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Currently showing posts tagged Mill Creek Entertainment

  • Band of the Hand (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Band of the Hand (1986)

    Director: Paul Michael Glaser

    Starring: Stephen Lang, James Remar, Michael Carmine, Leon Robinson, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, Lauren Holly & Larry Fishburne 

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Executive produced by Michael Mann (Thief, Heat), Band of the Hand finds five incarcerated youths released to an intense rehab program that teaches them survival and value for one another.  Returning to the gang-infested streets of Miami, the one time criminals wage their own war against the drug kingpins destroying it.  

    Retaining the dangerously seductive allure of Mann’s hit television series Miami Vice with the backwoods survival instincts of Lord of the Flies, Band of the Hand makes crime and violence essential to the scenery that both corrupts and cures the film’s pack of anti-heroes.  Serving time for a multitude of offenses, five juvenile felons including, drug trafficker Carlos Aragon (Danny Quinn, Stradivari), punk turned murderer J.L. McEwen (John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), car thief and attempted prison escapee Dorcey Bridger (Al Shannon, Casualties of War) and rival gang leaders Ruben Pancecho (Michael Carmine, Leviathan) and Moss Roosevelt (Leon Robinson, Cool Runnings) find themselves facing lengthy sentences until fate intervenes.  Unknowingly transported to the swampy Everglades and under the watchful eye of Native American Vietnam veteran Joe Tegra (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the hot blooded teens must learn to work together and survive the cruel conditions of nature in an intensely experimental rehabilitation program.  Sharpening their skills and developing a trusting foundation, the group return to the mean streets of Miami where after revitalizing an abandoned house, seek to do the same for the crime-ridden community.  Igniting a war against feared pimp Cream (Larry Fishburne, Boyz n the Hood) and black magic worshipping drug lord Nestor (James Remar, The Warriors) who claimed Carlos’s girlfriend Nikki (Lauren Holly, Dumb & Dumber) for his own, the band of vigilantes have their work cut out for them.

    Helmed with style and a rebelliously youthful attitude by Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man), Band of the Hand takes cues once again from Crockett and Tubbs with a pop-rock soundtrack of hits from Bob Dylan (who supplies the film’s title track with assistance from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Prince and Mr. Mister that brings aggressive synergy to the onscreen action.  Following an explosive shootout between the band and Miami’s worst leaving one of their own dead, a go for broke retaliation on Nestor’s drug facility leaves the screen littered with enough bullet holes and bodies to quench the thirst of action hounds.  While the film may be less refined than Mann’s weekly crime series set in the same city, Band of the Hand funnels similar ingredients of fast cars, drug pushers, sexy women and ghettos through the delinquent eyes of teenage thugs turned saviors, making it a worthy and largely overlooked crime thriller drenched in 80s decadence and pastel hues.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Band of the Hand with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While the film bears its fair share of speckling, rearing its head most noticeably in black levels during countless nighttime sequences, skin tones are generally satisfying with colors found in the vibrant costume choices prevalent during the 80s Miami scene popping as appreciatively as one might hope.  Natural grain is notably retained while, screen jitter is observed but mostly held to the film’s opening sequences.  A mixed bag of quality that thankfully never gravely disappoints where it counts, Band of the Hand makes a respectable first leap to high-definition.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that treats dialogue with prioritization while, the film’s selection of songs celebrates a healthier emphasis of authority, much like sequences of explosive inferno and machine gun fire, the track is a middle of the road affair that suffices.  Although no on-disc special features are included, a Reversible Cover Art revealing slightly modified poster imagery is provided.

    The heat is on as teenage badasses return to their former stomping ground to clean up the filth and mayhem controlling the streets.  Taking on the likes of pimps and pushers, Band of the Hand mimics the style and energy of Miami Vice with enhanced violence and an imperfect yet, still entertaining execution.  Well casted and vibrantly photographed, Glaser’s directorial feature film debut is a promising urban action opus unfortunately missed by many during its initial release.  Arriving on Blu-ray for the first time ever, Mill Creek Entertainment offers the film a decent debut that admires the colorful sights of its 80s fashion choices and Miami hotspots with appreciable quality.  Void of bonus content, the inclusion of reversible cover art is a rare and welcome treat from the budget label.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Band of the Hand can be purchased via 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.

  • My Science Project (1985) Blu-ray Review

    My Science Project (1985)

    Director: Jonathan R. Betuel

    Starring: John Stockwell, Danielle von Zerneck, Fisher Stevens & Dennis Hopper

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Fearing ineligibility to graduate from high school, My Science Project centers on grease monkey Michael Harlan (John Stockwell, Radioactive Dreams) as he scours for a science project to avoid flunking.  Searching a military junkyard, Michael uncovers an extraterrestrial device that unleashes a dimensional time warp of past, present and future danger upon Michael’s sleepy town.  Faced against unfathomable power, Michael and his friends must devise a way to close the vortex before their world is permanently jeopardized.  Daniella von Zerneck (La Bamba), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit) and Dennis Hopper (Apocalypse Now) co-star.

