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  • 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.

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Teen Witch (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Teen Witch (1989)

    Director: Dorian Walker

    Starring: Robyn Lively, Zelda Rubinstein, Dan Gauthier, Joshua Miller & Dick Sargent

    Released by: Kino Lorber

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A bonafide titan of cult cinema categorized by many under the “so bad, it’s good” section, Teen Witch exudes a laughable charm with countless quotable one-liners and even goofier musical interludes that must be seen to be believed.  Originally intended as the female equivalent to the Teen Wolf films, Teen Witch casts its own spell focusing on high school nobody Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III) whose crush on senior hunk Brad (Dan Gauthier, Son in Law) and hopes of popular acceptance are a stretch far from her reality.  Learning of her ties to Salem’s witches on her 16th birthday, Louise, mentored by palm reader Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein, Poltergeist), uses her spectacular powers to turn herself from brainy introvert to the most popular girl in school.  Helmed by Making the Grade’s Dorian Walker, this supernatural love story remains a riot from start to finish with Louise’s hilariously cruel and occasionally creepy younger brother Richie (Joshua Miller, Near Dark) stealing scenes as he dramatically ridicules his sister for being a dog before having the tables turned on him.  While its girl meets boy and falls in love structure is certifiably formulaic, Teen Witch’s major draws come from the not-so intentional humor derived from its gaudy 80s sensibilities and beyond wacky rap battle song numbers that will leave viewers crying with tears of laughter.  Sprinkled with quintessential sexy sax music and rise to popularity montages, Louise’s decision to ultimately ditch spells in order to gain real love is as cheesily enjoyable as one might expect.  Sharing company with similar misunderstood blunders as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Howard the Duck, Teen Witch, much like its counterparts, is a wildly fun concoction fit for cult loving cinema hounds.

    Kino Lorber presents Teen Witch with a radiant 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Minor specking aside, colors featured in the loud clothing and makeup choices of the era pop solidly while, skin tones remain strong with natural grain layers firmly intact.  Sharp and crisp-looking throughout, Teen Witch has never looked better on home video.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clear-sounding with musical moments during the girl’s locker room sequence, the infamous rap duel and the closing prom night scene all offering increased weight much to the delight of listeners.  

    Packaged with a first-rate supply of newly crafted supplements, the disc’s many special features include, an Audio Commentary with Stars Robyn Lively, Joshua Miller, Dan Gauthier & Mandy Ingber, Finest Hour: Robyn Lively on Teen Witch (23:19) sits down with the lovable lead today as she recalls the audition process and heaves praise for each one of her cast members, Dan Gauthier Remembers Teen Witch (20:14) catches up with Brad today in an equally lengthy interview where viewers learn the production introduced him to his costar and future wife.  Furthermore, Lisa Fuller Remembers Teen Witch (3:50) echoes many of her husband’s warm sentiments making the film with hazier clarity, Maken It Big: Mandy Ingber Remembers Teen Witch (16:19) discusses her love for costar Lively, her lack of confidence in Walker’s vision and embarrassment having to film the much discussed rap scene while, The Music of Teen Witch (21:18) catches up with Music Producers Larry & Tom Weir as they discuss their approaches to the film’s pop and rap numbers, the latter of which they knew little to nothing about after the production insisted upon its inclusion in the film.  Finally, Top That: A Conversation with Robyn Lively & Mandy Ingber (15:38) is a sweet and candid reunion between the two friends as they exchange memories from the shoot.  The film’s Trailer (2:17) concludes the impressive slate of extras.  A financial disaster left to die, Teen Witch has not only survived years of ridicule but, reemerged as a justifiable treasure of cult cinema.  Spells, dreamy hunks, gorgeous girls and… rap all serve their role in making this cheesy good time one that dares to be topped.  Kino Lorber outdoes themselves with the care given to such a B-movie favorite with its definitive collection of extras leaving fans bewitched.  Top that!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber, Teen Witch can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

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

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • 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.

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen 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.

  • Finding Dory (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Finding Dory (2016)

    Director(s): Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

    Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba & Dominic West

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to the undersea world of the 2003 hit movie, Finding Dory focuses on the loveably forgetful blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen) as memories of her family slowly resurface, inspiring a new quest to find them.  Assisted by a wave of new sea creatures, Dory’s journey won’t be simple but, one of unforgettable adventure.  

    In its long overdue followup, Finding Dory shifts its attention to the fan-favorite costar of the original with her role as the seeker now substituted as the lost traveller in her pursuit for her family.  Treading familiar waters with a less epic journey ahead, Finding Dory’s routine calculations are thankfully offset by DeGeneres’ charisma and the film’s hilarious new supporting players.  A year after reuniting Nemo (Hayden Rolence) with his father Marlin (Albert Brooks, Drive), Dory is struck with memory flashes of the parents (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall and Eugene Levy, American Pie) she became separated from as a child.  With assistance from the bodaciouslly cool sea turtle Crush, Dory, Marlin and Nemo find themselves at the Marine Life Institute in California where the blue tang is certain she resided with her loved ones.  Before long, Dory is separated from her clownfish pals by marine biologists and forced to navigate the interiors of the aquatic development on her own.  Luckily encountering Hank (Ed O’Neill, Modern Family), a particularly crabby octopus with desires of living his days solely in an aquarium, the two find mutual benefits in sticking together while, meeting hilariously lazy sea lions Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba, The Jungle Book and Dominic West, John Carter respectively), a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and a bulbous beluga whale known as Bailey (Ty Burrell, Muppets Most Wanted).

    Warming hearts with flashbacks of an adorably young Dory and rescuing her best friends from a permeant stay in Cleveland during a high-speed truck pursuit, Finding Dory never stumbles in relaying saccharine charm yet, its narrative plays itself too safely that although entertaining, halts the sequel from exceeding the quality of its original.  With Dory and Hank’s at first contentious turned sweet friendship being the film’s finest asset along with its stunning visuals, Finding Dory may not be the next Pixar masterpiece but, remains a throughly fun ride, no matter how simple-minded its journey is.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Finding Dory with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Nothing short of perfection, the oceanic environment from the murky, dimly lit depths of the sea to the colorful shades of blue in the waters of the film’s California setting shine beautifully with strong presence and exacting detail.  Furthermore, the bolder hues found in characters such as Hank, Nemo and Dory pop exceptionally while, black levels never falter in relaying the inkiest of depths.  Disney once again has made a high-definition splash viewers will find the utmost delight in.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crystal clear with the splashing of waves, bubbling ambiance and the film’s lovely musical score all presented with effective priority.  Featuring well over two hours of additional content, Disc 1’s special features include, an Audio Commentary with Directors Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane and Producer Lindsey Collins, Piper (6:05), Pixar’s latest short subject revolving around a baby sandpiper coping with his fear of water, Marine Life Interviews (2:04) featuring humorous sit-downs with the supporting sea creatures about their encounters with Dory, The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar (9:05) deals with the complexities of bringing the tentacled character of Hank to life and What Were We Talking About? (4:31) finds the creative team discussing the titular character and the trickiness of her short-term memory loss.  In addition, Casual Carpool (3:47) finds Director Andrew Stanton chauffeuring Stars Albert Brooks, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy and eventually Ed O’Neill as they hilariously fail to discuss fish facts, Animation & Acting (6:57) explores the art of voice acting with the cast and creators while, Deep in the Kelp (3:20) finds Jenna Ortega of Stuck in the Middle hosting a look into Pixar’s oceanic research developing the film and Creature Features (3:02) catches up with the cast as they share tidbits on their real undersea counterparts.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Elena of Avalor (0:32), Disney Store (0:32), Disney on Ice (1:02), Moana (1:26) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the supplemental smorgasbord.

    Next up on Disc 2, bonus content includes, a Behind the Scenes section of several featurettes covering Skating & Sketching with Jason Deamer (4:14), Dory’s Theme (4:57), Rough Day on the Reef (1:11), Finding Nemo As Told by Emoji (2:47) and Fish Schticks (3:35).  Secondly, a selection of bonfire-like ambiance for your television screen featuring unique Living Aquariums are included such as, Sea Grass (3:03:52), Open Ocean (2:48:30), Stingrays (2:48:42) and Swim to the Surface (1:02:20).  Finally, Deleted Scenes (50:15), Trailers ranging from the Sleep Swimming United States Trailer (1:43), Theatrical Payoff Japan Trailer (2:09), Can’t Remember Spain Trailer (1:22) and the Journey Russia Trailer (2:31) are included alongside a DVD edition of the release and a Digital HD Code.

    Over a decade since Finding Nemo swam its way into the hearts of audiences worldwide, its belated sequel may have arrived with open arms but, strays too closely to formula to be considered as impactful.  While its dynamics may seem wholly familiar, the returning characters make for delightful company with the hilarious supporting players being responsible for the better part of the film’s laughs.  Falling short of the greatness of Pixar’s Toy Story sequels, Finding Dory keeps its agenda simple and breezy with depths of fun still to be had for audiences who can’t stop swimming for these beloved characters.  Meanwhile, Disney admirably stretches its tentacles to deliver another first-rate high-definition release with hours worth of bonus content to keep viewers drenched in entertainment.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Finding Dory 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.

  • Grandview, U.S.A. (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Grandview, U.S.A. (1984)

    Director: Randal Kleiser

    Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Jason Leigh, M. Emmet Walsh & Troy Donahue

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Grease, Grandview, U.S.A. centers on the romantic love triangle between demolition derby owner Michelle “Mike” Cody (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween), her hotshot driver Ernie “Slam” Webster (Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing) and high school graduate Tim Pearson (C. Thomas Howell, The Outsiders) in the rural community they call home.  

