Disney animation, Big Hero 6 focuses on the young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter, Senior Project) after a devastating accident costs his older brother’s life.  Comforted by Baymax, a lovable robotic health companion, Hiro, with the help of his loyal friends, become an unlikely group of superheroes, determined to bring a diabolical villain to justice.  Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Daniel Henney (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch), Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl), Genesis Rodriguez (Tusk), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids), Alan Tudyk (Frozen) and James Cromwell (The Green Mile) provide voice talent.

    Following up on the massive success of Frozen, Walt Disney Animation Studios would take full advantage of the recently acquired Marvel Comics for inspiration.  Deviating from its comic book source material, Big Hero 6 would become the first animated Disney production to incorporate Marvel characters into its timeless tradition that has birthed such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the more recent Wreck-It Ralph.  Carving out a tale with a strong emphasis on brotherly relationships, child prodigy Hiro Hamada mourns the death of his older brother, Tadashi, with the help and comfort of Baymax, a robotic nurse developed by Tadashi before his passing.  After learning of a kabuki mask-wearing villain who is violating Hiro’s own groundbreaking technology, the young genius is certain his brother’s death was no accident.  Upgrading Baymax and himself with state of the art armor, Hiro drafts Tadashi’s college friends to aid him in bringing the masked man down.  Encompassing a unique group of individuals including, speed demon Go Go (Chung), safety cautious Wasabi (Wayans Jr.), chemistry ditz Honey Lemon (Rodriguez) and comic nerd Fred (Miller), Hiro forms a team of six unlike any other before.  Filled with hilarious humor and emotional depth, Big Hero 6 flies with soaring colors in virtually every department.  The loss of Tadashi and Hiro’s immediate melancholy tugs at viewers before melting their hearts away at the introduction of the cuddly Baymax.  Adorably clumsy and endlessly caring, Baymax is the breakout character of the film that will leave audiences delighted for knowing him.  

    With solid characters and top-notch action sequences, Big Hero 6 may be slightly predictable in its narrative but, never quits entertaining.  From the cocktail blending setting of San Fransokyo to the brightly colored eye-candy costume designs, the film’s visuals leave a lasting impression and undeniable mark of the highest quality that Disney animation is accustomed to.  Critically acclaimed and taking the best of both Marvel and Disney’s imaginative worlds, Big Hero 6 is a resounding success that takes viewers on a sky high ride of excitement and fun.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment debuts Big Hero 6 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Expectedly, vibrant colors burst off the screen in every shot with picture perfect clarity always on display.  Showcasing exceptional inky black levels in Hiro’s microbot creations and its antagonists‘ black attire, Big Hero 6 is nothing short of perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film’s soundtrack is yet another work of flawlessness with crisp dialogue levels, explosive action sequences handled accordingly and music, including Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals” title track, offering a solid bass sound that will leave you bopping to the beat.  Special features included are the Oscar nominated theatrical short Feast (6:13).  Marking the directorial debut of Patrick Osbourne (Tangled, Paperman), this uplifting tale focuses on the relationship of an adorable puppy and his owner throughout the years.  Without question one of the finest Disney shorts to emerge in recent years, Feast will leave you teary-eyed and longing to hold your own K9 best friend.  Furthermore, The Origin of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey (15:10), hosted by Jamie Chung (Go Go), finds Directors Don Williams & Chris Williams, Producer Roy Conli and other creative talent discussing the film’s early beginnings and the long road to its completion.  Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters (6:39) sits down with the animation team as they discuss their earliest passions for animation and their specific roles in the production.  In addition, Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Directors Don Hall & Chris Williams (13:10), a Big Hero 6 Theatrical Teaser (1:41) and a Sneak Peeks reel including promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Infinity 2.0, Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions are included with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code rounding out the supplemental features.

    Yet another knockout effort for Walt Disney Animation Studios, Big Hero 6 packs heart, humor and action with outstanding results.  Crafting an important focus on brothers and friendship, the Marvel Comics adaptation is an often touching piece of stunning animation, sealed by its well-received characters.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment issues their Oscar nominated opus with impeccable technical features and a decent lineup of bonus content including, the also Oscar nominated and highly recommend short, Feast.  Released theatrically in 3D, Big Hero 6 is unfortunately the latest contemporary Disney release to not carry its extra dimensions over for home viewing, much to the dismay of enthusiastic fans.  Regardless, the strength and sheer entertainment factor of Big Hero 6 and its fabulous presentation on Blu-ray allows it to pack a solid punch for the whole family.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 24th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Big Hero 6 can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #4 - STUDIO GHIBLI EDITION: Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997) & The Wind Rises (2013) Blu-ray Reviews

    Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofalo, Phil Hartman & Debbie Reynolds

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the creative mind of Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), his timeless coming-of-age tale about a young witch celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Kik’s Delivery Service on Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Newly remastered and accompanied with countless special features, this magical adventure invites you to take flight once again.

    Kiki’s Delivery Service centers on a young witch who on her 13th birthday must follow tradition and venture out into the world for a year of training and adventure.  Along with her faithful black cat, Jiji, Kiki lands in a beautiful new city where she forms her own personal delivery service while, learning responsibility and building confidence.  Kirsten Dunst (Small Soldiers), Janeane Garofalo (Reality Bites), Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live), Matthew Lawrence (Mrs. Doubtfire) and Debbie Reynolds (Singin‘ in the Rain) provide vocal talent in this English translation.  

    Based on the novel by Eiko Kadono, Miyazaki’s fantastic animated adaptation is bursting with colors and gorgeous production design.  Straying from common depictions of witches as evildoers, Kiki’s Delivery Service offers a charming adolescent witch that audiences can relate to and sympathize with.  In true coming-of-age-fashion, the young Kiki travels to a far away city where she can perfect her skills and develop her independence.  Intendedly unusual, Miyazaki took influences from Ireland, Sweden and San Francisco to craft a city of beautiful uniqueness and familiarity.  As she forms a friendship with a local baker and establishes her own delivery service, Kiki matures while, lacking self confidence.  After much hesitation, Kiki develops a friendship with Tombo allowing her to experience adventures unlike ever before.  Brewing with homesickness and struggling with her new environment, Kiki finds herself losing the ability to fly.  Miyazaki relays Kiki’s loneliness in gorgeous fashion, tapping into the pain all audiences experience while growing up.  Straying from the source material, Miyazaki incorporates an intense airship accident in the final act that finds Tombo in danger.  With no choice, Kiki builds her confidence to fly into action and save her friend from certain doom, allowing the young witch to shine again.  While, the relatable tale of growing up and finding your place in the world works on nearly every level, the alluring animation and paradise-like city setting are the film’s sharpest attributes.  In addition, the English-dubbed performances are lively and comedic.  Sadly, Phil Hartman’s contributions as Jiji would mark his final voice-performance before his tragic death in 1998.  Critically and financially adored, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a delightful effort that visually stuns and connects to those forever young at heart.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Kiki’s Delivery Service with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Vibrant and dashing, Kiki’s Delivery Service makes its Blu-ray debut with flourishing colors and rich detail, allowing the viewer to better appreciate the city landscape of the film.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Kiki’s Delivery Service comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is crystal clear while, Composer Joe Hisaishi’s romantic and adventurous score is relayed with splendor.  Special features are aplenty with a newly included Ursula’s Painting (3:18) featurette joining classic DVD features such as, an introduction by John Lasseter (0:51), original Japanese storyboards (1:43:01), original Japanese trailers (8:06), Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service (2:26), where Miyazaki details his approach to creating the unique setting of the movie, Producer Toshio Suzuki offers insight on Kiki’s influences in Kiki & Jiji (3:27), Flying with Kiki & Beyond (2:50), Producer’s Prospective: Collaborating with Miyazaki (1:47) allows Miyazaki’s longtime producer Toshio Suzuki to shed light on their collaborative process.  In addition, The Locations of Kiki (29:11), reveals the real world locations that shape many of Miyazaki’s films, Scoring Miyazaki (7:18), Behind the Microphone (5:00), with English cast members Dunst, Hartman, Garofalo and Lawrence commenting on the dubbing process along, with a DVD edition of the film round out the impressive supplemental package.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary, Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved Kiki’s Delivery Service is a heartwarming tale of self discovery and independence.  A gorgeous sight of pastel colors and magnificently detailed settings, this coming-of-age story deeply connects with young audiences and those still young at heart.  Flawlessly remastered, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment have ushered Kiki’s Delivery Service with a Blu-ray debut fans won’t be disappointed with.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thKiki's Delivery Service can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Princess Mononoke (1997)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton & Jada Pinkett Smith

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Becoming one of the highest-grossing films in Japan’s history, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s vision of a fantasy world of gods would garner Studio Ghibli vast attention from the Western world.  Awarded Best Picture winner of the Japan Academy Prize, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents Princess Mononoke, newly remastered on Blu-ray.

    After contracting a deadly curse, Ashitaka, a young warrior, embarks on a journey through the forests in search of a cure.  Through his travels, Ashitaka becomes entangled in a fierce battle between Lady Eboshi and her loyal humans against Princess Mononoke, a brave woman, aided by animal gods.  Billy Crudup (Big Fish), Claire Danes (Homeland), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Billy Bob Thornton (Fargo), Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Keith David (The Princess and the Frog) provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Throwing out the rules of movie making, Miyazaki blends the worlds of historical drama and fantasy on a grand scale.  Epic in its scope and runtime, Princess Mononoke emphasizes several themes including the environment and lost innocence.  Filled with mythical creatures and armies of warriors, Princess Mononoke enforces noticeably more violent imagery, compared to some of Miyazaki’s more lighthearted fare.  Showcasing chopped off limbs and decapitations, the mature content and dramatic storytelling serves as Miyazaki’s response to the horrors of the real world.  Throughout his search for a cure to his deadly curse, Ashitaka encounters several groups of characters all with their own desires and selfish agendas.  Surrounded by hostility and slowly being consumed by death, Ashitaka hopes to forge peace between Lady Eboshi’s human army and Princess Mononoke’s clan of animal gods.  Countlessly risking his life to see a better tomorrow for others, Ashitaka begins to fall in love with the Princess while, the hateful instincts of others begins to take hold.  Gorgeously animated with several computer rendered moments, Princess Mononoke is an astonishing sight that ranks as one of Miyazaki’s finest artistic achievements.  Complex and at times, convoluted, Princess Mononoke demands its strictest attention as its narrative is densely structured and difficult to follow for younger viewers.  Incorporating many characters who come and go, Princess Mononoke experiences pacing issues in its final act that tends to drag longer than necessary.  While, not exactly a narrative knockout, Princess Mononoke is a breathtaking event in animation history with character designs and battle sequences that amaze.  Clocking in at over two hours, Princess Mononoke is a consuming viewing experience and one that will most likely grow in appreciation with repeated viewings.

    Arriving with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Princess Mononoke is yet another gorgeous example of Miyazaki in high-definition.  Relaying crisp colors and a clear picture free of flakes or speckles, Princess Mononoke is a stunner that will make viewers marvel at the sweeping battle sequences found within.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Princess Mononoke comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Presented with always audible dialogue, the violent battles and animal stampedes offer a considerable boost in the mix that will surely benefit the viewing experience.  Porting over previously available bonus features, Princess Mononoke provides viewers with original Japanese storyboards (2:13:21), original Japanese and English trailers (14:20), original TV spots (11:33) and the original English theatrical trailer (2:03).  In addition, a brief featurette with Jada Pinkett Smith, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Neil Gaiman and other creative talent offering insight on the English dub of the film is provided (5:05) along with, Princess Mononoke in the USA (19:57), a video record of Miyazaki’s US and Canadian travels to promote the film in 1999.  Finally, a DVD edition of the film rounds out the supplemental package.

    Masterfully animated and inhabited with deep themes, Princess Mononoke is an intensely epic animated film with few others like it.  Astonishing in its scope, Princess Mononoke challenges the viewers with characters who are not simply good or evil but, very much human in their layered personalities.  Complex and at times, difficult to follow, Miyazaki’s environmentally conscience picture can be a tough pill to swallow but, one that will surely benefit from additional viewings throughout the years.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment does domestic Miyazaki fans proud with another splendid transfer that preserves the elegance of this critically-acclaimed effort.  While, scant on newly produced content, the existing supplements suffice with Princess Mononoke in the USA being the package highlight.  Not quite Miyazaki’s finest effort, Princess Mononoke remains an animated epic with visuals ranking as some of Japan’s best from the last 20 years.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 18thPrincess Mononoke can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    The Wind Rises (2013)

    Director: Hayao Miyazaki

    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci & William H. Macy

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hailed as Miyazaki’s final film before announcing his retirement, a wondrous tale of a brilliant airplane designer would become the Academy Award-winner’s swan song.  Loosely influenced by actual designer Jiro Horikoshi and Miyazaki’s own manga of the same name, this inspiring story ends a five year silence since Miyazaki’s 2008 effort, Ponyo.  Touchstone Home Entertainment, in conjunction with Studio Ghibli, proudly presents The Wind Rises on breathtaking Blu-ray.

