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  • The Wanderers (1979) Blu-ray Review

    The Wanderers (1979)

    Director: Philip Kaufman

    Starring: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen & Toni Kalem

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Richard Price’s novel, The Wanderers centers on a Bronx gang of teens whose experiences growing up in the mid 60s provide a rich canvas for youthful decadence and eventual maturity against an ever-changing world.  Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff) directs this coming-of-age wonder.

    Depicting a time and place in New York City all but lost to time, The Wanderers fascinating depiction of universal themes plaguing directionless street dwellers during the final stretch of their teen years rings with pure sincerity nearly four decades later.  Set in the radically changing year of 1963, high school gang, The Wanderers, spend their days less worrying about their futures than defending their turf against rival hoods and chasing tail.  Sporting identical jackets bearing their squad name and greased up hairdos, the Italian teens find themselves embroiled in a racially tense standoff against the black Del Bombers while losing a fellow member to leather-bound baddies the Fordham Baldies.  Leaning on his girlfriend’s mafioso father for assistance, Wanderers leader Richie (Ken Wahl, Wiseguy) simultaneously falls for new girl on the block Nina (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark) in a controversial move that puts him on the outs with best friend Joey (John Friedrich, The Final Terror) and the rest of his gang.  Upholding their tough guy personas through violent brawls and chauvinism, The Wanderers manages to break through these shell casings as friendships are tested, hearts are broken and unexpected responsibilities are sprung upon them.  As the nation reacts and changes following the assassination of JFK, a high stakes football game against their African-American foes spirals into an all out war, finding the once divided units battling a shared enemy.  Beautifully aided by a soundtrack of doo wop hits and other golden oldies, The Wanderers is the perfect bridge between other youth centered pictures like American Graffiti and The Warriors.  While its setting may be a thing of the past, The Wanderers speaks a language firmly rooted in the tender years of youth that is as unforgettably beautiful and painful as our own memories.

    Newly restored in 2K, KL Studio Classics proudly presents The Wanderers with a 1080p transfer, preserving its original 1.85:1 (1:78:1 for its included Preview Cut edition) aspect ratio.  Sporting a wonderfully cleaned up appearance free of unsightly scratches or tears, skin tones are warmly inviting while, filmic quality is as organic as can be.  Furthermore, the dingy city alleyways and storefronts are excellently presented with colors and textures found in the wide variety of gang jackets and the Del Bombers’ loud football uniforms popping nicely.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does a fine job relaying dialogue recorded on busy New York streets, the film’s period soundtrack cuts make for the strongest enforcements on the otherwise healthy track.  

    Divided over two discs featuring both its Theatrical Cut (1:57:09) and rare Preview Cut (2:03:50), Disc 1’s special features kicks off with a Director’s Statement (1:56) followed by an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Philip Kaufman.  Also included, Back in the Bronx with Richard Price (35:18), The Wanderers Forever!: Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias & Richard Price (16:35) and the Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52).  Meanwhile, Disc 2’s offerings feature an Introduction with Stars Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganias (0:40), an Audio Commentary with Columbia University Film Professor & Author of Philip Kaufman Annette Insdorf, The Wanderers Q&A at The Cinefamily with Philip Kaufman, Alan Rosenberg & Peter Kaufman (31:59), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Philip Kaufman (19:46), an Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Richard Price (16:41), the Re-Release Trailer (1:40) and a TV Spot (0:33).

    A continually growing cult classic and a high-water achievement in coming-of-age cinema, The Wanderers recalls the struggles and fears common in most teens attempting to make sense of the big world surrounding them with a palpable relatability few films capture.  In one of their standout efforts of the year, KL Studio Classics reinstates this golden oldie back into the public eye with a gorgeous 2K restoration, hefty supplements and dual cuts of the film that make joining up with this particular gang a splendid life choice.

    RATING: 4.5/5

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

  • Band of the Hand (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Band of the Hand (1986)

    Director: Paul Michael Glaser

    Starring: Stephen Lang, James Remar, Michael Carmine, Leon Robinson, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, Lauren Holly & Larry Fishburne 

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Executive produced by Michael Mann (Thief, Heat), Band of the Hand finds five incarcerated youths released to an intense rehab program that teaches them survival and value for one another.  Returning to the gang-infested streets of Miami, the one time criminals wage their own war against the drug kingpins destroying it.  

    Retaining the dangerously seductive allure of Mann’s hit television series Miami Vice with the backwoods survival instincts of Lord of the Flies, Band of the Hand makes crime and violence essential to the scenery that both corrupts and cures the film’s pack of anti-heroes.  Serving time for a multitude of offenses, five juvenile felons including, drug trafficker Carlos Aragon (Danny Quinn, Stradivari), punk turned murderer J.L. McEwen (John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), car thief and attempted prison escapee Dorcey Bridger (Al Shannon, Casualties of War) and rival gang leaders Ruben Pancecho (Michael Carmine, Leviathan) and Moss Roosevelt (Leon Robinson, Cool Runnings) find themselves facing lengthy sentences until fate intervenes.  Unknowingly transported to the swampy Everglades and under the watchful eye of Native American Vietnam veteran Joe Tegra (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the hot blooded teens must learn to work together and survive the cruel conditions of nature in an intensely experimental rehabilitation program.  Sharpening their skills and developing a trusting foundation, the group return to the mean streets of Miami where after revitalizing an abandoned house, seek to do the same for the crime-ridden community.  Igniting a war against feared pimp Cream (Larry Fishburne, Boyz n the Hood) and black magic worshipping drug lord Nestor (James Remar, The Warriors) who claimed Carlos’s girlfriend Nikki (Lauren Holly, Dumb & Dumber) for his own, the band of vigilantes have their work cut out for them.

