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  • The Hateful Eight (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Hateful Eight (2015)

    Director: Quentin Tarantino

    Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen & Bruce Dern

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Director Quentin Tarantino’s (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) eighth epic, The Hateful Eight descends on a wintry post-Civil War landscape where eight mysterious strangers ranging from a bounty hunter, hangman, fugitive and others, are all connected by a deadly circumstance.  The ensemble cast includes Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Kurt Russell (The Thing), Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction), Walton Goggins (Justified), Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and other such talents as Jennifer Jason Leigh (Anomalisa) and Demián Bichir (Weeds).

    Presented in six sprawling chapters, The Hateful Eight commands attention from its inception with breathtaking Colorado vistas substituting for Wyoming locales, gorgeously captured on 65mm film.  Hurtling towards the town of Red Rock with fugitive Daisy Domergue (Leigh) in tow, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) intends to see his capture hang for her despicable crimes.  Attempting to dodge an impending blizzard, Ruth’s stagecoach encounters respected bounty hunter Major Maquis Warren (Jackson) and Red Rock’s soon-to-be sheriff Chris Mannix (Goggins), cautiously offering them a helping hand.  Overwhelmed by weather conditions, the oddly paired travelers seek refuge at a desolate haberdashery as they are greeted by unfamiliar faces with questionable motives.  Caring for the local business while its owner is away, Bob (Bichir) finds himself in the company of Red Rock’s executioner Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), simple cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen) and elder Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Dern).  With a hefty sum looming over Domergue’s head, suspicion and an eventual connection amongst the stayers spirals wildly out of control, settled only through bloodshed.

    Deservedly earning Composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America) his first Academy Award, The Hateful Eight, although unquestionably epic in scope through its stunning photography, also stands as Tarantino’s most intimately character-driven piece since 1992’s Reservoir Dogs.  With the written word serving as the auteur’s sharpest tool, The Hateful Eight is no exception as Jackson, receiving top-billing for the first time in a Tarantino effort, oozes with monologic swagger as the tough as nails bounty hunter with trigger happy precision and a total disdain for hateful honkies.  In addition, Russell outdoes himself as the justice serving captor of Daisy Domergue who never shies from rearranging his prisoner’s face while, Jennifer Jason Leigh brings fearless insanity to her Academy Award nominated role.  Furthermore, Walton Goggins deserves commendable praise for his gutsy performance that bounces audaciously off of Jackson’s.  For all its many merits, The Hateful Eight loses steam in one of its later chapters with a less than enthralling reveal for Daisy’s conspirators as they overtake Minnie’s Haberdashery and introduce her brother Jody (Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher).  Emerging as a top talent in recent years, Tatum unfortunately feels miscast as Daisy’s delinquent sibling, briefly snapping viewers out of the film’s progression.  Rectifying itself with a blood splattering finale leaving bullet casings and limbs in its wake, The Hateful Eight may not be Tarantino’s finest hour to date but, routinely delivers with its impactful performances and razor-sharp screenplay.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents The Hateful Eight with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.76:1 aspect ratio.  Photographed in Ultra Panavision 70, the fantastic sights of snowy mountains and rolling hills offer exquisite detail.  While the bulk of the film is set inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, the dimly lit, candle hosting ambiance is well-handled allowing textures in fur coats and other heavily layered attire to be easily read.  In addition, skin tones are marvelously detailed with facial air and aging lines prominently displayed while, the unflattering pigment of Daisy’s knocked out teeth and the film’s many buckets of blood make noticeably strong statements.  Although its remarkable roadshow version may not be fully duplicated, The Hateful Eight makes a filmically flawless high-definition debut.  Equipped with a stirring DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is consistently audible while, Morricone’s scoring queues are strongly enforced against the wailing blizzard-like winds and bombastic gunshots littered throughout the film’s effectively placed sound design.  Surprisingly scant, the disappointing level of special features include, Beyond the Eight: A Behind-the Scenes Look (4:58), a standard EPK with brief cast and crew interviews and Sam Jackson’s Guide to Glorious 70mm (7:49) which is a short yet, educational overview of 70mm presented features and the roadshows of yesteryear.  In addition, a DVD release of the film and a Digital HD UltraViolet Code is also included.  

