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  • Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

    Director: Art Linson

    Starring: Peter Boyle & Bill Murray

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Culled from the wild and crazy exploits of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam centers on the eccentric reporter (Bill Murray, Caddyshack) and his ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein), fueled on drugs and a madness for adventure, as they navigate the politically spiraling and violent days of the late sixties and seventies.

    The first film taken from Thompson’s toxic brand of chaotic intellect, Where the Buffalo Roam takes liberties with the facts concerning the journalist’s construction of a story based on the misadventures of friend and ex-attorney Carlo Lazlo, Esq.  Rewinding to the years 1968-1972 where Lazlo attempts to free an avalanche of San Francisco youths from overly severe drug charges, Thompson drinks and drugs his way through the proceedings while his latest deadline looms.  Rambling his way from one city to the next and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, Thompson’s coverage of Super Bowl VI is sidetracked by the equally eccentric Lazlo’s presence who convinces the writer to join him on a mission to supply freedom fighters with heavy artillery.  Bailing on the plane escaping madness once the fuzz show and capturing the attention of young adults across the college campus circuit, Thompson offers sage advice by supporting the notion of illegal substances in the writing process and confronting then Presidential candidate Richard Nixon during an awkward bathroom encounter.  While the chemistry between Murray and Boyle sells and their performances, most notably Murray who does a sound impression of Thompson that was, for better and sometimes worse according to his fellow cast members, carried over to his next season of Saturday Night Live, Where the Buffalo Roam is structurally messy and never as funny or witty as it thinks it is.  Scored by Neil Young in one of his only film efforts, a lackluster screenplay and dismal box-office returns, trifled by Thompson’s own disdain for the finished effort, leaves Where the Buffalo Roam as merely the forgotten predecessor to Terry Gilliam’s much trippier and appreciated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas adaptation.

    Shout Select welcomes Where the Buffalo Roam to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A softer sight, colors are favorable but never do much popping while, skin tones remain nicely detailed and natural-looking.  Very scant notices of scuffs aside, a filmic quality is inherent throughout the feature without any over-sharpening techniques applied.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is serviceable with the mumbling manner of Thompson’s speech requiring an occasional increase in volume while, the film’s excellent music choices (presented for the first time ever on home video!) ranging from cuts by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Temptations, Neil Young and more, offer stronger boosts in range and bass.  

    Billed under Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition banner, special features, although limited, include, Inventing the Buffalo: A Look Back with John Kaye (41:58) where the screenwriter recalls being originally tasked with scripting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although caring little for its source citing a lackluster narrative structure, while its rights situation was resolved.  Bluntly put, Kaye also admits to being a former drug-addict and cites his research trip with Thompson through such cities as Aspen, Los Angeles and New Orleans as a fun drug binge.  In addition, Kaye felt Art Linson, making his directorial debut on the picture, was in over his head and maintains that his working relationship with Murray was a friendly one with the exception of one evening where the star badgered Kaye to come out and party resulting in Kaye having him removed from his hotel.  Lengthy and refreshingly honest, the interview is a must-watch for fans and detractors alike.  Furthermore, the Theatrical Trailer (3:14) and Reversible Cover Art conclude the supplemental package.

    Rarely funny but earning mild points for Murray’s spot-on interpretation of Thompson and Boyle’s equally worthy performance, Where the Buffalo Roam remains Hollywood’s dusty paperback attempt at bringing Thompson’s madcap brilliance to the big-screen with mostly unfavorable results.  Although its Collector’s Edition status, given its limited supply of extras, may be debated, the quality of Kaye’s interview and the film’s original music fully intact is warrant enough.  Murray completists will be pleased with what he brings to role of one of journalism’s most eccentric voices while, Thompson purists won’t help feeling underwhelmed.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Where the Buffalo Roam can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Founder (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Founder (2016)

    Director: John Lee Hancock

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Blu-ray Review

    Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

    Director: John Sturges

    Starring: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins & Walter Sande

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a desert ghost town, Bad Day at Black Rock finds WWII veteran John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind) passing through only to find his visit and reasons for doing so confronted with suspicion and threats from the locals, led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up).  Unwelcome wherever he roams, Macreedy’s mysterious presence slowly reveals the town’s deadly secret.  John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) helms the drama, nominated for three Academy Awards.

    Beautifully shot in the golden vistas of Lone Pine, California and neighboring Nevada, Bad Day at Black Rock is a captivating viewing experience, blending the realms of western noir and suspenseful intrigue.  Following the aftermath of World War II, handicapped veteran John J. Macreedy travels to the sleepy community of Black Rock in search of a man named Komoko.  Met with unwavering suspicion and coldness from the tight-knit locals, Macreedy finds himself refused a hotel room and overwhelmed with questions regarding his business.  Slowly developing a pleasant relationship with the local doctor while, the town sheriff wallows in self-pity and alcohol, the town’s true leader Remo Smith informs the curious traveler that his Japanese friend was interned during the course of the war.  Refusing to believe the questionable tales spun by Black Rock’s aggressively racist residents, Macreedy investigates matters on his own determining more is not right than previously assumed.  With messages to the state police left unsent and Smith’s henchmen hellbent on making the veteran suffer for not leaving well enough alone, a war is waged between Smith longing to keep the town’s secret intact and the outsider with nothing left to lose.  Battling his own personal fight against alcoholism at the time while being questionably too old for the part, Spencer Tracy dazzles in the lead as a suit-wearing mystery man arriving in a dusty town uncovering the worst and then some.  In addition, Robert Ryan plays the film’s heel with a sharp coyness that makes his violent turn against Macreedy in the final act all the more effective.  Furthermore, Smith’s cronies, played namely by Lee Marvin (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and Ernest Borgnine (Marty) who goes toe-to-toe with Macreedy in a barroom brawl, are perfect supporting heavies to Ryan’s calm but dangerous baddie.  An expert demonstration of drama and tensely orchestrated suspense, Bad Day at Black Rock, rightly categorized by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osbourne as essential, is just that.

