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Currently showing posts tagged Coming of Age

  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen & Toni Kalem

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Richard Price’s novel, The Wanderers centers on a Bronx gang of teens whose experiences growing up in the mid 60s provide a rich canvas for youthful decadence and eventual maturity against an ever-changing world.  Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff) directs this coming-of-age wonder.

    Depicting a time and place in New York City all but lost to time, The Wanderers fascinating depiction of universal themes plaguing directionless street dwellers during the final stretch of their teen years rings with pure sincerity nearly four decades later.  Set in the radically changing year of 1963, high school gang, The Wanderers, spend their days less worrying about their futures than defending their turf against rival hoods and chasing tail.  Sporting identical jackets bearing their squad name and greased up hairdos, the Italian teens find themselves embroiled in a racially tense standoff against the black Del Bombers while losing a fellow member to leather-bound baddies the Fordham Baldies.  Leaning on his girlfriend’s mafioso father for assistance, Wanderers leader Richie (Ken Wahl, Wiseguy) simultaneously falls for new girl on the block Nina (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) in a controversial move that puts him on the outs with best friend Joey (John Friedrich, The Final Terror) and the rest of his gang.  Upholding their tough guy personas through violent brawls and chauvinism, The Wanderers manages to break through these shell casings as friendships are tested, hearts are broken and unexpected responsibilities are sprung upon them.  As the nation reacts and changes following the assassination of JFK, a high stakes football game against their African-American foes spirals into an all out war, finding the once divided units battling a shared enemy.  Beautifully aided by a soundtrack of doo wop hits and other golden oldies, The Wanderers is the perfect bridge between other youth centered pictures like American Graffiti and The Warriors.  While its setting may be a thing of the past, The Wanderers speaks a language firmly rooted in the tender years of youth that is as unforgettably beautiful and painful as our own memories.

    Newly restored in 2K, KL Studio Classics proudly presents The Wanderers with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 (1:78:1 for its included Preview Cut edition) aspect ratio.  Sporting a wonderfully cleaned up appearance free of unsightly scratches or tears, skin tones are warmly inviting while, filmic quality is as organic as can be.  Furthermore, the dingy city alleyways and storefronts are excellently presented with colors and textures found in the wide variety of gang jackets and the Del Bombers’ loud football uniforms popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does a fine job relaying dialogue recorded on busy New York streets, the film’s period soundtrack cuts make for the strongest enforcements on the otherwise healthy track.  

    Divided over two discs featuring both its Theatrical Cut (1:57:09) and rare Preview Cut (2:03:50), Disc 1’s special features kicks off with a Director’s Statement (1:56) followed by an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Philip Kaufman.  Also included, Back in the Bronx with Richard Price (35:18), The Wanderers Forever!: Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias & Richard Price (16:35) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52).  Meanwhile, Disc 2’s offerings feature an Introduction with Stars Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias (0:40), an Audio Commentary with Columbia University Film Professor & Author of Philip Kaufman Annette Insdorf, The Wanderers Q&A at The Cinefamily with Philip Kaufman, Alan Rosenberg & Peter Kaufman (31:59), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Philip Kaufman (19:46), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Richard Price (16:41), the Re-Release Trailer (1:40) and a TV Spot (0:33).

    A continually growing cult classic and a high-water achievement in coming-of-age cinema, The Wanderers recalls the struggles and fears common in most teens attempting to make sense of the big world surrounding them with a palpable relatability few films capture.  In one of their standout efforts of the year, KL Studio Classics reinstates this golden oldie back into the public eye with a gorgeous 2K restoration, hefty supplements and dual cuts of the film that make joining up with this particular gang a splendid life choice.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Wanderers can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Martial Arts Kid (2015) DVD Review

    The Martial Arts Kid (2015)

    Director: Michael Baumgarten

    Starring: Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Jansen Panettiere, Kathryn Newton, Matthew Ziff & T.J. Storm

    Released by: Traditionz Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After relocating to sunny Cocoa Beach, Florida for a fresh start, The Martial Arts Kids finds typical teen with an attitude Robbie Oakes (Jansen Panettiere, The Perfect Game) quickly hassled by local bullies, inspiring him to learn the art of self-defense from his dojo-owning uncle (Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Bloodfist).  Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), Kathryn Newton (Paranormal Activity 4), Matthew Ziff (Kickboxer: Vengeance) and T.J. Storm (Punisher: War Zone) costar.

    From its uninspired title and beyond formulaic plot, The Martial Arts Kid unashamedly takes the very same mechanics that popularized John G. Avildsen’s 1984 coming-of-age classic that although attempting to differentiate itself with a more realistic approach, wholly fails to charm or entertain like its influencer.  After his troublesome behavior lands him a new residence with Floridian relatives, rebellious youth Robbie Oakes has difficulty fitting in while catching the attention of attractive schoolmate Rina (Newton) and the unfortunate abuse from her mean-spirited boyfriend Bo (Ziff).  Committed to changing his ways and standing up for himself, Robbie, through the guidance and martial arts training of his Uncle Glen, learns the value of discipline, responsibility and above all, honor.  Although The Martial Arts Kid may give Robbie a respectfully prolonged development with his training that rings true while invoking an admirable anti-bullying theme, amateurish performances, eye-rolling dialogue and a severe lack of combat sends the film snoozing for much of its runtime.  Boasting appearances from countless real-life martial artists including, Olando Rivera, Glenn C. Wilson and Dewey Cooper, the Kickstarter-funded production’s paint-by-numbers mimicking of The Karate Kid leaves little to no surprises for viewers well accustomed with the underdog tale with every plot point and character development seen coming a mile away.  As Robbie and Bo’s disdain for one another reaches its boiling point by the final act, a long overdue battle between the teens and their dueling dojos takes place that is disappointingly choreographed given the trained talent on hand.  With a positive albeit heavy-handed and generally corny message for young viewers, The Martial Arts Kid suffers greatly from merely tracing what came before it with less than stellar results.

    Traditionz Entertainment presents The Martial Arts Kid in widescreen, bearing a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Exuding robust colors in costume choices, Bo’s red sports car and sunny shades of the Cocoa Beach (Wilson’s hometown) community, skin tones are generally strong with an overall sharpness lacking due to the format’s general limitations.  Joined by a pleasing if not mediocre Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Baumgarten, Producers James Wilson & Cheryl Wheeler and Stars Don “The Dragon” Wilson & Cynthia Rothrock.  Additionally, a brief The Martial Arts Kid: The Journey featurette (4:30), Deleted Scenes (4:42) and the Theatrical Trailer (2:06) round out the disc’s supplemental offerings.

    Unfortunately devoid of originality while lacking a stronger script, The Martial Arts Kid has noble intentions of teaching impressionable viewers the value of self-defense and the dangers of bullying yet, results in a product that skates by as harmlessly forgettable.  Brought to home video with sufficient grades by Traditionz Entertainment with its high-definition counterpart looking presumably better, The Martial Arts Kid is a roundhouse kick of disappointment.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Traditionz Entertainment, The Martial Arts Kid can be purchased via MartialArtsKidMovie.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pete's Dragon (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Pete’s Dragon (2016)

    Director: David Lowery

    Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban & Robert Redford

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining the classic 1977 original, Pete’s Dragon finds the titular child (Oakes Fegley, This Is Where I Leave You) fending for himself in the wilderness following the tragic death of his parents.  Befriending an enormous green dragon, Pete’s unconventional upbringing is interrupted by fearful lumberjacks and the prospect of being apart of a family once again.  Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Wes Bentley (Interstellar), Karl Urban (Star Trek Beyond) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) co-star.

