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  • Home Video Highlights: DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017) & Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017) Reviews

                          

    DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017): 30 years later, Disney XD revives one of the original Disney Afternoon’s cherished properties with DuckTales.  Based on Carl Banks’ iconic comic strips, DuckTales: Woo-oo! finds clumsy Donald Duck leaving his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie with his Uncle Scrooge while attending a job interview.  Unimpressed with their elderly family member, the triplets are introduced to the young Webby Vanderquack who reveals the many adventures conquered and relics secured by McDuck.  After accidentally unleashing and daringly recapturing evil spirits within the mansion, Scrooge’s sense of adventure is awakened and rounds up his young spectators to recover the Lost Jewel of Atlantis.  Confronted with his nemesis Flintheart Glomgold who is also after the jewel and aided by a clueless Donald, hilarity and excitement ensue in this phenomenal pilot installment to its equally strong first season.  Led by spot-on vocal work by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones) as Scrooge McDuck, exceptional animation and a newly recorded cover of the memorable 80s theme song, DuckTales: Woo-oo!, accompanied by 6 “Welcome to Duckburg” bonus shorts and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards, DisneyNOW and Disneynature’s Dolphins, is a splashing good time for fans of all ages.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, DuckTales: Woo-oo! can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4.5/5      

    Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day (2017): In this epic hour-long episode, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day finds Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) looking over the kingdom while her parents take a royal getaway.  Overwhelmed with her role as acting queen and each decision for the kingdom backfiring, Rapunzel is faced with a dire winter storm that pits her parents in mortal danger while young Varian’s pleas to aid his father who is being encased by the recent uprising of mysterious spiky rock formations fall on deaf ears, making Rapunzel’s test run at leading the kingdom her hardest challenge to date.  Perhaps the most dramatic installment of the series to date with its enchanting, brushstroke-like animation continuing to be a feast for the eyes plus, four “Inside the Journal” Shorts as well as the same recycled Sneak Peeks as its fellow animated DisneyXD release, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day is a magical highpoint for the longhaired fairy tale saga.

    Available now on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Tangled: The Series - Queen for a Day can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    RATING: 4/5

       

  • Power Rangers (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Power Rangers (2017)

    Director: Dean Israelite

    Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cycler, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston & Elizabeth Banks

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Revitalizing the television phenomenon for the big-screen, Power Rangers centers on five ordinary teens, chosen by destiny, to form a superhuman team of defenders to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa’s wrath.  Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) directs from a screenplay by John Gatins (Real Steel, Flight).

    Marking the famous franchise’s return to cinemas in two decades, Power Rangers uses the original and arguably, most popular iteration of the series as a springboard to reintroduce modern audiences and longtime fans back to an Angel Grove in desperate need of heroes.  Establishing an apocalyptic world where the Power Rangers, led by Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), are losing the battle against their former friend and betrayer Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games), the fading leader seeks to preserve the safety of the desired Zeo Crystal by hiding the coveted power coins in hopes of a new team one day emerging to protect Earth.  Juxtaposing to modern day Angel Grove, high school football star turned delinquent Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, A Few Less Men) pulls an unruly prank, landing him in detention for the rest of the school year.  Shortly after befriending bullied and autistic classmate Billy Cranston (RJ Cycler, Me and Early and the Dying Girl), Jason is convinced to join Billy at a mine site where an explosion and chance encounters with several other troubled teens including, Kimberly (Naomi Scott, The 33), a former popularity queen now ditched by her friends, Zach (Ludi Lin, Monster Hunt), a wild teen tasked with caring for his ailing mother and Trini (Becky G., Empire), a loner struggling with her own sexuality, converge in an experience that will change their lives.  Discovering the hidden power coins and the nerve center of Zordon, now constrained to its matrix system, and his faithful robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader, Inside Out), the teens are appointed as new members of the Power Rangers and must prepare for the inevitable threat of their awakened nemesis, Rita Repulsa.  Learning to trust one another and believe in themselves prove difficult as the fate of Angel Grove and the world hang in the balance against the forces of evil.  

    Darker than its bubble gum pop series but never overly brooding, Power Rangers greatly impresses with its diverse up and coming cast that convey relatable teenage troubles with organic conviction.  Noticeably influenced by the works of John Hughes with so few modern day attempts at capturing youthful voices succeeding, Power Rangers is the rare feat that does so and genuinely makes audiences care through deep character development that, for better or worse, comes at the cost of more high-octane action.  While their self-doubts restrict them from morphing into their costumed counterparts for an extended period, the film’s final act finds the the heroes finally adorned in their eye-catching armored suits to do battle against the bolder-looking Putties and Rita’s visually disappointing henchman, Goldar.  Although a shameless product placement opportunity rears its head into the plot, Elizabeth Banks delivers an enjoyably over-the-top and occasionally frightening performance as lead baddie Rita while, the city-destructing climax of the Rangers facing off in the mighty Megazord is nothing audiences haven’t seen before.  Minor grievances aside for the film’s action set pieces which unfortunately seem to have caused the ballooning $100 million budget, Power Rangers is a surprisingly fresh and energetic effort that although, based on the nostalgically campy series of the same name, takes itself and its audience seriously while having a morphinominally fun time doing it.