    Gorgeously shot and making exceptional use of depth in its very centralized shooting location, The Hateful Eight is equal parts visually epic and strikingly intimate.  Arguably containing Samuel L. Jackson’s finest performance alongside the noteworthy efforts of Russell, Leigh and Goggins, Tarantino’s bloody journey through the Wyoming wilderness makes slight miscalculations in its final act yet, never jeopardizes the strength of its expertly crafted dialogue and violently entertaining moments.  Although unfortunately offering little in the supplemental department, Anchor Bay Entertainment dazzles viewers with its phenomenal technical grades.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Anchor Bay Entertainment, The Hateful Eight can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Key Largo (1948) Blu-ray Review

    Key Largo (1948)

    Director: John Huston

    Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Thomas Gomez & John Rodney

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set off the coast of Florida, Key Largo finds mob boss Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson, Little Caesar) and his gang holing up in a local hotel with its owner Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall, Dark Passage), her disabled father-in-law (Lionel Barrymore, Grand Hotel) and ex-Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca) at their mercy.  Bracing themselves for a detrimental hurricane while keeping Rocco at bay, McCloud, overwhelmed by his wartime experiences, may be their only hope in surviving the ordeal.  Claire Trevor (Murder, My Sweet), Thomas Gomez (Force of Evil) and John Rodney (Pursued) co-star in Director John Huston’s (The Maltese Falcon) esteemed classic.

    In their concluding feature together, real-life married couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall continue to solidify their onscreen personas as one of Hollywood’s most beloved pairings.  Adapted from Maxwell Anderson’s popular play although sharing little in common, Key Largo finds Major Frank McCloud (Bogart) visiting the widow and father of his deceased fellow soldier at their beachside resort Hotel Largo.  A virtual ghost town with the exception of several snappily-dressed gentleman and an overly drunk woman, Frank is quickly embraced by his hosts only to grow suspicious of the hotel’s other patrons.  With a violent storm approaching, preparations are quickly made when another mysterious guest previously confined to his room reveals himself to be none other than notorious gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson).  Drawing their guns, Rocco and his cronies forcefully take control of the hotel while awaiting the arrival of their associates to conclude a lucrative deal.  As weather conditions worsen, the intensity and suspense amongst the trapped trio and their captors increases at every turn.  Personalities clash and egos are tested while, Rocco struggles to maintain control of his unpredictable situation.  Using Nora and her father-in-law as pawns to force Frank into chauffeuring the gang back to Cuba for their great escape, a climactic showdown ensues that only the former Major can take control of if willing.

    Ruggedly good-looking and oozing with charisma, Bogart chalks up another hard-nosed performance, fittingly contrasting to that of his off-screen’s better half.  Although predominately playing the frightened female of the picture, Bacall conveys ample emotion throughout with her hypnotically gorgeous eyes saying so much.  In addition, Edward G. Robinson admirably plays the cigar-chomping heel that audiences have come to love while, the severely arthritic Lionel Barrymore, afflicted with intolerable pain at the time, uses his real-life condition to the advantage of his wonderful performance.  Furthermore, Claire Trevor’s turn as Rocco’s alcoholic rag doll Gaye Dawn is the film’s standout.  Constantly slurring her speech and suffering from shaky withdrawals, Trevor’s agonizing pleas for a drink and willingness to embarrass herself by pathetically singing for a sip is magnetically heart-wrenching and deservedly earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  Houston’s gripping direction and razor-tense tone easily accounts for the film’s timeless appreciation and appropriate proclamation as one of the director’s best.

    Warner Archive presents Key Largo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Outside of mild water stained markings in the film’s establishing shots, the black and white photography is astoundingly gorgeous with rich detail conveyed in faces and perspiration on actors easily identified.  In addition, contrast is sharp with shadowy moments excellently balanced against sunnier sequences.  Finally, black levels are deep and solidly inky making this filmic transfer worthy of its praise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is appropriately handled and always audible with intrusive hiss or static unnoticed.  Crashing waves, violent winds and gunshots are effectively forceful, leaving little to no room for disappointment.  The sole special feature included is the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:24).

    Bogart and Bacall once again light up the screen with their intoxicating chemistry while, Claire Trevor’s Academy Award winning performance is a stunner.  Director John Huston’s noirish exploration of the Florida keys engulfed by seedy characters and a fatal storm makes the journey to Key Largo one viewers will never want to see end.  In addition, Warner Archive handsomely salutes this cinematic gem with a transfer worthy of its stature although, special features unfortunately fall on the shallow side.  

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 23rd from Warner Archive, Key Largo can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Sheba, Baby (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Sheba, Baby (1975)

    Director: William Girdler

    Starring: Pam Grier, Austin Stoker, D’Urville Martin, Rudy Challenger & Dick Merrifield

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a local mob boss threatens her father’s life and loan business, Sheba, Baby finds Chicago based private detective Sheba Shayne (Pam Grier, Coffy) returning home to Louisville to even the odds.  Joined by her father’s loyal partner, Sheba proves to the roughest thugs that her killer instincts are on par with her good looks.  Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13), D’Urville Martin (Dolemite), Rudy Challenger (Detroit 9000) and Dick Merrifield (The Hellcats) co-star.