    The Wind Rises centers on the young Jiro Horikoshi who longs to become a pilot.  After realizing his poor eyesight will prevent him from doing so, Jiro is determined to become an aeronautical engineer and design the most beautiful airplanes.  Visualizing his goals through his dreams and working tirelessly for years, Jiro reconnects with a woman from his past and falls in love.  Conflicted by what his efforts have produced, Jiro looks within his thoughts for his hero, Giovanni Caproni, to guide him.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), John Krasinski (The Office), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), William H. Macy (Shameless) and Werner Herzog (Jack Reacher) all provide vocal talent in this English translation.

    Recently admitting he will continue making anime until his death, Hayao Miyazaki’s possible final feature film is yet another visual slice of perfection.  Set at the turn of the century, The Wind Rises casts a light on Jiro Horikoshi whose determined to make his goals a reality.  Brilliant and friendly, Jiro is reminiscent of every young soul who wishes to change the world with their ideas.  Crosscutting between Jiro’s daydreams where he meets his mentor, fellow engineer Giovanni Caproni, Jiro can visualize his ideas and see their pros and cons.  These dream sequences are not only beautiful but, offer insight into the creative mind of Miyazaki and how his genius operates.  With close friend Kiro Honjo at his side, Jiro works through the years to make a difference in his overwhelmingly poor and dated country.  After reconnecting with a woman from his past, Jiro asks for her hand in marriage, against somber circumstances.  Never giving up, Jiro continues his efforts and is conflicted with the results after witnessing the use his creations have been put to.  Coming under criticism for utilizing heavy smoking characters and a protagonist responsible for war machines, Miyazaki’s feelings are complex, much like the lives of his characters, and insists while he does not approve of the planes’ usage, they were one of the few creations the Japanese could be proud of.  Regardless of their wartime agenda, Jiro’s creation and passion is the central theme of the movie that urges viewers to follow their own dreams and find their happiness.  While, Jiro’s affection for his wife, Nahoko, tends to be dry and lacking in sincerity, Miyazaki crafts several sequences between the couple that are the very essence of romance.  Finding love and living life to its fullest are the defining messages viewers take away from this dreamlike journey into the mind of a creative soul.  Becoming Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2013, The Wind Rises is a captivating tale told through Miyazaki’s visually intoxicating imagery that define wonder and romance.

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents The Wind Rises with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  As Miyazaki’s most recent effort, colors are thunderously bold and consistent throughout the runtime.  No anomalies of any sort intrude on the gorgeous imagery, allowing viewers to appreciate the countless flying sequences and early 20th century surroundings.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Wind Rises comes with both English and Japanese versions with optional subtitles.  Dialogue is rich and clear with the roar of airplane engines soaring through your speakers.  Composer Joe Hisaishi’s Italian influenced score comes across with wonderful elegance, setting the mood for the film.  In addition, a startling earthquake sequence offers a suitable rumble to the mix that adds nice emphasis to the visuals.  For what is considered to be Miyazaki’s final effort, special features are rather light but, still worthwhile.  The Wind Rises: Behind the Microphone (10:46) finds English Version Director Gary Rydstrom discussing the project along with fellow cast members Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stanely Tucci, William H. Macy, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski offering their flattering opinions on Miyazaki’s work.  In addition, storyboards (2:06:29), original Japanese trailers and TV spots (9:07), an announcement of the completion of the film (1:22:46) featurette which documents a press conference with Miyazaki, Voice Actor Hideaki Anno and Singer/Songwriter Yumi Matsutoya along with, a DVD edition of the film round out the supplemental package.

    Universally acclaimed, The Wind Rises is a gorgeously realized effort from Miyazaki’s never-ending imagination.  Brought to life by complex and layered characters, The Wind Rises is a dreamlike tale of chasing your goals and injecting beauty back into the world.  Touchstone Home Entertainment sends Miyazaki’s final work off on a high note with stunning picture, crisp audio and decent, if not, slightly light special features.  True to his inspiration, Miyazaki not only accomplished making something beautiful with The Wind Rises, but leaves viewers with a sense of determination to make their own dreams come alive.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available November 18thThe Wind Rises can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Compañeros (1970) Blu-ray Review

    Compañeros (1970)

    Director: Sergio Corbucci

    Starring: Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, Jack Palance, Fernando Rey & Iris Berben

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the legendary Sergio Corbucci (The Great Silence), a spaghetti western classic is born starring two titans of the genre.  Fueled by greed and violence, an unlikely union is forged between enemies determined to uncover a gold fortune.  Newly transferred from the original negative, Blue Underground proudly presents Compañeros in both its English and Italian versions for the first time ever!

    Trapped in the middle of an imploding revolution, Swedish arms dealer Yodalf Peterson (Franco Nero, Django) and Mexican bandit Vasco (Tomas Milian, Traffic) team up to recover a professor who holds the key to their prosperous future.  Hunted by the army and a reefer smoking madman (Academy Award winner Jack Palance, Batman), the two enemies must also resist killing each other in order to survive their turbulent trek.  Fernando Rey (The French Connection), Iris Berben (Schwarzfahrer) & José Bódalo (It’s Your Move) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Reminiscent of the character conflicted classic, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Compañeros stands as one of Corbucci’s finest efforts and one of cinema’s prized spaghetti westerns.  Marking the only film Italian genre icons Franco Nero and Tomas Milian would star in together, Compañeros is truly a once in a lifetime experience.  Nero commands his role of a foreign arms dealer with wit and snappy dialogue that surely shaped Quentin Tarantino’s distinct writing style.  Joined by violent Mexican bandit Vasco, Milian brings an uncontrollable energy to the picture that nicely contrasts Nero’s calculated personality.  Filled with brutal action and hilarious humor, Nero and Milian serve as the spaghetti westerns Odd Couple, conflicting but dependent on one another.  Consistently betraying and helping the other, Nero and Milian’s chemistry is intoxicating.

    Hell-bent on retrieving a professor to lead them to a safe of riches, Yodalf and Vasco become targeted by the American army and a vengeful reefer addict (Palance) from Yodalf’s past.  Every step of their journey is penetrated by lethal shootouts and their own stubborn personalities, creating effective conflict.  Gorgeously photographed by Alejandro Ulloa (The Mercenary) and complimented by another rousing score from Composer Ennio Morricone (The Big Gundown, The Thing), Compañeros is an exceptional genre effort set against the violent Mexican Revolution.  Bursting with bloodshed and hilarity, Nero and Milian, under Corbucci’s masterful eye, propel Compañeros to extraordinary heights.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Compañeros arrives with a 1080p transfer, boasting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Much like its Mexican climate, skin tones are warm and natural with only minor instances reading a bit too red.  Wonderfully transferred, scratches and other aging artifacts are nowhere to be seen on this spotless yet, natural grain intact presentation.  Detail is crisp and clear allowing the viewer to relish the rustic villages and beautiful landscapes.  Colors, most noticeably in Nero’s striking blue eyes and various costumes, pop nicely with sound black levels offering clear picture with virtually no crushing.  Blue Underground’s tireless efforts are on full display in this knockout transfer!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono mix, Compañeros is quite effective given its limited range.  Relayed optionally in its native tongue with English subtitles provided, dialogue is always clear and robust with no distortion noticed.  Shootout sequences offer a noticeable but, retained boost in quality whereas, Composer Ennio Morricone’s score, with orchestration by Bruno Nicolai (99 Women, Eyeball), sets the tone for the picture with its unique touches.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    In addition to the Italian (119 minutes) and English (115 minutes) versions of the film, the special features are as follows:

    • Audio Commentary with Journalists C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke: newly recorded.

    • In the Company of Compañeros (17:02): Ported over from the previous DVD release, Stars Franco Nero and Tomas Milian discuss their acting approaches to the material, Nero’s insistence on playing foreigners in his westerns, onset friction between the two thespians and their gratitude to Corbucci.  In addition, Composer Ennio Morricone recounts his experiences working with Sergio Leone and claims A Fistful of Dollars to be his weakest effort on Leone’s westerns.  Morricone also details his immediate attraction to Compañeros and his unique approaches to composing.

    • International Trailer (2:27)

    • Italian Trailer (2:32)

    • TV Spot #1 (1:02)

    • TV Spot #2 (0:32)

    • Poster & Still Gallery: 51 in total.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Unquestionably, a master of the beloved genre, Sergio Corbucci delivers a splendid spaghetti western of greed and conflict with the assistance of legendary icons, Nero and Milian.  Compañeros is an exciting, tense and humorous journey through the brutal Mexican Revolution, destined to transform its characters and hypnotize its audience.  Accompanied with a new audio commentary, Blue Underground has provided an exceptional transfer for one of the genre’s finest hours.  Richly detailed and sporting no signs of wear, Compañeros has never looked finer.  Trigger happy fans of the spaghetti western should find it essential to draw on this influential tale, released in the wake of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now, Compañeros can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

     

  • Assault on New Releases #2: Krull (1983), Salvador (1986) and Grave Halloween (2013) Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

    Krull (1983)

    Director: Peter Yates

    Starring: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones & Francesca Annis

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Krull centers on the daring Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) who embarks on a dangerous mission to save his young princess bride (Lysette Anthony).  Imprisoned by the Beast and his fellow slayers, Colwyn must first recover the legendary Glaive blade and join forces with several traveling strangers to overthrow the dark powers that oppress their planet.  

    Highly expensive at the time of its making, Krull clearly borrows from the worlds of George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien to convey its mythic tale of magic and fantasy.  A simple plot of rescue and restoring balance to a fading planet, Prince Colwyn’s mission to locate The Black Fortress proves difficult and teams with a ragtag group of rebels including several fugitives (one played by a young Liam Neeson) and Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), a hilariously clumsy magician, willing to stand by his side.  While, the journey should be as exciting and cinematic as the destination, Krull hits minor speed bumps maintaining its sense of adventure.  Entertaining when they do occur, battle sequences are rather scant for a film Variety labeled “Excalibur meets Star Wars”.  Luckily, the characters are memorable and Composer James Horner’s (Avatar) grand score gives Krull a thrilling soundscape.  Originally a box-office bomb, Krull has gone on to achieve cult status amongst moviegoers that continue to appreciate this massive production decades later.  Beautifully photographed and capturing an epic scale like few productions at the time, Krull is a decent ride that ultimately feels borrowed from too many other sci-fi cinematic milestones.  Fun and sporting impressive visual effects for its time, Krull will most likely be best appreciated with repeated viewings for those who weren’t swept up in its allure during its original run.  

    Lacking with any special features, Mill Creek Entertainment presents Krull in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually clear of any aging artifacts, Krull impresses with healthy skin tones and impressive detail that allows the viewer to best appreciate the film’s whopping 23 sets.  Slight softness occurs during moments of on-screen visual effects while, black levels satisfy with clear visibility and no intruding crushing.  In addition, Krull comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that captures dialogue reasonably well with only several moments coming across lower than expected.  Intense moments of battle and Composer James Horner’s score are the true areas where this mix shines and gives your speakers a nice run for their money.

    Released in a decade of impressive sci-fi productions, Krull tells an all too familiar tale of a damsel in distress and her loving prince, joined by his own army, to save her.  Sparing no expense, Krull is an epic looking film that achieves a gorgeous, otherworldly appearance.  While, it’s easy to see why Krull registers so highly with fans, Director Peter Yates‘ (Bullit) opus isn’t an immediate home-run but, one that can be better appreciated in time.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Krull is available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Salvador (1986)

    Director: Oliver Stone

    Starring: James Woods, James Belushi, Michael Murphy, John Savage & Elpidia Carrillo

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Writer/Director Oliver Stone’s Salvador centers on sometime journalist Richard Boyle (James Woods, Casino) who embarks to capture the Salvadoran revolution through the eyes of his camera.  Along with his friend Doctor Rock (James Belushi, Curly Sue), Boyle finds himself in dangerous situations with little hope while, trying to protect his local girlfriend and her children.  Michael Murphy (Batman Returns), John Savage (The Deer Hunter) and Elpidia Carrillo (Predator) co-star.