    Lionsgate presents Power Rangers with a striking 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptional-looking from start to finish, skin tones are naturally pleasing and detailed while, black levels seen during nighttime sequences at the mine appear deep and inky.  Digital manifestations such as, Alpha 5 and the literal looking Goldar all dazzle with the bolder colors of the rangers suits and Rita’s shimmering green garb leaping off the screen.  Without a false note to report, Power Rangers morphs into action with the utmost clarity.  Equipped with an equally perfect Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with action scenes from the rangers’ training montages to the film’s final zord battle filled with explosive action greatly impress with grand authority.  Furthermore, song selections including, a contemporary rendering of the infamous theme song, all make noticeable statements on the track that push speakers to work overtime.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Dean Israelite & Writer John Gatins, The Power of Present (2:20:12), a comprehensively morphin’ nine-part featurette that looks back at the franchise’s early years to this film’s culmination.  Insight from original series creator Haim Saban as well as the cast and crew are on-hand while, the development of the film’s costumes, the cast’s intensive training and music are all explored in this perfect companion piece to the feature.  Also included, Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes (33:39), Outtakes (3:41) and the Theatrical Trailer with Audio Commentary by Director Dean Israelite (2:21).  Lastly, an Also from Lionsgate (4:40) section offers trailers and promos for Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, The Hunger Games: Complete 4-Film Collection, Allegiant and Now You See Me 2.  Additionally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Although struggling to be the massive moneymaker hoped for by the studio, Power Rangers may be the year’s biggest blockbuster surprise that balances the delicate line of respecting its franchise roots while injecting a youthful, harder-edged voice that lifelong fans will appreciate.  Planned for a whopping six-film story arc and teasing the arrival of a certain character of the green persuasion, Power Rangers is hopefully only the beginning in a great new series that deserves more installments.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s phenomenal high-definition release is a technical marvel with a staggering supply of bonus content ranger fans will eat up.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Lionsgate, Power Rangers can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bambi (1942) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Bambi (1942)

    Director(s): David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield & Normal Wright

    Starring: Bobby Stewart, Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright, Peter Behn, Stan Alexander, Paula Winslowe, Will Wright & Ann Gillis

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi charts a young deer’s adventures in the wild from infancy to maturity as memorable moments and dangerous encounters shape him into the prince of the forest he was born to be.

    Intended to be Walt Disney’s followup to his critically acclaimed debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the tale’s bleaker tone and Disney’s perfectionism to capture realistic animated depictions of the characters required years of extensive development before fully coming to fruition.  A master of intuitive storytelling, Disney’s softening of the material for his family-friendly audience proved wise while, the slow and oftentimes demanding nature of bringing more lifelike expression to forest animals than ever before would payoff as one of the studio’s most visually dazzling sights.  Quieter on dialogue with the changing of seasons, complimented by musical orchestrations and the chimes of nature’s critters, unfolding the narrative, Bambi invites viewers to the miracle of a baby deer’s birth as we witness his first steps and words before befriending lifelong friends Thumper, the adorable scene-stealing bunny, and Flower, a bashful skunk.  Cared for by his protective mother and slowly learning how to survive the harsh winter seasons, the threat of gun-touting hunters alter the young deer’s life forever in a sequence long considered one of Disney’s most tragically effective.  Taken in by the fatherly great prince of the woods, Bambi comes of age, returning to the wilderness of his youth to reunite with old friends, falls for a fellow deer and faces his greatest challenge yet when his home is engulfed in flames.  

    The fifth of Disney’s cherished animated features only behind other such classics as Fantasia and Dumbo, Bambi excels through its gorgeous visuals and flawless animation that once again set a new bar of excellence for the studio.  A costly investment that failed to recoup its original budget, Bambi’s impact on audiences has never wavered and continues to delight viewers with its humorous moments of Bambi struggling to find his balance on ice and the tearjerking drama conveyed through its moments of personal loss.  A touchstone achievement with timeless themes of love and conservation at its core, Bambi stands as animation’s lasting love letter to nature and all its majestic inhabitants.

    Recycling their Diamond Edition transfer from 2011, Walt Disney Studios’ Home Entertainment’s 1080p transfer (1:33:1) of Bambi is just as marvelous as before with the gorgeous greenery of the woods, vibrants colors found in the various furs of the animals and fantastic background paintings looking flawless.  Meanwhile, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is once again on hand delivering dialogue clearly and giving eloquent force to Frank Churchill and Edward H. Plumb’s beautifully dreamy score.  