    Warner Archive presents Bad Day at Black Rock with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the grandiose mountains, blue skies and desert terrain of its setting, colors are bold and beautiful while, skin tones are never comprised.  Featuring crisp levels of detail in the costume’s of Black Rock’s locals and Macreedy’s black suit, sweat beads and dirt scuffs on facial features and attire are captured with ease.  Free of any unwanted scuffs or scratches, the film’s transfer is an absolute stunner.  Equipped with a perfectly suited DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that relays crisp dialogue exchanges and the roar of train engines, quality is of equal measure to its visual counterpart.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Dana Polan and the Theatrical Trailer (3:26).

    Gorgeously photographed and packing powerful performances, Bad Day at Black Rock is a most memorable experience with cutting suspense capable of keeping viewers glued to its unfolding.  Also known as being Spencer Tracy’s last onscreen role for MGM, Warner Archive upgrades this essential slice of cinema to high-definition with splendid clarity and filmic naturalness sure to be hailed as its definitive home video statement.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Bad Day at Black Rock can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Finding Dory (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Finding Dory (2016)

    Director(s): Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

    Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba & Dominic West

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to the undersea world of the 2003 hit movie, Finding Dory focuses on the loveably forgetful blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen) as memories of her family slowly resurface, inspiring a new quest to find them.  Assisted by a wave of new sea creatures, Dory’s journey won’t be simple but, one of unforgettable adventure.  

    In its long overdue followup, Finding Dory shifts its attention to the fan-favorite costar of the original with her role as the seeker now substituted as the lost traveller in her pursuit for her family.  Treading familiar waters with a less epic journey ahead, Finding Dory’s routine calculations are thankfully offset by DeGeneres’ charisma and the film’s hilarious new supporting players.  A year after reuniting Nemo (Hayden Rolence) with his father Marlin (Albert Brooks, Drive), Dory is struck with memory flashes of the parents (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall and Eugene Levy, American Pie) she became separated from as a child.  With assistance from the bodaciouslly cool sea turtle Crush, Dory, Marlin and Nemo find themselves at the Marine Life Institute in California where the blue tang is certain she resided with her loved ones.  Before long, Dory is separated from her clownfish pals by marine biologists and forced to navigate the interiors of the aquatic development on her own.  Luckily encountering Hank (Ed O’Neill, Modern Family), a particularly crabby octopus with desires of living his days solely in an aquarium, the two find mutual benefits in sticking together while, meeting hilariously lazy sea lions Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba, The Jungle Book and Dominic West, John Carter respectively), a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and a bulbous beluga whale known as Bailey (Ty Burrell, Muppets Most Wanted).

    Warming hearts with flashbacks of an adorably young Dory and rescuing her best friends from a permeant stay in Cleveland during a high-speed truck pursuit, Finding Dory never stumbles in relaying saccharine charm yet, its narrative plays itself too safely that although entertaining, halts the sequel from exceeding the quality of its original.  With Dory and Hank’s at first contentious turned sweet friendship being the film’s finest asset along with its stunning visuals, Finding Dory may not be the next Pixar masterpiece but, remains a throughly fun ride, no matter how simple-minded its journey is.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Finding Dory with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Nothing short of perfection, the oceanic environment from the murky, dimly lit depths of the sea to the colorful shades of blue in the waters of the film’s California setting shine beautifully with strong presence and exacting detail.  Furthermore, the bolder hues found in characters such as Hank, Nemo and Dory pop exceptionally while, black levels never falter in relaying the inkiest of depths.  Disney once again has made a high-definition splash viewers will find the utmost delight in.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with the splashing of waves, bubbling ambiance and the film’s lovely musical score all presented with effective priority.  Featuring well over two hours of additional content, Disc 1’s special features include, an Audio Commentary with Directors Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane and Producer Lindsey Collins, Piper (6:05), Pixar’s latest short subject revolving around a baby sandpiper coping with his fear of water, Marine Life Interviews (2:04) featuring humorous sit-downs with the supporting sea creatures about their encounters with Dory, The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar (9:05) deals with the complexities of bringing the tentacled character of Hank to life and What Were We Talking About? (4:31) finds the creative team discussing the titular character and the trickiness of her short-term memory loss.  In addition, Casual Carpool (3:47) finds Director Andrew Stanton chauffeuring Stars Albert Brooks, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy and eventually Ed O’Neill as they hilariously fail to discuss fish facts, Animation & Acting (6:57) explores the art of voice acting with the cast and creators while, Deep in the Kelp (3:20) finds Jenna Ortega of Stuck in the Middle hosting a look into Pixar’s oceanic research developing the film and Creature Features (3:02) catches up with the cast as they share tidbits on their real undersea counterparts.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:32), Disney Store (0:32), Disney on Ice (1:02), Moana (1:26) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the supplemental smorgasbord.