    Helmed with style and a rebelliously youthful attitude by Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man), Band of the Hand takes cues once again from Crockett and Tubbs with a pop-rock soundtrack of hits from Bob Dylan (who supplies the film’s title track with assistance from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Prince and Mr. Mister that brings aggressive synergy to the onscreen action.  Following an explosive shootout between the band and Miami’s worst leaving one of their own dead, a go for broke retaliation on Nestor’s drug facility leaves the screen littered with enough bullet holes and bodies to quench the thirst of action hounds.  While the film may be less refined than Mann’s weekly crime series set in the same city, Band of the Hand funnels similar ingredients of fast cars, drug pushers, sexy women and ghettos through the delinquent eyes of teenage thugs turned saviors, making it a worthy and largely overlooked crime thriller drenched in 80s decadence and pastel hues.

    Mill Creek Entertainment presents Band of the Hand with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  While the film bears its fair share of speckling, rearing its head most noticeably in black levels during countless nighttime sequences, skin tones are generally satisfying with colors found in the vibrant costume choices prevalent during the 80s Miami scene popping as appreciatively as one might hope.  Natural grain is notably retained while, screen jitter is observed but mostly held to the film’s opening sequences.  A mixed bag of quality that thankfully never gravely disappoints where it counts, Band of the Hand makes a respectable first leap to high-definition.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that treats dialogue with prioritization while, the film’s selection of songs celebrates a healthier emphasis of authority, much like sequences of explosive inferno and machine gun fire, the track is a middle of the road affair that suffices.  Although no on-disc special features are included, a Reversible Cover Art revealing slightly modified poster imagery is provided.

    The heat is on as teenage badasses return to their former stomping ground to clean up the filth and mayhem controlling the streets.  Taking on the likes of pimps and pushers, Band of the Hand mimics the style and energy of Miami Vice with enhanced violence and an imperfect yet, still entertaining execution.  Well casted and vibrantly photographed, Glaser’s directorial feature film debut is a promising urban action opus unfortunately missed by many during its initial release.  Arriving on Blu-ray for the first time ever, Mill Creek Entertainment offers the film a decent debut that admires the colorful sights of its 80s fashion choices and Miami hotspots with appreciable quality.  Void of bonus content, the inclusion of reversible cover art is a rare and welcome treat from the budget label.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Mill Creek Entertainment, Band of the Hand can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Stryker (1983) Blu-ray Review

    Stryker (1983)

    Director: Cirio H. Santiago

    Starring: Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander, Michael Lane, Julie Gray & Monique St. Pierre

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, Stryker finds a world devastated and water its most valued treasure.  As several bands of survivors battle each other over short supplies, a secret water source has been exposed leading a lone woman with knowledge of its whereabouts to depend on renowned warrior Stryker (Steve Sandor, Fire and Ice) to protect its safety against the evil Kardis (Michael Lane, The Harder They Fall) and his army.

    Piggybacking on the craze of post-apocalyptic mayhem set forth by Mad Max, Stryker burns rubber taking unapologetic cues from George Miller’s game-changing effort where muscular brutes, wasteland women and high-octane vehicles run amok in pursuit of dominance in a new ravaged world.  As the survivors of worldwide nuclear destruction struggle to locate viable water sources, Delha (Andria Savio, Death Screams), harboring knowledge of a shrouded spring and pursed by the death squads of Kardis for its location, is saved by the fearless Stryker and his companion.  Before long, the lone female finds herself captured and tortured by the vile Kardis until a successful daring rescue mission by Stryker puts her in pursuit of Trun, Stryker’s brother, for manpower to combat Kardis’s overwhelming forces.  Determined to seek vengeance against the wicked leader for the death of his own lover, Stryker joins the cause to protect the coveted spring and liberate those in peril.  Loaded with battered vehicle chases, scantly-clad women armed with crossbows and high-pitched Filipino midget warriors, Stryker delivers a respectable drive-in effort with action-packed bloodshed done cheaply although, its saccharine celebration of a conclusion at the height of battle shortchanges its outcome.  Marking the first of many post-nuke helmed efforts for Filipino native and dependable Corman colleague Cirio H. Santiago (Firecracker, Wheels of Fire), Stryker remains a mid-level Road Warrior ripoff that generally satisfies where it counts while, Santiago’s later experiments in the genre would greatly improve with each passing attempt.

    KL Studio Classics presents Stryker with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  No stranger to speckling and occasional scratches, this expectedly soft-looking effort looks as good as can be expected given its tight budget and dry, desolate locations.  Skin tones look decently with instances of blood popping well and costume choices relaying mediocre detail.  Furthermore, black levels, evidenced in Kardis’s torture dungeon and the cave harboring the desired water spring, look rather drab and harder to make out.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that translates the obviously dubbed dialogue with ease, soundtrack cues and action-oriented moments of explosions and firepower offer slightly more oomph to the proceedings.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Jim Wynorski, moderated by Bill Olsen & Damon Packard.  B-movie legend and fellow Corman protégé, Wynorski, although having nothing creatively to do with the film outside of knowing Santiago rather well and taking over directorial duties on its remake after the Filipino filmmaker fell ill, provides chatty conversation and an obvious love for the genre making the track an unexpected treat.  In addition, a Trailer Gallery featuring Stryker (2:03), Wheels of Fire (2:04), Equalizer 2000 (1:39), The Sisterhood (1:26) and Dune Warriors (1:12) is also included.