    In addition to presenting the Original Theatrical Edition (1:09:50) with optional DisneyView and a thoroughly interesting Inside Walt’s Story Meetings: Extended Edition (1:35:55), new supplements include, Studio Stories: Bambi (4:56) featuring archival recordings of Walt Disney culled from interviews circa 1956, Deleted Scenes (7:25) with introductions by Animator Floyd Norman, an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Africa Before Dark (5:50) short film, The Bambi Effect (3:00) and Bambi Fawn Facts (3:34).  Furthermore, vintage bonus features carried over feature Classic Deleted Scenes (3:07), a Deleted Song: “Twitterpated” (1:52), The Making of Bambi: A Prince is Born (53:15), Tricks of Our Trade (Excerpt) (7:18), Inside the Disney Archives (8:39), The Old Mill: Animated Short (8:58), The Golden Age (6:24) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:12).  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Cars 3 (0:57) and Beauty and the Beast (1:38) round out the on-disc extras.  Additionally, Celebrating Tyrus Wong (8:56), available only digitally, examines the long life of the famed artist, who passed away only last year at the age of 106, and his lasting impressions on Bambi.  Fans are also treated to a Collectible Tyrus Wong Lithograph in the packaging’s interior while, a DVD edition and Digital HD are also provided.

    Retaining the same splendid audio and visual specifications as its previous outing on Blu-ray, Bambi’s Signature Collection Edition joins the line with several new worthy supplements including a new Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short while, a stash, albeit incomplete, selection of classic extras are also on-hand.  Lovers, young and old, of Disney’s golden age efforts will be delighted to add this quintessential feature into their collections if they haven’t already and cherish the breathtaking sights of Bambi and his furry friends for years to come.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • Moana 3D (2016) Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Moana (2016)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements and Chris Williams & Don Hall

    Starring: Auli’i Cravalho & Dwayne Johnson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A mythic adventure like no other, Moana sets sail on a daring teenager (Auli’i Cravalho in her film debut) whose mission to fulfill her ancestors’ wish teams her up with the powerful and cocky demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas).  Charting the gorgeous seas together, the determined duo encounter waves of danger and immeasurable odds on their journey.

    From the talented twosome that helped redefine a Disney generation with such milestone hits as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Directors John Musker and Ron Clements, with co-direction from Big Hero 6’s Chris Williams and Don Hall, tell a richly original tale seeped in the culture and splendor of the South Pacific islands.  Once great sailors, the ancient islanders have seized voyages for a thousand years until their picturesque home begins to crumble.  Teenage Moana, spiritually connected to the sea since childhood and Polynesian princess to her people, rebels against her land’s reef-fearing rules and sets sails on a daring mission across the sea to restore balance.  Seeking out the aid of demigod Maui whose reputation has since been tarnished, Moana’s youthful ambition matched with Maui’s desire to redeem himself and live up to his heroic mantra make for an unexpectedly ideal combination to face the peril of cantankerous coconut warriors, lava monsters and their own self-doubt.  

    Continuing their virtually flawless streak of quality animation and instantly classic storytelling, Disney’s oceanic adventure adheres to the studio’s high benchmarks of recent years with the film’s uniquely proportioned character designs, mind-blowingly photorealistic settings and inventive interpretation of factual mythology all contributing to its arresting effect.  Creating harmonious chemistry with one another, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho’s range of fearlessness and innocence coupled with the inherent charm and full-of-himself humor of Dwayne Johnson bring true magic to the screen.  Serving as an invaluable component to the film’s rhythmic nature, the combined musical efforts of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda offer viewers culturally moving compositions and immensely catchy tunes including, but hardly not limited to, the terrific track “You’re Welcome” that showcases Johnson’s surprisingly solid singing chops.  Riding a current of immaculate artistic beauty and a moving story filled with unwavering heart and humor, Moana is yet another shining example of the very best of Disney animation that fans will happily be sailing with for years to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Moana with a pitch-perfect 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Thrusting viewers into the action with its depth-fulfilling 3D capabilities, the deep blue waves of the sea and Maui’s constant in your face moments are shining examples of the format solidly put to use while, its 2D transfer is an equally glorious sight of tropical colors, lifelike water effects and the deepest of black levels that are nothing short of reference quality.  Equipped with a striking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply relayed while, oceanic sound effects and the film’s delightful musical numbers seal the track’s fate as another first-rate Disney effort.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Inner Workings (6:26), featuring an introduction by the filmmakers, Disney’s latest short feature examines the struggle between’s a man’s logistical and free-spirited sides in a gorgeous blend of animation styles, a Maui-Mini Movie: Gone Finishing (2:29) and Voice of the Islands (31:13), takes a detailed look at how the Pacific Island people and their vibrant culture impacted the film and its makers.  Additionally, Things You Didn’t Know About… (4:00) hosts Q&A’s with the voice cast and musical teams while, Island Fashion (5:13) catches up with Costume Designer Neysa Bové and her artistic approaches to the film’s garbs plus, The Elements of… (14:14) explores the effects work that brought to life many of the film’s supporting characters in this four-part featurette.  They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37) hosts musicians Opetaia Foa’I, Marc Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda as they reflect on their life changing involvements crafting the memorable tunes, a Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” (3:41), Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52) explores the hidden nods to other Disney features found in the film and Deleted Scenes (25:56) with optional filmmaker introductions are also found on the release.  Finally, the “How Far I’ll Go” Music Video by Alessia Cara (3:04), “How Far I’ll Go Around the World” (2:44), a multi-language reel of the song and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Disney’s Aulani Resort (0:32), Cars 3 (0:57) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the on-disc supplements while, separate 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray and DVD editions are provided alongside a Digital HD Code.