    Next up on Disc 2, bonus content includes, a Behind the Scenes section of several featurettes covering Skating & Sketching with Jason Deamer (4:14), Dory’s Theme (4:57), Rough Day on the Reef (1:11), Finding Nemo As Told by Emoji (2:47) and Fish Schticks (3:35).  Secondly, a selection of bonfire-like ambiance for your television screen featuring unique Living Aquariums are included such as, Sea Grass (3:03:52), Open Ocean (2:48:30), Stingrays (2:48:42) and Swim to the Surface (1:02:20).  Finally, Deleted Scenes (50:15), Trailers ranging from the Sleep Swimming United States Trailer (1:43), Theatrical Payoff Japan Trailer (2:09), Can’t Remember Spain Trailer (1:22) and the Journey Russia Trailer (2:31) are included alongside a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    Over a decade since Finding Nemo swam its way into the hearts of audiences worldwide, its belated sequel may have arrived with open arms but, strays too closely to formula to be considered as impactful.  While its dynamics may seem wholly familiar, the returning characters make for delightful company with the hilarious supporting players being responsible for the better part of the film’s laughs.  Falling short of the greatness of Pixar’s Toy Story sequels, Finding Dory keeps its agenda simple and breezy with depths of fun still to be had for audiences who can’t stop swimming for these beloved characters.  Meanwhile, Disney admirably stretches its tentacles to deliver another first-rate high-definition release with hours worth of bonus content to keep viewers drenched in entertainment.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Finding Dory can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Joshy (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Joshy (2016)

    Director: Jeff Baena

    Starring: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman & Jenny Slate

    Released by: Lionsgate 

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Turning tragedy into much needed male bonding, Joshy stars Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) as a former groom to be who, along with a few friends, turn his intended bachelor party into a weekend of debauchery and emotional awakenings in this indie dramedy.  Adam Pally (The Mindy Project), Alex Ross Perry (Happy Life), Nick Kroll (Dinner for Schmucks), Brett Gelman (30 Minutes or Less) and Jenny Slate (Bob’s Burgers) costar.

    Coping with the sudden loss of his fiancé, a tight knit group of friends follow through with a pre-planned bachelor party weekend to drown out the sorrows of their grieving pal only to slowly unveil their own personal dilemmas.  Retreating to the picturesque region of Ojai, California, Joshy brings together several thirty somethings as they initially choose to ignore the purple elephant in the room while, substituting the obvious with forced smiles, alcohol and ample doses of drugs.  As the pain of their own problematic relationships and internal guilt mounts, the friends soon realize that the bromantic bond between them is essential to their ability to face life again.  Mostly improvised, Joshy captures the surreal predicament of losing a loved one and its emotionally draining aftermath with a wildly comedic cast that effortlessly balances both pain and hilarity, much like the best of life’s friends.  Excellently cast, Thomas Middleditch leads the film with introverted complexity and lovable awkwardness while, his drunken brethren, namely Adam Pally as the curly-haired Ari whose flirtatious nature with the local Jodi (Slate) complicates his own situation, offer wonderfully natural and unpretentious performances with heart.  Featuring minor appearances from Jake Johnson (Jurassic World), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Community), Joshy may conclude with abrupt open-endedness regarding the character’s emotional state yet, the indie effort crafts a sincere and heartwarming example of male friendship worth celebrating.  

    Lionsgate presents Joshy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, the film shines most notably during sunny outdoor sequences where the depth of the idyllic location is spotlighted.  Furthermore, skin tones are crisp and exacting while, the majority of the film appears rather bland and occasionally soft.  More than sufficient for the character-driven drama it is, Joshy makes a serviceable bow on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that thrives on its strong dialogue levels, the track has little else that stands out as particularly noteworthy but, plays well to its strengths.  Limited in its offerings, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeff Baena, Producer/Actor Adam Pally & Actor Thomas Middleditch.  In addition, an Also From Lionsgate (9:05) section offers trailers for Dirty Grandpa, Casual, Life After Beth, Sundown and Natural Born Pranksters with a Digital HD Code concluding the scant special features.  

    While its characters may not be fully developed and its conclusion leaving more to be desired, the realness of their personalities and the film’s central theme of friendship coping with grief make Joshy a worthy standout.  Featuring emotional and comically charged performances from its cast, the indie effort stands in as a solid drinking buddy to drown tears in and have a laugh with.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate brings the Sundance selected feature to high-def with satisfactory, if not, uneventful technical grades.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Joshy can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hardcore (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Hardcore (1979)

    Director: Paul Schrader

    Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent & Ilah Davis

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo), Hardcore explores the seedy underbelly of pornography when religiously devout Midwesterner Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott, The Hustler) scours Los Angeles to find his missing daughter subjected to the sex-driven trade.  Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein), Season Hubley (Elvis), Dick Sargent (Bewitched) and Ilah Davis in her only feature film co-star.