    Substituting the musical DNA of its Mickey Rooney starring predecessor, Pete’s Dragon refocuses its whimsical tale as an intimate family-driven drama concerning loss, love and magic.  Set in the 1980s while maintaining an otherwise timeless tone, Director David Lowery’s (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) story about a boy and his dragon charmingly tugs at the heart strings of viewers from young Pete’s initial introduction to the lovable Elliot through their shattering separation following local lumberjacks fearfully capturing the winged creature.  After several years of living off the land side by side his fantastical companion, Pete encounters Park Ranger Grace Meacham (Howard) who, after a failed escape from local wilderness men, is retrieved from the sprawling woods and cared for in the neighboring town.  Anxious to reunite with Elliot, Pete is embraced by Grace, her boyfriend Jack and soon-to-be stepdaughter Natalie (Oona Laurence, Southpaw) while, Jack’s disgruntled brother Gavin (Urban) seeks to capture the creature he’s certain he saw.  Conflicted by the support offered by Grace’s family and his love for Elliot, Pete is emotionally tested once more after Gavin’s ruthless recovery of the dragon into town forces him to question his standing amongst the frantic townspeople.  Aided by those closest to him including Grace’s dragon believing father (Redford), the resourceful boy embarks on a spirited mission to free his best friend.

    Exceptionally achieved through the computer-generated wizardry of Weta Digital (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar), Elliot’s furry and big-eyed presence is breathtakingly realistic, allowing viewers young and old to easily suspend any and all disbelief.  Taking much creative license with its source material, Pete’s Dragon adheres to the general structure of what came before with its dramatically heavier narrative, winsome performances and picturesque New Zealand shooting locations enhancing its more magical touches.  Provided with a wonderfully earthy score by Composer Daniel Hart (Tumbledown), Pete’s Dragon, although a comparatively quieter effort next to Disney’s other tentpole summer blockbusters, is enchantingly saccharine and ably continues the quality of the Mouse House’s other reinterpreted features.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pete’s Dragon with a healthy 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural skin tones and highlighting the luscious greenery of its New Zealand filming locations, black levels seen in shadowy shades and Elliot’s dark cave are impressively inky while, the digital rendering of Pete’s dragon is exceptionally detailed allowing viewers to fully appreciate the intricacies of his green fur.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is handsomely handled with the utmost clarity while, the ambiance of the wilderness provides subtle yet effecting statements.  In addition, the powerful whips of wind from Elliot’s wings give appropriate rise to the film’s many flying sequences while, the ethereal sounds of Daniel Hart’s music blankets the feature in glorious fantasy bliss.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director David Lowery, Co-Writer Toby Halbrooks and Actors Oakes Fegley & Oona Laurence, Notes to Self: A Director’s Diary (7:31) offers a personal look into Lowery’s intimate passages kept throughout production, intertwined with onset footage and interviews from the cast.  Furthermore, Making Magic (2:12) is a brief featurette exploring the visual design and characteristics implemented in bringing Elliot to life while, “Disappearing” Moments: Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes (9:12) and Bloopers (1:28) are also included.  Finally, the “Nobody Knows” Music Video by The Lumineers (3:12), the “Something Wild” Music Video by Lindsey Stirling featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (3:45), a Welcome to New Zealand Promo (1:56) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), the Disney Conservation Fund (1:02), a Disney Vacations Promo (1:32), Elena of Avalor (0:32) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) conclude the disc’s supplemental package while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    A modest sleeper hit that enchanted audiences while moving many to tears, Pete’s Dragon is a magical coming-of-age tale that warmly continues Disney’s recent streak of reinterpretations for a new generation.  Charmed with a remarkable high-definition presentation and a moderate spread of bonus features including an audio commentary from the filmmakers and select cast members, Pete’s Dragon deserves to fly under many a Christmas trees this holiday season.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 29th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pete’s Dragon can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Assault on New Releases #11 - Halloween Edition: Count Dracula's Great Love (1973), Child's Play (1988) Collector's Edition, Burial Ground (1980), Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991) & Lady in White (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973)

    Director: Javier Aguirre

    Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Haydée Politoff, Mirta Miller, Ingrid Garbo, Álvaro de Luna de Luma & José Manuel Martin

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring Spain’s premiere horror star Paul Naschy (Night of the Werewolf), Count Dracula’s Great Love finds a carriage of travelers derailed and kindly taken in by the handsome Dr. Marlow (Naschy).  Secretly harboring his true identity as the Prince of Darkness, Marlow stalks and seduces his way to the necks of his gorgeous guests, transforming them into bloodthirsty slaves while, shy virginal Karen (Haydée Politoff, Queens of Evil) becomes the apple of his eye and essential to his much grander plan.  Boasting gothic ambiance, full moons and eroticism, Javier Aguirre (Hunchback of the Morgue) directs with elegance in this atmospheric tale that presents a memorable interpretation of Dracula who is quick to whip and axe his victims as commonly as sink his fangs into them.  Weaving a narrative of originality and rich complexity, Count Dracula’s Great Love remains effective for Naschy’s understated performance and the film’s blood ritual used to resurrect Dracula’s deceased daughter, concluding in lovesick tragedy.

    Beautifully scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm internegative, Vinegar Syndrome presents Count Dracula’s Great Love with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  While minor intrusions from scratches and cigarette burns are evident, the Spanish feature has never looked better.  Bringing vibrant life to skin tones and the colorful costume choices of its actresses, detail is crisp preserving the fog-entranced tone while, black levels seen in Count Dracula’s cape, casket and dark dwellings are exceptionally inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s English dub track may register t’s and s sounds too sharply but, overwhelmingly exudes clean and audible dialogue levels while, cracks and pop are minimal and of little to no notice.  Presenting both its uncut U.S. edition and its original Spanish language version, viewers are informed that the latter, lacking proper elements from its licensor (and missing shots due to content that are only found in its English counterpart), is presented from lesser quality video sources and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in order to appreciatively appease fans yearning for both cuts.  Meanwhile, special features include, a never before released Audio Commentary with Director Javier Aguirre & Actor Paul Naschy featuring optional subtitles in both English and Spanish plus, a newly captured Video Interview with Actress Mirta Miller (8:22) with optional English subtitles.  Furthermore, the U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:04), a Still Gallery (2:16) and a 6-page booklet featuring an informative essay from Mirek Lipinski are also included alongside a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art.  Fans of horror’s more gothic and erotic outings will take pleasure sinking their fangs into this significant Spanish offering, splendidly brought to high-definition by Vinegar Syndrome for the first time ever!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Count Dracula’s Great Love can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Child’s Play (1988)

    Director: Tom Holland

    Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent & Brad Dourif

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Instilling a new titan for modern horror and ushering in a frightening franchise of sequels each varying in quality, the original Child’s Play still reigns as the most effective and chilling of Chucky’s many chapters.  When innocent six-year-old Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent, Wait Until Spring, Bandini) is presented with a Good Guy doll on his birthday, strange occurrences and the death of his babysitter raise questions of responsibility in their wake.  Unsuccessfully convincing his single mother and a homicide detective that his doll is alive and behind the recent string of murders, Andy finds himself pursued by the tiny terror in order to take over his soul.  Before the bodycount pictures its later entries would become with the foul-mouthed killer serving as their marketing mascot, Child’s Play’s less is more approach keeps viewers questioning the validity of Andy’s claims more so than blindly assuming his doll is truly possessed.  Wrapped in mystery and edge of your seat suspense with an oftentimes forgotten voodoo subplot, Child’s Play holds up strongly with a believable blend of special effects wizardry, an urban Chicago setting and top-notch performances with Dourif’s shrieking voice as the crazed Chucky leaving an indelible mark on the nightmares of viewers for years to come.

    Newly scanned in 2K from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Child’s Play with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Casting a darker yet, more natural appearance during nighttime sequences, skin tones are accurate and nicely detailed while, colors found in Chucky’s red-striped and denim attire along with the neon-lit signage of the toy store in the film’s opening pop well.  Scuffs and other blemishes appear to be absent while, softness during daytime exteriors and inside the Barclay’s apartment look similar to its previous release.  Admittedly modest in its improvements, Scream Factory’s latest stab at Child’s Play unquestionably ranks as its best looking.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that projects solid dialogue and booming displays of authority during thunderstorms and Joe Renzetti’s (Poltergeist III) creepy score, sound quality is superior.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Impressively packed with new and old offerings, Disc 1 features a new Audio Commentary with Director Tom Holland plus, a repurposed Audio Commentary with Actors Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks & “Chucky” Designer Kevin Yagher.  Furthermore, another vintage Audio Commentary with Producer David Kirschner & Screenwriter Don Mancini along with hilarious Chucky Commentaries on select scenes are also included.

