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  • The Ratings Game (1984) Blu-ray Review

    The Ratings Game (1984)

    Director: Danny DeVito

    Starring: Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Gerrit Graham, Kevin McCarthy, Louis Giambalvo, Frank Sivero & Vincent Schiavelli

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking his directorial debut, Danny DeVito also stars in The Ratings Game as successful Jersey trucking tycoon Vic De Salvo whose aspirations of fame lead him to Hollywood.  Teaming up with his girlfriend (Rhea Perlman, Matilda) who works for the TV ratings service, the tenacious new show runner hatches a scheme to rig the sacred system in his favor.  Gerrit Graham (Used Cars), Kevin McCarthy (Innerspace), Louis Giambalvo (Weekend at Bernie’s), Frank Sivero (Goodfellas) and Vincent Schiavelli (Ghost) co-star.

    Shortly after the cancelation of his successful sitcom Taxi, Asbury Park native Danny DeVito would find himself carrying the torch both behind and in front of the camera for the Showtime network’s debut into original TV movie programming.  Impressing top brass with his comedic creative chops on HBO’s politically funny anthology series Likely Stories, DeVito’s Jersey roots and boisterously Italian heritage rides shotgun in this satirical sendup of showbiz and scandal.  Relocating with his family to Tinseltown and living lavishly off of his trucking business, Vic De Salvo yearns to become a respected TV producer much to the overwhelming disapproval of established players.  After a spiteful decision earns De Salvo a green-lit pilot at the struggling MBC network, the short statured wannabe professional must overcome a suicidal time slot setup by his hilariously unsupportive studio head (Graham).  Teaming up with his girlfriend and fellow Jerseyite Francine (Perlman) who works for the trusted television ratings service, De Salvo’s mafioso-esque plan to rig the system to ensure his show’s popularity shoots his credibility up the charts before a hysterical downward spiral culminates at the annual TV Digest Awards ceremony.  

    Hosting a multitude of appearances from ascending stars including, Michael Richards (Problem Child), George Wendt (Cheers), Daniel Stern (Home Alone) and Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld) as a dismissive network exec, The Ratings Game is a bonafide only in the 80s knee slapper that makes light of TV programs of the era while, DeVito and Perlman’s lovely onscreen chemistry assures viewers what they see is not just movie magic but, the foundation of a personal and professional relationship that has endured four decades.  Well praised during its original release and sending DeVito off on a successful run of theatrical hits, The Ratings Game would ultimately fall into unwarranted near extinction.  Delectably silly and containing an impressively funny ensemble cast, The Ratings Game has aged considerably well, highly earning itself a rerun.

    Olive Films presents The Ratings Games with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing the marks of its TV movie roots with black bars displayed vertically on either sides of frame, bolder colors found in costume choices are eye-catching while, an inherent softness and occasional speckling is unsurprisingly displayed given the film’s original viewing intent.  A vast improvement over its bygone VHS release, The Ratings Game has never looked better.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sufficient, if not underwhelming, with no troubling levels of distortion or hiss detected.  In a welcome change of pace, Olive Films welcomes the release with a generous helping of supplements including, The Short Films of Danny DeVito: The Selling of Vince D’Angelo (20:37), A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening (13:48), Minestrone (11:51) and The Sound Sleeper (11:52).  In addition, Deleted Scenes (6:03), a Behind the Scenes Featurette (6:50), Promo Spot (1:41) and a 26-page booklet featuring stills, screenplay excerpts and writings on The Ratings Game and Likely Stories are also included.

    Incorporating his own Garden State upbringing with stereotypical cracks at his Italian ethnicity, Star/Director Danny DeVito’s The Ratings Game makes a splash keeping viewers entertained by its many funny performances and charmed by his and real life wife Perlman’s lovable onscreen romance.  Appreciatively saving and reintroducing audiences to Showtime’s first-ever television movie, Olive Films deserves praise for the feature’s remastered high-def presentation and its welcome inclusion of bonus features that will hopefully continue with future releases.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Ratings Game can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slasher: Season One Blu-ray Review

    Slasher: Season One 

    Director: Craig David Wallace

    Starring: Katie McGrath, Brandon Jay McLaren, Steve Byers, Dean McDermott & Wendy Crewson

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    30 years after her parents were brutally slain, Slasher finds Sarah Bennett (Katie McGrath, Jurassic World) and her husband Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) returning to her hometown of Waterbury when a series of copycat murders begin occurring.  With each victim’s death centered around one of the seven deadly sins, the identity of The Executioner comes into question as the original killer remains behind bars.  With the sleepy community’s body count rising, dark secrets of those closest to Sarah are brought to light making everyone a potential suspect.

