Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Russia

  • No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) Blu-ray Review

    No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

    Director: Corey Yuen

    Starring: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter Cunningham, Kent Lipham & Jean-Claude Van Damme

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unquestionably reminiscent of other more prominent teenage-geared martial arts pictures, No Retreat, No Surrender plays far more emphasis on its combat sequences as evidenced by its unoriginal narrative and charmingly cheesy performances.  After a pack of threatening mobsters with plans of taking over every dojo in the country descends on his father’s establishment, Bruce Lee obsessed teen Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney, Guiding Light) and his family head to Seattle to start anew.  Finding a pal in the break-dancing R.J. Madison (J.W. Fails, 21 Jump Street) and rekindling a romance with a former flame, Jason finds himself targeted by overweight bully Scott (Kent Lipham, Extreme Prejudice) and local karate hothead Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby, Ring of Fire) on the regular.  Consistently outmatched by his peers and punished by his father for his improper use of fighting, Jason seeks solace at the gravesite of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.  Training in an abandoned house with a shrine to his hero, Jason is stunned when the ghost of Lee returns to personally guide him on his path to becoming a prized fighter.  Trouble strikes again when a local tournament is disrupted by the mobsters and their deadly enforcer Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kickboxer) who ravages the competition with only young Jason left to defend the community and his family’s name.  An unsurprisingly first time effort for much of the principal talent, No Retreat, No Surrender is a ridiculous fight feature with hilarity to be had at the expense of the film’s goofy screenplay and unexpectedly silly plot device of Bruce Lee returning from the grave to play sensei.  Adorned with amusing training montages, a feverishly high-powered theme song and a fast-paced final round bout between the American teen and oh-so-80s Russian villain, No Retreat, No Surrender can’t help but be a fun time, using its amateurish shortcomings to its full advantage.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Retreat, No Surrender for the first time on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing surface scrapes and scratches throughout its runtime, colors are bold and exacting seen through the bright costume choices with sharp detail observed in facial closeups.  Furthermore, skin tones are consummately natural with a solidly filmic presence left intact.  Joined by a rather shoddy DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that struggles to make any definable distinctions, dialogue is serviceable while, music, roaring crowds and the clatter of punches being thrown fall flat and underwhelming.  Although pops and other such anomalies are virtually absent, a large increase in volume during viewing is essential for the rather subdued track.  

    Containing both its recommend International (1:38:55) and U.S. Theatrical Cuts (1:24:01), additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, Stand on Your Own with Kurt McKinney (17:12) where the film’s star recalls training in martial arts his entire life, landing the gig during an open casting call and the production spending more rehearsal time on fight choreography than the actual performances.  In addition, McKinney delves into the rather shady circumstances that convinced both he and Van Damme to pass on the sequel.  Lastly, Trailers for the International Cut of No Retreat, No Surrender (3:20), An Eye for an Eye (1:52), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Avenging Force (1:18), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41) and Steele Justice (1:36) are also on hand.  Delightfully silly with respectable fight sequences featured, No Retreat, No Surrender may technically be a poorly made effort but, one that cult enthusiasts will revel in for all its dodgy issues and valiant efforts.  Making its Blu-ray debut with both cuts included, KL Studio Classics delivers a roundhouse kick of satisfaction to fans anxiously awaiting for this Cold War of martial arts movies.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Retreat, No Surrender can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Who? (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Who? (1975)

    Director: Jack Gold

    Starring: Elliot Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova, Edward Grover & James Noble

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the disappearance of a noted American scientist after a near fatal wreck in the Soviet Union, Who? finds the survivor reappearing unrecognizable as a robotic-hybrid of his former self.  Tasked with determining the true identity of this metallic being, FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye) remains cautiously unsure whether who stands before him is the wounded scientist or an elaborate rouse by Russian forces.  Trevor Howard (Meteor), Joseph Bova (Serpico), Edward Grover (Death Wish) and James Noble (Benson) costar.

    Based on the sci-fi novel by Algis Budrys, Who? stages a tediously dull thriller of uncertain identities and international espionage, brought to life by performances as yawningly robotic as the film’s scientist in metal clothing.  After American scientist and leader of the confidential Neptune Project, Lucas Martino (Bova), vanishes following a deadly car crash along the Soviet border, the thought to be dead professor emerges with his brain and right arm intact whereas the remainder of his body is of robotic material.  Escorted back to the custody of domestic agencies, FBI agent Sean Rogers is all but certain Martino is not who he says he is.  Part paranoid and inclined to trust his instincts, Rogers, through countless interrogations and investigations into the roboman’s past, must determine the truth including the likelihood of Russian intelligence attempting to obtain more information on the Neptune Project.  Juxtaposing between the FBI and the Soviet’s time with the robot assumed to be Martino, Who? is a slow-burn that stumbles to remain interesting or exciting with the exception of a far too short airport runway car chase.  Unintentionally silly in its roboman design and doused in somber tones leaving the film cold to the touch, Who? sounds far more intriguing than it is entertaining resulting in an otherwise forgettable curiosity piece.