    Haunting and uncomfortably captivating, Paul Schrader’s descent into the sleazy subculture of peep shows and underage pornography stabs like a knife that equally shocks and emotionally runs it toll on audiences and its traumatized characters alike.  Leading a simple life in the chilly, religiously-minded Grand Rapids, businessman and single father Jake Van Dorn sees his young daughter Kristen (Davis) off on a church sanctioned getaway to sunny California when every parent’s worst nightmare comes true.  Alerted that the adolescent girl has gone missing, Van Dorn wastes little time heading to Los Angeles where the local authorities offer little assistance outside of recommending the hire of a private detective.  Foul-mouthed and unorthodox, the troubled father enlists the services of Andy Mast (Boyle) who makes the harrowing discovery of a ratty stag film starring the precocious teen.  Virtually impossible to track and overcome with pain and anger, Van Dorn takes matters into his own hands to locate his child, leading him through a sensory shocking exploration of the adult film underworld and its unsavory operators.  Asking questions best left unanswered before masquerading as a film producer to better infiltrate his surroundings, the straight-laced Calvinist’s connection to a working girl (Hubley) with insider access sends the mismatched pair to the illuminated porn palaces and bathhouses of San Diego and Frisco where more depraved alleyways are opened to Van Dorn.  Subjected to grizzly snuff films and entry into bondage-style dungeons, the forever changed parent reaches rock bottom when a gut-wrenching revelation is made on his surreal odyssey of turmoil.

    Capturing the bygone storefronts and coin-operated sex shows of the Sunset Strip, Hardcore is an authentically gripping and viscerally effective feature that leaves scars long after its end credits fade to black.  The Academy Award winning Scott is exceptional as a father struggling to salvage his faith in the gutters of S&M debauchery while, Boyle makes for an intriguingly sordid private eye with sex on the mind.  In addition, Season Hubley greatly impresses in her role as the street hustling key to Van Dorn’s daughter with early appearances from Tracey Walter (Repo Man) as a perfectly cast adult store clerk and Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere) as a fully dressed porn star, also on hand.  Crafting outsider personalities and bringing hypnotic allure to urban decay like no other, Schrader’s West Coast-based feature, although narratively unique, serves as a welcome companion piece to his scripted Taxi Driver masterwork that both host psychologically wounded characters suffocating within their dark environments.  Although easing the brakes on a more appropriately traumatizing conclusion, Hardcore still leaves viewers in a state of awe and disbelief by the sights and sounds most would assume only reside in nightmares and not the very real crevices of our imperfect society.

    Limited to 3,000 units, Twilight Time presents Hardcore with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural film grain throughout with spot-on facial tones and soothing contrast, Schrader’s sophomore feature arrives free of scuffs and scratches with vastly impressive black levels seen during its many nighttime street sequences and in the backrooms of porn shops.  In addition, detail is striking with easily seen fingerprints on peep show booths plus, boastful colors admired though neon-lit lighting and Scott’s Hawaiian shirts greatly impress.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the track is far from spellbinding or wildly dynamic but, prioritizes dialogue and makes Composer Jack Nitzsche's (Cruising, Stand by Me) trembling guitar chords wholly impactful.  Special features include, a new 2016 recorded Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Schrader followed by an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer & Paul Scrabo.  In addition, an Isolated Score Track, the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:21) and a 6-page booklet featuring another excellently authored essay by Julie Virgo conclude the supplemental package.

    One of Schrader’s most accomplished efforts that unquestionably influenced Joel Schumacher’s snuff film thriller 8MM two decades later, Hardcore is an unflinchingly brutal assault on parental fears and broken faith set under the hot, throbbing lights of pornography skid row.  Shocking and emotionally draining, Twilight Time ushers the controversial classic onto Blu-ray with a definitive presentation, chatty and informative commentary tracks from its creator and well-versed historians plus, engaging liner notes making the release essential to any 70s film enthusiast.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now and limited to 3,000 units from Twilight Time, Hardcore can be purchased exclusively via TwilightTimeMovies.com and ScreenArchives.com.

  • 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.

  • Pigs (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Pigs (1973)

    Director: Marc Lawrence

    Starring: Marc Lawrence, Toni Lawrence & Jesse Vint

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented in its original director’s cut for the first time on home video, Pigs centers on beautiful drifter Lynn Webster (Toni Lawrence, Beyond Reason) who descends on a sleepy California town while harboring a dark secret.  Gaining employment at a local cafe, her boss and former circus performer Zambrini (Marc Lawrence, The Man with the Golden Gun) cares for a pen of 12 hungry pigs with a penchant for human flesh.  Turning to the local population for his personal pig chow, Sheriff Dan Cole (Jesse Vint, Forbidden World) grows suspicious of the recent activity as he nears closer to the frightening truth.

    Billed under one of its many titles as The 13th Pig, Actor/Director Marc Lawrence’s indie budgeted opus paints itself as exploitation fodder that would weigh in its favor playing the drive-in circuit although, its artistic aspirations, however ambiguous, exceed its chase for the almighty dollar.  Starring his own daughter Toni as a woman with a skeleton in her closet, the out of town and relatively quiet Lynn starts anew as a waitress at the local looney Zambrini’s (elder Lawrence) cafe.  As elderly nosy bodies inform the local sheriff that Zambrini’s pen of pigs run freely in the evening and shockingly devour people, a previously ridiculous notion grows more believable in time.  A sight for sore eyes in a male dominated town, Lynn finds herself picked up by a fellow horndog whose passes ignite a razor-sharp reflex of Lynn’s located only in nightmares.  When a mutual understanding between the two outsiders form, the true state of Lynn’s mental health and Zambrini’s dedication to fatten up his piggies grows while risking further suspicion from Sheriff Dan whose own attraction to Lynn becomes harder to conceal.  Although containing horrific moments of murder, Pigs would be hard pressed to be strictly labeled horror with a stronger emphasis placed on the psychological construction of its peculiar leads and their unhinged yet, sympathetic allegiance to one another.  Containing freakish imagery of squealing pigs fighting over limbs and Zambrini in ghoulish clown make-up with the dark cloud of Lynn’s broken childhood revealed near its conclusion, Pigs establishes a peculiar atmosphere where a mental breakdown, loneliness and homicidal tendencies all converge during a most unusual odyssey, leaving viewers equally perplexed and captivated.

    Scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm interpositive, Vinegar Syndrome presents Pigs with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With select footage sourced from lesser quality theatrical prints, presentation is understandably uneven at times with less handsome footage showcasing murkier black levels and red hues in its photography.  Although ideal elements have long since been destroyed for said moments, the assembled final product looks overwhelmingly strong with properly lit sequences giving way to detailed facial features and bold colors seen in the blood spewed during Lynn’s razor assault popping most effectively.  While occasional scuffs and scratches are also on hand, Vinegar Syndrome’s painstaking dedication, with assistance from several other parties, to provide viewers with the film’s definitive version sinks any of its imperfections.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is cleanly captured with high-pitched pig squeals making sharp strides on the track while, Composer Charles Bernstein’s (A Nightmare on Elm Street) hauntingly harmonious score makes a most effective mark.  Well stocked, bonus features include, Toni Lawrence: Back on the Menu (14:15) where the film’s lead actress sits down to discuss her father’s career and her own development as an actor.  In addition, Somewhere Down the Road with Charles Bernstein (13:35) interviews the famed composer on one of his earliest compositions and his unique payment for his services, an Audio Interview with Cinematographer Glenn Roland (1:20:42) and a Promotional Artwork Gallery (4:29) can also be found.  Finally, an Alternate Exorcism Opening (3:17), an Alternate Daddy’s Girl Opening (5:49), an Alternate Daddy’s Girl Ending (5:15), the Pigs Theatrical Trailer (1:41), the Love Exorcist Trailer (2:13) plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring work by Chris Garofalo rounds out the supplemental package.

    A truly unusual slice of indie cinema expression, Pigs remains a bizzaro examination of two lost souls whose unbalanced personalities connect over their shared killer instincts.  With the markings and promotional pull of a horrific exploitation opus, character actor Marc Lawrence’s final directorial effort is outside the perimeters of normalcy which makes it such an intriguing watch.  In their latest acquisition from the Troma vaults, Vinegar Syndrome have gone above and beyond to deliver Lawrence’s feature the way it was intended with fabulous results.  Further underscored by an insightful spread of bonus features, Pigs makes a strong case for rolling around in the mud of such weirdness.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Village of the Damned (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Village of the Damned (1995)

    Director: John Carpenter

    Starring: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré, Mark Hamill & Meredith Salenger

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Director John Carpenter’s (Halloween, The Thing) modernization of the 1960 British feature, Village of the Damned finds the small village of Midwich interrupted by unseen forces, leaving ten of the town’s women mysteriously pregnant.  Joining together to uncover the truth behind the phenomenon, local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve, Superman) and government scientist Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley, Look Who’s Talking) realize the birth of the bleach blonde children is only the beginning of Midwich’s troubles.  Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee), Michael Paré (Eddie and the Cruisers), Mark Hamill (Star Wars) and Meredith Salenger (Lake Placid) co-star.

    Retaining the town’s name but substituting its original British location for northern California, John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned remains relatively close to its source material while, injecting subtle perspective changes through its narrative.  Starring the late Christopher Reeve in his final role before his devastating paralyzation, Carpenter’s remake, unlike that of his reimagining of 1952’s The Thing from Another World, takes little creative risk in crafting a truly unique experience with character development for the film’s adult actors appearing stunted and uneven, indubitably caused by studio interference.  Following Midwich’s bizarre blackout leaving ten women impregnated, the film attempts to shift focus onto single mother Jill McGowan (Kozlowski) and the weight of raising her peculiar newborn son and grieving over the loss of her husband.  An inspired deviation from the original film, Village of the Damned unfortunately never affords the proper time to fully invest in its soon-to-be victims as attention is juxtaposed with scientist Dr. Susan Verner’s (Alley) own interest in the children’s development.  Highly intelligent and appearing intendedly from another era, the blonde-haired younglings finesse their supernatural powers of mind control, prompting an increase of harrowing suicides in the community.  With humanity all but lost on the majority of the sinister children, recently widowed local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Reeve) makes the ultimate sacrifice to bring stability to the human race.  

    Pronounced by Carpenter to be more a contractual obligation than a passion project, Village of the Damned offers strong performances from Reeve as Midwich’s good-natured doctor confronted with otherworldly forces while, Lindsey Haun (True Blood) as the clan’s evil leader and Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the only blonde child with a heart deliver both effective and emotional moments.  Surely not as daring as other Carpenter efforts, Village of the Damned has aged better than expected, amid its developmental character struggles, to remain suitably entertaining.