    Politically charged, Salvador served as a last ditch effort for Writer/Director Oliver Stone to convey a more personal story beyond his previous genre fare.  Detailing the Salvadoran revolution, Richard Boyle (Woods), travels via car with fellow down on his luck buddy, Doctor Rock (Belushi) to the war-torn location.  Fueled by alcohol, drugs and the promise of cheap women, Boyle and Rock remind viewers of the Gonzo journalists found in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but, with more agenda.  Caught in the middle of a chaotic, contrived war, Boyle finds himself at odds with the country’s increasing danger and his personal desire to protect his girlfriend (Elpidia Carrillo).  Woods is brilliant in this Oscar-nominated performance of a self-proclaimed weasel of a man who scams and boozes his way to make a living.  Matched with his unforgettable work in Videodrome and Once Upon A Time in America, the 1980s can arguably be seen as Woods‘ most enduring decade.  In addition, Belushi’s Doctor Rock is the perfect yin to Woods‘ yang.  Desperate, broke and scared of his new surroundings, Belushi quickly adapts to El Salvador by drinking with young children, eager to start bar fights at the drop of a hat and falling in love with a prostitute.  Belushi’s rambunctious attitude is refreshing against the grim imagery of murdered civilians by the military government.  Constantly rattling the political cages and putting himself in harms way, Boyle is relentless in trying to establish a story and the pictures to go along with it.  Vastly underrated, Salvador is an intense, fictional account of the Salvadoran revolution spearheaded by Woods and Belushi’s incredible performances of two Americans willingly placed in hell.  In addition, Stone’s rebirth as a filmmaker helped launch a career of other politically fueled and critically acclaimed projects that continue to this day.  

    Presented in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Salvador looks remarkable with a crisp appearance and rich detail found in facial features and the hot Salvadoran climate.  Complexions are always spot-on while, black levels are impressive especially in the dark, jungle settlings where visibility reads well.  Equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, dialogue is relayed clearly with no distortion and only minor shake-ups during some of the film’s more chaotic war sequences that can overwhelm speaking bits.  In addition, a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mix has also been provided.  Meanwhile, special features run a plenty with a worthwhile audio commentary with Writer/Director Oliver Stone, an isolated score track, the impressive and lengthy Into the Valley of Death - The Making of Salvador (1:02:52), deleted scenes (27:47), an original theatrical trailer (1:58) and a MGM 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06).  Plus, a 6-page booklet with Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo lending her expertise on Salvador’s significance round out the disc’s supplements.

    Limited to just 3,000 units, Twilight Time’s impressive treatment of this criminally underrated Stone effort is beyond recommending.  Woods and Belushi’s powerhouse performances guide the viewer on this tour of the hellish El Salvador during a time of revolution and chaos.  As complicated and wild as the war itself, Boyles‘ personal desires are at constant odds with the safety of those closest to him, making Salvador an intensely, captivating ride that never lets up, leaving the fewer with more questions about the state of the world.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Salvador is available now and can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

    Grave Halloween (2013)

    Director: Steven R. Monroe

    Starring: Kaitlyn Leeb, Cassi Thomson, Dejan Loyola, Graham Wardle & Hiro Kanagawa

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When American exchange student Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings) travels to Japan’s Suicide Forest to uncover the truth of her dead birth mother, a college documentary crew captures her journey.  Unfortunately, on October 31st, the group will disturb something sinister in the grim forest that may destroy them all.  Cassi Thomson (Big Love), Dejan Loyola (Evangeline), Graham Wardle (Heartland) and Hiro Kanagawa (Godzilla) co-star.

    Originally premiered on the SyFy network and “inspired” by true events, Grave Halloween feels like a marriage between The Blair Witch Project and J-Horror imagery found in The Ring.  A decent setup of an attractive exchange student hoping to learn the truth behind her birth mother’s suicide, finds our core cast in an atmospheric, backwoods area near Japan’s Mount Fuji.  Littered with subpar performances, Grave Halloween slightly rises above most TV-movie dreck with crafty practical effects in the form of long hair ripping limbs from a victim.  Intercut with ghostly flashbacks to Maiko’s childhood and digital camera POV shots, Grave Halloween grows tiresome as the Suicide Forest becomes a giant maze causing the group to constantly lose each other for most of the runtime.  Weak jump scares and more Japanese phantoms that bombarded cinemas a decade ago appear to underwhelm the viewer.  As the group dwindles and safety is near for the survivors, a twist, open-ended finale concludes Grave Halloween.  Far from the worst made for TV effort, Grave Halloween is competently shot and possesses some worthy practical gore effects but, never manages to be very memorable.  Ultimately, Grave Halloween is a frankenstein concoction of genres we’ve seen before, only with lesser results.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Grave Halloween in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Drenched in heavy fog, detail is nicely picked up in wardrobe and the eerie backwoods setting while, moments of bloody gore pop nicely.  In addition, black levels read respectively well for DVD quality and should please those tuning in.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Grave Halloween picks up dialogue with no hitches and moments of shrieking terror come across with an added bump.  Unfortunately, no special features are included.

    For TV-movie fare, one could do way worse than Grave Halloween.  Borrowing from different subgenres, namely the tired J-Horror realm, Grave Halloween never manages to be anything wildly original or noteworthy.  On a positive note, the usage of practical effects are worthwhile and serve as the film‘s leading strongpoint.  With the Halloween season in full swing, Grave Halloween is not the worst way to kill 90-minutes, but it certainly won‘t be worth revisiting either.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Grave Halloween is available now and can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Dogs of War (1980) Blu-ray Review

    The Dogs of Wars (1980)

    Director: John Irvin

    Starring: Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Colin Blakely & JoBeth Williams

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, Director John Irvin’s feature film debut is marked by a team of mercenaries led by the iconic Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter).  Smart and action-orientated, The Dogs of War sends viewers to grim territories where civilian lives are insignificant and political power is purchased by the highest bidder.  Available in a limited edition 3,000 unit release, Twilight Time proudly presents The Dogs of War on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

    The Dogs of War stars Christopher Walken as Jamie Shannon, a tactful mercenary hired to lead a group of for-profit soldiers into the dark regions of the fictional African country of Zangaro to overthrow a crazed dictator.  Tom Berenger (The Substitute), Colin Blakely (The Pink Panther Strikes Again), Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Jean-François Stévenin (Small Change) and JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Striking and complex, Christopher Walken is the guiding light that causes The Dogs of War to shine so brightly.  A Vietnam vet living in the big city, anxiously awaiting his next job offering, Walken’s Shannon always appears in control and focused.  Compared to other war-torn, emotionally distressed characters, Shannon lives and breathes his work while keeping his guard up at all times.  Sought out by a representative for faceless businessmen, Shannon is hired to trek into the dangerous country of Zangaro in order to eliminate their ruthless dictator.  Shannon rounds up his faithful soldiers and willingly enters a third world hell to make his living.  In what would appear to be the 80s equivalent of The Expendables, The Dogs of War takes a more cautious approach to its storytelling, forging a realistic tone.  While, we’re witness to minor insights into Shannon’s past, including his relationship with his ex-wife (JoBeth Williams), one never truly gets a firm handle on what makes the mercenary tick, fueling the mystery and intrigue of the man.  As their dangerous mission escalates, Shannon develops a sympathy for the region causing him to make alterations to his assignment.  A violently explosive final act commences as Shannon and his team put their risky plan into effect.    

    Walken is surrounded by a splendid supporting cast including a young Tom Berenger and a far too brief appearance from JoBeth Williams.  Significantly cut out in the film’s  U.S. cut, Williams shines as Shannon’s ex-wife who has grown far too savvy regarding her former lover’s lifestyle.  Impressed by her performance, Steven Spielberg reportedly offered Williams the starring role in Poltergeist.  The original international cut of the film may not offer added buckets of bullets and bloodshed but, does reinstate more of Williams‘ role and offers slightly more background into who Shannon was off the battlefield.  Although vastly intriguing, much is never revealed about Shannon with Walken’s performance benefitting from the lack of exposition.  Excluding its final act, The Dogs of War may not offer nonstop action, but remains an intelligent and accurate portrayal of mercenary life.

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    The Dogs of War arrives with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Filmic and natural, The Dogs of War boasts accurate skin tones with detail best appreciated in wardrobe and close-ups.  Colors are also nicely represented especially in the wartorn jungle-esque region of Zangaro.  That said, the film contains several moments of varying flakes and speckles that make themselves fully known to the viewer.  Black levels are handled decently with the final action sequences only slightly suffering from the reoccurring flakes.  Overall, the pros outweigh the cons in this otherwise satisfactory presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, The Dogs of War handles dialogue nicely with only a few minor moments of quieter tones.  With no distortion or audio drop-outs to note, The Dogs of War somewhat underwhelms in its more explosive, action-packed scenes.  The mercenaries’ takeover of Zangaro contains machine gun fire and grenade launchers but falls short in delivering truly solid punches to the mix.  Character-driven, The Dogs of War succeeds where it counts but never overachieves in more climatic instances.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    With the exception of the much preferred international (118 minutes) and U.S. theatrical cuts (104 minutes), special features include:

    • Isolated Score Track

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (2:37)

    • MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06)

    • 6-page Booklet: Julie Kirgo once again lends her expertise on where The Dogs of War sits in film history amongst other mercenary-led tales.  Other interesting anecdotes about the film are presented with Walken’s status of being “the man” scoring highly.  We couldn’t agree more.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Believable and wonderfully acted, The Dogs of War offers an intimate look at rogue soldiers tasked to overthrow a dictator to support their own way of life.  Far from the over-the-top action spectacles of other 80s efforts, The Dogs of War contains a sophistication with intense warfare utilized only when necessary.  Twilight Time has supplied a naturally pleasing video transfer and sufficient audio mix for fans of the film.  Unfortunately, special features are rather scant on this underrated mercenary picture with Kirgo’s always enlightening views the only real highlight.  A skilled feature film debut from Director John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, Next of Kin), The Dogs of War stands as a career highlight in Walken’s vast acting career, well worth uncovering.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    The Dogs of War is available right now and can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • Grindhouse Trailer Classics (2014) DVD Review

    Grindhouse Trailer Classics (2014)

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Intervision Picture Corp.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The memories and output of grindhouse cinemas have managed to stay afloat, many years after the Deuce’s demise and family friendly rebirth.  For every cannibal classic or sleazy stinker that was discovered on 42nd Street’s dingy theaters, a trailer planted the tiny seed of growing interest in cinemagoers’ subconscious.  Often advertised with empty promises, the trailers for grindhouse entertainment promised viewers the world and than some with varying results.  Intervision Picture Corp. proudly presents Grindhouse Trailer Classics, a compilation of the sleaziest and thoroughly entertaining trailers to emerge from the 1960s and 1970s Times Square scene.  

    Before your feature presentation, there was always trailers.  Grindhouse Trailer Classics compiles 55 of the most violent, sexy, gory and action-packed trailers that were projected during the Deuce’s most thriving years of the 1960s and 1970s.  Over two hours of mind-bending, celluloid entertainment awaits lovers of the seediest days of trash cinema in this wild collection.

    MOVIE:

    With the advent of the internet and YouTube, locating the latest or most obscure movie trailers is only a click away.  Preservers of grindhouse cinema have much to appreciate in this high-octane compilation of some of the best trailers to emerge from the Deuce’s heyday.  Nicely collected and presented as one giant loop, Grindhouse Trailer Classics serves not only as a terrific resource for these films‘ original marketing campaign but, as the perfect ambience for any get-together amongst friends or an annual Halloween bash.  Drawn in by dramatic narration and the imagery of scantly clad women, ferocious monsters or kung-fu fighting martial artists, Grindhouse Trailer Classics is sure appeal to any serious fan of offbeat cinema and introduce others to a wealth of unforgettable B-movie flicks.  Grindhouse Trailer Classics comes equipped with a whopping 55 trailers to rip your guts out, including:

    • I Drink Your Blood / I Eat Your Skin
    • Blood Splattered Bride / I Dismember Mama
    • Switchblade Sisters
    • Caged Heat
    • Eyeball
    • Deranged
    • The Big Doll House
    • Bury Me An Angel
    • The Last House on the Left
    • The Street Fighter
    • Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS
    • Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
    • Don’t Open the Window
    • The Human Tornado
    • Caged Virgins
    • Ebony, Ivory and Jade
    • Deadly Weapons
    • Torso
    • They Call Her One Eye
    • Deathship
    • Master of the Flying Guillotine
    • They Came from Within
    • The Thing with Two Heads
    • I Spit on Your Grave
    • Sweet Sugar
    • Girls for Rent
    • The Toolbox Murders
    • The Executioner
    • House of Whipcord
    • Truck Turner
    • God Told Me To
    • Doctor Butcher M.D.
    • Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
    • Night of the Bloody Apes
    • Bloodsucking Freaks
    • Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Shieks
    • The Single Girls
    • The Corpse Grinders
    • Zombie
    • Coffy
    • The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak
    • The Legend of the Wolf Woman
    • Satan’s Sadists
    • Disco Godfather
    • Let Me Die a Woman
    • The Doll Squad
    • Secrets of Sweet Sixteen
    • Cannonball
    • Autopsy
    • Fight For Your Life
    • Love Me Deadly
    • Wham!  Bam!  Thank You, Spaceman!
    • Shogun Assassin
    • Three on a Meathook
    • Journey into the Beyond

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Grindhouse Trailer Classics is presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Varying in quality, each trailer is riddled with scratches and lines, some worse than others, but never deterring from the viewing experience.  Understandably, the anomalies in grindhouse features and their trailers are as beloved as their content, making this compilation exactly as you hoped it would look.

