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Currently showing posts tagged Drama

  • The Founder (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Founder (2016)

    Director: John Lee Hancock

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Founder can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

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

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • No Highway in the Sky (1951) Blu-ray Review

    No Highway in the Sky (1951)

    Director: Henry Koster

    Starring: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, Elizabeth Allan, Ronald Squire & Jill Clifford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Nevil Shute’s acclaimed novel, No Highway in the Sky stars James Stewart (Rear Window) as bookish aeronautical engineer Theodore Honey whose unproven theory concerning the failure of England’s Reindeer planes is challenged under dire circumstances.  Aboard a Reindeer plane crossing its calculated flying time of disaster, the absent-minded yet nonetheless determined Honey painstakingly struggles to convince the crew of the certain doom that awaits them while, inspiring a famous actress passenger (Marlene Dietrich, Witness for the Prosecution) adored by his late wife and a kind flight attendant (Glynis John, Mary Poppins) to trust his judgement.  Suspending viewers in a dizzying trance of nail-biting suspense, No Highway in the Sky reteams Stewart with his Harvey director, the underrated Henry Koster, in a professionally constructed aviation feature that not only puts lives in peril but, Honey’s credibility and sanity under fierce examination.  Almost singlehandedly, Stewart’s performance of an eccentrically forgettable scientist and single father makes the film, as unconventional as it is, soar as gracefully as it does with Honey’s stirring sticktoitiveness serving as its glue and offering audiences a leading man to believe in.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Highway in the Sky with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of expectant traces of speckling and sporadic vertical lines, the black and white cinematography arrives in otherwise splendid condition with strong detail observed in facial features while, Stewart’s dark suit and jacket are displayed with throughly inky levels.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue exchanges with ease, the engines of the Reindeer plane roar satisfactorily without overwhelming the track’s more primary concerns.  Surprisingly and most pleasingly to report, cracks and pops are of no discernible concern.  Special features include, a rather chatty and informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeremy Arnold & Bob Koster that deeply covers the film’s making as well as the directorial career of Koster’s father who claims No Highway in the Sky was one of the late Koster’s proudest efforts.  In addition, Trailers for No Highway in the Sky (2:09), Deadline - U.S.A. (2:45), Ten Seconds to Hell (2:14) and Witness for the Prosecution (3:07) conclude the on disc supplements while, Reversible Cover Art reveals the film’s gorgeous U.S. 1-sheet poster presented centerfold style.  Richly conceived and remarkably performed by Stewart, No Highway in the Sky is an undervalued suspense-drama worthy of new sights now made possible by KL Studio Classics’ solid hi-def handling.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Highway in the Sky 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.

  • Parents (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Parents (1989)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt & Sandy Dennis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the suburban comfort of the 1950s, Parents centers on ten-year-old outcast Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky in his only film role) who suspects that his model mother and father (played by Mary Beth Hurt, The World According to Garp and Randy Quaid, Kingpin respectively) are up to more than meets the eye.  As Michael’s curiosity grows regarding the family’s limitless supply of leftovers, the nightmarish truth is revealed.  Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) costars in Bob Balaban’s (My Boyfriend’s Back) directorial debut.

    Painted with stark black comedy and horror undertones of cannibalism, Parents is a quirky slice of life from yesteryear demonstrating father (and mother) know best, especially when they’re eating you.  Relocating from Massachusetts during the picturesque 1950s, quiet and peculiar youngster Michael Laemle struggles to fit in his new surroundings while, experiencing a wrath of hellish nightmares that feel all too real.  Hauntingly awkward and an incorrigibly picky eater, Michael sticks out like a sore thumb next to his seemingly perfect All-American parents.  Looks prove deceiving as Nick and Lily Laemle demonstrate their own eccentricities and questionable behavior alerting their young son that all is not kosher at home.  Further troubled by increased nightmares and bloody hallucinations, Michael’s imagination runs wild when determining the origin of the family’s nightly supply of meat.  Sneakily following his father to his job at the local chemical lab where human cadavers are tested upon, Michael’s suspicion blossoms into full-blown fear when discovering the source of the Laemle’s personal meat market.  Developing a trust with the school psychologist (Dennis) while attempting to concretely prove what he already knows, Michael pits himself and the few close to him in finger-lickin’ danger with mommy and daddy.  Never hysterical nor the bodycount picture prevalent at the time, Parents never makes fully clear when we should cackle or wince in terror, making such uncertainty all part of its Rubik’s Cube of unconventional attraction.  Recreating the time with Rockwellian precision, Quaid and Hurt are inspired casting, if not slightly one note, making the entirety of the Laemle family appear rather and perhaps intentionally, subdued throughout the film.  Featuring a grossly underdeveloped friendship between Michael and a female classmate who insists she's an extraterrestrial from the moon, Parents is not immune to miscalculations while serving as an offbeat statement on yesterday’s rarely discussed domestic dilemmas that’s earned its place amongst cult circles.

    (image not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, presents Parents with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally restored and appearing appreciatively filmic throughout, the bright canvas of suburbia brings attention to the Laemle’s orderly household while, bolder colors found in Nick’s bright yellow sweater vest and the family’s turquoise Oldsmobile pop graciously.  Detail is also strongly admired in facial features and closeups on the cannibalistic parents carving into cooked meat with skin tones reading naturally.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that hones dialogue levels strongly for such a character-driven film, Michael’s nightmares provide suspenseful boosts that rattle the mix comparatively.  

    Graced with a winning serving of supplemental features, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban & Producer Bonnie Palef is on hand with Isolated Score Selections and an Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias also included.  Additionally, Leftovers to Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne (16:48) reveals that prolific producer Ray Stark (Steel Magnolias) was attached to the project before Vestron opted out citing Stark’s high fee as the cause.  Furthermore, Director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) turned down the film before Balaban joined the production with the latter injecting much of his own childhood into the narrative.  Hawthorne also retells that the parallels between Quaid’s performance and his own father were so close, his parents refused to speak to him for a lengthy period of time.  Mother’s Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt (14:29) finds the cannibalistic homemaker recalling Balaban offering her the role during a regular charades game that was frequented by the likes of Tim Robbins and Al Franken.  Hurt also expresses her love for the film’s time period and the prospect of its costumes being her major draws to the project.  Next up, Inside Out with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon (13:58) finds that the cinematographer took over duties after original D.P. Ernie Day’s (Revenge of the Pink Panther) wife fell ill.  Shooting the majority of the film’s interior sequences, Vidgeon believes his work on Hellraiser landed him the job on Parents.  Lastly, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo (9:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:33), Radio Spots (1:42) and a Still Gallery (4:52) conclude the release’s extra features.

    (images not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    A satirical sendup of 50s family values with a taste for flesh, Parents uniquely portrays every child’s safeguards as the source of their nightmares in this cannibalistic comedy.  Served with a side order of limbs, Bob Balaban’s oddball feature arrives with a fittingly scatterbrained tone and an underlying statement on the romanticized notion of growing up in the wholesome decade.  A cooky concoction of cultish charisma, Parents joins the Vestron Video Collector’s Series with solid technical grades and a most revealing slate of extras sure to fill up the hungry horror fan.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, Parents can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Queen of Katwe (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Queen of Katwe (2016)

    Director: Mira Nair

    Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza & Taryn Kyaze

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspiring true story, Queen of Katwe centers on chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga in her film debut) whose gift of the game propels her from poverty to the World Chess Olympiads.  David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) costar.

    Developed in association with ESPN Films, Queen of Katwe celebrates the tireless spirit and beauty of Uganda through the gorgeously cultivated direction of Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake).  Residing in the slums of Kampala with her siblings and hardworking widowed mother (Nyong’o), Phiona Mutesi's encounter with local missionary Robert Katende (Oyelowo) alters her life for the better.  Teaching his newest student the art and strategies of chess, Phiona’s natural abilities to foresee movements and defeat her fellow players with ease is met with newfound confidence and encouragement to compete.  Harnessing her skills, Phiona finds herself envisioning a future where proper education is within reach and relieving her family of the poverty they’ve only ever known is now possible.  Adhering to the tried and true structure of most underdog tales, Queen of Katwe monitors Phiona’s rise to prominence before overconfidence, family struggles and defeat knocks her down but hardly keeps her out from regaining balance.  Seamlessly tugging at viewer’s heartstrings, the mentor/student relationship between David Oyelowo the young Nalwanga succeeds in overwhelming audiences with emotion and giving reason to cheer during the traditionally quiet game of chess.  In addition, Lupita Nyong’o delivers another standout performance in a career of many as Phiona’s single mother who will stop at nothing to ensure her children’s well-being.  

    Shot inexpensively with its African locations capturing priceless photography, Queen of Katwe also welcomes the sounds of Uganda with soundtrack cuts from A Pass, Jose Chameleone and Goodlyfe Crew included alongside a newly produced song by Alicia Keys.  While its inspirational narrative doesn’t necessarily stretch the wings of what has come before it, Queen of Katwe excels with its prominently all black cast, evocative setting and Nair’s intimate direction all making exacting moves.  Inviting audiences to their latest tale of unconventional athleticism, Queen of Katwe honors Disney’s celebrated blending of family entertainment and true stories for another crowd pleasing checkmate.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Queen of Katwe with a stunning 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the sunny shades of Uganda’s scenery, bold colors found in virtually all costume choices leap off the screen while, skin tones are radiant and always natural-looking.  In addition, the poverty stricken areas of Phiona’s household and the faded turquoise boards encompassing her chess training ground are captured with immaculate detail, allowing viewers to fully bask in a presentation of such crispness.  Equipped with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that balances the transition of dialogue, bustling street ambiance and the film’s rhythmic song selections seamlessly, the track is nothing short of delightful.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe: Their Story (29:39), a three-part featurette exploring the filmmakers’ journey bringing the true story to fruition and the culture’s undeniable impact on the finished product plus, A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight (13:14), Nair’s original short film on the real Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo in the film.  In addition, In the Studio with Alicia Keys (6:26), a “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys Lyric Video (5:01), “#1 Spice” by Young Cardamom & HAB Music Video (3:55) are also included alongside Deleted Scenes (20:25) with optional introductions by Director Mira Nair.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks (4:30) at Born in China, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and Moana conclude the on-disc supplements while, a Digital HD Code is also included.

    Champions are often found in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.  Rising above poverty and a lack of education, Queen of Katwe brings welcome notice to the beauty and hardship of a Ugandan upbringing and the perseverance of the human spirit.  An inspirational journey ripe with heart and humor, Disney’s latest true story dramatization is a hit thematically while, its home video release exudes high-definition beauty and a worthy helping of bonus features including, the continued inclusion of a filmmaker’s commentary.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Queen of Katwe can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

    Director: John Sturges

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

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

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

    The Park Is Mine (1985)

    Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

    Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Helen Shaver & Yaphet Kotto

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Wolf Lake (1980) Blu-ray Review

    Wolf Lake (1980)

    Director: Burt Kennedy

    Starring: Rod Steiger, David Huffman, Robin Mattson, Jerry Hardin, Richard Herd & Paul Mantee

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Writer/Director Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers), Wolf Lake centers on decorated WWII veteran Charlie (Rob Steiger, In the Heat of the Night), along with his war buddies, who travel to a Canadian lakeside for a weekend of hunting.  Shortly after meeting caretaker David (David Huffman, Blood Beach) and his girlfriend, tension rises once his recent past as a war deserter is revealed.  Short on tolerance, Charlie engages in a crazed hunt for the couple, invoking David’s own ruthless survival instincts.  Robin Mattson (Santa Barbra), Jerry Hardin (Cujo), Richard Herd (Planes, Trains & Automobiles) and Paul Mantee (Framed) costar.

    Surprisingly filmed in Mexico, Wolf Lake is a rarely seen yet, masterfully achieved effort that examines the contrasting viewpoints amongst soldiers, divided by generations and unique experiences.  Delivering a powerhouse performance, Rod Steiger conveys unwavering patriotism, vulnerability, anger and madness in his role as lead hunter and WWII vet Charlie whose crackpot remarks towards reserved caretaker David ignite a war of differences between the two former soldiers.  Learning of David’s wartime desertion while coping with the death of his own son killed in Vietnam, Charlie’s emotions run rampant with desires to make David pay for his cowardice ways.  When a belligerent evening of drinking brings harm to David’s girlfriend, a new war is claimed between the two parties.  Methodically tracking the couple with rifles, Charlie and his cohorts find an admirable opponent in David who is merely trying to stay alive.  Featuring a shrieking score from Composer Ken Thorne (Superman II) and nail biting suspense throughout, Wolf Lake is a vastly underrated chapter in the annals of Vietnam War centered pictures with Steiger’s phenomenal performance ranking among one of his best and unfortunately overlooked.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Wolf Lake with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While image stability is slightly uneven at times with scratches and scruffs making occasional notices, skin tones are accurate and well-defined while, the isolated scenic locations retain their natural splendor.  Furthermore, speckling is not uncommon in lower lit sequences with the overall condition of its elements satisfying otherwise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, cracks and pops make seldom statements while, dialogue is audibly relayed with outdoorsy ambiance including, howling winds and chirping birds sounding clear while, Thorne’s musical queues make passable strides in effectiveness.  

