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  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

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

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

    Director: Richard Linklater

    Starring: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Johnson, Ryan Guzman & Zoey Deutch

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hailed as the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! centers on college freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner, Glee) as he navigates through his first rambunctious weekend with his new teammates during the summer of 1980.  Featuring an ensemble cast of rising stars, Academy Award nominated director Richard Linklater’s (Boyhood) latest coming of age tale celebrates the girls, wild parties and baseball that bring the competitively hilarious players together.  

    Returning back to the stomping grounds of Texas for his collegiate odyssey of hard partying 80s jocks, Director Richard Linklater’s long weekend of baseball and bromance told through the eyes of arriving freshman Jake revisits the stoner-induced good times of his tonally reminiscent 70s era feature, refashioned for a new decade.  Trading up tie-dye threads for bats and booze, Everybody Wants Some!! introduces viewers to the eccentric players that share Jake’s new off campus dwelling and their various personality quirks.  Shortly after his house tour, the Southeast Texas Cherokees saddle Jake up for a joyride of the campus where a flirtatious encounter with fellow student Beverly (Zoey Deutch, Vampire Academy) sets the speed for the libido surging weekend ahead of classes.  Privy to the rowdy players’ party-filled tour of local hotspots including, the dance-centric disco Sound Station, a “Cotton-Eyed Joe” blasting country bar and a punk rock show, the horny athletes dance the night away with Texas’ most beautiful Southern belles, get involved in a bar fight and are witness to a female mud-wrestling showdown.  With testosterone surging in the house, the teammates never shy away from competing with one another as their short-tempers are demonstrated following lost bets, ping pong defeats and scoring hits off each other’s fast balls.  Further hilarity ensues when pot-smoking and an attempt at telepathy proves mostly unsuccessful while, the drug of choice opens the film up to physiological conversations and one’s place in the bigger picture of life that Linklater excels at.

    Boasting a soundtrack of perfect hits from The Knack, Sugarhill Gang, Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Devo and many others, Everybody Wants Some!! worries little about traditional character development instead, allowing viewers to grow with the characters by being an unofficial member of the squad and witness to their ball-busting shenanigans and deep-rooted camaraderie shared only by teammates.  In addition, although a strongly suggested romance between Jake and performing-arts major Beverly appears imminent, Everybody Wants Some!! wisely takes the highroad leaving audiences to wonder while, the period piece comedy keeps it focus on the seminal snapshot of college life experiences and the joy those memories continue to bring.  Smart and unforgettably funny, Everybody Wants Some!! captures the nostalgia of the 80s with the onscreen chemistry of its young cast perfectly demonstrating the wild and crazy energy of youth.

    Paramount Pictures presents Everybody Wants Some!! with a 1080p transfer, boasting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  From its yellow-bolded opening titles to the end credits, colors and clarity are flawless with skin tones appearing exceptionally detailed.  The 80s wardrobes and discotheque interiors of the film are also relayed with well-defined textures that spotlight the tiniest of background features.  Free of any discernible hiccups, Everybody Wants Some!! looks rockin’.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is unimpaired and prioritized while, the chart-topping hits of its soundtrack explode from the speakers with head-bopping force.  Special features include, Everybody Wants Some!! More Stuff That’s Not in the Movie (25:24) featuring hilarious outtakes and other onset goofs, Rickipedia (3:57) finds the young cast praising Linklater’s exhaustive knowledge of proper fads and terminology of the 1980s that helped give the film its authenticity while, Baseball Players Can Dance (6:42) documents the intensive dance and baseball training the cast went through to embody their characters.  In addition, Skill Videos (5:17) and History 101: Stylin’ the 80s (4:20) providing an inside look at how the cast were transformed into 80s-era twenty somethings are also included.  Lastly, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD code round out the supplemental package.