    Kicking off Disc 2, Behind-the-Scenes Special Effects Footage (1:00:08), Howard Berger: Your Special Effects Friend ‘Till the End (40:53) and Life Behind the Mask: Being Chucky with Ed Gale (40:02) comprise the release’s newest and highly fascinating featurettes while, Evil Comes in Small Packages (24:49), Chucky: Building a Nightmare (10:05), A Monster Convention (5:26), Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child’s Play (6:15) and a Vintage Featurette (4:54) from MGM’s previous release are ported over.  In addition, a TV Spot (0:17), Theatrical Trailer (2:02), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (37 in total), a Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery (20 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the all encompassing slate of extras.  A frightening sophomore followup from Director Tom Holland (Fright Night), Child’s Play maintains its reputation as one of the better supernatural slashers of the 80s while, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition, sprawling with bounds of extras, is nothing short of a gift from the mighty Damballa himself.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

    Burial Ground (1980)

    Director: Andrea Bianchi

    Starring: Mariangela Giordano, Karin Well, Gianluigi Chirizzi, Peter Bark & Roberto Caporali

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented under its alternate The Nights of Terror title, Burial Ground hosts a smorgasbord of guts and bloody depravity when a country getaway for several couples quickly turns into a fight for their lives against reanimated corpses.  Preoccupied with their own sexual appetite when a scientist’s tinkering with evil forces unleashes hell’s hungriest zombies, the couples struggle to defend themselves while keeping the rotting forces from gaining entry into the mansion.  A wall-to-wall bonkers example of Italian exploitation at its finest, Burial Ground’s plot may be paper thin but, graciously overcompensates with gallons of gore and some of the genre’s most memorable zombie designs befit with gaping facial holes, horrific skeletal features and squirming maggots oozing from their pores.  Weaponizing themselves with pickaxes, scythes and other garden tools, the ravenous undead decapitate the help and repeatedly feast on the torn out organs of their prey.  Perhaps even more memorable than the zombie’s persistent attacks, Burial Ground’s bizarro meter soars when Michael (Peter Bark, Arrivano i gatti), the peculiar-looking son of Karen, grows oddly attracted to his mother and makes an incestuous pass at her in the heat of zombiepalooza.  With options running low and escape unlikely, nothing can prepare viewers for Burial Ground’s absurd mouthful of a finale that draws its line in the sand as one of the great “what the…” moments of splatter cinema.

    Gorgeously restored in 2K from pristine elements, Severin Films presents Burial Ground with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  True to its description, this newly struck scan is leaps and bounds superior to past releases with a blemish-free appearance, strong facial tones and impressive detail bringing out the intricacies of the many zombie makeup designs and their intendedly heinous features.  Furthermore, the film’s plethora of blood pops loudly while, black levels, even during the film’s more dimly lit sequences, are effectively inky, allowing viewers to fully appreciate all that is occurring.  Definitive as can be, Severin Films deserves the utmost praise for their esteemed handling of this Italian gorefest.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible throughout without any static or pops detected.  In addition, a separate Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is included with optional English subtitles.  Bonus offerings include, Villa Parisi - Legacy of Terror (15:47) where Movie Historian Fabio Melelli revisits the filming locations that date back to the 17th century and have been utilized by Italian film productions beginning in the 1960s through the present.  Meanwhile, Peter Still Lives: Festival Q&A with Actor Peter Bark (7:35), Just for the Money: Interview with Actor Simone Mattioli (8:57) and The Smell of Death: Interviews with Producer Gabriele Crisanti & Actress Mariangela Giordano (9:20) are joined by Deleted/Extended Scenes/Shots (10:24), the Theatrical Trailer (3:31) and Reversible Cover Art.  Lastly, limited to the first 3,000 units, an exclusive slipcover featuring new artwork by Wes Benscoter is also included.  Riding high on a profoundly successful 2016, Severin Films continues to spoil exploitation enthusiasts with their treatment of Burial Ground, so definitive that the opening of hell’s gates can be the only justification for quality of this caliber.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Burial Ground can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Waxwork (1988) / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1991)

    Director: Anthony Hickox

    Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Michah Grant, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, Patrick Macnee & David Warner / Zach Galligan, Monkia Schnarre, Alexander Godunov, Martin Kemp & Bruce Campbell 

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Melding the humorously wacky with the horrific, Waxwork finds a group of collegiate friends who stumble upon a mysterious wax museum displaying the most vile monsters, madmen and psychos albeit without victims.  Before long, their innocent tour lures them into its dark magic to become permanent members of the establishments morbid offerings.  Starring Zach Galligan (Gremlins) and Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl) with appearances from distinguished Englishmen and talented thespians Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) and David Warner (Tron) as the villainous museum owner, Waxwork’s greatest strength lies in its animated displays that honor the classic monsters of yesteryear and submerging would-be victims into their appropriately themed worlds.  Transforming into mini films within a film, the high maintenance China (Michelle Johnson, Death Becomes Her) finds herself immersed within Count Dracula’s gothic castle and forced to duel against his bloodthirsty brides while, the chain-smoking Tony (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks) stumbles into the full moon lit backwoods where the beastly Wolfman (John-Rhys Davies, Raiders of the Lost Ark) hunts.  While the rather busy narrative throws touches of black magic, evil trinkets, freakish butlers and interdimensional realms to the forefront that occasionally scatterbrains the proceedings, Waxwork’s free-for-all conclusion pitting the likes of Marquis de Sade and zombies against the privileged Mark (Galligan) and his wheelchair-bound godfather right the ship in this clever sendup of classic chills under the guise of 80s video age eye-candy.

    Surviving the fiery events of the original film, Mark and Sarah (replaced by Monkia Schnarre, The Peacekeeper) return in Waxwork II: Lost in Time when a resilient zombie hand from the wax museum murders Sarah’s stepfather, pinning the blame on her.  Determined to prove her innocence, the two recover a magical compass enabling them to time travel through dimensions in order to gather the proper evidence to clear Sarah’s name.  Far more fantasy based than its predecessor with the characters winding up in medieval times to combat a black magic wielding sorcerer, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, using Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass as a loose template, makes greater use of hilariously parodying genre films than properly traveling through historical events.  Making stops at Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory and the streets of London during Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, Alien, The Haunting and Godzilla among other films all find their way cheekily homaged in this more refined sequel.  Graced with brief roles from B-movie legends Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) and David Carradine (Death Race 2000), Waxwork II: Lost in Time widens its universe even more so, delivering a followup with more comedic oomph that surprisingly exceeds its originator by a narrow margin.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate, under their Vestron Video Collector’s Series imprint, presents both Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Bearing generally clean appearances with scant scratches and slight speckling during darker sequences, colors pop effectively with skin tones reading nicely although, softness is not wholly uncommon or overly unpleasant.  Furthermore, its sequel noticeably improves during its extended black and white sequences mocking The Haunting that shine more sharply than the first film.  Respectable upgrades on both features will leave the overwhelming majority of fans more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is admirably conveyed while occasional moments during the first film find character lines at odds with other dominating sound factors.  Otherwise making solid use of their respective musical scores, both tracks strongly live up to expectations.  