    Released in the wake of Robert Zemeckis’ game-changing Delorean starring adventure, My Science Project is the other time-traveling effort of 1985.  Raiding a military junk pile proves fruitful for teenage mechanic Michael Harlan (Stockwell) whose biggest dilemmas are failing to graduate and the embarrassment of other students knowing his wheels broke down.  Desperate to pass anything off that remotely looks scientific for a project, Michael’s encounter with a weirdly illuminated device becomes even odder after electrically frying countless appliances within its reach.  Stumped at its purpose, Michael and his Brooklyn-born buddy Vince Latello (Stockwell) find themselves personally affected after the contraption speeds up time, making the duo miss their final exam.  With nowhere to turn, Michael leans on his hilariously hippie-like science teacher, referred to simply as Bob (Hopper), for help as the globe-shaped instrument unexpectedly reveals its full power.  Opening a dangerous vortex where the past and future can materialize, Michael, along with his bookish love interest Ellie Sawyer (Zerneck), Vince and class nerd Sherman (Raphael Sbarge, Risky Business) must cut the power supply to save humanity.

    Tightly budgeted yet, supplying admirable visual effects for its size, My Science Project is a fun teenage adventure with far less emphasis on its time traveling element than proposed.  Fisher Stevens steals the thunder from the headlining Stockwell with his quotable lines while, Easy Rider’s Dennis Hopper hams up his free love mantra for the MTV generation.  While the film’s MacGuffin creates countless fireworks for the screen, its true harm isn’t fully exposed until the third act when the Viet Cong, post-apocalyptic mutants and dinosaurs go head to head with Michael and his machine gun carrying cohorts.  Although introducing added eye-candy, the historical antagonists’ appearances take place a tad too late and leave a slightly underwhelming effect.  Making groovy pop culture nods with high school hooligans rocking stormtrooper helmets and boob tube cameos from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Davy Crockett, My Science Project is a moderately radical time where teenage heroes take on the whirlwind of scientific insanity.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents My Science Project with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing softer during early 1957 set sequences and visual effects moments before improving slightly, skin tones are average-looking with moderate levels of dirt and debris on hand.  Meanwhile, black levels fall on the grainier side with visibility not impossible yet, largely unimpressive.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, dialogue is audible while, its mono presentation underwhelms machine gun fire and soundtrack selections including Scandal’s “The Warrior”, making otherwise more impactful moments sound far too flat for taste.  Expectedly, no special features have been included.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, My Science Project can be purchased via MillCreekDirect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #6: Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Spaced Invaders (1990) & Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Blu-ray Reviews

         

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #6

    Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

    Director: Leigh Whannell

    Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Leigh Whannell (Saw, Dead Silence), Insidious: Chapter 3 travels back in time to the early origins of spiritualist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye, Ouija) as grieving teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott, A.N.T. Farm) seeks her assistance to contact her late mother.  Living a fragile existence, Elise has sworn off her psychic practices until Quinn finds herself the victim of a supernatural entity.  With assistance from amateur ghost chasers Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specks (Whannell), Elise must venture once more into The Further to save Quinn’s life.  Following its financially successful predecessor that tended to over-explain and tarnish the mystique of its supernatural antagonists, Insidious: Chapter 3 moves backward for a prequel based tale that packs several effective jump scares while lacking the originality of its franchise starter.  Shining a welcome spotlight on spiritual expert Elise and to an unfortunately lesser extent, the fan-favorite duo of Tucker and Specks, the paranormal happenings of the film are far too generic to stand out.  Donning multiple creative roles in front and behind the camera, Whannell’s first directorial outing is hardly a wasted affair with an admirable performance from Shaye and unique make-up designs of the film’s ghostly apparitions.  While its competently constructed and occasionally succeeds at building tension, Insidious: Chapter 3 never rises above mediocrity.  

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Insidious: Chapter 3 with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a crystal clear picture, skin tones are always natural-looking while, detail in costumes and set decoration are splendid.  From excellently saturated colors to the dark explorations of The Further, black levels are astoundingly inky and free of any digital noise.  With no anomalies on display, Insidious: Chapter 3 appears hauntingly perfect.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is exceptionally crisp while music cues and startling jump scares offer a shrieking depth that greatly impresses the entire runtime.  Special features include, Origin Story: Making Chapter 3 (19:04), Stunts: The Car Crash (9:35), Macabre Creations (8:58), Cherry Glazerr: Tiptoe Through the Tulips (5:16), Being Haunted: A Psychic Medium Speaks (11:34) and Deleted Scenes (5:16).  Additionally, Previews for The Final Girls (2:48), Air (2:12), Risen (1:31), Extinction (1:59), Lake Placid VS. Anaconda (1:37) and Broken Horses (2:35) are included along with a Digital HD Code.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Insidious: Chapter 3 can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Spaced Invaders (1990)

