Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Las Vegas

  • Susan Slept Here (1954) Blu-ray Review

    Susan Slept Here (1954)

    Director: Frank Tashlin

    Starring: Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Alvy Moore & Glenda Farrell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When Oscar winning screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell, Murder, My Sweet) is overcome with writer’s block, unexpected inspiration arrives in the form of a 17-year-old delinquent (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain).  In order to save her from a Christmas behind bars, Mark does the unthinkable and marries the teen with intentions of annulling the affair when she turns of age.  Uncertain whether she wants to be the ex-Mrs. Christopher, Susan Slept Here delivers comical hijinks in a tale of possibly mismatched love.  Anne Francis (Forbidden Planet), Alvy Moore (Green Acres) and Glenda Farrell (Little Caesar) co-star.

    Based on the play by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb with the latter contributing the film’s screenplay, Susan Slept Here is a romantic comedy of taboo sized proportion by today’s standards.  Starring in not only his final film performance before leading a successful television career but, also his only feature photographed in color, Dick Powell appears as acclaimed yet, stumbling screenwriter Mark Christopher whose detective pal unloads teenage hooligan Susan Landis (Reynolds) with him in order to pull Mark out of his creative rut.  Against his better judgement, Mark takes the underage beauty in only to be met with understandable confusion and rage from his dynamite fiancée and actress Isabelle Alexander (Francis).  Although Mark’s best buddy Virgil (Moore), in a role originally considered for Mickey Rooney, and his loyal secretary Maude (Farrell) try to keep a lid on the scandalous situation, the harsh reality of Susan likely spending her remaining days in juvenile detention until her 18th birthday prompts the sympathetic screenwriter to scurry to Las Vegas with Susan for a shotgun wedding.  Originally joined together to showcase Susan’s status as an upstanding citizen, true feelings develop as Mark hastily retreats to the mountains to put pen to paper on his new script, based on his own very unusual situation.  Refusing to sign annulment papers while, Mark’s own uncertainty about their age difference subsides, a chance at true love may still be imminent for the odd couple.

    Helmed by former animation director Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models) whose kinetic energy crafting toons is evident in his live-action output, Susan Slept Here’s charm lies heavily in the adorable bubbly personality of Reynolds whose alluring looks and sense of humor make indelible impressions on viewers and her elder beau.  Cheekily narrated, in quite possibly a cinema first, by an Oscar statuette while, graciously being nominated twice for Best Music, Original Song and Best Sound Recording, Susan Slept Here plays its once controversial premise with sheer heart and tastefully romantic notions.  Topped with a late musical-fantasy sequence bursting with exuberant colors, Susan Slept Here may be wired formulaically but, makes for breezy, light-hearted entertainment from simpler times.

    Warner Archive presents Susan Slept Here with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  From RKO Pictures’ hot pink opening logo to the film’s glowing skin tones, the vibrant Technicolor photography is ushered in with warm detail and exceptional, natural grain levels.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, the film’s opening song debuts with a strong, if not slightly sharp, presence before relaying crystal clear dialogue, free of cracks or other observable distortion.  Lastly, the only supplement included is the film’s Trailer (2:17).

    Released to modest success before then studio head Howard Hughes sold off RKO Pictures, Susan Slept Here is a warmly conceived rom-com for a rather head-turning love story.  Reynolds’ youthful exuberance and remarkable beauty matched with Powell’s tender performance makes his feature film finale an endearing one alongside Reynolds’ rising stardom.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive welcomes the Hollywood set charmer with an outstanding hi-def treatment, making sharing a bed with the hearty picture a pleasure.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available April 19th from Warner Archive, Susan Slept Here can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Gone with the Pope (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Gone with the Pope (1976)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Peter Milo, Jim LoBianco, Giorgio Tavolieri, John Murgia & Lorenzo Darado

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Lost for over 30 years, nightclub performer Duke Mitchell would once again don several hats in his directorial followup, Gone with the Pope.  Mitchell stars as Paul, a paroled gangster with a near impossible scheme to kidnap the Pope and charge every Catholic for his safe return.  Unfinished at the time of Mitchell’s death in 1981, Gone with the Pope lives once again as its creators exploitation swan song.