    From what seems like a bottomless pit of post-apocalyptic knockoffs, Stryker neither burns out nor exceeds what’s expected of it.  Living up to its colorfully exploitative poster art, blood, babes and savagery reign in this New World Pictures produced feature that stands as a mere stepping stone for Santiago’s more refined wasteland followups.  Never a pretty looking picture since its inception, KL Studio Classics ensures the film a most welcome upgrade for the HD generation.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Stryker can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Dead-End Drive-In (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Dead-End Drive-In (1986)

    Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

    Starring: Ned Manning, Natalie McCurry, Peter Whitford, Dave Gibson, Sandie Lillingston, Ollie Hall & Wilbur Wilde

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Aussie exploitation maverick Brian Trenchard-Smith (Stunt Rock, BMX Bandits), Dead-End Drive-In takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where the economy has crumbled and crime runs rampant.  When the government orders local drive-ins to become concentration camps for society’s wild youth, lone rebel “Crabs” (Ned Manning, Looking for Alibrandi) plots his escape from the imprisoning wasteland.  

    An unquestionable by product of George Miller’s motor-charged Mad Max game changers, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead-End Drive-In takes unexpected sharp turns to deliver a unique, neon lit offering of nuclear punkery.  Home to a ravaged world of polluted red skies, gang warfare and food shortage, cars and their associated parts are the leading commodities in a devastatingly unemployed and substance addicted society.  After sneaking off with his older brother’s prized 56 Chevy, physically fit Jimmy, better known as “Crabs”, whisks his foxy, leather-wearing girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry, Cassandra) to the Star Drive-In for a night of exploitation movies and backseat intimacy.  After the local police force steal Crabs’ wheels leaving the couple stranded, the government implements a strict lockdown for all patrons of the drive-in.  Populated by face painted punks, new wavers and skinheads, the outdoor movie house keeps its rowdy guests pacified with B-grade pictures, junk food and endless drugs to occupy their extended stay.  While Carmen forms friendships with the local crowd, Crabs’ cabin fever and growing suspicion that all is not what it seems generates friction amongst other rebel rousers.  When countless refugees are transported to the already overpopulated space, racism and hate dominates the self-medicating punkers from realizing their true status as prisoners.  Going for broke, Crabs forms a getaway plan pitting himself against the gun-carrying police and the Star Drive-In’s corrupt owner (Peter Whitford, Running from the Guns).  

    Although a much different beast than expected, Dead-End Drive-In paves its own path that raises intriguing political commentary on the stranglehold of materialistic addictiveness and  racism.  Impressively art directed with graffiti tattered vehicles and brickwork shepherded by Muralist Vladimir Chevepanoff, Dead-End Drive-In stylistically soars with its trashcan burning, drive-in warzone and vibrantly vile supporting players making the film one of the visually richest of the endless wave of post-nuke imitators.  Disappointingly lighter on action until the film’s climactic escape where Crabs literally leaps away from his oppressive environment in a thrilling car stunt, Dead-End Drive-In still makes good with its new wave heavy soundtrack, oddball characters and effective sense of dystopian depravity that solidly leaves Trenchard-Smith’s anarchic Ozzie mark.

    Newly restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dead-End Drive-In with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shining brightly through the film’s vast neon-signage, colorful makeup designs on its many punk performers and Crabs’ bright red Chevy, skin tones are naturally pleasing while, black levels waver from solidly inky to areas of speckling that are apparent yet, never overly distracting.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, dialogue is clearly projected with the film’s excellent new wave cuts booming loudly.  Mildly restrained, quality is generally efficient while, slightly more authority during action sequences would have been preferred.  Special features include, a vintage Audio Commentary with Director Brian Trenchard-Smith, The Stuntmen (48:46), Trenchard-Smith’s 1973 documentary on Aussie stuntmen Bob Woodham, Grant Page and others plus, Hospitals Don’t Burn Down! (24:10), an Aussie pubic service film shot by Trenchard-Smith circa 1978 detailing the dangers of in-patient smoking.  Furthermore, a Vladimir Cherepanoff Gallery (19 slides in total), the Theatrical Trailer (1:36) and a 27-page booklet featuring stills and musings on Dead-End Drive-In and Trenchard-Smith’s other accompanying on disc films from Cullen Gallagher and Neil Mitchell are included.  Finally, a Reversible Sleeve boasting newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon and the film’s original poster design conclude the supplemental offerings.

    Not quite the punk free for all it’s advertised to be, Dead-End Drive-In follows similar post-nuke guidelines such as a dependency on vehicles while, its greater focus rests on the imprisonment of disillusioned youth and their subsequent brainwashing of complacency.  Fantastically designed and boasting few but, still wildly impressive stunts, Trenchard-Smith’s Ozploitation odyssey of a destructive future may not always live up to all expectations but, succeeds in carving out its own identity.  Arrow Video continues their liberation of the New World Pictures catalog with another praiseworthy transfer and a pleasing spread of supplements that will be of particular interest to Trenchard-Smith completists.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Dead-End Drive-In can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Road House (1989) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Road House (1989)

    Director: Rowdy Herrington

    Starring: Patrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch, Sam Elliot, Ben Gazzara, Marshall R. Teague & Julie Michaels

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the brawling bar business, Road House stars Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing) as cool-headed and physically fit bouncer Dalton.  When the chaotically run Double Deuce hires him to clean up their image, the widely respected and increasingly disliked pub protector finds himself at odds with corrupt business tycoon Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara, The Thomas Crown Affair).  Kelly Lynch (Curly Sue), Sam Elliot (Grandma), Marshall R. Teague (The Rock) and Julie Michaels (Witchboard 2 ) co-star.

