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  • 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.

  • I Could Go On Singing (1963) Blu-ray Review

    I Could Go On Singing (1963)

    Director: Ronald Neame

    Starring: Judy Garland, Dirk Bogarde, Jack Klugman, Aline MacMahon & Gregory Phillips

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In her final film appearance, Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) lights up the stage as American singer Jenny Bowman in I Could Go On Singing.  In London for professional engagements, Jenny’s loneliness leads her to reconnect with her lost lover David Donne (Dirk Bogarde, The Damned) and the teenage son she left behind years ago.  Jack Klugman (12 Angry Men), Aline MacMahon (Gold Diggers of 1933) and Gregory Phillips (The Pumpkin Eater) co-star in this musical melodrama from Director Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure).

    Stripping layers of fictional pretenses away, Judy Garland’s curtain call performance in I Could Go On Singing boldly presents the icon in a state that hardly shies from the real world heartache that plagued her career while, reminding viewers of the magical talent that continued to surge through Garland until her untimely death.  Riding high on a tremendous wave of popularity, American singer Jenny Bowman’s arrival in England for a series of concerts at the esteemed London Palladium finds her reconnecting with former flame David Doone following his wife’s passing.  Rattling a sensitive can of worms, Jenny’s desire to see the now 14-year-old son she abandoned with David years earlier is understandably faced with resentment before David’s own kindness gives in.  Informed at a young age that he was adopted, Matt’s (Phillips) introduction to the adored singer is met with excitement and genuine affection as the two strike up a bond that David fears will ultimately be damaging.  Surrounded by agreeable colleagues at all times, Jenny’s insistence to see more of her unaware son fuels the “ask and you shall receive” climate common amongst celebrities in addition to mirroring the all too true reality of Garland’s own situation with two of her children from a failed marriage.  Sincerely charming in her hopes to be rejoined with the loves she should have never left, Garland’s fearless depiction as she drowns her sorrows in Scotch during an especially emotional climax further illustrates the warts and all approach lifted from the star’s own life into her at times heart-wrenching performance.  While Garland’s chemistry with co-star and real-life friend Borgarde (who was also essential in the film’s making) is quiet beautiful, I Could Go On Singing wraps up their turmoils too simply to be considered memorable.  Regardless of its predictable love story conclusion, Garland’s powerful singing sequences bring the film to several halts as viewers marvel at her dazzling showmanship.  Although the film may not achieve the heights of some of Garland’s earlier classics, I Could Go On Singing is a powerful swan song for the eternally loved beauty.

    Twilight Time presents I Could Go On Singing with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Arriving with natural grain present, skin tones are generally strong while, Garland’s glitzy onstage apparel shines nicely against bolder colors found in the bright red stage curtain.  Furthermore, black levels are steady with a generally clean picture free of harsh age-related damage.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is consummately handled in this rather speech-driven feature with Garland’s staged singing performances, backed by a lively band, showcasing the finest moments of the mix.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer Lawrence Turman and Film Historians Lem Dobbs & Nick Redman plus, a second Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle & Steven Peros.  Both tracks are enjoyably lively with behind the scenes information and unquestionable appreciation for Garland making both essential listens.  In addition, an Isolated Score Track (with some effects), the Original Theatrical Trailer #1 (3:47), the Original Theatrical Trailer #2 (3:06), a TV Spot (0:57) and the MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06) are also included.  Finally, a 6-page booklet featuring stills and another deeply researched essay from Film Historian Julie Kirgo concludes the release’s bonus content.

    Blurring the lines between fact and fiction more so than most stars would ever dream, I Could Go On Singing shines a revealing spotlight on Garland who stands tall in a performance worthy of applause.  Attempting to tower above such gems as The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me in St. Louis seems grossly unfair yet, Garland’s troubled last effort delivers a role on par with some of her best.  Meanwhile, Twilight Time’s high-definition treatment is rewarding with its film buff centered supplements, capably provided by the wildly knowledgeable efforts of Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, David Del Valle and others offering Garland fans with invaluable insight into the film’s making and beyond.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now in a limited 3,000 unit edition from Twilight Time, I Could Go On Singing can be purchased exclusively via ScreenArchives.com.

