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  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Trouble Man (1972) Blu-ray Review

    Trouble Man (1972)

    Director: Ivan Dixon

    Starring: Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, William Smithers, Paula Kelly & Julius Harris

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When full-time hustler and licensed private eye Mr. T (Robert Hooks, N.Y.P.D.) is hired by two thugs to investigate their compromised gambling operation, Trouble Man finds the smooth talking enforcer engaged in a web of gang wars and murder in order to clear his slandered name.  Paul Winfield (The Terminator), Ralph Waite (The Waltons), William Smithers (Scorpio), Paula Kelly (Soylent Green) and Julius Harris (Super Fly) costar.

    A step above the average blaxploitation feature, Trouble Man highlights the bustling lifestyle of South Central’s own Mr. T whose expert pool skills, fashionable style and ladies man swagger compliment his no-nonsense street smarts and sharp business savvy as the ghetto’s personal problem solver.  Approached by local thugs Chalky (Winfield) and Pete (Waite) to uncover the masked thieves responsible for disrupting their gambling circuit, Mr. T finds himself entangled in a gang war when rival crime lord Big (Harris) is gunned down, laying the blame on the very capable hands of the inner city private detective.  Pursued by vengeful gangsters and local law enforcement, Mr. T unbuttons his expensive jacket and leads a one man army to bring his foolish framers down.  Charismatically charged, Robert Hooks headlines as the smooth soul brother whose martial arts expertise and whip-cracking demeanor ignites the film’s contagiously cool aura while, Motown legend Marvin Gaye’s choice musical accompaniments can’t be overstated.  Tightly edited by Michael Kahn before his career spanning collaborations with Director Steven Spielberg, Trouble Man is wickedly fun with memorable performances and action-packed gang warfare justifying itself as one bad motha worth investigating.

    With the exception of speckling observed during dimly lit sequences, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is overwhelmingly clean with no overt levels of damage while, the film’s inherent softness, as a product of its time, remains intact without compromising detail.  Meanwhile, flesh tones are eye-pleasing with more flamboyantly colorful attire and vibrant 70s decor popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that occasionally requires volume increases, dialogue is largely audible with few softer spoken exchanges registering not as strongly.  Thankfully, Marvin Gaye’s main title theme and other melodic queues are projected sharply with gunfire effects throughout the film’s final act making appropriate statements.  Relatively scant, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historians Nathanial Thompson & Howard S. Berger with a Trailer Gallery featuring Trouble Man (2:30), Truck Turner (5:13), Across 110th Street (2:58), Cotton Comes to Harlem (2:11) and Report to the Commissioner (2:21) concluding the extras.

    Absurdly included amongst the fifty worst films of all time in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ 1978 paperback, Trouble Man is far better and more entertaining than its reputation suggests.  Battling to clear his name while always ensuring time for beautiful girls, Robert Hooks leads the way with an entertaining turn loaded with attitude and leaving his enemies calling for mercy.  Boasting a soulful score from Marvin Gaye and a film appreciators audio commentary, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ HD treatment of this underrated blaxploitation picture is as cool as the original Mr. T.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Trouble Man can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Candy Tangerine Man (1974) / Lady Cocoa (1975) Blu-ray Review

    The Candy Tangerine Man (1974) / Lady Cocoa (1975)

    Director: Matt Cimber

    Starring: John Daniels, Eli Haines, Tom Hankason, Marva Farmer, Richard Kennedy & George “Buck Flower” / Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier, Millie Perkins, “Mean” Joe Greene & James A. Watson, Jr.

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Featuring a double serving of blaxploitation favorites from Director Matt Cimber (The Black 6), The Candy Tangerine Man centers on cool as ice pimp known as The Baron (John Daniels, Black Shampoo).  Hustling the mean streets of Los Angeles from the driver seat of his colorful Rolls Royce, Baron evades the authorities while, combatting local competition seeking to push the player out of the game.  Next up, Lady Cocoa finds recently released prisoner Cocoa (Lola Falana, The Klansman) agreeing to testify against her criminal boyfriend only to discover the danger that awaits her on the outside.