    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix, the trailers compliment their rough visual appearance with some encountering minor hiss and pops in their audio.  Never deal-breaking, these trailers sound as good as one could expect.

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Bump ‘N Grind - Emily Booth Explores the World of Grindhouse (18:30): Cult presenter, Emily Booth, is your guide in this nutshell journey through grindhouse cinema history.  Breezy and informative, Booth works from a script provided by Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents.

    • Grindhouse Poster Gallery: 29 slides showcasing all the glorious one-sheet artwork for the films found in this compilation.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:

    While, repeat viewings may not occur as frequently, Grindhouse Trailer Classics is an enormously fun journey through 55 of the kookiest genre films to emerge from the sleazy paradise of 42nd Street and such.  Appearing in gloriously vintage shape and paired with an educational crash course in Deuce cinema from Emily Booth, Grindhouse Trailer Classics serves as a terrific historical resource and a superb conversation starter during Halloween parties. From dusk ‘till dawn, Grindhouse Trailer Classics is worthy of admission into your cult library.

    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Rage (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Rage (2014)

    Director: Paco Cabezas

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover & Aubrey Peeples

    Released by: Image Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in this tense crime-drama from Paco Cabezas (Neon Flesh), the director’s first American production.  Fueled by revenge, the darkest of skeletons are revealed as Cage seeks justice for a loved one.  Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Image Entertainment proudly presents Rage, a thrilling tale of retribution and dark pasts.

    Rage centers on Paul Maguire (Cage), a successful businessman and former mob criminal.  When his teenage daughter, Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples, Sharknado), is kidnapped, Paul rounds up the old gang and reverts back to his old tactics to settle the score.  Consumed by vengeance, Paul’s journey will send him down a road of betrayal and dark secrets from his past.  Rachel Nichols (Star Trek), Danny Glover (The Color Purple), Max Fowler (The Killing) and Peter Stormare (22 Jump Street) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    In recent years, Nicolas Cage has caught flack for his eccentric and dime a dozen choosing of roles.  Many would consider his recent work to be lazy and lack the depth of some of his earlier performances.  Contrarily, Cage is an actor who has perfected his craft without need to prove much else.  After 30 plus years in the business, the Face/Off star has earned arguably more respect for his love of playing in the acting sandbox with little concern for critics or awards ceremonies.  That said, moviegoers tend to forget that for every Stolen, Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry, a Matchstick Men, Adaptation. and The Weather Man exists in Cage’s vast filmography.  For better or worse, Rage lies somewhere in the middle of mediocrity for the Academy Award winner.  Former gangster turned legit, Paul Maguire (Cage), falls back on old habits in the aftermath of his daughter’s disappearance.  Turning to his closest allies, Maguire’s violent past returns to haunt him as the group seek revenge.  Early on, Cage feels slightly stiff and reserved before thankfully morphing into a rather inspired performance.  The grim fate of his daughter finds Maguire reigniting a mob war, causing havoc everywhere he goes.  Cage channels a wealth of emotions as seeks the truth and the perpetrators responsible.  Countless shootouts and high-speed car chases ensue while Detective St. John’s (Danny Glover) patience wears thin and Maguire’s wife Vanessa (Nichols) longs for the safety of her husband.  In addition, Rage re-teams, albeit briefly, Cage with Peter Stormare as his former crime boss.  The pair were formerly pitted against each other in 1999’s underappreciated 8MMRage’s biggest issues stem from its slow-building first half, leaving the viewer underwhelmed as Cage searches for his emotions.  Furthermore, in the wake of Taken’s success, this revenge-fueled narrative feels redundant and not a far stretch from Cage’s other recent roles (Drive Angry, Stolen).  Luckily, the final act proves to be more exciting as the mob war intensifies to an action-filled head matched with a surprising twist and justifiably grim ending.

    Ultimately, Rage does little to inject anything fresh to the revenge-thriller genre.  After a bumpy start, Cage does manage to conjure the right emotions to satisfyingly sell an emotionally distressed father.  Surrounded by memorable and competent supporting actors, Rage is entirely Cage’s show with little room to spotlight others.  Violent gun wars and car chases with the Con Air star at the wheel of a Mustang turn the excitement notches up on Rage’s thrill factor.  In addition, the unexpected twist and somber conclusion work to the film’s benefit.  While slightly generic in a post-Taken filmscape, Rage is far from Cage’s best or worst, but still finds the star serving up a decent performance.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Rage is presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally on the Red One Camera, Rage is free of any anomalies such as dirt or scratches.  In addition, skin tones are relayed accurately with nice detail picked up in facial features and wardrobe.  Black levels are handled well with no noticeable crushing to report.  Image Entertainment have provided a terrific transfer for this action-packed thrill ride that should satisfy all viewers.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Rage handles high-octane shootouts and engine revving car chases with thunderous force.  Laurent Eyquem’s heavy guitar-led score is another audio highlight that will please your speakers.  Dialogue, while audible, felt slightly underwhelming and a pinch on the low side.  Overall, this impressive mix is more than satisfactory with moments of dialogue possibly requiring an increase in volume.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - The Making of Rage: This short 5-minute EPK is broken down into three sections that showcase the principal cast discussing the film, its themes and being directed by Paco Cabezas.

    - Deleted Scenes: Several omitted sequences are provided including an alternate opening and ending.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

    As a dedicated fan of Cage’s work, Rage is a decent entry in the thespians recent output but does little to revolutionize the revenge subgenre. While, cold in the beginning, Cage warms up to the viewer and ultimately delivers a satisfying role filled with emotion and range.  Danny Glover, Rachel Nichols and others provide nice appearances but are hardly on-screen long enough to make a lasting impression.  Director Paco Cabezas’s first foray into American moviemaking is a suitable effort with a focused eye and close attention to action sequences.  Image Entertainment’s video and audio specifications are more than pleasing to the eyes and ears while, special features are unfortunately minimal.  An exciting second half and a respectfully welcome dark ending allows Rage to rise slightly above mediocrity.

    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Last Action Hero (1993) Blu-ray Review

    Last Action Hero (1993)
    Director: John McTiernan
    Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Robert Prosky, Charles Dance & Tom Noonan
    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The thrills of movie magic literally come alive in this action-adventure from Director John McTernan (Predator, Die Hard).  Exciting, humorous and satirical, Last Action Hero finds superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) playing exaggerated shades of his own tough guy roles with a wide range of Hollywood’s finest popping up at every turn.  Proudly presented back on Blu-ray, Mill Creek Entertainment invites movie lovers to step into a world where shootouts, exciting car chases and explosions are a way of life!

    Last Action Hero centers on Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien), a young movie fan obsessed with the action-packed Jack Slater films.  On the eve of the latest sequels release, Danny is granted a magical movie ticket transporting him into the action.  Teaming up with Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to bring down a crime circuit, Slater’s nemesis gets ahold of Danny’s ticket, unleashing the dangers of the silver screen into reality.  Robert Prosky (Mrs. Doubtfire), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Art Carney (The Honeymooners), Charles Dance (Alien 3), Frank McRae (The Wizard) and Tom Noonan (Manhunter) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    A box-office blunder that opened a week after Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, Jurassic Park, Schwarzenegger himself considered his meta-action flick his first real failure.  Often overlooked when discussing Schwarzenegger and Director John McTiernan’s career highlights, Last Action Hero is far more smart and entertaining than people care to remember.  Tapping into the common daydream of living the movies, Last Action Hero successfully achieves the escapist fantasies of anyone who’s ever been entertained by cinema.  Danny Madigan (O’Brien, My Girl 2) is relatable as a pre-teen city kid who ditches school and lives for the exploits of his favorite action hero, Jack Slater.  Forming a close friendship with Nick (Prosky), an elderly theater owner, Danny is treated to an early screening of the latest Jack Slater sequel.  Fatherless and financially struggling with his mother, their bond is a charming one as Danny looks to his older friend as a paternal rock.  Nick presents Danny with a magical movie ticket given to him by the great Harry Houdini.  Before long, Jack Slater IV shines across the silver screen and Danny is transported into the film.  Danny‘s gleeful enthusiasm for the movies is intoxicating and one that helps him spot the flaws in his new surroundings.  Engaged in a high-speed shootout with criminals, Jack Slater is surprised by Danny’s appearance and is further intrigued by his knowledge regarding the death of Slater’s favorite second cousin (Carney).  Last Action Hero excels at playfully poking fun at the clichés of the action genre with the murder of Slater’s distant cousin initiating a war against mob criminals.  Danny attempts to tirelessly convince Slater that he is a movie star living in a fabricated world to no avail.  Cameo appearances from Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and Sharon Stone (Total Recall), Danny pointing out the lack of “average looking women” and all phone numbers beginning with 555 only convince Slater of Danny’s insanity.

    Real trouble ensues when Benedict (Dance), Slater’s archrival responsible for his cousin’s death, comes in possession of Danny’s magical ticket.  An ace shot with an ever-changing glasseye, Benedict embodies the best and the silliest aspects of 007’s rogues gallery.  Joining forces with Ripper (Noonan), an axe-wielding madman responsible for murdering Slater’s son in a previous Slater sequel, Benedict invites the dangers of the fantasy world into Danny’s reality.  Finally, Slater believes the topsy-turvy world he’s living in and must trail Benedict into a world where heroes can die.  A rollercoaster-like finale takes place at the world premiere of Jack Slater IV where star Arnold Schwarzenegger walks the red carpet with then wife Maria Shriver.  A brief, hilarious encounter between Schwarzenegger and Slater takes place with Slater telling Arnie how he really feels about him.  Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport), Chevy Chase (Caddyshack), James Belushi (According to Jim) and Little Richard also make appearances on the red carpet.  A final showdown between good and evil takes place on the theater’s rooftop mimicking sequences from Slater’s own films.  

    Intentionally over the top and bolstering a heavy rock soundtrack from AC/DC, Def Leppard and Anthrax, Last Action Hero’s overlong runtime does cause the film to misstep, subjecting the audience to emotional meat for Slater’s character that does little good.  The murder of his son never feels like it phases Slater much, serving more as an excuse to have another villain for the hero to battle.  In addition, the brief inclusion of Slater’s attractive daughter (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Mortal Kombat), while serving as wonderful eye candy, never serves any purpose other than to assist her father in a shootout.  Last Action Hero would have benefitted more by focusing solely on Slater’s fish out of water complex as opposed to his broken family saga.  Despite these flubs, Last Action Hero remains a hilarious, action-induced piece of self-referential cinema that left audiences confused.  Ambitious and underrated, Last Action Hero boasted a marketing campaign as over the top as its plot that included the first paid ad in space through NASA.  Unfortunately, a locked-in release date matched with a behind schedule production and eventual negative word of mouth plagued Last Action Hero from reaching box-office glory.  Like a fine wine and ripe for rediscovery, Last Action Hero is a gaudy good time and sure to delight the movie lover in all of us.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Last Action Hero comes with a 1080p transfer sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  The film is a mixed bag of mediocre black levels seen in Danny’s real world city streets and the dilapidated movie house he frequents.  Skin tones appear decently while, some close-ups (most noticeably of Nick presenting Danny with the ticket) are quite fuzzy and lack proper detail.  That said, Last Action Hero does bolster some worthwhile moments of color seen in Slater’s fictional realm where explosions of bright inferno often occur.  Not unlike its box-office returns, Last Action Hero is mildly disappointing for an action extravaganza starring Arnold Schwarzenegger but still walks away being a modest improvement over past DVD releases.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Last Action Hero comes with no shortage of gunfire, car crashes and explosions that make great use of its soundscape.  Dialogue comes across with no issues whatsoever (unless you count Frank McRae’s inaudible yelling tantrums) plus, a heavy soundtrack consisting of top acts that will send your speakers for a loud, rockin‘ time!
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    An exciting adventure tale starring action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger and helmed by an A-list director seemed destined for box-office greatness, but alas was not meant to be.  Over 20 years later, Schwarzenegger and McTiernan have done better before and after, but Last Action Hero still maintains a charm and wit that is only now being more appreciated.  Packed with an overabundance of rip-roaring sequences and an enjoyable cast of genre actors, this satirical take on action combined with the escapism of movie magic takes the viewer for a hilarious journey worth buckling up for.  Co-penned by fan favorite Shane Black (The Monster Squad, Lethal Weapon) with a story co-provided by Zak Penn (The Avengers), Last Action Hero is an underrated gem of the early 90s that packs a severe punch of originality.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Runaway Nightmare (1982) Blu-ray Review

    Runaway Nightmare (1982)
    Director: Mike Cartel
    Starring: Mike Cartel, Al Valletta, Sijtske Vandenberg & Cindy Donlan
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Filmed over the course of several years, Runaway Nightmare serves as an excellent example of renegade filmmaking in the late 70s and early 80s.  Abstract and bizarre, Director Mike Cartel’s sole effort, incorporating elements of horror, black comedy and action, can hardly be labeled under one genre.  Welcomed into Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray series of 1,000 units, Runaway Nightmare has been scanned and restored in glorious 4K.  Destined to leave you scratching your head in wonderment, this is one nightmare you won’t soon be forgetting!

