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  • Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, John Karna, Tracy Middendorf, Amadeus Serafini, Jason Wiles, Tom Maden & Amelia Rose Blaire

    Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the town of Lakewood, Scream: The TV Series centers on a damaging YouTube video gone viral and a group of teenagers who find themselves targeted by a masked killer in its wake.  Reminiscent of a decades old tragedy, the current wave of murders may connect to Lakewood’s dark past of death.

    Although sharing the same name as Wes Craven’s (who returns as co-executive producer with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson) seminal franchise, Scream: The TV Series bears no connection to its predecessors while adhering to their basic formula.  Following the upload of a cyber-bullying YouTube video, high school hottie Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne, The DUFF) finds herself victim to a knife-wielding masked murderer catapulting the town of Lakewood into a frightened panic.  With no suspect in custody, popular girl next door Emma Duvall (Fitzgerald) becomes the prime target of the killer while her fellow classmates including, former best friend Audrey Jensen (Taylor-Klaus), fanatical movie geek Noah Foster (Karna), the attractively spoiled Brooke Maddox (Young) and others find themselves stalked by the unknown killer.  Struggling to stay alive, Emma is simultaneously coping with the break-up of her boyfriend Will Belmont (Weil) and the arrival of new student Kieran Wilcox (Serafini) who quickly develops an attraction towards the fragile teen.  Using modern technology to its advantage, Scream: The TV Series  incorporates texting and Facebook into the fold alongside the killer’s chilling phone calls and physical confrontations best associated with the popular film series.  Meanwhile, Craven alumni Tracy Middendorf (Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) appears as Emma’s mother who along with many of the town’s adult figures are harboring a secret to Lakewood’s tragic history that eerily links to its current crop of victims.  As media attention circulates, red herrings are introduced and trust is severely tested as those closest to Emma fall victim to the killer’s blade during 10 thrilling episodes to discover who is responsible and who will survive.

    Broadcast on the anything but musical MTV Network whose priorities have shifted to mindless reality programs would understandably leave many curious watchers timid of its handling of an episodic slasher.  Astonishingly, Scream: The TV Series exceeds expectations, crafting a well-plotted debut season filled with likable characters layered with emotion and the self-referential humor fans have come to expect.  Furthermore, suspense and bloodshed are never spared allowing the series to fully embrace two of the genre’s most valued components.  With episodes helmed by such notable talents as Tim Hunter (River’s Edge), Brian Dannelly (Saved!), Rodman Flender (Idle Hands) and Ti West (The House of the Devil), Scream: The TV Series seamlessly taps into the cornerstones that made Craven’s original masterpiece so refreshing with its modern take greatly appealing to a new generation deeply ingrained in the pitfalls of social media.  Easily one of television’s great surprises of last year, Scream: The TV Series is a rollercoaster ride of mystery and scares that lives up to its iconic name.

    Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Scream: The TV Series in anamorphic widescreen, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While skin tones are naturally pleasing and colors are appropriately conveyed, black levels appear decently with occasional hints of crush.  Although presentation is satisfactory, a noticeable sharpness is lacking that could have been easily remedied and far more appreciated on a Blu-ray release.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, audio is strong with clear dialogue levels and suspenseful queues where screams and atmosphere always hit their mark.  Unfortunately light, special features include, a Gag Reel (2:52), Deleted Scenes (5:33) and a Promotional Gallery (8:26).

    Unexpectedly smart and hip, Scream: The TV Series carries the torch of Craven and Williamson’s original quadrilogy while maintaining a solid sense of humor, ample bloodshed and a dizzyingly fun maze of mystery that will keep viewers guessing who until its finale.  Although disappointing in its lack of a Blu-ray release and scarce supplements, Anchor Bay Entertainment’s home video release of MTV’s debut season still gets the job done.  With its anticipated followup season focused on last year’s survivors nearing, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season is massively entertaining and ranks as one of today’s better film franchises reinterpreted for the small screen.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available May 10th from Anchor Bay Entertainment, Scream: The TV Series - The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dark Summer (2015) / Alien Outpost (2015) Blu-ray Reviews

    Dark Summer (2015) / Alien Outpost (2015)

    Director(s): Paul Solet / Jabbar Raisani

    Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Stella Maeve, Maestro Harrell, Grace Phipps & Peter Stormare / Joe Reegan, Reiley McClendon, Scott Miller, Matthew Holmes, Rick Ravanello & Doug Tait