    Special features include, Jerry Hardin and Richard Herdon on Wolf Lake (10:17).  In this brief featurette, the elderly actors recall the bond formed between the cast at the film’s isolated location with mentions of Burt Kennedy’s own decorated war history and his respected talent.  In addition, Lance Hool on Wolf Lake (11:21) finds the producer recollecting on his unique upbringing in Mexico that earned him parts in Howard Hawks films and other features before transitioning to producing.  Hool discusses the casting of Steiger and his unbelievable audition, the film’s controversial themes that caused physical fights during test screenings and its slow distribution death resulting in Hool turning down future Vietnam related pictures such as First Blood and Platoon.  Furthermore, a Trailer Gallery consisting of Avenging Force (1:18), Malone (2:00), Assassination (1:57), Steele Justice (1:36) and Hero and the Terror (1:26) are included with Alternate Artwork concluding the supplemental package.

    Emotionally charged and unnervingly thrilling, Wolf Lake stands as one of Steiger’s most passionate performances that has remained largely unseen due to the film’s hot-button themes released in the wake of the controversial Vietnam war.  Although not taking place on the frontline of battle, Writer/Director Burt Kennedy’s character-driven opus, surrounding the expectations of a soldier and the damaging effects of war on those involved, is a powerful showcase of different opinions turned deadly.  Worthy of praise for rescuing such a rediscovered gem, Kino Lorber Studio Classics welcomes the film to HD with expected quality and insightful interviews regarding the film’s unique making and unfortunate release history.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Joshy (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Joshy (2016)

    Director: Jeff Baena

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

    Released by: Lionsgate 

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • Hardcore (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Hardcore (1979)

    Director: Paul Schrader

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

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • My Bodyguard (1980) Blu-ray Review

    My Bodyguard (1980)

    Director: Tony Bill

    Starring: Chris Makepeace, Ruth Gordon, Matt Dillon, John Houseman, Craig David Nelson, Kathryn Grody, Adam Baldwin & Martin Mull

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After being hassled by high school bullies and extorted for lunch money, My Bodyguard finds polite teen Clifford Peach (Chris Makepeace, Meatballs) enlisting the services of towering mute Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin, Cohen and Tate) to protect him.  As their business arrangement morphs into a budding friendship, the two unlikely pals learn to stand tall against their enemies and depend on one another.  Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby), Matt Dillon (Little Darlings), John Houseman (The Paper Chase), Craig David Nelson (A Small Circle of Friends) and Martin Mull (Roseanne) co-star.

    A time capsule of adolescent bullying dilemmas and a sincere encapsulation of what it means to not fit in, My Bodyguard takes its cheekily designated title and exceeds the expectations of its jokier marketing campaign to deliver a coming-of-age dramedy with a much deeper substance and potent performances from its young cast.  Marking the directorial debut of Tony Bill (Untamed Heart), mild-mannered teen Clifford Peach finds his new start at a public high school under fire when bad boy Melvin Moody (Dillon) and his cronies target the newbie with daily demands for his pocket money or else.  Reluctant to bow to their demands, Clifford’s harassment reaches a boiling point prompting the clever sophomore to seek assistance from the most intimidating presence in the entire school.  Rumored to have raped a teacher and killed a police officer, oversized mute Ricky Linderman is courted to be Clifford’s personal protection system.  After rejecting the offer, the introverted misfit saves his would-be employer from a painful beating prompting an unexpected friendship between the two.  Harboring a dark past unrelated to schoolyard rumors, Ricky opens up to his new friend as the pair scour junkyards for motorcycle parts and enjoy fine dining with Clifford’s childlike grandmother (Gordon) at a ritzy Chicago hotel managed by his father (Mull).  More trouble arises when Moody hires his own muscular bodyguard to even the odds resulting in a last stand where Clifford and Ricky choose not to walk away from their problems but, defends themselves together.

    Interestingly scripted by Alan Ormsby (Cat People, Porky’s II: The Next Day), My Bodyguard is a charming staple released during the dawn of the teen film that packs enough heart and soul to be celebrated in the same vein as other commonly hailed underdog efforts.  Hot off the success of Meatballs, Star Chris Makepeace is perfectly cast as the shy, scrawny sophomore whose smarts far outweigh his fighting abilities while, Adam Baldwin makes a cunning film debut with his emotionally rattled performance as Ricky.  In addition, Matt Dillon makes hating him an absolute joy with his slicked back hair and occasionally unhinged attitude the driving force of his memorably tormenting character.  Featuring brief glimpses of Joan Cusack (Toy Story 2) as a friendly classmate and George Wendt (Cheers) as a blink and you’ll miss him maintenance man, My Bodyguard may seem superficially silly yet, upon further inspection the low-budget favorite makes important statements on the value of friendship and weaves a much more endearing narrative than one might expect.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents My Bodyguard with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing no severe age-related imperfections and retaining a filmic touch, the small scale production casts a softer focus while, skin tones are respectably presented and bolder colors spotted in the film’s ice blue title sequence pop nicely.  Set in the overcast city of Chicago, gloomy exteriors are not uncommon with black levels appearing decently and containing only slight speckling during skyline overviews.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is reasonably relayed with occasional moments suffering from lower levels or echoes off bathroom walls.  Absent of any cracks or pops, Composer Dave Grusin’s (Tootsie) score, best observed during the opening and closing sequences, are also warmly conveyed on the mix.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Tony Bill & Film Programmer Jim Healy.  Lively and informative, the two participants explore a variety of topics regarding the film’s making including, the script changes to make the lead character a teen instead of a child, many of the cast members being plucked from Chicago’s respected Second City and the impressive careers so many of the first time performers went on to obtain.  In addition, five TV Spots (2:39) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:19) are also included.

    Ranked as one of the 50 Best High School Movies by Entertainment Weekly, My Bodyguard takes careful consideration in building a teenage tale that both relates and entertains.  Heartfelt yet, never preachy, the young cast of up and comers sell the film with conviction that allows it to make the notion of high school bodyguards as plausible as the worst of bullies.  Making its high-definition debut, Kino Lorber Studio Classics ushers the film with a soft but, true to its source presentation that is most acceptable.  Accompanied with an engaging audio commentary track, My Bodyguard is an essential slice of teen cinema worthy of your lunch money.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 6th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, My Bodyguard can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • I Could Go On Singing (1963) Blu-ray Review

    I Could Go On Singing (1963)

    Director: Ronald Neame

    Starring: Judy Garland, Dirk Bogarde, Jack Klugman, Aline MacMahon & Gregory Phillips

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In her final film appearance, Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) lights up the stage as American singer Jenny Bowman in I Could Go On Singing.  In London for professional engagements, Jenny’s loneliness leads her to reconnect with her lost lover David Donne (Dirk Bogarde, The Damned) and the teenage son she left behind years ago.  Jack Klugman (12 Angry Men), Aline MacMahon (Gold Diggers of 1933) and Gregory Phillips (The Pumpkin Eater) co-star in this musical melodrama from Director Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure).

    Stripping layers of fictional pretenses away, Judy Garland’s curtain call performance in I Could Go On Singing boldly presents the icon in a state that hardly shies from the real world heartache that plagued her career while, reminding viewers of the magical talent that continued to surge through Garland until her untimely death.  Riding high on a tremendous wave of popularity, American singer Jenny Bowman’s arrival in England for a series of concerts at the esteemed London Palladium finds her reconnecting with former flame David Doone following his wife’s passing.  Rattling a sensitive can of worms, Jenny’s desire to see the now 14-year-old son she abandoned with David years earlier is understandably faced with resentment before David’s own kindness gives in.  Informed at a young age that he was adopted, Matt’s (Phillips) introduction to the adored singer is met with excitement and genuine affection as the two strike up a bond that David fears will ultimately be damaging.  Surrounded by agreeable colleagues at all times, Jenny’s insistence to see more of her unaware son fuels the “ask and you shall receive” climate common amongst celebrities in addition to mirroring the all too true reality of Garland’s own situation with two of her children from a failed marriage.  Sincerely charming in her hopes to be rejoined with the loves she should have never left, Garland’s fearless depiction as she drowns her sorrows in Scotch during an especially emotional climax further illustrates the warts and all approach lifted from the star’s own life into her at times heart-wrenching performance.  While Garland’s chemistry with co-star and real-life friend Borgarde (who was also essential in the film’s making) is quiet beautiful, I Could Go On Singing wraps up their turmoils too simply to be considered memorable.  Regardless of its predictable love story conclusion, Garland’s powerful singing sequences bring the film to several halts as viewers marvel at her dazzling showmanship.  Although the film may not achieve the heights of some of Garland’s earlier classics, I Could Go On Singing is a powerful swan song for the eternally loved beauty.

    Twilight Time presents I Could Go On Singing with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Arriving with natural grain present, skin tones are generally strong while, Garland’s glitzy onstage apparel shines nicely against bolder colors found in the bright red stage curtain.  Furthermore, black levels are steady with a generally clean picture free of harsh age-related damage.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is consummately handled in this rather speech-driven feature with Garland’s staged singing performances, backed by a lively band, showcasing the finest moments of the mix.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer Lawrence Turman and Film Historians Lem Dobbs & Nick Redman plus, a second Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle & Steven Peros.  Both tracks are enjoyably lively with behind the scenes information and unquestionable appreciation for Garland making both essential listens.  In addition, an Isolated Score Track (with some effects), the Original Theatrical Trailer #1 (3:47), the Original Theatrical Trailer #2 (3:06), a TV Spot (0:57) and the MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06) are also included.  Finally, a 6-page booklet featuring stills and another deeply researched essay from Film Historian Julie Kirgo concludes the release’s bonus content.

    Blurring the lines between fact and fiction more so than most stars would ever dream, I Could Go On Singing shines a revealing spotlight on Garland who stands tall in a performance worthy of applause.  Attempting to tower above such gems as The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me in St. Louis seems grossly unfair yet, Garland’s troubled last effort delivers a role on par with some of her best.  Meanwhile, Twilight Time’s high-definition treatment is rewarding with its film buff centered supplements, capably provided by the wildly knowledgeable efforts of Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, David Del Valle and others offering Garland fans with invaluable insight into the film’s making and beyond.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now in a limited 3,000 unit edition from Twilight Time, I Could Go On Singing can be purchased exclusively via ScreenArchives.com.

  • The Finest Hours (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Finest Hours (2016)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

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

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • Class (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Class (1983)

    Director: Lewis John Carlino

    Starring: Rob Lowe, Jacqueline Bisset, Andrew McCarthy & Cliff Robertson

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shortly after arriving at his new prestigious prep-school, lonesome Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy, Mannequin) is motivated by his outgoing roommate Skip (Rob Lowe, The Grinder) to explore uncharted dating zones.  Catching the attention of a sexy and sophisticated woman, Jonathan’s affair turns out to be more than he imagined after learning it’s with Skip’s mother.  Jacqueline Bisset (Bullitt), John Cusack (Say Anything…), Alan Ruck (Ferris Buller’s Day Off) and Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man) co-star.

    Keeping in tradition with other teenage hormonal features of its era, Class balances the scandalous love affair between a high school senior and his roommates mother with obvious humor and surprisingly well-handled, if not unexpected, dramatics.  After being encouraged by best friend Skip (Lowe) to hitch a ride to Chicago for a steamy one-night stand, Jonathan (McCarthy) finds himself captivated by the mature and breathtaking Ellen (Bisset) leading to a sexual rendezvous in an elevator before relocating to a hotel room.  Riding high on his conquest, Jonathan and Ellen’s affair develops over the weeks with the prep-schooler falling madly in love with his new flame.  Shortly after Jonathan’s true identity is revealed, their blossoming relationship is unsurprisingly damaged, sending the heartbroken teen on a downward spiral of depression.  In order to lift his best friend’s spirits, Skip invites Jonathan over to his house for the holidays realizing his recent bombshell is in fact Skip’s own mother.  Awkward encounters and mounting lies steer Class into a more dramatic territory that separates itself from similar pictures without ever sacrificing quality.  Furthermore, fellow brat packers Lowe and McCarthy gel excellently together, making practical jokes and playfully insulting one another to create one of the great bromances of the decade.  As the damaging news of his mother’s affair hits Skip in the final act while, a school investigation to sniff out cheaters potentially threatens Jonathan’s livelihood, the two best friends prove after beating the bejesus out of one another that bros still apparently come before hoes, including your own alcoholic mother.  While its setup would normally lend itself to countless skintastic scenarios, Class is relatively tame with the major exception being Virginia Madsen (Dune), in her first role, having her blouse torn off in a most comical sequence.  Accompanied by a romantically elegant score by Elmer Bernstein (Ghostbusters), Class may not be the most sexually exploitative teen flick of the 80s but, still manages to be particularly funny and a pinch more sophisticated than expected.

    Olive Films presents Class with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing filmic and free of any dirt or other aging artifacts, Class relays accurate skin readings while, the film’s color scheme of browns and other earth tones satisfy with Skip’s red hot sports car popping most impressively.  In addition, black levels spotted in shadowy rooms and jet-black prep school coats are inky and defined.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is prominently prioritized with no difficulties in audibility present.  Cracks and pops are nonexistent with Bernstein’s score and the film’s few soundtrack bits also relayed appropriately.  Typically scant, the sole special feature is the film’s Trailer (2:30).