    Providing each film on their own Blu-ray disc, special features on Waxwork’s Disc 1 include, an Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan and an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Roger Bellon.  Additionally, The Waxwork Chronicles (1:22:17), another first-rate Red Shirt Pictures production divided into six parts, explores the development and making of both films with newly captured interviews from Writer/Director Anthony Hickox, Editor Christopher Cibelli, Producer Staffon Ahrenberg, Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Bob Keen, Actors Zach Galligan, Monika Schnarre and many others covering everything Waxwork related fans would ever want to know.  Also included, a vintage The Making of Waxwork (24:06) featurette, the Theatrical Trailer (2:02) and a Still Gallery (7:55) conclude the disc’s helpings.  Next up, Waxwork II: Lost in Time’s Disc 2 opens with another Audio Commentary with Director Anthony Hickox & Actor Zach Galligan, an Isolated Score & Audio Interview with Composer Steve Schiff, a Music Video (3:50), Theatrical Trailer (3:03), Still Gallery (7:17) and a Reversible Cover Art capping off the double feature’s supplemental package.  Nostalgia will surely ring loudly for viewers raised on both Waxwork features during the heyday of video rental.  A clever and unique injection of horror and comedy during the slasher prominent decade, both films, with its 1991 sequel having a slight advantage, are enjoyable excursions into silliness that have been passionately peppered with ample bonus features to continue making the legacy of Vestron Pictures proud.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Lady in White (1988)

    Director: Frank LaLoggia

    Starring: Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco & Katherine Helmond

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the wholesome suburb of Willowpoint Falls circa 1962, Lady in White centers on monster kid Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas, Mars Attacks!) who narrowly escapes death at the hands of a mysterious child murderer.  Aided by the first victim’s ghost, Frankie vows to bring the elusive killer to justice who may be closer than he knows.  Capturing the virtually lost magic of small-town Americana and shot on location in the picturesque region of Upstate New York, Lady in White weaves its atmospheric tale of local legends, ghosts and cold-blooded murder with expert direction and grounded performances that shine with pure naturalism.  Following Frankie’s supernatural encounter, the neighborhood myth of the lady in white searching for her fallen child ties into the picture’s larger story with the very real threat of her assailant still at large injecting a genuine undercurrent of thrills.  Reminiscent of Stephen King’s best coming of age fables, Lady in White’s acute capturing of simpler times while, injecting deeply rooted themes of family, facing fears and discrimination come from a creative voice of passion and experience that Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Fear No Evil) conveys in earnest.  An underrated masterwork with an innate connection to the heart and mystery of childhood, Lady in White remains as riveting as ever, eclipsing its reputation as one of the finest ghost stories of its kind.

    Debuting on high-definition with 2 Discs featuring the Director’s Cut (1:57:49, Disc 1), Theatrical Version (1:53:34, Disc 2) and the preferred Extended Director’s Cut (2:06:52, Disc 2), Scream Factory presents Lady in White with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Utilizing the film’s interpositive and an archived film print to assemble the never-before-released lengthier director’s cut, the inherently soft photography is perfectly maintained while, fall leaves and seasonally appropriate greenery are lively looking.  Seamlessly blending its two elements for a first-rate restoration, the director’s intended cut looks excellent whereas the film’s alternate versions are of equal merit.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that forewarns hiss and pops that are hardly noticeable on its extended version, dialogue is never inaudible with the subtle ambiance of howling winds and crashing waves complimenting the proceedings nicely while, the film’s beautiful music selections, handled also by its Writer/Director, perform most effectively.  In addition an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  However unfortunate that no new supplements were produced for the release, vintage bonus features found entirely on Disc 1 include, an Introduction with Frank LaLoggia (0:46), an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frank LaLoggia (Director’s Cut only), Behind-the-Scenes Footage with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (16:21) and optional commentary from its creator.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Frank LaLoggia (36:13) and optional commentary, a Promotional Short Film (7:18), the Theatrical Trailer (1:57), Alternate Trailers (7:10), TV Spots (1:34), Radio Spots (2:21), a Behind-the-Scenes Photo Montage (28 in total) and an Extended Photo Gallery (21 in total) wrap up the on-disc extras while, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  An evocative coming of age chiller ripe for rediscovery and annual viewing, Lady in White is a prime ghostly offering for the Halloween season that stands out for its relatable themes and haunting narrative worthy of the deepest respect.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Lady in White can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, 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.

  • My Summer Story (1994) Blu-ray Review

    My Summer Story (1994)

    Director: Bob Clark

    Starring: Charles Grodin, Kieran Culkin & Mary Steenburgen

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the followup to the seminal Christmas classic, My Summer Story centers once again on the Parker family and their many seasonally festive adventures in the Midwest.  Determined to best his schoolyard bully, Ralphie Parker (Kieran Culkin, Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) seeks out the perfect spinning top while, The Old Man (Charles Grodin, Beethoven) and Mrs. Parker (Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III) combat hilariously noisy neighbors among other suburban hijinks.  

    Released as It Runs in the Family before reverting back to its original title for home video, My Summer Story is a sweet, coming of age tale about family values and the boundless adventures had by children.  Based on Jean Shepard’s semi-autobiographical stories, Director Bob Clark (A Christmas Story) returns behind the camera with the sights and sounds of 1940s Indiana seamlessly recreated from the Parkers’ wintertime predecessor produced a whopping 11 years prior.  With Shepard providing his eternally charming narration, the recasting of the Parker clan may be jarring at first glance yet all parties make the roles their own, delivering worthwhile performances in the process.  With the changing of the seasons, new adventures await the Parker's as Ralphie (Culkin) seeks to overthrow his arch rival Lug Ditka (Whit Hertford, Jurassic Park) at the competitive game of spinning tops after obtaining an exotic one from the World’s Expedition.  Meanwhile, The Old Man’s (Grodin) never-ending battles with hillbilly neighbors the Bumpus’ heats up after a rickety outhouse is constructed sending the foul-mouthed Parker up in arms.  In addition, Mrs. Parker’s (Steenburgen) own comical exploits to failingly obtain a free weekly piece of dishware from the local theater converges with the housewife arrested for instigating a hilarious revolt against the swindling theater owner (Glenn Shadix, Beetlejuice).  With Tedde Moore briefly returning as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, My Summer Story develops a stronger bond between The Old Man and his oldest son as their early morning fishing trips become a delightful focal point of the film.  Overcoming the hurdle that this is not the same Parkers we last saw in A Christmas Story, accepting My Summer Story on its own merits allows viewers to bask in its many charms and appreciative attention to detail in whisking audiences back to familiar surroundings.

    Olive Films presents My Summer Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining its soft focus to recapture its antiquated time period, skin tones are lively and detailed while, colors in costume choices pop most nicely.  Meanwhile, nighttime sequences during The Old Man and Ralphie's fishing excursions offer pleasant black levels with no crushing detected.  Possessing scant instances of scratches, My Summer Story makes a commendable leap to high-def.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is easily relayed with Composer Paul Zaza’s (Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine) familiar music queues from the original film making quaint appearances.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Largely forgotten with many unaware of its connection to Clark’s original holiday classic, My Summer Story may never attain the cultural appeal as its predecessor nor should it be unfairly compared to.  Recast from the ground up, the belated sequel has its heart in the proper place with sufficient fun to be had for those willing to give it an unbiased spin.  Although arriving featureless, Olive Films upgrades the film with a satisfying high-definition makeover.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty & Busy Philipps

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Striking a cord with audiences before being unfairly cancelled after only 12 of its 18 short episodes aired, the legacy of Freaks and Geeks continues to grow with each new generation fortunate enough to discover its timeless themes and painfully relatable characters.  Created by admitted high school nerd Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), the 80s set coming-of-age series takes place at the fictional McKinley High School in Detroit where two groups of opposing outsiders comprised of pot-smoking, misbehaved toughies and brainy, Dungeons and Dragons playing squares navigate the often difficult course of their teenage years.  Ditching her bookish personality, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini, Scooby-Doo) attaches herself with the school’s infamous freak population consisting of dreamy burnout Daniel Desario (James Franco, The Pineapple Express), awkwardly friendly Nick Andopolis (Jason Segel, The Muppets) who develops a crush on Lindsay, sarcastically off-putting Ken Miller (Seth Rogen, Neighbors) and Daniel’s hotheaded on/off again girlfriend Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps, Cougar Town).  Overcoming social hurdles with her new clique, Lindsay’s newfound friendships and their many mischievous adventures guide the series while, her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley, Bones) and his geeky pals, comedy connoisseur Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine, The Inglorious Bastards) and four-eyed Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr, Silicon Valley), charter their own path to fit in despite their social status.  