    Scream Factory presents Village of the Damned with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring beautiful photography of its sunny, rural locations, colors are prominent with flesh tones appearing equally lush and finely detailed.  In addition, the blindingly blonde hair of the film’s antagonists pop accordingly with black levels always appearing smooth and balanced.  With no signs of damage and boasting an exceptionally filmic quality, Village of the Damned makes an impactful leap to high-def.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible while, Carpenter and Dave Davies of The Kinks’ music establish intended levels of eeriness.  Suspenseful sound queues and explosive gunfire in the film’s third act also provide the mix with a strong depth that appropriately enhances the viewing experience.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Rightly earning itself a spot in Scream Factory’s coveted Collector’s Edition series, plentiful special features include, It Takes a Village: The Making of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (49:17).  This top-notch featurette finds Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, Special Make Up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero and countless cast members reflecting on their experiences making the troubled film with nothing but warm memories and an overflow of behind-the-scenes info.  In addition, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (20:58) finds host Sean Clark revisiting the original shooting locations today, The Go To Guy: Peter Jason on John Carpenter (45:13) sits down with the Carpenter regular as he reflects on his many collaborations with the famed director plus, Vintage Interviews and Behind-the-Scenes (24:40), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:59), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (23 in total) and a Reversible Cover Art utilizing the original 1-sheet poster round out another knockout spread of supplements for the horror sub label.

    While not one of Carpenter’s finest moments but, by no means his worst, Village of the Damned has its setbacks yet, contains sizable levels of fun that likeminded viewers shouldn’t dismiss.  With more studio support, Carpenter’s contractual obligation could have fared far better than originally received although, its final product has aged more gracefully than most modern remakes.  In quite possibly their home video swan song to the director’s filmography, Scream Factory ensures an exceptional high-definition transfer and a glut of bonus features that will surely control viewers minds.  Beware the children cautiously but, resisting Village of the Damned’s Collector’s Edition will be futile!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 12th from Scream Factory, Village of the Damned can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Serial (1980) Blu-ray Review

    Serial (1980)

    Director: Bill Persky

    Starring: Martin Mull, Tuesday Weld, Sally Hellerman, Christopher Lee, Bill Macy, Peter Bonerz & Tom Smothers

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Cyra McFadden, Serial takes a satirical look at the lives of California couples during the late 1970s.  Uptight and increasingly annoyed Harvey Holroyd (Martin Mull, Roseanne) becomes overwhelmed by his wife Kate’s (Tuesday Weld, Thief) new age personality while, their friends’ liberal behavior and stances on feminism, free love and other trendy traits creates a hilarious melting pot of absurdity for the simple-minded Harvey.  Sally Hellerman (Back to School), Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Bill Macy (Maude), Peter Bonerz (The Bob Newhart Show) and Tom Smothers (My Brother the Angel) co-star.

    Boasting a respectable ensemble cast and marking the feature film debut of television veteran Bill Persky (Who’s the Boss?, Kate & Allie), Serial is a comical sendup of the progressive culture sweeping the nation during the late 70s.  Undersexed and overwhelmed by his liberal-minded wife and equally ridiculous neighborhood friends, Harvey Holroyd (Mull) seeks a better paying position while, his marriage takes a plummeting turn resulting in both parties shacking up with other partners.  Attempting to fall in with the crowd, Harvey agrees to attending an orgy with his newly appointed secretary and awkwardly ends up in the sexual graces of 19-year-old cashier Marlene (Stacey Nelkin, Halloween III: Season of the Witch).  In addition to losing their daughter to a carnation selling cult, Harvey fails to relate to his new freedom while, Kate’s own flirtatious attraction ends up in disaster after realizing her pet-grooming stud is bisexual.  Poking fun at societies dependence on therapy and quaaludes plus, the gossip-obsessed nosy-bodies of every community, Serial makes pit stops for Harvey to hilariously bemoan Kate’s eco-friendly insistence on denying him to drive a car.  Congregating at a wedding while the groom accepts his role as an asshole, Harvey notably comments “these are exciting times, aren’t they?  Gas is over a dollar a gallon and it’s okay to be an asshole”, summing up the film’s sarcastic stance perfectly.  Aided by a leather-clad gang of gay bikers led by the mysterious Skull (Lee), Harvey and Kate rescue their daughter from the cooky-minded cult and set aside their differences to start anew without organic foods and therapeutic jargon getting in the way.  Although, modern audiences may find little to relate to in this comic time capsule, Mull’s sensibilities and utter distaste for those surrounding him make for the film’s funniest moments while, the narrative has fun taking jabs at the occasionally outdated examples of liberals before the rise of Reganomics.