  • A Mighty Wind (2003) Blu-ray Review

    A Mighty Wind (2003)

    Director: Christopher Guest

    Starring: Bob Balaban, Christoper Guest, John Michael Higgins, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer & Fred Willard

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the maestro of mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind reunites Christopher Guest’s (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) stock company of improvisational jokesters for a heartfelt tale centered on folk musicians banding together for a memorial concert in honor of their late manager.  Focusing on former sweethearts Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy, American Pie and Catherine O’Hara, Beetlejuice), the not-so-subtle Folksmen trio (Michael McKean, Better Call Saul, Christoper Guest, The Princess Bride and Harry Shearer, The Simpsons) and perky “neufet” The New Main Street Singers (headed by John Michael Higgins, Bad Teacher, Jane Lynch, Glee and Parker Posey, You’ve Got Mail), the 60s-era musicians dust off the acoustic guitars and banjos for a live event larger than originally envisioned.  Admittedly not as hilarious as Guest’s previous parodies, A Mighty Wind still allows for several unquestionably knee-slapping sequences courtesy of the infallibly funny Fred Willard (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) as a failed television actor turned folk band manager and Jennifer Coolidge (2 Broke Girls) as a PR specialist whose inability to hum will leave viewers in stitches.  While Guest and his other cohorts have their own share of humorous bits, their musical abilities and stage performances surpass the laughs in a touching culmination of talent during the film’s televised concert.  A sonic reversal of the heavy metal shenanigans in This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind substitutes constant comedy in order to tug at viewers’ heartstrings and succeeds admirably.

    Warner Archive presents A Mighty Wind with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the markings of a recently cleaned restoration, skin tones greatly impress with filmic quality flourishing in each scene.  Shot on 16mm before being blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release, the documentary feel of the production remains intact with impressive detail spotlighting Mickey’s husband’s model train set while, the pastel colors found in The New Main Street Singers’ costumes pop quite nicely.  Nearly impossible to spot flaws, Warner Archive’s high-def treatment is mighty remarkable.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is easily relayed through the film’s many interview moments while, the climactic concert sequence delivers strong depth that should appease listeners thoroughly.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Actor/Co-Writer/Director Christopher Guest and Actor/Co-Writer Eugene Levy, Additional Scenes (21:59), TV Appearances (9:22), PBN TV Broadcast of Concert and behind-the-scenes Extras (1:20), all of which feature optional audio commentary from Guest and Levy.  In addition, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:26) and a Soundtrack Spot (0:38) are also included.

    Showcasing a more tender side to his comedic exploits, Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind may lack the gauntlet of gags found in his past efforts while, the cast slay their musical-oriented roles with grace and precision.  Sweet if not mediocre compared to more memorable mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind revives the grassroots tunes of the 60s with love and admiration for its originators.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Warner Archive harmonizes an exceptional HD transfer while, carrying over a gust of vintage supplements for fans of this lighthearted love letter to folk music.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, A Mighty Wind can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Into the Woods (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Into the Woods (2014)

    Director: Rob Marshall

    Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine & Johnny Depp

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, Into the Woods centers on iconic fairy tale characters including, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, young Jack (and his beanstalk) and Rapunzel as their stories intertwine with a childless baker and his wife, tasked to reverse a witch’s curse put upon them.  The impressive ensemble cast includes, Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), James Corden (The Three Musketeers), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Chris Pine (Star Trek), Tracey Ullman (The Tracey Ullman Show) and Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger).

    Beloved for its sensational music and risqué interpretations of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes certain liberties with its big-screen adaptation while, remaining true to the spirit of its stage production.  With all changes and revisions approved by its original creators, Disney’s modestly budgeted spectacle charms viewers with Dennis Gassner’s (Big Fish) rich production design and eclectic cast that all manage to carry Sondheim’s music with ease.  Incorporating characters from several Brothers Grimm tales, Into the Woods centers on a husband and wife baking team (Corden and Blunt), unable to have children due to a wicked witch’s (Streep) curse.  In order to break the spell, the couple must fetch various items belonging to fellow characters including, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Cinderella’s shoe, Rapunzel’s hair and Jack’s cow.  Accustomed to each character and their respective stories, Into the Woods turns audience expectation on its head with twists that playfully poke fun at the sappy and clichéd tales.  While, more adult content and heavier violence may be softened, suggestive sequences involving Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford in her film debut) and The Wolf, in a minor role by Johnny Depp re-teaming with his Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides director, remain intact and inject a splash of innuendo.