    Teetering on the cusp of ridiculousness and unabashed entertainment, Road House serves up viewers with a tidal wave of bottle breaking, beat ’em up insanity in a dead end Missouri town with hunkish ladies man Patrick Swayze kicking ass and taking names politely.  Highly regarded for his uniquely qualified skills, one-of-a-kind cooler Dalton is persuaded to restore balance to the dangerous Double Deuce bar when the price proves right.  Quietly observing the reckless environment and the temperamentally unfit and dishonest employee roster, Dalton’s take charge persona quickly earns him enemies.  As his junker of a vehicle is consistently trashed and new lethal threats find their way to the Double Deuce, Dalton meets town baddie Brad Wesley who pawns off small businesses and strikes fear into the local community.  After teaching several of Wesley’s henchmen a lesson in barroom manners, a knife wound and emergency room visit introduces the muscled drifter to the supremely sexy Dr. Elizabeth “Doc” Clay (Lynch) with romance and bed-sharing hobbies percolating soon after.  With business and security thriving at the newly renovated bar, Wesley’s distaste for Dalton increases following a business refusal, prompting the corrupt mogul to derail the Double Deuce from succeeding further.  Seeking assistance from his grizzled mentor Wade Garrett (Elliot), Dalton’s liberation of the locals causes neighboring businesses to be set aflame and those closest to the bouncer to be put in harm’s way.  Outnumbered and overpowered, Dalton’s feud with the powerful Wesley will be the deadliest last call of his life with only one man left standing.

    A redecorated western trading hats for mullets and horses for monster trucks, Road House makes no apologies for its absurd premise and over the top personalities yet, wins viewers over with its commitment to the material and colorful conflict between unconventional heroes and money-driven baddies.  Eliciting hilariously quotable dialogue and featuring generous doses of gratuitous nudity including, but not limited to, a skintastically revealing Kelly Lynch and the bare backside of Swayze, Road House stands tall with the blazing tunes of blind, blues virtuoso Jeff Healey who appears as the featured house band in the film.  Boasting commendable stunt work and fight choreography overwhelmingly achieved by the actors themselves, Director Rowdy Herrington’s (Jack’s Back) bar battering feature is throat-rippingly rockin’, exceeding common misconceptions of being “so bad, it’s good”, Road House is flat-out fun from its first drink served to its last punch thrown.

    Featuring a new 2K scan of the interpositive, supervised and approved by Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park), Shout Select presents Road House with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A welcome and preferable upgrade over MGM’s previous HD release, skin tones are effectively natural-looking with pleasing detail.  In addition, overall picture quality is noticeably brighter than its more brooding predecessor with pastel colors in costumes and neon lighting seen in bar sequences casting effective shades.  While slight softness rears its head occasionally during outdoor scenes, Shout Select’s notably cleaned-up and eye-pleasingly filmic transfer looks in top form.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue, while not troubled by hiss or distortion, is decently relayed while, bar brawls, revving car motors and Jeff Healey’s guitar-dominating music make much stronger notices on the track.  An optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included.  Spanning two Blu-ray’s, special features on disc 1 include, the ported over Audio Commentary with Director Rowdy Herrington and the fan-favorite Audio Commentary with Road House Fans Kevin Smith & Scott Mosier.

    Kicking off disc 2’s Collector’s Edition release is several newly-crafted supplements including, the impressive I Thought You’d Be Bigger: The Making of Road House (1:03:14) featuring new interviews with Herrington, cast members Kelly Lynch, John Doe, Julie Michaels, Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Lisa Niemi Swayze and many others in this definitive look back on the cult classic.  Next up, A Conversation with Director Rowdy Herrington (29:38), Pain Don’t Hurt: The Stunts of Road House (22:29), Pretty Good for a Blind White Boy: The Music of Road House (9:22) and Remembering Patrick Swayze (15:06) with beautiful insight and shared memories of the late actor from his lovely widow and cast members.  In addition, vintage supplements On the Road House (17:23) and What Would Dalton Do? (12:26) are joined by the Theatrical Trailer (1:57), On the Set (3:44) featurette, a Patrick Swayze Profile (2:41), Selected Soundbites (11:00) and a Photo Gallery (3:20) marking the last word in bonus content for the late 80s favorite.

    A bar bouncing good time with enough action, foxy ladies and hard-rockin’ tunes to make it last all night, Road House plays to the crowd with its hammed up plot and contagiously fun characters rightly earning its stripes in the pantheons of cult cinema awesomeness.  Reintroducing viewers to the tirelessly rented and cable darling hit, Shout Select’s Collector’s Edition release will make fans graciously tipsy with their Cundey approved 2K transfer and keg-sized offering of bonus features, making the Double Deuce the only roundhouse kicking dive you’ll want to be in.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Shout Select, Road House can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Green Room (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Green Room (2015)

    Director: Jeremy Saulnier

    Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner & Patrick Stewart

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After witnessing a brutal crime during a tour stop, Green Room finds a young punk rock band confronted with a squad of skinheads and their disciplined club owner (Patrick Stewart, X-Men) who now want them dead.  Fearing for their lives and grossly outnumbered, the band must face the unexpected war head on if they want to survive.  Anton Yelchin (Fright Night), Imogen Poots (Roadies), Alia Shawkat (Whip It), Joe Cole (Secret in Their Eyes) and Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein) comprise the ensemble cast.

    In a headbanging mashup of genre blending, Green Room turns its amp up to 11 before violently beating it to a pulp, leaving viewers barely breathing by its conclusion.  Traveling the backroads of the Pacific Northwest playing rowdy dive bar gigs, punk band The Ain’t Rights find themselves on the outskirts of Portland to perform at a seedy skinhead joint where heads are shaved and hate is common.  After incensing the crowd before winning them over with their anarchic energy, the band is privy to a murder in the club’s green room making them immediate prisoners of the neo-Nazi ruffians.  Restrained to the cramped quarters while weighing out their limited options, the quartet, also joined by the victim’s friend (Poots), are caught between a rock and a hard place that will be deadlier than any mosh pit experienced before.  Following the arrival of the club’s wicked owner Darcy (Stewart) and his rampant orders to frame them, the punkers are forced to fight fire with fire when bassist Pat’s (Yelchin) wrist is gruesomely severed and they unearth a heroin operation in the basement of the backwoods bar.  Obtaining one handgun and using makeshift weapons, the frightened friends go primeval and face off against the brutes in a tidal wave of pulse-pounding violence ranging from a boxcutter disembowelment, pit bull jugular tears and face exploding shotgun blasts.  Aggressively tense, Green Room sets the stage for one of the great social class rivalries of all-time pitting punks against bootstrapped skinheads in a showdown to end all showdowns.  As hard-hitting as a Misfits verse, Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier's (Blue Ruin) thriller packs a nasty punch with notable turns from Stewart and the recently deceased Yelchin in one of his final film roles that will blow viewers’ hair back, confirming the young star was merely warming up for a career that guaranteed even more hard-rocking greatness.