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Grandma (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Grandma (2015)

    Director: Paul Weitz

    Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox & Sam Elliot

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Shortly after breaking up with her younger girlfriend, Grandma centers on temperamental scholar Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin, Nine to Five) surprised by the arrival of her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) who’s desperately in need of $600 before sundown.  Equally broke, Elle joins her kin on the unconventional fundraising journey visiting faces from Elle’s past and reopening old wounds along the way.  Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock), Judy Greer (Ant-Man), Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black) and Sam Elliot (Tombstone) co-star.

    Broken into six distinct chapters, Director Paul Weitz’s (American Pie, Admission) Grandma marks Academy Award nominated Lily Tomlin’s first headlining appearance in nearly 30 years.  Coping with the loss of her longtime partner, Elle Reid (Tomlin) stubbornly ends her brief relationship with her new girlfriend Olivia (Greer) only to be unexpectedly visited by her high school aged granddaughter Sage (Garner).  Confiding to Elle that she is pregnant and in need of several hundred dollars for an abortion, the two broke women hit the open road visiting Sage’s deadbeat boyfriend, Elle’s old friends and her ex-husband Karl (Elliot) in order to secure the necessary funds.  Unearthing painful skeletons and growing closer on their unusual expedition, all roads eventually lead to their strained relationship with Sage’s mother and Elle’s career-oriented daughter Judy (Harden).

    Refreshingly honest and beautifully written, Grandma combines the humor and tragedy that comprises us all with Tomlin’s tough as nails exterior and witty comical sensibilities making way for her most achingly humanistic performance to date.  In an industry unfairly skewed against actresses past particular ages, Tomlin’s feisty role is played with a no-nonsense attitude, further supported by her heartfelt dedication to stick by her granddaughter at all costs.  Free to speak her mind with bluntness and intelligence, Elle takes hits, both physically and emotionally, in order to face her own demons and come to terms with her partner’s passing.  The up and coming Julia Garner keeps up admirably with Tomlin’s powerhouse performance while, good luck charm supporting player Judy Greer portrays the ideal romantic conflict for Elle on her journey of self-discovery.  In addition, Marcia Gay Harden, although briefly seen, makes her limited screen time count in the film’s final act while, Sam Elliot’s shining moment make for some of Grandma’s most emotionally riveting sequences.  Although clocking in under 80 minutes, Weitz’s tender dramedy never shortchanges viewers, instead wonderfully weaving a simple tale of three generations of women finding themselves on firmer ground than when we found them.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Grandma with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Making impressive statements with flourishing natural skin tones and exterior environments appearing nicely detailed, black levels in Elle’s Dodge Royal and a concluding nighttime sequence are also richly inky.  With no jarring technical blemishes to report, Grandma looks splendid on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is rightly prioritized in this character-driven feature that is relayed with strong precision.  Although not wildly wide-ranging in its abilities, the mix is perfectly suitable for what’s required.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Weitz and Stars Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner & Sam Elliot, A Family Portrait: The Making of Grandma (25:15) (Blu-ray exclusive) and a Grandma Q&A (20:58) with Writer/Director Paul Weitz and Stars Lily Tomlin & Sam Elliot, hosted by Pete Hammond.

    Deservedly nominated by the Golden Globes for her stirring performance, Lily Tomlin has ushered in a new dawn of her career with her headlining turn in Grandma.  Candid and emotionally revealing, Director Paul Weitz’s low-budget charmer reveals another layer of his varied career that will most assuredly grab hold of viewers.  Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment treats the critically praised effort with easily recommended technical merits.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Grandma can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Wrong Man (1956) Blu-ray Review

    The Wrong Man (1956)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles & Anthony Quayle

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window), The Wrong Man centers on blue-collar musician and loving family man Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men) who is wrongfully accused of robbery.  Emotionally distressed, Manny’s loving wife Rose (Vera Miles, The Searchers) begins losing her sanity while her suspected husband confronts a possible future behind bars.  

    Based on true events, Hitchcock’s influential docudrama is a harrowing depiction of themes commonly depicted in most of the auteurs work including, misidentification and authoritative fear.  Introducing the film in silhouette and barring himself from any distracting cameo appearances, Hitchcock’s final feature for Warner Bros. is composed with the utmost seriousness for its non-fictional source.  Struggling to make ends meet while, his wife requires dental work for the hefty sum of $300, Manny Balestrero (Fonda) seeks to take a loan out against his wife’s insurance policy only to be identified by several office workers as a multiple-offending robber.  Investigated by local detectives, Manny is questioned and whisked away to several businesses where he is accused once more for acts he did not commit.  After a tense interviewing process and a police conducted lineup, Manny is surreally charged and placed behind bars in what appears to be a living nightmare.  Miraculously making bail, Manny is reunited with his loving wife Rose (Miles) as they seek to clear his name by hiring noted attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia) to take his case.  Faced with the very real possibility of being found guilty, Manny and his wife push forward to establish several alibis before their grim reality takes an emotional tole on Rose forcing her to be hospitalized.  In what seems like impossible odds stacked against him, Manny’s entire livelihood hinges on the capture of his offending doppelgänger.

    Shot on location in New York City at many of the events actual locations including the now defunct Stork Club, The Wrong Man is intensely thrilling and shockingly potent for today’s society where the innocent are increasingly incarcerated under similar circumstances.  Bringing life to the city that never sleeps, Hitchcock’s on-site coverage welcomes an authenticity that highlights its smoke-filled alleyways and bustling energy that would permeate films to come.  Headlined by legendary talents, Henry Fonda and Vera Miles bring acute believability to their roles while, Miles’ emotional breakdown arguably overshadows her leading man at times.  Equally brilliant, the thespians give their all for achievements that rank highly amongst many of the greatest Hitchcock directed performances.  Tensely crafted and demonstrating the psychological strain an accusation places on the human spirit, The Wrong Man is unanimously found guilty of cinematic perfection.  

    Warner Archive presents The Wrong Man with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously reproducing its monochrome photography, the film’s intended gritty appearance is left intact without sacrificing viewability with unfavorable levels of muddiness.  Furthermore, facial features are excellently detailed while, black levels are sound and inky with extremely fleeting instances of speckles spotted.  Beautifully handled, Warner Archive have done Hitch proud.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with no indication of hiss on hand.  In addition, the partying crowds at the Stork Club and Composer Bernard Herrmann’s (Citizen Kane, Vertigo) jazzy score make impressive statements.  Special features include, Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man (20:19), this vintage retrospective offers insight on the film from Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Historians Robert Osborne & Richard Schickel, Art Director Paul Sylbert, Director Richard Franklin (Psycho II) and more.  Finally, the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:35) is also included.

    Largely impacting Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The Wrong Man is a deeply gripping examination of being wrongfully accused, heightened by its chilling real world roots.  Henry Fonda and Vera Miles give outstanding turns in their respective roles while, Hitchcock’s own deep-rooted fear of authority accounts for the film’s effectively unsettling atmosphere.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive’s exemplary work continues, leaving another Hitchcock classic in a glorious state.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, The Wrong Man can be purchased via WBShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bridge of Spies (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Bridge of Spies (2015)

    Director: Steven Spielberg

    Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan & Alan Alda

    Released by: Touchstone Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Inspired by true events, Bridge of Spies centers on Brooklyn attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump) who finds himself at the center of an international exchange involving a suspected Soviet spy (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl) and a captured American U-2 pilot during the Cold War.  Amy Ryan (Win Win) and Alan Alda (The Aviator) co-star.

    In their fourth collaboration together, Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and Star Tom Hanks re-team for their latest fact-based opus set during the unpredictable days of the Cold War.  Following the FBI’s capture of suspected Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance) in Brooklyn, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Hanks) is summoned to his defense as a show of good faith to the American public that even their enemies are offered a fair trial.  Strongly believing that every person matters regardless of their stature, Donovan takes the case seriously much to the dismay of his firm and the watchful country.  Unsurprisingly found guilty, the determined lawyer’s abilities spare Abel’s life with a 30 year sentence, further infuriating the public who believes the elderly man should be put to death.  While sacrificing his respected reputation and risking the livelihood of his family, American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell, Whiplash) is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured while, American grad student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers, The Bay) is arrested as a spy on East Berlin soil.  With equal interests at play for their countries, Donovan is called upon to negotiate the risky transaction of Abel for the two Americans in the dangerous sector of East Berlin.

    A courtroom drama played on the battleground of war torn Europe, Bridge of Spies is a character-driven thriller that firmly establishes its associated time period and the uneasy fears of its citizens.  As the modern day Jimmy Stewart of his generation, Tom Hanks delivers yet another stellar performance as the common man whose beliefs are put to the test against larger than life circumstances.  Aided by an equally hailed supporting performance, Mark Rylance injects a gentleness and dry humor to his role as the accused Soviet spy making Donovan’s delicate role in ensuring his safety all the more emotional for viewers.  Although responsible for revising Matt Charman’s (Suite Française) screenplay, Ethan & Joel Coen’s (No Country for Old Men) contributions can largely be felt during the impactful negotiation sequences that easily rank as some of the film’s finest moments.  While some viewers may find themselves entertained yet, mildly restless following the Lincoln director’s third drama in a row, make no mistake, Bridge of Spies is as powerful and potent as anything Spielberg has undertaken.  

    Touchstone Home Entertainment presents Bridge of Spies with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exquisitely handled, skin tones are remarkably defined and natural while, the mood setting lighting of Academy Award winning Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) further accentuate its 1950s time period.  In addition, textures found in various costume choices and the unique color palettes of each country make impressive strides while, black levels are refreshingly inky and absent of any intrusive artifacts.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with city street ambiance, machine gun fire and Powers’ plane crashing sequence greatly impressing in this effective mix that mirrors its perfect video transfer.  Special features include, A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies (17:45) where the filmmakers and their real-life counterparts detail the true events and its cinematic retelling, Berlin 1961: Re-creating The Divide (11:35) presents the historical locations of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and other behind-the-scenes moments and U-2 Spy Plane (8:45) explores the film’s plane crashing sequence with insight from Gary Powers, Jr.  Finally, Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act (5:42) investigates the monumental exchange on the Glienicke Bridge and its shooting while, a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code are also included.

    Substituting more fantastical flair for his latest historical drama, Bridge of Spies is another absorbing effort that continues to prove Spielberg’s eye for story and compelling visuals have yet to wither.  Headlined by the consummate performances of Hanks and Rylance, this Cold War based tale has all the markings of another Spielberg great.  Meanwhile, Touchstone Home Entertainment presents the film with unquestionably perfect technical merits and informative supplements that explores the film’s making and its fact-based history.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 2nd from Touchstone Home Entertainment, Bridge of Spies can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.                                           

  • 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. 

  • Over Your Dead Body (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Over Your Dead Body (2014)

    Director: Takashi Miike

    Starring: Ebizô Ichikawa, Ko Shibasaki, Miho Nakanishi, Maiko, Toshie Negishi, Ikkô Furuya & Hideaki Itô

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Audition, Over Your Dead Body centers on an accomplished actress (Ko Shibasaki, 47 Ronin) starring in a stage rendition of a legendary ghost story.  After getting her lover cast as the male lead, rehearsals for the play, focusing on a troubled relationship and a supernatural presence, begin taking shape offstage as well.  When the line between reality and fantasy become heavily blurred, the young thespians find themselves consumed by the darkness.  

    Focusing on the exhaustive rehearsal process of a stage play, Over Your Dead Body begins promisingly, inviting viewers into the beautiful and dramatic narrative of its mock production.  Weaving a tale of an abusive relationship, samurais and apparitions, Director Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) spends considerable time establishing the characters of his play within a film before revealing their complicated lives offstage.  Successfully landing her lover a leading role in her latest opus, Miyuke’s (Shibasaki) relationship with Kousuke (Ichikawa) is anything but ideal.  Struggling to cope with the heavy subject matter of her role, Miyuke finds her onstage drama suffocating her once loving relationship with her costar.  Meanwhile, Kousuke secretly takes comfort in the sexual company of Miyuke’s understudy as the supernatural elements of the play begin taking hold of the actors’ lives.

    Considerably slow-building, Over Your Dead Body remains fixated on the visual splendor of its faux stage play while, Miyuke and Kousuke’s relationship dilemmas increase and become intertwined with the play’s grim narrative.  In its final act, Over Your Dead Body supplies unsettling footage of Miyuke attempting to claw at her womb with kitchen utensils for a fetus making the scareless first hour nearly forgotten.  In addition, the eerie awakening of a prop baby and Miyuke’s deformed transformation similar to that of her stage character gives the film added chills.  Effortlessly blending the realms of nightmares and reality at the expense of its runtime, Over Your Dead Body may not be Miike’s finest hour, yet successfully achieves a haunting tone by its conclusion.  

    Scream Factory presents Over Your Dead Body with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  A product of the digital age, flesh tones appear lively and well-detailed with the dimly lit sets of the film’s play offering healthy black levels.  That said, nighttime sequences of intimacy between Miyuke and Kousuke suffer slightly with foggier appearances and hints of digital noise.  Beyond these minor grievances, Over Your Dead Body makes a spirited debut on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the Japanese dialogue is delivered sharply with moments of hushed tones never suffering.  Meanwhile, the film’s haunting score by Composer Kôji Endô (13 Assassins) and its glass-shattering sound effects are prominently prioritized enhancing scenes of suspense.  In rare Scream Factory form, special features are limited to only the film’s Trailer (2:03).