    With little else to add except you’re welcome, Disney has once again rode the waves into viewers’ hearts with Moana, delivering delightful characters, exceptional visual sights that seamlessly captures the splendor of the Pacific Islands and a phenomenal selection of songs that rivals the titanic popularity of Frozen’s biggest hits.  Dazzling audiences with yet another pristine presentation of reference worthy 3D and handsome supplements, Disney’s Academy Award nominated feature is a sight of beauty that will move the hearts of many like the rhythm of the sea.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Moana can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Doctor Strange 3D (2016) Cinematic Universe Edition Blu-ray Review

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachael McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, Doctor Strange offers shades of familiarity while conjuring enough freshness and action-packed spells to make the stay an entertainingly magical one.  After suffering a debilitating accident, accomplished neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) travels to Nepal seeking guidance beyond what his world can offer.  Taken under the wing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Strange learns the art of sorcery and the impending threat of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a former student deceived by the dark and brooding Dormammu of the Dark Dimension.  Ditching his trivial arrogance and opening his mind to his new teachings, Strange yields his new powers, with invaluable assistance from the Cloak of Levitation, to stand with his fellow sorcerers and save the planet from Kaeciliius’ wrath of destruction.  Bringing to life their trickiest character to date with his own unique challenges, Marvel Studios welcomes Doctor Strange to their expansive universe with passionate direction from Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) who handles character development, humor and the film’s trippy action sequences with seamlessness.  In addition, the core cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor (12 Years a Slave) as the Ancient One’s second-in-command Mordo, the underused but competent Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as Strange’s former flame and the controversial yet, inspired turn from Tilda Swinton as Strange’s sorceress mentor are all excellent in their respective roles.  With its intense fight choreography and building bending visual effects bringing prestige to their thrilling sequences, Doctor Strange suffers mildly from perhaps an unavailable case of origintitis that fans have become all too accustomed to.  While Doctor Strange’s narrative may appear predictable at times, fun remains in ample supply with the sorcerer’s anticipated future adventures already looking brighter.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Doctor Strange with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  With its mind-bending sequences of skyscraper turning set battles and eye-popping destruction featuring immersive depth, Marvel Studios’ latest adventure awards viewers with their finest 3D release to date.  In addition, the equally strong 2D presentation handles skin tones, bold color grades in Strange’s cloak and the Dark Dimension as well as exceptionally inky black levels, of which their are many, up to the usual standards viewers have come to expect from Marvel’s latest superhero epics.  Equipped with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that honors immaculate clarity in dialogue exchanges and thrilling emphases in action scenes and Michael Giaccino’s (Jurassic World, Star Trek Beyond) effective score, the track is nothing short of a stunner.  

    Plentifully packed, special features include, an Introduction by Director Scott Derrickson (1:06), an Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson, A Strange Transformation (9:42), a fairly standard EPK overview of the production with interviews from key participants, Strange Company (12:37) covers the film’s supporting cast while, The Fabric of Reality (12:32) explores the costume and set design.  Furthermore, Across Time and Space (13:21) details the film’s impressive fight choreography and visual effects with The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51) examining Michael Giacchino’s score with footage of its actual orchestral recording process.  Also included, a Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28), the hilarious Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38) short, Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52), a Gag Reel (4:12) and Sneak Peeks at Marvel Contest of Champions (1:32), Marvel Future Fight (1:32) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (1:34).  Lastly, in addition to separate 3D and 2D Blu-ray’s, a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code are included alongside an Exclusive Collectible Lenticular.  In closing, Doctor Strange’s bold debut into the MCU has landed with surreal excellence and a strong cast to guide its mystical maneuvers.  While Strange’s fall to rise story from neurosurgeon to superhero sorcerer feels largely paint by numbers, the embracement of his powers and battle against darker forces are what makes the film the visual treat it is.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provides viewers with not only their most noteworthy 3D release to date but, one of stuffed supplements well worth exploring after the film’s curtain call.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Doctor Strange can be purchased via 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.

  • 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.