    Executive produced by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), Freaks and Geeks digs into the heart and soul of what growing up is all about.  Although set at the dawn of Regan’s presidency, this beloved, gone too soon program universally appeals to any teenager that felt uncomfortable in their own skin while, learning the ropes of life through humorous and heart wrenching experiences that stay with you forever.  High school crushes, bullying, accepting yourself, family dilemmas and sticking by your friends are reinforced throughout the flawless sole season with the utmost sincerity and appreciation for its audience who have walked similar paths as McKinley’s students.  Reminiscent of The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks guides its characters through their suburban surroundings with an astonishing selection of hits from Van Halen, Joan Jett, Styx, The Who, KISS, Kenny Loggins, Rush, Billy Joel and many more, making it one of television’s most authentically utilized and unstoppably entertaining soundtracks.  Although concluding on an open-ended note in its unplanned series finale, Freaks and Geeks is the rare perfect storm that announced itself on audiences with its unwavering heart, hilarious comedy and beautifully true writing.  Although wrongly stripped of its full potential, Paul Feig’s achingly honest depiction of high school and those we share the locker-filled halls with continues to fill the hole in our teenage hearts long after we’ve left the training ground of our lives.

    Painstakingly restored from new 4K scans of the original camera negatives, Shout! Factory treats die-hard fans with remastered episodes in both their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and a special 1.78:1 widescreen presentation.  Overseen by series Cinematographer Russ T. Alsobrook, the series has never looked better with dirt and scratches removed while, filmic quality exceeds episodes’ original broadcast airings.  Skin tones are splendid, wardrobe choices reveal more detail than previously seen and interiors of McKinley High and the Weirs’ often seen home are appreciatively lush.  While purists may instinctively stick with the original broadcast ratios, the newly crafted widescreen transfers reveal a third more content of what was shot than what televisions could capably screen during its original run.  Boasting crystal-clear picture quality, the widescreen counterparts are an exceptional inclusion and one fans won’t be disappointed with.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue is perfectly audible while, Nick’s roaring drum fills and the show’s unforgettable soundtrack cuts make impressive appearances throughout the 18 episode run.  In addition to 28 recycled commentary tracks from cast, crew and even fans over the entire series, the newly included In Conversation with Creator Paul Feig and Executive Producer Judd Apatow (45:59), moderated by Los Angeles Times Critic Robert Lloyd leads the virtually endless supply of other previously available supplements including, hours worth of audition footage, deleted scenes, outtakes, bloopers, alternate takes, behind-the-scenes footage, original show promotional footage and a 36-page booklet detailing the episodes, their song selections, stills and much more!

    A one of a kind program that instills the foundation and pain of youth, Freaks and Geeks took the trials and tribulations of teenage rebels and their uncool subordinates on an unforgettable journey that was suspended from class after just one season.  From the ashes of their defeat, its cast and crew have graduated to blossoming careers as Hollywood’s most talented voices while, their glory days at McKinley High continue to speak to audiences like most longer-running shows never could.  Treating it like the gem it is since their original 2004 DVD release, Shout! Factory have given fans the definitive edition of their favorite high school series with beautiful HD presentations in both its original and newly crafted widescreen aspect ratios.  Overloaded with vintage bonus content and a brand new sit-down with Feig and Apatow, Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series will conjure your teenage spirit like your yearbook could never do.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 22nd from Shout! Factory, Freak and Geeks: The Complete Series can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Good Dinosaur (2015)

    Director: Peter Sohn

    Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand & Steve Zahn

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an alternate timeline where the astroid that forever altered life on Earth missed, The Good Dinosaur centers on scaredy cat apatosaurus Arlo (Raymond Ochoa, Mars Needs Moms) who after suffering a personal tragedy is lost in the far reaches of the wilderness.  Joined by an unlikely companion in rambunctious cave boy Spot (newcomer Jack Bright), Arlo must confront his deepest fears while journeying back to his family.  Sam Elliot (Grandma), Anna Paquin (X-Men: Days of Future Past), A.J. Buckley (CSI: NY), Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), Frances McDormand (Fargo) and Steve Zahn (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) comprise the film’s additional vocal talent.

    Plagued with directorial switches, story overhauls and cast changes, The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s second feature of 2015 following the universally loved Inside Out, found itself against near-insurmountable odds and a ticking clock to adhere to the expected quality of past Pixar productions.  Admittedly possessing themes familiar from past efforts, The Good Dinosaur’s coming-of-age tale of soul searching and fear facing still packs the emotional mark audiences have come to rely on with Pixar’s narrative whimsy.  Following the loss of his father, undersized apatosaurus Arlo is whisked away by nature’s ferocious elements, far away from the farm he calls home.  Alone and fearing for his life, Arlo, much to his initial dismay, finds himself in the company of the nonverbal cave boy Spot, leading the two to become co-travelers.  Spot’s unwavering loyalty and fearlessness to protect his new friend opens Arlo’s eyes to a new understanding and acceptance on their long journey home.  Withstanding dangerous weather conditions, Arlo and Spot find themselves in the good graces of a trio of T-rex as they battle velociraptors to protect their herd of longhorn.  With his confidence boosted and spirits raised, Arlo and his human companion face greater struggles when carnivorous pterodactyls capture Spot to quench their appetite.  Inspired by the spirit of his Poppa (Wright), Arlo will stop at nothing to rescue his best friend and return home to his mother and siblings.

    While perhaps lacking the originality audiences have come to expect annually from the animation studio, The Good Dinosaur is unquestionably Pixar’s most stunning looking production to date with its photorealistic environments setting a new standard high.  In addition, the heartwarming friendship and adventures shared between Arlo and Spot are equally as emotional and thrilling as anything Pixar has achieved before.  Furthermore, humor is plentiful as Arlo’s fear of critters is demonstrated while, the two companions’ psychedelic trip after feasting on unusual berries boasts bizzaro animation and absurd facial features of the characters.  Although slightly off-color during initial viewings, the sequence grows funnier with repeated watches.  In their first year producing two features, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur may have had difficulty following its other “emotional” picture while, its own narrative arguably lacks pizzazz.  That said, Arlo’s journey of self discovery matched with the film’s awe-inspiring animation makes The Good Dinosaur Pixar’s greatest underdog that will leave viewers teary-eyed several times over.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Good Dinosaur with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Set in impressive photo-real environments where greenery, blue skies and mountain vistas appear natural and richly detailed, Pixar’s prehistoric feature is nothing short of breathtaking.  In addition, bolder colors found in Arlo’s green skin, the reddish textures of his T-rex friends and the illuminating glow of fireflies pop magnificently while, the shadows of the night skies boast perfectly inky black levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is consummately relayed while, Jeff (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) and Mychael (Life of Pi) Danna’s earthy, bluegrass score is beautifully balanced.  Furthermore, the ambiance of the wilderness and the capturing of splashing waves and thunderous rainstorms offer great effectiveness.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Peter Sohn, Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann, Animation Supervisor Mike Venturini, Director of Photography and Lighting Sharon Calahan & Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi.  Also included, Sanjay’s Super Team (7:07), Pixar’s latest Academy Award nominated short from Sanjay Patel, True Lies About Dinosaurs (1:56) where humorous notes are made regarding the film’s fictional liberties, Recyclosaurus (6:19) showcases Pixar employees as they embark on a competition to fashion dinosaurs with left over goods, The Filmmakers’ Journey (7:54) is a brief yet, effective look into the making of the production from first time director Sohn.  Furthermore, Every Part of the Dinosaur (6:08) details the visual development of the film’s dinos, Following the T-Rex Trail (6:58) showcases the filmmakers studying a cattle ranch for research purposes, Deleted Scenes (10:41), Dino Bites (4:15), Hide and Seek (0:59) and Trailers for Moment: North American Trailer 2 (2:25), Courage: Russian Trailer (2:30) and Different: German Trailer (2:03) are also available.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at the state of Wyoming (3:41), Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (0:32), Disney Store (0:32), Finding Dory (1:43) and Zootopia (1:38) round out the supplements with a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code also included.

