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  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • The Iron Giant (1999) Signature Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Iron Giant (1999)

    Director: Brad Bird

    Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald & M. Emmet Walsh

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the small town of Rockwell, Maine circa 1957, The Iron Giant centers on imaginative nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal, American Pie) and his magical friendship with an extraterrestrial robot (Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious franchise).  When government officials investigate suspicious happenings, the giant’s protection becomes Hogarth’s prime responsibility.  Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Harry Connick, Jr. (Dolphin Tale), James Gammon (Major League), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), John Mahoney (Say Anything…), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore) and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) comprise the vocal talent in Director Brad Bird’s (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) feature-length debut.

    Capturing the golden age of American suburbia juxtaposed with the tenseness of Cold War paranoia, The Iron Giant stretches its impressive gears to deliver an animated spectacle, unafraid to tackle heavier themes while uplifting viewers to awe-inspiring heights.  After a lightning crash-landing strikes the fictional town of Rockwell, incessantly curious neighborhood tike Hogarth Hughes investigates his wooded surroundings with army helmet and toy rifle in tow.  Happening upon a skyscraper high iron giant feasting on electrical metal generating the town, Hogarth saves the colossal being from a near-fatal shock, forming the basis of an unexpected bond and quite likely the greatest discovery since television.  Teaching his new friend simple phrases and keeping him hidden from a panicky public, Hogarth befriends local beatnik and shrap metal yard owner Dean (Connick, Jr.) in order to better conceal their unsubtle pal.  As the otherworldly robot learns the value of friendship and the painful truths of life and death, investigative U.S. agent Kent Mansley (McDonald) arrives in Rockwell to validate recent reports of unexplainable phenomena and extinguish any potential threats.  Following an innocent game that reveals the giant’s intended purpose of construction, the nosey Kent catches onto Hogarth’s secret prompting troops to storm the idyllic community in search of the so-called national threat.  Through soul-searching and recognizing one’s destiny and true purpose in life, The Iron Giant navigates through emotional highs and lows while weaving a beautifully constructed anti-violence theme that celebrates the best in humans and those we open our hearts to.

    Underbudgeted and brought to fruition by a team of inexperienced animators, The Iron Giant would generate historic pre-release buzz that would be jeopardized by an uneventfully bland marketing campaign and a scatterbrained release date.  Based loosely on the book by Ted Hughes, Co-Writer/Director Brad Bird would take personal tragedy and his experience in breakneck episodic animation to mesmerize viewers with an underdog feature fueled purely on heart.  Touching the souls of all who experienced the film during its financially disappointing theatrical run, The Iron Giant has aged gracefully and appears even more potent in the troubling times of today’s violence.  Channeling the fears and childlike fascination of the Atomic Age with a Rockwellian design approach and seamless computer-generated artistry, The Iron Giant dazzles visually and relates universally to all audiences as one of the great under appreciated classics to be seen, animated or otherwise.

    Presenting both its Signature Edition (1:29:58) with two new scenes instated and its Theatrical Version (1:26:39), Warner Bros. Home Entertainment debuts The Iron Giant on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Masterfully transferred with gorgeous color grades and a handsome handling of nighttime sequences, this filmic-looking presentation spares any unsightly anomalies and awards viewers with an ideal watching experience, worthy of its director’s approval.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is efficiently relayed with perfect clarity while, the iron giant’s heavy stomping, outdoorsy ambiance and the film’s ammunition geared finale shows off its impressive dynamics with the highest of praise.  

    The vast assortment of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Brad Bird, Head of Animation Tony Fucile, Story Department Head Jeff Lynch and Animation Supervisor (Giant) Steven Markowski.  Furthermore, the newly-crafted The Giant’s Dream: The Making of The Iron Giant (55:47) is a first-rate, deeply personal retrospective that charts Bird’s initial interest in animation to his Disney internship and subsequent firing from the company to the long, challenging road developing The Iron Giant.  Told predominately through animation, vintage footage and narration from invaluable players of the production team today, this heartfelt full circle is essential viewing for fans.  Meanwhile, vintage supplements from 2003 include, Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Brad Bird (15:16), Teddy Newton: The X Factor (5:38), Duck and Cover Sequence (2:23), The Voice of The Iron Giant (8:16), The Score (4:49), Behind the Armor (17:31) and a Motion Gallery (4:22).  Accompanied with a “Brad Bird” Trailer (1:29) and Signature Edition Trailer (2:32), 1999’s The Making of The Iron Giant (22:05), Vintage Easter Eggs (1:48), The Salt Mines (7:06) where Digital Effects Artist Andrew Jimenez travels to the underground Kansas storage facility where the film’s original art is held and Hand Drawn (1:40) featuring Bird expressing his eternal devotion to the art form concludes the virtually endless quantity of extras.