    Director: Patrick Read Johnson

    Starring: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Gregg Berger & Ariana Richards

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Co-produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label and Smart Egg Pictures (Critters), Spaced Invaders finds a quiet midwestern community uprooted on Halloween night by a crew of misguided martians mistaking Orson Welles’ infamous The War of the Worlds radio broadcast as a call for hostile takeover of the human infested planet.  Hip yet wet behind the ears, the mini martians find themselves on a series of unexpected misadventures as they attempt to return to their home planet safely.  Marking the inaugural feature of Director Patrick Read Johnson (Baby’s Day Out, Angus), Spaced Invaders takes the zaniness of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and sci-fi shenanigans of Howard the Duck to deliver an over the top space comedy for preteens.  While attempting to invade Earth, the five dimwitted martians quickly realize their nonthreatening, Halloween costume appearances doesn’t bode well for them as new kid in town Kathy (Ariana Richards, Jurassic Park), dressed in full Alien garb, befriends the green visitors.  As Kathy’s sheriff father (Douglas Barr, Deadly Blessing) and the elderly Mr. Wrenchmuller (Royal Dano, The Dark Half) eventually suspect invaders from Mars are in town, the young girl seeks to help her new friends return home much to the dismay of their ship’s Enforcer Drone committed to seeing Earth in ruins and the martians pay for their failures.  Silly although rarely humorous, Spaced Invaders makes attempts to appear hip to its then audience but, stumbles at every turn.  While its animatronic effects are generally pleasing and reminds viewers of a more charming time for movie magic, Spaced Invaders tends to overstay its welcome by its final act, dragging its feet to see the martians make their expected getaway back to Mars. 

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Spaced Invaders with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Noticeably dated, flakes, speckles and occasional vertical lines are on display while skin tones are decently relayed with mediocre detail.  Bolder colors such as bright reds pop reasonably well although others appear rather drab.  Meanwhile, black levels possess their share of speckling and fail to bolster more pleasing, inkier results.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, sound is largely dull and unimpressive while dialogue is at least audible and free of any severely intruding factors.  Expectedly, no special features are included.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Spaced Invaders can be purchased via MillCreekDirect.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

    Director: Francis Ford Coppola

    Starring: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins & Keanu Reeves

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blending the narrative of Bram Stoker’s iconic tale and the factual history of Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s Dracula centers on the tragic Transylvanian prince (Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy) as he travels to 19th-century London in search of love.  After an encounter with the radiant Mina (Winona Ryder, Edward Scissorhands) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife, Count Dracula’s overwhelming passion brings darkness and horror to those who care for Mina.  Drenched in gothic atmosphere with an acute sense of detail, Director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) exceptional adaptation successfully paints its antagonist less as a bloodsucking monster but more a tragic Shakespearean figure audiences empathize with.  Brilliantly performed by Gary Oldman, Count Dracula’s unique costume designs and deliciously offbeat makeup brings to life a one of a kind interpretation of the grim character.  In addition, the supporting thespians including, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric Van Helsing and Tom Waits as the deranged Renfield deliver excellent performances while Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker serves as the sole casting miscalculation.  Although considered cliché today, Reeves poor English accent and flat performance consistently removes audiences from the otherwise mesmerizing film.  Insistent on utilizing practical effects from luscious matte paintings to various in-camera techniques, Director Francis Ford Coppola achieves an array of visual splendor that captivates audiences.  Deservedly earning itself three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing, Coppola’s erotically charged and frighteningly surreal adaptation has aged considerably well, living on as one of the more ambitious retellings of the Count’s fateful saga.

    Following its previously subpar release, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly mastered in 4K, the results are night are day with impressive textures, excellently inky black levels and naturally fitting skin tones.  While a minor framing adjustment is present on the release, it’s hardly deal breaking to excuse the overwhelmingly positive attributes to the transfer.  Further complimented by sharper detail and beautifully relayed colors to better highlight the various costume designs and ever-changing lighting effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has never looked better.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, audio is pitch perfect with flawless dialogue levels and Composer Wojciech Kilar’s (The Ninth Gate) empowering score enthralling listeners.  In addition, hushed tones, thunderous sound effects and eerie ambiance all excel with proper balance and effectiveness.  The bountiful special features include, an Introduction by Director Francis Ford Coppola (3:55), a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, Visual Effects Director Roman Coppola & Makeup Supervisor Greg Cannom as well as a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola.  Additionally, newly included featurettes Reflections in Blood: Francis Ford Coppola and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (29:11) and Practical Magicians: A Collaboration Between Father and Son (20:07) are joined by previously available supplements The Blood is the Life: The Making of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (27:48), The Costumes are the Sets: The Design of Eiko Ishioka (14:02), In Camera: Naïve Visual Effects (18:46), Method and Madness: Visualizing Dracula (12:06), Deleted & Extended Scenes (28:14) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:36).  Lastly, a Digital HD Code closes out the release’s gratifying supplemental package.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #2: Krull (1983), Salvador (1986) and Grave Halloween (2013) Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