    Director Takashi Miike’s latest effort takes its time painting a picture of a troubled couple eventually overcome by dark forces.  Although its narrative is intertwined with the drama of its supernatural play, scares and nightmarish imagery are reserved until the film’s rewarding final act.  While its pace and lack of frights can grow tiresome, Over Your Dead Body maintains some of J-horror’s best qualities.  Continuing to expand their horizons to all facets of terror, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release awards viewers with a strong audio/visual presentation although, supplements are noticeably scant in comparison to past releases.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Over Your Dead Body can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Walk 3D (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Walk (2015)

    Director: Robert Zemeckis

    Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, James Badge Dale & César Domboy

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a true story, The Walk stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) as daring wire walker Philippe Petit.  Mentored by the talented Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List) and assisted by a pack of loyal international accomplices, Philippe plans to illegally stage the greatest performance of his lifetime by walking across the newly constructed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey), Clément Sibony (The Tourist), James Badge Dale (The Lone Ranger) and César Domboy (The Princess of Montpensier) co-star.

    Driven by determination and obsessive passion, Philippe Petit’s extraordinary journey from the streets of Paris to 1,350 feet above the city of New York remains an eternal testament to dreamers worldwide.  Based on Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds, The Walk traces his early beginnings as a juggler and amateur wire walker before inspiration strikes upon reading about the completion of the Twin Towers in New York City.  Donning blue contact lenses and perfecting the Frenchmans accent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers one of his finest performances with his intense training from the real Petit beautifully shining through.  Striking up a romance with fellow street performer Annie (Le Bon) and a friendship with photographer Jean-Louis (Sibony), the trio journey east to aid Philippe in his death-defying performance.  The up and coming Le Bon is a striking presence while her chemistry with Gordon-Levitt accentuates the loving commitment the couple have to seeing their dreams come true.  In addition, Sir Ben Kingsley delivers a quaint performance as Philippe’s experienced mentor who although, uncertain of his protégées goals, learns to love him like a son and ensures his safety on his surreal adventure.  Morphing into a caper film of sorts, Philippe, accompanied by several other local New Yorkers, plot “le coup” by masquerading as construction workers, weaseling their way to the tower rooftops and rigorously setting the necessary wires under the shadow of the night.  Although its climax is well-documented, Zemeckis’ masterful direction, complimented by Alan Silvestri’s (Forrest Gump) swelling score, transports viewers on the wire with Philippe for a truly breathtaking finale.

    Although unfairly tanking at the box-office, The Walk is a stunning piece of cinema that delivers phenomenal visuals with an emotionally inspiring story.  Respectfully dedicated to the victims of September 11th, Director Robert Zemeckis' (Back to the Future, Flight) cinematic ode to the people of New York celebrates another memorable day in its history where strangers looked to the sky and were joined together by the magic of a man on a wire.  Powerfully moving and leaving viewers on the edge of their seat, The Walk is a remarkable effort destined to be celebrated for years to come.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Walk with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Marvelously achieved during its theatrical presentation, its home video 3D is equally immersive and projects solid depth as Philippe makes his suspenseful walk across the towers.  Greatly adding to the visual experience, The Walk is destined to become one of the new year’s finest 3D offerings.  Meanwhile, its 2D presentation is excellently detailed with skin tones represented naturally and black levels, most appreciably during Philippe and Jeff’s nighttime rigging of the wires, looking inky and free of digital noise.  Wonderfully bringing life to the New York and Paris of the 1970s with boldly captured colors and sharp crispness, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has delivered a stunning transfer worthy of its praise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is strongly supported while, Alan Silvestri’s score (one of 2015’s best) is exceptionally handled.  Crowded city streets and sound effects of wire clattering are also nicely balanced in a presentation that doesn’t stray far from its essential character driven dynamics.  Special features include, Deleted Scenes (5:44), First Steps: Learning to Walk the Wire (9:11) where Gordon-Levitt, alongside the real life Petit and Director Robert Zemeckis, share the actor’s firsthand experiences learning to wire walk.  In addition, Pillars of Support (8:27) focuses on the supporting cast that help pull off Philippe’s caper while, The Amazing Walk (10:48) explores the fascinating work recreating the Twin Towers and the film’s 3D effects.  Finally, Previews for Aloha (2:41), Ricki and the Flash (2:40), Concussion (1:57) and Risen (1:31) are included alongside a standard Blu-ray edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    Failing to attract audiences during a time where theatergoers uninterested in Hollywood blockbusters scream for originality and emotionally driving stories, the mystery of The Walk’s disappointing box-office performance further perplexes the mind.  Severely underappreciated, The Walk weaves a compelling narrative enforced by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Serving as another highlight in a career of classics for Zemeckis, The Walk is the rare exception where 3D greatly supports its narrative and enhances the experience like no other.  Although falling short on special features, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment delivers an astounding A/V presentation while, its immersive 3D kicks the new year off right.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 5th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, The Walk can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Living in Oblivion (1995) 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    Living in Oblivion (1995)

    Director: Tom DiCillo

    Starring: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James Le Gros & Peter Dinklage

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on the problematic struggles of independent filmmaking, Living in Oblivion stars Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) as strung out movie maker Nick Reve.  Low on patience and intensely overwhelmed with obtaining the necessary scenes for his latest film, hilarious insanity ensues amongst onset drama, egotistical actors and his own elderly mother walking onto set.  Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Dermot Mulroney (Stoker), James Le Gros (Point Break) and Peter Dinklage (Games of Thrones) co-star.

    Developed out of Director Tom DiCillo’s (Johnny Suede) own frustrations helming his debut effort and continuous problems securing financing for future projects, Living in Oblivion takes a satirical yet, bizarrely accurate look at the insanity of crafting cinema.  Divided into three sections, the indie effort juxtaposes between black-and-white photography and color as passionate filmmaker Nick Reve (Buscemi) is haunted by nightmare scenarios taking place on set of his latest picture.  From intrusive boom mics slipping into frame to the camera operator falling ill mid sequence, the line between fantasy and fiction become drastically melded.  Also experiencing anxiety riddled dreams, lead actress Nicole Springer (Keener) attempts to conceal a one-night stand with her conceited co-star Chad Palomino (Le Gros) that eventually spills onto set, causing an all-out war amongst Nick and his headliners.  Amusingly segueing to the reality of the set, Nick attempts to stage a dream sequence involving Nicole and hot-headed dwarf Tito (Dinkalge in his film debut) who doesn’t take kindly to direction.  Making matters worse, Nick’s senile mother wanders onto set to become the unexpected savior of the troubled production.

    Shot during a fast-paced 16 day schedule and funded through close friends, Living in Oblivion is a comical depiction of the pain and compromise seldom discussed about the filmmaking process.  Steve Buscemi shines as the hopeful director attempting to roll with the hiccups while, simultaneously losing his mind.  Supported by side-splitting turns by Dermot Mulroney as the eye-patch wearing cameraman Wolf and James Le Gros as a Hollywood hotshot chasing arthouse praise, their conflicting personalities and antagonizing exchanges with one another make for some of the film’s most humorous moments.  While the indie wave of the decade paved the way for such notable talents as Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Kevin Smith (Clerks) and Richard Linklater (Slacker), no feature captured the pride swallowing agonies of no budget filmmaking in such a supremely quirky and playful way as Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion.

    Shout! Factory presents Living in Oblivion with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a new restoration supervised by DiCillo, the film, shot on 16mm with its later half upgraded to 35mm, debuts with considerable speckling during its opening titles that decrease during its runtime while, boasting occasional scratches elsewhere.  Early moments incorporating black-and-white photography also appear expectedly soft but never unacceptable.  Considering its minimal budget and chosen film stock, the feature looks as good as can be expected with skin tones registering mostly natural and bold colors found in lively wardrobe choices and the faux set popping most nicely.  While it may not always sparkle and shine like most Hollywood blockbusters, Shout! Factory’s most recent restoration of this low-budget favorite marks its finest home video appearance to date.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is audible and pleasing with only minor instances of pops heard.  Character driven and light on dynamic sound effects, the mix is more than adequate for the film’s limited means.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tom DiCillo, the newly produced retrospective In Our Own Oblivion: The Miracle of Making a Film (42:20) welcomes DiCillo, Producer Marcus Viscidi and Stars Steve Buscemi, James Le Gros, Danielle von Zerneck and Peter Dinklage as they share their memories of the production.  In addition, a Deleted Scene (2:07), Q&A with Tom DiCillo & Steve Buscemi (16:43) and a DVD edition round out the gracious supplemental package.

    Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Living in Oblivion, although mildly dated in how technologically simple indie productions have become to produce, still feels refreshingly accurate in tracing the dilemmas and never-ending setbacks involved in movie-making.  Snappily written and earning the Best Screenplay Award during 1995’s Sundance Film Festival, Director Tom DiCillo’s heartache and frustrations thankfully gave birth to an ingeniously funny examination of guerrilla filmmaking and its dementedly devoted creators like few have.  Wonderfully appreciated by its distributor, Shout! Factory honors the beloved indie favorite with an admirable restoration and a pleasing spread of vintage and newly produced special features.  Sometimes surreal but always hysterical, Living in Oblivion has yet to lose its delightfully offbeat charm.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available November 17th from Shout! Factory, Living in Oblivion can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Inside Out 3D Ultimate Collector's Edition (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Inside Out (2015)

    Director: Pete Docter

    Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black & Mindy Kaling

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out travels into the mind of 11-year-old Riley as she emotionally processes her move to a new city.  With the optimistic Joy (Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation) and her fellow emotions Sadness (Phyllis Smith, The Office), Fear (Bill Hader, Trainwreck), Anger (Lewis Black, The Daily Show) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project), the contrasting quintet brace themselves for an adventure of self discovery.  Richard Kind (Spin City), Diane Lane (Secretariat) and Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) provide additional vocal talent.

    Breaking new ground in the form of animated storytelling, Inside Out takes viewers on an ingenious journey through the inner workings of an emotionally evolving young girl.  Abruptly whisked away from her idyllic home in Minnesota to the unfamiliar San Francisco, Riley’s once happy existence is traumatically challenged.  Processing the life-changing events are Riley’s gamut of emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust as the colorful characters strive to stabilize Riley’s rocky feelings.  Determined to right the ship, Joy and her fellow cohorts find themselves overwhelmed by the always gloomy Sadness as their control center begins rapidly changing with Riley’s increasing unhappiness.  As chaos ensues and previously happy memories are compromised, Joy’s frantic attempts at repair results in her and Sadness transplanted to the complex dwellings of Riley’s long-term memories.  While the remaining emotions only cause Riley to grow more distant from her parents, Joy and Sadness navigate the labyrinth of her subconscious and encounter imaginative characters while, learning invaluable information about their feelings in order for Riley to be whole once again.

    Complimented by a perfectly selected voice cast, Inside Out gives life to the ever-changing quirks that make us tick with knee-slapping humor and immense heart.  From Fear’s hilariously paranoid personality and Anger’s constant desire to curse to the film’s wickedly smart explanations behind our ability to retain selected memories, Inside Out explores the bowels of the human psyche unlike any film before.  Simultaneously absorbing Riley’s personal journey and her emotions own epic misadventure, audiences’ hearts are consistently tugged between characters they care the world for.  Following Joy and Sadnesses encounter with Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong (Kind) and his selfless fate, viewers will be unquestionably left teary-eyed.  Remarkably constructed and emotionally captivating, Director Pete Docter’s imaginative investigation of our feelings is a visual triumph and the latest in Pixar’s modern day masterpieces.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Inside Out with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the boldly defined colors of its emotional characters and their sprawling control center, picture quality is immaculate.  Detail found in the illuminating glow of Joy and the lightly fuzzy skin of her co-stars is astounding while, black levels, most appreciatively during Joy and Bing Bong’s escape from the Memory Dump, are deeply inky and free of any crushing artifacts.  Echoing the high standards of previously released Pixar productions, Inside Out look flawless.  In addition, its 3D counterpart located on Disc 2 is beautifully immersive, inviting viewers into its unique world with remarkable depth easily making it one of the year’s finest examples of 3D entertainment.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is excellently prioritized with strong fidelity throughout.  The delicate key strokes of Composer Michael Giacchino’s score are beautifully relayed while, the crumbling sounds of Riley’s personality islands maintain a thunderous presence resulting in a universally applauded mix.  Special features located on Disc 1 include, an Audio Commentary with Director Pete Docter & Co-Director Ronnie Del Carmen, Lava (7:12), Director James Ford Murphy’s short film about a lovesick volcano that preceded Inside Out theatrically looks lovely and contains a hauntingly beautiful ukulele tune but, lacks the memorability of past shorts.  In addition, the all-new short Riley’s First Date? (4:40) finds Inside Out’s human star embarking on possibly her first date much to the uneasiness of her father who hysterically bonds with her date over AC/DC.  Also included, Path to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out (11:22) is an inspirational look at the female artists and voice talent who share their childhood ambitions and sage advice with viewers.  Finally, Mixed Emotions (7:17) focuses on the intensive research developing the film’s emotional characters and their appearances while, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney: Infinity 3.0, Aulani - Disney Resort & Spa (0:32), Disney Movies Anywhere (0:40), The Good Dinosaur (1:14), Toy Story That Time Forgot (0:59) and Tomorrowland (0:50) round out the disc’s supplements.  

