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  • Victor/Victoria (1982) Blu-ray Review

    Victor/Victoria (1982)

    Director: Blake Edwards

    Starring: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras & John Rhys-Davies

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Paris 1934, Victor/Victoria stars Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) as the literally starving artist Victoria Grant whose luck turns around after befriending the flamboyantly friendly cabaret performer Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston, The Music Man).  Devising an act where Victoria will pretend to be a man performing as a woman, audiences rave while, the rising star’s crush on a dreamy mobster (James Garner, The Great Escape) who slowly suspects the performer is not who “he” claims to be results in a feature of hilarious situations and musical magic.  Lesley Ann Warren (A Night in Heaven), Alex Karras (Webster) and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) co-star.

    A remake of the 1933 German effort Viktor und Viktoria, Writer/Director Blake Edwards’ (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) modern take remains true to its originators time period while, injecting lavish colors and even livelier musical numbers courtesy of the great Henry Mancini (Days of Wine and Roses).  In a tour de force, Julie Andrews brings her lovable charm to a performance that requires both male and female tendencies while, pushing the skillful boundaries of her singing and dancing chops in several show-stopping sequences.  Hilariously supporting Andrews, Robert Preston is magnificent as her self-professed queen best friend who recognizes Victoria’s talent and plants the seed for the show biz scheme of a lifetime.  Taking Paris by storm, Victoria/Victor are an instant smash allowing the gender-bending starlet and her manager to lead the good life until the arrival of suave-looking mobster King Marchand (Preston) lead both King and Victoria to fancy one another.  Convinced the publicized male singer is in fact a woman, King’s tough guy front dissipates before he’s truly sure and passionately plants one on the beauty in one of the film’s most romantic moments.  Further complimented by memorable turns from Lesley Ann Warren as a ditzy Chicago floozy, John Rhys-Davies as a prominent booking agent and Alex Karras as King’s closeted, teddy bear-like bodyguard, Victor/Victoria never suffers a casting flaw while, sillier sequences involving Victoria and Toddy planting cockroaches in a restaurant to avoid paying the check welcome heavy doses of comedy.  Admittedly running slightly longer than necessary, Victor/Victoria never seizes to impress with its well choreographed dance routines, Academy Award-winning score and a pitch perfect cast that gives life to its rhythmic tale of hilarity and love that doesn’t require labels.

    Warner Archive presents Victor/Victoria with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  From its hot pink opening titles to its colorful staged performances, the revered musical makes its high-definition debut with stunning clarity.  Boasting exquisite levels of detail in the more theatrical costume choices and its mid 1930s environments, skin tones are steadily natural while, black levels never disappoint with an overall healthy layer of grain retaining its filmic beauty.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is nicely handled with no qualms to be had.  Meanwhile, the film’s mix truly comes alive during its many music-filled sequences that take full advantage of Andrews’ high-reaching singing notes and the many brass and horn sections that accompany each song.  Carrying over all previously available supplements, the limited bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Star Julie Andrews & Writer/Director Blake Edwards, a DVD Easter Egg (0:36), which although not so secretly hidden, the brief interview snippet features Edwards offering compliments for Andrews’ impressive work on the film.  Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer (2:23) is also included.

    From a decade that exuded a surprising amount of musicals, Victor/Victoria ranks as one of the finest, serving as a career milestone for Andrews.  Strengthened by its theatrical energy and snappy humor, this showbiz tale with a charming love story at its core is a diva of a picture worthy of its reputation.  Warner Archive’s splendid high-definition release is a noticeable upgrade that enhances the film’s many visual charms while retaining its filmic integrity.  Although special features are few and reduced to vintage material, Victor/Victoria’s Blu-ray release remains heartily recommended.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Victor/Victoria can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Hired to Kill (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Hired to Kill (1990)

    Director(s): Nico Mastorakis & Peter Rader

    Starring: Brian Thompson, Oliver Reed, George Kennedy & José Ferrer

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bursting with explosive action, Hired to Kill stars Brian Thompson (Cobra) as mercenary Frank Ryan whose latest assignment sends him into a crumbling country to locate a rebel leader.  Undercover as a flamboyant fashion designer, Thompson is aided by seven seductively dangerous female soldiers to overpower the totalitarian regime controlled by the corrupt Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed, Spasms).  George Kennedy (The Delta Force) and José Ferrer (Dune) co-star in this gun-toting spectacle co-directed by Nico Mastorakis (The Zero Boys).