    Longing to follow his dreams of studying oceanography, recent high school graduate Tim Pearson finds himself bewitched by the beautiful proprietor of Cody’s Speedway Mike Cody after requiring a tow.  Struggling to keep up with repairs to her late father’s business while her star driver Slam Webster discovers his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) is cheating on him, heartache and confusion settles in for the grease-monkey enthusiasts.  Displeased with his father’s dishonesty to shut down Mike’s business for the town’s own greedy advancements, Tim’s music video styled daydreams about Mike prompts a romantic fling between the two and a demolition derby debut for the former high schooler.  Meanwhile, intoxicated with anger towards his estranged wife and getting even by hilariously bulldozing his former residence, Slam’s own desires for Mike come to light forging an emotionally sensitive crossroad between the trio.  Shot on location in Illinois, Grandview, U.S.A. spotlights an impressive cast of young talent at the peak of their careers, an idyllic small-town American setting and a soundtrack of MTV hits from Air Supply and Robert Ponger & Falco.  Although boasting watchable performances with appealing chemistry plus, brief appearances from Michael Winslow (Police Academy) and the Cusack siblings, Grandview, U.S.A. missteps with an unraveling third act that hosts a business in flames and relationships forged that make Tim’s encounter with Mike all but pointless.  Driving off into the sunset with Slam’s damaged vehicle and his intended future ahead, Grandview, U.S.A. works itself out far too simply with little regard to its promising setup.  Hardly a destructive mess, this three-lane love story runs out of fuel by its conclusion, leaving viewers only decently entertained and mildly disappointed.

    Newly remastered in high-definition, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Grandview, U.S.A. with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing rather radiant sans minor speckling, colors in costumes are boastful while skin tones are natural and nicely detailed.  Meanwhile, the rural farmland community is lusciously preserved with film grain firmly intact.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is sufficiently handled with zero cracks or pops sidetracking its presentation.  Music cuts and car crashing effects prominently heard during derby sequences make ample notices on the mix as well.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included for your listening pleasure.  Unfortunately, no special features of any kind are included on this release.

    With promising ingredients from its homey setting and talented leads, Grandview, U.S.A. takes an unfortunate detour into mediocrity with a finale that puts all its pieces back together haphazardly.  Worthy of a view for its cast assemblage alone, Kino Lorber Studio Classics debuts the film on high-definition with a gorgeously filmic presentation that should easily appease viewers while, the lack of any supplemental offerings remains unfortunate.  Although viewers may not want to remain full-time residents, Grandview, U.S.A. is still cautiously recommended to visit.  

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 6th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Grandview, U.S.A. can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Silk Stockings (1957) Blu-ray Review

    Silk Stockings (1957)

    Director: Rouben Mamoulian 

    Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, George Tobias & Joseph Buloff

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Assigned to retrieve her comrades from the seduction of Paris, Silk Stockings finds brass Soviet operative Ninotchka Yoshenka (Cyd Charisse, Party Girl) meeting her match in the form of American film producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn).  Bewitched by Ninotchka’s beauty and revealing personality, the abiding Russian slowly finds herself wrapped up in the finer things the city of love has to offer.  Janis Paige (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies), Peter Lorre (The Maltese Falcon), Jules Munshin (On the Town), George Tobias (Yankee Doodle Dandy) and Joseph Buloff (Somebody Up There Likes Me) co-star.

    Adapted from the Broadway stage show based on the 1939 film Ninotchka, The Band Wagon combo of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse re-team for this song and dance mashup produced during the waining days of MGM’s musical pictures.  After signing noted Russian composer Peter Illyich Boroff to lend his talents to his latest feature, jovial American producer Steve Canfield hits a minor snag when three dimwitted Soviet soldiers (Lorre, Munshin and Buloff respectively) arrive in Paris to retrieve their fellow citizen.  Using the pleasures and luxuries of the city to his advantage, Canfield easily corrupts the blokes to embrace their new environment only to have hard-nosed female solider Ninotchka Yoshenka ordered to collect her more easily corruptible comrades.  While falsifying reasons to allow Boroff to remain in Paris, Steve finds himself falling for the ultra serious Ninotchka after breaking down the concrete barriers of her politically brainwashed personality to discover a girl embracing love and excitement for the first time.  Dancing his way into her heart and boldly proposing marriage, Steve’s alterations to Boroff’s protective tunes insults the composer and the love his life to return to Moscow promptly.  Separated by the Cold War and the near inability to enter Ninotchka’s snowy home country, Steve gets crafty to ensure his love is not lost forever.

    Aged 57 at the time of its making, Fred Astaire brings his youthful energy and dynamite dancing skills to the forefront in several notable numbers including, his impressive top hat wearing grand finale while, the majority of the film’s musical tunes lack pizazz.  Beautifully shot in lively CinemaScope, Silk Stockings handsomely boasts its theatricality with colorful costume touches and impressive choreography that unfortunately only comes alive sporadically.  Marking Director Rouben Mamoulian’s (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mark of Zorro) final film before permanently returning to Broadway, Silk Stockings not only failed to be a rousing financial success but, would also mark Astaire’s final musical for the lion-roaring studio.  Lending comical levity courtesy of Lorre, Munshin and Buloff's combined performances, Silk Stockings narrative of opposites attracting may appear largely passé yet, the romantic chemistry between Astaire and Charisse makes the film a modest charmer.

    Warner Archive presents Silk Stockings with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Arriving stunningly filmic, skin tones are most impressive while, the dazzling gowns and other show-stopping outfits of the film pop with divine bursts of color.  Another handsome transfer overseen by the film-loving folks at Warner Archive, Silk Stockings’ appearance is cause for tabletop dancing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is thoroughly crisp whereas the film’s musical numbers offer increased depth and an appreciatively lively push.  With no static or pops detected, the track nicely compliments its impressive visual counterpart.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, special features include, Cole Porter in Hollywood: Satin and Silk (10:15), a brisk yet informative overview of the production’s making hosted by co-star Cyd Charisse, the 1934 short film Paree, Paree (20:53) starring Dorothy Stone and Bob Hope, the Alfred Wallenstein conducted symphony short Poet and Peasant Overture (9:07) from 1955 and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:57).

    While in no great shakes one of MGM’s best musicals, Silk Stockings remains a lovely showcase for its stars’ onscreen chemistry and the stylistic chops of Astaire’s effortless dancing abilities.  Capturing moments of genuine greatness, Silk Stockings stumbles to maintain its momentum throughout its entirety.  Lighthearted and visually sharp, Warner Archive succeeds in promoting the film to high-definition perfection with a solid-sounding mix and vintage supplements including, two musical shorts that will make viewers happily swing and flip.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Silk Stockings can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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.

  • My Boyfriend's Back (1993) Blu-ray Review

    My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Andrew Lowery, Traci Lind, Matthew Fox, Edward Herrmann & Mary Beth Hurt

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th), My Boyfriend’s Back centers on high school senior Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery, School Ties) as he builds up the courage to ask class hottie Missy McCloud (Traci Lind, Fright Night Part 2) to the prom.  Unfortunately, a fatal setback claims Johnny’s life resulting in his comical return from the grave to his keep his dream date on schedule.  Helmed by noted actor and director Bob Balaban (Parents), this offbeat horror/comedy is an entertainingly cheesy romp that adheres to the basic tropes of teen films while, its cast juggles its silly plot of prom queens and zombie infatuation with big, goofy smiles.  Incapable of taking itself seriously, My Boyfriend’s Back juxtaposes its narrative with comic-like panel transitions as Johnny’s undead existence in suburbia is met with equal parts acceptance by his loving parents (Edward Herrmann, The Lost Boys and Mary Beth Hurt, Young Adult) while, Missy’s ex-boyfriend Buck (Matthew Fox in his film debut) is less than enthusiastic.  Decaying by the day as limbs fall off his body and his hunger for human flesh grows, Johnny and Missy’s romance is tested when gun-toting townspeople want their local zombie buried for good.  Combatting a greedy doctor that seeks Johnny for his own experimentations and swaying the approval of Missy’s sheriff father (Jay O. Sanders, JFK), the living and the undead make the most of their magical evening in their fog-entrenched school gymnasium.  Released in 1993 yet, containing the colorful gaudiness of 80s productions, My Boyfriend’s Back notably introduces the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in an early role as one of Johnny’s unfortunate meals and Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) in a blink-and-you-miss him appearance.  While the genre-blending black comedy may have arrived a few years behind the curve, My Boyfriend’s Back remains an unsophisticatedly screwy good time ripe for digging up.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents My Boyfriend’s Back with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  With mild speckling on display, skin tones are surprisingly well-handled with only occasional hints of oversaturation.  Otherwise nicely detailed and relaying rather strong doses of color in blood spread across Johnny’s mouth, interiors of the high school’s locker-filled halls and the EC Comic-like transitions, My Boyfriend’s Back may have occasional hiccups but, remains a generally satisfying watch.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is decently, if not unimpressively, relayed while, the film’s musical selections and intendedly dynamic sound effects are largely flat and disappointing.  No special features have been included on this release.

    Fun and welcomingly out there, My Boyfriend’s Back takes a zombified teenager’s desire for his crush to hilarious heights where undead prejudice and a hunger for limbs are their biggest threats.  Littered with a surprisingly well known cast in early roles, Mill Creek Entertainment ushers this Disney owned skeleton from their Touchstone Pictures banner with a well-handled, filmic transfer while, its audio mix leaves much to be desired.  Admittedly looking better than ever, My Boyfriend’s Back returns from the grave (again) in a manner that should leave fans quite pleased.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, My Boyfriend’s Back can be purchased via 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. 