    Additionally, more special features located on Disc 3 include, a multi-part Behind the Scenes series comprised of Story of the Story (10:30), Mapping the Mind (8:24), Our Dad, the Filmmakers (7:25), Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out (7:09), The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing (4:43) and Mind Candy (14:26).  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (16:53), Trailers for Remember (1:38), Experience (2:19) and the Japan Trailer (2:30) can also be found with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code rounding out the remaining extras.

    Following their timeless classics of talking toys and virtually speechless robots, Inside Out joins the ranks of Pixar’s most endearing and deeply original concepts.  Starring and conjuring a variety of emotions for viewers, Director Pete Docter’s most daring effort to date is a masterful accomplishment that blends imagination and heart effortlessly.  Exceptionally presented, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers Inside Out with pristine technical grades, top-quality 3D and a handsome dose of additional bonus content.  Distinct and powerfully moving, Inside Out is the animated gem of the year!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Inside Out can be purchased via 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.

  • The Facts of Life (1960) Blu-ray Review

    The Facts of Life (1960)

    Director: Melvin Frank

    Starring: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Don Defore & Ruth Hussey

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of White Christmas, The Facts of Life centers on longtime friends and polar opposites Larry Gilbert (Bob Hope, Some Like It Hot) and Kitty Weaver (Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy).  When their spouses are unable to join them on a planned getaway to Acapulco, the two find themselves enraptured with their surroundings and eventually each other.  As their magical vacation comes to close, Larry and Kitty must wrestle with their guilt and love for each other as they decide their fate.  Don Defore (Hazel), Ruth Hussey (The Uninvited), Philip Ober (North by Northwest) and Marianne Stewart (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) co-star.

    Following their previous collaborations on Sorrowful Jones and Fancy Pants, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball would reteam 10 years later for a romantic comedy, plagued with behind the scenes turmoil.  From Ball being knocked unconscious during filming to Director Melvin Frank breaking his ankle, Ball’s own Desilu Studios, where a percentage of filming took place, would also partially burn down.  Production woes aside, The Facts of Life details a simple story of love found in the most unexpected places.  Maintaining a typical suburban existence of raising children and spending time with the same friends, Larry Gilbert (Hope) and Kitty Weaver (Ball) sense something lacking in their personal lives that their own spouses fail to notice.  When a couples vacation to Acapulco is planned, Larry and Kitty’s spouses are unable to join leaving the two casual friends to spend the exotic getaway together.  Before long, Larry and Kitty fall madly in love with one another while celebrating their catch of a marlin and sharing romantic dinners together.  As the sun sets on their unexpected love affair, reality sets in when they return home, conflicted with guilt and overwhelmed with their undeniable attraction for each other.

    Far more romantic than comedic, The Facts of Life weaves a tale from a simpler time where married couples still slept in separate beds.  Hope and Ball’s chemistry is contagious and proves to still be sharp following a decade long hiatus.  While their developing love in Acapulco is charming enough, the inclusion of both characters having children makes their actions feel wildly selfish as opposed to simply leaving unappreciative spouses.  As Larry and Kitty attempt to continue the affair on their home turf, comical situations ensue when their local cleaning man nearly catches the couple necking at a drive-in movie.  Plus, a weekend getaway backfires due to inclement weather and a leaky roof bringing out the grouchier sides of their personalities.  After much discussion involving finances, lawyer fees and the remarriage of their spouses, the spark ignited in Acapulco begins to dim as Larry and Kitty are faced with the hard reality of their choices.  Occasionally sweet and heavy on dramatics, The Facts of Life is a heightened account of a love affair that begins earnestly but, sells itself short with an unsatisfying conclusion.  

    Olive Films presents The Facts of Life with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, the film appears inherently soft with Saul Bass’ animated title sequence looking less than stellar.  Luckily, the black and white photography registers modest detail and generally strong black levels, most evident in Hope’s dark hair and countless pieces of wardrobe.  Meanwhile, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays audible, if not inconsistent, dialogue levels that sometimes require an increase in volume.  A slight hiss is detected on the mix but, never intrudes on the picture.  Expectedly, the only special feature offered is the Theatrical Trailer (2:41).

    Nominated for five Academy Awards and winning for Best Costume Design, The Facts of Life is noticeably more dramatic than past Hope/Ball collaborations while, attempting to deliver a romantic tale of forbidden love and its aftereffects.  Hope and Ball’s chemistry is intact and effective but, their motives feel too selfish to fully get behind.  In addition, their final decision regarding their newfound love feels entirely wasted and the picture suffers as a result.  Olive Films ushers the romantic dramedy onto Blu-ray with sufficient quality that is a fair upgrade from past DVD releases.  Viewers expecting a knee-slapping riot with comedic legends like Hope and Ball in the driver’s seat will be disappointed but, as a relatively grounded film on the complexities of love, The Facts of Life suffices.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Facts of Life can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Breakfast Club (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Breakfast Club (1985)

    Director: John Hughes

    Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall & Ally Sheedy

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered one of the defining films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club follows five uniquely different teenagers as they are subjected to a Saturday detention together.  Having little to nothing in common on the surface, the group bear their souls to one another, stripping the layers of their stereotypes away.  Judd Nelson (St. Elmo’s Fire), Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), Emilio Estevez (Repo Man), Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science) and Ally Sheedy (Short Circuit) comprise the teenage cast.

    Following up on his 1984 directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, Writer/Director John Hughes would re-team with Hall and Ringwald to tell his coming of age masterpiece that continues to speak to new generations of teenagers.  Fitting in and struggling to be understood as a teen has changed little since 1985 but, where The Breakfast Club maintains its universal appeal is within its ability to tap into the youthful emotions of those trapped within the often unpleasant realm of high school.  Shot in sequence, the talented quintet of Nelson, Ringwald, Estevez, Hall and Sheedy deliver phenomenal performances that capture the stereotypes of several high school cliques.  While, each performance is emotionally challenging and throughly engaging, Nelson, who reportedly stayed in character offset, delivers an angst-filled turn as class criminal John Bender.  Insistent on insults and highly perceptive to those around him, Bender carries baggage of a broken home, leaving him to take his aggression out on the world.  In addition, Ringwald as the fiery-haired richy Claire Standish and Estevez as star athlete Andrew Clark both reveal their inner demons that allow those closest to them to dictate their lives.  Meanwhile, Hall, the youngest cast member of the group, emulates the suffocating pressure of a teen pushed to his limit to excel at his classes while, the soft-spoken Sheedy as burnout Allison Reynolds is left to wander a world where her parents ignore her very existence.  The naturalistic quality of the performances matched with Hughes’ perfect screenplay brings to life a timeless story of youth that all ages can relate to.  

    Although, dramatically heavy as the teens open up to discover kindred spirits in one another, The Breakfast Club never forgets to have fun, mostly at the expense of their egotistical principal Mr. Vernon (the late Paul Gleason, Die Hard) and a memorable drug sequence that lightens the tone and increases the laughs.  Breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and high school pressures, The Breakfast Club captured lightning in a bottle with a cast that would soon be dubbed “The Brat Pack” and catapulted to immeasurable success during the decade of Reganomics.  Continually appreciated with each passing year, considering The Breakfast Club a classic may seem passé to some but, its impact continues to be felt by those walking locker-filled halls and others who refused to let their heart die, well after they grew up.

    Digitally remastered and restored from original film elements, The Breakfast Club arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Improving on its already pleasing 25th anniversary transfer, Writer/Director John Hughes’ sophomore effort maintains a remarkably clean appearance with no aging artifacts spotted.  In addition, skin tones are relayed warmly and natural while, detail is most pleasing in wardrobe ranging from Bender’s countless layers to the fibers of Brian’s green fleece sweater.  Taking place in virtually one location, The Breakfast Club manages to impress with popping colors in Andrew’s blue sports attire and Claire’s red hair with the library background appearing sharply.  Meanwhile, film grain is always naturally pleasing with no detection of digital manipulation whatsoever.  Dialogue heavy, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides perfectly audible levels with soundtrack selections injecting a solid oomph, most noticeably during the group’s dance off in the library.  Along with a newly added Accepting the Facts: The Breakfast Club Trivia Track, all special features from the previous anniversary release have been ported over including, an Audio Commentary with Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson, the lengthy 12-part Sincerely Yours (51:25) documentary, The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack (5:30), Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and a Digital HD Code.

    Celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Breakfast Club still strikes a nerve with the youth who combat the never-ending struggles of high school pressures.  Kicking off a movement of teen orientated films that took young adults’ fears and desires seriously, The Breakfast Club remains a defining effort of not only the 1980s but, the late John Hughes’ remarkable ability to relate to teenagers like few have, before or since.  A modest although, appreciable improvement over its previous release, Universal Studios’ 30th anniversary edition is the definitive word on this teen classic for those lacking in their collection.  In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, all brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses and criminals who ever had a teenage heart will always value the unforgettable effect of The Breakfast Club.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Breakfast Club can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Nightcrawler (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Nightcrawler (2014)

    Director: Dan Gilroy

    Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed & Bill Paxton

    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the sleepless city of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) as Lou Bloom, a driven man determined to make a name for himself in the cutthroat business of breaking news coverage.  Dangerously chasing the next murder or car crash, Bloom becomes consumed with his calling and distorts the line between documenting and participating in the unpredictable world of local news.  Rene Russo (Thor), Riz Ahmed (Centurion) and Bill Paxton (Edge of Tomorrow) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Two for the Money, The Bourne Legacy), Nightcrawler takes viewers on a thrilling journey where police sirens equal dollar bills for sleep-ridden film crews willing to risk it all for the cameras.  Academy Award nominated Actor Jake Gyllenhaal delivers arguably, his fiercest role to date as Lou Bloom.  Unemployed and independently educated, Bloom finds his calling after witnessing local mayhem captured for profit by freelance camera crews.  Willing to lie, cheat and steal to muscle his way into the pack of seasoned nightcrawler’s, Bloom quickly shows promise selling footage to local TV news director Nina Romina (Russo).  As jobs pile up and his craft perfected, Bloom hires fellow inexperienced assistant, Rick (Ahmed), to further his blooming career.  Losing a staggering 20 pounds for the role, Gyllenhall embodies a starving wild animal, prepared to devour the latest gory story devoid of any professional principles.  Well-spoken and precise in his desires, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom feels hauntingly akin to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle as an introverted character disconnected from society yet, consumed by a city engulfed in crime and havoc.  Rarely blinking, Gyllenhaal conveys an emotional gamut of assertive control and  unpredictable rage like a time bomb waiting to explode.  Obsessed with capturing the hottest footage ahead of his competitors, Bloom finds himself witnessing murders and filming the scene instead of reporting the video recorded culprits.  Driven by capitalistic insanity, Bloom will stop at nothing to stage a series of events, pitting countless people in danger, including himself, to paint his personal picture of sensational news coverage.  

    Unpredictable and tense, Nightcrawler is a potent thrill ride for today’s unashamed TMZ-style coverage of current events.  Aided by compelling supporting performances from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton as a veteran nocturnal stringer, Nightcrawler is a remarkable directorial debut from Dan Gilroy with apt style and a trance-like score from Composer James Newton Howard (Collateral, Maleficent).  Tragically shunned by the Academy Awards, Gyllenhaal’s eerily conniving performance ranks as not only one of the year’s finest but, also Gyllenhall’s most absorbing.  

    Universal Studios presents Nightcrawler with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Predominately shot in the evening, Nightcrawler marvels with exceptional inky black levels and well defined detail.  Colors are vivid and pop most appropriately in Lou’s bright red Dodge Challenger while, skin tones read gorgeously even under their dimly lit circumstances.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Nightcrawler soars with perfectly audible dialogue levels, to the more menacing sounds of roaring car engines and striking gunshots, all relayed with the utmost clarity.  Special features include an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Dan Gilroy, Producer Tony Gilroy and Editor John Gilroy as well as If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Nightcrawler (5:15), a far too short overview of the production with brief interviews from the cast and Director Dan Gilroy.  Finally, a DVD edition and UltraViolet Digital HD Code of the film round out the supplemental offerings.

    Adrenaline-pounding and sinister, Nightcrawler sends the viewer on a journey through Los Angeles‘ dangerous labyrinth of stringer sensationalism.  Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as the intelligent but, unhinged Lou Bloom is a crowd-pleasing performance resting proudly at the top of his already impressive credentials.  Meanwhile, Universal Studios‘ Blu-ray release supplies perfect technical merits but, lacks a more comprehensive supplemental package.  Familiar of past societal reject tales and simultaneously a statement on press coverage, Nightcrawler is unquestionably one of the best of its kind.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 10th from Universal Studios, Nightcrawler 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.

  • Men, Women & Children (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Men, Women & Children (2014)

    Director: Jason Reitman

    Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer & Dean Norris

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children takes place in the modern world of social media where a group of high school teens and their parents navigate the complexities of their lives through the internet.  Adam Sandler (Reign Over Me), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Rosemarie DeWitt (The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Judy Greer (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Dean Norris (Under the Dome), Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher) star.

    Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) returns with yet another character study, this set time in a Texas community where social media defines the choices and missteps of its many players.  Headlined by a uniquely talented cast of veterans and new blood, Men, Women & Children highlights the relationships of several parents and their children as well as the domineering impact texting and Facebook surfing have on their daily lives.  A disillusioned married couple seeking secret affairs, a high-strung mother obsessed with controlling her teenage daughter’s web interactions and a son, along with his father, coping with the abandonment of his mother propel viewers into a populated world of people longing for connections without the assistance of an Ethernet cable.  Reitman once again proves his directing chops by pulling compelling performances from an emotionally withdrawn Sandler and the up and coming Elgort who, in his limited filmography, continues to hone his craft and deliver the goods.  Best appreciated as an early warning sign, Men, Women & Children showcases our modern world that connects us all with today’s technology but, has greatly damaged the real, tangible human connections we all should strive for.  For all its realistic merits, Men, Women & Children falls short with characters that never evolve the way one would hope.  Filled with worthwhile messages and a wonderful ensemble cast, Men, Women & Children may not be Reitman’s finest effort but, casts an intriguing light on the emotionless connectivity social media has presented.

    Paramount Pictures presents Men, Women & Children in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a clear picture and natural colors, the film is a knockout in high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Reitman’s latest opus hardly offers much range but, delivers where it counts with crisp dialogue levels.  Men, Women & Children arrives on home video with a small assortment of special features including Virtual Intimacy (13:29), Seamless Interface (8:29), Deleted Scenes (8:68) and an UltraViolent digital code rounding out the film’s supplements.  

    Complex and unfortunately accurate, Men, Women & Children showcases the true damage social media has brought upon the modern age with people showing more interest with what’s on their screens than who is in front of them.  Boasting worthwhile performances, Reitman’s latest character driven drama fails to overthrow some of his past successes but, remains a decent effort that speaks loudly to the textually obsessed.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Men, Women & Children can be purchased on Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Deliver Us from Evil (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris and Joel McHale

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Sinister and Marvel Studios’ upcoming Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, leads you into a supernatural journey through New York’s gritty streets.  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Deliver Us from Evil melds the worlds of the police procedural with the occult for a truly terrifying experience.  Presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Deliver Us from Evil urges you to hold fast to your faith...  you’ll need it.

    Inspired by actual accounts, Deliver Us from Evil centers on New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana, Munich).  While, investigating a series of disturbing and unexplainable crimes, Sarchie discovers supernatural forces behind their doing.  Joining forces with a rebellious priest (Édgar Ramírez, Domino), the duo must confront demonic possessions that are overrunning the city.  Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Sean Harris (Prometheus) and Joel McHale (Ted) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    No stranger to stories of the supernatural, Director Scott Derrickson took inspiration from Author Ralph Sarchie’s nonfiction work, Beware the Night, to weave his latest opus of horror.  Grounded in the urban reality of The Bronx, New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Bana) attempts to maintain law and order against daily dangers on the job.  Encountering several unexplainable crimes linked to three Iraqi war veterans, the faithless Sarchie begins experiencing supernatural occurrences.  Pursued by a hard-drinking unconventional priest (Ramírez), Sarchie begins to believe in the otherworldly incidents plaguing his life.  When his family becomes entangled in the demons wrath, Sarchie must confront his own skeletons and assist his unlikely priest partner in religiously combating the evil.  Bana adapts a New York accent effortlessly while, channeling the proper attitude and aggression to portray a tough street cop.  Loving, albeit neglectful of his wife and daughter, Sarchie’s grim dealings of recovering deceased babies from dumpsters and responding to spousal abuse calls takes drastic tolls on his psyche.  Unfortunately, Bana’s performance slightly lacks by not showing a stronger sense of his conflicting emotions.  While, showcasing more anger and depression would have humanized the character more, Bana still delivers a performance worth standing by.  Meanwhile, Édgar Ramírez breaks the obvious conventions of clergymen with his Latin American ethnicity and dependency on cigarettes and booze.  Intensely serious, Ramírez does well in his role as exorcist while, harboring personal demons of his own.  The gorgeous Olivia Munn is often underused but, satisfies in her role as Sarchie’s dedicated wife.  The unusual casting of funnyman Joel McHale as Sarchie’s partner plays to the film’s advantage with his subtle comic relief and strong chemistry with Bana.  In addition, McHale’s aggressive training with knives pays off as his stunt scenes come off authentic and thrilling.

    While, Derrickson’s previous encounter with demonic possessions, 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, was more courtroom drama, Deliver Us from Evil shares more with 70s police dramas and Martin Scorsese’s underrated Bringing out the Dead.  Disturbing in its gritty realism of horrific crimes, the film’s supernatural layer of possessions, contorted bodies and inanimate objects moving, invokes a genuine sense of uneasiness and suspense.  With the exception of minor character flaws, Deliver Us from Evil is an effectively frightening effort in urban crime and demonic terror.  

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    Deliver Us from Evil arrives in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Shot in predominant darkness with endless nighttime sequences, somber overcasts and dimly lit offices, Deliver Us from Evil shines on the Blu-ray format.  Crisp and clear with no crushing whatsoever, detail is remarkable allowing for total appreciation of subtitles such as Bana’s five ’clock shadow and Sean Harris‘ outstanding prosthetic scars.  While, colors are virtually nonexistent in this supernatural tale, the intendedly grim appearance is flawless.

    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Deliver Us from Evil packs a solid punch with dialogue relayed with no hitches.  The mix also makes great use of a variety of ranges, including subtle animals noises in The Bronx Zoo to the wildly booming intensity of the film’s climatic exorcism sequence.  Demonic gibberish, crashing glass and the impactful use of songs from The Doors earn this track a perfect seal of approval.

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson

    • Illuminating Evil (13:36): This slightly brief, albeit informative, making of featurette traces the origins of the project and its appeal to the production team.  Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson, Co-Writer Paul Harris Boardman, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the core cast of Bana, Munn and McHale are all interviewed.

    • Deliver Us from Demons (8:25): Exclusive to the Blu-ray release, Prosthetic Makeup Designer Mike Marino shares his creative process crafting Sean Harris‘ detailed prosthetic scars.

    • The Two Sergeants (8:05): In another Blu-ray exclusive featurette, Co-Writer/Director Scott Derrickson and Star Eric Bana discuss the real Ralph Sarchie and the importance of capturing his mannerisms and intense personality.

    • The Demon Detective: “The Work” and the Real Ralph Sarchie (9:37): In this final Blu-ray exclusive, Author Ralph Sarchie is interviewed about his tenure on the New York Police force, his encounters with the supernatural and his current work as a demonologist.

    • Previews: Trailers include No Good Deed, The Equalizer, The Remaining, Predestination, Grace: The Possession and The Calling.

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 4/5

    OVERALL:

    Continuing his successful genre efforts, Director Scott Derrickson has weaved an undeniably eerie and disturbing tale about a faithless law enforcer tasked with facing the devil.  Capturing a grim tone set in the real world hell of South Bronx, Deliver Us from Evil continues to widen Derrickson’s creative canvas as he plunges into “marvelous” worlds of magic and sorcery.  Much to the delight of viewers, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has delivered pitch perfect audio and video treatments with a wide-ranging spread of rich and informative bonus features.  Just in time for the Halloween season, enthusiasts of gritty cop dramas and supernatural thrillers will find much in Deliver Us from Evil to keep you equally entertained and unsettled.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Availble now, Deliver Us from Evil can purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Million Dollar Arm (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Million Dollar Arm (2014)

    Director: Craig Gillespie

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

    Released by: Disney

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    MOVIE:

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

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

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

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

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

    • Alternate Ending (0:49)

    • Outtakes (2:04)

    • Digital HD Code

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

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

    Krull (1983)

    Director: Peter Yates

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

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

    Salvador (1986)

    Director: Oliver Stone

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

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

    Grave Halloween (2013)

    Director: Steven R. Monroe

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

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

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

    The Dogs of Wars (1980)

    Director: John Irvin

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

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

    MOVIE:

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

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

    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

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

    • Isolated Score Track

    • Original Theatrical Trailer (2:37)

    • MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06)

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

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:

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

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • The Buddy Holly Story (1978) Blu-ray Review

    The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

    Director: Steve Rash

    Starring: Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis & William Jordan

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Forever changing music history and shaping the sound of rock ‘n roll, a four-eyed, snaggle-toothed Texan would electrify the world and tragically leave it just as quickly.  Oscar-nominated Gary Busey brings life to a musical genius in a performance hailed as a career highlight for the character actor.  Filled with heart and unrestrained energy, Twilight Time proudly presents The Buddy Holly Story in a limited edition 3,000 unit Blu-ray release.

    The Buddy Holly Story details the rise of rock ‘n roll legend, Buddy Holly (Busey), from his early beginnings in Lubbock, Texas to worldwide fame through the power of his music.  Brilliantly executed, Busey and his co-stars perform such Holly classics as “That’ll Be the Day”, “Maybe Baby”, “Not Fade Away” and more live on-screen.  Don Stroud (The Amityville Horror), Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti), Conrad Janis (Mork & Mindy), William Jordan (Kingpin) and Maria Richwine (Hamburger: The Motion Picture) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Revived from the ashes of another cancelled Holly biopic, Director Steve Rash (Can’t Buy Me Love) set forth to tell his own tale of the famed musicians brief but, timeless impact.  With certain liberties taken on the film’s events, The Buddy Holly Story never intends to be a fact-checking, biopic yearning for praise due to its attention to detail.  Instead, this musical drama relies solely on Busey’s uncanny performance and powerhouse live staging of Holly’s hits with co-stars Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith to energize the film.  In retrospect, The Buddy Holly Story falls into minor clichés of the rags to riches story overrun by other music biopics, but always places priority on the music and its effect.  Comfortingly, Busey’s performance is guided by Holly’s perfectionism and songwriting abilities as opposed to any wild excess many musicians take advantage of.  Groundbreaking at the time, the cast’s live performances of Holly’s music are exhilarating and the best aspects of the film.  Raw and authentic, the music swallows the viewer with Busey and company’s tireless abilities keeping heads rocking for hours after the film concludes.

    Keeping true to the celebration of Holly’s music, The Buddy Holly Story chooses to close with Holly’s incredible final performance instead, of a somber depiction of the fatal plane crash that killed the 22 year-old, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.  Far from the factual authority on Holly’s legacy, The Buddy Holly Story remains a throughly entertaining biopic brought to life by Gary Busey’s Oscar-nominated performance and the jovial spirit of Holly’s enduring classics.  Realized by a first time director, The Buddy Holly Story lives on as a cinematic musical effort that wonderfully captures the spirit of the fallen legend.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Buddy Holly Story is presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually blemish free, this low-budget effort looks striking with natural skin tones and colors blossoming nicely.  Detail is quite remarkable with Busey’s crystal blue eyes, imperfect teeth and dripping perspiration capturing in vivid clarity.  Black levels are handled well with only exterior shots of the Apollo and Times Square looking slightly drab in comparison.  Clean with healthy grain levels intact, The Buddy Holly Story looks marvelous!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Buddy Holly Story sounds mostly satisfying.  Early sequences during the Roller Rink performance, dialogue is slightly hard to make out, most likely due to the location’s acoustics and noise levels of the skates.  Luckily, the live performances are the true highlight of the mix with robust energy and sound levels delegated appropriately.  Dialogue also comes in nicely throughout the rest of the film without any hiss or other anomalies to speak of.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Steve Rash and Star Gary Busey: Ported over from an earlier release, the two collaborators discuss various technical choices used during filming.  In addition, Rash mentions the groundbreaking live performances were all shot in one week for budgetary reasons.  Quiet gaps take place but overall, Busey and Rash maintain decent conversation and share plenty of laughs.  Busey if often caught channeling Holly once again by singing along with the film and still sounds great.

    - Isolated Score Track

    - Original Theatrical Trailer (2:37)

    - 6-page Booklet: Julie Kirgo once again lends her words to this well written piece commenting on Busey’s dynamite performance, the film’s unusual good luck in getting made and its modest $1.2 million budget.  Littered with screengrabs and poster art, Kirgo’s essays are always engaging and deepen the appreciation for the film on hand.

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:

    Hailed as Busey’s finest performance, The Buddy Holly Story is an intoxicating look into the creative genius that helped shape rock ‘n roll.  Straying for certain facts, Steve Rash’s biopic never intended to be an authoritative stance on Holly’s history, opting instead to spotlight the music and mesmerizing live performances of his talented cast.  Twilight Time’s limited edition release looks and sounds phenomenal with vibrant colors and a thunderous mix.  In addition, the special features including Rash and Busey’s vintage commentary track is informative and rich with Julie Kirgo’s wise words always lending a scholarly touch to the material.  The Buddy Holly Story will leave you singing and cheering to Holly’s spectacular songs and Busey’s unforgettable performance in this low-budget, critically hailed hit.

    RATING: 4/5

    The Buddy Holly Story can be purchased exclusively at: http://www.screenarchives.com

  • 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

  • Home of the Brave (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Home of the Brave (1949)
    Director: Mark Robson
    Starring: Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, James Edwards, Steve Brodie & Jeff Corey
    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a play by Arthur Laurents (Rope), Director Mark Robson (The Harder They Fall, Earthquake) brings to life one of Hollywood’s first true statements on the issue of racism.  Starring a talented cast of actors including Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!) and introducing James Edwards (Patton) as the discriminated Pvt. Peter Moss, Olive Films proudly presents this wartime tale of struggle and degradation for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray.

