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  • Tales from the Hood (1995) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Tales from the Hood (1995)

    Director: Rusty Cundieff

    Starring: Corbin Bersen, Rosalind Cash, Rusty Cundieff, David Alan Grier, Anthony Griffith, Wings Hauser, Paula Jai Parker, Joe Torry & Clarence Williams III

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Executive Producer Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing), Tales from the Hood unspools an anthology of urban frights set against the backdrop of inner city social issues as frightening as the monsters depicted in them.  Nightmares and reality are forever blurred when a trio of hoodlums retrieving a stash of missing drugs from an eerie mortician find themselves subjected to several tales from beyond the grave.

    Released in a dire genre year just ahead of Wes Craven’s postmodern slasher masterpiece rejuvenating audiences thirst, Tales from the Hood stands as one of the few crowning achievements from the lumpish decade that offers genuine frights with effectively delivered messages entwined in their narratives.  Seldom seen during the scatterbrained era but nonetheless serving as one of the best anthology efforts of its day, Tales from the Hood’s urban slant provides a chillingly fresh perspective on a proven formula with its commentary on issues such as, police brutality, domestic abuse and gang violence unfortunately still potent today.  Guiding his trigger-happy guests around his funeral home, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III, Mod Squad) weaves a web of ghoulish stories in accordance with their own ethnic environment.  When an African-American rookie cop watches on as a civil rights leader is attacked by corrupt officers, Rogue Cop Revelation finds his lack of action comes at a haunting price while, Boys Do Get Bruised finds a child’s fear of the monster in his closet foreshadowing the real-life domestic abuse he suffers and the power of his own imagination that puts an end to it in this Twilight Zone-esque episode.  Furthermore, KKK Comeuppance centers on former Klansman and running politician Duke Metger (Corbin Bernsen, L.A. Law) learning his former plantation homestead is overrun by vengeful slave dolls brought to life by stop-motion wizardry.  Lastly, gang violence, hate and a failed attempt to rehabilitate a murderous convict in Hard Core Convert strikes genuine fear into the hearts of viewers with its grizzly imagery of real-life lynchings.  While most films of its kind leave audiences cherry-picking their favorite segments, Tales from the Hood continuously tops itself throughout its duration with its seamless blending of terror and gritty, urban realism making it one of the most smartly conceived efforts of the 90s.

    Reportedly thought to have no workable prints to remaster from, Scream Factory comes through to deliver Tales from the Hood with a strong 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Leaps and bounds better than its nearly decade-old discontinued DVD release, colors are striking while, skin tones are naturally pleasing with black levels, evident during the film’s overwhelming nighttime sequences, looking deeply inky with no intrusions of digital crush.  Scant speckling traces aside, the transfer is a remarkable sight that will leave fans yearning for a trip back to the hood more than pleased with the results.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue sharply and emphasizes its rap soundtrack authoritatively, an Alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 culled from the film’s LaserDisc release is also included for your listening pleasure.  Joining its place alongside other worthy Collector’s Edition releases, supplemental offerings include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff also recycled from its LaserDisc release, the newly-produced and exceptionally well made Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales from the Hood (56:13) featuring interviews from Cundieff, Co-Writer/Producer Darin Scott and several cast members, a Vintage Featurette (6:04), the Theatrical Trailer (1:41), TV Spots (3:26), a Photo Gallery (9:46) and Reversible Cover Art bearing the original 1-sheet.

    Retrieved from Universal’s vaults after rampant requests from fans, Tales from the Hood is an underrated gem from a decade largely considered in peril with few redeeming genre efforts.  A horrific journey of eerie episodes with much more on its mind than simply scaring its audiences, this socially conscious and wickedly fun frightfest is urban horror at its finest.  Bestowed with new luridly crafted artwork by Joel Robinson (The Vincent Price Collections), Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release brings the hood back to life with a sightly high-definition makeover and a quality serving of mostly vintage supplements while, its brand-new, nearly hour-long retrospective doc is the disc’s towering extra.  Gather round the casket and don’t be left out on the streets without this recommended anthology of nightmares!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 18th from Scream Factory, Tales from the Hood can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Home of the Brave (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Home of the Brave (1949)
    Director: Mark Robson
    Starring: Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, James Edwards, Steve Brodie & Jeff Corey
    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a play by Arthur Laurents (Rope), Director Mark Robson (The Harder They Fall, Earthquake) brings to life one of Hollywood’s first true statements on the issue of racism.  Starring a talented cast of actors including Lloyd Bridges (Airplane!) and introducing James Edwards (Patton) as the discriminated Pvt. Peter Moss, Olive Films proudly presents this wartime tale of struggle and degradation for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray.