  • Crimson Peak (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Crimson Peak (2015)

    Director: Guillermo del Toro

    Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain & Charlie Hunnam

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the acclaimed director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak centers on Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, Stoker) who after suffering a personal tragedy, falls head over heels for the seductive Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers).  Whisked away to his dilapidated mansion, Edith encounters mysteries and spirits within her new home revolving around her newfound love and the darkest of truths.  Jessica Chastain (The Martian) and Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim) co-star.

    Honoring such classics as The Haunting and The Innocents, Director Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Gothic Romances and chilling ghost tales is as visually ravishing as it is tragically compelling.  Co-written by Brian Robbins (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark),  Crimson Peak, taking place in the late 19th century, follows independent spirit Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) as she attempts to get her novel published despite her gender.  Juggling responsibilities at her father’s respected business, Edith encounters the dashingly handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) as he attempts to gain investments from Mr. Cushing on his unproven clay-mining invention.  Unimpressed by the privileged baronet and his suspicious sister Lucille (Chastain), Mr. Cushing discovers unsavory details about the siblings, demanding them to return to their homeland despite Thomas’ expressed love for his daughter.  Suffering a heartbreaking tragedy and with no other family remaining, Edith and Thomas are joined together in Holy matrimony before relocating back to the Sharpe’s English mansion.  Haunted by ghostly apparitions and progressively growing more ill, Edith uncovers the house’s darkest secrets while fearing for her life from those now considered loved ones.  Equally concerned for her well-being, longtime friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) travels to the imposing Allerdale Hall for a terrifying discovery, one that he and Edith may not survive.

    Dripping with potent atmosphere and unafraid to shock audiences with grizzly imagery despite its classy appearance, Crimson Peak is an exceptional tour de force of gothic cinema.  Empowered by del Toro’s flawless visual touches, the auteur’s haunting romance makes dazzling statements through its rich production design and spot-on wardrobe choices, both of which were astoundingly ignored by the Academy.  Excellently casted, the innocence of Wasikowska, Chastain’s unhinged demeanor and the conflicted emotional state of Hiddleston greatly impress while, the Sharpe’s questionable correlation and eventual reveal sends the film down even darker hallways than anticipated.  Combining onset performers with effective uses of CGI, the film’s predominately blood red ghosts are genuinely frightening with a particular specter paying homage to del Toro’s own The Devil’s Backbone.  Although making modest strides at the box-office and graciously appreciated by critics, Crimson Peak is a beautifully haunting masterpiece that impressively ranks as del Toro’s finest effort to date.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents Crimson Peak with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Relaying skin tones with natural ease and well-defined detail, the dreary location of Allerdale Hall and its various lighting choices ranging from reds to blues, are effectively highlighted.  Costume choices, realized by newcomer Kate Hawely (Edge of Tomorrow), read beautifully with various stitching methods and textures easily seen and better appreciated.  Doused in considerable darkness, black levels are quite exquisite in the shadowy halls of the haunted house and Thomas’ jet black attire with no evidence of crushing on display.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is always audible while, quieter ghostly ambiance, rainy wailing winds and Fernando Velázquez’s (The Orphanage, Mama) frightful music queues never disappointing.  Special feature include, an enthralling Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro, Deleted Scenes (4:26), I Remember Crimson Peak (Blu-ray exclusive), a four part featurette consisting of The Gothic Corridor (4:06), The Scullery (4:24), The Red Clay Mines (5:18) and The Limbo Fog Set (5:42) all of which host interviews with del Toro and his remarkable cast.  In addition, A Primer on Gothic Romance (Blu-ray exclusive) (5:36) traces the roots of the genre with the interviewees using their own feature as a springboard, The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak (7:53) spotlights the film’s impressive production design, Hand Tailored Gothic (8:58) (Blu-ray exclusive) details Costume Designer Kate Hawley’s gorgeous contributions, A Living Thing (12:11) (Blu-ray exclusive) explores the artistic efforts designing the haunted Allerdale Hall, Beware of Crimson Peak (7:51) finds Thomas Hiddleston acting as tour guide on a walkthrough of the house and Crimson Phantoms (7:02) (Blu-ray exclusive) takes a look at the film’s unique approaches to its many specters.  Finally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    A personal favorite of last year’s theatrical releases and arguably del Toro’s finest achievement yet, Crimson Peak presents an unforgettably haunting experience, respecting the Gothic romances that came before while, delivering a distinct visual feast firmly rooted in the imagination of its maker.  As gorgeously realized as its feature, Universal Studios Home Entertainment delivers an outstanding high-def presentation with a stimulating selection of special features for those who dare to take an extended stay at Allerdale Hall.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Crimson Peak can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Bolero (1984) / Ghosts Can't Do It (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Bolero (1984) / Ghosts Can’t Do It (1990)

    Director: John Derek

    Starring: Bo Derek, George Kennedy, Andrea Occhipinti, Ana Obregon & Olivia d’Abo / Bo Derek, Anthony Quinn, Don Murray & Julie Newmar 

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring striking beauty Bo Derek (10), Shout! Factory proudly presents a double feature of the sex symbol’s steamiest features!  In Bolero, Derek stars as a curious graduate who intends to discover her womanhood during a journey to the world’s most exotic locations.  George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Andrea Occhipinti (The New York Ripper), Ana Obregon (The Gamble) and Olivia d’Abo (The Wonder Years) co-star.  Next up, Ghosts Can’t Do It centers on happily married couple Katie (Derek) and Scott (Anthony Quinn, Lust for Life) who despite their age difference, lead a fulfilling life.  After coming to terms with her husband’s death, Katie reconnects with Scott’s impatient ghost as she scours the globe for a suitable body for him to be reincarnated in.  Don Murray (Bus Stop) and Julie Newmar (Batman) co-star.  

    Helmed by her late husband John Derek (Tarzan, the Ape Man), Bolero finds virginal graduate Mac MacGillvary (Derek) determined to find her ideal sexual suitor.  Following a celebratory striptease and receiving a lucrative inheritance, Mac, along with best friend Catalina (Obregon) and her faithful chauffeur Cotton (Kennedy), travel to Arabian locales to sow her wild oats only to be underwhelmed by a sleepy shiek mid-seduction.  Hightailing to Spain, Mac becomes enamored with attractive bullfighter Angel (Occhipinti) who successfully deflowers the head over heels American.  Tragedy strikes when her lover is gored, prompting Mac to oversee his full recovery in hopes of spending the rest of their lives together.  A product of the wild Cannon Films, Executive Producer Menahem Golan demanded the film’s many sex sequences be amplified much to the dismay of both Derek’s.  Hardly uncommon for the independent producing mavericks, Bolero, although technically a period piece boasting beautifully scenic locations, is quickly reduced to an exploitative sizzle reel of Derek’s fabulous nude figure.  While its erotic sequences are relatively tame by today’s standards with the uncomfortable exception of 14 year-old Olivia d’Abo appearing fully exposed in several scenes, Golan’s refusal to cut the film to meet proper ratings approval resulted in then distributor MGM to drop the feature.  Released independently, the uninspired effort spotlights Derek having honey suckled off her breasts, nude horseback riding and easily the decade’s cheesiest, fog-entrenched sex scene captured in slow-motion with a hilariously neon lit “extasy” sign in the background.  Dragged through the mud by the Razzie Awards, Bolero would unsurprisingly be nominated for Worst Picture of the Decade (only to lose to 1981’s Mommie Dearest).  Outside of its generous footage of Derek and her female co-stars in their birthday suits, Bolero lacks any true merit, only to be appreciated as a retro train wreck.

    After suffering one of the most talkative heart attacks captured on film, the elderly Scott (Quinn) recovers only to end his own life with a gunshot.  Leaving his gorgeous and much younger wife Katie (Derek) to grieve, Ghosts Can’t Do It finds Scott’s spirit returning to comfort and guide her on a quest for a young body to be reborn into.  Living off the luxuries of Scott’s $2 billion wealth, Katie travels to tropical locales for some fun in the sun while, juggling the responsibilities of Scott’s valued company with assistance from the recently deceased.  In what would be their final creative collaboration between the Derek’s, Ghosts Can’t Do It is a painfully dreadful romcom with a fantasy flair that fails on all levels.  Never shy to shed some skin, Bo Derek’s looks do little to save this turkey from would ultimately be crowned Worst Picture of 1990 by the Golden Raspberry Awards.  With an eye-rolling cameo from The Apprentice star and presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ghosts Can’t Do It never achieves a laugh and dawdles for much of its runtime in a longwinded search for Scott’s ideal body.  Signaling the last headlining appearance by the blue-eyed beauty, Ghosts Can’t Do It is a horrendous effort deserving to rest in peace for all eternity.         

    Shout! Factory presents both films in 1080p, with 1.85:1 (Bolero) and 1.78:1 (Ghosts Can’t Do It) aspect ratios respectively.  Possessing moderate levels of flakes and speckles, Bolero’s skin tones waver from warmly detailed to taking on softer appearances.  Meanwhile, exterior footage of the Moroccan environment, textures in wardrobe and the film’s many horses appears lush while, black levels are so-so.  In its spirited co-feature, picture quality is superior with no intrusive anomalies on display and more consistently accurate skin tones present.  In addition, colors of Derek’s bright ensembles pop magnificently under the film’s sunny climates.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue in both films are well-handled with nothing lost in translation while, scoring moments are adequately stacked.  Special features include, a Bolero Trailer (2:36) and a Ghosts Can’t Do It Trailer (2:48).