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In conjunction with IFC Midnight, Scream Factory, the horror/cult offshoot of Shout! Factory, delivers two contemporary offerings of ghosts and extraterrestrials.  First up, from the director of Grace, Dark Summer centers on 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Keir Gilchrist, It Follows) under house for invading the cyber privacy of a female classmate.  Consumed by loneliness and yearning to reconnect with her, Mona (Grace Phipps, Fright Night) shocks Daniel with a chilling message, rattling the teen’s senses.  A prisoner to his own house, Daniel becomes convinced an evil presence is stalking him to make him pay for his actions.  Stella Maeve (Chicago P.D.), Maestro Harrell (The Wire) and Peter Stormare (8MM) co-star. Next up, Alien Outpost takes place in the years following the near invasion of Earth by a race of aliens known as the Heavies.  With a series of bases established around the globe to ward off future attacks, a documentary crew captures the daily life of soldiers stationed in Outpost 37, the deadliest on Earth.  But when a catastrophic ambush occurs and a soldier goes missing, the understaffed squad attempt to rescue him only to discover a bigger threat at large. 

    Kicking off with intimidating probation officer Stokes (Stormare) installing a house arrest band, 17-year-old Daniel Williamson (Gilchrist) is forbidden from accessing social media or the internet following his cyber invasion of introverted classmate Mona (Phipps).  With his mother away on business, Daniel struggles with his urge to reach out to his victim only to regrettably accept an unexpected video call from her.  Shocked by what he has witnessed, Daniel is consumed with guilt, medicating his pain with alcohol and meds to no avail.  Comforted by his friends Abby (Maeve) and Kevin (Harrell), Daniel begins experiencing nightmarish images of Mona convincing him that supernatural forces are at play.  The more time spent in his own personal prison, Daniel begins to lose focus of reality, leaning on his friends to help him combat the ghostly presence that is after him.  Similar and even referenced by the film’s characters to Disturbia, Dark Summer takes the claustrophobic tone of the latter and melds it with a uniquely conceived contemporary ghost story.  Slow-building and capturing genuine moments of dread, Director Paul Solet’s followup to Grace introduces sound performances from its young stars and a brief but, effective appearance from veteran actor Peter Stormare.  While the film would have benefited by toying with the psychology of Daniel’s mental state more before revealing a true apparition at the helm, Dark Summer ultimately muddles itself with one too many supernatural explanations by its final act.  With infatuation spells, possession and more thrown at the viewer in the film’s fleeting moments, Dark Summer loses the mysterious aura established early on, chalking the film up to only mediocre levels.

    Following Earth’s invasion of the extraterrestrials known as the Heavies in 2021, Alien Outpost transitions to 2033 where a documentary crew are recording the lives of soldiers stationed at Outpost 37.  Originally created to safeguard the planet from remaining Heavies, the years following the First Earth War have led to many outposts being discontinued and less than adequately staffed.  Positioned in the humid Middle East, Outpost 37 remains the most dangerous base with enemy attacks and upheavals from locals on a daily basis.  Juxtaposing from the documentary footage and retrospective interviews with the surviving soldiers, Alien Outpost takes noticeable cues of alien activity set against the backdrop of realistic war zones from 2009’s District 9.  After one of their own is kidnapped following combat, the remaining soldiers attempt to retrieve him only to discover the second coming of the Heavies is on the horizon.  Battling brainwashed locals and losing more soldiers as their unsanctioned rescue mission continues, the troops of Outpost 37 are Earth’s only hope at survival.  From the visual effects realm of Game of Thrones, Director Jabbar Raisani’s feature-length debut demonstrates impressive effects sequences on a limited budget that arguably rivals most Hollywood blockbusters.  Unfortunately, the film’s premise feels far too generic and reminiscent of Director Neil Blomkamp’s recent sci-fi efforts while, the bloated and underdeveloped cast does little to evoke an emotional response from the viewer.  In addition, the uniquely designed Heavies give the film mild hope at redemption only to disappoint with their seldom seen appearances.  Attempting to blend the shaky-camera perspective of Cloverfield with high-stakes military action, Alien Outpost fails to make its landing count.    