    Hailed by exploitation connoisseur Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight) and frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson, The Candy Tangerine Man brings hard-edged urban style and violence to the dangerous world of pimps and pushers.  Doubling as smooth as silk procurer and loving husband/father Ron Lewis in a separate area code, the Black Baron oozes swag on the seedy blocks of Sunset Boulevard, monitoring his clientele of feisty broads from his vibrant head-turning ride.  After selflessly winning a new trick during a game of pool to deter her from the life she’s chosen, Baron finds himself targeted by mafia kingpin Vincent Di Nunzio (Zenobia Wittacre, Black Lolita) and fellow, long-nailed pimp Dusty.  Consistently hassled by a bumbling duo of coppers, Baron’s operation is uprooted when Di Nunzio’s flunkies savagely slice the breast of one of his women.  Never one to retreat, Baron pushes back by introducing said flunkies’ hand to a garbage disposal and pumping other henchmen up with lead from his car’s installed machine guns.  Acknowledging the heat on the street, Baron looks to leave his empire behind with a lucrative savings bond hustle only to be double-crossed by his once trustworthy bookkeeper forcing the fedora-wearing pimp to take back what’s rightfully his.  Awesomely crediting the actual “hookers” and “blades” of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, The Candy Tangerine Man spares no jive and supplies bounds of entertainment thanks to the untouchably badass performance of Daniels and his mic-dropping one liners.  Further enhanced by generous doses of nudity, nostalgia-fueled footage of exotic clubs from yesteryear and a funky soundtrack provided by Smoke (later known as Blacksmoke), The Candy Tangerine Man may prove that pimpin’ ain’t easy but, its handsome handling of action and supafly attitude make it a sugar rush of blaxploitation bliss.

    Shot on location in the gambling state of Nevada, Lady Cocoa promises a feature of revenge-fueled thrills that unfortunately never comes to pass.  Released from prison in exchange to testify against her devious mobster beau, Cocoa is carted off to a slot machine filled hotel by Lieutenant Ramsey (Alex Dreier, Chandler) and patrolman Doug Fuller (Gene Washington, Black Gunn) before the crucial arraignment.  Bossy and demanding of relaxing service during her limited stay, Cocoa, in an excruciatingly squeaky pitch, sprouts off random facts while, also insistent of a shopping spree and the opportunity to mingle and dance the night away with a fellow couple.  Constantly butting heads before developing a flirtatious relationship, Cocoa and Doug get intimate as her criminal ex-lover Eddie (James A. Watson, Jr., The Organization) and his associates spy on with an intent to rub Cocoa out before she can utter a single word under oath.  Before its final act that results in a maid getting mistakenly shot, a car chase through a hotel lobby and a corrupt character being exposed, Lady Cocoa is largely uneventful, dragging itself to a boat showdown between baddies and goodies after a prolonged period listening to Cocoa complain in the confines of a hotel room.  Bland and monotonous, Lady Cocoa lands itself back in the slammer for such crimes.  

    Scanned and restored in 2K from 35mm archival prints, Vinegar Syndrome presents both The Candy Tangerine Man and Lady Cocoa with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  With the destruction and disposal of their respective negatives, each film bears noticeable grindhouse battle wounds including, varying degrees of scuffs and scratches, vertical lines and moderate to excessive instances of red speckling.  Although their conditions may be far from ideal with Lady Cocoa looking best, both features maintain filmic presentations and respectably rich colors with Baron’s bright fedoras and matching ties popping most nicely.  Appreciatively working from the best available materials, Vinegar Syndrome have treated fans to the best home video presentations of these Cimber co-features, warts and all.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mixes, each film contains their fair share of cracks, pops and an instance or two of dropped audio yet, both features are sufficiently audible given the less than stellar state of their utilized elements.  Featuring a Video Introduction by Director Matt Cimber (4:12) for The Candy Tangerine Man, additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Matt Cimber & Director’s Assistant/Actor John Goff on Lady Cocoa, a DVD edition of the release and a Reversible Cover Art spotlighting Cimber’s 1975 co-feature.

    From stylish pimps to whiny narcs, Vinegar Syndrome’s blaxploitation double bill from Director Matt Cimber provides viewers with uniquely suited urban tales shot during the glory decade of the 1970s.  While The Candy Tangerine Man is wildly fun and ranks highly amongst other well-praised genre efforts, Lady Cocoa lacks the punch of its co-feature and disappoints in its sense of marketed thrills.  Although ideal elements for both features no longer exist, Vinegar Syndrome have done their very best to ensure both films stay preserved and primed for consumption.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, The Candy Tangerine Man / Lady Cocoa can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Unidentified (2013) DVD Review

    Unidentified (2013)
    Director: Jason Richard Miller
    Starring: Parry Shen, Colton Dunn, Eddie Mui & Eric Artell
    Released by: Dark Sky Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A fun-filled road trip to the temptation capital of Las Vegas takes an unexpected turn for four friends when bad luck and a loan shark become the least of their worries.  Jason Richard Miller (co-producer of Hatchet II and Frozen) makes his directorial debut with this micro-budget effort hailed as a cross between The Hangover and Cloverfield.  Focusing their attention on contemporary fare, Dark Sky Films presents Unidentified, blending the worlds of comedy and extraterrestrials for a unique viewing experience.  Arriving on DVD and Digital Download, let’s take a trip to Sin City to see what truly resides in the vast Nevada desert...

    Unidentified centers on four friends set on a yearly road trip to Las Vegas for a weekend of gambling and wild fun.  Unfortunately, trouble with a loan shark and an unpaid debt causes the group to make a swift exit from Sin City.  After becoming stranded in the desert, one of the friends goes missing, only to be found infected and off-kilter.  With their digital camera capturing the unfolding events, their friends‘ condition worsens as the group suspect something alien at large. 