    Home of the Brave captures the story of a young black soldier, Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards), who suffers a nervous breakdown and psychosomatic paralysis.  Troubled by rage after experiences during a reconnaissance mission and a lifetime of discrimination, Moss may walk again if he can overcome his anger and trauma.  Produced by Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Home of the Brave also stars Frank Lovejoy (House of Wax), Lloyd Bridges (High Noon), Steve Brodie (Out of the Past) and Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

    MOVIE:
    Racism has always been the purple elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge.  Hollywood in the 1940s was no exception as studio heads would normally turn a blind eye to the issue.  Hailed as the first motion picture dealing with anti-Negro prejudice, Home of the Brave faces the uncomfortable topic head-on set against the backdrop of war.  Interestingly enough, this 1949 effort was the first film since 1933’s The Emperor Jones issued permission to use the derogatory slur, “nigger”.  Game changing practices aside, Home of the Brave walks the fine line of war film and character driven drama quite well.  The intimate group of soldiers asked to take part in a risky reconnaissance mission handle their roles accordingly.  Upon learning of their latest recruit, Pvt. Pete Moss (Jones), some members of the group have their reservations about the young soldier.  Major Robinson (Douglas Dick) is immediately taken back as he calls his superior to merely inform him of Pvt. Moss’s skin color.  Luckily, Moss is reunited with his high school pal, Finch (Lloyd Bridges), which helps yield tension for the time being.  As the soldiers being their mission to chart a map, the film becomes a character driven exploration of how we view our fellow man.  Hostility rises as T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie) constantly insults African-Americans in Moss’s presence until a brawl with Finch emerges.  The camaraderie between Edwards and Bridges is the glue that holds the film together, flashing back to their high school days to showcase the genuine care Finch has for Moss regardless of his skin color.  

    Eventually, the deadly presence of enemy soldiers hurls the men into a chase for their lives.  Finch and Moss’s relationship becomes tested when Finch reacts hastily by racially insulting his friend.  With his patience and emotions wearing thin, Moss and the soldiers are faced with escaping from their enemies as one of them are killed.  As Moss holds the dying body of his fellow solider, his legs become paralyzed resulting in the other men carrying him to the boat’s safety.  Edwards‘ performance is emotionally charged and commands the camera with his intense stare.  Safe and recuperating, Moss is tended to by a doctor (Jeff Corey) that is committed to helping him come to terms with his experiences and lifelong discrimination.  Moss’s medical rehabilitation feels slightly rushed as he regains feeling in his legs after the good doctor’s unique methods.  In addition, Moss and fellow solider, Sgt. Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) who lost his arm in battle, reconnect and plan to go into business together as they return to a normal existence.  Lovejoy’s character is levelheaded and always kind to Moss which makes their stronger formed friendship a little too safe.  The arrogant and constantly insensitive T.J. would have made a much more interesting choice to experience a drastic change in character.  While, the conclusion of the film nearly jeopardizes its emotional impact by solving the characters’ problems too simply, Home of the Brave still possesses a strong message with solid performances that hold up well, 65 years later.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Home of the Brave is presented with a 1080p transfer in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Kicking off with typically scratchy war stock footage, the film improves nicely as the narrative begins.  Reasonably clean with a fair amount of flakes, scratches and the occasional vertical lines popping up, the film looks decent with a healthy filmic layer of grain intact.  Black levels, while mainly attributed to underlit sequences, are slightly underwhelming but far from deal-breaking.  Detail is well received in close-ups with perspiration and aging wrinkles clearly seen.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Home of the Brave looks more than acceptable for a film of its age.
    RATING: 3.5/5  

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Home of the Brave, while never having a wide sounding range, provides a suitable mix that relays dialogue well.  A slight hiss is heard early throughout the mix which thankfully never intrudes on character interaction.  In addition, the film possesses an occasional pop in its audio, but no other noticeable issues were found.  That said, the mix is a little low for my liking and is recommended to be cranked up in order to catch all dialogue.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Quite groundbreaking at the time of its release, Home of the Brave is still a noteworthy statement on the issue of race and discrimination.  Nicely shot and wonderfully acted by the small cast, most notably Edwards, Home of the Brave sells itself short by skimping out on its full emotional potential in the final act.  Olive Films have done a fine service preserving this war drama to the best of their abilities for audiences to enjoy once again.  Home of the Brave still retains an important meaning and serves as one of the earliest WWII films to feature an African-American soldier, breaking the mold of African-Americans regulated to servant and slave roles.
    RATING: 3/5

  • Her (2013) Blu-ray Review

    Her (2013)
    Director: Spike Jonze
    Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara & Scarlett Johansson
    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Awarded the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his efforts, Spike Jonze (Adaptation., Where the Wild Things Are) introduces a different kind of love story, set in the material world we are all becoming more detached from.  A painful breakup paves the way for a most unusual relationship that could only be imagined from the mind of Jonze.  Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Her invites viewers to reevaluate their own ideas of love in this increasingly-tech obsessed world we live in.  

    Set in Los Angeles in the near future, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely and poetic man who makes his living writing sweet personal letters for other people.  Depressed and lonely as his divorce drags on, Theodore develops an interest in a highly advanced operating system.  The bright and free-spirited Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), begins to fill a void of companionship lacking in Theodore’s life.  As their friendship strengthens and Samantha becomes more adapted, the two form a genuine love for one another.  Amy Adams (The Master), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) and Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    The concept of a man falling head over heels for his computer system seemed intriguing enough but, under the watchful eye of Director Spike Jonze, Her cemented itself as a film to not be missed.  Headlined by the remarkably consistent, Joaquin Phoenix (We Own the Night) as Theodore, Phoenix fits the bill of a man conflicted with his impending divorce while, longing for a connection with someone new.  Set in the near future where society is even more addicted to their smartphones than human interaction, Theodore makes a living composing beautiful letters for other people.  While, the message of people losing so much personal touch with one another that they feel it necessary to hire ghostwriters is clear, its effect feels a little far removed from reality to just ignore.  Theodore finds solace in Samantha, his new, advanced operating system, who is well-educated and possesses a sense of humor.  While, Theodore aches for excitement and love in his life, he doesn’t strike the viewer as the introverted antisocial that would need the affection of his computer.  Talented and stylish, Theodore never convincingly makes the viewer feel that he couldn’t find another human right for him.  Luckily, Samantha, voiced by the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, manages to bring plenty of charisma and personality to her unusual performance.  As their friendship and eventual romance strengthens, so does Samantha’s awareness of her own changing feelings.  Theodore is committed to Samantha while never shutting out the world or the friends that surround him.  Amy Adams (The Muppets) co-stars as one of Theodore’s dearest friends whose marriage is in the midst of crumbling.  Eventually, Adams begins “dating” an operating system as many other humans begin turning to them for intimacy.  Adams plays her subtle role with a lasting effect that constantly sparks chemistry between her and Phoenix.  The idea of more people finding love in operating systems results in the uniqueness of the story feeling like a fad that just attracts insane people.  

    As the operating systems become more self-aware, their spouses end up feeling used and circling back in search of human connections.  While, Her presents a wildly imaginative story with an important message, its emotional impact is bruised due to the disbelief in its characters motivations.  The core cast do a fine job in their roles while, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (Let the Right One In) cinematography makes the film look gorgeous.  The lack of human interaction we tolerate as we text and tweet our lives away, brings into question the validity of love and our relationships in the modern world.  Filtered through a futuristic fairy-tale, Her makes a strong case for this even if its characters personalities don’t always sell it home.
    RATING: 3/5

    VIDEO:
    Warner Bros. presents Her with a 1080p transfer in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Rich in clarity and detail, the film shines in every way imaginable.  The light grey hairs in Phoenix’s moustache and freckles found in Adam’s face are picked up with ease.  Phoenix’s rosey red shirts and light green eyes pack a powerful vibrancy of color.  In addition, dimly lit scenes of Phoenix in his apartment with Samantha are handled remarkably with no crushing or noise to be found.  Simply put, this is a perfect transfer that won’t leave you disappointed.
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 mix, Her sounds crystal clear with soft-spoken conversations being relayed with no trouble.  The music, provided by Arcade Fire, packs an impressive round sound when needed.  As flawless as its video presentation is, Warner Bros. provides a pitch perfect sound mix for all audiophiles to appreciate.
    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - A Short Film by Lance Bangs: The Untitled Rick Howard Project Creating Her: This 30 minute behind the scenes look is done far more artistically than most featurettes of its kind.  Following pre-production to fly on the wall perspectives during shooting, this unique “making of” is a wonderful companion to the film itself.

    - Love in the Modern Age: Sitting down several different individuals, the interviewer questions them about their own opinions on love and relationships in the increasingly tech-centered world we’ve adapted to.

    - How Do You Share Your Life with Somebody: Nothing more than an extended trailer for the film mixed with behind the scenes footage.

    - DVD Copy

    - UltraViolet Digital Copy Code

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    While, hopes were high for another go-around in Spike Jonze’s imagination, Her held promise but ultimately, fell into mediocrity.  Joaquin Phoenix and the supporting cast play their roles accordingly but, their personality traits falter the film’s emotional impact.  Luckily, what the film lacks is made up for in Warner Bros.’ five star video and audio presentation.  The film is bursting with clarity and detail that will make you marvel in its visual appearance.  Coupled with a decent array of special features, Spike Jonze’s latest endeavor didn’t win me over entirely, but will certainly please those in search of a love connection only Jonze could concoct.
    RATING: 4/5  

  • Sophie's Choice (1982) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Sophie’s Choice (1982)
    Director: Alan J. Pakula
    Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline & Peter MacNicol
    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the best-selling novel by William Styron, Director Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) brought to life this heartbreaking tale of friendship and the secrets we keep.  Starring Meryl Streep (Doubt), in an Academy Award winning performance, this exhilarating tale is complimented with powerhouse performances that will leave you in awe.  Shout! Factory, in association with ITV Studios, proudly presents Sophie’s Choice in a much deserved collector’s edition.  Ranked #91 in AFI’s Greatest 100 Movies of All Time 2007 list, Sophie’s Choice is a masterwork from all the parties involved.  

    Set in post-World War II Brooklyn, Sophie’s Choice stars Meryl Streep as Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish-Catholic immigrant who survived a Nazi concentration camp.  Living with her middle-aged Jewish boyfriend, Nathan (Kevin Kline), the couple befriend their new neighbor, would-be writer Stingo (Peter MacNicol).  As the couples’ drama unfolds and their bond with Stingo increases, hidden truths are slowly revealed.  

    MOVIE:
    Meryl Streep’s perfectionism to her craft has earned her a record 18 Academy Award nominations and three wins.  Understandably, many consider her to be the greatest living actress with memorable roles in Out of Africa, Adaptation., and August: Osage County.  With a career as illustrious as Streep’s, it becomes difficult to select a favorite let alone a flaw in her works.  Streep’s magnificent turn in Sophie’s Choice is highlighted by her determination to master the Polish and German language in order to perfect her character’s accent.  Almost immediately, the viewer forgets about Meryl Streep and only knows Sophie Zawistowska.  Streep believably sells the role of a Polish-immigrant struggling with the English language in 1940s Brooklyn.  Streep reportedly begged Pakula on her hands and knees for the role that was originally courting Magda Vásáryová.  Sophie’s Jewish, Holocaust obsessed boyfriend, Nathan, is played with equal brilliance by Kevin Kline (The Big Chill), in his feature film debut.  Kline’s energetic performance is akin to Jekyll and Hyde as he adores Sophie one minute and violently grows bitter, jealous and violent the next.  A film debut of this caliber will remind audiences that Kline may have arguably, been the greatest acting discovery of the 1980s.  Sophie and Nathan’s friendship with their new neighbor, Stingo (MacNicol), is the silver lining that bonds the trio.  Texas born, Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters II) made his film debut only a year earlier with 1981’s Dragonslayer before tackling this intense drama.  A fine character actor with roles in Addams Family Values and Bean, MacNicol brings a breath of gravity to the film amongst his new friends’ complicated relationship.  Destined to write the great American novel, Stingo finds himself swept up in Nathan’s bipolar-esque behavior while, falling for Sophie.

    Bonds strengthen as Nathan’s outbursts become more frequent, resulting in the couples’ dark secrets being revealed.  Stingo learns the truth behind Nathan’s alarming behavior while, Sophie confides in her new friend about her concentration camp experiences. Upon arriving at Auschwitz with her two children, a Nazi soldier forces Sophie with the impossible task of choosing which of one her children will be sent to death.  The emotional impact of this haunting sequence will forever be rooted in your conscience.  As Stingo’s love for Sophie becomes clear and their future together within reach, a darkness is cast over the conclusion to this emotionally-wound, perfectly acted character study.  Sophie’s Choice sweeps the viewer into the trios’ relationship, showcasing the finer sides of true friendship and the dark secrets we all try to suppress.  Beautifully shot and remarkably cast, Sophie’s Choice is a riveting drama and heartbreaking tragedy resulting in cinematic perfection.
    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:
    Sophie’s Choice is presented with a 1080 transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  The film is rich with natural grain and accurate skin tones.  Colors are striking and bold, if not, inconsistent at times.  Stingo’s arrival at his new Brooklyn residence pops with bright green lawns and bushes while, dimly lit scenes in Sophie and Nathan’s apartment and Sophie’s time at Auschwitz relay a soft, (most likely) intentional lifeless color scheme.  Moments of flecks and speckles are far and few between with close-ups looking most impressive.  Sophie’s Choice has never had its fair due on home video but thankfully, Shout! Factory’s transfer is the finest its ever looked.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, Sophie’s Choice is a character driven drama with much dialogue that is nicely and cleanly heard throughout.  No cracks or distortion of any kind intrude, making this mix more than adequate.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - New Roundtable Discussion with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and More

    - Audio Commentary with Director Alan J. Pakula

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Sophie’s Choice is a lengthy, period piece drama about the company we keep and the secrets we hold even closer.  Never boring and always engaging, the combined efforts of the magnificent Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline (in one of the finest film debuts of all time) and the criminally underrated Peter MacNicol, make this tale of three unlikely friends one of the most impressive works of the decade.  Handled with the utmost care, Shout! Factory have preserved this classic film in a worthy collector’s edition release.  Matched with a lovely video transfer, crisp sound mix and wonderful special features including the fantastic roundtable discussion with the likes of Streep and Kline, Sophie’s Choice is the rare example of a perfect film that can now be better appreciated thanks to Shout! Factory’s impressive collector’s edition.
    RATING: 4.5/5

  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) Blu-ray Review


    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
    Director: Ben Stiller
    Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Shirley MacLaine & Sean Penn
    Released by: 20th Century Fox

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, Director Norman Z. McLeod (Monkey Business) previously adapted the tale with leading man Danny Kaye in 1947, much to the dismay of its original creator.  After two decades of development and the likes of Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) and Ron Howard (Rush) circling the project, a remake was finally realized with Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents) starring and directing.  Does Stiller’s modernization of this much beloved work live up to anticipation or is it a daydream best left forgotten?  Let’s explore shall we...