    Olive Films presents Serial with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Possessing only fleeting instances of speckles, damage is practically nonexistent with the transfer supporting a pleasing filmic appearance.  Skin tones are natural while, colors are generally strong with only occasional moments of softness rearing its head.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is reasonably delivered with no hiss or pops detected.  Although audible, some moments appear hollow-sounding, capturing a slight echoey pitch.  With music relegated to its opening/closing credits and the use of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” during the climax, their appearances are not wildly impactful.  Meanwhile, no special features have been included.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Jack's Back (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Jack’s Back (1988)

    Director: Rowdy Herrington

    Starring: James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo, Rod Loomis & Rex Ryon

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    One hundred years after the brutal slayings of Jack the Ripper, Jack’s Back takes place in modern day Los Angeles where a copycat killer stalks the streets, leaving a trail of victims in his wake.  When intelligent medical student John Wesford (James Spader, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is suspected, the mystery thickens following his own shocking death.  Disturbed by nightmarish visions, John’s estranged twin brother Rick emerges to discover the true culprit.  Cynthia Gibb (Modern Girls), Jim Haynie (The Peacemaker), Robert Picardo (The Howling), Rod Loomis (The Beastmaster) and Rex Ryon (Feds) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington (Road House), Jack’s Back is a crafty, murder-mystery whodunit that takes the unsolved legend of Jack the Ripper and transports it to the flashy lights of Los Angeles.  Following a string of copycat murders in the vein of London’s most noteworthy criminal, doctor in training and fellow humanitarian John Wesford (Spader) finds himself in the crosshairs of the supposed killer only to meet a fatal demise.  With evidence linking him to the murders and his own suicide, John’s rough around the edges twin brother Rick is convinced otherwise after experiencing nightmares of his brother’s murder.  Seeking assistance from a hypnotizing psychologist (Picardo) and John’s potential love interest Chris (Gibb), Rick may have bargained for more than he can handle when those close to him are targeted.

    From Paul Saax’s catchy rendition of “Red Harvest” over its opening credits to quintessential 80s saxophone queues throughout, Jack’s Back sets the intended tone of a thriller for its time.  Following his teenage turns in efforts such as Tuff Turf and Pretty in Pink, James Spader graduates to more adult fare as an ace med student and disturbed tough boy, handling both sides of the same coin effectively.  In addition, while coasting the L.A. streets of yesteryear before stumbling upon a seedy peep store for firepower, nostalgic Gen Xers will take comfort as Rick and the attractive Chris pass a neon lit movie house playing Can’t Buy Me Love and La Bamba.  Littered with multiple red herrings and an engaging plot that keeps viewers guessing until its dramatic conclusion, Jack’s Back is far more clever and inventive than credited.

    Boasting a newly struck transfer from the original camera negative, Scream Factory presents Jack’s Back in 1080p, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While black levels found in its opening sequence appear mildly splotchy with other instances possessing hints of noise, skin tones maintain respectable detail.  In addition, interior daytime sequences occasionally suffer from overblown white levels although, the noticeably clean, virtually free of nicks and scratches, transfer sports an overall filmic quality.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is cleanly relayed with Paul Saax’s opening number and the film’s multiple car chases offering decent, if not mediocre, boosts in authority.  Furthermore, no discernible instances of hiss or pops were detected.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington,The Making of Jack’s Back (23:51) featuring new interviews with Herrington, Director of Photography Shelly Johnson, Producer Tim Moore and Actress Cynthia Gibb.  Finally, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (0:57) and a DVD edition of the release round out the supplements.

    Suspenseful and smart, Jack’s Back is a well-paced and thrilling showcase for the up and coming Spader before his respected turns in Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Crash.  After a short delay, Scream Factory delivers this underrated effort in a worthy presentation, just in time for its Blu-ray debut.  Joined by a newly recorded commentary and an informative retrospective featurette, Jack’s Back returns for the better.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Jack’s Back can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

    Director: Marielle Heller

    Starring: Bey Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni & Kristen Wiig

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl centers on 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bey Powley, Equals) at the peak of her sexual awakening.  Longing for love and acceptance, Minnie engages in a secret affair with her mother’s boyfriend while attempting to make sense of the turbulent world around her.  Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Marielle Heller following her stage adaptation of the same novel, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an oftentimes scandalous yet, never judgmental portrait of the hardships of teen culture.  Set in the free-spirited 70s of San Francisco, aspiring cartoonist and increasingly hormonal teen Minnie Goetze (Powley) finds herself yearning for connection only to find it in the unlikeliest of persons.  Following a drunken night of laughs, Minnie willingly loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend Monroe Rutherford (Skarsgård), jumpstarting an infatuation that neither can resist.  Exploring her newfound sexuality, Minnie embraces her elder partner at every opportunity while experimenting with other teenage curiosities.  Dabbling with drugs and attracting the attention of other boys, Minnie documents her evolution by recording diary cassettes and allowing her thoughts to visually paint pictures of Bakshi-esque animation.  From shy and introverted to eccentric and heartbreaking, Bey Powley is remarkable, encapsulating the confused and emotionally disoriented feelings common to teen survival.  In addition, Alexander Skarsgård proves equally exceptional in a performance that is both layered and complex.  Although appearing less frequently than her co-stars, Kristen Wiig is the film’s cherry on top playing a progressive mother, indulging in the hard-partying culture while the unfathomable takes place behind her back.