    Descending from the northern region that bred such classics as My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night, Slasher rewards fans of body count pictures with a contemporary model that adheres to the beloved tropes of its influences while taking advantage of its episodic narrative to concoct a mysteriously geared plot and multi-layered characters.  Headlined by rising newcomer Katie McGrath whose Irish accent sneaks its way into many a episodes, Sarah Bennett’s return to her hometown of Waterbury is met with promise before slowly unraveling when a new series of murders takes place modeled after the seven deadly sins.  Racially and sexually diverse, Sarah’s friends and fellow townspeople including gay couple Justin (Mark Ghanimé, Helix) and Robin (Christopher Jacot, Rogue), her husband’s boss and publisher of the Waterbury Bulletin Alison Sutherland (Mayko Nguyen, Cracked) and the incarcerated Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow, Poltergeist) responsible for the murder of Sarah’s parents all become targets of the blade-wielding Executioner.  Shortly after surviving her own brush with the masked murderer, Sarah’s investigation into her past reveals unsavory secrets and deeply buried skeletons in the closet that paint a disturbing picture of the parents she never knew.  Determined to learn the truth regarding her parents and insight into who may be responsible for the new killings, Sarah relies on visits with Tom Winston to pave the way to answers.  Meanwhile, Sarah’s husband Dylan, serving as editor-in-chief of the local paper is conflicted when his own journalistic drive for a career making story unveils a series of lies pertaining to his relationship with his wife.  

    Notably influenced by John Carpenter’s Halloween and modern cult favorite It Follows, Slasher boasts a sometimes overabundant cast of characters, each with their own dark secrets that luckily all pay off with unexpected plot twists, intensely graphic demises or both.  Starring a cast of predominant Canucks, Dean McDermott (Power Play), impressively bouncing back from reality television hogwash, appears as Waterbury’s corrupt police chief and delivers the standout performance of the series showcasing the Toronto native’s diverse chops.  Creatively overseen by Creator/Writer Aaron Martin (The Best Years) and Director Craig David Wallace (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil), Slasher’s quality standards are evident in its plotting and suspense-driven jolts that never shy from cutting limbs off victims or showcasing a particularly unsettling drug overdose to make their violent points yet, gore never remains the primary focus for this tightly crafted whodunit.  Marking the Chiller Network’s first original program, Slasher may be horror’s closest answer to HBO’s True Detective with its small-town murder spree revived decades later where characters, many of whom corrupted by various factors, are hardly what they appear to be.  A fine melding of mystery, scandal and murder, Slasher may have minor setbacks namely its killer’s motivations but, its pros strongly outweigh its cons.

    Scream Factory presents Slasher with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  Presenting its eight episode debut season across two discs, black levels appear soundly inky with detail sharply evident in The Executioner’s leather hood while, skin tones look lush and natural.  Meanwhile, colors found in wardrobe choices and the show’s many blood splattering moments pop exceptionally well allowing for a respectably solid high-definition presentation for a modern series of its ilk.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, dialogue never suffers and is consummately projected with the series’ more climactic areas involving stalking sequences, frightened screams, gunshots and police sirens making effective statements.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes are also provided on each episode.  Although brief, the sole Behind the Scenes (14:59) featurette provides a decent general overview of the series’ making with the majority of the headlining cast on hand for interviews plus, Creator Aaron Martin and Series Director Craig David Wallace discuss the show’s influences ranging from John Carpenter and Brian De Palma to Dario Argento.

    Hitting a home run with their first slice of original content, Chiller Network’s Slasher takes obvious cues from its 70s and 80s influences while spearheading a modern mystery brought to life by a diverse pool of onscreen talent and ripe with some of television’s most grisly gore.  Basking in an era of top-quality, small screen frights, Slasher may be the new killer on the block but cuts to the point with its terrifying and scandalous turns leaving viewers glued.  In only their second television series acquisition to date, Scream Factory has made a razor-sharp call adding this acclaimed newcomer to their ever-growing catalog, one that horror hounds will surely find much to chomp into.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Scream Factory, Slasher: Season One can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • No Way Out (1987) Blu-ray Review

    No Way Out (1987)

    Director: Roger Donaldson

    Starring: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton & Howard Duff

    Released by: Shout! Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel “The Big Clock” by Kenneth Fearing, No Way Out finds Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman, The French Connection) murdering his mistress Susan Atwell (Sean Young, Blade Runner) in a fit of jealousy.  Determined to protect his superior, loyal aide Scott Pritchard (Will Patton, Remember the Titans) invents a cover-up scheme thrusting blame onto an unknown Russian spy.  Enlisting Naval Commander and friend Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves) to hunt down the killer, all roads lead back to Farrell and his own enticing connection to the victim.