    Returning to the Blaxploitation genre that catapulted her career, buxom beauty Pam Grier continues her reign of making jive-ass criminals pay the piper with the help of her trusty .44.  A joint production between American International Pictures and Mid-American Pictures, Sheba, Baby finds Grier trading her vigilante antics for a career as a private eye.  After returning home to Kentucky after her father is threatened to sell his business to mobsters, the tough as nails Sheba wastes little time interrogating local scumbags for information.  Using her curvy figure and sexy looks to her advantage, Sheba finds her way to crime boss Pilot (Martin) and his dimwitted cronies.  Engaged in a series of risky run-ins with her prime suspects at a local amusement park, the determined vixen never stops applying pressure, leading her to head honcho Shark (Merrifield) on his high-profile yacht.  Shootouts, water chases via jet skis and Grier’s badass attitude permeate the film until the goon population cowers in defeat.

    Continuing in the tradition of Grier’s other strong-willed roles for AIP, Sheba, Baby lacks the down and dirty edge of Coffy and Foxy Brown although, Grier’s acting abilities and action handling are never in doubt.  Helmed by notable cult director William Girdler (Abby, Grizzly) and produced by David Sheldon (Lovely But Deadly, Just Before Dawn), Sheba, Baby’s increased budget is apparent and effectively put to use in the film’s oceanic climax while, Grier’s rising star power unfortunately kept the bombshell from shedding any skin.  Advertised as “hotter ’n’ Coffy, meaner ’n’ Foxy Brown!”, Sheba, Baby may not quite live up to those expectations but, still greatly entertains with its action-packed sequences and funky tunes establishing the proper groove.  

    Arrow Video presents Sheba, Baby with a 1080p transfer struck from a new 35mm Interpositive, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Scratches and scuffs are nowhere to be seen while, skin tones appear natural and pleasing.  Sunny, exterior moments occasionally appear soft with colors found in the flashy 70s attire making striking statements.  Meanwhile, black levels are excellent with no evidence of crush in this wonderfully, filmic looking transfer.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is well supported and free of any distortion with gunfire and the film’s few music selections making strong deliveries.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Producer/Co-Screenwriter David Sheldon and Audio Commentary with Historian Patty Breen.  In addition, Sheldon Baby: An Interview with David Sheldon (15:16), Pam Grier: The AIP Years (11:54) finds Film Historian Chris Poggiali dishing the skinny on Grier’s knockout roles during her tenure at the drive-in cinema production factory.  The film’s Trailer (1:54), a Still Gallery (18 in total) and a 15-page booklet featuring an essay by Patty Breen are also joined by a Reversible Cover Art utilizing the original 1-sheet poster and a DVD edition of the release.

    Quite possibly the definitive figure of Blaxploitation, Pam Grier exudes attitude and sexiness while letting the barrel of her gun do much of the talking.  Although perfecting her craft with each new role during her formative years, Sheba, Baby lacks the grittiness of Grier’s collaborations with Director Jack Hill while, still upholding many of the entertaining tropes of its popular genre.  Admittedly not her finest outing, Arrow Video expectedly treats this cult favorite like gold with another eye-pleasing transfer and always enthralling new bonus features.  Fans of grindhouse cinema and Blaxploitation beauty Pam Grier cannot be without Sheba, Baby.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Sheba, Baby can be purchased via ArrowFilms.co.uk, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) Blu-ray Review

    Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere & Toshishiro Obata

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Los Angeles, Showdown in Little Tokyo centers on muscled American detective Chris Kenner (Dolph Lundgren, Rocky IV) steeped in Eastern traditions and the way of the samurai.  When ruthless Yakuza drug lord and murderer of Kenner’s parents Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mortal Kombat) sets up operation in the local Japanese community, Kenner teams up with Valley born Japanese detective Johnny Murata (Brandon Lee, The Crow) to protect gorgeous witness Minako (Tia Carrere, Wayne’s World) and bring down the narcotics ring.

    Showcasing the wildly diverse directing duties of Mark L. Lester (Roller Boogie, Class of 1984), Showdown in Little Tokyo packs equal doses of punches and laughs for a fast-paced action adventure.  Starring Dolph Lundgren as Detective Chris Kenner, the underworld of Japanese drugs and crime rings threaten the local community with the arrival of Iron Claw Yakuza leader Yoshida (Tagawa).  Following the murder of his parents by Yoshida’s blade years prior, Kenner was raised in the Japanese culture, becoming skilled in combat and weapons.  When fellow Japanese detective Johnny Murata (Lee), raised in sunny California with little to no knowledge of his culture, is teamed with Kenner, the two highly-trained martial artists are determined to see Yoshida brought to justice.  Shortly after taking control of various operations in Little Tokyo, Yoshida beheads a disloyal party girl much to the dismay of her friend and club singer Minako (Carrere).  Willing to testify against the deadly crime leader, Kenner and Murata must keep the attractive damsel protected as they wage a two man war against the overpowering drugs lords.  