    No stranger to the musical world, Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) delivers a fantasy world of wonder and fear that takes viewers‘ breath away.  Unsurprisingly loaded with musical sequences, Into the Woods bewitches with its rich soundtrack including, the film’s catchy prologue and the hilariously passionate “Agony” performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.  While, its on-screen talent never lacks, the film’s standout performance belongs to Emily Blunt whose comedic timing and beautiful singing voice elevate the picture to even higher standards.  Although, captivating and gorgeous, Into the Woods experiences pacing issues in its final act that tend to drag the picture down.  Whilst, “happily ever after” doesn’t exactly apply as one would expect, characters dissatisfied with their fates seek to rectify them as danger looms from a violent female giant threatening the villagers of the woods.  A mild setback but, one that attempts to cram too much into a timeframe that would have benefitted from more breathing room.  Regardless of these mishaps, Into the Woods is a magical journey based on the fairy tales you thought you knew but, tweaked on a grand scale with astounding production detail and exhilarating musical performances.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Into the Woods with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Although, doused in dimly lit, fog-entranced settings, Into the Woods astonishes with inky black levels that reveal no crushing and crystal clear visibility.  Skin tones register naturally and remarkably detailed while, more prominent colors found in Little Red Riding Hood’s cape and Cinderella’s gold gown pop and sparkle magnificently.  In addition, mildly used but, wildly effective, Into the Woods  visual effects sequences light up the screen with zero imperfections on display.  Simply put, Into the Woods casts a perfect spell of a transfer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, Into the Woods sings perfect harmonies with exceptional dialogue levels that project with sheer crispness.  Meanwhile, the plentiful musical sequences excite the mix with solid depth and range that will leave viewers enraptured by the powerful sound.  In one of Disney’s more recently packed releases, special features run aplenty including, an Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall, Streep Sings Sondheim - “She’ll Be Back” (4:48).  Introduced by Marshall, this newly crafted song was shot for the film but ultimately cut.  Also included, There’s Something About the Woods (13:23), The Cast As Good As Gold (10:10), Deeper Into the Woods, a four-part featurette covering From Stage to Screen (8:33), The Magic of the Woods (7:24), Designing the Woods (7:07) and The Costumes of the Woods (6:53).  Finally, Music & Lyrics allows viewers to jump directly to their favorite songs of the film or watch the entire film with optional lyrics while, Sneak Peeks for Disney Movie Rewards (0:32), Once Upon A Time (0:32), The Lion King Broadway Musical (0:32) and Disney’s Descendants (0:17) are included with a Digital HD Code of the release rounding out the supplemental material.

    Capturing the wondrous and fantastical realms of fairy tales, Into the Woods takes the familiar and delivers an entirely unique, slightly adult-oriented revision of happily ever after.  Richly conceived and supporting one of the most talented ensemble casts put forth in a musical, Disney’s big-screen adaptation does justice to its original production, giving movie audiences an effort well worth venturing into.  In addition, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is unquestionably perfect with an informative and ample amount of supplements.  Wishing upon a star, Disney enthusiasts and the musically-minded will find magical delight journeying Into the Woods.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available today from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Into the Woods can be purchased via DisneyStore.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Compleat Al (1985) DVD Review

    The Compleat Al (1985)

    Director(s): Jay Levey & Robert K. Weiss

    Starring: “Weird Al” Yankovic

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Similar to 1984’s rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the almost-true story of another rock and roll legend is hilariously retold.  Tracing the early rise and mass success of Grammy award-winner “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Compleat Al takes viewers behind the scenes and into the comedic genius that is Al.  Rescued from VHS obscurity, Shout! Factory invites viewers once again to embrace their weird side with this concocted chronicle.

    Blending fiction and reality, The Compleat Al is the hysterical mockumentary that takes viewers behind the curtains of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s rise to fame.  From his childhood years to successful stardom, The Compleat Al captures classic moments of Yankovic‘s many journeys and contains eight of “Weird Al’s” classic music videos.  

    MOVIE:

    Riffing the 1982 renowned documentary The Compleat Beatles, the prince of parody, “Weird Al” Yankovic, continues his goofy shenanigans with his own faux rockumentary, tracing the genesis of his creative genius.  Incorporating actual home videos and scripted, albeit comical, interviews with the real Mr. & Mrs. Yankovic, The Compleat Al chronicles “Weird Al’s” early interest in music continuing through his high school and college years before hitting the big time.  Yankovic takes great pride in poking fun at the typical road to stardom story by embellishing the greater majority of his tale with over the top interpretations.  In addition, The Compleat Al incorporates footage from Yankovic’s short-lived MTV show, Al TV, which was a parody of the network itself along with awkwardly funny moments of Yankovic’s Japanese trip.  With the utmost respect for The King of Pop, “Weird Al” reinterprets his encounter with Jackson in gaining permission to parody “Beat It” with knee-slapping results.  Best viewed as a greatest hits package of “Weird Al’s” countless comedy hits, The Compleat Al also contains eight music video classics including “Ricky”, “Eat It”, “I Love Rocky Road”, “I Lost on Jeopardy” and more.

    Falling only slightly short of Yankovic’s feature film classic, UHF, The Compleat Al is a laughable look at the distorted history of “Weird Al”.  A true product of its time with its comedic integrity still intact, Dick Clark, Rick Derringer and Phil Ramone all offer their own phony accounts with Yankovic’s talent, proving the infectiously fun nature of this entertaining “real-life” account.  

    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:

    The Compleat Al arrives in a full-screen transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Previously only available on home video and LaserDisc, The Compleat Al makes its DVD debut bearing its VHS roots.  Containing flakes, speckles and occasional tracking lines, the mockumentary still manages to relay decent colors given Yankovic’s eccentric and flashy styles.  Considering its obscurity, The Compleat Al provides a nostalgic viewing experience for Gen Xers who recall catching the faux tale on Showtime or their personal VCRs.