    Runaway Nightmare focuses on Ralph (Mike Cartel) and Jason (Al Valletta), two worm farmers stationed in Death Valley.  After discovering a woman buried alive, Ralph and Mike find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Shortly after, a sexy all-female cult of gun runners kidnap the men, force them to become their sex slaves and enlist them to help steal a suitcase of platinum from the mafia.  Strange and unusual, Runaway Nightmare co-stars Sijtske Vandenberg (Bitter Pleasure), Cindy Donlan (Schizoid) and Jody Lee Olhava (Three-Way Weekend).  

    MOVIE:
    For better or worse, Director Mike Cartel’s magnum opus is the work of a low-budget auteur.  Beginning in 1978, with principal photography lasting until 1982, Runaway Nightmare manages to not only corral some of the finest looking ladies in Death Valley but also assemble a production team of up and comers, Rowdy Harrington (director of Road House) and Daryn Okada (cinematographer on Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later), who continued to move up the Hollywood ladder.  Runaway Nightmare begins with two local worm farmers, Ralph (Cartel) and Jason (Valletta, director of Alley Cat), bored with their occupation and longing for adventure.  Unwanted excitement comes in the form of a female cult who abducts and keeps them under their watchful eye.  Runaway Nightmare rapidly switches gears, scene to scene as the viewer questions what’s unfolding before their eyes.  Imprisoned by beautiful women has its perks as the ladies never shy from seducing their prisoners.  But, after several tantalizing teases and the array of beautiful women on display, Runaway Nightmare never makes good on any skin.  That said, All Seasons Entertainment’s VHS release did insert several moments of glorious nudity without Cartel’s knowledge.  Moving forward, as the runtime increases, Runaway Nightmare only continues to grow weirder.  A bizarre dinner sequence takes place, feeling Lynchian in tone, where the female gang make statements, making little to no sense, as if there mid-conversation.  In addition, the only heavyset woman of the gang can’t resist randomly shouting “worm farmers” before exploding into uncontrollable laughter.  Fearing for their life and confronted with torture, Ralph and Jason can’t help making off-handed, hilarious comments that would normally feel out of place but, instead are appropriately at home in Runaway Nightmare.  The pitch black comedy mixed with their captors‘ odd sensibilities creates a surrealistic vibe few films can capture.  The climax of the film includes the men being tasked with retrieving a briefcase from the mafia filled with platinum.  Double and even triple-crossings take place that sends the viewer for a head spin keeping up with the overly complicated plot points.

    Actors stumbling over lines and even being replaced midway through shooting cements the indescribable charm of Runaway Nightmare.  Finding sense in Director Mike Cartel’s directorial debut is self-defeating and is best appreciated as a trippy cinematic experience that will leave you spaced out.  Whether Runaway Nightmare is a valiant effort or utter trash is in the eye of the beholder.  Most certainly, an acquired taste that lends itself to repeat viewings, Runaway Nightmare is a unique effort you won’t forget no matter how much you sleep it off.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Scanned in 4K from the original 35mm camera negatives, Runaway Nightmare is presented in 1080p, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Needles to say, the film looks gorgeous.  The scratch-free appearance matched with the near perfect clarity makes one appreciate the bright blue skies and dry environment of Death Valley.  Skin tones look remarkable with minor details such as aging wrinkles and graying hairs leaping off the screen.  Black levels are decent, albeit, some darker sequences contain more flakes and dust than desired.  In addition, a scene involving a gun dual between two of the cult members, drops significantly in quality, most likely attributed to a different film stock being used.  Overall, Vinegar Syndrome’s outstanding presentation is a dream come true for enthusiasts of this surreal indie effort.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Runaway Nightmare captures all dialogue magnificently.  Captured in post-production, the dialogue comes across louder than one might expect, ensuring you don’t miss a beat.  In addition, the electric, space-age sounding score comes across crisp and effective.  No noticeable signs of distortion or hiss were noticed making this one fulfilling sound mix.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Mike Cartel: Joined by his wife, Mari Cartel, who wore numerous hats on the production and moderated by Joel Rudin and film historian Howard S. Berger, Cartel provides a lively commentary touching on various topics.  The formulation of the project, guerilla filmmaking techniques that included stealing shots without proper permits.  Plus, the songs and the surreal quality of the film are discussed at length making this an ideal commentary to tune into for fans of the film.

    - Alternate Video Scenes: Presented in poor, yet visible VHS quality, the much requested, nudity scenes found in the All Seasons Entertainment VHS release are compiled for all to see.  While, inserted without Cartel’s knowledge, the scenes add a nice air of sex appeal for a film that shied away from skin.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Vinegar Syndrome’s latest limited edition Blu-ray release is an experience that is difficult to convey and is best left witnessing firsthand.  Unusual and dreamlike, Runaway Nightmare does not conform to a typical narrative but instead, transcends into the oddest journey through Death Valley you’re bound to take.  Also available in a standard DVD edition from retail outlets, Vinegar Syndrome has answered the call of the weird and accomplished another noble feat with this latest offering.  A beyond satisfactory video presentation, a strong audio mix and a nice selection of special features, including the highly-requested video sequences, make Runaway Nightmare deserving of a spot in your cult library.  
    RATING: 4/5 

  • The Mechanic (1972) Blu-ray Review

    The Mechanic (1972)
    Director: Michael Winner
    Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn & Jill Ireland
    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their working relationship, Director Michael Winner (The Sentinel) and star Charles Bronson (Mr. Majestyk) re-team for a tale about professionalism.  Tough and weathered, Bronson brings his always reliable acting chops to the table that would propel him to superstardom two short years later with Death Wish.  Stylistically taken for granted today, The Mechanic stands tall as a character-driven action thriller with stellar performances and an effective score from Composer Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch).  Available in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Twilight Time proudly presents this long appreciated Winner/Bronson collaboration for the first time on Blu-ray!

    The Mechanic stars Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman feeling the stress of his work.  After striking up a friendship with a hungry up-and-comer (Jan-Michael Vincent), the student/teacher partnership slowly unravels into dangerous territory.  Keenan Wynn (Nashville) and Jill Ireland (Hard Times) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Kicking off with a 16-minute dialogue free introduction, The Mechanic quickly draws you into the gritty Los Angeles landscape and Bronson’s calculated surveillance of his next victim.  The fly on the wall approach as we witness Bronson’s crafty steps to ensure the job looks like an accident makes the viewer feel as if they are part of the hit.  Shortly after, Arthur Brooks (Bronson) is summoned by a friend of his late father (Keenan Wynn) for protection only to have Brooks double cross him in the way of business.  Ruthless yet reserved, Brooks is growing tired of his lifestyle and yearns for normalcy.  Returning home to what appears to be a beautiful girlfriend (played by Bronson’s real life wife, Jill Ireland) anxiously awaiting his presence, the two engage in a night of passionate lovemaking.  The following morning, Brooks is seen paying the woman and complimenting her on her role-playing skills, further cementing Brooks’ desire for a regular existence.  The void in Brooks’ life is filled in the form of Steve McKeena, (Jan-Michael Vincent), son of Brook’s last hit.  Surprisingly, McKeena’s determination impresses the seasoned hitman and the two form a partnership.  Deadly and less cautious, McKeena is the perfect contrast to Brooks’ old-school yet effective methods.  Thrilling sequences for the team include a hit gone wrong, escalating into a high-stakes motorcycle chase.

    Director Michael Winner’s focused and quick cut style keeps the energy high as Brooks and McKeena’s relationship is tested as the apprentice challenges the teacher.  Brooks’ anxiety and frequent fainting bouts doesn’t help matters as McKeena becomes more unpredictable.  Leading to an exciting third act with twists at every turn, The Mechanic is a testament to the changing climate in Hollywood at the time where gritty, independent cinema was beginning to take hold.  Remade in 2011 with Jason Statham (Crank) and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) starring, Michael Winner’s original 1972 thriller maintains true style and Bronson’s steady performance would help reinvent the action star image for a new decade.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Twilight Time presents The Mechanic with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining natural grain, The Mechanic looks very pleasing and accurately captures its 70s city landscapes.  Flakes and specks are at a minimum with colors and detail popping nicely.  With the exception of some softer-looking scenes, The Mechanic looks more than satisfying.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Mechanic comes in loud and rather robust at times.  Dialogue is crisp while scenes of gunfire and explosions fill your speakers with force.  No noticeable distortion was found, making the audio treatment on par with the film’s excellent transfer.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Richard H. Kline: Moderated by film historian Nick Redman, Kline sits down for his first commentary discussing his early beginnings as a camera operator at Columbia Pictures as well as making over 100 films under Sam Katzman before eventually becoming a director of photography.  Kline recalls his working relationship with Director Michael Winner on several projects and regards him as a focused and talented artist.  Redman does his homework and engages Kline with great questions making this commentary a very beneficial one to listen to.

    - Isolated Score Track: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

    - 6-page booklet: Includes a well done essay by Julie Kirgo accompanied with screenshots from the film.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Exciting and riveting, The Mechanic is a film many others try to replicate today with lesser results.  Simple in execution, the film thrives on Bronson and Vincent’s chemistry as well as the edge of your seat action sequences that helped propel Winner as a mainstay in the genre.  Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is a knockout with a clean, natural appearance and a lively sound mix.  In addition, Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s first audio commentary is an informative one, well worth a listen.  Bronson fans will revel in this pre-Death Wish examination of a skilled hitman at odds with his apprentice.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #14: Video Nasties, Ravenous, Rollerball, Devil's Knot & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #14 includes:

    - Ravenous (1999) (0:36)
    Street Date: June 3, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - In the Blood (2014) (10:41)
    Street Date: June 3, 2014
    Anchor Bay: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Devil's Knot (2013) (17:41)
    Street Date: June 10, 2014
    Image Entertainment: http://www.watchimage.com/

    - Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977) (25:46)
    Street Date: June 3, 2014
    Cult Epics: http://cultepics.com/new_releases.html

    - Rollerball (1975) (33:38)
    Street Date: May 13, 2014
    Twilight Time: http://www.screenarchives.com/display_results.cfm/category/546/TWILIGHT-TIME/

    - Video Nasties (2010) (42:54)
    Street Date: June 3, 2014
    Severin Films: https://www.severin-films.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (49:24)

  • Lust for Freedom (1987) DVD Review

    Lust for Freedom (1987)
    Director: Eric Louzil
    Starring: Melanie Coll, William J. Kulzer, Judi Trevor, Howard Knight & Elizabeth Carroll
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Independent distributors, Vinegar Syndrome, take a breather from their highly successful adult entertainment output to excavate treasures from the Troma Entertainment vaults.  A feministic action tale told behind the bars of a women’s prison sets the course for this 80s cult hit produced by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) and directed by Eric Louzil (Class of Nuke’ Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown, Class of Nuke’ Em High Part III: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid).  Newly restored from the original negative, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents Lust for Freedom, where girls take the law into their own hands!