    Although casting familiar narrative shades from other Pixar features, The Good Dinosaur still manages to pack ample emotion with its grandiose animation leading the pack as the studio’s most gorgeous achievement yet.  Faced with many production obstacles, Pixar’s latest may not have resonated immediately with audiences yet, demands praise for its beauty and heartwarming friendship between its lovable leads.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents The Good Dinosaur with high-definition perfection and a generous spread of supplements including, an informative commentary, Pixar’s latest short film and several other making-of featurettes.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 23rd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Good Dinosaur can be purchased via 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. 

  • The Last American Virgin (1982) Blu-ray Review

    The Last American Virgin (1982)

    Director: Boaz Davidson

    Starring: Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin, Joe Rubbo & Louisa Moritz

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the brightly colored 1980s of Los Angeles, The Last American Virgin centers on three best friends, lovestruck virgin Gary (Lawrence Monoson, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), chick magnet Rick (Steve Antin, The Goonies) and jokester David (Joe Rubbo, Hot Chili) as they navigate the emotional waters of high school in pursuit of love, parties and sex.  Diane Franklin (Better Off Dead…), Kimmy Robertson (Twin Peaks), Brian Peck (The Return of the Living Dead) and Louisa Moritz (Death Race 2000) co-star.

    Based upon Israel’s popular Lemon Popsicle franchise, The Last American Virgin kicks off as a series of sex comedy clichés finding our three horny teenage leads in search of equally promiscuous females.  From awkwardly hilarious attempts to woo ladies with mock cocaine to joyriding in a pink station wagon and contracting crabs from a lady of the night, the hijinks of teenage hormones is never scarce.  After falling head over heels for the beautiful Karen (Franklin), Gary’s (Monoson) admiration from afar is crushed following best friend Rick’s (Antin) swift moves on her.  Emotionally conflicted, Gary is caught between his genuine feelings for Karen and jealousy towards Rick who views his new girlfriend as merely a source of sexual pleasure.  In a dramatic third act change of gears, The Last American Virgin finds Karen in a fragile predicament with Gary as her only source of support.  Fully devoted to Karen in her desperate time of need, suggested sparks of romance blossom between them.

    Boasting arguably one of the most memorable soundtracks of the decade with top-charting talent including, Blondie, Oingo Boingo, Journey, The Police and REO Speedwagon, The Last American Virgin packs sufficient skin and laughs while remarkably emerging as an honest and heartbreaking account of those tender teenage years.  In one of the more striking tonal shifts in 80s coming-of-age cinema, The Last American Virgin continues to endure for its acute ability to capture the delight and suffering of youth and why it’s all so hard to give up in the end.

    Olive Films presents The Last American Virgin with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of muddier appearances in dim lighting, skin tones appear generally warm and eye-pleasing.  Brightly colored costume choices pop nicely as does the neon lighting found in the film’s diner sequences.  With natural grain evident, occasional instances of flakes, speckles and mild softness are on display yet never overly distracting.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue tends to be overshadowed at times by the film’s popular soundtrack.  Similar to past home video releases, the inclusion of Human League’s “Love Action (I Believe in Love)” has once again been substituted by Devo’s “Whip It” while the remainder of songs are intact and pleasantly robust.  Most glaring in comparison to recently stacked overseas editions, no special features are included on this domestic release much to the disappointment of viewers.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Last American Virgin can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Spirited Away (2001) / The Cat Returns (2002) Blu-ray Reviews

    Spirited Away (2001) / The Cat Returns (2002)

    Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki / Hiroyuki Morita

    Starring: Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette, Susan Egan & David Ogden Stiers / Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Kristen Bell & Tim Curry

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their proud partnership, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes two more of Studio Ghibli’s animated spectacles.  First up, Director Hayao Miyazaki’s (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo) Spirited Away focuses on a young girl named Chihiro as she journeys to her new home with her parents.  One wrong turn finds Chihiro trapped in a surreal world of spirits while her parents are mysteriously transformed into pigs.  Scared and longing to return to her own world, Chihiro discovers a profound courage as she navigates her way through countless adventures.  Daveigh Chase (Lilo & Stitch), Jason Marsden (Transformers: Rescue Bots), Suzanne Pleshette (The Birds), Susan Egan (Hercules) and David Ogden Stiers (Beauty and the Beast) comprise the film’s English vocal talent.  Next up, The Cat Returns centers on clumsy schoolgirl Haru whose ordinary routine is turned upside when she saves the life of a cat.  and Whisked away to an unusual world of speaking felines, Haru must learn to believe in herself in order to evade an unwanted fate.  Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Peter Boyle (Everybody Loves Raymond), Elliot Gould (MASH), Kristen Bell (Frozen) and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) provide the film’s English vocal talent.   

    Long considered to be Director Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away finds spoiled ten-year-old Chihiro (Chase) uncomfortable about her family’s move to their new house.  After taking a slight detour to what appears to be an abandoned amusement park, Chihiro’s parents are quickly overtaken by the sight of endless food that transforms them into sloppy pigs.  Meanwhile, the frightened Chihiro is whisked away to a supernatural realm, home to a lavish bathhouse for spirits to replenish themselves.  Befriended by Haku (Marsden), a young male spirit, Chihiro is advised to find work within her new surroundings in order to devise a way to free her family.  After conforming to the world’s rules set forth by the wicked Yubaba (Pleshette), Chihiro nearly forgets her name, narrowly escaping a permanent stay in the fantastical environment.  As her work ethic grows and her independence develops, encounters with a notably stinky spirit and the mysterious No-Face take place.  When Haku, in dragon form, is severely injured following the theft of a magical seal, Chihiro embarks on a dangerous journey to return the stolen item in order save her friend’s life.  For all its magical mainstays, Spirited Away beautifully captures a child’s discovery of independence and transition into maturity.  Littered with wildly original creatures and a genuine sense of wonder, Chihiro’s transformation from frightened child to courageous young woman is an epic fantasy adventure with social commentaries on youth and society.  While its many characters may overwhelm viewers at times and their otherworldly abilities will undoubtedly fly over the heads of youngsters, Spirited Away remains a dazzling feast of animated majesty and compelling drama.  Becoming the most successful film in Japanese history and deservedly winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Spirited Away is one of Studio Ghibli’s most renowned pictures that effortlessly transports viewers to a dreamlike world like no other.

    A spin-off of 1995’s Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns centers on the ordinary life of quiet schoolgirl Haru (Hathaway).  When Haru saves an innocent cat from a deadly fate, the ditzy teenager learns the feline is anything but ordinary when he begins to speak.  Introduced as Lune, the Prince of the Cat Kingdom, Haru is overwhelmed when his kingdom praises her with gifts and the opportunity to marry the future King.  Cautiously contemplating the offer, Haru is advised from a whisper in the wind to seek support from the Cat Bureau.  Welcomed by the sophisticated Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Elwes), the hefty Muta (Boyle) and the kind raven Toto (Gould), Haru is assured safety until she and Muta are abducted to the Cat Kingdom for a royal ball.  As the Baron and Toto rush to save their human friend, Haru begins to transform into a cat, further sealing her future as Princess.  Shamefully toting his superiority, The Cat King (Curry) is convinced his bridal selection for his son is a wise one until the Baron crashes the party leading to an adventurous final act.  Understanding the need to discover her true self to revert back to her human appearance, Haru and her friends navigate an intricate castle maze to return to the human world once and for all.  Considerably shorter than most Studio Ghibli efforts, The Cat Returns maintains the studio’s high animation standards while, its characters, although charming and humorous, lack a noticeable depth.  In addition, the film’s theme of believing in oneself is adequately conveyed but, never scratches beyond its surface for deeper subtext commonly seen in previous Ghibli efforts.  Set in yet another otherworldly realm inhabited this time by talking cats, The Cat Returns manages to deliver several moments of thrills complimented by worthwhile laughs courtesy of Muta and Toto’s constant bickering.  Although lacking a deeper emotional palette, The Cat Returns delivers top-notch visuals in its limited runtime that will resonate with dedicated Ghibli enthusiasts.                      