    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, The Compleat Al never sounds extravagant or greatly disappoints.  Dialogue is even and clear with no audio dropouts while, Yankovic’s music videos do embrace a slightly louder kick.  Restrained to its video age limits, The Compleat Al relays the necessary goods, providing a suitable, yet contained, listen.

    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Film Trailer (0:32)

    • Extended Film Trailer (5:18)

    RATING: 1/5

    OVERALL:

    Collecting cobwebs on the shelves of VHS collectors for nearly 30 years, The Compleat Al finally makes it long-awaited DVD debut.  Off the wall and far from true, “Weird Al” Yankovic weaves a hilarious tale of dreams and successful triumph with his music videos serving as the bread and butter of this obscure mockumentary.  Shout! Factory has treated fans to another welcome slice from “Weird Al’s” comedic career, missing in action for far too long.  True to its video age appearance and scant on special features, the previous unavailability and its genuine strength of hilarity within, The Compleat Al is a necessary addition for fans of the funny, the weird or more likely, both.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available November 11thThe Compleat Al can be purchased via Shout! FactoryAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review

    Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series 

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Paul Reubens, Lynne Marie Stewart, Phil Hartman & Laurence Fishburne

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking a creative revolution in children’s programming, Pee-wee’s Playhouse ignited a Saturday morning phenomenon unlike anything witnessed before.  Paul Reubens’ title character, along with his Playhouse pals, would educate and entertain viewers worldwide with their zany personalities and colorful environments.  Lovingly remastered from the original film elements and packed with over four hours of bonus content, Shout! Factory proudly presents Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

    Winner of 22 Emmy Awards and hailed by TV Guide as one of the top 25 cult television shows ever, Pee-wee’s Playhouse welcomes viewers, young and old, to the home of Pee-wee Herman, your hyperactive, childlike host, who along with his human and puppet friends teaches life lessons through wildly imaginative and fun ways.  

    THE SHOW:

    Following the runaway success of 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Paul Reubens yearned to transition his eccentric character to the small screen for a Saturday morning program akin to Captain Kangaroo.  Debuting in the Fall of 1986, Reubens would find a home at CBS for what would become Pee-wee’s Playhouse, creating an instant hit in the process.  Incorporating cast members such as Lynne Marie Stewart (Night Stand) and Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live) from his original 1981 stage production, Reubens would welcome new characters to his onscreen shenanigans including, Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne, The Matrix), Chairry, Globey and more.  Unlike other children’s programming, Pee-wee’s Playhouse immediately connected with its audience due to its unique production design and disinterest in talking down to its viewers.  Whether Pee-wee was teaching the finer aspects of preparing ice cream soup or introducing viewers to golden age cartoons, a lesson would always be learned with a sense of fun being the priority.  In addition, Pee-wee’s Playhouse is equally beloved for its varied and wild use of artistic styles ranging from stop-motion dinosaurs, jazz playing puppets or green screen usage allowing Pee-wee to roam imaginative worlds.  

    Airing for five seasons and consisting of 45 remarkable episodes, Pee-wee’s Playhouse assembled a roster of youthful talent that allowed their imaginations to freely run wild, bestowing audiences with one of the most creatively enduring and jovial shows of all time.  Like its charming and comical host, Pee-wee’s Playhouse possesses a magical charm that will forever keep the curious and fun-loving child in all of us alive.  

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    Restored from the original film elements and personally supervised by Paul Reubens, Pee-wee’s Playhouse arrives with a 1080i transfer, sporting a 1.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting jaw-dropping brightness and clarity, the endless colors of Pee-wee’s environment pop like never before.  Complexions of the heavily made-up Reubens and his costars shine beautifully while, animated sequences including the Dinosaur Family and Penny can be fully appreciated in all their detailed glory.  Grain levels are wonderfully balanced with a natural appearance and instances of flakes or intruding aging defects are nonexistent.  As a testament to Reubens’ preservation of the materials and Shout! Factory’s efforts, Pee-wee’s Playhouse is simply one of the finest television shows committed to the Blu-ray format.

    RATING: 5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a LPCM 2.0 Audio mix, Pee-wee’s Playhouse sounds just as beautifully as it looks.  Dialogue is always clear and concise with the madcap music (composed by the likes of Mark Mothersbaugh, Danny Elfman, Todd Rundgren, Cliff Martinez and more) effectively crisp at all times.  With no distortion, hiss or any other setbacks, Pee-wee’s Playhouse sounds perfect.

    RATING: 5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Building the Playhouse (51:48): Cast and crew cover the genesis of the show and all its varied aspects that made it such an astounding success.  From artists, puppeteers, cinematographers and others who would go onto bigger success such as Security Guard/Production Assistant John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) all look back on the show with fond memories.