    Krull (1983)

    Director: Peter Yates

    Starring: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones & Francesca Annis

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Krull centers on the daring Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) who embarks on a dangerous mission to save his young princess bride (Lysette Anthony).  Imprisoned by the Beast and his fellow slayers, Colwyn must first recover the legendary Glaive blade and join forces with several traveling strangers to overthrow the dark powers that oppress their planet.  

    Highly expensive at the time of its making, Krull clearly borrows from the worlds of George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien to convey its mythic tale of magic and fantasy.  A simple plot of rescue and restoring balance to a fading planet, Prince Colwyn’s mission to locate The Black Fortress proves difficult and teams with a ragtag group of rebels including several fugitives (one played by a young Liam Neeson) and Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), a hilariously clumsy magician, willing to stand by his side.  While, the journey should be as exciting and cinematic as the destination, Krull hits minor speed bumps maintaining its sense of adventure.  Entertaining when they do occur, battle sequences are rather scant for a film Variety labeled “Excalibur meets Star Wars”.  Luckily, the characters are memorable and Composer James Horner’s (Avatar) grand score gives Krull a thrilling soundscape.  Originally a box-office bomb, Krull has gone on to achieve cult status amongst moviegoers that continue to appreciate this massive production decades later.  Beautifully photographed and capturing an epic scale like few productions at the time, Krull is a decent ride that ultimately feels borrowed from too many other sci-fi cinematic milestones.  Fun and sporting impressive visual effects for its time, Krull will most likely be best appreciated with repeated viewings for those who weren’t swept up in its allure during its original run.  

    Lacking with any special features, Mill Creek Entertainment presents Krull in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually clear of any aging artifacts, Krull impresses with healthy skin tones and impressive detail that allows the viewer to best appreciate the film’s whopping 23 sets.  Slight softness occurs during moments of on-screen visual effects while, black levels satisfy with clear visibility and no intruding crushing.  In addition, Krull comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that captures dialogue reasonably well with only several moments coming across lower than expected.  Intense moments of battle and Composer James Horner’s score are the true areas where this mix shines and gives your speakers a nice run for their money.

    Released in a decade of impressive sci-fi productions, Krull tells an all too familiar tale of a damsel in distress and her loving prince, joined by his own army, to save her.  Sparing no expense, Krull is an epic looking film that achieves a gorgeous, otherworldly appearance.  While, it’s easy to see why Krull registers so highly with fans, Director Peter Yates‘ (Bullit) opus isn’t an immediate home-run but, one that can be better appreciated in time.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Krull is available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Salvador (1986)

    Director: Oliver Stone

    Starring: James Woods, James Belushi, Michael Murphy, John Savage & Elpidia Carrillo

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Writer/Director Oliver Stone’s Salvador centers on sometime journalist Richard Boyle (James Woods, Casino) who embarks to capture the Salvadoran revolution through the eyes of his camera.  Along with his friend Doctor Rock (James Belushi, Curly Sue), Boyle finds himself in dangerous situations with little hope while, trying to protect his local girlfriend and her children.  Michael Murphy (Batman Returns), John Savage (The Deer Hunter) and Elpidia Carrillo (Predator) co-star.

    Politically charged, Salvador served as a last ditch effort for Writer/Director Oliver Stone to convey a more personal story beyond his previous genre fare.  Detailing the Salvadoran revolution, Richard Boyle (Woods), travels via car with fellow down on his luck buddy, Doctor Rock (Belushi) to the war-torn location.  Fueled by alcohol, drugs and the promise of cheap women, Boyle and Rock remind viewers of the Gonzo journalists found in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but, with more agenda.  Caught in the middle of a chaotic, contrived war, Boyle finds himself at odds with the country’s increasing danger and his personal desire to protect his girlfriend (Elpidia Carrillo).  Woods is brilliant in this Oscar-nominated performance of a self-proclaimed weasel of a man who scams and boozes his way to make a living.  Matched with his unforgettable work in Videodrome and Once Upon A Time in America, the 1980s can arguably be seen as Woods‘ most enduring decade.  In addition, Belushi’s Doctor Rock is the perfect yin to Woods‘ yang.  Desperate, broke and scared of his new surroundings, Belushi quickly adapts to El Salvador by drinking with young children, eager to start bar fights at the drop of a hat and falling in love with a prostitute.  Belushi’s rambunctious attitude is refreshing against the grim imagery of murdered civilians by the military government.  Constantly rattling the political cages and putting himself in harms way, Boyle is relentless in trying to establish a story and the pictures to go along with it.  Vastly underrated, Salvador is an intense, fictional account of the Salvadoran revolution spearheaded by Woods and Belushi’s incredible performances of two Americans willingly placed in hell.  In addition, Stone’s rebirth as a filmmaker helped launch a career of other politically fueled and critically acclaimed projects that continue to this day.  