    In a yin and yang role reversal with Lundgren as an American absorbed by Japanese culture and Lee as the oriental raised on MTV and California hotspots, Showdown in Little Tokyo provides a solid canvas for the two opposites to comically bounce off one another.  With the ability to leap over moving vehicles and brawl with coffee in hand, Lundgren continues the machismo of entertaining over the top action heroes while, Lee serves as the dominant comedic relief, hilariously complimenting his partner on the size of his “personal pistol”.  With the eternally beautiful Tia Carrere appearing as Kenner’s eventual love interest, Showdown in Little Tokyo offers sizable moments of heavy shootouts and a final samurai sword duel between Kenner and Yoshida in the neon lit streets of Little Tokyo.  Unquestionably silly and excellently action-packed, Showdown in Little Tokyo failed to leave a lasting impression on domestic audiences before being shunned directly to video in international territories.  With a lightning fast runtime and worthwhile laughs to be had, Showdown in Little Tokyo serves as an explosive blast of buddy cop shenanigans and a memorable comedic turn for the late Brandon Lee in one of his final roles.

    Preserving its R-rated cut, Warner Archive presents Showdown in Little Tokyo with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Appearing free of any intrusive instances of dirt or debris, colors are solid with skin tones reading naturally and warm.  With a noticeably filmic representation, the film provides excellent inky black levels with detail found in the Yakuza’s multicolored tattoos and various facial features impressing.  Continuing their dedication to quality transfers, Warner Archive delivers another effort worthy of its praise.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is crystal clear while its respective score and massive moments of gunfire are adequately prioritized providing viewers with a solid listening experience.  Lastly, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:13) is included as the sole special feature.

    Treating likeminded viewers to more cult fare, Warner Archive unexpectedly welcomes the martial-arts laughfest Showdown in Little Tokyo to Blu-ray for the first time ever.  Delivering enjoyable onscreen chemistry and explosive action, Lundgren and Lee are excellently matched as L.A. detectives thwarting a Yakuza drug leader’s plans, leaving a trail of bullets and bloodshed along the way.  Appearing in its finest presentation to date, Warner Archive provides action aficionados with this unsung effort from the director of Commando.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 21st from Warner Archive, Showdown in Little Tokyo can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Report to the Commissioner (1975) Blu-ray Review

    Report to the Commissioner (1975)

    Director: Milton Katselas

    Starring: Michael Moriarty, Yaphet Kotto, Susan Blakely, Hector Elizondo & Tony King

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the gritty landscape of New York City, Report to the Commissioner stars Michael Moriarty (The Stuff) as rookie cop Bo Lockley whose youthful determination leads to the death of a fellow undercover officer.  Yaphet Kotto (Alien), Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno), Hector Elizondo (Leviathan) and Tony King (Hell Up in Harlem) co-star in this dramatic thriller from the director of When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? 

    Based on the novel by James Mills, Report to the Commissioner opens on the tragic aftermath of a shootout leaving one female victim dead.  Redirecting viewers to the events leading up to this fatal outcome, inexperienced cop Bo Lockley (Moriarty) is assigned to track the whereabouts of a young runaway named Chicklet, rumored to be wandering the streets of the Big Apple.  Unbeknownst to Lockley, the alleged runaway is undercover officer Patty Butler (Blakely), willingly shacking up with heroin pusher Thomas “Stick” Henderson (King) in order to gather hard evidence.  While Lockley acts in good confidence to find the missing girl, his role contrived by his superiors is only meant to further convince Stick of his live-in girlfriend’s false identity.  After being advised to forget Chicklet as quickly as he finds her, Lockley is determined to rescue her causing a violent showdown between the inexperienced officer and the neighborhood drug lord.  Shot on location in the bygone grime of New York City’s grindhouse and strip club infested streets, Report to the Commissioner bolsters a strong supporting cast including, Yaphet Kotto as Lockley’s streetwise partner Richard “Crunch” Blackstone, Hector Elizondo as corrupt Captain D’Angelo and a young Richard Gere (American Gigolo) making his screen debut as a fedora wearing pimp.  In addition, Michael Moriarty carries the film superbly well as the conflicted Lockley struggling to maintain a decent stature while, confronted with the dark underbellies of criminals and interdepartmental politics.  After Butler is killed in the middle of gunfire, a tense chase sequence from rooftops to a stalled elevator shaft ensues between Lockley and Stick, leaving the two soaked in perspiration with their guns permanently pointed at one another.  While Lockley’s fate over the shooting of Butler is heavily questioned for the sake of his superiors’ livelihood, Report to the Commissioner concludes on an unexpectedly somber note that will stay with viewers long after the end credits.  Tightly paced and excellently acted, Report to the Commissioner delivers a hard-nosed tale of crime and undercover investigations come undone, leading to a thrilling conclusion.

    Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Report to the Commissioner with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting natural grain and a noticeably filmic quality, Report to the Commissioner contains only minor flakes in its presentation while, skin tones are lifelike with crisp detail revealing aging lines and constant perspiration in facial closeups.  Meanwhile, black levels contain slightly more speckling without ever compromising watchability.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible even during the film’s many exterior scenes set against the hustle and bustle of New York City streets.  Composer Elmer Bernstein’s (The Great Escape, Ghostbusters) score and the film’s few gunfire moments ring loudly when designated.  Arriving virtually barebones, special features included are limited to the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:21).

    In his second to last feature film, Director Milton Katselas’ exploration of a rookie cop’s idealism amongst the crime and politics of New York City delivers ample drama and action.  Supported by a committed cast and the tonally perfect landscape of the Big Apple’s nearly forgotten dangers, Report to the Commissioner is an exceptional police procedural that showcases the seedier sides of those who are meant to uphold the law.  Graduating to an impressive high-definition transfer, Kino Lorber Studio Classics preserves the rich, filmic quality of this gritty drama much to the delight of viewers.  Suspenseful and action-oriented, Report to the Commissioner earns its badge of approval.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 7th from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Report to the Commissioner can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Scarecrows (1988) Blu-ray Review

    Scarecrows (1988)

    Director: William Wesley

    Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael Simms & Richard Vidan

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on a band of ex-military criminals, Scarecrows finds the team pulling off a multi-million dollar heist and boarding a getaway plane for Mexico.  Taking hostage a civilian pilot and his teenage daughter, one of their own betrays the group leading to a ground search through a desolate area of farmland.  As night sets in, the heavily armed group find themselves confronted with a nightmarish array of deadly scarecrows.

    Blending the realms of action and horror seemed a novel idea during a decade of much testosterone-induced debauchery.  Unfortunately, Scarecrows never rises above its unique concept to be anything more than mediocre.  Substituting horny teenagers for military criminals, a betrayal by one to keep millions for himself sends his former cronies hunting for him in backwoods country, eerily surrounded by a heavy dose of scarecrows.  Armed to the teeth and with an innocent pilot’s daughter held hostage, the criminals set their new course to locate their backstabber and reclaim their fortune.  While the scarecrow designs, compliments of Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (Drag Me to Hell) are impressive, the film dawdles for most of its runtime following the criminals’ endless hunt while genuine scares and thrills are kept to a bare minimum.  Admittedly, chemistry between the thugs is apparent and lends itself to moments of humor while machine gun shootouts are plentiful in this unlikely hybrid.  With its true horror colors reserved for its final act where the haunting antagonists finally take center stage, Scarecrows makes a valiant attempt to test new waters but, ultimately suffers from bland characters and overly emphasizing one subgenre over another leading to an uneven tone.

    Scream Factory presents Scarecrows with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Although shrouded in darkness, black levels appear welcomingly inky with no crushing levels even if visibility, attributed to the dimly lit production, isn’t always ideal.  In addition, detail shines through most effectively in Cabrera’s scarecrow designs with skin tones generally pleasing.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is always audible with moments of gunfire and Composer Terry Plumeri’s (Sometimes They Come Back) chilling score registering nicely.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  Stuffed like hay, Scarecrows arrives with a plentiful selection of special features including, an Audio Commentary with Director William Wesley & Producer Cami Winikoff, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter Richard Jeffries, Director of Photography Peter Deming & Composer Terry Plumeri.  In addition, The Last Straw with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Norman Cabrera (16:35) finds Cabrera recalling the nonprofessional learning ground the production was for him while, Cornfield Commando with Actor Ted Vernon (8:46) finds the mustached musclemen warmly looking back on his role in the film.  Finally, Original Storyboards (3:48), a Still Gallery (60 in total), Theatrical Trailer (1:32) and Reversible Cover Art round out the disc’s supplements.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Scarecrows holds a charm for those won over by its action-horror hybrid approach.  While impressing with its make-up designs and awarded for its attempted originality, Scarecrows ultimately procrastinates for much of its run time ditching suspense and scares until its final fleeting act.  Luckily, Scream Factory’s efforts shine with a pleasing technical presentation and a generous helping of quality special features sure to please dedicated fans of this scarecrow stalking cocktail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Best Seller (1987) Blu-ray Review