    • Opening the Playhouse (10:53): The artistic and creative challenges of crafting the memorable title sequence are detailed.

    • Writing for the Playhouse (18:42): Contributors of the show reminisce on the very freeing atmosphere of the writing process and their collaborations with Reubens.

    • The Look of the Playhouse (29:49): Focuses more deeply on the iconic production design, hair and make-up and various costume choices for the show.

    • Music of the Playhouse (17:39): Composers such as Mark Mothersbaugh (Rugrats, The Lego Movie) and Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, The Simpsons) offer their insight into their creative process while scoring various episodes.

    • The Cast of the Playhouse (48:19): Shines a light on Pee-wee’s pals that made the show gel, extended interviews from Laurence Fishburne, Lynne Marie Stewart, S. Epatha Merkerson, John Paragon and more are included.

    • Puppets of the Playhouse (30:19): A phenomenal peek at the magic behind the countless puppets and those who brought them to life.

    • Animating the Playhouse (20:39): A well-deserved and fascinating look at the various animation techniques used in the show with first hand accounts from Animators Peter Lord (The Pirates!  Band of Misfits), David Sproxton (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and more.

    • A Very Merry Christmas Special (10:02): Debuting on December 21, 1988, cast and crew share warm memories about shooting the beloved Christmas special, many of whom claim it to be their favorite episode.

    • Fans and Memorabilia of the Playhouse (13:35): The merchandising juggernaut of the show and the unique items that were made available are discussed.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Chaotic and insanely imaginative, Pee-wee’s Playhouse ushered in a new breed of Saturday morning entertainment that has never been matched.  Paul Reubens’ quirky and childish energy won the hearts of millions while, remaining true to an ambitious vision that was achieved by the creativity of countless minds.  A brightly colored jigsaw puzzle of humor, animation, music and above all, fun, Pee-wee’s Playhouse can now be experienced like never before.  Producer Brian Ward and Shout! Factory, in close association with Paul Reubens, have gone to painstaking effort to preserve this classic show with their efforts paying off in spades.  Overflowing with rich and informative bonus content, Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series is not only one of the best releases of the year but, also one of the finest efforts from television’s yesteryear to grace the Blu-ray format.  Today’s secret word is: BUY!

    RATING: 5/5  

    Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series is available now and can be purchased through Shout! Factory, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Buddy Holly Story (1978) Blu-ray Review

    The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

    Director: Steve Rash

    Starring: Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis & William Jordan

    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Forever changing music history and shaping the sound of rock ‘n roll, a four-eyed, snaggle-toothed Texan would electrify the world and tragically leave it just as quickly.  Oscar-nominated Gary Busey brings life to a musical genius in a performance hailed as a career highlight for the character actor.  Filled with heart and unrestrained energy, Twilight Time proudly presents The Buddy Holly Story in a limited edition 3,000 unit Blu-ray release.

    The Buddy Holly Story details the rise of rock ‘n roll legend, Buddy Holly (Busey), from his early beginnings in Lubbock, Texas to worldwide fame through the power of his music.  Brilliantly executed, Busey and his co-stars perform such Holly classics as “That’ll Be the Day”, “Maybe Baby”, “Not Fade Away” and more live on-screen.  Don Stroud (The Amityville Horror), Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti), Conrad Janis (Mork & Mindy), William Jordan (Kingpin) and Maria Richwine (Hamburger: The Motion Picture) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    Revived from the ashes of another cancelled Holly biopic, Director Steve Rash (Can’t Buy Me Love) set forth to tell his own tale of the famed musicians brief but, timeless impact.  With certain liberties taken on the film’s events, The Buddy Holly Story never intends to be a fact-checking, biopic yearning for praise due to its attention to detail.  Instead, this musical drama relies solely on Busey’s uncanny performance and powerhouse live staging of Holly’s hits with co-stars Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith to energize the film.  In retrospect, The Buddy Holly Story falls into minor clichés of the rags to riches story overrun by other music biopics, but always places priority on the music and its effect.  Comfortingly, Busey’s performance is guided by Holly’s perfectionism and songwriting abilities as opposed to any wild excess many musicians take advantage of.  Groundbreaking at the time, the cast’s live performances of Holly’s music are exhilarating and the best aspects of the film.  Raw and authentic, the music swallows the viewer with Busey and company’s tireless abilities keeping heads rocking for hours after the film concludes.