    MOVIE:
    With no opening credits, Unidentified kicks itself off with our lead character, Jodie (Eric Artell), conducting a nerdy YouTube video under the moniker of Jodieman.  Detailing his love for comics and creating his own characters, Jodie, who bares a striking resemblance to a That ‘70s Show-era Topher Grace, uninvitedly joins his brother-in-law and two friends on their annual Vegas road trip.  Capturing the entire weekend with his digital camera, Unidentified makes the limited budget of the film clear.  Joined by a supporting cast of Parry Shen (Hatchet), Colton Dunn (Burning Love) and Eddie Mui (Gone in 60 Seconds), the group struggle with comical improv that bears any semblance to how four friends would converse.  The acting is just beyond painful and caused one too many eye rolls upon viewing.  The central character of Jodie tries far too hard to be the pop culture knowing geek with his silly excitement at seeing a DeLorean and snapping at a character for not quoting Star Trek properly.  Making a pit stop at a diner, Jodie encounters a local drunk who indulges the group about an abandoned compound where alien species have roamed.  After annoying deliberation, Jodie convinces the group to trek there only to be scared off by a thunderous force behind a door.  Filming himself while escaping, Jodie unknowingly captures a background shot of a mysterious red-tinted sky that swoops a bystander away.  This lame attempt at extraterrestrial activity is the only footage we see until the final moments of the film.  Mui’s gambling problem is what sets the story in motion as issues with a loan shark get out of hand after losing a high-stakes poker game for Down’s Syndrome players.  This attempt at lowbrow humor comes 45 minutes after humorless nonsense that makes this sequence just look pathetic.  After dodging their payment, the group’s car mysteriously breaks down in the Nevada desert.  In the middle of the night, Jodie exits the car to relieve himself only to come in contact with an otherworldly object that severely infects him.  The following morning, Jodie’s friends frantically search for him, only to find him appearing sickly and not quite himself.  An encounter with another drunken local warns the group of unknown dangers that exist in the desert as they navigate back to civilization.  Unidentified culminates in an odd and unclear finale where other civilians, presumably under the control of an alien being, wander the desert as the foursome desperately search for help.  The characters make the obnoxious point to continue asking one another “are you really filming this?” to cement their lack at decent improv.  A quick tease at an alien is thrown across screen as government agents of some kind shoot 3/4’s of the group in a panic.  An absurd conclusion to a rather unpleasant flick.

    Unidentified was a horrendous execution in the road comedy genre interwoven with sci-fi elements.  The small cast share zero chemistry with one another and their attempts at improvisational skills scream amateur hour.  A microscopic budget plagued this film by utilizing the handheld digital camera angle that becomes tiresome almost immediately.  Unidentified lacked any sense of suspense or thrills and disappoints by barely showing the alien responsible for Jodie’s condition.  Understandably, the budget would have prevented anything remarkable but, the sheer lack of substantial footage causes the viewer to forget the film ever had a science fiction twist.  Suffice to say, Unidentified is not only a tremendous bore, but one of the laziest independent efforts seen in sometime.  If the house always win, Unidentified certainly left me bankrupt.
    RATING: 0.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Dark Sky Films presents Unidentified in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer.  Shot entirely on a handheld digital camera, the film is certainly true to its source with shakiness and pixels popping up from time to time.  Colors appear decently with flesh tones relayed as well as any digital camera can these days.  With the guerrilla filmmaking style, black levels leave a little more to be desired due to a lack of proper lighting.  Considering the budget, Unidentified is presented as decently as can be.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, audio levels are represented clearly.  With not much in the way of music or background effects, this mix does its duty with relaying the groan inducing dialogue best it can.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Jason Richard Miller: Miller discusses how this found footage project was presented to him well before the current wave of said projects.  In addition, Miller touches upon the casting and how he felt each actor was perfect for their roles as well as his overall laziness with writing.  I would have never noticed.

    - Jodieman YouTube Videos: A selection of phony YouTube videos for Jodie’s character that span roughly 13 minutes.

    - Unidentified Space Cam: A 20 minute behind the scenes look of the cast and crew following a weather ballon of some kind that was used in the making of the final sequence.  An overlong and dull featurette.

    - Trailer

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Unidentified was one of the more painful viewing experiences to be seen in sometime.  The tiny budget and lack of talent from the cast made the film a snooze-inducing borefest.  The discombobulating handheld technique inherently feels cheap and tired.  Unidentified attempted the unique spin of a road movie with aliens but ultimately, failed by presenting a brief and pathetic alien reveal.  Dark Sky Films‘ presentation is nothing more than decent that remains true to its guerrilla style aesthetic.  Unsurprisingly, the selection of supplements included do little to entertain or enlighten.  Sadly, Unidentified failed in every department and is a showcase of just plain lazy filmmaking.
    RATING: 1.5/5