  • Captain America: Civil War (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Captain America: Civil War (2016)

    Director(s): Anthony & Joe Russo

    Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen & Daniel Brühl

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the cataclysmic destruction of The Avengers’ last battle, Captain America: Civil War finds the government and international leaders urging the powerful team to fall under order.  Creating a sharp difference of opinion between Captain America (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes), the two friends become each other’s worst enemies, simultaneously dividing their fellow teammates.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Community) return to helm the exciting followup to their 2014 smash hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  

    Carrying on from its politically-charged and throughly action-packed sequel, the star-spangled hero returns in top form as governmental pressure creates a dividing rift between the Brooklyn native and his billionaire ally.  As the world recovers from the devastation at Sokovia, Captain America and select members of The Avengers experience another tragedy of civilian lives lost during an enemy pursuit in Lagos.  With worldwide pressure mounting, a controversial agreement is proposed amongst the United Nations that would sanction the actions of the mighty team creating unexpected friction amongst its members.  Haunted by the guilt of their unintended harmful actions, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) seeks to oblige by the orders of the world governments by supporting the motion while, Steve Rogers (Evans) refuses to stand back if a global threat arises and The Avengers are ordered to not intervene.  Agreeing to disagree, supportive Avengers prepare to sign the peaceful accord in Vienna when an explosion takes the lives of many and holds Rogers’ childhood best friend and the ruthless Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes (Stan) as the culprit.  Fearing for his friend’s life and adamant on finding him first, Captain America, now considered a fugitive, locates his former foe who insists he was not responsible for the attack.  Apprehended alongside Cap’s loyal comrades, Barnes finds himself at the mercy of the mysterious Helmut Zemo (Brühl) after confidential Hydra documents are recovered revealing insight into Barnes’ psychological triggers.  Breaking out of custody and once again reuniting with his friend, Captain America, joined by Falcon (Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), Hawkeye (Renner) and the tiniest of titans Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Role Models), go rogue to reveal the truth before Zemo’s reign of terror continues.  Meanwhile, forced to do battle, the accord agreeing Iron Man, alongside War-Machine (Cheadle), Vision (Bettany) and others, seek to bring their former friends to justice for the safety of the world.

    Righting the ship of its character abundant and narratively choppy Avengers predecessor with ease while, maintaining the high standards of The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War raises another notch in quality for the impressively depth-filled cinematic universe.  Covering a global scale and containing explosively action-packed sequences throughout, the third Captain led adventure keeps the film exceptionally balanced with a loaded cast that never fight for screen time or loses the focus of its titular hero’s emotional path.  Injecting perfectly timed touches of humor natural to the Russo’s sensibilities and pushing The Avengers into complexities not seen before, Captain America: Civil War also marks the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42) and the high-school web-slinging Spider-Man (Tom Holland, In the Heart of the Sea) who rob scenes from their fellow costumed performers, leaving viewers yearning for more.  In addition, while Brühl compliments the film with his calculated presence, his antagonists motivations feel generally contrived and one-dimensional in a film that otherwise burns brightly.  Arguably containing Marvel’s most exciting battle sequence to date that finds the divided Avengers dueling on an airport tarmac and Ant-Man growing to mammoth heights, Captain America: Civil War will leave audiences anything but split on its outcome.  Terrifically paced and infectiously entertaining, Marvel’s juggernaut threequel lives up to expectations and emerges as one of their best efforts yet!

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Captain America: Civil War with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Stunning in every frame, skin tones are naturally balanced while saturation is exceptionally handled.  Colors are sharp and exacting with the ever-changing locations of the sunny Lagos to the snowy Siberian climax beautifully relayed.  Crisp and devoid of imperfections, Marvel’s latest looks showstoppingly strong.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is perfectly audible while, Cap’s metallic sounding shield, missile blasts and building explosions rock the track in all the right ways.  Furthermore, hand-to-hand combat, street ambiance and high-speed car chases are equally prioritized, offering the mix a universally balanced and reference quality presentation.  Wonderfully packed, special features include, An Audio Commentary with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and Screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, United We Stand, Divided We Fall - The Making of Captain America Civil War Part 1 (22:25) and Part 2 (23:18) expertly covers the development and cinematic arc of the character with interviews from key Marvel talent and behind the scenes footage.  In addition, Captain America: The Road to Civil War (4:11) and Iron Man: The Road to Civil War (4:27) chart the unique paths and emotional challenges each character has gone through leading up to the 2016 sequel while, Open Your Mind: Marvel’s Doctor Strange - Exclusive Sneak Peek (4:02), Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52) and a Gag Reel (2:53) are also included.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks at Doctor Strange (2:03), an Audi Promo for Captain America: Civil War (2:10) and Marvel Contest of Champions (0:32) are joined by a Digital HD code.

    Earning over $1 billion at the worldwide box-office, Captain America: Civil War is the latest of Marvel’s laborious universe stretching achievements that also ranks as one of its greatest.  An expansion to the universally hailed Winter Soldier storyline that delivers where Age of Ultron fell short, Team Cap’s battle with Team Iron Man is emotionally tested and rollercoastingly intense with a star-studded cast of fan favorite heroes and colorful newcomers on hand for the battle of the century.  Continuing the ascension of Marvel’s commitment to quality and popcorn bursting entertainment, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers the superhero blockbuster with quintessential technical grades and a superior assortment of bonus features worthy of investigation.  While its heroes may be left divided, Captain America: Civil War will surely unite fans with its spectacle and edge of your seat spirit. 

