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Currently showing posts tagged Sam Raimi

  • Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

    Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Jill Marie Jones & Lucy Lawless

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    30 years after saving humanity from demonic takeover, Ash vs Evil Dead finds aging stock boy Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) revving up the chainsaw once more after foolishly unleashing the Deadites back into the world.  Teaming up with two directionless co-workers, the trio head out on the open road to put the definitive stake into hell’s minions.  Ray Santiago (Sex Ed), Dana DeLorenzo (The Mad Ones), Jill Marie Jones (Girlfriends) and Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) co-star.

    Following the medieval madness of 1992’s Army of Darkness, Evil Dead heads have yearned for the endlessly hinted at fourth adventure of everyone’s favorite monster-hunting stock boy.  Reigniting the franchise torch with a financially successful and fan divided 2013 remake, the likelihood of continuing the continuity of yesteryear appeared dead and buried until the groovy world of television extended itself to all its blood splattering campiness.  Acting as co-executive producer and pilot director, original series helmer Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell) and Star Bruce Campbell return to their stomping grounds, ensuring Ash vs Evil Dead to be the madcap followup viewers have been waiting for.  Living a trailer park life and holding down a dead end position at ValueShop, Ash Williams uses his nincompoop charm and wooden hand to swoon bar floozies into bathroom quickies.  Regressing the horrific events of his past while keeping the demon calling Necronomicon book of the dead locked up, Ash’s own idiocy and a night of high times with a blonde finds the flunky reading from the dreaded tome and unleashing evil yet again.  In true irresponsible fashion, Ash aims to skip town to avoid his problems, inadvertently wrapping up fellow hombre Pablo (Santiago) and his crush Kelly (DeLorenzo) in the mix.  With white-eyed demons on the prowl, Ash’s attempts to undo the damage fail forcing him back into the role as the world’s most unlikely yet, nonetheless badass defender.  Embarking on a hellacious road trip for answers to stop the Deadites, the authorities and a mysterious figure with questionable intentions pursue Ash and his sidekicks through 10 episodes of gloriously over the top gory carnage.

    As cheeky and horrific as its cinematic predecessors, Ash vs Evil Dead captures the tone of Raimi’s backwoods frightfests with absolute precision while, Campbell’s equally cool and corny personality sells the onscreen exploits with his acknowledged age and out of touchness with today’s times making the character funnier than ever.  Always the lone wolf, Ash is served well by his cronies in demon disposing who enhance the show’s humor with their characters gelling solidly with the inherently funny Campbell.  While Ash’s graying hair and belly girdle are the butt of many jokes, Ash vs Evil Dead has a hoot laughing in the face of today’s politically correct mindset taking lighthearted racial and sexist jabs at the expense of his teammates.  Matched with phenomenal makeup designs for its many monsters and geysering with bloodshed albeit, overly reliant on unflattering computer-generated gore, each episode paints the screen red, laughing wildly to its end credits.  Smartly forging new roads from its onset with the establishment of new characters including, the bizarre Ruby (Lawless) who holds Ash solely responsible for the evil’s outbreak and harbors her own desires to own the Necronomicon, Ash vs Evil Dead comes full circle welcoming viewers back to a familiar setting for a horrifically action-packed finale.  A hilariously macabre delight, Ash vs Evil Dead plays all the right notes and fits like a chainsaw, standing proudly as a hail-worthy small screen sequel to Raimi’s three theatrical favorites.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents all 10 episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, each episode is blemish free with top-notch detail observed in facial features, costumes and Ash’s messy trailer while, skin tones are exceptionally natural with colors radiating off the screen from Ruby’s red hot vehicle to more subdued shades found in Ash’s navy blue shirts.  In addition, black levels are deep and appealing with only faint noise spotted throughout darkly lit basement sequences in the season finale.  Equipped with Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixes, sound quality is exquisite with dialogue clear as crystal, screams and chainsaws sharply relayed and the show’s phenomenal soundtrack selections from Deep Purple, The Stooges, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper and AC/DC making thoroughly rockin’ statements.  With the pilot episode, “El Jefe”, arriving with an optional Audio Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer Sam Raimi, Co-Executive Producer Ivan Raimi, Executive Producer Rob Tapert & Executive Producer/Actor Bruce Campbell, each subsequent episode contain commentary tracks from a variety of interchanging guests including, Executive Producer Rob Tapert and Actors Bruce Campbell, Dana DeLorenzo, Ray Santiago, Jill Marie Jones and Lucy Lawless.  Additional special features include, Inside the World of Ash vs Evil Dead (15:59).  Attached to the end’s of each episode during their original airings, the creators and cast sit-down for brief interviews about their makings.  Furthermore, the self explanatory How to Kill a Deadite (2:31) and the sizzle reel Best of Ash (1:27) round out the bonus offerings.