    Best Seller (1987)

    Director: John Flynn

    Starring: James Woods, Brian Deenehy & Victoria Tennant

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of Rolling Thunder, Best Seller centers on veteran police office and best-selling author Dennis Meechum (Brian Deenehy, First Blood).  Widowed and raising his only daughter, Dennis owes his publisher an overdue followup but, suffers from writer’s block.  When Cleve (James Woods, Videodrome), a self-professed career hitman, approaches Dennis about penning his story, Dennis is skeptical but, intrigued.  As the facts surrounding Cleve’s many hits for a high powered executive turn out true, the possibility of the damaging tell-all tale endangers Dennis and those closest to him.  Victoria Tennant (Flowers in the Attic), Allison Balson (Little House on the Prairie) and Paul Shenar (Scarface) co-star.

    Scripted by Larry Cohen (The Stuff, Maniac Cop), although, heavily rewritten by Director John Flynn, Best Seller kicks off in Los Angeles circa 1972 where a trio of Richard Nixon mask wearing gunmen attempt to rob a police evidence facility.  After a struggle ensues and shots are fired, Officer Dennis Meechum (Deenehy) survives the account to publish a novel based on his experiences.  Over a decade later, Meechum, now a detective and raising his only daughter following his wife’s untimely passing, owes his publisher a long overdue followup.  From the shadows, Cleve (Woods) offers Dennis a proposition to pen his life experiences as a career hitman in order to get even with his unappreciative former employer, wealthy executive David Matlock (Shenar).  Curious but, cautious, Dennis is not easily convinced about his collaborators evidence until threats confront them both.  In addition, Dennis realizes that his history with Cleve predates their most recent encounter, making trust between the detective and hitman incredibly tense.  As research continues on the tell-all book, Dennis finds himself in over his head with his daughter in mortal danger.

    Failing to light the box-office on fire, Best Seller is a uniquely different buddy film where law enforcement and career criminal must team up to combat a larger threat.  Brian Deenehy fits comfortably in the role of a respected detective who finds himself unable to produce material for a followup novel.  Dennehy treads the line perfectly of an aggressive cop willing to go to the limits while, possessing an air of sophistication that sells his dual career as a respected author.  Meanwhile, James Woods, in arguably his most underrated role of the decade, plays the snappily dressed Cleve with a fast tongue and an even quicker trigger finger.  Woods brings the right energy that makes Dennis and the viewer equally intrigued and unsure of his questionable motives.  From a kindhearted demeanor to a bloodthirsty killer instinct, Woods’ performance and his yin and yang relationship with Deenehy elevates the film beyond the standard crime picture.  Shot on location in Los Angeles and New York City, Best Seller is a throughly entertaining and tightly orchestrated effort that separates itself from the bunch, courtesy of Woods and Deenehy’s captivating chemistry.

    Olive Films presents Best Seller with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Beginning with a noticeably softer image, the film quickly improves with inviting skin tones and a well-handled color scheme.  Flakes and speckles are mild leading to a nearly blemish free picture while, detail in close-ups wavers in sharpness from decent to strong.  With a healthy layer of grain intact throughout the majority of its runtime, Best Seller satisfies on high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix, the film relays all dialogue with clarity and ample range while, Composer Jay Ferguson’s (License to Drive, Bad Dreams) far too brief funky synth score sets the mood accordingly.  Finally, the sole supplement is the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:44).

    Criminally (no pun intended) underrated and capturing top-notch performances from its two leads, Best Seller takes the buddy formula of past crime offerings and delivers a refreshingly suspenseful response.  Olive Films’ high-definition treatment will appease viewers while, the strength of the film and most notably, Woods’ role earning Best Seller a strong recommendation to the uninformed.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Best Seller can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Mechanic (1972) Blu-ray Review

    The Mechanic (1972)
    Director: Michael Winner
    Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn & Jill Ireland
    Released by: Twilight Time

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing their working relationship, Director Michael Winner (The Sentinel) and star Charles Bronson (Mr. Majestyk) re-team for a tale about professionalism.  Tough and weathered, Bronson brings his always reliable acting chops to the table that would propel him to superstardom two short years later with Death Wish.  Stylistically taken for granted today, The Mechanic stands tall as a character-driven action thriller with stellar performances and an effective score from Composer Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch).  Available in a limited edition of 3,000 units, Twilight Time proudly presents this long appreciated Winner/Bronson collaboration for the first time on Blu-ray!

    The Mechanic stars Charles Bronson as Arthur Bishop, a professional hitman feeling the stress of his work.  After striking up a friendship with a hungry up-and-comer (Jan-Michael Vincent), the student/teacher partnership slowly unravels into dangerous territory.  Keenan Wynn (Nashville) and Jill Ireland (Hard Times) co-star.