    Reimagining The Magnificent Seven with women, Hired to Kill stars the poor man’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Brian Thompson as skillfully trained mercenary Frank Ryan whose weakness for money presented in leather briefcases leads him to the fictional country of Cypra where an imprisoned leader requires busting out to restore balance to his corruptly tainted homeland.  In order to operate safely, Ryan trades in his macho card for an undercover identity as a fashion designer.  Making clear of his disdain working with women, Ryan is sent into the field with seven  deadly bombshells, acting as his supermodels and his only team of soldiers.  Rubbing elbows on their mission with Cypra’s criminal mastermind Michael Bartos, Oliver Reed’s eccentric and occasionally tipsy performance as the film’s baddie, adorned by a no-nonsense handlebar mustache is pure entertainment that reaches its apex when testing Ryan’s suggested homosexuality by grabbing a handful of crotch inviting a smooch from the muscular American.  Interspersed with training montages of Ryan’s female squad, comprised of such notable names as Barbara Lee Alexander (Psycho Cop Returns), Michelle Moffett (Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans) and Jordana Capra (After Midnight), as they perfect their runway skills while sharpening their aim, Hired to Kill throws political double-crosses and fallen heroes into the mix to expectedly up the ante for its final act.  Slightly overlong with its machine gun fueled sequences growing redundant, Hired to Kill is an enjoyable toast to over the top action cinema that entertains more than its direct-to-video reputation would suggest.

    Newly restored in 4K, Arrow Video presents Hired to Kill with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Looking sharper than ever, detail greatly impresses in facial closeups while, skin tones are always natural and clear.  In addition, the grassy locale of the fictional country (shot on location in Greece) offers strong contrast as the film’s presentation appears free of any scuffs or scratches.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is excellently handled with zero issues in audibility.  Furthermore, sequences of heavy firepower, helicopters and explosions appropriately rattle the speakers to good measure.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Editor Barry Zeitlin, Hired to… Direct: Behind the Camera with Nico Mastorakis (27:26) where the film’s co-director and producer sits down for a lengthy discussion detailing the film’s beginnings, casting, Reed’s turbulent onset behavior and the unfortunate tragedy that resulted in the death of Stuntman Clint Carpenter.  Also included, Undercover Mercenary (17:33) features a new interview with Star Brian Thompson where the action hero recalls his early memories catching the acting bug, juggling college and securing film work and memories from the Hired to Kill shoot including an instance where Reed dropped his pants and urinated during a take.  Finally, the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), a Stills Gallery (7:18), the Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-Rom content), a 23-page booklet featuring stills and a new essay by James Oliver plus, a DVD edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster conclude the extra feature offerings.

    Plastered with babes, bullets and a deliciously silly performance from Oliver Reed, Hired to Kill is precisely what one comes to expect from the ultra machismo days of action cinema.  Delivering an impressive scale of explosive anarchy for its stature, Brian Thompson brings the proper equipment to this gun show with unexpected, yet nonetheless humorous touches through his eccentric undercover identity.  Meanwhile, Arrow Video delivers a remarkable presentation for this cult loved DTV effort with an enjoyably candid spread of new bonus features that viewers will be thrilled with.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Hired to Kill can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, 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. 

  • Animals (2012) DVD Review



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

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

    EXTRAS:

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

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

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

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

    - Audio Commentary with Director Marçal Forés & Travis Crawford

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

    - Animals Trailer

    - Artsploitation Films Trailers

    - Reversible Cover

    RATING: 5/5

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