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment ushers both Spirited Away and The Cat Returns with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Bursting with bright colors, both films arrive with blemish free transfers that allow viewers to fully appreciate the grand environments and uniquely crafted characters.  Black levels appear inky and absent of any crushing levels while, saturation is remarkably pleasing and depth, most noticeably in Spirited Away’s flying sequences, are nicely handled.  Accompanied with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue is always audible and crisp while, sound effects and each film’s respective scores are relayed with excellent clarity.  In addition to each film’s English version, the original Japanese mixes with English subtitles are also included.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, Spirited Away’s special features include, an Introduction by John Lasseter (1:09), The Art of Spirited Away (15:12), Behind the Microphone (5:42) where the English cast and crew share their experiences working on the acclaimed film.  Plus, Original Japanese Storyboards (2:04:31), a Nippon Television Special (41:53), Original Japanese Trailers (18:26), Original Japanese TV Spots (3:57) and Sneak Peeks (0:37) for Disney Movie Rewards and Disney’s Descendants are also included.  Finally, a DVD edition of the release round out the film’s supplements.  Also porting over its previously available supplements, The Cat Returns’ special features include, Original Japanese Storyboards (1:14:58), Behind the Microphone (8:59), The Making of The Cat Returns (34:11), Original Japanese Trailers (6:36), Original Japanese TV Spots (3:33) and Sneak Peeks (0:37) for Disney Movie Rewards and Disney’s Descendants.  In addition, a DVD edition of the release is also included.  

    Rewarding viewers with more of Studio Ghibili’s rich history, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Hayao Miyazaki’s long revered masterpiece to American shores.  Surreal and epically realized, Spirited Away’s examination of a young girl roaming a world of spirits is one of the master storyteller’s most impressive outings that stands as an animation milestone.  Meanwhile, Studio Ghibli’s shortest feature to date, The Cat Returns, introduces viewers to an equally peculiar world of talking felines and a young girl struggling to alter her fate.  Containing a heartfelt theme and impressive artistry, The Cat Returns lacks an emotional depth, trapping it in a state of unfortunate mediocrity.  Marking their domestic Blu-ray debuts, both films stun on high-definition with all their previously available special features ported over.  Eager to journey to magical worlds of wonder, Studio Ghibli’s efforts have left a profound impact on viewers that can now be gloriously recaptured on home video.

    Spirited Away RATING: 4.5/5

    The Cat Returns RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Spirited Away and The Cat Returns 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.

  • Breaking Away (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Breaking Away (1979)

    Director: Peter Yates

    Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern & Jackie Earle Haley

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Bullitt, Dennis Christopher (Chariots of Fire), Dennis Quaid (The Rookie), Daniel Stern (Home Alone) and Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children) star in Breaking Away as a tight-knit group of friends in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana, as they attempt to sort their lives out following high school graduation.  Self-diagnosed as outsiders, Dave (Christopher) takes his passion for cycling to new heights as a competitive race looms in their Middle American town.  

    Winner for Best Screenplay at the 1980 Academy Awards, Breaking Away remains a timeless tale of friendship and suburban serenity.  Sitting proudly with other coming-of-age classics as Kenny & Company and Stand by Me, Breaking Away has retained an enduring shelf life due to its heartwarming notions and unique casting decisions that seal its natural identity of townies uncertain about their future.  Dennis Christopher guides the picture with ease as recent graduate, Dave, obsessed with Italian cycling.  Christopher channels much humor as he attempts to emulate his foreign heroes by learning their language, listening to classical opera music and even shaving his legs much to the dismay of his aggravated father (played wonderfully by Paul Dooley).  The supporting cast shines brightly with Dennis Quaid as Mike, a former high school football player all too aware that his best days are behind him.  In addition, Daniel Stern, in his film debut, and The Bad News Bears‘ Jackie Earle Haley round out Christopher’s best friends, all committed to each other and increasingly fearful of what lies ahead.  Surprisingly, it is Peter Yates‘ direction and Steve Tesich’s charming screenplay, two non-Americans, that capture the film’s gorgeous small town American spirit.  In addition,  Director of Photography Matthew F. Leonetti (Poltergeist) basks the film in dreamy, sun-soaked lighting that romanticizes the setting to great effect.

    As tensions mount with the universities jock population and Dave’s Italian heroes betray him in a race, a chance opportunity to compete in the Little 500 allows Dave’s “cutters” a shot at redemption and self-worth.  Exciting and riveting, the film’s final race sequence will leave viewers on their feet and walking away with a feeling of bliss.  Uplifting and accurate in its depiction of youth, Breaking Away is a coming-of-age gem that is unfortunately lacking in today’s zeitgeist.

    Twilight Time presents Breaking Away with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Free of any dirt or debris, Breaking Away bears a clean picture with natural grain intact and rich detail best appreciated in Dave’s cycling uniform colors and the youthful acne scars on Jackie Earle Haley’s face.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Breaking Away does not exactly offer a grand scope of sounds to rumble its mix but, does offer audible dialogue with no anomalies to speak of.  Special features included are a highly informative Audio Commentary with Actor Dennis Christopher and Film Historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo.  Christopher tells stories from the making of the film with clear memories and vivid detail while, Redman and Kirgo, quickly proving themselves to be the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of film scholars, moderate the track with ample knowledge leaving the viewer with a mountain of new information to absorb.  In addition, two TV spots, Road to Adulthood (0:32) and Academy Booster (0:32) are included along with Dennis Christopher’s Fellini Story (12:53), an audio recording of Christopher’s chance encounter with the famed director that earned him a role in 1972’s Roma.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:57), an Isolated Score Track and a 6-page booklet with production photos and yet another compelling essay from Kirgo round out the supplements.  

    Heartfelt and humorous, Breaking Away is a cinematic treasure capturing the lives of youth in an idyllic American town.  The young cast impresses with humble performances that have elevated them all to greater successes in their respective careers.  Twilight Time delivers this charming Oscar-winning story with rewarding audio and video features and an audio commentary well worth its price.  While, quality coming-of-age dramas may be far and few between today, Breaking Away remains one of the finest of its kind.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Breaking Away can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

  • Ping Pong Summer (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Ping Pong Summer (2014)

    Director: Michael Tully

    Starring: Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Lea Thompson, John Hannah & Susan Sarandon

    Released by: Millennium Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A coming of age tale from a time where a pack of brats ruled the silver screen and carelessly whispering made for hit songs.  Hailed by GQ as “The Karate Kid but with hip-hop and ping pong”, Ping Pong Summer welcomes viewers back to the universally shy and awkward age of 13 when you feel uncool to all, including yourself.  Starring new blood and seasoned vets, Ping Pong Summer will teach you all about emerging from your shell and being funky fresh.

    Taking place in 1985, Ping Pong Summer centers on 13-year-old Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) as he heads to Ocean City, Maryland for his family’s annual summer getaway.  Obsessed with hip-hop and ping pong, Rad strikes up a friendship with Teddy (Myles Massey), develops his first crush and becomes the target of spoiled bullies.  When Rad challenges his abuser to an intense ping pong match, he finds a mentor in his outcast neighbor, Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon), who teaches him the table tennis ropes.  Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), John Hannah (The Mummy), Amy Sedaris (Elf), Robert Longstreet (Pineapple Express) and Judah Friedlander (30 Rock) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    A sucker for coming of age tales in the vein of Stand by Me or more recently The Way Way Back, Ping Pong Summer seemed like another hopeful indie experiment with the 1980s time period only heightening my anticipation.  Unfortunately, this teenage outing of a white kid obsessed with hip-hop is rather bland and reeks of disingenuousness.  While, the plot describes protagonist Rad as “obsessed” with hip-hop and ping pong, the viewer never truly feels his passion other than his loafing around of a boom box and a paddle.  Furthermore, when local racist bullies Lyle (Joseph McCaughtry) and Dale (Andy Riddle) make torturing Rad and friend Teddy a routine, Rad’s determination to beat Lyle in a ping pong match is nothing more than evening the score with no lesson truly learned.  In addition, Lyle and Dale’s torment of the two socially awkward friends are so over the top and absurd that it removes the viewer from the moment.  Upon arriving at Ocean City, Maryland, Rad takes little time attracting the attention of teen bombshell Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley).  Stacy is as shallow as they come with a peculiar addiction to mixing soda and pixie sticks, convincing Rad she suffers from cocaine abuse.  Oddly enough, Stacy’s “habit” is not far removed from Jessie Spano’s equally ridiculous caffeine pill kick on Saved by the Bell.  Susan Sarandon’s (The Lovely Bones) turn as the town outcast and Miyagi to Rad’s Daniel is a missed opportunity as her appearance is far too brief and uneventful.  Ping Pong Summer is clearly a product of bygone teen films that had their heart and story intact, something this indie effort sorely lacks.