    Weaving a tale of suspense and scandal, No Way Out is a tightly paced thriller where the political underbelly of Washington sets the stage for a whodunit marking its protagonist as public enemy number one.  After a chance encounter at a political ball leads to limo lovemaking, Naval Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) falls deeply for the attractive Susan Atwell (Young).  Admitting to engaging with Farrell’s new boss Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), Susan agrees to call off the affair only to fatally fall victim to Brice’s jealous rage.  In true closed door political fashion, a cover-up is established pointing fingers to a suspected Russian spy within the confines of the Pentagon, instructing Farrell to uncover the man responsible.  With other selected assassins ordered to eradicate anyone with knowledge of Brice’s involvement, Farrell finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as each new development implements him in Susan’s death.  Trapped within the walls of the Pentagon as 80s computer technology and prowling eyewitnesses threaten Farrell’s safety, No Way Out rarely lets viewers catch a breath while, an exciting chase sequence beginning behind the wheel before shifting to rooftops and subways keeps the thrills coming.  Featuring the handsome Costner in a role that propelled him to leading man heights and Sean Young at the peak of her sexiness plus, a brief appearance by the beautiful Iman (Surrender, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) as Susan’s trusted friend, Director Roger Donaldson’s (Species) well-received feature keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with a twisty conclusion not seen coming.

    Shout! Factory presents No Way Out with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of fleeting flakes and speckles during the opening moments, the film conveys a pleasingly filmic appearance with facial tones reading appropriately.  Although not wildly colorful, textures in Hackman’s suit, Costner’s pressed Naval uniform and other costume choices are well saturated while, black levels during Costner and Young’s backseat romp are quite clear and free of any abusive crush.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, quality is satisfactory with dialogue levels delivered clearly as scoring cues and the film’s intense wave crashing ship scene offer nice balance to the otherwise tame mix.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been included.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and the film’s Trailer (1:30).

    Perfect viewing for the political season, No Way Out combines sex, scandal and murder for a gripping narrative set in our nation’s capital.  A solid cast and stylish direction compliment the film’s pace that allows itself to sharply pull the rug out from under the audience during its fleeting moments.  Meanwhile, Shout! Factory upgrades this Costner starring thrill ride with an admirable high-definition transfer and a pleasing commentary track from its helmer.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Shout! Factory, No Way Out can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • My Science Project (1985) Blu-ray Review

    My Science Project (1985)

    Director: Jonathan R. Betuel

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

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

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

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

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

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

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957) DVD Review


    The Candidate (1964) w/ Johnny Gunman (1957)
    Director(s): Robert Angus / Art Ford
    Starring: Mamie Van Doren, June Wilkinson & Ted Knight / Martin E. Brooks, Ana Donaldson & Johnny Seven
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Presented for the first time on home video, Vinegar Syndrome pairs two very different films together that hail from opposite ends of the track.  A salacious political satire and a late period noir, both filmed in beautiful black and white, come together for one unlikely package.  Will women with looks that kill and some knife wielding mobsters earn a spot on your shelf?  Let’s find out...

    The Candidate stars Mamie Van Doren (Untamed Youth) and June Wilkinson (Career Girl) in a political satire involving the sexcapades of an up and coming politician, played by Ted Knight (Caddyshack).  Eric Mason (Kiss of the Tarantula) co-stars in his film debut.  Next up, Johnny Gunman, takes place over the course of a single night in New York where a tense battle is brewing between two mob boss hopefuls.  Martin E. Brooks (The Six Million Dollar Man) stars in his film debut alongside Ana Donaldson (Kraft Theatre), Woodrow Parfrey (Planet of the Apes) and Johnny Seven (The Apartment).

    MOVIE(s):
    The sexcapades of an up and coming politician sounds almost more appealing as a documentary for today’s audiences but alas this is the basis of our first feature.  The plot sounds ripe for humorous hijinks and maybe some 1960s skin, but sadly that’s not the case.  The trouble with The Candidate is that it never quite knows what it wants to be.  We start off with a campaign manager (Eric Mason) wooing a politician’s secretary (Mamie Van Doren) in hopes to make his way into the candidate’s good graces.  At this point, I was convinced the story would involve Mason and Van Doren hatching a scheme to catch the candidate in embarrassing sexual situations in order for Mason to take control as the next would be senator himself.  Much to my disappointment, the story went another direction.  The film switches back and forth to past events and then jumping forward where the film becomes a courtroom drama.  Knight’s character isn’t even doing anything “wrong” until he begins seeing the gorgeous June Wilkinson, which Mason believes is a bad political move.  Somewhere along the way, Mason knocks up a random broad which results in her aborting the pregnancy and having a disturbing mental breakdown.  Yikes!  The film concludes in the courtroom where see evidence presented in the form of a stag film starring Knight’s latest squeeze, Wilkinson.  The film in turn finds Knight an unfit selection to assume the role of state senator.  But, don’t worry, as if finding out his old lady starred in a sex flick wasn’t enough, Knight becomes overwhelmed by the film and drops dead because of it!  Needless to say, the film ends on a very unexpected, somber note which fell far from my original expectations.  The Candidate told a story without knowing exactly what it wanted to be or achieve.  Luckily, the one shining light of the film is Van Doren and Wilkinson who are so jaw-droppingly beautiful that you’ll nearly forget about the film and focus entirely on them.  The lack of skin was disappointing but expected for such an early execution in sexploitation.  Nothing more than aggressive kissing and a quick peak at Van Doren’s crack is all you get here.  The Candidate was a snoozefest that baffled me at its inability for consistence.  The film is nothing special and only serves as an odd curiosity of early sexploitation mixed with political satire.
    RATING: 2/5