    KL Studio Classics presents Who? with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Containing numerous instances of scratches, speckles and cigarette burns to varying degrees, picture quality falls generally softer with black levels, evident in the film’s opening border exchange of Martino, leaving more to be desired.  In addition, skin tones are handled decently while, detail is not of the sharpest caliber with colors occasionally failing to remain consistent.  Although its elements appear to not be the most well maintained, the high-definition transfer remains of average grade.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that neither gravely disappoints or overwhelming satisfies, dialogue is efficiently exchanged with cracks and pops present mostly during reel changes.  Meanwhile, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Jack Gold, moderated by Film Historian Anthony Sloman.  Finally, a Trailer Gallery consisting of The Long Goodbye (2:31), Busting (2:45), The Offence (1:51) and The Naked Face (2:10) conclude the disc’s supplemental package.

    An intriguing premise that lacks style, Who? short-circuits quickly turning a quality cast into a siege of wooden performances, chalking this Cold War thriller into a battle badly lost.  Marking its Blu-ray debut, KL Studio Classics brings the peculiar spy feature to hi-def with passable grades that bare their fair share of battle wounds yet, get the job done all the same.

    RATING: 2.5/5

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

  • Silk Stockings (1957) Blu-ray Review

    Silk Stockings (1957)

    Director: Rouben Mamoulian 

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

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) Blu-ray Review

    The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)

    Director: Norman Jewison

    Starring: Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Winters & Paul Ford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studios Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set on the fictional island of Gloucester off the coast of Massachusetts, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming centers on a Soviet submarine of non-threatening Russians as they run aground near the American island.  Stuck and embarrassed to seek international help, a group of soldiers embark on U.S. soil to locate mechanical assistance, igniting a storm of hilarious panic on the local population.  Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Eva Marie Saint (Grand Prix), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Brian Keith (The Wind and the Lion), Theodore Bikel (The Defiant Ones), Jonathan Winters (The Smurfs) and Paul Ford (The Phil Silvers Show) lead the ensemble cast.

    At the height of Cold War tension and amongst other cinematic wartime responses including The Bedford Incident and Fail-Safe, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming would offer a noticeably more humorous approach to the grim subject.  Based on the novel by Nathaniel Benchley, this satire of wartime worries and Soviet paranoia would headline a charismatic ensemble cast including, Alan Arkin in his film debut and a screenplay from William Rose (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner).  In an instance of art and life coming together, comedic genius Carl Reiner plays vacationing comedy writer Walt Whittaker joined by his loving wife Elspeth (Saint) and their two children.  Soaking in the New England island, an unexpected Soviet submarine, innocently enjoying the American scenery, grounds to a startling halt.  Unable to move, Lieutenant Yuri Rozanov (Arkin), aided by several others, leads a mission to summon local reinforcement to help free them when a series of incidents convince the quiet island’s population that their international enemies have invaded.  Nominated for several Academy Awards, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming follows the local police chief (Keith), along with fellow officer Norman Jonas (Winters), as they attempt to make sense of the fast-traveling news of a Soviet attack.  Meanwhile, the Whittaker’s, aware of the Russians‘ harmless intentions, have little luck improving the situation as hilarious rumor after rumor emerges, increasing the havoc.  As the film follows several groups of characters, as well as highlighting a blooming romance between the Whittaker’s babysitter (Andrea Dromm) and a handsome Russian (John Phillip Law), The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming often feels dated, never fully living up to its uproarious reputation.  Comedy icon Carl Reiner as the leading straight man feels vastly underused while, the young Arkin steals the thunder with his uncanny accent and difficulty with the English language.  While, several moments of genuine humor take place, most notably when Reiner and Gloucester’s switchboard operator attempt to escape from Russian capture, the overwhelming lack of music makes most sequences appear drier than intended.

    Notable for shining Russians in a positive light, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming concludes with a heroic display of courage between the local population and their onetime foes sending the film off on a charming note.  Admired for its favorable impact in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming may not be the most efficient comedy of its kind but, does offer a handful of laughs within its rather lengthy 126 minute runtime that are well worth a shot.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Littered with its fair share of flakes and speckles, colors waver from the satisfying sight of warm skin tones and beautiful exterior shots to the slightly dingy black levels seen in nighttime sequences.  Retaining its natural grain with digital tinkering spared, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming should appease most.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming arrives with dialogue sounding rich and clear while, its brief uses of music and other striking sound effects offer a suitable boost without ever overwhelming.  Special features include a vintage Making-of Featurette hosted by Producer/Director Norman Jewison as he explains the picture’s history in this absorbing watch (23:00) joined by an Original Theatrical Trailer (4:29).

    A critical and commercial hit, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming dares to look into the face of raging war and laugh, side by side with our proposed enemies.  Starring an endlessly talented cast, Director Norman Jewison’s (In the Heat of the Night) wartime parody ultimately suffers from being a dated product of its time and falling short on more laughs than anticipated.  Luckily, Kino Lorber Studio Classics‘ Blu-ray treatment shines with satisfying tech-specs and a worthwhile interview with Jewison.  Worthy of experiencing, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming  contains decent humor but, should not be expected to issue full-blown war on viewers‘ funny bones.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.