    The magnetic allure of Bo Derek can hardly be overstated with her two starring efforts in this collection prioritizing her outstanding figure.  Although both films are a barrel of disappointment, Bolero can be mildly appreciated for the exploitative influence of Cannon Films while, Ghosts Can’t Do It is an abysmally unfunny feature best forgotten.  Arriving with only their trailers attached, Shout! Factory gives both films commendable high-definition upgrades, ensuring that one fan’s trash can be another’s treasure.

    RATING: 2/5

    Available now from Shout! Factory, Bolero / Ghosts Can’t Do It can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

    Director: Marielle Heller

    Starring: Bey Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni & Kristen Wiig

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl centers on 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bey Powley, Equals) at the peak of her sexual awakening.  Longing for love and acceptance, Minnie engages in a secret affair with her mother’s boyfriend while attempting to make sense of the turbulent world around her.  Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood), Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins) co-star.

    Marking the directorial debut of Marielle Heller following her stage adaptation of the same novel, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an oftentimes scandalous yet, never judgmental portrait of the hardships of teen culture.  Set in the free-spirited 70s of San Francisco, aspiring cartoonist and increasingly hormonal teen Minnie Goetze (Powley) finds herself yearning for connection only to find it in the unlikeliest of persons.  Following a drunken night of laughs, Minnie willingly loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend Monroe Rutherford (Skarsgård), jumpstarting an infatuation that neither can resist.  Exploring her newfound sexuality, Minnie embraces her elder partner at every opportunity while experimenting with other teenage curiosities.  Dabbling with drugs and attracting the attention of other boys, Minnie documents her evolution by recording diary cassettes and allowing her thoughts to visually paint pictures of Bakshi-esque animation.  From shy and introverted to eccentric and heartbreaking, Bey Powley is remarkable, encapsulating the confused and emotionally disoriented feelings common to teen survival.  In addition, Alexander Skarsgård proves equally exceptional in a performance that is both layered and complex.  Although appearing less frequently than her co-stars, Kristen Wiig is the film’s cherry on top playing a progressive mother, indulging in the hard-partying culture while the unfathomable takes place behind her back.

    Beautifully honest and channeling the essence of other female driven, coming-of-age tales including Little Darlings and Foxes, The Diary of a Teenage Girl wears its heart on its sleeve, allowing viewers to recall their own teenage insecurities with humor and warmth.  Heller’s acute detail in realizing a bygone San Francisco and pulling the mesmerizing performances from her cast makes the rookie filmmaker one to pay close mind to.  Although told from the female perspective, The Diary of a Teenage Girl transcends sexes and relates to every teenager’s spinning world of emotions, earning itself worthy praise as one of the most memorable films of its ilk in recent years.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents The Diary of a Teenage Girl with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Adhering to softer tones to capture its intended time period, detail remains crisp with skin tones appearing natural and lifelike.  Textures in costume choices are pleasing while, the color palette of the San Francisco streets and Minnie’s apartment are attractive.  In addition, the film’s brief animation moments pop most pleasingly with wonderful richness.  Meanwhile, dimmer moments with 70s era lamps lighting the way cause backgrounds to appear occasionally muddy but never overpower said scenes.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is appropriately prioritized in this character driven effort while, the film’s choice cuts from such leading acts as The Stooges, T. Rex and Heart provide nicely balanced gains further complimenting the track.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Marielle Heller and Actors Bel Powley & Alexander Skarsgård, Deleted Scenes (5:24) exclusive to Blu-ray, Marielle’s Journey: Bringing the Diary to Life (23:07) exploring Heller’s passion for the project that began as a stage play before boldly taking on the task to adapting it for film.  In addition, an LA Film Festival Q&A with Marielle Heller, Alexander Skarsgård and Bel Powley (25:19), the Theatrical Trailer (1:48) and Previews for Irrational Man (2:11), Jimmy’s Hall (2:20), Infinitely Polar Bear (2:23), Truth (2:12), Grandma (2:12) and Labyrinth of Lies (2:01).  Finally, a Digital HD Code has also been provided.

    Deeply personal yet, universally relatable, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of the finest coming-of-age efforts of the decade with its candid exploration of the teenage spirit.  An emotional rollercoaster packed with laughs and pain, Marielle Heller’s first outing behind the camera is an exemplary debut with a career destined for greatness.  Furthermore, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment bestows top-notch technical grades on its release with a sizable supplemental package worthy of indulging.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 19th from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, The Diary of a Teenage Girl can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Last American Virgin (1982) Blu-ray Review

    The Last American Virgin (1982)

    Director: Boaz Davidson

    Starring: Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin, Joe Rubbo & Louisa Moritz

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the brightly colored 1980s of Los Angeles, The Last American Virgin centers on three best friends, lovestruck virgin Gary (Lawrence Monoson, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), chick magnet Rick (Steve Antin, The Goonies) and jokester David (Joe Rubbo, Hot Chili) as they navigate the emotional waters of high school in pursuit of love, parties and sex.  Diane Franklin (Better Off Dead…), Kimmy Robertson (Twin Peaks), Brian Peck (The Return of the Living Dead) and Louisa Moritz (Death Race 2000) co-star.

    Based upon Israel’s popular Lemon Popsicle franchise, The Last American Virgin kicks off as a series of sex comedy clichés finding our three horny teenage leads in search of equally promiscuous females.  From awkwardly hilarious attempts to woo ladies with mock cocaine to joyriding in a pink station wagon and contracting crabs from a lady of the night, the hijinks of teenage hormones is never scarce.  After falling head over heels for the beautiful Karen (Franklin), Gary’s (Monoson) admiration from afar is crushed following best friend Rick’s (Antin) swift moves on her.  Emotionally conflicted, Gary is caught between his genuine feelings for Karen and jealousy towards Rick who views his new girlfriend as merely a source of sexual pleasure.  In a dramatic third act change of gears, The Last American Virgin finds Karen in a fragile predicament with Gary as her only source of support.  Fully devoted to Karen in her desperate time of need, suggested sparks of romance blossom between them.

    Boasting arguably one of the most memorable soundtracks of the decade with top-charting talent including, Blondie, Oingo Boingo, Journey, The Police and REO Speedwagon, The Last American Virgin packs sufficient skin and laughs while remarkably emerging as an honest and heartbreaking account of those tender teenage years.  In one of the more striking tonal shifts in 80s coming-of-age cinema, The Last American Virgin continues to endure for its acute ability to capture the delight and suffering of youth and why it’s all so hard to give up in the end.

    Olive Films presents The Last American Virgin with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of muddier appearances in dim lighting, skin tones appear generally warm and eye-pleasing.  Brightly colored costume choices pop nicely as does the neon lighting found in the film’s diner sequences.  With natural grain evident, occasional instances of flakes, speckles and mild softness are on display yet never overly distracting.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue tends to be overshadowed at times by the film’s popular soundtrack.  Similar to past home video releases, the inclusion of Human League’s “Love Action (I Believe in Love)” has once again been substituted by Devo’s “Whip It” while the remainder of songs are intact and pleasantly robust.  Most glaring in comparison to recently stacked overseas editions, no special features are included on this domestic release much to the disappointment of viewers.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Last American Virgin can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.  

  • Descendants (2015) DVD Review

    Descendants (2015)

    Director: Kenny Ortega

    Starring: Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart & Sofia Carson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imprisoned on the Isle of the Lost along with their villainous parents, Descendants focuses on the teenage offspring of Maleficent’s daughter Mal (Dove Cameron, Liv and Maddie), Cruella de Vil’s son Carlos (Cameron Boyce, Jessie), Jafar’s son Jay (Booboo Stewart, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and the Evil Queen’s daughter Evie (Sofia Carson, Faking It) as they are invited to the serene prep school of Auradon for a new beginning.  Joined by the children of Disney heroes and princesses, the troublesome four are determined to help their parents regain domination but, become conflicted when they begin embracing the lighter side of their personalities.  Kenny Ortega (Newsies, High School Musical) directs and choreographs this Disney Channel Original Movie event.

    Continuing their successful streak of bringing their memorable animated characters into live-action, Descendants spotlights the teenage exploits of Disney’s next generation of antagonists.  As Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of Beast and Belle, nears his rightful place on the throne, the young teen offers a second chance to a select few from the Isle of the Lost to attend Auradon’s prestigious prep school.  With strict orders to steal the Fairy Godmother’s wand by their parents, the four descendants of infamous Disney villains agree to attend Auardon Prep.  Uncomfortable in their new surroundings and continuously unsuccessful in obtaining the wand, the rebellious teens slowly develop a change of heart towards Auardon.  As Ben and Mal form an unlikely attraction towards one another, Jay thrives in the school’s competitive athletic program while, Carlos learns to love a pet dog and Evie proves she’s more than just a pretty face.  The more comfortable Mal and her friends become at their new school, aiding their evil parents’ wicked plans grows increasingly difficult.  Although not all of Auardon’s citizens are pleased with the offspring of their most dreaded villains, Mal and the gang must overcome oppression and ultimately look inside their hearts to make a new future for themselves.