    Lionsgate presents Green Room with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Cast in a constant siege of dark ambiance and dingy club lighting, black levels are exceptional allowing for details to be strongly observed within the graffiti laden walls of the film’s central location.  Meanwhile, skin tones are consistently accurate while colors read accordingly although their presence is never wholly eye-popping.  Clean as a whistle, the film arrives with no source damage or unwanted anomalies ensuring a most picturesque viewing experience.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is well-handled with only the exchanges between the punks and Darcy through a locked door being slightly muffled for understandable reasons.  Blowing the speakers away, the mix does an admirable job relaying the film’s hard-charging, bass heavy punk anthems while, shootouts and bone crushing sound effects make equally strong statements.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier, Into the Pit: Making Green Room (9:58) is a typically brief EPK with insight from the film’s makers and cast plus, a firsthand look at the difficult weather conditions that equally plagued the production and helped encourage its tone.  Lastly, Trailers (10:45) for The Witch, The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, Room and Amy are also included alongside a Digital HD Code.

    Hypnotically hardcore, Green Room moshes its way to center stage to unload a brutal battle between punk rockers and homicidal Nazis.  Violent and breathtakingly suspenseful, Stewart delivers a chillingly cold turn as the gang’s Führer while, Yelchin offers fans a supremely badass farewell in one of his final swan song performances.  Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s high-definition treatment is virtually flawless making for a deservedly guitar-smashing viewing experience.  Earning itself the Audience Award at the Austin Fantastic Fest, Green Room is graphic thrills galore with a punk rock energy that will leave you certifiably whiplashed.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available July 12th from Lionsgate, Green Room can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 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.

  • Pray for Death (1985) Blu-ray Review

    Pray for Death (1985)

    Director: Gordon Hessler

    Starring: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi & Matthew Constantine

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Longing for a better life for his family, Pray for Death finds Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi, Enter the Ninja) relocating with his wife and two children to achieve the American dream.  When their new beginning is threatened by a gang of dangerous jewel thieves, Akira must rely on his deadly ninja skills to protect his loved ones.  James Booth (Zulu), Donna Kei Benz (The Challenge), Norman Burton (The Towering Inferno), Kane Kosugi (Ninja sentai Kakurenjâ), Shane Kosugi (Nine Deaths of the Ninja) and Matthew Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) co-star.

    Released at the height of ninja fever, Pray for Death hosts skilled martial artist Sho Kosugi as he powerfully kicks his way through the decay of urban America.  After closing the door on his ninja roots that previously divided Akira and his late brother, the Japanese businessman happily agrees to relocate to Los Angeles to appease his American-born wife Aiko.  Joined by their two sons, the Saito’s stake claim in a crumbling neighborhood where their new business was previously home to shady dealings.  After a corrupt copper gets greedy and snatches a flashy Van Adda necklace for himself, mobster Mr. Newman and his associates grow understandably concerned.  Convinced Akira and his family are responsible for stealing their merchandise, efforts, courtesy of Newman’s deadly enforcer Limehouse Willie (Booth who also provided the film’s screenplay), are made to fatally punish the new residents.  Savagely running down his wife and child while, abducting his other son, Akira is forced to resurrect his roots as a ninja assassin to make the gang pay.  

    Admittedly going through the generic motions of most revenge tales and containing plenty of unintentionally hilarious performances from its thugs, Pray for Death is easily forgiven for what it lacks in originality, makes up for in action-packed combat.  Relentlessly barbaric, Limehouse Willie never bats an eyelash when taking a crowbar to an elderly man before setting him ablaze while, paying a hospital visit to a recuperating Aiko only to shred her clothes off and brutally stab her to death.  Widowed and determined to protect his children, the gloves are off as Akira crafts a new katana blade and dons a metallically intimidating getup to bring the fight to Newman and his baddies.  Oddly enough, the towering Limehouse gives the ninja much too hard a time as he punctures his leg repeatedly amongst a warehouse of creepy mannequins.  For as many ninja stars thrown, bloody fatalities are a plenty in this martial arts beatdown with slashed throats, snapped necks and for good measure, an exploding pickup truck permeating the runtime.  In addition, as the Japanese ninja restores his dignity during the intense final battle with Limehouse, Akira unloads swift nun chucking skills on his skull before sending his wife’s murderer through a spinning wood saw.  Intriguingly directed by Gordon Hessler, better known for helming such Vincent Price starrers as The Oblong Box and Cry of the Banshee, Pray for Death comes well recommended for ninja nuts who never tire of the sword-clashing excitement that was best served in the 80s.  