    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stars Ben Stiller as an introverted magazine photo manager who is constantly swept away in his own daydreams until real-life adventure draws him into situations he would have never imagined.  Co-starring Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment) and Sean Penn (Milk), the film was scripted by Steve Conrad (The Weather Man, The Pursuit of Happyness).

    MOVIE:
    The highest compliment that can be made to this adaptation is Stiller’s slickness behind the camera.  Renowned for his comedic abilities, Ben Stiller has been yelling “action” since 1987, helming such notable efforts as The Cable Guy, Zoolander and 2009’s Tropic Thunder.  Interestingly enough, the Tower Heist star hasn’t trekked into dramatic territory of this ilk since his 1994 cult appreciated, Reality Bites.  It’s comforting to see Stiller return to such a character-driven property that allows him to stretch the camera’s range as much his on-screen counterpart.  Mitty is a quiet character searching for love through eHarmony while he tends to his photo managing position at the prestigious Life Magazine.  Mitty finds himself daydreaming on a regular basis about a more courageous and heroic version of himself in adventurous situations.  The announcement of Life magazine’s final paper issue sends Mitty on a stressful course to locate the cover photo that was mailed in by noted photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).  Simultaneously, Mitty is falling for co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) as he chooses to abandon the big city for the adventure of a lifetime.  Consumed with locating O’Connell and his photo, Mitty treks to the far reaches of Greenland and Iceland to discover the confidence he thought was only possible in his dreams.

    Stiller, along with Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano), consciously keep the camera grounded and focused early on before finding more rapid movement as Mitty expands his horizons.  Beautiful cinematography is captured on ice glaciers and the jagged mountain peaks of the Himalayas as Mitty searches for O’Connell.  Stiller plays Mitty with the quiet realism of a man uncomfortable in his own skin but with the skills to hold a position with Life Magazine.  Mitty’s high-octane daydreams boarder on the absurd and charming as he longs to stand up to his snobbish superior (Adam Scott) and win the girl.  The sudden death of Mitty’s father during his teenage years is touched upon, but not explored nearly enough to understand the depth of his melancholy.  Unfortunately, this dismissal backfires resulting in less sympathy for an awkward character attempting to inject life back into his soul through his travels.  The supporting cast, while competent in their roles, do as they are required but nothing more making this a vehicle entirely for Stiller.  A clichéd love connection is weaved between Stiller and Wiig but never makes it to center stage, insisting that this is a story about courage and the road to obtaining it.  Stiller’s directorial skills shine in what is arguably his most ambitious film to date and a welcome return to a more dramatic storytelling style.  The film charms and taps into a fantasy-filled section of all daydreamers‘ imaginations but, stumbles by not fully realizing Mitty’s somber past.  While, at times heartwarming and entertaining, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty may leave you wishing for a bit more meat to chew on emotionally.
    RATING: 3/5   

    VIDEO:
    20th Century Fox presents The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with an impressive 1080p transfer in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  The sleek and almost sterile look of the Life Magazine offices are captured in ripe clarity.  Dryburgh’s impressive cinematography dazzles during Mitty’s travels to Iceland and Greenland as the viewer will think they are witnessing breathtaking documentary footage.  Contrast is strong as can be with skin tones relayed beautifully and a solid sense of detail in close-ups.  A pitch perfect video presentation that truly shines!      
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty sounds mighty fine.  Dialogue is captured with zero hiccups and absolute clarity while, some of Mitty’s exciting daydreams will rumble your speakers with sounds of shattered glass and such.  The character-driven nature of the film allows you to appreciate the quieter moments of nature picked up by the mix as much as the more intense.  A solid sounding audio treatment that will leave the listener more than pleased.
    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes

    - Behind the Scenes: Broken down into a variety of mini-featurettes that delve into the many aspects of the filmmaking process.

        - The History of Walter Mitty

        - The Look of Life

        - That’s a Shark!

        - The Music of Walter Mitty

        - Nordic Casting

        - Titles of Walter Mitty

        - Sights and Sounds of Production: Reveals two sub-featurettes including Skateboarding Through Iceland and Ted-Walter Fight.

        - Pre-Viz: Directs the viewer to another featurette entitled Ted-Walter Fight Pre-Viz Early Version.

    - Gallery: Reference Photography

    - “Stay Alive” Music Video by Jose Gonzales

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Ben Stiller’s adaptation of Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an exploration of courage and the dreamer in all of us.  Stiller fits nicely into the shy, introverted character of Mitty and handled the directorial duties with a beautiful and attentive eye.  Although briefly seen, the supporting cast handled their roles well achieving the needed effects.  While, the film’s message is charming, its emotional impact is lessened due to Mitty’s past never fully being explored.  20th Century Fox’s presentation is not only gorgeous to look at and listen to but sports a wonderful array of special features with only an audio commentary from Stiller missing that would have been the icing on the cake.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a cheerful, albeit not perfect, film that reminds viewers Stiller is far more capable and talented than most “fockers” give him credit for.
    RATING: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (25:11)

  • Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Blu-ray Review


    Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
    Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
    Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare & Steve Zahn
    Released by: Universal Studios

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In what is being hailed as the role of his career, Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Magic Mike) brings the true story of a man’s fight against AIDS, to life.  Diagnosed during the peak of HIV/AIDS prejudice, the determination to survive caused one man to scour the world to prolong his life while simultaneously helping many others infected.  Earning accolades from critics and award ceremonies, let’s investigate the tale of Ron Woodroof.  The Dallas Buyers Club is now open for sale...

    Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a blue-collar Texas electrician, who lives a free-wheeling life until he’s diagnosed HIV-positive.  Given 30 days to live, Woodroof is determined to survive the deadly disease by any means necessary.  Tracking down alternative treatments from all over the globe, often by illegal means, Woodroof heads into business.  Teaming up with a transexual named Rayon (Jared Leto), the two open up a buyer’s club to distribute pharmaceuticals to others infected.  Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Denis O’Hare (J. Edgar) and Steve Zahn (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Following the production of the film since the late 1990s, a revolving door of talent from Director Marc Forster (World War Z) with Brad Pitt and Director Craig Gillespie (Blue Valentine) with Ryan Gosling all were once attached to bring Woodroof’s tale to the silver screen.  Fate played an important role when the project finally settled on Director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) and Matthew McConaughey in the lead role.  McConaughey, who was quickly falling into the murk of “rom-com” mediocrity in the mid 2000s, reinvented himself with 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer.  With a successful string of memorable performances in Mud, Killer Joe and Magic Mike, McConaughey firmly established himself as an actor with more than meets the eye.  Dallas Buyers Club shines an uncomfortable light on the mid 1980s when misunderstanding and fear fueled the publics perception of AIDS.  HIV/AIDS-positive individuals were abandoned by those closest to them and viewed as a black plague of death that could infect anyone with the slightest touch.  Ron Woodroof was a common Texas cowboy who supported himself as an electrician.  Woodroof enjoyed the rodeo and loved his women just as much as his partying.  McConaughey brings the country boy swagger and flirtatious charm to his character effortlessly.  Once diagnosed HIV-positive, Woodroof’s friends and co-workers abandon him, allowing their homophobic personalities to blind them while fueling their disgust.  Early in the film, Woodroof and friends play cards as they stumble upon a newspaper clipping of Rock Hudson’s AIDS related death.  The group make light of the story and come to the conclusion that AIDS is some sort of “gay disease”.  It is this ignorance that even blinds Woodroof when his diagnosis is announced.  McConaughey morphs his appearance from strong rodeo-rider to a gaunt, sickly man with haunting results.  McConaughey’s dedication to the role shines as he convincingly projects a man with an incurable disease.  As Woodroof is shut out by friends, the only welcoming outlet comes from those with a homosexual background who share in his disease.  Woodroof’s reservations are tested when he befriends Rayon, an AIDS-positive transexual.  Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) delivers, arguably, his finest role to date as a man adorned in full woman’s attire with a spunky attitude.  Leto also makes a heartbreaking physical transformation as his character’s condition worsens.  As Woodroof embarks on securing unapproved FDA pharmaceuticals from foreign countries, Woodroof and Rayon form an unlikely business relationship as a buyer’s club.  Supplying others infected with alternative medications, Woodroof’s selfish nature of prolonging his own life is broken as he comes to the aid of countless others.  McConaughey and Leto’s chemistry is a sight to be seen as prejudices are diminished and a beautiful friendship is formed.  In an emotional moment, Woodroof engages Rayon in a warm hug as the worst seems to be near for Rayon, highlighting the long journey Woodroof has traveled.  Jennifer Garner appears as a trusting doctor who Woodroof and Rayon confide in.  Garner brings a gravity to the role that allows Woodroof to unwind and comfortably feel like his former self.

    Dallas Buyers Club works as an inspiring true-life story about a man dealt an unimaginable weight with no real hope in sight.  Woodroof took the cards he was dealt and embarked on a rigorous journey to not only prolong his life, but many suffering others.  McConaughey’s powerful performance matched with Leto’s equally impressive turn as Rayon made Dallas Buyers Club a film worthy of its praise.  While, a deeper look into Woodroof’s psychological state as his friends abandon him, would have been appreciated, the film makes no apologies for Woodroof taking the situation and quickly, turning it into something beneficial.  

    In an ever-changing world where the threat of terrorism and the less than perfect economy keep us on edge, it’s easy to pay less attention to the AIDS epidemic.  Advancements in medicine have proven to prolong the life spans of those infected, but the troubling reality is that a cure is still unfound.  Dallas Buyers Club is a film that harks back to a time when the majority were terrified by the epidemic and quarantined those infected.  The film is a testament to the enduring spirit of Ron Woodroof and the opportunities he made possible for others.  Battling against countless obstacles other than the disease, Woodroof never stopped waging the good fight.  Matthew McConaughey brings life to Ron Woodroof with incredible range and charisma.  Jared Leto has entered a new level of flawlessness with his portrayal of the transexual outcast, Rayon.  The supporting cast of Jennifer Garner and Steve Zahn shine in their limited screen time and bolster the film to marvelous heights.  Dallas Buyers Club is a moving, brilliantly acted film based on an even more remarkable man and his passion for life.  Dallas Buyers Club is the perfect showcase for McConaughey and Leto’s awe-inspiring performances that are destined to tug at your heart.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Universal Studios presents Dallas Buyers Club in a 1080p anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer.  The film looks nothing short of gorgeous, colors are nicely prevalent with skin tones looking accurate as can be.  Black levels are wonderfully handled, most noticeably in Woodroof’s trashy trailer-park residence.  The film seems to have a sense of softness which appears intentional and fitting for its 1980s time period.  Detail is splendid as McConaughey’s thinning hair and frail bone structure come across clear as crystal.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Dallas Buyers Club comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is wonderful.  Dialogue never goes missing and background noises in noisier scenes that take place in bars, pick up everything nicely.  Early moments at the rodeo give the mix a nice shake as the intense nature of the sport invades your speakers.  A clear and robust sound makes this mix a winner!
    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Deleted Scenes: Less than five minutes make up for a few scenes left on the cutting room floor.

    - A Look Inside Dallas Buyers Club: McConaughey, Garner and Leto appear in this far too short behind the scenes look at the film.

    - Previews: Includes Closed Circuit, The World’s End, Admission, The Place Beyond the Pines, Hyde Park on Hudson, Promised Land and Moonrise Kingdom.

    - DVD Copy

    - Ultraviolet Copy Code

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Dallas Buyers Club is a near perfect film with incredible performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.  The true-life tale highlights a less than thrilling time of the AIDS epidemic and the individuals battling it.  Director Jean-Marc Vallée conducted a beautiful film with a keen eye that has taken over 20 years to come to fruition.  Universal Studios‘ treatment is remarkable with a clean and nicely presented picture and a terrific audio mix.  Although, the release could have benefitted from more informative special features considering the film’s origins.  Regardless, Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful, heart-wrenching film that needs to be seen based solely on McConaughey and Leto’s award nominated performances.
    RATING: 4.5/5