    Beautifully honest and channeling the essence of other female driven, coming-of-age tales including Little Darlings and Foxes, The Diary of a Teenage Girl wears its heart on its sleeve, allowing viewers to recall their own teenage insecurities with humor and warmth.  Heller’s acute detail in realizing a bygone San Francisco and pulling the mesmerizing performances from her cast makes the rookie filmmaker one to pay close mind to.  Although told from the female perspective, The Diary of a Teenage Girl transcends sexes and relates to every teenager’s spinning world of emotions, earning itself worthy praise as one of the most memorable films of its ilk in recent years.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Diary of a Teenage Girl with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Adhering to softer tones to capture its intended time period, detail remains crisp with skin tones appearing natural and lifelike.  Textures in costume choices are pleasing while, the color palette of the San Francisco streets and Minnie’s apartment are attractive.  In addition, the film’s brief animation moments pop most pleasingly with wonderful richness.  Meanwhile, dimmer moments with 70s era lamps lighting the way cause backgrounds to appear occasionally muddy but never overpower said scenes.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is appropriately prioritized in this character driven effort while, the film’s choice cuts from such leading acts as The Stooges, T. Rex and Heart provide nicely balanced gains further complimenting the track.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Marielle Heller and Actors Bel Powley & Alexander Skarsgård, Deleted Scenes (5:24) exclusive to Blu-ray, Marielle’s Journey: Bringing the Diary to Life (23:07) exploring Heller’s passion for the project that began as a stage play before boldly taking on the task to adapting it for film.  In addition, an LA Film Festival Q&A with Marielle Heller, Alexander Skarsgård and Bel Powley (25:19), the Theatrical Trailer (1:48) and Previews for Irrational Man (2:11), Jimmy’s Hall (2:20), Infinitely Polar Bear (2:23), Truth (2:12), Grandma (2:12) and Labyrinth of Lies (2:01).  Finally, a Digital HD Code has also been provided.

    Deeply personal yet, universally relatable, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of the finest coming-of-age efforts of the decade with its candid exploration of the teenage spirit.  An emotional rollercoaster packed with laughs and pain, Marielle Heller’s first outing behind the camera is an exemplary debut with a career destined for greatness.  Furthermore, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment bestows top-notch technical grades on its release with a sizable supplemental package worthy of indulging.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 19th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, The Diary of a Teenage Girl can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • McFarland, USA (2015) Blu-ray Review

    McFarland, USA (2015)

    Director: Niki Caro

    Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Carlos Pratts & Valente Rodriguez

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspirational true story, McFarland, USA stars Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams) as Coach Jim White.  After stumbling on hard times and relocating to a Latino populated community, White is determined to inspire his Mexican students after recognizing their incredible speed.  Forming a cross-country team, White and his determined bunch learn the value of each other as they strive to become state champions.  Maria Bello (Secret Window), Morgan Saylor (Homeland), Carlos Pratts (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and Valente Rodriguez (George Lopez) co-star.

    Set in the late 80s, McFarland, USA finds Coach Jim White (Costner) relocating his family to the small, predominately Latino town of McFarland, California after losing his previous teaching position.  With nowhere else to turn and expectedly feeling out of place, White begins taking notice of his Mexican students and their running abilities.  Determined to redeem himself, White organizes a cross-country team with no previous experience and attracts his students to come together to hone their skills.  Ridiculed for their ethnicity and struggling to provide for their families with backbreaking field work, the young boys begin to see White as their guiding light in achieving their dream of becoming state champions.  As the team continues to compete, White and his family are graciously welcomed into the McFarland community, giving further hope for the boys‘ to succeed.  Amidst family drama and personal struggles, Coach White and his team of Cougers prove to be a fast force to be reckoned with leading to a thrilling finale of heart and determination.

    No stranger to sports-related cinema, Kevin Costner delivers a heartwarming performance as Coach Jim White with the chops to evoke stern authority and inspirational guidance to his Mexican students.  Maria Bello (A History of Violence) is appreciated in her limited screen time as White’s loving wife while, Morgan Saylor (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant), appearing as White’s eldest daughter, fares well as a way to provide personal drama for her father.  Meanwhile, the cast of up and comers serving as White’s team shine in their respective roles with Carlos Pratts (The Bridge) as the troubled team captain a true standout.  With the exception of a clichéd gang-related incident for drama’s sake, McFarland, USA is another fine Disney example of inspirational sports stories done right.  Admittedly formulaic, McFarland, USA continues the golden tradition of underdogs rising above the odds to accomplish the impossible with exciting results.  Guided under the watchful eye of Director Niki Caro (North Country), Disney’s latest uplifting drama will charm viewers and leave them choked up with emotion by its conclusion.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents McFarland, USA with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Impressing with natural skin tones and exceptional detail, bold colors, most appreciatively in the Cougers’ red track suits, burst off the screen.  Gorgeous vistas and mountain landscapes are also beautifully captured during competition sequences while black levels are presented cleanly with no discernible crushing on display.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is relayed clearly and effectively leaving no room for disappointment.  Although, nothing of merit ever truly pushes the mix, the character driven piece does its job well.  Special features include, McFarland Reflections (8:29) with Kevin Costner, his real-life counterpart and the original 1987 track team sharing their insight on their remarkable true story.  In addition, “Juntos” Music Video (3:25), Inspiring McFarland (2:02) with Director Kiki Caro discussing her attraction to the project, Deleted & Extended Scenes (8:10), Sneak Peeks (4:07) for Disney Movie Rewards, Fusion, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Star War: The Clone Wars - The Lost Missions plus, a Digital HD Code round out the supplements.

    Critically praised and continuing the respected tradition of Disney’s sports-related efforts, McFarland, USA joins the legacy as another moving achievement that defies the odds and allows the underdogs to deservedly achieve their dreams.  Equally rewarding, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers the film with top quality, hi-def treatment and a decent array of special features to charge into.  Emotional and exciting, viewers will be on their feet in anticipation as McFarland, USA takes its final lap.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 2nd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, McFarland, USA can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.