    Lust for Freedom stars Melanie Coll, in her only film role to date, as Gillian Kaites, a special undercover agent who experiences the brutal murder of her boyfriend in a sting operation gone wrong.  Looking to move on after the tragedy, Kaites finds herself in a world of trouble as she is subdued and whisked away to a women’s prison.  Corruption and perversion run rampant as Kaites plots a bloody revenge against those responsible for her unjust imprisonment.  

    MOVIE:
    While, intended to be a parody with comedic shades, Lust for Freedom comes across far more earnest than most Troma productions.  Kicking off with a play by play narration by Coll (that continues throughout the film) of an undercover operation, shootouts run amok with some wildly hilarious gunshot reactions and hokey fight choreography that sets the stage for a film of performers trying their best.  Coll’s partner and boyfriend ends up dead resulting in her need to escape the life and surroundings she has come to know.  Driving aimlessly with no true destination in mind, Coll picks up a frantic female hitchhiker in the desert before being stopped by the local sheriff.  It doesn’t take long before the friendly sheriff cons Coll back to the station to drug and relocate her in the local women’s prison.  A dangerous institution where the prisoners are held under false charges and for the wicked amusement of the warden and his cronies, Coll has entered a living nightmare.  Judi Trevor (Leather Jackets) makes a memorable appearance as the despicable head of the prison who makes life horrifying for the inmates.  Lust for Freedom proudly embellishes the popular traits of women in prison flicks with first time lesbian encounters, shower-filled T&A sequences, rape, brutal whippings plus, inmate wrestling matches to the death.  All the ingredients are present and accounted for, albeit, slightly underused especially for a Troma production.  Luckily, the array of actresses‘, with their nicely styled 80s hairdos and fully applied made-up faces, are quite attractive making risque scenes all the more rewarding.  

    The more time Coll spends in this house of horrors, the better she understands the corruption at work and plots revenge.  Teaming up with fellow inmates, Coll relies on her undercover skills and way with firearms to turn the tables on the establishment.  More shootouts, explosions and a wild inferno, all to the blaring songs of Grim Reaper, bring the heinous prison down.  Lust for Freedom works on nearly every level for fans of the women in prison subgenre, although, the more scandalous material could have benefitted from being exploited more.  In addition, Coll’s endless narration to the obvious grows tiresome but never takes away from the fun of the film.  Shot cheaply, the laughable action sequences and the “high speed” car chases that barely crack school zone limits add an air of charm worth reveling in.  Far from perfect, Lust for Freedom separates itself from other Troma productions by winking at the audience instead of cementing the tongue to their cheek, paving the way for an arrestingly good time.
    RATING: 4/5          

    VIDEO:
    Vinegar Syndrome presents Lust for Freedom in an 1.85:1 aspect ratio, scanned in 2K from a 35mm blow-up negative.  Originally filmed in 16mm, Lust for Freedom experiences instances of vertical lines and flakes early on but, improves as the run time progresses.  A slight speckling appears throughout the film which looks more inherent in the film stock than the restoration process.  The plain and sterile scheme of the prison casts a rather dull appearance especially with the inmates all wearing white.  The few colors present, most notably in Coll’s red shirt before her imprisonment, as well as skin tones pop as nicely as could be expected especially in close-ups.  Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration is a welcome one for a film that would have more than likely received lesser treatment from others.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix, Lust for Freedom slightly suffers from just being a little too low.  Cranking the volume up will become necessary to pick up all dialogue especially in the prison where voices tend to echo constantly.  Luckily, moments of intense gunfire and the rockin’ tunes from Grim Reaper serve up a nice and welcome oomph to the mix.
    RATING: 2.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Eric Louzil: Louzil discusses the similar artistic sensibilities between himself and Kaufman that drew the two together.  Louzil remains chatty the duration of the film but often spends too much time narrating the onscreen action.  That said, Louzil still serves up an informative listen that is worthy to fans of the film.

    - Interview with Producer and Distributor Lloyd Kaufman: Kaufman sits down for a 10 minute interview discussing how the project came to be, his direct involvement, Louzil’s many talents and more.

    - Original Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Far from a diehard Troma fan, Lust for Freedom had all the right ingredients to make its way into this women in prison fans’ heart.  Packed with a line-up of beautiful ladies showcasing T&A and choked full of shootouts, bloodshed and a radical heavy metal soundtrack, Lust for Freedom is a winner for viewers looking to spend 90 minutes in the slammer.  Vinegar Syndrome has done yet another fine service to cult fans by dusting off a goody like this and restoring it from the Troma library.  Coupled with a nice and informative assortment of special features, Lust for Freedom is a cult prison flick that fans should sentence themselves to for life.  With access to the vast Troma vaults, one can only hope that Vinegar Syndrome continues to serve up more entertaining odds and ends like Lust for Freedom.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5: Gravity, Memory of the Dead, L.A. Law, Oldboy & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5 includes:

    - Gravity (2013) (0:32)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Warner Bros: http://www.warnerbros.com/

    - L.A. Law Season 1 (6:27)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Memory of the Dead (2011) (11:14)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Artsploitation Films: http://www.artsploitationfilms.com/

    - Gotham City Serials (16:23)
    Street Date: February 4, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Oldboy (2013) (19:32)
    Street Date: March 4, 2014
    Sony Pictures: http://www.sonypictures.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (25:11)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #4: The Jungle Book, Arrow Video, Darkman, The Shadow & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #4 includes:

    - The Jungle Book (1967) Diamond Edition (0:34)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Rocky: The Heavyweight Collection (6:37)
    Street Date: February 11, 2014
    MGM: http://www.mgm.com/

    - Hellgate (1990) (13:27)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - Darkman (1990) Collector's Edition (20:48)
    Street Date: February 18, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) (28:09)
    Street Date: January 27, 2014
    Arrow Video: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/

    - The Shadow (1994) Collector's Edition (35:33)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

  • The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2013) DVD Review

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    The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2013)
    Director: Jonathan Newman
    Starring: Michael Sheen, Lena Headey, Ioan Gruffudd, Aneurin Barnard & Sam Neill
    Released by: Image Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Weaving the worlds of magic and adventure, a young hero facing unstoppable odds must retrieve his younger brother while, a diabolical villain intends on possessing a relic with supernatural powers.  The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box packs limitless imagination and colorful characters in a Victorian era setting in London.  Available also on Blu-ray, Image Entertainment proudly presents the fantastical film adaptation of the G.P. Taylor best-selling novel.  Let us explore the mystery and excitement of this heroic tale...

    The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box centers on teenage Mariah Mundi (Aneurin Barnard) as his life is turned upside down when his parents vanish and younger brother are kidnapped.  Teaming with trusted agent and family ally, Charity (Michael Sheen), the duo follow clues to the Prince Regent Hotel where the monstrous Otto Luger (Sam Neill) is feverishly searching for an ancient relic.  The lost artifact could bring devastating results to humanity if Mariah and Charity don’t retrieve it.  The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box co-stars Lena Headey (300), Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) and Keeley Howes (Death at a Funeral).

    MOVIE:
    Shot on the relatively low-budget of $25 million, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box looks and feels far more in tune with other Hollywood blockbusters.  Invoking the youthful charisma of Young Sherlock Holmes and the adventurous tone of the Indiana Jones franchise, the film dares to fill the void of the recently deceased Harry Potter series.  Surprisingly, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box succeeds in delivering a compelling story and a charming sense of excitement that most films of this stature often miss.  While, not boasting a cast of A-list names, the performers play their roles admirably and offer a sense of gravity to each part.  Michael Sheen’s eccentric Charity is a humorous and intelligent agent who retrieves lost antiques from falling into the wrong hands.  With shades of Robert Downey Jr.‘s Sherlock Holmes, Sheen plays the role with a true sense enthusiasm.  In addition, Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) plays the villainous role of Otto Luger with a dry wit that serves his performance well.  Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) appears as Neill’s second in command and plays the part with a devilish charm while Ioan Gruffudd (Horrible Bosses) makes a brief turn as the young lead’s father.  Aneurin Barnard portrays the heroic protagonist, Marich Mundi, with all the necessary chops and emotion to give the audience a hero worth rooting for. 

    The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box does a remarkable job in creating a world of Victorian era beauty and ancient wonder.  The film also offers a sensational amount of action set pieces, considering the limited budget.  A fun, albeit short, final sword battle between Sheen and Neill taking place aboard a moving steampunk inspired drill while, Barnard hangs from a chain feels not far removed from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The unnoticeable uses of CGI to create certain set pieces are a true testament of how best to use the overly dependent technology. 

    The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box is an effectively told, magical adventure tale shot on a wildly modest budget.  While, looking and feeling like other similarly themed projects, the film dons its own personality and rewards the viewer with charming performances and wonderfully orchestrated actions sequences.  Hinting at future adventures in an early end credit scene, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box has all the potential to expand its world as long as later installments contain the same delightful sense of mystery and excitement.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Image Entertainment presents The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box in a vibrant 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Flesh tones are accurately presented with detail looking sharp especially in wardrobe and the majestic Prince Regent Hotel.  Black levels are reasonably decent while moments in darkened caves leave more to be desired.  Presumably, the Blu-ray edition will only enhance the pros and improve the very minor cons.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box never disappoints in relaying dialogue but action-filled moments could have benefitted from a louder push.  Overall, the mix is a serviceable one.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - The Making of The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box: What appears as a typical promotional fluff piece, turns out to be a rather interesting featurette.  The cast, crew and author all share their input on the film as well as admitting that filling the void of Harry Potter films was intended.  Fly on the wall footage is captured of the crew battling treacherous weather conditions and the cast rehearsing stunt pieces.  A far more informative behind the scenes look than expected.

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box is an entertaining, imaginative tale suited for the entire family.  With shades of National Treasure, Young Sherlock Holmes and the Indiana Jones films, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box maintains its own unique spirit and is conveyed by a marvelous cast.  With its heart in the proper place, The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box has all the potential to follow in the tradition of Harry Potter by delivering future installments that exceed the original.  Image Entertainment’s DVD release is equipped with more than decent AV quality that will surely be eclipsed by its Blu-ray counterpart.  In addition, the behind the scenes featurette provided informative insight to the film’s creation.  The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box pleasantly surprised with its old school approach to magical storytelling that sadly, seems to be fading from today’s cinema landscape.
    RATING: 4/5 

  • Stonados (2013) DVD Review


    Stonados (2013)
    Director: Jason Bourque
    Starring: Paul Johansson, Thea Gill, Sebastian Spence & Miranda Frigon
    Released by: ARC Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In similar fashion to other disaster filled TV movies, Stonados bombardes viewers with a very unique breed of twisters, unlike anything seen before.  Airing originally on the SyFy network, a seasoned cast of TV alumni playing Bostonites are set against a force of nature more dangerous than the New York Yankees.  With British Columbia naturally serving as Boston and horrendous CG effects in tow, prepare to take cover as we chase the unfathomable Stonados...

    Stonados takes place in the heart of Boston where an unexpected tornado appears on the waterfront.  Intrigued by the occurrence, former storm chaser Joe Randall (Paul Johansson of One Tree Hill) investigates the matter to learn the unusual storms are moving nearer.  As the city quickly becomes attacked by these “stonados”, Joe along with his sister Maddy (Miranda Frigon of Queer as Folk) and former partner Lee (Sebastian Spence of Fast Track) team up to utilize Joe’s untested weather manipulation theory to stop the havoc.  Pitted against the impending danger of the storms and rescuing Joe’s children, the trio are tasked with the most dangerous mission of their lives.

    MOVIE:
    Stonados bears no shame in the low-budget, cheese induced production it is.  This B-grade TV effort follows the same tropes of other SyFy productions by creating a wildly over the top disaster, incorporating abysmal CG effects to bring it to life and casting a group of somewhat recognizable faces who have seen better gigs to end the destruction.  Admittedly, these goofy popcorn events have attracted a devoted audience with such fan-fare as Sharktopus, Piranhaconda and most recently SharknadoStonados follows the pattern of its predecessors with unfortunately, lesser results.  Compared to past SyFy efforts, the threat in Stonados is just nowhere near as appealing or entertaining as tornados that hurl man-eating sharks at unsuspecting victims.  The laughable CG effects to bring the stone hurling twisters to the screen are painfully bad, but still manage to invoke that oh so cheesy SyFy charm.  Stonados makes a severe mistake in getting far too carried away with overly science-orientated explanations to buffer the plot.  Audiences of this ilk are less concerned in how these ridiculous phenomena came to be and more interested in the destruction.  While, Stonados treats viewers with its fair share of humorous casualties, most noteworthy a fortune teller (shouldn’t she have seen it coming?), the film disappoints with a lack of any blood or goofy CG limbs.  Oddly enough, victims seem to be crushed to dust upon impact of the stones, resulting in anticlimactic eye candy.  