    Arrow Video presents Pray for Death with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Boasting a clean picture with only fleeting instances of dust on display, natural grain is firmly intact with skin tones and color choices making fine leaps in high-definition.  With the exception of reinstated uncut footage which is noticeably softer and at times grainier, black levels are acceptable with no crushing artifacts seen.  Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, the stereo presentation projects distinctly clear dialogue levels while, Peggy Abernathy’s reoccurring synth jam “Back to the Shadow” sounds especially solid.  In addition to the Unrated (1:38:27) and R-rated (1:34:31) versions of the film, special features include, Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja (19:05) featuring a newly shot sit-down with star Sho Kosugi, Sho Kosugi on Martial Art Forms (18:57) is a vintage interview with the leading man from 1985.  Furthermore, a Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery presenting Enter the Ninja (2:53), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41), Pray for Death (2:11) and Rage of Honor (1:35) are also included with a 23-page booklet featuring stills and an essay by James Oliver.  Finally, a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate imagery round out the supplements.

    Destroying his American dream before it was ever realized, Pray for Death would appear paint by numbers but, this revenge-fueled opus slashes its way to greater ranks thanks to its stylized martial arts sequences and gritty violence.  Arrow Video may bow its head in honor for preserving the film’s uncut presentation and supplying another batch of engaging supplemental content for one of the decade’s fast-kicking ninja highlights.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Pray for Death can be purchased via MVDB2B.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.

  • Foxy Brown (1974) Blu-ray Review

    Foxy Brown (1974)

    Director: Jack Hill

    Starring: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Kathryn Loder & Sid Haig

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Blaxploitation bombshell Pam Grier (Coffy) reteams with Director Jack Hill in Foxy Brown.  High on revenge following the murder of her government agent boyfriend, Foxy goes deep undercover into the seedy world of sex trafficking to make those responsible pay with their lives.  Antonio Fargas (Car Wash), Peter Brown (Teenage Tease), Terry Carter (The Phil Silvers Show), Kathryn Loder (Night of the Witches) and Sid Haig (House of 1,000 Corpses) co-star.

    Following the success of Coffy, American International Pictures hoped to recapture the excitement with a sequel before ditching the idea for an original concept.  With Director Jack Hill and star Pam Grier back in the fold, Foxy Brown may not feel wholly original from their previous collaboration but, most certainly excels in every way.  After her delinquent brother offers up her government agent boyfriend as debt clearance, Foxy Brown is determined to take her revenge.  While her occupation is never revealed, Foxy is a whole lot of woman that is capable of handling herself and anyone who steps in her way.  Adorned with flashy outfits and an even more empowering attitude, Pam Grier once again bears her assets to tantalize her way into a sex trafficking ring linked with high-level drug kingpins.  Grier appears more confident in her role as an independent soul that not only thoroughly entertains but, liberated female audiences during the turbulent decade.  With its theme of revenge carried over from Hill’s previous effort, Foxy Brown is noticeably more extreme with Foxy submitted to forced heroin injections and suggested rape only to respond accordingly by lighting her attackers on fire.  In addition, teaming up with a gang of neighborhood avengers, Foxy castrates a criminal in order to deliver his manparts to his prostitute ring leading girlfriend.  Effective and even more savage much to the delight of exploitation enthusiasts, Foxy Brown has little time for jive, delivering viewers one of blaxploitation’s finest and arguably, Grier’s most entertaining performance.

    Olive Films presents Foxy Brown with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Accompanied with fleeting instances of flakes and speckles, the flashy colors found in wardrobe pop nicely with skin tones and detail in facial features benefitting from its hi-def upgrade.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is pleasing while sequences taking place in a crowded bar suffer slightly from too many components overwhelming the track.  Unfortunately, once again surrendering to overseas releases overflowing with supplements, Olive Films provides no special features on this release.

    The creative combination of Director Jack Hill and leading lady Pam Grier has been cemented in the history of cinema as grindhouse gold.  Slicker, sexier and more violent, Foxy Brown stands as one of blaxploitation’s towering achievements and a standout role for Grier that made her an eternal pillar for 42nd Street.  Making its U.S. debut on Blu-ray, Olive Films delivers a transfer well worth celebrating while, the lack of bonus content disappoints.  The strength and essentialness of the film itself warrants Foxy Brown into every blaxploitation fans‘ collection.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available June 9th from Olive Films, Foxy Brown can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Coffy (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Coffy (1973)

    Director: Jack Hill

    Starring: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott & Sid Haig

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From grindhouse directing icon Jack Hill (Spider Baby, The Big Bird Cage), Coffy stars Pam Grier as Nurse “Coffy” Coffin.  Determined to extract revenge on the drug pushers that hooked her young sister, Coffy uses her undeniable body language and arsenal of heavy firepower to take back the night from society’s scum.  Booker Bradshaw (The Strawberry Statement), Robert DoQui (Robocop), William Elliott (Night of the Lepus), Allan Arbus (Greaser’s Palace) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) co-star.

    Following appearances in several women in prison pictures, Pam Grier would graduate to become one of the fiercest and most beloved icons of blaxploitation cinema.  Shot in a remarkable 18 days and centering on a liberated nurse disgusted with the seedy criminals poisoning society, Nurse “Coffy” Coffin (Grier) takes matters into her own hands to avenge the corruption of her young sister to junkies and their organization.  Demanding your attention from its earliest moments, Grier is a magnetic force of beauty that never shies from using her sexuality to con pimps and dealers before putting a bullet in them.  Simple in its execution with revenge her top priority, the stakes are elevated when thugs land Coffy’s longtime copper friend Carter (Elliott) in the hospital.  Displeased with ridding the city of only street level hustlers, Coffy decides to infiltrate drug kingpins with ties to corrupt city officials.  Engulfed in a world of prostitutes and narcotics, Coffy delivers a glorious highlight reel of exploitation from seedy characters and scantly clad women to a barrage of shootouts and an empowered protagonist that talks the talk and walks the walk.  Ever resourceful with razors stashed in her afro and bursting with nonstop attitude, Coffy is a landmark blaxploitation effort that catapulted Grier’s career to new heights and remains one of her most entertaining and enduring works.