    Presented in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Salvador looks remarkable with a crisp appearance and rich detail found in facial features and the hot Salvadoran climate.  Complexions are always spot-on while, black levels are impressive especially in the dark, jungle settlings where visibility reads well.  Equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, dialogue is relayed clearly with no distortion and only minor shake-ups during some of the film’s more chaotic war sequences that can overwhelm speaking bits.  In addition, a DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mix has also been provided.  Meanwhile, special features run a plenty with a worthwhile audio commentary with Writer/Director Oliver Stone, an isolated score track, the impressive and lengthy Into the Valley of Death - The Making of Salvador (1:02:52), deleted scenes (27:47), an original theatrical trailer (1:58) and a MGM 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06).  Plus, a 6-page booklet with Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo lending her expertise on Salvador’s significance round out the disc’s supplements.

    Limited to just 3,000 units, Twilight Time’s impressive treatment of this criminally underrated Stone effort is beyond recommending.  Woods and Belushi’s powerhouse performances guide the viewer on this tour of the hellish El Salvador during a time of revolution and chaos.  As complicated and wild as the war itself, Boyles‘ personal desires are at constant odds with the safety of those closest to him, making Salvador an intensely, captivating ride that never lets up, leaving the fewer with more questions about the state of the world.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Salvador is available now and can be purchased exclusively through Screen Archives.

    Grave Halloween (2013)

    Director: Steven R. Monroe

    Starring: Kaitlyn Leeb, Cassi Thomson, Dejan Loyola, Graham Wardle & Hiro Kanagawa

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    When American exchange student Maiko (Kaitlyn Leeb, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings) travels to Japan’s Suicide Forest to uncover the truth of her dead birth mother, a college documentary crew captures her journey.  Unfortunately, on October 31st, the group will disturb something sinister in the grim forest that may destroy them all.  Cassi Thomson (Big Love), Dejan Loyola (Evangeline), Graham Wardle (Heartland) and Hiro Kanagawa (Godzilla) co-star.

    Originally premiered on the SyFy network and “inspired” by true events, Grave Halloween feels like a marriage between The Blair Witch Project and J-Horror imagery found in The Ring.  A decent setup of an attractive exchange student hoping to learn the truth behind her birth mother’s suicide, finds our core cast in an atmospheric, backwoods area near Japan’s Mount Fuji.  Littered with subpar performances, Grave Halloween slightly rises above most TV-movie dreck with crafty practical effects in the form of long hair ripping limbs from a victim.  Intercut with ghostly flashbacks to Maiko’s childhood and digital camera POV shots, Grave Halloween grows tiresome as the Suicide Forest becomes a giant maze causing the group to constantly lose each other for most of the runtime.  Weak jump scares and more Japanese phantoms that bombarded cinemas a decade ago appear to underwhelm the viewer.  As the group dwindles and safety is near for the survivors, a twist, open-ended finale concludes Grave Halloween.  Far from the worst made for TV effort, Grave Halloween is competently shot and possesses some worthy practical gore effects but, never manages to be very memorable.  Ultimately, Grave Halloween is a frankenstein concoction of genres we’ve seen before, only with lesser results.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Grave Halloween in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Drenched in heavy fog, detail is nicely picked up in wardrobe and the eerie backwoods setting while, moments of bloody gore pop nicely.  In addition, black levels read respectively well for DVD quality and should please those tuning in.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Grave Halloween picks up dialogue with no hitches and moments of shrieking terror come across with an added bump.  Unfortunately, no special features are included.