    Keeping true to the celebration of Holly’s music, The Buddy Holly Story chooses to close with Holly’s incredible final performance instead, of a somber depiction of the fatal plane crash that killed the 22 year-old, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.  Far from the factual authority on Holly’s legacy, The Buddy Holly Story remains a throughly entertaining biopic brought to life by Gary Busey’s Oscar-nominated performance and the jovial spirit of Holly’s enduring classics.  Realized by a first time director, The Buddy Holly Story lives on as a cinematic musical effort that wonderfully captures the spirit of the fallen legend.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Buddy Holly Story is presented with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Virtually blemish free, this low-budget effort looks striking with natural skin tones and colors blossoming nicely.  Detail is quite remarkable with Busey’s crystal blue eyes, imperfect teeth and dripping perspiration capturing in vivid clarity.  Black levels are handled well with only exterior shots of the Apollo and Times Square looking slightly drab in comparison.  Clean with healthy grain levels intact, The Buddy Holly Story looks marvelous!

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Buddy Holly Story sounds mostly satisfying.  Early sequences during the Roller Rink performance, dialogue is slightly hard to make out, most likely due to the location’s acoustics and noise levels of the skates.  Luckily, the live performances are the true highlight of the mix with robust energy and sound levels delegated appropriately.  Dialogue also comes in nicely throughout the rest of the film without any hiss or other anomalies to speak of.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Steve Rash and Star Gary Busey: Ported over from an earlier release, the two collaborators discuss various technical choices used during filming.  In addition, Rash mentions the groundbreaking live performances were all shot in one week for budgetary reasons.  Quiet gaps take place but overall, Busey and Rash maintain decent conversation and share plenty of laughs.  Busey if often caught channeling Holly once again by singing along with the film and still sounds great.

    - Isolated Score Track

    - Original Theatrical Trailer (2:37)

    - 6-page Booklet: Julie Kirgo once again lends her words to this well written piece commenting on Busey’s dynamite performance, the film’s unusual good luck in getting made and its modest $1.2 million budget.  Littered with screengrabs and poster art, Kirgo’s essays are always engaging and deepen the appreciation for the film on hand.

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:

    Hailed as Busey’s finest performance, The Buddy Holly Story is an intoxicating look into the creative genius that helped shape rock ‘n roll.  Straying for certain facts, Steve Rash’s biopic never intended to be an authoritative stance on Holly’s history, opting instead to spotlight the music and mesmerizing live performances of his talented cast.  Twilight Time’s limited edition release looks and sounds phenomenal with vibrant colors and a thunderous mix.  In addition, the special features including Rash and Busey’s vintage commentary track is informative and rich with Julie Kirgo’s wise words always lending a scholarly touch to the material.  The Buddy Holly Story will leave you singing and cheering to Holly’s spectacular songs and Busey’s unforgettable performance in this low-budget, critically hailed hit.

    RATING: 4/5

    The Buddy Holly Story can be purchased exclusively at: http://www.screenarchives.com

  • That's The Way of the World (1975) Blu-ray Review


    That’s the Way of the World (1975)
    Director: Sig Shore
    Starring: Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson & Earth, Wind & Fire
    Released by: Scorpion Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Independent distributor Scorpion Releasing is back with another sting of diversity in their exciting Blu-ray catalog.  Harvey Keitel (Mean Streets) stars as a hot-shot music producer who’s caught between creating the music he cares for and the music he’s forced into by his superiors.  Artistic tensions escalate as seedy business politics and corruption consume the purity of music.  Scorpion Releasing proudly presents That’s the Way of the World in a brand new HD master from an interpositive.  Produced and directed by Sig Shore (Superfly), this unique flick marks a time and place in music history, but is it a golden oldie or a one-hit wonder?  Turn up the jukebox and let’s boogie...

    That’s the Way of the World centers on Coleman Buckmaster (Harvey Keitel), an ambitious young music producer with A-Kord Records.  As he works closely with an up-and-coming band named The Group (played by Earth, Wind & Fire who also contribute the music to the film) who he believes has what it takes to make it big, Buckmaster is forced to concentrate all his efforts on an unknown trio The Pages.  The pressures and seedy business practices of the industry begin to weigh down on Buckmaster who must make crucial decisions that will impact the bands under his supervision and his personal relationships.

    MOVIE:
    Admittedly, I’m a sucker for films that take place deep within the entertainment industry.  There’s never a shortage of crushed hearts and broken dreams when it comes to characters navigating the world of razzle dazzle.  That’s the Way of the World takes place in New York City which is home turf to some of Keitel’s most memorable performances in such fare as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.  Keitel breathes life into the role of music producer Coleman Buckmaster effortlessly.  It’s easy to believe in his performance as he focuses in on musical notes with the same precision a chemist handling chemicals would.  Paying more attention to the knobs and buttons in his recording studio, Keitel invokes a passion in his character that is obvious in his dealing with The Group (played by Earth, Wind & Fire).  When the president of A-Kord Records interrupts and forces Buckmaster’s attention on an unknown trio, The Pages, tensions rise.  Buckmaster is torn between his passion project with The Group while being forced into a sound he cares nothing for.  The Pages, a wholesome family trio are far from their cookie cutter image of perfection and hide a much darker backstory.  With the strain of industry politics weighing down and his personal and professional relationships suffering, Buckmaster decides to play the game to his advantage.  As the film progresses, Buckmaster’s motivations seem unclear as he surrenders himself to his seemingly hopeless situation by striking up a romance with The Pages‘ lead singer and eventually marrying her.  As the viewer, we’re confused by Buckmaster’s willingness to give up so easily on his passion since he doesn’t even go down the clichéd road of burning out on drugs.  Of course, the reasons behind this are all explained in the finale in a manner that Buckmaster puts as how the way the world works.  It’s a satisfying conclusion that took a road that left slightly more to be desired.  Luckily, the music from Earth, Wind & Fire is a major draw for the film as the influential band were at the peak of their careers.  In addition, live performances from the funkmasters (some of which take place at a roller derby!) are a wonderful sight with stage antics that excite and music that will keep you bopping your head to the beat.