    Reopening the Book of the Dead after nearly 25 years, fans have much to hail for with Ash vs Evil Dead.  Seamlessly appearing as an extended overdue sequel, Campbell and company have loaded this boomstick debut season with enough humor, horror and buckets of red stuff to have made the wait well worth it.  Deservedly renewed for another season of undead mayhem and snappy one-liners, Anchor Bay Entertainment presents the program with exceptional high-def merits and a generous spread of supplements including, informatively funny commentary tracks on each episode.  Groovy doesn’t even begin to describe Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season but, it’s one hell of a start!

    RATING: 4/5

    Available August 23rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Ash vs Evil Dead: The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Guardian (1990) Blu-ray Review

    The Guardian (1990)

    Director: William Friedkin

    Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown & Carey Lowell

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Dan Greenburg, The Guardian centers on young parents Phil (Dwier Brown, Field of Dreams) and Kate (Carey Lowell, License to Kill) welcoming the arrival of their newborn baby.  Shortly after hiring the ideal live-in babysitter, Phil and Kate’s worst nightmare comes true when Camilla’s (Jenny Seagrove, Local Hero) supernatural intentions for their child are revealed.  Brad Hall (Saturday Night Live), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop), Natalija Nogulich (Hoffa) and Gary Swanson (Vice Squad) co-star.

    Marketed as Academy Award winning director William Friedkin’s (The French Connection, The Exorcist) return to the horror genre, The Guardian modernizes the dark origins of fairy tales with the deep-rooted fears of all parents for a uniquely-suited picture.  Adhering to the ancient druid worship of trees, an evil yet, convincingly caring nanny (Seagrove) connives her way into the lives of unsuspecting parents in order to sacrifice their newborn babies.  Disappearing only to resurface under a new identity as Camilla, Phil (Brown) and Kate (Lowell) hire the charmingly attractive woman to care for their newborn only to find themselves rattled by unsettling nightmares and the declining health of their baby.  While local friends fall victim to Camilla’s wicked ways courtesy of flesh-eating wolves, the couple’s suspicions are validated after a grieving former victim comes forward to warn the couple of the monster living under their roof.  Unsuccessfully convincing the authorities of the supernatural powers at play, Phil and Kate must trek to the source of the evil in order to protect their baby’s soul.

    Previously developed for Director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead, Spider-Man) before jumping ship to helm Darkman, the project would suffer through several grueling rewrites once Friedkin joined the production.  With the foundation of a solid premise, The Guardian falters due to its noticeably shaky screenplay and Friedkin’s quick-cutting that capsizes any effect the film’s scarier moments intend.  Although sequences of homicidal trees dismembering three deserving thugs make for solid eye-candy, The Guardian’s dark fairy tale tone finds itself largely lost in the woods.  Failing to attract audiences or sizable box-office returns with Friedkin also distancing himself from the project, The Guardian has marginally grown in appreciation amongst cult cinema circles.  Hardly reaching the quality of Friedkin’s devil-possessing 1973 classic, The Guardian, with its occasionally striking moments of grim imagery, is neither entirely forgettable nor remarkably memorable.  