    The principal cast do a competent job but suffer from playing their roles too straight.  In addition, the marquee value of seeing pop sensation Tiffany do battle with a mega piranha or Steve Urkell facing a crocosaurus is far more appealing than an actor best known for a recent CW teenage drama.  The actors also deny themselves of having more fun with their roles which would have benefitted the viewing experience immeasurably.  Sadly, Stonados could have been far more entertaining than it actually was.  The stone hurling twisters pale as a fun vocal point in comparison to past SyFy efforts.  While, the CG effects are undoubtedly bad they still inject plenty of intended laughter for the viewer.  The cast have decent chemistry and perform adequately but their inability to ham it up, suffocates the whole production.  Stonados is not the worst disaster filled flick to appear on SyFy, but than again it does little to make itself memorable.
    RATING: 2.5/5

    VIDEO:
    ARC Entertainment presents Stonados in a serviceable 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Colors are relayed nicely with skin tones appearing accurate.  As expected for a production in 2013, dirt or scratches are nonexistent on this transfer.  While, not mind-blowing, presentation is more than adequate for a TV movie of this level.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Stonados comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that presents dialogue clearly and action sequences nicely.  During moments of city destruction, bass is nicely balanced with screams and glass shattering more than audible.  A decent mix for a rather underwhelming film.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Original Trailer

    RATING: 0.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Stonados never strays far from the tried and trusted SyFy disaster formula but ultimately disappoints.  The concept of a twister heaving dry-iced stones at citizens would seem mildly amusing had more entertaining fare not come before it.  The low-budget CG effects do their job by remaining cheap and giving the viewer a laugh.  Unfortunately, the cast, although competent in their abilities, restrained themselves from having more fun appearing in a production called Stonados.  ARC Entertainment’s presentation is more than suitable for a low-budgeted TV effort like this.  Stonados won’t go down as “so bad, it’s good” or even god awful, it will just straddle the line of bottom bin mediocrity.
    RATING: 2.5/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #2: Danny Phantom, Rewind This!, Robocop, Bullet in the Face and More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-up #2 includes:

    - Bullet in the Face The Complete Series
    Street Date: January 21, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Robocop (1987) Unrated Director's Cut
    Street Date: January 21, 2014
    MGM: http://www.mgm.com/

    - NYPD Blue Season 5
    Street Date: January 21, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Danny Phantom The Complete Series
    Street Date: January 28, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Rewind This! (2013)
    Street Date: January 14, 2014
    MPI Home Video: http://www.mpihomevideo.com/

    - Runner Runner (2013)
    Street Date: January 7, 2014
    20th Century Fox: https://www.foxconnect.com/

    - You're Next (2013)
    Street Date: January 14, 2014
    Lionsgate: http://www.lionsgate.com/

  • Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Blu-ray Review (UK)


    Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
    Director: John Carpenter
    Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, Victor Wong & James Hong
    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Coming off the massive success of 1978’s Halloween, Director John Carpenter ushered in the 1980s with an output of films that are all retrospectively considered seminal cult classics.  From the ghostly atmosphere of The Fog to the apocalyptic future of Escape from New York and the FX-driven mastery of The Thing, Carpenter seemed hellbent on trying new things.  A jumbling of genres ranging from martial arts, fantasy and action, Big Trouble in Little China seemed to be Carpenter’s most off the wall film to date.  Re-teaming with Kurt Russell, Carpenter embarked on a film that would inevitably fail at the box-office before thriving on home video and be reborn as a bonafide cult favorite.  Arrow Video presents one of Carpenter’s most beloved films with an exciting abundance of special features as well as a variant limited edition SteelBook.  Sit tight and hold the fort while we find out how well ol‘ Jack Burton is doin‘...

    Big Trouble in Little China centers on Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), an American trucker, passing through San Francisco’s Chinatown.  When trouble strikes and his friend’s fiancée is kidnapped, Jack finds himself caught in a war involving Chinese black magic and sorcery.  Lo Pan (James Hong), an evil 2000 year-old magician, is the ringleader of the chaos along with his powerful henchmen, The Three Storms.  Jack and friends band together to battle these ancient villains before it’s too late.  Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City), Dennis Dun (Prince of Darkness), Kate Burton (The Ice Storm), Donald Li (One Crazy Summer) and Victor Wong (3 Ninjas) all co-star.

    MOVIE:
    With an embarrassingly low-key ad campaign, Big Trouble in Little China was doomed to fail at the box-office.  While studio executives were hoping Carpenter would deliver something more akin to Indiana Jones, they were unappreciatively handed Jack Burton.  In retrospect, the flashy set design, over the top shennanigans and nifty visual effects, make Big Trouble in Little China more on par with the Indiana Jones franchise than most others at the time.  While the film lived and died quickly during its theatrical run, home video paved the way for an inevitable resurrection.  Throughout the years, Big Trouble in Little China has evolved into a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s most treasured films, which is easy to understand.  The blending of genres filtered through Russell’s sense of humor as the buffoonish but lovable Jack Burton and the impressive visual effects, mark this a decade highlight of the 1980s.  The sheer popcorn entertainment of Big Trouble in Little China is what makes it work so well and continues to age effortlessly.  While Russell’s incompetence and snappy one-liners command the film, the supporting cast add all the juices to make the film flow.  Jack’s friend, Wang (Dennis Dun), the real “hero” of the film, is the yin to Jack’s yang.  The camaraderie between the two is plain fun to watch and Dun’s martial arts scenes are some of the most exciting.  The young and beautiful Kim Cattrall is a knock-out as lawyer Gracie Law.  Appearing in the original Police Academy, Cattrall’s comedic timing is unsurprisingly spot on and compliments Russell nicely.  In addition, Victor Wong (Tremors) serves as the wise old man who guides the characters throughout all the black magic happenings that have befallen them.

    Carpenter directs this flashy picture with style and makes excellent use of the soundstage built sets that served as Chinatown.  Battle scenes involving The Three Storms are a highlight with incredible martial arts showcased along with delightful 80s visual effects to create their vicious lightning powers.  If Rob Bottin’s masterful makeup effects in The Thing were to invoke fear, than those found in Big Trouble in Little China are meant entirely for laughs.  The intricate effects are hilarious and make for some of the greatest eye candy of the entire film.  Carpenter, in association with Alan Howarth (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Christine), compose yet another effective and unmistakably “Carpeterian” soundtrack that rates highly against their other collaborations.  Awesomely enough, Carpenter’s Coup de Villes, lay down the catchy main theme song for the film.  Big Trouble in Little China is a total hoot from start to finish with a roller coaster fun story, memorable characters, quotable lines, eye candy galore found in the terrific visual effects and a killer soundtrack.  What studio executives failed to “get” back in 1986 became genre lovers’ gain in the long run.  Big Trouble in Little China remains one of Carpenter’s most loved films where I imagine it will rightfully stay for eternity.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Big Trouble in Little China is presented in a 1080p High-Definition (2.35:1) transfer.  While, 20th Century Fox’s domestic Blu-ray release was top notch, Arrow Videos’ treatment hardly differs.  Grain is naturally apparent throughout with an overall clean presentation.  Detail is nicely crisp and skin tones look as natural as one could hope.  Colors pop wonderfully, most impressive is during visual effects scenes where the lightning bolts seem as though they are jumping through your screen.  Arrow’s video presentation appears just a shade clearer than the domestic release which makes the viewer appreciate Cattrall’s green contact lenses all the more.  By a hair, Arrow Videos‘ treatment walks away as the definitive video presentation of the film.
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Big Trouble in Little China comes tuned with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that impresses.  Sound is robust with dialogue never missing a hitch and battle scenes and soundtrack moments living up to expectation.  Loud, crisp and clear will get the job done every time.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:
    (NOTE: The collector’s booklet listed below was not provided for the purposes of this review, therefor the rating of this section cannot take it into consideration)

    - Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter & Actor Kurt Russell

    - Return to Little China: John Carpenter, laid back with cigarette in hand, sits down for a brand new interview discussing the project and the politics of making a studio picture.  Candid as always, Carpenter discusses the uproar Asian activist groups had with the film with one particular “piece of shit” getting under Carpenter’s skin.  “Fuck him”.  Carpenter’s words, not mine.  A priceless interview!

    - Being Jack Burton: Star Kurt Russell graciously covers his collaborations with Carpenter and their friendship throughout the years.  Russell discusses the hardships the film went through upon completion and offers plenty of quality insight in this brand new interview that runs 20 minutes.

    - Carpenter & I: Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Halloween, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) is interviewed.

    - Producing Big Trouble: Larry Franco (Escape from New York, The Rocketter) is interviewed.

    - Staging Big Trouble: Jeff Imada discusses the stunt work of the film.

    - Interview with Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund

    - Deleted Scenes

    - Extended Ending

    - Vintage Featurette

    - Music Video

    - Trailers

    - TV Spots

    - Gallery

    - Isolated Score

    - Collector’s booklet: Includes new writing on the film by John Kenneth Muir, author of The Films of John Carpenter and a re-print of an article on the effects of the film from American Cinematographer.

    - Reversible cover: Newly commissioned artwork provided by Jay Shaw included only in the standard release.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Big Trouble in Little China is the little film that could.  While the studio expected big results with the film, they left it for dead after not “getting” it.  A tragic loss and box-office disappointment segued into a much deserved rediscovery via home video.  Nearly 30 years after its release, Big Trouble in Little China is not only one of Carpenter’s finest accomplishments but it is the definition of a cult classic.  Arrow Videos‘ release is the definitive treatment for such a beloved film with a perfect video presentation, a booming sound mix and an epic assortment of vintage and newly crafted special features.  Pay your dues and throw the check in the mail because Arrow Videos‘ Big Trouble in Little China deserves a spot on every genre lovers shelf.
    RATING: 5/5

  • 4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two DVD Review


    4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two
    Director(s): Steve Carver / Cesar Gallardo / Richard T. Heffron / Howard Avedis
    Starring: Gary Busey / James Iglehart / Jim Mitchum / Connie Stevens
    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shout! Factory returns with another dose of action-powered goodness in this 2-DVD set.  Volume Two presents four more explosive flicks with high-octane star power and enough shootouts and hand to hand combat to enthrall any action aficionado.  With films ranging from 1974 to 1988, this movie marathon is destined to capture the glory days of drive-ins and grindhouses where cult cinema like this ran rampant.  Load those machine guns and wrap those fists as we hit the ground running on this collection…

    Disc 1 pares two exciting gems from 1988 and 1974 respectively.  First up, Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story) is Bulletproof.  A Los Angeles cop/ex-CIA agent, Frank "Bulletproof" McBain (Busey) travels south of the border to retrieve a top-secret attack vehicle which has been hijacked by Russian-backed Libyan terrorists.  Darlanne Fluegel (Battle Beyond the Stars, Pet Semetary II) co-stars along with L.Q. Jones (Director of A Boy and His Dog), R.G. Armstrong (Dick Tracy) and the always reliable Henry Silva (Trapped).  Next up, Bamboo Gods & Iron Men stars James Iglehart (Savage!) as champion boxer Black Cal Jefferson.  While on his honeymoon in Hong Kong, an attempt is made by an underworld organization to recover a carved Buddha, which protects a substance powerful enough to control the world.  Cal, along with his wife and mute companion, get caught up in the events and they are the only ones to put a stop to it.

    Disc 2 opens with 1976’s Trackdown where a Montana rancher (Jim Mitchum) comes to Los Angeles searching for his runaway sister (Karen Lamm) who has become entangled in the dangerous world of drugs and prostitution.  Erik Estrada (CHiPS, Light Blast), Anna Archer (Fatal Attraction) and Cathy Lee Crosby (Coach) co-star.  Finally, Connie Stevens (Two on a Guillotine) headlines Scorchy, as a female undercover agent who will stop at nothing to bust a drug-smuggling ring.  Cesare Danova (Animal House) and William Smith (Conan the Barbarian) also star.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Action_Packed_Movie_Marathon_V/action_packed_movie_marathon_v.html

  • Eve of Destruction (1991) Blu-ray Review



    Eve of Destruction (1991)
    Director: Duncan Gibbins
    Starring: Gregory Hines, Renée Soutendijk, Michael Greene & Kurt Fuller
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, is back with some android thrills from the 1990s!  Debuting the same year as Terminator 2: Judgement Day (although beating it to the punch by six months), Eve of Destruction appears to tread on similar waters as James Cameron’s sci-fi epic.  That said, things can only take a fun turn when you make the deadly android a sexy female and have a hot-headed terrorism expert on her trail.  If Cameron’s The Terminator and its equally superior sequel are the A-list answer to human-like robots run amok than Eve of Destruction is the B-Movie response.  Does this scandalous killer android have what it takes to keep you entertained or will this flick be means for self-destruction?  Let’s find out…

    Eve of Destruction centers on Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk), a human-like android modeled after her inventor, who after an unexpected hiccup during testing sends her on a deadly rampage against anything perceived as a threat.  Terrorism expert Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) is the only hope in finding and deactivating her before nuclear annihilation!