    That’s the Way of the World also makes phenomenal usage of New York City streets that capture an incredible time in not only music, but the city itself.  In addition, when Buckmaster joins The Pages’ lead singer (played by Cynthia Bostick) on a trip to Hollywood, more terrific street shots are captured making this film a great time capsule of some of the country’s greatest cities at such an exciting time.  

    Many industry professionals have praised That’s the Way of the World for its accuracy in capturing the seedy underbelly of the record business.  The film definitely earns its marks in that department but still falls shy from being a truly great gem.  The film packs one of Keitel’s more intriguing performances of the 1970s with a killer soundtrack supplied by the iconic Earth, Wind & Fire along with some prime footage of New York City and the Los Angeles area.  That’s the Way of the World entertained me but fell slightly short due to the lack of drama some of the characters experienced throughout the film.  While, it strayed from selling the typical “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” story, more of that might have been beneficial in making the film all the more entertaining.  That’s the Way of the World is still a film that offers a lot of quality merits and shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing films about the entertainment industry.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    (NOTE: That’s the Way of the World is presented in HD from a slightly different cut than the original theatrical presentation.  Usable HD materials for the theatrical cut were not sufficient hence the cause for the slight difference in its HD presentation).

    That’s the Way of the World is presented in a 1080p anamorphic HD master (1.78:1) from the interpositive.  Overall, the film looks quite nice with a filmic layer of grain intact throughout the entire runtime and skin tones looking strikingly accurate.  Instances of debris and pops in the print are seen occasionally but nothing of real distaste.  Black levels leave slightly more to be desired with a faint haze in darker scenes but again nothing too distracting.  Considering the HD print was struck up from several different sources, I’m quite content with the video presentation.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    That’s the Way of the World comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that is decent enough.  Dialogue scenes come across clear for the most part but there are instances when conversations fall a little on the low side.  Nothing a little raise to the volume button won’t fix.  The powerful music from Earth, Wind & Fire is as loud and robust as one would hope and their musical live performances are some of the standout moments for the audio mix.  It should be noted that actors’ lips were always a hair behind the actual audio track.  This is certainly nothing that takes away from the serviceable audio quality but it couldn’t help but be noticed.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Theatrical Version: Presented in standard definition, the theatrical cut clocks in nearly four minutes longer than the HD presentation with the most noticeable inclusion being a sex scene between Keitel and Bostick.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - TV Spots

    - Still Gallery

    - Scorpion Releasing Trailers: Includes Horror on Snape Island, Grizzly, Deathship and Day of the Animals.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Scorpion Releasing never seizes to amaze me with their dedication to cult cinema of all genres.  That’s the Way of the World was an intriguing picture with standout performances from Keitel and a soundtrack so catchy, you’ll be singing it for days.  While, the film won’t go down as an essential film about the innerworkings of the record industry, it still comes recommended for its accurate depiction of a business that can make dreams comes true for the fortunate and destroy lives for the unprepared.  Scorpion Releasings‘ handling of the film is quite possibly the best this music-centered flick is bound to see.  The HD master looks about as pristine as one could hope to achieve considering the hurdles that were undergone.  The inclusion of the theatrical cut was also a nice touch for completists sake.  That’s the Way of the World may have fallen short of my expectations but it’s still a film I am pleased to have in my Scorpion collection and one I can see myself revisiting.
    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Roadie (1980) Blu-ray Review