    Scream Factory presents The Guardian with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Amidst several instances of flakes and specks, skin tones appear well saturated and boasting natural appearances.  Meanwhile, colors are strongly enforced with greenery and moments of gore popping most nicely.  With countless sequences shrouded in darkness and shadow, black levels appear inky and well detailed.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is prominently handled with audibility never an issue.  Furthermore, moments of suspenseful intensity including Ned’s savage assault from wolves and Phil’s chainsaw-wielding battle in the film’s final act are sharp and effective.  Packed with a varied assortment of new and vintage supplements, special features include, A Happy Coincidence with Dwier Brown (21:56), From Strasberg to The Guardian with Gary Swanson (10:10), A Mother’s Journey with Natalija Nogulich (11:33), Scoring the Guardian with Jack Hues (6:40) and Tree Woman: The Effects of The Guardian with Matthew Mungle (13:07) all produced by Aine Leicht’s dependable Cavetown Pictures.  Also included, Return to the Genre: An Interview with William Friedkin (17:25), The Nanny: An Interview with Jenny Seagrave (13:19) and Don’t Go in the Woods: An Interview with Stephen Volk (21:00).  Finally, a Still Gallery (1:19) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:34) round out the disc’s bonus content.

    Unfairly compared to one of the genre’s most enduring efforts, The Guardian is all but destined for failure.  That said, judged on its own merits, Friedkin’s grim fairy tale never quite lives up to its full potential with a problematic screenplay and stabs at suspense crumbling.  Although its narrative may appeal to some more than others, Scream Factory’s high-definition upgrade unanimously impresses with its technical grades checking out and its supplemental package being worth the price of admission alone.  Long out of print, Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is prime for Friedkinphiles and others unfamiliar with the Academy Award winner’s horror followup.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available January 19th from Scream Factory, The Guardian can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Assault on New Releases #8: Army of Darkness Collector's Edition (1993), Pixels (2015) & Get Mean (1975) Blu-ray Reviews

     

    ASSAULT ON NEW RELEASES #8

    Army of Darkness (1993)

    Director: Sam Raimi

    Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie & Richard Grove

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the conclusion of The Evil Dead trilogy, Bruce Campbell (Maniac Cop) headlines Army of Darkness as the chainsaw-wielding Ash, whisked away to the Dark Ages by demons.  Forced to recover the Necronomicon in order to return home, Ash must first lead a castle of knights against an undead army and save his medieval lover (Embeth Davidtz, Matilda) from a devilish version of himself.  Much like its predecessor, Army of Darkness reinterprets its simplistic backstory to offer a uniquely fitted tale without compromising the charms and quirks of its headlining hero.  Transported to the year 1300, Ash finds himself out of his element amongst chivalry until the all too familiar demons of his recent past make their presence known once again.  Using his offbeat charm, Ash woos the beautiful Sheila before awakening an army of skeletons following his own buffoonish missteps in reclaiming the Book of the Dead.  Preserving the horror and comedy of its previous entries, Army of Darkness increases the silliness with slapstick gags at every turn and action-packed sword battles.  Inspired by Jason and the Argonauts, the film’s exciting finale finds our heroes doing battle against a siege of skeletons, impressively brought to life by stop-motion artistry.  In addition, the horrific Deadites, excellently designed by KNB’s Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Howard Berger (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), mark a series high for the franchise.  Absurdly entertaining and lovingly over the top, Army of Darkness is arguably the grooviest of The Evil Dead three with a grander scale of charming effects work and Campbell’s dependable charisma packing a shotguns worth of fun.