    For TV-movie fare, one could do way worse than Grave Halloween.  Borrowing from different subgenres, namely the tired J-Horror realm, Grave Halloween never manages to be anything wildly original or noteworthy.  On a positive note, the usage of practical effects are worthwhile and serve as the film‘s leading strongpoint.  With the Halloween season in full swing, Grave Halloween is not the worst way to kill 90-minutes, but it certainly won‘t be worth revisiting either.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Grave Halloween is available now and can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #16: Flatliners, Nymphomaniac, Stage Fright, The Legend of Billie Jean & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #16 includes:

    - Flatliners (1990) (0:37)
    Street Date: July 22, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com

    - The Legend of Billie Jean (1985) (6:56)
    Street Date: July 22, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com

    - Stage Fright (2014) (14:05)
    Street Date: July 8, 2014
    Magnet Releasing: http://www.magnetreleasing.com

    - Nymphomaniac Volume I & II (2013) (21:59)
    Street Date: July 8, 2014
    Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com

    - Tourist Trap (1979) (34:55)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Full Moon Features: http://www.fullmoondirect.com

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (43:19)

  • Last Action Hero (1993) Blu-ray Review

    Last Action Hero (1993)
    Director: John McTiernan
    Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Robert Prosky, Charles Dance & Tom Noonan
    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    The thrills of movie magic literally come alive in this action-adventure from Director John McTernan (Predator, Die Hard).  Exciting, humorous and satirical, Last Action Hero finds superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) playing exaggerated shades of his own tough guy roles with a wide range of Hollywood’s finest popping up at every turn.  Proudly presented back on Blu-ray, Mill Creek Entertainment invites movie lovers to step into a world where shootouts, exciting car chases and explosions are a way of life!

    Last Action Hero centers on Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien), a young movie fan obsessed with the action-packed Jack Slater films.  On the eve of the latest sequels release, Danny is granted a magical movie ticket transporting him into the action.  Teaming up with Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to bring down a crime circuit, Slater’s nemesis gets ahold of Danny’s ticket, unleashing the dangers of the silver screen into reality.  Robert Prosky (Mrs. Doubtfire), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Art Carney (The Honeymooners), Charles Dance (Alien 3), Frank McRae (The Wizard) and Tom Noonan (Manhunter) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    A box-office blunder that opened a week after Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, Jurassic Park, Schwarzenegger himself considered his meta-action flick his first real failure.  Often overlooked when discussing Schwarzenegger and Director John McTiernan’s career highlights, Last Action Hero is far more smart and entertaining than people care to remember.  Tapping into the common daydream of living the movies, Last Action Hero successfully achieves the escapist fantasies of anyone who’s ever been entertained by cinema.  Danny Madigan (O’Brien, My Girl 2) is relatable as a pre-teen city kid who ditches school and lives for the exploits of his favorite action hero, Jack Slater.  Forming a close friendship with Nick (Prosky), an elderly theater owner, Danny is treated to an early screening of the latest Jack Slater sequel.  Fatherless and financially struggling with his mother, their bond is a charming one as Danny looks to his older friend as a paternal rock.  Nick presents Danny with a magical movie ticket given to him by the great Harry Houdini.  Before long, Jack Slater IV shines across the silver screen and Danny is transported into the film.  Danny‘s gleeful enthusiasm for the movies is intoxicating and one that helps him spot the flaws in his new surroundings.  Engaged in a high-speed shootout with criminals, Jack Slater is surprised by Danny’s appearance and is further intrigued by his knowledge regarding the death of Slater’s favorite second cousin (Carney).  Last Action Hero excels at playfully poking fun at the clichés of the action genre with the murder of Slater’s distant cousin initiating a war against mob criminals.  Danny attempts to tirelessly convince Slater that he is a movie star living in a fabricated world to no avail.  Cameo appearances from Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and Sharon Stone (Total Recall), Danny pointing out the lack of “average looking women” and all phone numbers beginning with 555 only convince Slater of Danny’s insanity.

    Real trouble ensues when Benedict (Dance), Slater’s archrival responsible for his cousin’s death, comes in possession of Danny’s magical ticket.  An ace shot with an ever-changing glasseye, Benedict embodies the best and the silliest aspects of 007’s rogues gallery.  Joining forces with Ripper (Noonan), an axe-wielding madman responsible for murdering Slater’s son in a previous Slater sequel, Benedict invites the dangers of the fantasy world into Danny’s reality.  Finally, Slater believes the topsy-turvy world he’s living in and must trail Benedict into a world where heroes can die.  A rollercoaster-like finale takes place at the world premiere of Jack Slater IV where star Arnold Schwarzenegger walks the red carpet with then wife Maria Shriver.  A brief, hilarious encounter between Schwarzenegger and Slater takes place with Slater telling Arnie how he really feels about him.  Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport), Chevy Chase (Caddyshack), James Belushi (According to Jim) and Little Richard also make appearances on the red carpet.  A final showdown between good and evil takes place on the theater’s rooftop mimicking sequences from Slater’s own films.  