    MOVIE:
    When originally announced at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, many fans were split on the upcoming titles that were slated for Scream Factory’s 2014 roster.  Eve of Destruction was one of those flicks few were impressed by and some even scratched their head at the thought of its inclusion in the line.  It is for reasons like this that Scream Factory should be praised for taking a chance and giving a nearly forgotten 90s sci-fi flick its time in HD glory because frankly, who else would?  Eve of Destruction is a surprisingly fun flick that manages to take a concept we’ve seen before but present it with some tweeks that are equally entertaining.  Renée Soutendijk’s duel role of the inventor and Eve VIII is a blast to watch as Eve VIII certainly would give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money.  The android’s flirty and sexy nature allows her to act out feelings that her creator always kept bottled up leading to some terrific scenes.  After scoping out the local bar, Eve VIII invites a bar patron back to a hotel room where he learns just how sensitive Eve really is.  The result is an “orally” entertaining time that needs to be experienced firsthand.  The late Gregory Hines offers a great performance with plenty of hilarious one liners as the terrorist expert tasked to take down Eve VIII.

    I’ll admit I have a weakness for films that showcase futuristic technology that is painfully dated by todays standards, I can’t get enough it.  You can count on seeing plenty of over the top screens and computer monitors that are used to monitor Eve VIII’s maintenance but could probably all be operated by an iPad Mini today.  Nothing screams nostalgia more than dated movie technology, period!

    Eve of Destruction succeeds in all the action departments needed to make this one entertaining 100 minute romp.  Plenty of machine gun shootouts and a cross country chase from California to New York that results in an intense final showdown in the subways.  It’s no secret that this film isn’t a masterpiece but to take a familiar concept audiences have seen and create an entertaining piece of cinema is all that matters.  Eve of Destruction is a delightful effort in the killer android sub-genre that probably would have been completely forgotten if not for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release.  Dated technology, a sexy killer android and Gregory Hines demanding “why the fuck there ain’t no off switch on this thing?” is reason enough to saddle up with this flick and a bowl of popcorn.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Scream Factory presents Eve of Destruction on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1:78:1.  Instances of dirt and specks are apparent throughout the film but not noticeably distracting while skin tones seem a little too warm.  Colors pop nicely and saturation is nice especially on Eve VIII’s red leather jacket.  Grain level is natural while blacks are decent enough.  Not amazing but certainly a serviceable transfer.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Eve of Destruction is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track which is clear and quite loud.  Dialogue scenes come across with no issue while moments of action, especially shootouts, are loud and shattering.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Theatrical Trailer

    While special features are limited on this release, it more than likely has to do with the passing of Gregory Hines and Director Duncan Gibbins who died in 1993.  That said, Scream Factory does include a reversible cover that utilizes the original 1-sheet artwork.

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Eve of Destruction is no Terminator 2: Judgement Day but it will keep you throughly entertained with all the android mayhem you could ask for.  Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is a serviceable one with decent video and a terrific audio track.  Unfortunately, special features are minimal but then again not every release can be chocked full of extra content.  The inclusion of the reversible cover art was an unexpected and appreciated treat.  The entertainment value of the film alone is worth a look and a spot on any die-hard Scream Factory fans shelf.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • The Doll Squad (1973) w/ Mission: Killfast (1980s) Blu-ray Review



    The Doll Squad (1973) w/ Mission: Killfast (1980s)
    Director: Ted V. Mikels
    Starring: Francine York, Tura Santana & Lisa Todd / Cheng-Wu Yang & Sharon Hughes
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Exploitation label, Vinegar Syndrome, is back at it again with another dose of Blu-ray goodness for cult lovers everywhere.  In true grindhouse fashion, this releases comes with not one, but two feature films from the Ted V. Mikels Collection.  The man responsible for so many cult gems like The Black Klansman, The Astro-Zombies and The Corpse Grinders.  Vinegar Syndrome have presented both films on Blu-ray for the first time in this release which is also chocked full of special features and a groovy reversible cover art option.  Will a group of sexy female agents destined to bring down a criminal mastermind soothe the cult enthusiasts’ itch or will it be a master martial artist named Tiger, who goes toe to toe with weapons dealers resulting in shoot-outs and explosions be worth your time?  Think quickly because in five seconds this paragraph will self-destruct so let’s take a gander at The Doll Squad and Mission: Killfast

    The Doll Squad tells the story of a gorgeous group of female agents who are assigned to a top mission where an evil mastermind plans on unleashing the bubonic plauge on the world.  Interestingly enough, this film is said to have inspired the classic Charlie’s Angels television show.  The film stars a terrific group of cult actors such as Francine York (It Takes a Thief), Michael Ansara (Batman: The Animated Series), Lisa Todd (The Devil’s Rain) and Tura Santana (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!).  Mission: Killfast focuses on marital arts master, Cheng-Wu Yang (credited as Tiger Yang), who is called upon by his government to face off against an evil group of weapons dealers.  Violence, explosions and bikini clad women take care of the rest.

    MOVIE(s):
    The Doll Squad quickly sucked me in thanks to its very colorful and very 70s title sequence which highlights the beauty of our core cast.  As the leader of The Doll Squad, Francine York takes command of the film and has a hypnotizing beauty that truly shines.  She’s joined by several other team members, most famously Tura Santana  who also showcases her burlesque talents in the film.  While, a film about gorgeous secret agents should be a sure thing, The Doll Squad tends to lose its focus at some point.  The major drawbacks are the actual size of the team, there simply are just too many of them for us to really learn and appreciate their personalities.  With the exception of York and Santana (who clearly has cult cred), the other girls just feel like blank canvas‘ who are just following orders and shooting wildly at evildoers.  In addition, the plot of taking down a criminal hellbent on unleashing the bubonic plauge seems simple enough, but again that’s where another drawback is found.  The film tends to get wrapped up in its own dialogue which congests the story and makes it a slight bore to watch at times.  Thankfully, the redeeming qualities of this film come in the unexpected form of violence.  Make no mistake about it, The Doll Squad is a very classy exploitation film for its time.  If you’re looking for gratuitous nudity or raunchy sex scenes, look elsewhere because they’re not found in here.  That said, when the guns come out, lots of blood goes flying.  Bullet shots to the head and machine gun shootouts galore were a welcome surprise for what originally seemed like a very tame film.  The handling of explosions and electrocutions in The Doll Squad are quite hilarious, it made me feel like I was watching an episode of the 1960s Batman.  In addition, while most of the women are forgettable, there’s no denying how lovely they all look.  Director Ted V. Mikels certainly knows how to cast a sexy group of agents and there beauty is one of the driving contributers of the picture.  While The Doll Squad certainly beat Charlie’s Angels to the punch by a whopping three years, the television show perfected the concept of female secret agents.  The Doll Squad presents a simplistic story that gets a little too wrapped up in itself causing a slightly bumpy viewing experience.  Luckily, the film’s action and violence mixed with the lovely sight of the core cast makes the film a serviceable watch.  There’s no way this film is a terrible one, it’s just not particularly amazing either.  But, being from the Ted V. Mikels cannon, there’s no way any cult lover can’t have this in their collection.  Recommended.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    Next up, Mission: Killfast pits martial arts master, Tiger Yang, against a group of ruthless arms dealers.  Shoot-outs, blood and sexy women are all on board for this flick as well.  Mission: Killfast is a film that had a tremendously hard time being completed, starting in 1980 and principal photography not wrapping until 1989 with an actual release not occurring until sometime in 1991.  The trouble with this film is similar to what plagued The Doll Squad but on a larger scale.  The story is simple and easy enough to follow but as the film takes off, it just gets derailed with too many random plot points.  We get introduced to many characters and learn the criminals want to get their hands on nuclear detonators but never understand exactly why they want them.  The film just tends to drag itself to the finish line and even action-orientated moments aren’t enough to save it.  Unfortunately, even having a real martial artist like Tiger Yang onscreen doesn’t bring anything exciting to the table.  Yang’s talents are grossly underused in the film and fighting sequences come off laughable as a result.  While The Doll Squad kept itself classy with no nudity, Mission: Killfast sheds some skin on many of the ladies in the film.  By the time the final act comes around, it just seemed like a carbon copy of The Doll Squad with the good guys storming the bad guys‘ base, fighting ensues, inevitable victory for the good guys, etc.  It’s tough to be so critical of a film that probably lost sight of itself after many years in production.  Mission: Killfast clearly had a very long road from start to finish and unfortunately it just doesn’t make for a terrific viewing experience.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    The Doll Squad has been restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negatives and is presented in 1.85:1.  Simply put, the film looks stunning!  Colors are bright while flesh tones are natural and crisp.  Grain levels are near perfect and detail is beautifully apparent in close-ups.  The film has minor moments of softness and scratches that are so minimal, it wouldn’t take away from this fantastic transfer.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    Mission: Killfast has also been restored in 2K from 35mm original camera negatives and is presented in 1.85:1.  Softness and scratches are a little more apparent here but the film still looks quite nice with flesh tones looking good and colors popping where needed.  The transfer received the same great treatment that The Doll Squad was given but the added softness and scratches slightly took away from it.  Overall, still a terrific job!
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The Doll Squad sports a DTS-HD Master Audio mix which sounds stellar.  Dialogue and action are clear as bell with no noticeable hissing anywhere.  Anyone wanting to see how audio on a cult release should be handled, look no farther than The Doll Squad.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    Mission: Killfast was given the same DTS-HD Master Audio mix and sounds fine although there were moments during dialogue scenes where the audio sounded muffled.  Dialogue could still be heard but it just wasn’t as clean as The Doll Squad.  Still, nice work and arguably the best sound treatment this film will ever get.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:
    Vinegar Syndrome went above and beyond with special features utilizing the helping hand of American Grindhouse Director Elijah Drenner.

    - The Doll Squad Commentary with Director Ted V. Mikels: American Grindhouse Director Elijah Drenner moderates this chatty commentary with Director Ted V. Mikels.  Mikels has nothing but fond memories of the film and the two touch on a variety of topics including Mikels’ love for machines and his enjoyment incorporating them into his films.  In addition, the expensive title sequence is explained as Mikels expresses his dislike for boring black background title sequences.  Drenner does a terrific job conversing with Mikels as he injects his own interesting anecdotes about cult cinema.

    - Interview with Director Ted V. Mikels: This interview is composed of outtakes from Drenner’s American Grindhouse documentary that were shot between 2006-2008.  Mikels discusses his early beginnings performing magic shows with Leon Mandrake which morphed into his desire for filmmaking.  Mikels’ perseverance to never quit at his age is an inspiring one.

    - Mustache Commandos!: The Making of Mission: Killfast: Mikels is interviewed about the long road to making and completing Mission: Killfast.  Investments falling through, reels being stolen and only having three cast members return to finish the film after nine years makes this interview quite a watch.

    - Interview with Francine York: The leader of The Doll Squad sits down to reminisce about filming the movie.  York discusses the enjoyment she had working with Tura Satana and the admiration she holds for Mikels.  York still looks beautiful at her age and has nothing but fond memories of the film.

    - English Subtitles

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:
    The Doll Squad is a classy piece of early 70s cult cinema, the core cast of Dolls are just gorgeous and the violence found in the film was unexpected but certainly welcome.  The film tends to get wrapped up in itself which makes for some boring moments but as a whole, it still walks away being a fun watch.  Unfortunately, Mission: Killfast was a tougher pill to swallow as it suffers from the same missteps as The Doll Squad but manages to be more boring and not as satisfying.  Luckily, Vinegar Syndrome has given both these films top quality treatment with spectacular video transfers, more than adequate audio mixes, as many special features as one could expect from films of this caliber and groovy reversible cover artwork.  While, The Doll Squad ends up being the fan favorite for me, this package of films is a stellar release from Vinegar Syndrome and one all cult fans should add into their collections!
    RATING: 4/5