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

    Colors (1988)

    Director: Dennis Hopper

    Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Don Cheadle & Damon Wayans

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Eye-opening at the time of its original release and unfortunately still potent in today’s divided society, Colors presents the dangerous world of gang warfare in a realistically gritty light.  Within a year’s reach of retirement, veteran L.A.P.D. officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall, The Godfather) is partnered with hot-headed rookie Danny McGavin (Sean Penn, Milk) in an anti-gang unit.  With clashing personalities, the two must learn to trust one another in order to survive the mayhem of Los Angeles’ South Central district.  Returning Academy Award nominee Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) back behind the camera, Colors stages the murder of a Bloods gang member that heightens the turf war between the neighboring Crips and Barrio residing hoodlums, culminating in bullets, bloodshed and the police’s role in the center of their fatal path.  Riskily shot in the thicket of real gang territory that adds a genuine honesty to the proceedings and resulted in the actual shooting of extras during filming, Colors doesn’t flinch at the harsh realities of its crime-infested ghettos while, balancing the line of controversial good cop/bad cop approaches in protecting lawmen’s own and the community.  

    Although the casting of Penn and Duvall is inspired, their characters never fully develop as deeply as anticipated while, gang vengeance toward trigger-happy Crip member Rocket (Don Cheadle, House of Lies) takes control of the final act, leaving Hodges and McGavin’s purpose all but lost in the shuffle and shortchanging a still harrowing but, nonetheless weakened conclusion.  Featuring a chart-topping soundtrack of rap hits from such artists as, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa, Colors also costars future players Damon Wayans (Lethal Weapon) as a drug-addicted gangbanger, Tony Todd (Candyman) and Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss him role as a young thug.  An intense examination of gang life that has debatably improved over time, Colors is perhaps best recognized for its capturing of the lifestyle’s arguably darkest era and the L.A.P.D.’s equally deadly attempts to right its ship.

    Preserving its unrated cut for the first time on high-definition, Shout Select presents Colors with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Welcoming natural skin tones and lush radiance during the many sunny daytime sequences, black levels found in officer’s uniforms are deeply inky while, the drama’s filmic integrity remains firmly intact with no major anomalies to speak of.  Equipped with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is never challenged by cracks or pops while, the heavy beats of the film’s hip-hop soundtrack and jackhammering assault of bullets pulverizes onscreen action terrifically.  Carried over from Second Sight’s U.K. edition, special features include, Cry of Alarm: An Interview with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (28:46) that shares the dangerous risks Schiffer undertook to understand the gang culture and accurately capture members’ speech patterns and slang for the script.  In addition, Cops & Robbers (16:53) hosts Technical Advisor/L.A.P.D. Gang Division Dennis Fanning on his unique career perspectives that were brought to ensure a legitimacy to the story.  Lastly, the film’s Trailer (1:53) is also included while, a hidden Easter Egg (accessed by clicking right of the Trailer in the disc’s bonus features section) offers an additional interview snippet with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (2:16).  While the lack of supplements may fall short of other Collector’s Edition entries in the Shout Select catalog, what is included is luckily informative.  Appreciatively ensuring the film’s uncut presentation, Colors’ mileage may vary by viewer but, remains a recommendable watch for its believable expression of L.A. gangs and their very real mean streets of the era.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Vampire's Kiss (1989) / High Spirits (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Vampire’s Kiss (1989) / High Spirits (1988)

    Director(s): Robert Bierman / Neil Jordan

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso & Jennifer Beals / Daryl Hannah, Peter O’Toole & Steve Guttenberg

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their exercise in funny frights, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, presents yet another high-definition double feature of things that go giggles in the night!  First up, Academy-Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in Vampire’s Kiss as womanizing literary agent Peter Loew.  With loneliness invading his life, Peter’s sanity begins to teeter after an encounter with a seductive fanged mistress leaves him thinking he’s turning into a vampire.  As time passes, everyday is a full moon with Peter’s eccentric behavior reaching new heights.  Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2), Elizabeth Ashley (Coma), Kasi Lemmons (Candyman) and Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) co-star.  Next up, Peter O’Toole stars as castle-turned-hotel owner Peter Plunkett in High Spirits.  Struck with financial hardships, Plunkett and his faithful employees morph their Irish home into a haunted tourist attraction.  Unfortunately, the hotel guests are unprepared when real ghosts begin appearing, turning their stay into a hilarious holiday.  Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy), Daryl Hannah (Splash), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation), Jennifer Tilly (Bride of Chucky), Peter Gallagher (American Beauty) and Liam Neeson (Taken) co-star.       