    Marking its definitive release, Scream Factory proudly presents Army of Darkness’ multiple cuts across a sprawling three discs.  Bearing 1080p transfers, the film’s Theatrical Version (1.85:1, Disc 1), Director’s Cut (1.78:1, Disc 2) and International Cut (1.78:1, Disc 3) arrive with varying pros and cons.  Although a brief omission of footage located in the Theatrical Version has been recognized by the distributor with corrective measures taking place, all three transfers range from respectable to excellent with healthy filmic appearances.  Admittedly, the Director’s Cut, although decently presented, boasts moments of inherent dirt and debris with occasionally splotchy black levels while, the International Cut, sourced from a new 4K scan from the inter-positive, packs the cleanest punch.  Although slight imperfections are noted in each varying transfer, Scream Factory’s efforts have unquestionably surpassed previous releases for the better.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes and optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes, dialogue is efficient and robust while, the film’s goofy sound effects and sword clattering battle sequences ring appreciatively loud.  

    Practically possessed with extensive special features, the well deserved Collector’s Edition release offers on Disc 1, Red Shirt Pictures’ latest and possibly greatest retrospective Medieval Times: The Making of Army of Darkness (1:36:35), the Original Ending (4:37), an Alternate Opening with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (2:58), Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Sam Raimi & Actor Bruce Campbell (11:06), Theatrical Trailer (2:05), TV Spots (1:56) and a U.S. Video Promo (0:32).  In addition, Disc 2 boasts an Audio Commentary with Director Sam Raimi, Actor Bruce Campbell and Co-Writer Ivan Raimi, On-Set Video Footage Compilation (4:40), Creating the Deadities (21:29) where KNB’s Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger showcase how the film’s memorable monsters were concocted, Behind the Scenes Footage from KNB Effects (53:54), Vintage Making of Featurette (4:51) and Extended Interview Clips (5:02).  Furthermore, Disc 3 contains the film’s TV Cut (presented in 1080i, Fullscreen 1:33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix), the International Theatrical Trailer (2:08), Still Galleries with Rare Behind-the-Scenes Photos (28:16), Still Gallery of Props and Rare Photos (4:05), Storyboards (7:37) and The Men Behind the Army featurette (18:58).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art including the film’s 1-sheet poster is also included on Scream Factory’s prominently packed release of this cult treasure.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Army of Darkness can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Pixels (2015)

    Director: Chris Columbus

    Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage & Josh Gad

    Released by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the 2010 short film by Director Patrick Jean, Pixels finds a decades old video feed misinterpreted by alien lifeforms as a declaration of war.  Utilizing popular characters from 1980s video games to attack Earth, President Will Cooper (Kevin James, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) calls on best friend and former video game champion Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler, Hotel Transylvania) and his fellow cronies to use their unique skills to save the planet.  Marking yet another box-office success in Sandler’s long history of triumphs, Pixels blends arcade nostalgia with cutting-edge visuals for a spirited execution in humor and planet destructing action.  Joined by a supporting trio including Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), Peter Dinklage (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Josh Gad (Frozen), Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) finds a playful middle ground allowing him to harken back to his earliest experiences at Amblin Entertainment while, effortlessly catering to Sandler’s comedic sensibilities.  With notable appearances from video game titans such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Qbert and more, Pixels keeps laughs fully stocked and our heroes’ colorfully pixelated brawls with extraterrestrials thoroughly entertaining.  Proving to be one of Sandler’s more unique family entertainment offerings in recent years, Pixels is unashamedly fun and fit for unpretentious viewers.