    Olive Films presents Coffy with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Exhibiting instances of flakes and speckles, Director Jack Hill’s low-budget effort retains a nice layer of grain while relaying natural skin tones and warm colors.  Black levels are respectable with flakes only slightly more apparent but far from discouraging.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is free of any troubling distortion but occasionally sounds restrained.  Unfortunately, unlike overseas counterparts bursting with bonus content, Olive Films‘ release arrives with no special features.

    Applauded for its tough female lead and exceptional exploitative highlights, Coffy set star Pam Grier on a road to stardom that is still revered today.  Serving as one of the finest examples from blaxploitation’s heyday, Coffy’s vigilante tale of revenge dished out by the baddest chick on the block packs the punches to deserve its rightful praise amongst grindhouse aficionados.  Making its long-awaited domestic HD debut, Olive Films delivers the film with appreciable looks and sounds but, drops the ball with zero special features for such a landmark picture of the 70s.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available June 9th from Olive Films, Coffy can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Gun (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Gun (1967)

    Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

    Starring: Jô Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jirô Okazaki, Hidekai Nitani & Takashi Kanda

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring genre icon Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill), Massacre Gun focuses on Kuroda (Shishido), a mob hitman who gives up his profession following orders to execute his lover.  Joined by his devoted brothers, hotheaded Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Sense) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), the trio embark on a deadly retaliation war against the mob that won’t end until one side is defeated.  

    Soaked in monochrome and reminiscent of the moody American film noirs of the 1930s and 40s, Massacre Gun is the embodiment of the “Nikkatsu Noir”, produced by the studio during a booming decade of popularity.  Noticeably more savage and unforgiving than its stateside predecessors, Director Yasuharu Hasebe’s (Retaliation) blood thicker than water tale grooms the viewer with a familiar narrative of turf wars and revenge before shocking the senses with brutal shootouts uncommon for its era.  Jô Shishido stars as the reserved Kuroda, a mobster at odds with his employer after being forced to execute his lover.  Unable to continue his duties, Kuroda respectfully quits his profession only to incense gang boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda) who won’t take no for an answer.  Simultaneously angered by Akazawa’s overpowering grip, youngest brother and boxing prodigy Saburô (Jirô Okazaki) confronts the crime boss only to have his hands shattered, ending his professional career.  In addition, fellow brother Eiji’s (Tatsuya Fuji) Club Rainbow hotspot and base of their operations is destroyed by Akazawa’s men leaving the brothers shattered and filled with rage.  Determined to take their revenge, the Kuroda brothers slowly begin reclaiming turf from Akazawa as a full on gang war is initiated.  Masterfully directed by Hasebe, Massacre Gun oozes with style as smoke infested bars and back room gambling parties become commonplace in a world where respect is demanded by those most dangerous.  

    With his bed firmly made and pursued by mobsters, Kuroda’s friend and active employee of Akazawa, Shirasaka (Hidekai Nitani), pleads with Kuroda to reconsider his actions to no avail.  With no choices remaining, the two former friends become deadliest of enemies as attempted hits are consistently made on one another’s sides.  With the exception of Kuroda’s lovers murder, Massacre Gun almost fails to live up to its name as the brothers resist the urge to use gun power until a casket housing a dead body and explosives arrives at Club Rainbow.  As the stakes are raised, so is the film’s violence with a firing squad of mobsters going up against a one man army in Kuroda and his rifle.  Over-the-top shootouts and an intense finale on a dormant highway road leave little time to breathe and endless rounds of ammunition and bloodshed on the screen.  Exchanging samurai swords for pistols and honor being substituted for bloodthirsty revenge, Massacre Gun is technically sound with exquisite camerawork from Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (Youth of the Beast) and Shishido’s focused yet, deadly manner making his performance a standout.  Stylistic and wildly violent, Massacre Gun stands as a shining example of the bygone “Nikkatsu Noir” subgenre.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video presents Massacre Gun with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Nicely detailed and capturing noirish shadows with clarity, Massacre Gun has minor instances of speckling with black levels generally pleasing in the characters’ dark suits.  Some exterior daytime sequences exhibit overblown whites while, each cut in the film demonstrates an occasionally bothersome framing line at the top of the screen.  Anomalies aside, the transfer greatly succeeds where it counts making the viewing experience a pleasure.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix and optional English subtitles, the film’s Japanese dialogue is delivered with excellent clarity, free of any distortion.  Exhibiting a fitting jazz score, Massacre Gun delivers with a blaring horn section and a strong sense of depth.  In addition, gunshots rattle the mix with impressive authority, heightening the onscreen violence.  Special features include, an Interview with Jô Shishido (17:38).  Newly produced for this release and accompanied with subtitles, 80 year-old Shishido discusses his impressive career highlights and involvement in the film.  Furthermore, an Interview with Tony Rayns (36:26) is included as Film Historian and Critic Rayns discusses Nikkatsu’s lengthy and diverse filmmaking history.  In addition, a Trailer (2:25), Promotional Gallery (14 still in total), 22-page booklet comprised of various stills and a newly prepared essay by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings.

    Excellently capturing a noirish atmosphere and injecting increased levels of violence, Massacre Gun feels strikingly American in its style but, notably original in its delivery.  Sealed with terrific performances and detailed direction, Massacre Gun tells its tale of revenge with the utmost seriousness and the bullets to back it up.  Limited to 3,000 units, Arrow Video debuts Massacre Gun on Blu-ray for the first time with admirable technical merits and scholarly special features that educate the viewer on the film and Nikkatsu’s enduring legacy.  Fans of stylish film noirs yearning for an adrenaline shot will be impressively blown away by Massacre Gun.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow VideoMassacre Gun can be purchased via ArrowFilms.com.ukAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • God Told Me To (1976) Blu-ray Review

    God Told Me To (1976)

    Director: Larry Cohen

    Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Richard Lynch & Mike Kellin

    Released by: Blue Underground

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Director Larry Cohen (Bone, It’s Alive), God Told Me To takes place on the streets of New York City where random acts of mass homicide are committed with the killers insisting God advised them to.  As NYPD Detective Peter J. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco, The Honeymoon Killers) investigates the bizarre crimes, the repressed Catholic uncovers an underworld of twisted faith, corruption and supernatural occurrences hellbent on damning mankind.  Deborah Raffin (Death Wish 3), Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Sylvia Sydney (Beetlejuice), Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams), Mike Kellin (Sleepaway Camp) and Andy Kaufman (Taxi) co-star.