    Considered a box-office blunder at the time of its release, Vampire’s Kiss has since amassed a cult following most notably for its lead star’s incredibly quirky performance.  Constantly criticized for its lack of plot, Director Robert Bierman’s debut effort is in fact the study of a man’s loneliness and longing for true love that ultimately drives him mad.  Whether audiences choose to recognize this narrative explanation, what can’t be denied is Cage’s oddball performance in all its kooky glory.  Utilizing a distinctly peculiar accent, Cage’s Peter Loew goes through women as quickly as new socks while, maintaining a prestigious job as a literary agent in New York City.  Admittedly lonely and seeking therapy, Loew’s life is altered after a chance encounter with a beautiful woman leaves him with fang bites and a suspicion he’s becoming a vampire.  Professionally acting for nearly 35 years, Cage has amassed a solid body of work although today, noted for his more eccentric and less favorable roles.  Unlike anything before or since, Cage delivers an explosively over the top performance filled with crazy-eyed glares, shouting tangents and absurd body movements allowing him to devour the scenery in every shot.  As his vampiric convictions grow, Loew begins ridiculing a lowly secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) at his office and purchasing $3.50 plastic fangs to better embrace his transformation.  As Loew’s sanity wavers, the viewer questions the actuality of the film’s events leading to a darkly poetic finale that seals Lowe’s fate as an alleged bloodsucker.  Shot during a less than stellar period in New York City’s history, Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) captures the essence of the metropolis making it feel like a living, breathing character in the film.  Ahead of the curve with its black comedic tone and Cage’s consciously outlandish performance, Vampire’s Kiss will likely still leave audiences divided but, admirers of the thespians more uncontrollable antics will find this late 80s offering priceless.

    From the director of Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, High Spirits is a delightful romp starring some of comedies most recognizable faces of the 1980s and headlined by one of cinema’s most beloved performers.  Incorporating Ireland’s vast folklore, High Spirits takes glorious advantage of its foreign locations, earning itself undeniably rich atmosphere.  As Peter O’Toole’s Peter Plunkett decides to redress his castle into a haunted attraction in order to save it, American tourists arrive but, are none too pleased with Plunkett’s phony shenanigans.  Eventually, actual phantoms appear, unimpressed with their exploitation and determined to give the tourists their money’s worth.  Constantly overruled by his loudmouthed wife (D’Angelo) and enamored with the castle, Jack Crawford (Guttenberg) begins seeing the ghostly, yet beautiful, apparition of Mary Plunkett Brogan (Hannah).  After being murdered at the hands of her husband (Neeson) 200 years prior, Mary’s confining curse is lifted by Jack’s selflessness and mutual attraction, carving out a romantic subplot to the film’s enjoyable narrative.  In addition, up and comers including, Peter Gallagher as a conflicted priest in training, Jennifer Tilly as his flirtatious achilles heel and Martin Ferrero (Jurassic Park) as a ghost debunker all make appearances.  Critically panned and earning Daryl Hannah a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress, High Spirits is a hilarious getaway picture where poltergeists are the life of the party.  Reminiscent of Beetlejuice, also released in 1988, High Spirits would fail to ignite the box-office but, was predominately  discovered on late night cable television during HBO and Cinemax’s infancy.  Littered with rewarding visual effects and simple sight gags, High Spirits is an uproarious ghost comedy that’s fun for the whole family.              

    Scream Factory presents both Vampire’s Kiss and High Spirits with 1080p transfers, each sporting 1.85:1 aspect ratios.  Littered with flakes and occasional lines over its New York City skyline opening title sequence, Vampire’s Kiss quickly improves demonstrating a healthy grain level with warm complexions, rich detail and bold colors seen in bright yellow taxicabs and blood splatters.  Meanwhile, High Spirits presents strong saturation and fine detail in the dimly lit castle setting.  Containing a strong filmic quality, High Spirits suffers only from understandably mild softness during visual effect sequences and barely noticeable speckling. Vibrant and clean, High Spirits certainly aims to please.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, Vampire’s Kiss relays dialogue with distinct clarity and offering suitable depth during a loud disco sequence whereas, High Spirits’ rousing score from Composer George Fenton (Gandhi) rocks the mix complimented by its always clear dialogue levelsIn addition, although relatively light on special features, Vampire’s Kiss includes an Audio Commentary with Director Robert Bierman and Star Nicolas Cage ported over from its previous MGM DVD release.  Containing some dry spells, the track is still a worthwhile listen with the two collaborators strolling down memory lane recalling the nonunion shoot causing issues during production and Cage’s intense and at times, difficult, method acting process.  In addition, a Theatrical Trailer (2:09) is also included while, High Spirits unfortunately, arrives with zilch.

    Once again trading in their scares for laughs, Scream Factory’s suitable pairing of Vampire’s Kiss and High Spirits makes a hauntingly hilarious splash on its viewer.  Nicolas Cage’s extremely eccentric turn as a vampire must be seen to be believed while, the impressive ensemble cast and charming visual effects of High Spirits will leave audiences of all ages with a grin on their face.  Scream Factory’s treatment of these 80s offerings is an admirable one with filmic quality transfers and more than pleasing sound mixes.  While, special features are limited, the thrill of owning these two paranormal retro offerings for the price of one is frighteningly inviting.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available February 10th from Scream Factory, Vampire’s Kiss / High Spirits can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.