    Roadie (1980)
    Director: Alan Rudolph
    Starring: Meat Loaf, Kaki Hunter, Art Carney, Deborah Harry & Alice Cooper
    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Since raiding the vaults of MGM’s vast film library, Shout! Factory has released some true gems on the Blu-ray format.  Electra Glide in Blue, Rolling Thunder, Futureworld and Joshua Tree are just a few that spring to mind while their popular Scream Factory division has single-handedly given deluxe treatments to The Fog, Lifeforce and From Beyond with many more on the way.  Shout! Factory clearly decided it was time fans should bite down on a little Meat Loaf…  not that kind of meat loaf.  Roadie marks legendary rock-star and part-time actor Meat Loaf’s first starring role in a motion picture.  Under the direction of Alan Rudolph (Trouble in Mind, also available on DVD from Shout! Factory), Roadie takes inspiration from James “Big Boy” Medlin’s experiences as a roadie in the music scene while crafting a rock n’ roll road movie with appearances from popular artists like Blondie, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams Jr., Asleep At The Wheel and Alice Cooper.  With talent like that attached, it’s time to turn up your amp, tune your guitar and give Roadie a sound check…

    Roadie focuses on Travis Redfish (Meat Loaf), a beer truck driver who by unusual circumstances ends up becoming the “greatest roadie ever”.  As Travis gets accustomed to his new lifestyle it becomes clear that in this life, bands make it rock and roadies make it roll!  Teaming up with a young groupie (played by Kaki Hunter of Porky’s fame), the pair travel city to city while brushing shoulders with top acts like Blondie, Roy Orbison and Alice Cooper.  Chaos and hilarity follow them on a journey that will go down in rock n’ roll history.

    MOVIE:
    It’s always surprising to me that an iconic musician of Meat Loaf’s caliber has been able to craft a successful acting career simultaneously.  The likelihood of accomplishing such a feat is rare in the entertainment industry, but Meat Loaf can die a Grammy winner and an actor who’s talents can be found in truly classic films (The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fight Club).  That’s a legacy I sure wouldn’t mind having.  In 1980, a few short years after The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult classic, Meat Loaf was given his shot as the lead in a little flick called “Roadie”.  Without ever experiencing the film before, I came to it with a love for “rock n‘ cult” movies (yes, I just coined that term) such as Rock ‘n‘ Roll High School (one of my favorite films) and Get Crazy.  But, as the film progressed, it became clear that this was not the same kind of rock n‘ roll film as the others.  The best way to sum up Roadie is that it’s a road movie with rock n‘ roll elements to it… and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!  The film is packed with so much odd hilarity which gels nicely with the wonderful, albeit less than expected, musical performances.  Meat Loaf is really hamming it up in this role and he carries the film like a champ, I truly could not get enough of him here.  In addition, he’s accompanied by veteran actor Art Carney (The Honeymooners) who plays his eccentric elderly father along with Don Cornelius (Soul Train) and Joe Spano (The Incredible Shrinking Woman).  The whacky set design of the Redfish home is true eye candy as it looks like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse redesigned by a Texas beer truck driver.  The location utilized for filming was the same house that appeared in 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The film packed plenty of laughs along with cool time capsule shots of New York City at the time and Los Angeles outside of the historic Whisky A Go Go.  If there was any complaints to be had, it was the lack of musical performances.  Sure, there are some iconic acts in this film don’t get me wrong, but with the exception of Blondie’s cover of Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire", most were forgettable.  Even Alice Cooper’s minor musical performance wasn’t as appealing as watching his humorous scenes With Meat Loaf and Hunter.  Minor gripe aside, Roadie is a hysterical road flick that also throws some choice rock music at you.  Meat Loaf, along with the rest of the cast, did a solid job keeping me entertained and laughing which is what you really want from a flick like this.  Rock on, roadies!
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Roadie is presented in a 1080p transfer in 1:78:1.  The film appears soft at times with minor cases of scratches but nothing that takes away from the viewing.  Skin tones all appear natural but it isn’t until close-ups of the actors appear that make you appreciate the detail.  The stained appearance of Meat Loaf’s teeth and the sweat culminating off of Alice Cooper’s make-up pop magnificently.  Grain looks quite natural leaving me with little to whine about.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    The film has a DTS-HD Master 2.0 mix and an advertised DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that actually isn’t on the disc.  A drag but judging the 2.0 mix, dialogue comes across clear as can be and the musical performances definitely do their job rocking the audio.  That said, while the music sounded fine and certainly loud, I still felt it could have been a pinch louder.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary from Writers James “Big Boy” Medlin and Michael Ventura: This is a very lively and informative commentary that touch on a variety of topics including the inspiration of the film being Medlin’s roadie days touring with such acts as The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead.  The commentary never drags and offers great insight into the making of this entertaining flick.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 3/5

    OVERALL:
    Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of Roadie is a hilarious road movie that sits handsomely next to other “rock n’ cult” flicks like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Get Crazy.  While the sound quality is more than adequate, I feel like it could have been a pinch louder especially during the musical numbers.  The extra features are a nice touch although it would have been nifty to see interviews with Alice Cooper or even Meat Loaf on their memories from the film.  Not so much a complaint but more of a desire since I just found myself loving the film.  The quality of the flick itself and the filmic video representation are more than enough to add this rockin’ movie to your collection.  Rock on!
    RATING: 4/5