    Highlighting the exploits of criminals serving decades behind bars, Gone with the Pope finds Writer/Producer/Director Duke Mitchell starring as Paul, a recently paroled man with no choice but to revert back to his former lifestyle.  Loyal to his friends still serving time and attempting to ensure their survival on the outside, Paul accepts a $50,000 job to wipe out several casino owners in Los Angeles while, his brother Giorgio (Giorgio Tavolieri) takes out the others in Las Vegas.  Simultaneously rekindling a romance with wealthy widow Jean (Jeanne Hibbard), Paul, with his hard-earned money in tow, borrows his lover’s yacht to sail his recently released cellmates to Rome for a ransom like no other.  Determined to abduct the Pope from the Vatican in order to demand one dollar from every Catholic in the world, Paul finds himself on an existential journey that questions his choices and sins while attempting to better his life and those closest to him.  Sliding comfortably back into the fictional realm of gangsters, Duke Mitchell’s final effort ensures more bullet blasting bloodshed and the comical side of former prisoners sowing their wild oats including, a hilarious sexual encounter with an overweight female and Mitchell’s oh so offensive yet, highly engaging dialogue with a sexy black prostitute.

    Ambitiously shot in California, Las Vegas, Rome and appearing far more flashy than its budget would suggest, Gone with the Pope continues to finesse the emerging cinematic voice of Duke Mitchell who was sadly combatting lung cancer during production.  Comprised of nonprofessional, most of whom never acted again, the thespians deliver a naturalism fitting to the film’s eccentric atmosphere and positively cool leading man.  For all its noticeably charming drive-in qualities, Duke Mitchell proves his way with words in the aforementioned encounter with a prostitute and his heated distaste for the Catholic Church vented to his Eminence.  As Paul and his brothers in crime succeed with their kidnapping, the Pope’s presence effects the group in various ways leading Paul to restore balance in his own life through means of unapologetic violence.  Concluding rather abstractly with Paul unable to fully escape his sins, Gone with the Pope is a holy grail discovery for cult enthusiasts that was discovered in a garage in its unfinished state.  Adored with love and spending nearly a life sentence restoring it back to existence, Gone with the Pope beautifully compliments Duke Mitchell’s Massacre Mafia Style like spaghetti and meatballs with all the exploitation and swagger Mitchell is now rightfully being praised for.

    Restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Grindhouse Releasing debuts Gone with the Pope in its long-awaited Blu-ray release with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Having sat in a garage for years, the elements astound with rich skin tones and popping colors from the lights of the Las Vegas strip to the bright blue sea water as Paul and his cellmates sail to Rome.  While inherent unfocused moments occur with minor speckling during a brief strip club sequence, black levels appear inky and visible.  Bearing an absolutely filmic quality and striking detail, Gone with the Pope’s transfer is dynamite!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Gone with the Pope generally satisfies with efficient dialogue levels that only encounter brief instances of muffled quality.  Delighting with a mix of orchestrated horns and rocking guitars, its score is a more solid example of the track’s finest aspects.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes have also been included.  Grindhouse Releasing once again rolls out the red carpet for another splendid array of special features including, Gone with the Pope: The Players (66:52), Shooting Gone with the Pope (23:18), Restoring Gone with the Pope (3:14), seven Deleted Scenes (17:18), Out-Takes (12:41), Inserts (6:11) prefaced by Cinematographer Peter Santoro, Frankie Carr & The Nove-Eltes Live in Vegas (8:15), Hollywood World Premiere (20:48) from March 12, 2010 with a cast and crew hosted Q&A.  In addition, a Theatrical Trailer (2:00), two Still Galleries consisting of 69 images in total, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Grindhouse Releasing Prevues, an Easter Egg Interview (2:25) hidden in the Set Up section of the disc joined by Linear Notes by John Skipp with a reversible poster and DVD edition of the release wrap up the supplemental offerings.

    For what seems like an eternity of anticipation, Grindhouse Releasing’s exceptional care and preservation of Duke Mitchell’s final curtain call has been well worth the wait.  Wonderfully restored and boasting a variety of audio options, the expansive special features only enlighten and increase the appreciation of its source material.  Unlike most other exploitation offerings, Gone with the Pope combines crime elements and friendship with religion and faith to deliver a one of a kind gem only a Duke could produce.  If there’s one cult discovery well worth praying to, it’s Gone with the Pope.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Gone with the Pope can be purchased via 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