    Cut from the same cloth as Linklater’s 1993 stoner comedy, Everybody Wants Some!! takes its coming of age formula and delivers a new tale of friendship and partying that excels in every area.  Produced with an uncanny design of its intended decade, Linklater’s sports chuckler keeps the good times rolling for anyone whose ever been young, dumb and looking for fun.  Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures’ high-definition treatment is technically pristine with a spread of bonus features that compliment the film’s fun atmosphere.  Critically hailed, Everybody Wants Some!! ranks as one of the year’s best offerings that will leave you consumed by its spot-on recreation of a familiar time and place and the nonstop entertainment only jocks like these could produce.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available July 12th from Paramount Pictures, Everybody Wants Some!! can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Night Game (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Night Game (1989)

    Director: Peter Masterson

    Starring: Roy Scheider, Karen Young, Richard Bradford, Carlin Glynn & Paul Gleason

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball, Night Game stars Roy Scheider (Sorcerer) as Texas police detective Mike Seaver.  When a string of mysterious murders linked to night baseball games strikes the Galveston area, Seaver must connect the dots before another life is taken.  Karen Young (9 1/2 Weeks), Lane Smith (The Mighty Ducks), Richard Bradford (The Untouchables), Carlin Glynn (Sixteen Candles) and Paul Gleason (Die Hard) co-star.

    Continuing in his string of gritty crime thrillers, Roy Scheider appears unconvincingly as Texas detective Mike Seaver, hot on the case of a ruthless serial killer with a weakness for blondes.  Murdering his victims with a hook-like instrument and leaving them with mysterious notes, Seaver and his team are left with few leads as more bodies begin turning up on Galveston’s beaches.  Juggling his recent engagement to the much younger Roxy (Young) and feeling pressure from his superiors, Mike, a former minor league ball player, takes notice of the questionable coincidences between the murders and the Houston Astros‘ winning streak.  Before long, it’s clear whenever Astros pitcher Silvio Baretto takes the team to victory, another murder is committed leading Seaver on a hot trail to pinning his suspect down.  

    Shot on location in Galveston, Texas and the Astrodome in Houston, Night Game stumbles to build a story of suspense and criminal intrigue.  Considerably miscast, Scheider does little to disguise his New Jersey roots as a Texan and appears generally unenthusiastic in his performance.  Cloaked in far too much mystery until its closing moments, attempts to bulk Scheider’s character up with a past as a former minor leaguer and being the son of a crime boss is suggested but, never serves much purpose to the plot.  With viewers left clueless the entire picture about the killer’s identity, the reveal is ultimately unoriginal and wildly underwhelming.  In addition, wasting the talents of supporting players such as, Lane Smith (My Cousin Vinny) and Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) in throwaway roles, Night Game suggests a worthwhile thriller with its alluring slasher-esque poster art but, instead delivers a curveball of disappointment.

    Olive Films presents Night Game with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a natural, filmic appearance and inconsequential moments of speckling, Night Game delivers strong detail with perspiration off baseball players‘ faces and wardrobe relaying sharply.  Skin tones are inviting while, black levels are handled appropriately with little to no crushing observed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible and crisp with Composer Pino Donaggio’s (The Howling, Blow Out) score delivered authoritatively and balanced evenly with sound effects.  Unfortunately, Night Game strikes out with no special features.  

    Performing poorly at the box-office, Night Game never strives to be original and wallows in the tropes of other run-of-the-mill crime thrillers.  Instead of weaving a quality tale of mystery, viewers are left oblivious to its uninspired outcome with Scheider closing the decade out on a low note.  Olive Films delivers the film for the time on Blu-ray (and DVD) with pleasing technical achievements sans special features.  Boasting a better poster design than memorable film, Night Game is an unfortunate bust.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Night Game can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Million Dollar Arm (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Million Dollar Arm (2014)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

    Starring: Jon Hamm, Pitobash, Aasif Mandiv, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin & Bill Paxton 

    Released by: Disney

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    No stranger to fact-based sports dramas, Disney has once again turned to the headlines to spin a new tale of inspirational underdogs akin to Miracle and Invincible.  From Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night), two Indian teens whisked away from their native land by unbelievable circumstances is what dreams are made of.  Headlined by a diverse cast of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming talent, Million Dollar Arm will leave you uplifted and applauding.