    That said, Ping Pong Summer does do a remarkable job in capturing the time and setting of 80s seaside resorts with endless arcades packed with skee-ball, Pac-Man and slushies.  Keep your eyes peeled for the intentional placement of a DeLorean, an obvious reference to co-star Lea Thompson’s starring turn in the classic Back to the Future franchise.  In addition, the film takes full advantage of its era by including choice cuts from The Fat Boys, New Edition, John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band and Mr. Mister.  While, visually Ping Pong Summer hits all the right nostalgic notes, the film lacks the heart and foundation that made its inspirations memorable.  Ultimately, Ping Pong Summer feels like a hipster’s retrospective response to 80s coming of age films with lesser results.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Ping Pong Summer is presented with a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot on film, Ping Pong Summer intentionally carries a light softness to its picture echoing the look of traditional 80s fare.  A healthy level of grain is intact with warm skin tones relayed naturally while, the bright colors of Rad’s parachute pants and Stacy’s bodaciously colorful attire pop well.  Nostalgically comforting, this transfer works its magic nicely.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, Ping Pong Summer is an audible yet contained presentation.  Dialogue is clear and free of any anomalies with background noise of retro arcade cabinets serving as nice undercurrent to relevant scenes.  The 80s fueled soundtrack issues a nice bump to the mix but is never overwhelmingly loud.  In addition, a Stereo 2.0 mix is also included.  Overall, a suitable mix for a relatively dialogue friendly teen dramedy.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Michael Tully and Producer George Rush

    - Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer: This brief and underwhelming 15-minute behind the scenes look at the film interviews key players such as Director Michael Tully, the cast as well as production assistants and gaffers.

    - Previews: Includes Ping Pong Summer, Rob the Mob, Stuck in Love, Parts Per Billion and Charlie Countryman.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:

    Attempting to follow in the tradition of The Karate Kid and other 80s teen flicks, Ping Pong Summer conveys its retro environment perfectly but misfires with a story devoid of  real heart.  Characters are either vastly underwritten or too over the top, straddling the line of near mockery instead of embracing with sincerity.  Millennium Entertainment has provided an exceptional video and audio treatment for the film along with a scant assortment of special features.  Admittedly hopeful, Ping Pong Summer means well but unfortunately is far from funky fresh.

    RATING: 3/5

  • Animals (2012) DVD Review



    Animals (2012)
    Director: Marçal Forés
    Starring: Orial Pla, Augustus Prew, Roser Tapias & Martin Freeman
    Released by: Artsploitation Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Is growing up defined by the parting of childish toys that you once cherished so much?  Somewhere between the worlds of reality and fantasy, Animals attempts to explore that question.  Hailing from Spain and marking the feature film debut of Director Marçal Forés, this unconventional story weaves a web about the innocence of childhood and the fear and pain of growing up.  Scooping up the “Best First Feature” Award and “Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement” at OutFest 2013, Animals has intrigued audiences with its unusual, albeit relatable story.  Grab your favorite cuddly companion and let’s take a look for ourselves...

    Animals is a coming-of-age tale rooted in between the realms of fantasy and stark reality.  Pol (Orial Pla), a seventeen-year-old high school student can’t seem to come into his own age.  Pol laughs, confides in and jams to music with his English-speaking teddy bear named Deerhoof.  When a new student, Iraci (Augustus Prew, Kick-Ass 2), arrives Pol’s childhood innocence begins to crumble as he experiences his first taste of love and sexual longing.  Joined by Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as a high school teacher, Animals spins a unique tale on love, innocence and childhood.

    MOVIE:
    Simply seeing the cover of Artsploitation Films‘ latest release and hearing it involves a boy and his talking teddy bear, may cause some to brush this off as a blatant rip-off of another foul-mouthed talking teddy bear voiced by Seth MacFarlane.  Aside from the obvious, Animals could not be more unique considering the films origins date back to a short film made in 2005.  The beauty of Animals comes in its uncertainty of the messages being relayed to the audience.  As Travis Crawford of Artsploitation Films mentions, Animals, while having little in common with the films of David Lynch, does share in the trait of provoking as many questions as it does providing answers.  The film is very much left up to the viewer to feel and work out what they believe it means.  Some may be bothered by this, but taking in a Hollywood that produces films that are so  perfectly explained by the end credits, Animals is a breath of fresh air that gives due credit to its audience.  

    Headlined by an up and coming group of young actors, the cast does a remarkable job conveying so much emotion and range throughout the film.  Scenes of Pol living out dreams of putting on a rock concert, with Deerhoof on drums, is an image anyone who ever was young can relate to.  It is Pol’s pure heart and “friends ‘til the end” motto with Deerhoof that invokes a bond that isn’t held back by anything including differences in dialect.  The practical puppetry utilized to bring Deerhoof to life is wonderful as well as his interactions with Pol.  As a mysterious new student, Iraci (Prew), enters Pol’s world his innocent bond with Deerhoof becomes threatened.  A poisonous attraction develops between the boys as Pol begins experiencing his first sexual urges and Iraci teaches him not to fear pain through use of self mutilation.  Being fixated in a childlike world, watching Pol thrust into love and sex without causing a big fuss about his sexual orientation was welcoming.  In a way, it’s fitting and childlike that Pol would not pass judgement or question what gender his attraction lies in.  As we move farther away from Pol’s innocence and deeper into his dark maturity, the viewer and Pol both long for better days gone by.  The finale of the film is certainly haunting and will solidify that the magic of childhood is something we all fear losing and desperately try to retain.  Animals is a charming and bizarre film that reminded me how scary and painful growing up can be but also that parting with your childlike spirit is never required.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Animals is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks quite remarkable.  The beautiful cinematography by Eduard Grau translates well on this disc with skin tones looking accurate and detail looking nice.  Outdoor sequences look lush and warm which makes for a pleasant viewing experience.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Artsploitation Films offers a 5.1 Surround Sound mix that serves its purpose well.  Dialogue is clear as a whistle while subtle noises in nature scenes are picked up nicely.  Moments of rock music come out blaring, just the way we like it!  While the film utilizes its native Catalan tongue as well as moments of English, optional English subtitles with optional SDH are provided.  In addition, a 2.0 Stereo mix is also included on the disc.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    Artsploitation Films offers a wonderful assortment of special features to cut into.

    - Making-of Featurette: This nearly 20-minute featurette interviews the cast and crew about the story, its characters, atmosphere and puppetry effects used to bring Deerhoof to life.

    - The Bear Truth: A Short Film: Award-Winning Irish filmmaker Anna Rodgers directed this short documentary, in celebration of the film, about people and their personal stories about their own teddy bears.

    - Animals: The original short film that Director Marçal Forés shot at film school in London of 2005.

    - Audio Commentary with Director Marçal Forés & Travis Crawford

    - 8-page Collectible Booklet: Artsploitation Films’ Travis Crawford interviews Director Marçal Forés in this insightful companion to the film.

    - Animals Trailer

    - Artsploitation Films Trailers

    - Reversible Cover

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Animals is a unique coming-of-age tale that isn’t afraid to ask a lot of questions and allow the viewer to come to their own answers.  The film captures what the magic of childhood feels like and the pain of growing up.  The young cast did remarkable work with a slightly underused yet effective Martin Freeman offering some experienced clout to the film.  Artsploitation Films‘ technical achievements are spot on along with a perfect assortment of special features to round out such an intriguing picture.  Destined to be more than a genre label, Artsploitation Films has managed to deliver yet another strong film that deserves to be seen by more people.  Hats off to the label that is quickly becoming the dark horse with exciting and unpredictable films to look out for.
    RATING: 4.5/5