    Bursting with musical energy and well-executed dance sequences, Descendants arrives with several mildly entertaining tunes with the exception of a dreadful, hip-hop influenced redux of “Be Our Guest”.  In addition, although the villainous parents are secondary to the tale, Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) as Maleficent and Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus) as the Evil Queen make entertaining appearances while, the talented Keegan Connor Tracy’s (Bates Motel) Belle fails to leave a lasting impression in her brief screen time.  Formulaic but fun, Descendants utilizes some of the network’s brightest young stars for an original concept soaked in the folklore of Disney’s most beloved fantasies.  Entertaining enough, Descendants is built for Disney’s tween audience and younger who will get the most mileage out of this musical television movie.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Descendants in widescreen with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Colors are mostly bold and effective with skin tones relayed clearly and lifelike.  Although lacking a richer sharpness, Descendants appears satisfactory.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is always clear and free of any distortion while, the film’s musical numbers offer an added boost in authority that is evident and pleasing.  Special features include, #Mal (4:30) showcasing the lead character’s journey via social media, Backstage Dance Rehearsals (7:31), Bloopers (2:16), Sneak Peek: Descendants Wicked World (0:19) providing a quick snippet at the new animated series coming this Fall.  In addition, Sneak Peeks (4:39) for Disney Movie Rewards, K.C. Undercover, Girl Meets World, Disney Movies Anywhere, Disneynature’s Born in China and Aladdin Diamond Edition are included along with a free “Isle of the Lost” bracelet.

    Catered for Disney Channel’s young audience, Descendants is a magical blend of fantasy and music through the eyes of angsty teenage characters.  With an emphasis on understanding and young love, Disney’s spirited TV movie has fun playing with its treasured characters while introducing a team of fresh-faced newbies for modern audiences.  Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents the film with sufficient technical merits but, scant special features that should still appease young viewers.  Although some of its characters are rotten to the core, Descendants will taste sweet to Disney Channel’s most dedicated watchers.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Facts of Life (1960) Blu-ray Review

    The Facts of Life (1960)

    Director: Melvin Frank

    Starring: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Don Defore & Ruth Hussey

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of White Christmas, The Facts of Life centers on longtime friends and polar opposites Larry Gilbert (Bob Hope, Some Like It Hot) and Kitty Weaver (Lucille Ball, I Love Lucy).  When their spouses are unable to join them on a planned getaway to Acapulco, the two find themselves enraptured with their surroundings and eventually each other.  As their magical vacation comes to close, Larry and Kitty must wrestle with their guilt and love for each other as they decide their fate.  Don Defore (Hazel), Ruth Hussey (The Uninvited), Philip Ober (North by Northwest) and Marianne Stewart (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) co-star.

    Following their previous collaborations on Sorrowful Jones and Fancy Pants, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball would reteam 10 years later for a romantic comedy, plagued with behind the scenes turmoil.  From Ball being knocked unconscious during filming to Director Melvin Frank breaking his ankle, Ball’s own Desilu Studios, where a percentage of filming took place, would also partially burn down.  Production woes aside, The Facts of Life details a simple story of love found in the most unexpected places.  Maintaining a typical suburban existence of raising children and spending time with the same friends, Larry Gilbert (Hope) and Kitty Weaver (Ball) sense something lacking in their personal lives that their own spouses fail to notice.  When a couples vacation to Acapulco is planned, Larry and Kitty’s spouses are unable to join leaving the two casual friends to spend the exotic getaway together.  Before long, Larry and Kitty fall madly in love with one another while celebrating their catch of a marlin and sharing romantic dinners together.  As the sun sets on their unexpected love affair, reality sets in when they return home, conflicted with guilt and overwhelmed with their undeniable attraction for each other.

    Far more romantic than comedic, The Facts of Life weaves a tale from a simpler time where married couples still slept in separate beds.  Hope and Ball’s chemistry is contagious and proves to still be sharp following a decade long hiatus.  While their developing love in Acapulco is charming enough, the inclusion of both characters having children makes their actions feel wildly selfish as opposed to simply leaving unappreciative spouses.  As Larry and Kitty attempt to continue the affair on their home turf, comical situations ensue when their local cleaning man nearly catches the couple necking at a drive-in movie.  Plus, a weekend getaway backfires due to inclement weather and a leaky roof bringing out the grouchier sides of their personalities.  After much discussion involving finances, lawyer fees and the remarriage of their spouses, the spark ignited in Acapulco begins to dim as Larry and Kitty are faced with the hard reality of their choices.  Occasionally sweet and heavy on dramatics, The Facts of Life is a heightened account of a love affair that begins earnestly but, sells itself short with an unsatisfying conclusion.  

    Olive Films presents The Facts of Life with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, the film appears inherently soft with Saul Bass’ animated title sequence looking less than stellar.  Luckily, the black and white photography registers modest detail and generally strong black levels, most evident in Hope’s dark hair and countless pieces of wardrobe.  Meanwhile, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix relays audible, if not inconsistent, dialogue levels that sometimes require an increase in volume.  A slight hiss is detected on the mix but, never intrudes on the picture.  Expectedly, the only special feature offered is the Theatrical Trailer (2:41).

    Nominated for five Academy Awards and winning for Best Costume Design, The Facts of Life is noticeably more dramatic than past Hope/Ball collaborations while, attempting to deliver a romantic tale of forbidden love and its aftereffects.  Hope and Ball’s chemistry is intact and effective but, their motives feel too selfish to fully get behind.  In addition, their final decision regarding their newfound love feels entirely wasted and the picture suffers as a result.  Olive Films ushers the romantic dramedy onto Blu-ray with sufficient quality that is a fair upgrade from past DVD releases.  Viewers expecting a knee-slapping riot with comedic legends like Hope and Ball in the driver’s seat will be disappointed but, as a relatively grounded film on the complexities of love, The Facts of Life suffices.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Facts of Life can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Breakfast Club (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Breakfast Club (1985)

    Director: John Hughes

    Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall & Ally Sheedy

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered one of the defining films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club follows five uniquely different teenagers as they are subjected to a Saturday detention together.  Having little to nothing in common on the surface, the group bear their souls to one another, stripping the layers of their stereotypes away.  Judd Nelson (St. Elmo’s Fire), Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), Emilio Estevez (Repo Man), Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science) and Ally Sheedy (Short Circuit) comprise the teenage cast.

    Following up on his 1984 directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, Writer/Director John Hughes would re-team with Hall and Ringwald to tell his coming of age masterpiece that continues to speak to new generations of teenagers.  Fitting in and struggling to be understood as a teen has changed little since 1985 but, where The Breakfast Club maintains its universal appeal is within its ability to tap into the youthful emotions of those trapped within the often unpleasant realm of high school.  Shot in sequence, the talented quintet of Nelson, Ringwald, Estevez, Hall and Sheedy deliver phenomenal performances that capture the stereotypes of several high school cliques.  While, each performance is emotionally challenging and throughly engaging, Nelson, who reportedly stayed in character offset, delivers an angst-filled turn as class criminal John Bender.  Insistent on insults and highly perceptive to those around him, Bender carries baggage of a broken home, leaving him to take his aggression out on the world.  In addition, Ringwald as the fiery-haired richy Claire Standish and Estevez as star athlete Andrew Clark both reveal their inner demons that allow those closest to them to dictate their lives.  Meanwhile, Hall, the youngest cast member of the group, emulates the suffocating pressure of a teen pushed to his limit to excel at his classes while, the soft-spoken Sheedy as burnout Allison Reynolds is left to wander a world where her parents ignore her very existence.  The naturalistic quality of the performances matched with Hughes’ perfect screenplay brings to life a timeless story of youth that all ages can relate to.  

    Although, dramatically heavy as the teens open up to discover kindred spirits in one another, The Breakfast Club never forgets to have fun, mostly at the expense of their egotistical principal Mr. Vernon (the late Paul Gleason, Die Hard) and a memorable drug sequence that lightens the tone and increases the laughs.  Breaking down the barriers of stereotypes and high school pressures, The Breakfast Club captured lightning in a bottle with a cast that would soon be dubbed “The Brat Pack” and catapulted to immeasurable success during the decade of Reganomics.  Continually appreciated with each passing year, considering The Breakfast Club a classic may seem passé to some but, its impact continues to be felt by those walking locker-filled halls and others who refused to let their heart die, well after they grew up.

    Digitally remastered and restored from original film elements, The Breakfast Club arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Improving on its already pleasing 25th anniversary transfer, Writer/Director John Hughes’ sophomore effort maintains a remarkably clean appearance with no aging artifacts spotted.  In addition, skin tones are relayed warmly and natural while, detail is most pleasing in wardrobe ranging from Bender’s countless layers to the fibers of Brian’s green fleece sweater.  Taking place in virtually one location, The Breakfast Club manages to impress with popping colors in Andrew’s blue sports attire and Claire’s red hair with the library background appearing sharply.  Meanwhile, film grain is always naturally pleasing with no detection of digital manipulation whatsoever.  Dialogue heavy, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides perfectly audible levels with soundtrack selections injecting a solid oomph, most noticeably during the group’s dance off in the library.  Along with a newly added Accepting the Facts: The Breakfast Club Trivia Track, all special features from the previous anniversary release have been ported over including, an Audio Commentary with Anthony Michael Hall and Judd Nelson, the lengthy 12-part Sincerely Yours (51:25) documentary, The Most Convenient Definitions: The Origins of the Brat Pack (5:30), Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and a Digital HD Code.

    Celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Breakfast Club still strikes a nerve with the youth who combat the never-ending struggles of high school pressures.  Kicking off a movement of teen orientated films that took young adults’ fears and desires seriously, The Breakfast Club remains a defining effort of not only the 1980s but, the late John Hughes’ remarkable ability to relate to teenagers like few have, before or since.  A modest although, appreciable improvement over its previous release, Universal Studios’ 30th anniversary edition is the definitive word on this teen classic for those lacking in their collection.  In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, all brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses and criminals who ever had a teenage heart will always value the unforgettable effect of The Breakfast Club.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Breakfast Club can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Sure Thing (1985) 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

    The Sure Thing (1985)

    Director: Rob Reiner

    Starring: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards & Viveca Lindfors

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In this romantic road trip romp, The Sure Thing stars John Cusack (Say Anything...) as college freshmen Walter “Gib” Gibson.  When Gib is set up with a blonde bombshell across the country, he’s determined to make this sure thing a reality.  Joined by stuck up classmate Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs) via the campus ride-share program, the two opposites encounter constant obstacles as they both head to Los Angeles, forming an unexpected bond along the way.  Anthony Edwards (Revenge of the Nerds), Viveca Lindfors (Creepshow), Tim Robbins (Mystic River) and Nicollette Sheridan (Spy Hard) in her film debut, co-star.