    MOVIE:
    Kicking off with a 16-minute dialogue free introduction, The Mechanic quickly draws you into the gritty Los Angeles landscape and Bronson’s calculated surveillance of his next victim.  The fly on the wall approach as we witness Bronson’s crafty steps to ensure the job looks like an accident makes the viewer feel as if they are part of the hit.  Shortly after, Arthur Brooks (Bronson) is summoned by a friend of his late father (Keenan Wynn) for protection only to have Brooks double cross him in the way of business.  Ruthless yet reserved, Brooks is growing tired of his lifestyle and yearns for normalcy.  Returning home to what appears to be a beautiful girlfriend (played by Bronson’s real life wife, Jill Ireland) anxiously awaiting his presence, the two engage in a night of passionate lovemaking.  The following morning, Brooks is seen paying the woman and complimenting her on her role-playing skills, further cementing Brooks’ desire for a regular existence.  The void in Brooks’ life is filled in the form of Steve McKeena, (Jan-Michael Vincent), son of Brook’s last hit.  Surprisingly, McKeena’s determination impresses the seasoned hitman and the two form a partnership.  Deadly and less cautious, McKeena is the perfect contrast to Brooks’ old-school yet effective methods.  Thrilling sequences for the team include a hit gone wrong, escalating into a high-stakes motorcycle chase.

    Director Michael Winner’s focused and quick cut style keeps the energy high as Brooks and McKeena’s relationship is tested as the apprentice challenges the teacher.  Brooks’ anxiety and frequent fainting bouts doesn’t help matters as McKeena becomes more unpredictable.  Leading to an exciting third act with twists at every turn, The Mechanic is a testament to the changing climate in Hollywood at the time where gritty, independent cinema was beginning to take hold.  Remade in 2011 with Jason Statham (Crank) and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) starring, Michael Winner’s original 1972 thriller maintains true style and Bronson’s steady performance would help reinvent the action star image for a new decade.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Twilight Time presents The Mechanic with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Retaining natural grain, The Mechanic looks very pleasing and accurately captures its 70s city landscapes.  Flakes and specks are at a minimum with colors and detail popping nicely.  With the exception of some softer-looking scenes, The Mechanic looks more than satisfying.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix, The Mechanic comes in loud and rather robust at times.  Dialogue is crisp while scenes of gunfire and explosions fill your speakers with force.  No noticeable distortion was found, making the audio treatment on par with the film’s excellent transfer.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Richard H. Kline: Moderated by film historian Nick Redman, Kline sits down for his first commentary discussing his early beginnings as a camera operator at Columbia Pictures as well as making over 100 films under Sam Katzman before eventually becoming a director of photography.  Kline recalls his working relationship with Director Michael Winner on several projects and regards him as a focused and talented artist.  Redman does his homework and engages Kline with great questions making this commentary a very beneficial one to listen to.

    - Isolated Score Track: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

    - 6-page booklet: Includes a well done essay by Julie Kirgo accompanied with screenshots from the film.

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Exciting and riveting, The Mechanic is a film many others try to replicate today with lesser results.  Simple in execution, the film thrives on Bronson and Vincent’s chemistry as well as the edge of your seat action sequences that helped propel Winner as a mainstay in the genre.  Twilight Time’s limited edition Blu-ray is a knockout with a clean, natural appearance and a lively sound mix.  In addition, Cinematographer Richard H. Kline’s first audio commentary is an informative one, well worth a listen.  Bronson fans will revel in this pre-Death Wish examination of a skilled hitman at odds with his apprentice.
    RATING: 4/5

  • Lust for Freedom (1987) DVD Review

    Lust for Freedom (1987)
    Director: Eric Louzil
    Starring: Melanie Coll, William J. Kulzer, Judi Trevor, Howard Knight & Elizabeth Carroll
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Independent distributors, Vinegar Syndrome, take a breather from their highly successful adult entertainment output to excavate treasures from the Troma Entertainment vaults.  A feministic action tale told behind the bars of a women’s prison sets the course for this 80s cult hit produced by Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger) and directed by Eric Louzil (Class of Nuke’ Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown, Class of Nuke’ Em High Part III: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid).  Newly restored from the original negative, Vinegar Syndrome proudly presents Lust for Freedom, where girls take the law into their own hands!

    Lust for Freedom stars Melanie Coll, in her only film role to date, as Gillian Kaites, a special undercover agent who experiences the brutal murder of her boyfriend in a sting operation gone wrong.  Looking to move on after the tragedy, Kaites finds herself in a world of trouble as she is subdued and whisked away to a women’s prison.  Corruption and perversion run rampant as Kaites plots a bloody revenge against those responsible for her unjust imprisonment.  