    Teamed up with The Candidate is the late period noir, Johnny Gunman from 1957.  Set over the course of one night in New York, a tense battle ensues between two mob boss hopefuls that can only end with one of them falling.  This lost flick was Written and Directed by Art Ford which would mark his first and only picture behind the camera.  The premise of the film sounded promising enough but the deeper you get in, the more the appeal wears off.  Johnny Gunman fails from stale performances from its cast, mostly from Ana Donaldson who plays Coffee, a woman with dreams of becoming a writer but plans to ditch the city after that doesn’t pan out.  She enters a cafe on her final night in the Big Apple and decides to spend her final hours with three men, one of whom is a mob boss hoping to gain control of the city.  Donaldson has no range whatsoever and has trouble speaking above a whisper.  Her last stab at trying to find something memorable to write about in these three men comes across as uninteresting due to her lack of enthusiasm.  It’s no surprise Johnny Gunman was her first and only film appearance.  At 67 minutes, the film plays at a snail’s speed with not much in the way of excitement happening.  Eventually, it becomes clear that the only way to decide who will reign the city is to meet on a lonely street and have it out like men.  In what concludes as quite possibly the most anti-climatic fight in film history, Johnny Gunman is a failed attempt at capturing the vibe of a quality noir.  The only appealing moments come in the form of exterior shots of Greenwich Village during a street festival that look marvelous.  In addition, one of the final shots of the film finds our hopeful mob boss driving past a gorgeous movie theatre that was playing The Wizard of Oz at the time.  As you can see, Johnny Gunman is far from a masterpiece and fails to entertain anymore than its co-feature.
    RATING: 2/5

    VIDEO:
    The Candidate has been restored in 2K from 35mm elements and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The black and white photography looks clean for the most part with only faint cases of lines and scratches present.  Detail comes across nicely, most noticeably in close-ups.  Overall, I walked away pleased with the presentation.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    Like The Candidate, Johnny Gunman was restored in 2K from 35mm film elements.  The film is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and has its fair share of hiccups.  Scratches and debris are present in the print with exterior shots looking dark and difficult to view.  While close-ups of the cast are nicely detailed, pops in the print occur every so often.  Suffice to say, this is the best Johnny Gunman will ever look and it’s not too shabby, warts and all.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    The Candidate is accompanied with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix which is slightly problematic.  Moments of hissing and an occasional echo of cracks and pops are heard but fortunately don’t intrude on dialogue.  The echo does become tedious as it practically serves as an unintentional piece of background music.  The audio track is serviceable even with these weak spots.
    RATING: 3/5

    Johnny Gunman is equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that is also problematic.  A slight hiss is heard throughout the entire runtime.  Dialogue can be heard well enough but the hissing does get tedious.  One quick audio drop was noticed in the final reel but only for a moment.  The audio mix will get you to the finish line but there’s definitely hurdles on the way there.
    RATING: 2/5

    EXTRAS:

    No special features are included in this collection but a reversible cover is provided which gives Johnny Gunman top billing.

    RATING: -/5

    OVERALL:
    The Candidate was a convoluted mess that strayed far from what its premise described.  The only worthy mention of the film is the appearances of Mamie Van Doren and June Wilkinson who are both drop dead gorgeous.  Unfortunately, Johnny Gunman fared no better as a failed attempt to capture the spirit of the noir genre they were aiming for.  A stale cast, anti-climatic ending and the lack of an effective score doomed this film from becoming entertaining if handled better.  Vinegar Syndrome should still be praised for rescuing two lost films that would have been permanently extinct without them.  The video and audio presentations on both films are as decent as one could expect from the material.  Sadly, the quality and entertainment value of the productions hurt this release considerably.
    RATING: 2/5