    Intentionally over the top and bolstering a heavy rock soundtrack from AC/DC, Def Leppard and Anthrax, Last Action Hero’s overlong runtime does cause the film to misstep, subjecting the audience to emotional meat for Slater’s character that does little good.  The murder of his son never feels like it phases Slater much, serving more as an excuse to have another villain for the hero to battle.  In addition, the brief inclusion of Slater’s attractive daughter (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Mortal Kombat), while serving as wonderful eye candy, never serves any purpose other than to assist her father in a shootout.  Last Action Hero would have benefitted more by focusing solely on Slater’s fish out of water complex as opposed to his broken family saga.  Despite these flubs, Last Action Hero remains a hilarious, action-induced piece of self-referential cinema that left audiences confused.  Ambitious and underrated, Last Action Hero boasted a marketing campaign as over the top as its plot that included the first paid ad in space through NASA.  Unfortunately, a locked-in release date matched with a behind schedule production and eventual negative word of mouth plagued Last Action Hero from reaching box-office glory.  Like a fine wine and ripe for rediscovery, Last Action Hero is a gaudy good time and sure to delight the movie lover in all of us.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Last Action Hero comes with a 1080p transfer sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  The film is a mixed bag of mediocre black levels seen in Danny’s real world city streets and the dilapidated movie house he frequents.  Skin tones appear decently while, some close-ups (most noticeably of Nick presenting Danny with the ticket) are quite fuzzy and lack proper detail.  That said, Last Action Hero does bolster some worthwhile moments of color seen in Slater’s fictional realm where explosions of bright inferno often occur.  Not unlike its box-office returns, Last Action Hero is mildly disappointing for an action extravaganza starring Arnold Schwarzenegger but still walks away being a modest improvement over past DVD releases.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, Last Action Hero comes with no shortage of gunfire, car crashes and explosions that make great use of its soundscape.  Dialogue comes across with no issues whatsoever (unless you count Frank McRae’s inaudible yelling tantrums) plus, a heavy soundtrack consisting of top acts that will send your speakers for a loud, rockin‘ time!
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    An exciting adventure tale starring action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger and helmed by an A-list director seemed destined for box-office greatness, but alas was not meant to be.  Over 20 years later, Schwarzenegger and McTiernan have done better before and after, but Last Action Hero still maintains a charm and wit that is only now being more appreciated.  Packed with an overabundance of rip-roaring sequences and an enjoyable cast of genre actors, this satirical take on action combined with the escapism of movie magic takes the viewer for a hilarious journey worth buckling up for.  Co-penned by fan favorite Shane Black (The Monster Squad, Lethal Weapon) with a story co-provided by Zak Penn (The Avengers), Last Action Hero is an underrated gem of the early 90s that packs a severe punch of originality.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Anaconda (1997) Blu-ray Review

    Anaconda (1997)
    Director: Luis Llosa
    Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson & Jon Voight
    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Headlined by an eclectic cast of newcomers, familiar faces and an Academy Award winner, Anaconda pits a team of Amazonian journeymen against the world’s largest and deadliest snake.  Earnest in its delivery, this slithering, suspense thriller grabs hold and will take your breath away.  Returning to Blu-ray, Mill Creek Entertainment invites you to dive into the depths with this creature feature.

    Anaconda centers on a documentary film crew traveling the Amazon in search of a mysterious ancient tribe.  Led by Anthropologist Steve Cale (Eric Stoltz) and Director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez), the team encounter Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), a snake hunter who is saved from his sinking boat.  After an accident leaves Cale helpless, Sarone commandeers the expedition in search of a deadly anaconda snake, leading the film crew into a world of danger.  Ice Cube (Friday), Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji), Owen Wilson (Cars), Kari Wuhrer (Thinner) and Vincent Castellanos (Mulholland Drive) co-star.  

    MOVIE:
    Predating 1999’s Lake Placid and the barrage of “animals gone wild” films from SyFy, Anaconda chooses to favor suspense and scares over broad humor.  A box-office smash and childhood favorite, Anaconda relies on the Jaws formula pitting a group of civilians against a force of nature on his territory.  While, not quite the masterpiece Steven Spielberg’s 1975 opus was, Anaconda is still an entertaining romp best enjoyed for its sheer popcorn value.  Kicking off with a brief appearance by genre vet Danny Trejo (Machete), POV shots of the man-eating snake stalk its prey giving the film a slasher-esque vibe that runs throughout the film.  In order to avoid being eaten alive, Trejo offs himself segueing into a documentary crew embarking on an Amazonian journey in search of a tribe.  The cast of performers are all competent enough with Jennifer Lopez (Selena) appearing in arguably, her most tolerable role while, Jonathan Hyde (Titanic) and Ice Cube’s (Boyz n the Hood) chemistry is the root of most of the comic relief.  Academy Award winner Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy) serves as an odd casting choice for the Paraguayan snake hunter with a devious agenda.  Voight’s accent and groovy ponytail may be hokey, but adds a charm of cheese as the film’s antagonist.  Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) appears in an early role as a sound man who meets a deadly fate after sucking face with the anaconda while, Eric Stoltz (Some Kind of Wonderful) is criminally underused following a wasp accident that benches him the majority of the runtime.