    Home of the Brave captures the story of a young black soldier, Pvt. Peter Moss (James Edwards), who suffers a nervous breakdown and psychosomatic paralysis.  Troubled by rage after experiences during a reconnaissance mission and a lifetime of discrimination, Moss may walk again if he can overcome his anger and trauma.  Produced by Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Home of the Brave also stars Frank Lovejoy (House of Wax), Lloyd Bridges (High Noon), Steve Brodie (Out of the Past) and Jeff Corey (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

    MOVIE:
    Racism has always been the purple elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge.  Hollywood in the 1940s was no exception as studio heads would normally turn a blind eye to the issue.  Hailed as the first motion picture dealing with anti-Negro prejudice, Home of the Brave faces the uncomfortable topic head-on set against the backdrop of war.  Interestingly enough, this 1949 effort was the first film since 1933’s The Emperor Jones issued permission to use the derogatory slur, “nigger”.  Game changing practices aside, Home of the Brave walks the fine line of war film and character driven drama quite well.  The intimate group of soldiers asked to take part in a risky reconnaissance mission handle their roles accordingly.  Upon learning of their latest recruit, Pvt. Pete Moss (Jones), some members of the group have their reservations about the young soldier.  Major Robinson (Douglas Dick) is immediately taken back as he calls his superior to merely inform him of Pvt. Moss’s skin color.  Luckily, Moss is reunited with his high school pal, Finch (Lloyd Bridges), which helps yield tension for the time being.  As the soldiers being their mission to chart a map, the film becomes a character driven exploration of how we view our fellow man.  Hostility rises as T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie) constantly insults African-Americans in Moss’s presence until a brawl with Finch emerges.  The camaraderie between Edwards and Bridges is the glue that holds the film together, flashing back to their high school days to showcase the genuine care Finch has for Moss regardless of his skin color.  

    Eventually, the deadly presence of enemy soldiers hurls the men into a chase for their lives.  Finch and Moss’s relationship becomes tested when Finch reacts hastily by racially insulting his friend.  With his patience and emotions wearing thin, Moss and the soldiers are faced with escaping from their enemies as one of them are killed.  As Moss holds the dying body of his fellow solider, his legs become paralyzed resulting in the other men carrying him to the boat’s safety.  Edwards‘ performance is emotionally charged and commands the camera with his intense stare.  Safe and recuperating, Moss is tended to by a doctor (Jeff Corey) that is committed to helping him come to terms with his experiences and lifelong discrimination.  Moss’s medical rehabilitation feels slightly rushed as he regains feeling in his legs after the good doctor’s unique methods.  In addition, Moss and fellow solider, Sgt. Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) who lost his arm in battle, reconnect and plan to go into business together as they return to a normal existence.  Lovejoy’s character is levelheaded and always kind to Moss which makes their stronger formed friendship a little too safe.  The arrogant and constantly insensitive T.J. would have made a much more interesting choice to experience a drastic change in character.  While, the conclusion of the film nearly jeopardizes its emotional impact by solving the characters’ problems too simply, Home of the Brave still possesses a strong message with solid performances that hold up well, 65 years later.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Home of the Brave is presented with a 1080p transfer in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Kicking off with typically scratchy war stock footage, the film improves nicely as the narrative begins.  Reasonably clean with a fair amount of flakes, scratches and the occasional vertical lines popping up, the film looks decent with a healthy filmic layer of grain intact.  Black levels, while mainly attributed to underlit sequences, are slightly underwhelming but far from deal-breaking.  Detail is well received in close-ups with perspiration and aging wrinkles clearly seen.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, Home of the Brave looks more than acceptable for a film of its age.
    RATING: 3.5/5  

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, Home of the Brave, while never having a wide sounding range, provides a suitable mix that relays dialogue well.  A slight hiss is heard early throughout the mix which thankfully never intrudes on character interaction.  In addition, the film possesses an occasional pop in its audio, but no other noticeable issues were found.  That said, the mix is a little low for my liking and is recommended to be cranked up in order to catch all dialogue.
    RATING: 3/5

    EXTRAS:

    None.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    Quite groundbreaking at the time of its release, Home of the Brave is still a noteworthy statement on the issue of race and discrimination.  Nicely shot and wonderfully acted by the small cast, most notably Edwards, Home of the Brave sells itself short by skimping out on its full emotional potential in the final act.  Olive Films have done a fine service preserving this war drama to the best of their abilities for audiences to enjoy once again.  Home of the Brave still retains an important meaning and serves as one of the earliest WWII films to feature an African-American soldier, breaking the mold of African-Americans regulated to servant and slave roles.
    RATING: 3/5