    Million Dollar Arm stars Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as sports agent JB Bernstein.  Along with partner Ash (Aasif Mandiv, Premium Rush), their recently formed company is struggling to make ends meet.  In a desperate attempt to attract talent, Bernstein travels to India to stage a pitching contest in order to discover untapped athletes.  Embarking on an inspirational journey of self-discovery and teamwork, Bernstein returns to America with two Indian youths to transform them into Major League players.  Pitobash (Shanghai), Lake Bell (Childrens Hospital), Alan Arkin (Argo) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Sentimental and inspiring, Million Dollar Arm continues a long streak of successful true life sports tales Disney has perfected.  Based on the 2008 signing of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Million Dollar Arm traces their incredible road from their desolate Indian land to the United States.  Jon Hamm leads the film as business-obsessed sports agent, JB Bernstein, at odds with keeping his independent company afloat.  Hamm does well in the role as a wealthy, self-absorbed man with little regard to anything other than signing the deal.  With money and resources dwindling, Bernstein hatches an idea to scour the unexploited region of India to discover their first Major League ballplayers.  Aided by a local interpreter (Pitobash) and talent scout (Arkin), Bernstein hosts Million Dollar Arm, a pitching contest to locate the finest talent with financial benefits for those selected.  Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Treasure Island) portray the fish out of water winners with ease, invoking wonderful emotion and humor in their performances.  Brought to America to hone their techniques with pitching coach Tom House (Paxton), Rinku and Dinesh have difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings.  Preoccupied with other business and neglecting his pupils, Bernstein must reevaluate his life to better understand the value of teamwork.  In addition, striking up a charming romance with his tenant (Bell), Bernstein learns to put his heart and others before business, allowing his young friends to rise above adversity.

    Far from a sports enthusiasts, Million Dollar Arm is precisely the kind of uplifting drama that moves you emotionally.  Slightly formulaic and predictable, Million Dollar Arm is still a wonderful film possessing strong values all audiences can relate to.  Destined to leave viewers with a lump in their throats by its finale, Million Dollar Arm is another heartfelt home run for Disney.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Million Dollar Arm arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  From the hot, sandy climate of India to the flashy Los Angeles cityscape, colors consistently shine with detail nicely relayed.  Skin complexions are accurate and warm while, black levels are handled nicely falling only a few hairs shy of perfection.  Clear and vibrant, Million Dollar Arm is a pleasing sight.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Million Dollar Arm continues to work its magic.  Character-driven, dialogue is heavy and always relayed clearly with no issues.  The hustle and bustle of the Indian sequences supply the mix with various background noises of traffic and car horns that are nicely balanced.  Composer A.R. Rahman’s (Slumdog Millionaire) score of blending western and eastern cultures is the track’s highlight.  Empowering each sequence and providing added boosts in authority, Rahman’s musical queues always reward the viewer.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Training Camp (6:18): Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal share their experiences preparing for the film with various trainers and ballplayers.

    • Their Story (2:54): A much too brief featurette focusing on the real JB Bernstein, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Kumar Patel discussing their incredible true story.

    • Million Dollar Music by A.R. Rahman (2:34): Rahman shares anecdotes about his approaches to the material and the various songs crafted.

    • Deleted Scenes: A collection of three brief and forgettable scenes understandably left out of the final cut, JB’s Problem (0:44), Sold (0:55) and I’d Take 10 Dollars (0:40).

    • Alternate Ending (0:49)

    • Outtakes (2:04)

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

    Filled with heart and a story of dreams coming true, Million Dollar Arm is an inspirational effort accomplished by a terrific cast, gorgeous locations and an effective score.  Marking another rousing success with sports dramas, Disney’s Blu-ray treatment, although short on features, is sure to satisfy fans with beautiful visual and audio treatment.  Million Dollar Arm may not stray far from most fact based films of this ilk but, it’s effectively told and will undoubtedly encourage tears of joy for some.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now, Million Dollar Arm can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.