    Anaconda serves as a great reminder of how to effectively blend CG and practical effects.  Paling in comparison to today’s technology, the CG still holds up decently for such an early effort in computer effects of this size.  Far from perfect, Anaconda suffers from pacing issues making the viewer wait half the runtime before seeing the beast in all its glory.  The first act can be occasionally boring and a stretch to endure as our characters develop and Sarone’s motives are made clear.  As the snakes appearance becomes more frequent, the fun and suspense build leading to a finale at an abandoned outpost where after killing the deadly snake, another, even larger anaconda tries to make lunch of the remaining crew.  The inclusion of another snake so late in the game feels a bit contrived but well worth it just to see Voight swallowed whole then regurgitated.  Nostalgia aside, Anaconda has aged well and still manages to entertain regardless of its pacing miscalculations.  Boasting one of the most diverse casts to appear in a creature feature, Anaconda is worth curling up to if not taken too seriously.  
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Presented with a 1080p transfer sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Anaconda bears the same appearance as its original 2009 Blu-ray debut.  The film looks slightly soft with an occasional haze, most likely attributed to the fog found in many scenes.  Colors appear accurate, most noticeably in skin tones, but never really pop.  The lush greenery of the Amazon jungle never reaches its full potential while, black levels look a tad fuzzy at times.  Luckily, the transfer is blemish free with no noticeable scratches or other anomalies.  Overall, Anaconda sports a mediocre transfer that could have looked better but will suffice.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, Anaconda has a pleasant audio presentation with dialogue sounding clear and jungle noises relaying nice ambiance.  Composer Randy Edelman’s (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) score is a highlight with its usage of flutes enhancing the exotic landscape of the film.  More climatic sequences offer decent bass but feel somewhat restrained and could have benefitted from an additional boost.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Critically panned and a rousing box-office success, Anaconda was a childhood staple that made you cringe at the sight of the massively long reptile.  Nearly 20 years after its release, Anaconda still retains its charm thanks in part to its divergent cast, lush shooting locations and intent to surprise and thrill.  The ashes of this Jennifer Lopez thrill ride would be collected and morphed into a franchise with cheaper budgets and David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider) in the driver’s seat.  The 1997 original still remains a worthwhile entry in the “animals attack” subgenre worth revisiting, warts and all.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #10: Newhart, Escape from Tomorrow, The Demons, Vinegar Syndrome & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #10 includes:

    - The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio (1971) / A Clockwork Blue (1972) (0:39)
    Street Date: March 28, 2014
    Vinegar Syndrome: http://vinegarsyndrome.com/

    - Newhart The Complete Third Season (9:25)
    Street Date: April 22, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Godzilla: The Complete Animated Series (14:06)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Escape from Tomorrow (2013) (20:37)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Cinedigm: http://www.cinedigm.com/

    - The Demons (1973) (29:25)
    Street Date: April 29, 2014
    Kino Lorber: http://www.kinolorber.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (34:20)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #8: Power Rangers, The Swimmer, August: Osage County, Beneath & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #8 includes:

    - Power Rangers Seasons 13-17 (0:44)
    Street Date: April 1, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - The Swimmer (1968) (10:52)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Grindhouse Releasing: http://www.grindhousereleasing.com/

    - No Holds Barred (1989) (18:24)
    Street Date: April 1, 2014
    Image Entertainment: http://www.watchimage.com/

    - Beneath (2013) (24:23)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Scream Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/screamfactory

    - August: Osage County (2013) (31:53)
    Street Date: April 8, 2014
    Anchor Bay Entertainment: http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/Entertainment.aspx

    - Little House on the Prairie Season One (37:47)
    Street Date: March 25, 2014
    Lionsgate: http://www.lionsgate.com/

    - The Jungle Book 2 (2003) (44:38)
    Street Date: March 18, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo (2004) (50:19)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Disney: http://disney.com/

    - Dennis the Menace Volume One (55:51)
    Street Date: March 11, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (1:00:44)

  • Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5: Gravity, Memory of the Dead, L.A. Law, Oldboy & More!

    This week's installment of the Blu-ray/DVD Weekly Wrap-Up #5 includes:

    - Gravity (2013) (0:32)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Warner Bros: http://www.warnerbros.com/

    - L.A. Law Season 1 (6:27)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Shout! Factory: http://www.shoutfactory.com/

    - Memory of the Dead (2011) (11:14)
    Street Date: February 25, 2014
    Artsploitation Films: http://www.artsploitationfilms.com/

    - Gotham City Serials (16:23)
    Street Date: February 4, 2014
    Mill Creek Entertainment: http://www.millcreekent.com/

    - Oldboy (2013) (19:32)
    Street Date: March 4, 2014
    Sony Pictures: http://www.sonypictures.com/

    - Farewells/Sneak Peeks (25:11)