    MOVIE:
    While, intended to be a parody with comedic shades, Lust for Freedom comes across far more earnest than most Troma productions.  Kicking off with a play by play narration by Coll (that continues throughout the film) of an undercover operation, shootouts run amok with some wildly hilarious gunshot reactions and hokey fight choreography that sets the stage for a film of performers trying their best.  Coll’s partner and boyfriend ends up dead resulting in her need to escape the life and surroundings she has come to know.  Driving aimlessly with no true destination in mind, Coll picks up a frantic female hitchhiker in the desert before being stopped by the local sheriff.  It doesn’t take long before the friendly sheriff cons Coll back to the station to drug and relocate her in the local women’s prison.  A dangerous institution where the prisoners are held under false charges and for the wicked amusement of the warden and his cronies, Coll has entered a living nightmare.  Judi Trevor (Leather Jackets) makes a memorable appearance as the despicable head of the prison who makes life horrifying for the inmates.  Lust for Freedom proudly embellishes the popular traits of women in prison flicks with first time lesbian encounters, shower-filled T&A sequences, rape, brutal whippings plus, inmate wrestling matches to the death.  All the ingredients are present and accounted for, albeit, slightly underused especially for a Troma production.  Luckily, the array of actresses‘, with their nicely styled 80s hairdos and fully applied made-up faces, are quite attractive making risque scenes all the more rewarding.  

    The more time Coll spends in this house of horrors, the better she understands the corruption at work and plots revenge.  Teaming up with fellow inmates, Coll relies on her undercover skills and way with firearms to turn the tables on the establishment.  More shootouts, explosions and a wild inferno, all to the blaring songs of Grim Reaper, bring the heinous prison down.  Lust for Freedom works on nearly every level for fans of the women in prison subgenre, although, the more scandalous material could have benefitted from being exploited more.  In addition, Coll’s endless narration to the obvious grows tiresome but never takes away from the fun of the film.  Shot cheaply, the laughable action sequences and the “high speed” car chases that barely crack school zone limits add an air of charm worth reveling in.  Far from perfect, Lust for Freedom separates itself from other Troma productions by winking at the audience instead of cementing the tongue to their cheek, paving the way for an arrestingly good time.
    RATING: 4/5          

    VIDEO:
    Vinegar Syndrome presents Lust for Freedom in an 1.85:1 aspect ratio, scanned in 2K from a 35mm blow-up negative.  Originally filmed in 16mm, Lust for Freedom experiences instances of vertical lines and flakes early on but, improves as the run time progresses.  A slight speckling appears throughout the film which looks more inherent in the film stock than the restoration process.  The plain and sterile scheme of the prison casts a rather dull appearance especially with the inmates all wearing white.  The few colors present, most notably in Coll’s red shirt before her imprisonment, as well as skin tones pop as nicely as could be expected especially in close-ups.  Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration is a welcome one for a film that would have more than likely received lesser treatment from others.
    RATING: 3/5

    AUDIO:
    Equipped with a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix, Lust for Freedom slightly suffers from just being a little too low.  Cranking the volume up will become necessary to pick up all dialogue especially in the prison where voices tend to echo constantly.  Luckily, moments of intense gunfire and the rockin’ tunes from Grim Reaper serve up a nice and welcome oomph to the mix.
    RATING: 2.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Audio Commentary with Director Eric Louzil: Louzil discusses the similar artistic sensibilities between himself and Kaufman that drew the two together.  Louzil remains chatty the duration of the film but often spends too much time narrating the onscreen action.  That said, Louzil still serves up an informative listen that is worthy to fans of the film.

    - Interview with Producer and Distributor Lloyd Kaufman: Kaufman sits down for a 10 minute interview discussing how the project came to be, his direct involvement, Louzil’s many talents and more.

    - Original Theatrical Trailer

    RATING: 3.5/5

    OVERALL:
    Far from a diehard Troma fan, Lust for Freedom had all the right ingredients to make its way into this women in prison fans’ heart.  Packed with a line-up of beautiful ladies showcasing T&A and choked full of shootouts, bloodshed and a radical heavy metal soundtrack, Lust for Freedom is a winner for viewers looking to spend 90 minutes in the slammer.  Vinegar Syndrome has done yet another fine service to cult fans by dusting off a goody like this and restoring it from the Troma library.  Coupled with a nice and informative assortment of special features, Lust for Freedom is a cult prison flick that fans should sentence themselves to for life.  With access to the vast Troma vaults, one can only hope that Vinegar Syndrome continues to serve up more entertaining odds and ends like Lust for Freedom.
    RATING: 4/5