    RATING: 5/5                      

    Available September 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Captain America: Civil War can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Midnight Run (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Midnight Run (1988)

    Director: Martin Brest

    Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina & Joe Pantoliano

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After embezzling millions from the mob to donate to charity, sensitive accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin, Beethoven) skips bail and becomes a moving target for his former employers.  When the financial opportunity of a lifetime arises, Midnight Run finds ex-cop turned bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro, Goodfellas) jumping to haul The Duke cross-country back to Los Angeles for a $100,000 payday.  Pursued by both the FBI and the mob, Jack and Jonathan find themselves working together throughout their hilarious adventure to stay alive.  Yaphet Kotto (The Running Man), John Ashton (Beverly Hills Cop), Dennis Farina (Get Shorty) and Joe Pantoliano (Memento) co-star.

    A hilarious road trip that takes thrilling turns and action-packed shifts, Midnight Run boasts one of the decade’s most unexpectedly funny and brilliantly matched casting combinations with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro blending laughs with his valued tough-guy persona and the wildly underrated Charles Grodin’s subtle gentleness and dry demeanor both collectively earning the comedy its true payoff.  Earning a living as a skilled bounty hunter, former Chicago cop Jack Walsh hopes to leave the business behind for good after securing and safely delivering white-collar criminal Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas for a handsome six-figures.  Uncomfortable with his standing as an unbeknownst employee of the mafia, Jonathan embezzles $15 million from mob kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Farina) and nobly donates the funds to charity.  Rightly fearing for his life while the FBI is determined to have The Duke testify against Serrano, Jack hightails it to New York to bring his bounty back west which proves easier said than done.  Comically clashing from their introduction, Jack grows disgruntled with Jonathan by the second after the latter’s fear of flying derails their quick getaway to Los Angeles.  Through trains, automobiles, grand theft auto and dwindling cash, the two polar opposites can’t catch a break as Serrano’s men, the feds and an opposing bounty hunter (Ashton) who continuously falls for Jack’s false kindness close in on them.  From one misadventure to the next, Jonathan’s attempts to get to know his cold companion are typically met with knee-snappingly profane responses before an expected friendly bromance that will save their necks kicks in.

    Boldly casting the lesser known Grodin over prominent funnyman Robin Williams, Producer/Director Martin Brest’s (Scent of a Woman) instincts wisely paid off as the improvisational spirit and inherent chemistry with co-star De Niro is what makes the film a comedy standout.  Excellently juxtaposed with high-speed chases, intense shootouts and perfectly cast supporting turns from veteran character actors, Midnight Run continues Brest’s flawless handling of action and humor following the wild success of the original Beverly Hills Cop.  A modest hit that would continue the further exploits of Jack Walsh with three TV movie sequels starring Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore) in the De Niro role, Midnight Run is a flawless romp bursting with hysterical energy and excellently crafted characters that annoy, enlighten and rescue one another, much to the endless enjoyment of backseat viewers along for one of the era’s most undervalued rides.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Shout Select presents Midnight Run with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing strongly organic with natural grain firmly intact, skin tones are quite pleasing with admirable detail while, the textures of Jack’s leather jacket are well presented.  Sunny rural exteriors are lush with black levels containing evidence of speckling that seeps its way into other various sequences.  Commonly spotted in striped clothing or dimly lit moments, the aforementioned speckling may not be deal breaking yet, makes its presence known with varying degrees of intrusion.  Thankfully free of any scratches or scuffs, Midnight Run makes a solidly definitive leap to domestic high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, effects work and Composer Danny Elfman’s (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman) excellent score arrive with sharp clarity and robust range.  An equally pleasing optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Granted Collector’s Edition treatment, special features are headlined with a newly recorded Interview with Robert De Niro (8:51).  Although brief and overly reliant on voiceover narration, De Niro speaks highly of working with Brest who he wishes would produce more features and praises Grodin’s comedic abilities with warm memories all around for the film.  Meanwhile, We Got the Duke: An Interview with Actor Charles Gordin (12:24), Moscone Bail Bonds: An Interview with Actor Joe Pantoliano (14:19), Hey Marvin!: An Interview with Actor John Aston (17:23) and I’m Mosely!: An Audio Interview with Actor Yaphet Kotto (7:36) have all been ported over from Second Sight’s international release.  Lastly, Midnight Writer: An Interview with Screenwriter George Gallo (24:43), a Vintage Making-Of Featurette (7:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:12) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s impressive supplemental offerings.