    From Director Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap), The Sure Thing is a slice of teenage romance and 80s angst, wonderfully realized by stars John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga.  Bored and underwhelmed with his luck with women at college, Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) strikes gold when high school buddy Lance (Edwards) invites him to Los Angeles to meet a dream girl (Nicollete Sheridan) he’s guaranteed to strike a home run with.  Determined to head west but, short on cash, Gib hitches a ride via the campus ride program, sharing the backseat with uptight classmate Alison Bradbury (Zuniga).  Meanwhile, Tim Robbins (Howard the Duck) and Lisa Jane Persky (Peggy Sue Got Married) appear as their hilarious, show tune singing chauffeurs who eventually kick the duo to the curb following their constant arguing.  Constantly butting heads, Gib and Alison have no choice but to stick together as they hitchhike their way to Los Angeles, sharing hilarious adventures along the way.  Combatting unpleasant weather, misplacing their funds and Gib playing mad to rescue Alison from a seedy driver, the two begin to forge an unspoken attraction amidst their different personalities.  As their destination grows closer, Gib must decide whether his sure thing is worth it over his newly found feelings for Alison.

    In his first starring role, John Cusack plays typical college freshmen Walter Gibson with girls and beer taking priority over schoolwork.  Breathing life into the otherwise standard teenage role, Cusack brings a wit and humor to his character that would solidify his charm in roles to come.  In addition, Daphne Zuniga, as the brainy, no nonsense Alison Bradbury, creates wonderful chemistry with her co-star that makes viewers quickly dismiss her cocky personality before, falling in love with her much like Gib does.  With a sunny climate and bitchin‘ soundtrack from top talent including, Huey Lewis & The News, The Cars and Quiet Riot, The Sure Thing stands as a genuine 80s offering of heart and hilarity coming together.

    Shout! Factory presents The Sure Thing with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With insignificant flakes over its opening title sequence, The Sure Thing projects natural skin tones, crisp colors and excellent detail in close-ups of key talent.  Landscapes pop most noticeably as Gib and Alison make their way west with lush greenery looking most lively.  Occasional softness is seen but, hardly a cause for alarm as the transfer retains natural grain and a generally clean picture, giving this 80s effort a solid bump on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Sure Thing pushes its dialogue to the forefront with clear audio levels and soundtrack selections making an even louder appearance.  With no distortion or other audio issues prevalent, The Sure Thing sounds swell.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix has been included for your listening pleasure.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Shout! Factory graciously ports over all special features from MGM’s previous DVD release including, an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner, several making of featurettes: Road to The Sure Thing (26:16), Casting The Sure Thing (7:18), Reading The Sure Thing (8:48) and Dressing The Sure Thing (8:48) and a Theatrical Trailer (2:56).  While, a newly produced interview with Reiner, Cusack or Zuniga would have been most appreciated, retaining the previous in-depth supplements is most welcome.

    Although, not an official Brat Packer, John Cusack held his own in the 1980s with notable efforts including, Better off Dead, Hot Pursuit and most famously, 1989’s Say Anything....  Comical and sweet, The Sure Thing stands as one of Cusack’s shining moments of the decade with a simple story of unexpected love, complimented by leading lady Daphne Zuniga’s lovely performance.  Honoring its 30th anniversary, Shout! Factory presents this comedy classic in wonderful fashion, allowing viewers to soak up the high-definition rays of this delightful road trip romance.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 24th from Shout! Factory, The Sure Thing can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) Blu-ray Review

    Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

    Director: William Asher

    Starring: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Deborah Walley & John Ashley

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Everyone’s favorite seaside couple, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, trade in their surfboards for parachutes in Beach Blanket Bingo, the fifth installment of their popular beach party pictures.  When a skydiving publicity stunt to promote the singing career of Sugar Kane (Linda Evans, Dynasty) balloons out of control, Frankie (Avalon) is convinced to take up the dangerous hobby by fellow instructor Bonnie (Deborah Walley, Gidget Goes Hawaiian) in order to make her boyfriend Steve (John Ashley, Young Dillinger) jealous.  Much to her disapproval of Bonnie’s interest in her boyfriend, Dee Dee (Funicello) decides to test out the wild feat of free-falling as well.  Plus, series regular, Bonehead (Jody McCrea, Lady Street Fighter), finds unexpected love with a real mermaid (Marta Kristen, Lost in Space).  Harvey Lembeck (The Phil Silvers Show), Don Rickles (Casino) and Paul Lynde (The Paul Lynde Show) co-star.

    Remaining within the same campy spirit of its predecessors, Beach Blanket Bingo would mark the final starring appearance of Frankie Avalon who, with the exception of a minor role in 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, would hang up his bathing suit until the 1987 parody Back to Beach, reuniting him once again with his beach bunny, Funicello.  Giving the waves a break, Frankie (Avalon) and Dee Dee (Funicello) take to the skies for free-falling excitement while, redheaded instructor, Bonnie (Walley), attempts to swoon Frankie in order to make her co-instructor boyfriend (Ashley) a jealous wreck.  Unsurprisingly, Frankie and Dee Dee go through the turbulent motions audiences have come to expect when a new girl strolls along hoping to steal Frankie away.  Still as gorgeous and youthful as their first picture together, Avalon and Funicello’s chemistry remains intact but, one can’t help feel there enthusiasm for the material waning.  Marking the franchise’s fifth installment in less than two years, the formula has become commonplace but, not entirely stale with the welcome return of Eric Von Zipper (Lembeck), joined by his Malibu Rat Pack gang, and Don Rickles, making his fourth appearance in the series in yet another new role enabling him the opportunity to perform stand-up material.  Well-known for its memorable cameo appearances, Beach Blanket Bingo presents the iconic Buster Keaton (having previously appeared in 1964’s Pajama Party) in another hilarious role.  At the ripe age of 70 and only a year before his passing, Keaton demonstrates remarkable energy and accomplishes the physical comedy gags the legend was best known for.

    In addition, introducing an element of fantasy to the long-running series, Bonehead (better known as Deadhead in previous installments), falls madly in love with an exotic mermaid (Kristen) allowing the loyal supporting character to act outside of his usual numskull mentality.  As the film’s antagonist, South Dakota Slim (Timothy Carey, Minnie and Moskowitz), kidnaps singer Sugar Kane (Evans), the beach gang have another dependable rumble and car chase to make the wrongs right before the closing credits.  More catchy tunes and beachside dancing along, with a notable guest appearance from the flamboyant Paul Lynde as Sugar Kane’s agent, allows Beach Blanket Bingo to charm fans who can’t get enough of Frankie and Dee Dee’s fun times under the sun.

    Olive Films presents Beach Blanket Bingo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Just as colorful and warm as Muscle Beach Party, the fifth installment of the franchise possesses more obvious aging artifacts in the form of specks and flakes.  In addition, skin tones, while generally strong and natural, suffer from an unusual diluted appearance in an early scene that fortunately, lasts only briefly.  Meanwhile, night sequences have a softer appearance that slightly transitions to brighter scenes without greatly disrupting the picture.  With no digital tinkering applied, Beach Blanket Bingo projects a very film quality appearance that pleases but, falls shy of Muscle Beach Party’s transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, Frankie and Dee Dee’s latest outing supplies a stronger sound mix than its transfer with clear dialogue and no dropouts to mention.  The original Theatrical Trailer (2:45) is also supplied as the sole special feature.

    The sights and sounds of Beach Blanket Bingo stray close to its established formula, making for more innocent fun with Frankie and Dee Dee.  The supporting cast of McCrea, Rickles and Lembeck supply plenty of laughs and the songs, while not quite as noteworthy as earlier efforts, do their job sufficiently.  Certainly stronger than Beach Party’s original followup, Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo’s inclusion of gorgeous mermaids and skydiving excitement is appreciated but, ultimately still falls in the middle of the road.  Olive Films‘ transfer projects bold colors and natural grain although, containing far more aging marks than its fellow sequel.  Relaying sound nicely and including the film’s original trailer (unfortunately, lacking on Muscle Beach Party), Beach Blanket Bingo makes a suitable leap to Blu-ray.  Rounding its final franchise laps, AIP’s fifth beach party romp is far from perfect but, makes earnest attempts to supply some worthwhile additions for Avalon’s final starring sendoff.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Beach Blanket Bingo can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Muscle Beach Party (1964) Blu-ray Review

    Muscle Beach Party (1964)

    Director: William Asher

    Starring: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Don Rickles & Luciana Paluzzi

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their fun in the sun, Frankie Avalon (Drums of Africa) and Annette Funicello (Babes in Toyland) return as surfing lovebirds Frankie and Dee Dee in Muscle Beach Party.  When their favorite beach spot is overrun by body-building meatheads and their whistle-blowing trainer, Jack Fanny (Don Rickles, Toy Story), the gang’s getaway of fun looks unlikely.  Plus, when Julie (Luciana Paluzzi, Thunderball), a rich contessa, sets her sights on Frankie, a beach battle gets underway with Frankie and Dee Dee’s love on the line.  Buddy Hackett (The Love Bug), Peter Turgeon (Airport) and Rock Stevens (Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon) co-star.