    Aesthetically and narratively perfect, The Iron Giant survived the fallout of box-office ruin and persevered to be rightly embraced for all its outstanding qualities.  Appreciated more than ever by curious new audiences and revisited by original believers, Director Brad Bird’s ironclad adventure of friendship and nonviolence bravely explores emotionally dense themes leaving viewers all the richer for its commitment.  Answering the pleas of devoted fans and its passionate creators, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment issues The Iron Giant in a long-awaited and flawlessly presented high-def debut, lovingly equipped with a generous share of nuts and bolts supplements.  Also available in a desirable Ultimate Collector’s Edition variant, The Iron Giant crash lands as one of animation’s greatest gifts and one of the year’s premier releases!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, The Iron Giant can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015)

    Director(s): Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon

    Starring: Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala & Jayson Lamb

    Released by: Drafthouse Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Transfixed by Director Steven Spielberg’s trailblazing 1981 blockbuster, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made documents the journey of three 11-year-old boys from Mississippi who took home movies to an unprecedented level with their own shot-for-shot adaptation, filmed over the course of seven grueling years.  With the exception of the film’s explosive airplane sequence, the tenacious trio and their loyal supporters reunite 20 years later to complete their ambitious project.

    A testament to childhood dreams coming true and quite possibly the most disciplined example of sticktoitiveness, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made recounts the unbelievably true tale of Mississippi youths who, from the wreckage of divorced families and introverted personalities, escaped their realities to capture the greatest adventure of their lives on videotape.  After bonding over their mutual love for Spielberg’s archeological hero and his cinematic debut, Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos would forge a friendship built on their love for film and their desire to helm their own grassroots adaptation.  Teaming with fellow eccentric Jayson Lamb and a revolving door of younger siblings and neighborhood kids, Zala, acting as director in addition to playing multiple onscreen roles while, Strompolos dons the iconic fedora and whip as Indiana Jones, sacrifice summer vacations and weekends over several years to do their treasured feature justice.  Risking life and limb with little to no interference from overprotective parents, Zala and Strompolos leap and drag themselves from moving vehicles while nearly burning their house and selves on fire to capture the perfect shots during the pre-Internet days of youth.  Juxtaposing the two friends detailing the early origins of the film and their regrettably final missing sequence, filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and Raiders of the Lost Ark star John Rhys-Davies make talking head appearances expressing their admiration and discovery of their diamond in the rough accomplishment.

    In addition, Zala and Strompolos’ parents, wives and supportive crew members are on hand to shape the narrative that is littered with as much agony as there are triumphs.  Endless frustration, high school romances, jealousy and an eventual fallout between the two friends would halt production for years creating two very different life paths that would merge once again following the cult popularity of their circulated childhood tape.  Potentially sacrificing their day jobs to fulfill what they started in their southern backyards years earlier, Zala and Strompolos, tighter than ever before, attempt to finally wrap their long in-development shoot with the highly explosive airplane sequence from the original film.  Plagued with horrendous weather conditions, ballooning budgets and a frightening onset accident, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is emotionally riveting and overwhelmingly inspiring.  Living vicariously through the colorful subjects who never lost sight of a vision that seemed impossible, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made will leave viewers joyously teary-eyed and tipping their own fedoras at real-life heroes that will make you feel that all dreams are within reach.