    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Pixels with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally crisp and vibrant, colors leap off the screen with the film’s video game antagonists greatly impressing with their bigger than life appearances.  In addition, skin tones appear natural and excellently detailed while, black levels during climactic battle sequences are consistently inky and excused of any digital disturbances.  Equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, dialogue is generally strong and authoritative while, the film’s many action sequences serve the track its highest merits.  From car crashes and laser blasts to the iconic sound effects of its 8-bit characters, depth and impressive volume levels never disappoint.  Meanwhile, special features include, the cast and crew discussing the appearances and creations of Pac-Man (4:32), Donkey Kong (4:07), Centipede (3:36), Galaga (3:33), Dojo Quest (4:20) and Qbert (2:32).  In addition, God of the Machine (1:36) finds Pac-Man Creator Toru Iwatani discussing his cameo as an arcade repairman while, a “Game On” Music Video by Waka Flocka featuring Good Charlotte (3:59), The Space Invader (1:40) and a Photo Gallery (42 in total) are also included.  Finally, Previews for Goosebumps (2:32), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2:30), Aloha (2:41), Ricki and the Flash (2:40) and Hotel Transylvania 2 (1:52) are joined by a Digital HD Code and a Pixels Play Along Game App Code.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Pixels can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

    Get Mean (1975)

    Director: Ferdinando Baldi

    Starring: Tony Anthony, Lloyd Battista, Raf Baldassarre, Diana Lorys & David Dreyer

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the final adventure of the popular Stranger saga, Get Mean finds the mysterious drifter (Tony Anthony, Blindman) approached by a pack of gypsies to escort their princess (Diana Lorys, The Awful Dr. Orlof) back to their native Spain.  Promised a handsome reward upon her safe return, the Stranger finds himself entangled in a war between brutal barbarians and the Moors leading to an explosive showdown of violence.  Unquestionably kooky in comparison to standard spaghetti western fare, Get Mean finds our wild west hero defying time and space on a distant journey to a war-torn Spain littered with hotheaded barbarians.  In hopes of securing a large fortune for the return of Princess Elizabeth Maria De Burgos, the Stranger is confronted with the gloriously over the top barbarian leader Diego (Raf Baldassarre, Thor the Conqueror), his hilariously feminine advisor Alfonso (David Dreyer, Fuzz) and the consistently backstabbing hunchback Sombra (Lloyd Battista, Last Plane Out).  Shot on location in Spain, Get Mean serves as a bizarre time traveling western where historical inaccuracies reign supreme and astounding production value meets shotgun blasting, sword wielding action.  In addition to armies of fur decorated musclemen, the Stranger finds himself briefly overcome by wolflike characteristics at the hands of supernatural forces.  While its tone is intendedly eccentric, Get Mean is rarely uninteresting with a dependable finale that finds our hero taking on the cavalry with the assistance of a fearsome shotgun and a pair of poisonous scorpions.  

    Making its domestic Blu-ray debut, Blue Underground presents Get Mean with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Featuring a brand new high-definition upgrade, colors appear strong with skin tones registering naturally.  Possessing a noticeably filmic appearance throughout its runtime with scratches virtually nonexistent, Get Mean makes its sprawling desert sequences and Spanish castles pop accordingly with rewarding detail found in costume choices.  In addition, black levels are generally strong with only mild hints of crush during several occasions.  While previous spaghetti western releases have been met with questionable results, Get Mean stands as one of Blue Underground’s crowning achievements.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, dialogue is efficiently delivered while music and the abundance of explosions and gunshots make a greater impact.  Joined by a generous supply of extras, special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Star Tony Anthony, Co-Writer/Star Lloyd Battista & Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider, The Story of the Stranger (23:12) finds Anthony recalling the history of his enduring character, Looking for Richard (11:33) sits down with Battista as he reminisces on the filmmaking experience and his longtime friendship with Anthony.  Also included, Beating a Dead Horse (9:50) where Executive Producer Ronald J. Schneider shares his experiences, Tony & I (8:19) with Director Ferdinando Baldi discussing his onset relationship with Anthony, Deleted Scenes (8:28), a Theatrical Trailer (3:23), French Trailer (3:21), Radio Spots (2:00) and a Poster & Still Gallery (56 in total).  Finally, a 16-page Booklet with an engaging essay by Spaghetti Western expert Howard Hughes and a DVD edition of the release conclude the supplemental package.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Blue Underground in a limited edition release, Get Mean can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.