    Muscle Beach Party, the second of seven popular beach party films produced by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International Pictures, finds our attractive leads, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, returning to their sunny playground of good times and maximum surfing.  Upon arrival, the gang find an unfriendly team of body-builders, led by their equally distasteful trainer, Jack Finney, making the beach their own personal hot spot.  Meanwhile, tensions run hot when, to Frankie’s dismay, Dee Dee wants him to long for more in life than just catching the next big wave.  Temperatures skyrocket when the gorgeous and spoiled rich contessa, Julie, steals Frankie away with promises of kickstarting his music career and wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  Following in the same tradition as its predecessor, Muscle Beach Party finds an endless array of attractive teens singing and dancing their cares away to happening surf music.  Simple and innocent, Muscle Beach Party teeters by shining a brighter focus on the clueless meatheads and Julie’s mission to find an attractive lover than the fun-loving couple we had a blast with in the original Beach Party.  Buddy Hackett lends his comedic chops as Julie’s business advisor and voice of reason to Frankie, helping the teen idol learn the errors of his ways.  Meanwhile, Rock Stevens makes his film debut as lead meathead Flex Martian, who catches Julie’s eye before Frankie enters her radar, leading to further tension between the two beach groups.  Minimal on plot but, always prioritized on fun, Muscle Beach Party finds Frankie and Dee Dee patching things up effortlessly just in time for the end credits.  

    Scattered with more original songs, some written by several members of The Beach Boys, sung by its youthful cast, Muscle Beach Party also includes a memorable early appearance by Little Stevie Wonder performing an original tune.  In addition, following Beach Party’s Vincent Price cameo, AIP regular Peter Lorre (The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors) turns up briefly in one of his final film appearances.  Common in most sequels, Muscle Beach Party fails to live up to the nonstop fun of its originator, spending considerable time on its mildly humorous supporting characters than its stars, who are regulated to second best.  Still considered a fun time in the sun, Muscle Beach Party is a noticeably weaker film but, supplies enough of its dependable elements to make this wave worth riding.

    Presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Muscle Beach Party is another knockout transfer for Olive Films.  Flowing with bright colors from the teens‘ multicolored bathing suits to their tan complexions, detail is crisp and only showing moments of slight wear in its stock surfing footage.  Infrequent nighttime sequences showcase only mild instances of softness while, sunny daytime scenes take up the bulk of the film’s runtime.  With natural grain firmly intact, Muscle Beach Party has never looked better than this.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, dialogue levels are mostly clean and clear with brief moments of decreased levels during scenes at Scrappy’s.  Musical numbers pack an added boost in volume quality while, Funicello’s rendition of “A Girl Needs A Boy” suffers from a tinny echo which may have been how the song was originally recorded.  Unfortunately, Muscle Beach Party makes its Blu-ray debut with no special features.

    Carrying on the carefree shenanigans of Frankie, Dee Dee and the rest of the beach gang, Muscle Beach Party stumbles with its first half focusing far too heavily on supporting characters while, Avalon and Funicello’s story, as minimal as it is, falls by the wayside.  Luckily, its catchy tunes and appearances from Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles make this Beach Party followup a suitable one.  Although, lacking with any special features, Olive Films‘ Blu-ray treatment arrives with impressive technical feats making the film shine like never before.  A slight disappointment in the wake of the original film, Muscle Beach Party still contains the beaches, babes and tunes audiences come to expect with enough humor to not make this effort a total wipeout.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Muscle Beach Party can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Going Under (2004) Blu-ray Review

    Going Under (2004)

    Director: Eric Werthman

    Starring: Roger Rees, Geno Lechner & Miho Nikaido

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the underground world of S&M dungeons, Going Under centers on Peter (Roger Rees, The Prestige), a married psychotherapist, and Suzanne (Geno Lechner, Schindler’s List), a professional dominatrix.  Engaged in a rule abiding affair of carnal pleasure and sexual dominance, the two tortured souls decide to see each other in the outside world.  As the line between fantasy and reality blurs, Peter’s rampant obsession matched with the revelation of Suzanne’s own skeletons sends the pair on a dark journey of self-exploration.  

    Erotic and revealing, Going Under investigates the dark realms of fetishized fantasies for those daring to explore their sexuality.  Set in the city that never sleeps, Roger Rees stars as withdrawn psychotherapist Peter, in search of sexual fulfillment and unabashed dominance.  Journeying into the world of S&M dungeons, Peter encounters the hauntingly beautiful Suzanne (Lechner), a leather-donning dominatrix, prepared to fulfill Peter’s fantasies by any means necessary.  Utilizing real New York City fetish dungeons, Going Under plays far more psychologically showcasing the emotional strain and obsession Peter experiences after Suzanne agrees to finally meet him on the outside world.  Genuinely fixated with Suzanne while, combating the desires he had fulfilled in the dungeons, Peter’s determination to be with Suzanne is often met with resistance.  A struggling artist with a worrisome girlfriend, Suzanne harbors her own dark past involving the bond shared with her late father and broken relationship with her mother.  Although, Suzanne is as willing to engage with Peter on the outside, her scattered feelings and constant change of heart only fuels Peter’s obsession to be with her more.  Married with a child, Peter’s wife is aware of his ulterior lifestyle but, does little to dissuade him from engaging in it.  What began as a professional interest has slowly crossed into a very personal part of Peter’s life without causing any discernible harm to those closest to him.  While, Rees and Lechner convey bold performances, Going Under miscalculates by not fleshing out Peter’s background to allow insight into his growing desires with S&M fetishes.  In addition, Peter’s home life and acknowledged but, noticeably absent daughter is a missed opportunity that could have benefitted substantial drama to the picture had they been explored more heavily.

    Shining a heavy light on the taboo culture, Going Under explores the leather-bound spankings and piercing pleasures that thrive in these underground circles.  Rees bravely bears all while partaking in his unordinary turn-ons as the submissive with Lechner dominating said scenes with sexual authority.  Eye-opening to many, Going Under is not nearly as smutty as one would think, taking its sexual risks only so far.  Shot by first time director Eric Werthman, Going Under takes the dark and often misconceived world of S&M culture and unravels a tale of tortured individuals longing for desire.  Unfortunately, Going Under makes several missteps including, underdeveloped backstories for its characters and an unsatisfying conclusion, that could have propelled the film to a higher stature.  Although, the film pales in comparison to Radley Metzger’s explicit submissive/dominate masterpiece The Image, Going Under still maintains its authenticity by shooting in real bondage locations and rewarding the viewer with earnest performances from Rees and Lechner.

    Blue Underground presents Going Under with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shot on 35mm, Going Under looks natural with healthy skin tones and moderate detail.  Transferred from a somewhat dated master, the film’s black levels slightly suffer with minor noise appearing in several dimly lit scenes.  Otherwise blemish free, Going Under makes a suitable leap to high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue levels are clear and free of any hiss or dropouts with New York City ambiance relayed nicely yet, never overbearing.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has also been provided.  Ported over from Blue Underground’s previous 2007 DVD release, special features include an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Eric Werthman & Star Roger Rees, Pushing the Boundaries capturing interviews with Stars Roger Rees and Geno Lechner (16:37), NYC Black & Blue Ball gives viewers a fly on the wall perspective of New York’s annual fetish celebration (5:55) plus, a Theatrical Trailer (3:14) and Teaser Trailer (1:27) round out the supplemental package.

    Unquestionably capitalizing on the phenomena of Fifty Shades of Grey and its upcoming Hollywood interpretation, 2004’s Going Under weaves a decent tale of erotic obsession and explicit fetishes with notable performances from Roger Rees and Geno Lechner.  Lacking a strong handle on character development, Director Eric Werthman’s sole effort shortchanges itself from becoming something truly special.  Meanwhile, Blue Underground’s high-definition release contains a satisfying transfer, well-balanced sound mix and all the previous DVD supplements carried over.  Mildly engaging amongst its narrative issues, Going Under still manages to be a decent footnote in cinema’s exploration of S&M culture.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now, Going Under can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Her (2013) Blu-ray Review

    Her (2013)
    Director: Spike Jonze
    Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara & Scarlett Johansson
    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Awarded the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his efforts, Spike Jonze (Adaptation., Where the Wild Things Are) introduces a different kind of love story, set in the material world we are all becoming more detached from.  A painful breakup paves the way for a most unusual relationship that could only be imagined from the mind of Jonze.  Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Her invites viewers to reevaluate their own ideas of love in this increasingly-tech obsessed world we live in.  

    Set in Los Angeles in the near future, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely and poetic man who makes his living writing sweet personal letters for other people.  Depressed and lonely as his divorce drags on, Theodore develops an interest in a highly advanced operating system.  The bright and free-spirited Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), begins to fill a void of companionship lacking in Theodore’s life.  As their friendship strengthens and Samantha becomes more adapted, the two form a genuine love for one another.  Amy Adams (The Master), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) and Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    The concept of a man falling head over heels for his computer system seemed intriguing enough but, under the watchful eye of Director Spike Jonze, Her cemented itself as a film to not be missed.  Headlined by the remarkably consistent, Joaquin Phoenix (We Own the Night) as Theodore, Phoenix fits the bill of a man conflicted with his impending divorce while, longing for a connection with someone new.  Set in the near future where society is even more addicted to their smartphones than human interaction, Theodore makes a living composing beautiful letters for other people.  While, the message of people losing so much personal touch with one another that they feel it necessary to hire ghostwriters is clear, its effect feels a little far removed from reality to just ignore.  Theodore finds solace in Samantha, his new, advanced operating system, who is well-educated and possesses a sense of humor.  While, Theodore aches for excitement and love in his life, he doesn’t strike the viewer as the introverted antisocial that would need the affection of his computer.  Talented and stylish, Theodore never convincingly makes the viewer feel that he couldn’t find another human right for him.  Luckily, Samantha, voiced by the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson, manages to bring plenty of charisma and personality to her unusual performance.  As their friendship and eventual romance strengthens, so does Samantha’s awareness of her own changing feelings.  Theodore is committed to Samantha while never shutting out the world or the friends that surround him.  Amy Adams (The Muppets) co-stars as one of Theodore’s dearest friends whose marriage is in the midst of crumbling.  Eventually, Adams begins “dating” an operating system as many other humans begin turning to them for intimacy.  Adams plays her subtle role with a lasting effect that constantly sparks chemistry between her and Phoenix.  The idea of more people finding love in operating systems results in the uniqueness of the story feeling like a fad that just attracts insane people.  