    Drafthouse Films presents Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Produced in the high-def digital age, footage is pleasingly sharp and well-detailed during the predominate interview sequences and onset footage with only snippets from the VHS sourced Raiders adaptation being of expected lesser quality.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is excellently captured while, the chaotic footage of the airplane sequence boasts several explosions that bode nicely on the track.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Meanwhile, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Tim Skousen & Producer/Director Jeremy Coon plus, a second Audio Commentary with The Raiders Guys Eric Zala & Chris Strompolos.  Furthermore, Deleted Scenes (32:39), Outtakes from the Adaptation (19:33), the Q&A at Alamo Drafthouse Premiere of the Adaptation (40:43) captured on May 31, 2003, Trailers for Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made’s Theatrical Trailer (2:08) and other Drafthouse Films features including, 20,000 Days on Earth (2:15), A Band Called Death (2:12), The Final Member (2:02) and I Declare War (1:47) are also included.  Lastly, a 16-page booklet containing reproductions of Zala’s hand drawn storyboards for the adaptation, a DVD edition, Digital HD Code and Reversible Cover Art round out the supplements.

    Akin to Indy defying the Nazi’s and heroically saving the day, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made is the embodiment of movie magic come to life.  Retracing their ambitious, troubled and above all, dedicated passion project from their preteen years to its midlife conclusion, John Williams’ goosebump-inducing anthem will no longer conjure images of just everyone’s favorite archeologist but also, the Mississippi boys to men who dared to dream with the Holy Grail always in their mind’s eye.  Drafthouse Films’ acquisition and top-notch presentation of this first-rate documentary makes for one of the most emotionally uplifting chronicles of the year!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Drafthouse Films, Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made can be purchased via DrafthouseFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

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

    Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

    Director: Richard Linklater

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

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • The Good Dinosaur (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Good Dinosaur (2015)

    Director: Peter Sohn

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

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available February 23rd from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, The Good Dinosaur can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016) DVD Review

    The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave (2016)

    Director: David Doi

    Starring: Felix Avitia, Anndi McAfee, Aria Noelle Curzon, Jeff Bennett, Rob Paulsen, Barry Bostwick, Reb McEntire & Damon Wayans Jr.

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the latest prehistoric adventure of the long-running series, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave centers on young Apatosaurus Littlefoot (Felix Avitia, Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything), who after learning of his father’s disappearance, sets out to rescue him.  Joined by his faithful pals, Littlefoot travels across strange landscapes and encounters new friends, Etta (Reba McEntire, Charlotte’s Web) and Wild Arms (Damon Wayans Jr., Big Hero 6) on a courageous adventure that enriches their friendship.

    Following a near decade of extinction, the whopping fourteenth installment of The Land Before Time franchise invites a new generation of dinosaur lovers back to the Great Valley.  Centering once again on series mainstay Littlefoot (Avitia), the tiny, long-necked dino anxiously awaits the return of his father Bron (Scott Whyte, City Guys) and the rest of the herd on their annual visit.  Excitement quickly turns to panic when the comically coward Wild Arms (Wayans) alerts the village of a volcanic explosion that resulted in Bron sacrificing his safety for the others.  Too dangerous to trek back, Littlefoot, along with Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike, secretly journey to rescue Bron from impending danger.  Confronted with countless geographical obstacles and overwhelming risks at the hands of hungry Tyrannosaurs Rex, the gang encounter friendly Pterodactyl Etta (McEntire) to help aid in their search for Bron.  Singing their way to save Littlefoot’s father, the young dinosaurs develop a deeper appreciation for each other that will last a lifetime.

    Highlighting a newly recored tune by Reba McEntire, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave fits seamlessly into the franchise’s previous efforts that demonstrate the value of friendship and working together for more impressionable audiences.  With the advent of computer animation, the latest sequel stylistically adheres to the traditional, hand-drawn quality of its predecessors while, its vocal talent comprised of newcomers and guest celebrities entertain accordingly.  Although its plot is fairly paint-by-numbers in the context of the series, this harmless direct to video offering will easily appeal to younger viewers who will take delight in its colorful characters and cheery musical numbers.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave in anamorphic widescreen, boasting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Lacking the sharpness of hi-def releases, the animated effort delivers nicely balanced colors of its many characters and backgrounds, making the viewing experience a perfectly suitable one.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is audible and efficient while, the film’s several musical moments have a slightly wider reach to get heads bopping along.  Appropriately catered to little ones, special features include, Sing-A-Long Songs for “Look For The Light” (2:01), “Today’s the Day” (2:56), “Hot and Stinky” (2:48) and “Better off Alone” (2:02).

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave can be purchased exclusively through Walmart.com and their respective retail outlets. 

  • 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