    Ballooning into a bonafide cult favorite, Midnight Run is the vehicle that fully embraced De Niro’s  comedic diversity while his superb chemistry with the understatedly hilarious Grodin makes the film a cross-country adventure classic.  Making significant improvements over foreign releases, Shout Select’s 2K scan is top-tier with previously available but, nonetheless excellent bonus features ported over on top of a very special new De Niro interview capping this Collector’s Edition on a strong note.  With a tough bounty hunter and a sensitive criminal as your co-passengers on this odyssey of thrills and laughter, Midnight Run is simply the best ride to catch!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Midnight Run can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Tales of Terror (1962) Blu-ray Review

    Tales of Terror (1962)

    Director: Roger Corman

    Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Loree, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget & Joyce Jameson

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing his cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, Producer/Director Roger Corman (X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes) would combine three short stories from the master of gothic horror in Tales of Terror.  All starring the great Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill) with appearances from screen legends Peter Loree (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Robin Hood), this triple threat of frights delivers shriek-inducing scares and hilariously dark comedy in one fiendishly entertaining feature.

    Once again re-teaming with Screenwriter Richard Matheson (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum), Producer/Director Roger Corman would rummage through the noted works of Edgar Allan Poe to continue his long-running series of successful adaptations.  Choosing shorter subjects, some of which mere pages in length, Corman and Matheson were concerned with not repeating themselves, opting to deliver an anthology of sorts and introducing humor to the gothic festivities.  In Morella, Lenora Locke (Maggie Pierce, My Mother the Car), estranged from her father (Price), returns home to make amends in her ailing state.  A depressed drunk, the elder Locke is insistent she’s responsible for the death of his wife Morella (Leona Gage, Scream of the Butterfly) as he houses her decomposing corpse in his mansion.  Feeling sympathy after learning of his daughter’s short lifeline, Locke allows Lenora to stay as Morella’s spirit rises again to extract revenge on her child.  Recycling sets and footage from House of Usher for a climatic inferno sequence, Morella breathes the tried and true gothic atmosphere from previous Poe adaptations with an intriguing story but, rushes itself to a fast-paced conclusion for a scare.  Although, the opening tale could have benefitted from extended suspense, Price and company are in top form setting the stage for a most enjoyable anthology.

    In the film’s finest short, The Black Cat finds hopeless drunk Montresor Herringbone (Peter Loree) as he challenges noted wine tester Fortunato Luchresi (Price) to a tasting competition.  Pushing a noticeably more comedic tone, The Black Cat offers a memorable sequence as Price and Loree go drink for drink, utilizing their own unique tasting techniques leaving viewers in stitches.  Before long, Fortunato meets Montresor’s unappreciated wife Annabelle (Joyce Jameson, The Comedy of Terrors) and the two engage in a secret love affair, eventually discovered by Montresor.  Filled with jealously and consistently drinking, Montresor begins hallucinating venomous snakes and tarantulas as he hatches a devious plan to get rid of the happy couple.  Hilarious and haunting, The Black Cat benefits from its use of comedy with the chemistry between Price, Loree and Jameson selling it beautifully.  Corman’s satisfaction with the intentional tongue in cheek tone directly influenced repeating the formula with Price and Loree in The Raven.

    Finally, The Case of M. Valdemar once again stars Price as M. Valdemar.  Slowly dying from a dreadful disease, Valdemar enlists the help of hypnotist Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) to ease his suffering.  Agreeing to be hypnotized in his final waking moments, Carmichael places Valdemar’s subconscious in between the worlds of life and death as his body passes on.  Fully in control, Carmichael attempts to force Valdemar’s widow Helene (Debra Paget, The Haunted Palace) into marriage until, unexpectedly Valdemar emerges from his deathly state.  Incorporating dreamlike imagery and an icky decomposing sequence, The Case of M. Valdemar greatly entertains with old friends Price and the elderly Rathbone playing off each to much delight.  In addition, David Frankham (Return of the Fly) makes a welcome appearance as the young hero that stands tall next to the likes of his fellow legendary co-stars.  

    Shot over the course of three quick weeks, Tales of Terror is an excellent addition in the memorable Corman/Poe series that dared to be different with its anthology storytelling and inclusion of comedy.  Unsurprisingly, Price, surrounded by respected thespians Loree and Rathbone, charm the viewer and chew up the scenery while, Cinematographer Floyd Crosby (Hand of Death, Premature Burial) captures the film’s gloriously gothic atmosphere.  With only minor grievances regarding Morella, Tales of Terror pushes its episodes of murder, resurrection and mind control with endless entertainment and wicked humor sure to cast a spell on its viewer.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Tales of Terror with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying naturally pleasing skin tones with sharp detail in facial features and its gothic backgrounds, Corman’s anthology stuns.  Mild but expected instances of flakes are on display but, are outweighed by crisp black levels and popping colors during the trance sequences in The Case of M. Valdemar.  Preserving its exceptional atmosphere with a vibrant filmic appearance, Tales of Terror has never looked better!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Tales of Terror registers respectable dialogue levels with nothing lost in delivery.  Composer Les Baxter’s (Black Sabbath) impressive score and haunting sounds of ambiance serve the mix nicely and highlight more climatic moments appropriately.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle & Actor David Frankham and an Interview with Producer/Director Roger Corman (10:43) with Corman sharing fond memories of the shoot, his love for the comedic elements in The Black Cat and his enjoyable experience working with Rathbone whom he would also cast in The Comedy of Terrors with Price and Loree.  In addition, Trailers From Hell with Roger Corman (2:32), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:22) and a reversible cover art round out the generous and informative spread of supplements.