    As the operating systems become more self-aware, their spouses end up feeling used and circling back in search of human connections.  While, Her presents a wildly imaginative story with an important message, its emotional impact is bruised due to the disbelief in its characters motivations.  The core cast do a fine job in their roles while, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (Let the Right One In) cinematography makes the film look gorgeous.  The lack of human interaction we tolerate as we text and tweet our lives away, brings into question the validity of love and our relationships in the modern world.  Filtered through a futuristic fairy-tale, Her makes a strong case for this even if its characters personalities don’t always sell it home.
    RATING: 3/5

    VIDEO:
    Warner Bros. presents Her with a 1080p transfer in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Rich in clarity and detail, the film shines in every way imaginable.  The light grey hairs in Phoenix’s moustache and freckles found in Adam’s face are picked up with ease.  Phoenix’s rosey red shirts and light green eyes pack a powerful vibrancy of color.  In addition, dimly lit scenes of Phoenix in his apartment with Samantha are handled remarkably with no crushing or noise to be found.  Simply put, this is a perfect transfer that won’t leave you disappointed.
    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 mix, Her sounds crystal clear with soft-spoken conversations being relayed with no trouble.  The music, provided by Arcade Fire, packs an impressive round sound when needed.  As flawless as its video presentation is, Warner Bros. provides a pitch perfect sound mix for all audiophiles to appreciate.
    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - A Short Film by Lance Bangs: The Untitled Rick Howard Project Creating Her: This 30 minute behind the scenes look is done far more artistically than most featurettes of its kind.  Following pre-production to fly on the wall perspectives during shooting, this unique “making of” is a wonderful companion to the film itself.

    - Love in the Modern Age: Sitting down several different individuals, the interviewer questions them about their own opinions on love and relationships in the increasingly tech-centered world we’ve adapted to.

    - How Do You Share Your Life with Somebody: Nothing more than an extended trailer for the film mixed with behind the scenes footage.

    - DVD Copy

    - UltraViolet Digital Copy Code

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    While, hopes were high for another go-around in Spike Jonze’s imagination, Her held promise but ultimately, fell into mediocrity.  Joaquin Phoenix and the supporting cast play their roles accordingly but, their personality traits falter the film’s emotional impact.  Luckily, what the film lacks is made up for in Warner Bros.’ five star video and audio presentation.  The film is bursting with clarity and detail that will make you marvel in its visual appearance.  Coupled with a decent array of special features, Spike Jonze’s latest endeavor didn’t win me over entirely, but will certainly please those in search of a love connection only Jonze could concoct.
    RATING: 4/5  

  • Sophie's Choice (1982) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Sophie’s Choice (1982)
    Director: Alan J. Pakula
    Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline & Peter MacNicol
    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the best-selling novel by William Styron, Director Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men) brought to life this heartbreaking tale of friendship and the secrets we keep.  Starring Meryl Streep (Doubt), in an Academy Award winning performance, this exhilarating tale is complimented with powerhouse performances that will leave you in awe.  Shout! Factory, in association with ITV Studios, proudly presents Sophie’s Choice in a much deserved collector’s edition.  Ranked #91 in AFI’s Greatest 100 Movies of All Time 2007 list, Sophie’s Choice is a masterwork from all the parties involved.  

    Set in post-World War II Brooklyn, Sophie’s Choice stars Meryl Streep as Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish-Catholic immigrant who survived a Nazi concentration camp.  Living with her middle-aged Jewish boyfriend, Nathan (Kevin Kline), the couple befriend their new neighbor, would-be writer Stingo (Peter MacNicol).  As the couples’ drama unfolds and their bond with Stingo increases, hidden truths are slowly revealed.  

    MOVIE:
    Meryl Streep’s perfectionism to her craft has earned her a record 18 Academy Award nominations and three wins.  Understandably, many consider her to be the greatest living actress with memorable roles in Out of Africa, Adaptation., and August: Osage County.  With a career as illustrious as Streep’s, it becomes difficult to select a favorite let alone a flaw in her works.  Streep’s magnificent turn in Sophie’s Choice is highlighted by her determination to master the Polish and German language in order to perfect her character’s accent.  Almost immediately, the viewer forgets about Meryl Streep and only knows Sophie Zawistowska.  Streep believably sells the role of a Polish-immigrant struggling with the English language in 1940s Brooklyn.  Streep reportedly begged Pakula on her hands and knees for the role that was originally courting Magda Vásáryová.  Sophie’s Jewish, Holocaust obsessed boyfriend, Nathan, is played with equal brilliance by Kevin Kline (The Big Chill), in his feature film debut.  Kline’s energetic performance is akin to Jekyll and Hyde as he adores Sophie one minute and violently grows bitter, jealous and violent the next.  A film debut of this caliber will remind audiences that Kline may have arguably, been the greatest acting discovery of the 1980s.  Sophie and Nathan’s friendship with their new neighbor, Stingo (MacNicol), is the silver lining that bonds the trio.  Texas born, Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters II) made his film debut only a year earlier with 1981’s Dragonslayer before tackling this intense drama.  A fine character actor with roles in Addams Family Values and Bean, MacNicol brings a breath of gravity to the film amongst his new friends’ complicated relationship.  Destined to write the great American novel, Stingo finds himself swept up in Nathan’s bipolar-esque behavior while, falling for Sophie.

    Bonds strengthen as Nathan’s outbursts become more frequent, resulting in the couples’ dark secrets being revealed.  Stingo learns the truth behind Nathan’s alarming behavior while, Sophie confides in her new friend about her concentration camp experiences. Upon arriving at Auschwitz with her two children, a Nazi soldier forces Sophie with the impossible task of choosing which of one her children will be sent to death.  The emotional impact of this haunting sequence will forever be rooted in your conscience.  As Stingo’s love for Sophie becomes clear and their future together within reach, a darkness is cast over the conclusion to this emotionally-wound, perfectly acted character study.  Sophie’s Choice sweeps the viewer into the trios’ relationship, showcasing the finer sides of true friendship and the dark secrets we all try to suppress.  Beautifully shot and remarkably cast, Sophie’s Choice is a riveting drama and heartbreaking tragedy resulting in cinematic perfection.
    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:
    Sophie’s Choice is presented with a 1080 transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  The film is rich with natural grain and accurate skin tones.  Colors are striking and bold, if not, inconsistent at times.  Stingo’s arrival at his new Brooklyn residence pops with bright green lawns and bushes while, dimly lit scenes in Sophie and Nathan’s apartment and Sophie’s time at Auschwitz relay a soft, (most likely) intentional lifeless color scheme.  Moments of flecks and speckles are far and few between with close-ups looking most impressive.  Sophie’s Choice has never had its fair due on home video but thankfully, Shout! Factory’s transfer is the finest its ever looked.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, Sophie’s Choice is a character driven drama with much dialogue that is nicely and cleanly heard throughout.  No cracks or distortion of any kind intrude, making this mix more than adequate.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - New Roundtable Discussion with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and More

    - Audio Commentary with Director Alan J. Pakula

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 4.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Sophie’s Choice is a lengthy, period piece drama about the company we keep and the secrets we hold even closer.  Never boring and always engaging, the combined efforts of the magnificent Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline (in one of the finest film debuts of all time) and the criminally underrated Peter MacNicol, make this tale of three unlikely friends one of the most impressive works of the decade.  Handled with the utmost care, Shout! Factory have preserved this classic film in a worthy collector’s edition release.  Matched with a lovely video transfer, crisp sound mix and wonderful special features including the fantastic roundtable discussion with the likes of Streep and Kline, Sophie’s Choice is the rare example of a perfect film that can now be better appreciated thanks to Shout! Factory’s impressive collector’s edition.
    RATING: 4.5/5

  • Jane Eyre (1943) Blu-ray Review


    Jane Eyre (1943)
    Director: Robert Stevenson
    Starring: Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O’Brien & Peggy Ann Garner
    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel has been adapted many times since its publication in 1847.  The gothic romance has dazzled readers and film enthusiasts with a tale that so eloquently details the hardships of love and social classes.  Twilight Time proudly presents, with only 3,000 units available, the 1943 version of Jane Eyre, which critics and audiences have hailed as the finest adaptation to ever grace the silver screen.  70 years after its original release, let’s investigate how well this classic has aged…

    Jane Eyre centers on a young woman’s struggles at a brutal orphanage before growing up to navigate the world on her own.  Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) portrays Jane as an adult as she takes a position as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall.  Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) plays Edward Rochester the brooding and mysterious owner of the estate.  The two strike up an unlikely relationship that breaks down social barriers while dark secrets are uncovered.


    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Jane_Eyre__Twilight_Time_/jane_eyre__twilight_time_.html


  • 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