    Presented with a 1080p transfer and sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Dark Summer is a product of the digital age projecting an image free of any dirt or debris.  Skin tones are mostly pleasing with suitable detail captured in closeups.  While muddier appearances are evident in swooping camera movements, black levels are encouraging with inky levels in the film’s more dimly lit sequences.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Dark Summer’s quiet soundscape is well preserved with dialogue levels crisp and authoritative while, the ambiance of crickets and ghostly sound effects are delicately placed for the proper effect.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 has also been provided.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Paul Solet, a Director Paul Solet Featurette (2:15), A Conversation with Peter Stormare (15:52), The Kids - Cast Interviews (2:04), Atmosphere and Style Featurette (1:57), The Art of Dark Summer (13:38), The Music of Dark Summer (8:37) and a Theatrical Trailer (1:58).

    Alien Outpost arrives with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Also shot digitally, this contemporary sci-fi effort exudes sharp detail and healthy contrast with strong black levels, evident in the film’s many interview sequences, projecting a welcomingly inky appearance.  While the constant handheld cinematography may overstay its welcome to some, the occasional digital hiccups during heavier movement are intentional and not a flaw in the transfer.  For such a rapidly moving film, Alien Outpost’s presentation is still a crowdpleaser.  Joined by an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the film delivers exceptional dialogue levels with no distortion heard.  In addition, the film’s combat sequences of explosives, machine guns and other heavy artillery give the mix a run for its money that will leave listeners impressed with its efforts.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Bonus contents include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Jabbar Raisani and Director of Photography/Co-Writer Blake Clifton, Interviews with Cast and Crew (16:23), Deleted Scenes (3:22), two Theatrical Trailers (3:40) and a Reversible Cover Art.

    In the wake of their well-received release of IFC Midnight’s The Babadook, Scream Factory continues their partnership with two recent servings of haunts and alien invaders.  While Dark Summer has slightly more to offer with an intriguing buildup that only loses composure in its final act, Alien Outpost is an utter disappointment that fails to deliver characters worth caring for and a premise too closely compared to other contemporary science fiction features.  Considering their age and digitally shot roots, both films arrive with A/V treatments that range from solid to downright outstanding with a decent spread of special features to explore.  Overall, Dark Summer and Alien Outpost are both competently conceived films but, many of their ideas and executions fail to hit their mark.

    Dark Summer RATING: 3/5

    Alien Outpost RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Scream Factory, Dark Summer and Alien Outpost can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Men, Women & Children (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Men, Women & Children (2014)

    Director: Jason Reitman

    Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer & Dean Norris

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Chad Kultgen, Men, Women & Children takes place in the modern world of social media where a group of high school teens and their parents navigate the complexities of their lives through the internet.  Adam Sandler (Reign Over Me), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Rosemarie DeWitt (The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Judy Greer (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Dean Norris (Under the Dome), Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher) star.

    Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) returns with yet another character study, this set time in a Texas community where social media defines the choices and missteps of its many players.  Headlined by a uniquely talented cast of veterans and new blood, Men, Women & Children highlights the relationships of several parents and their children as well as the domineering impact texting and Facebook surfing have on their daily lives.  A disillusioned married couple seeking secret affairs, a high-strung mother obsessed with controlling her teenage daughter’s web interactions and a son, along with his father, coping with the abandonment of his mother propel viewers into a populated world of people longing for connections without the assistance of an Ethernet cable.  Reitman once again proves his directing chops by pulling compelling performances from an emotionally withdrawn Sandler and the up and coming Elgort who, in his limited filmography, continues to hone his craft and deliver the goods.  Best appreciated as an early warning sign, Men, Women & Children showcases our modern world that connects us all with today’s technology but, has greatly damaged the real, tangible human connections we all should strive for.  For all its realistic merits, Men, Women & Children falls short with characters that never evolve the way one would hope.  Filled with worthwhile messages and a wonderful ensemble cast, Men, Women & Children may not be Reitman’s finest effort but, casts an intriguing light on the emotionless connectivity social media has presented.

    Paramount Pictures presents Men, Women & Children in a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a clear picture and natural colors, the film is a knockout in high-definition.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Reitman’s latest opus hardly offers much range but, delivers where it counts with crisp dialogue levels.  Men, Women & Children arrives on home video with a small assortment of special features including Virtual Intimacy (13:29), Seamless Interface (8:29), Deleted Scenes (8:68) and an UltraViolent digital code rounding out the film’s supplements.  

    Complex and unfortunately accurate, Men, Women & Children showcases the true damage social media has brought upon the modern age with people showing more interest with what’s on their screens than who is in front of them.  Boasting worthwhile performances, Reitman’s latest character driven drama fails to overthrow some of his past successes but, remains a decent effort that speaks loudly to the textually obsessed.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Men, Women & Children can be purchased on Amazon.com and other fine retailers.