    Serving as the fourth installment in Corman’s much beloved Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, Tales of Terror would be the only anthology of the series but, one that successfully attempted to stray from its formula at the risk of becoming too stale for its audiences.  Beautifully shot with leading man Price sharing the screen with Loree and Rathbone, Tales of Terror’s experiment paid off with three vastly entertaining episodes that play in Poe’s gothic realm while delivering well achieved laughs and scares alike.  Looking and sounding better than ever, Kino Lorber Studio Classics treats this Corman classic with the utmost respect, delivering a definitive presentation for dedicated fans.  Accompanied with enlightening special features, Tales of Terror is an essential slice of 60s gothic horror that delivers three times the frights.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 14th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Tales of Terror can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • At War with the Army (1950) Blu-ray Review

    At War with the Army (1950)

    Director: Hal Walker

    Starring: Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Mike Kellin & Polly Bergen

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking their debut as a comedy team, At War with the Army stars Dean Martin (Ocean’s Eleven) and Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor) as a bossy first sergeant and clumsy private stationed at an army post during World War II.  Equally yearning to escape their surroundings for various reasons, the childhood friends find themselves in a variety of comical situations while, putting their singing and dancing chops to the test.  Mike Kellin (On the Yard) and Polly Bergen (Cry-Baby) co-star.

    Based on a play by James B. Allardice, At War with the Army would reunite Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis following their brief appearances in My Friend Irma and its sequel, My Friend Irma Goes West.  In their first effort as a comedy duo, Jerry Lewis appears as the geeky Pfc. Alvin Korwin, rarely capable of doing anything right in his troop and desperately attempting to receive permission to see his wife and newborn baby.  Meanwhile, Dean Martin co-stars as Korwin’s childhood friend and higher ranking 1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli who longs to leave the mediocrity of his respected desk position to transfer overseas for active duty.  Stuck in the day to day activities of maintaining their compound, the two find themselves in a series of situations involving their need to rehearse for an upcoming talent show and Korwin trying his best to avoid higher-ranking officials determined to make his life miserable.  Weaving in the duo’s endless talents, Martin and Lewis inject entertaining musical numbers into the film along with several notable gags including, Lewis dressed in drag and the duo performing very spot-on impersonations of Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby.  In addition, Mike Kellin (Sleepaway Camp) makes his film debut as Korwin’s least liked superior, Sgt. McVey, who drunkenly takes a liking to Lewis while adorned in dress and wig.  

    For their first outing, At War with the Army gives glimpses into the fine-tuned chemistry of Martin and Lewis that would prevail in later efforts.  Although, occasionally humorous, At War with the Army suffers from sharing its spotlight too generously with supporting characters that are never as charismatic as its stars.  In addition, as the film progresses, Martin and Lewis’ shared screen time runs scant until their enjoyable Army act allows both their strengths to shine.  Concluding with an overlong gag of miscommunicated information amongst characters, Korwin and Puccinelli obtain what they wanted and find themselves once again on equal ground.  A decent debut that would fall into the public domain after an endless legal bout, At War with the Army won’t leave viewers overly impressed but, offers a fun point of reference for an iconic duo whose collaborations would carry on another 13 films.  

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents At War with the Army with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Newly remastered in high-definition, the film opens with a heavily scratched title sequence that transitions to a transfer bearing scuffs and vertical lines.  Considering its public domain stature and assumed lack of care for its elements, At War with the Army still maintains a satisfying filmic appearance and decent detail in facial features.  While, the transfer has its obvious drawbacks from age, At War with the Army still easily satisfies for a film with its heavily distributed history.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, At War with the Army maintains a mild hiss as dialogue kicks off restrained before slightly improving to more audible conditions.  Meanwhile, song numbers offer better clarity and another light boost in quality.  On par with its video transfer, At War with the Army sounds respectable given the circumstances.  Finally, no special features have been included on this release.

    A partnership long considered one of entertainment’s finest, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ debut effort finds the duo comfortable in their skin but, doesn’t offer them the ideal canvas to let their showmanship truly shine.  Separating them for one too many instances and crowding moments with forgettable supporting characters, At War with the Army while, capturing several colorful moments, lacks the punch from later Martin and Lewis entries.  Nestled in the public domain since the 1970s, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ high-definition transfer is a valiant effort that will leave Martin and Lewis fans pleased so long as expectations are maintained.  Like Abbott and Costello before them, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ efforts continue to be cherished by generations young and old.  Admittedly, At War with the Army is far from comedy gold but, the uninitiated need look no further to begin their cinematic journey with Martin and Lewis.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, At War with the Army can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.