    As citizens of the Big Apple were overwhelmed with fear as the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, reigned his own terror, Director Larry Cohen would return to his beloved city to helm one of his most memorable films.  Incorporating the harsh realities of senseless murder, God Told Me To pulls no punches with its grizzly opening of a rooftop sniper picking off innocent pedestrians.  Estranged from his wife and committed to a new girlfriend, NYPD Detective Peter J. Nicholas (Lo Bianco) attempts to make peace with the mild-mannered shooter when asking for his homicidal motive.  Before willingly leaping to his death, the shooter claims God himself told him to kill, chilling Nicholas to the core.  In the wake of the horrific incident, more God-advised killings take place including, a loving father blowing his family away with a shotgun and a fellow cop (Andy Kaufman in his debut film appearance) heading a shooting spree during the city’s iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Determined to crack the case, Nicolas spearheads an investigation that will open doors connecting him to the godless violence plaguing the city.  Realistically violent and gorgeously capturing New York City’s less than savory appearances, God Told Me To is a molotov cocktail of exploitation entertainment.  Tony Lo Bianco’s performance as the conflicted Catholic detective is played with terrific pathos and the proper gruff to believably sell a seasoned cop with the experiences to back it up.  

    Blending the worlds of the police procedural and the occult, God Told Me To never allows the viewer to get too comfortable before switching gears once again.  Dirty cops, the religiously unbalanced and interdimensional beings with a penchant for impregnating virgins sends this cult classic in countless directions with consistently pleasing results.  With his own faith waining, Nicholas zeroes in on his verdict to reveal a grim ending destined to leave a lasting impact on its audience.  Supported by a cast of respected cult stars, God Told Me To is a disturbing slice of real world terror meets the supernatural, orchestrated by 42nd Street legend Larry Cohen who glorifies the 1970s wasteland of New York City like few filmmakers can.

    Blue Underground proudly presents God Told Me To in 1080p, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Newly transferred in 4K from the original uncensored negative, Larry Cohen’s cult classic shines like never before.  A filmic layer of grain is well intact with a nearly spotless appearance making way for added appreciation of warm skin pigments and sharp detail.  Dimly lit sequences are vastly improved over the previous DVD release with visibility all the more enhanced.  Unquestionably, God Told Me To arrives with its definitive transfer and one of Blue Underground’s most noted accomplishments to date.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, God Told Me To sounds strong with audible dialogue levels and an impressive balance of authority during crowded city scenes and sharp gunshots.  In addition, optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes have been included for your listening pleasure.  Ported over from its previous DVD release, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Larry Cohen, moderated by Blue Underground’s Bill Lustig, has been included.  In addition, newly added bonus features, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, include, Heaven & Hell On Earth: Interview with Star Tony Lo Bianco (11:27) with the lead actor reminiscing on the film’s shoot and his fond memories of his late fellow co-stars and Bloody Good Times: Interview with Special Effects Artist Steve Neill (9:09) finds Neill providing a brief career retrospective and his various collaborations with Larry Cohen. Plus, other new supplements include, God Told Me To Bone: New Beverly Q&A with Larry Cohen (21:14) and a Lincoln Center Q&A with Larry Cohen (8:06).  Finally, two Theatrical Trailers (2:07), seven TV Spots (3:30) and a Poster & Still Gallery (42 in total) round out the disc’s impressive bonus offerings.

    Amongst an abundance of cult favorites including, Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff, Director Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To is a crowning achievement of exploitation filmmaking.  An entertaining blend of genres carried out by a wickedly talented cast and doused in a disturbingly somber tone, God Told Me To is an unholy alliance of drive-in staples.  Blue Underground’s gorgeous 4K transfer and first-class supplements not only solidify the film’s place on home video but, marks one of the distributors finest releases to date.  Forewarned on its artwork to contain scenes of violence and intense horror, God Told Me To makes good on its promise, deeming this jaw-dropping Cohen concoction an essential piece of exploitation.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Blue Underground, God Told Me To can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Sacrament (2013) Blu-ray Review

    The Sacrament (2013)

    Director: Ti West

    Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz & Gene Jones

    Released by: Magnolia Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From the director of The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, comes a tale about the false promise of paradise and its haunting consequences.  Produced by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), The Sacrament is more fictionalized documentary than “found-footage”, set against the backdrop of our grounded reality.  Grim and terrifying, Magnet Releasing guides you to a utopia of nightmares that will leave you in a state of disbelief and shock.

    The Sacrament centers on Sam (AJ Bowen, You’re Next) and Jake (Joe Swanberg, Proxy), two journalists documenting their friend Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) journey to reunite with his estranged sister (Amy Seimetz, The Killing).  Traveling to a remote, utopian compound known as Eden Parish, the trio are welcomed into the self-sustaining community and introduced to the elderly and mysterious leader, referred to as Father (Gene Jones).  Slowly but surely, things are not what they appear as the outsiders begin fearing for their lives.

    MOVIE:

    From devil-worshippers to hotel haunting poltergeists, Director Ti West has a tendency of pushing the limits of his artistic abilities with each new endeavor.  Inspired by the Jonestown cult that rocked headlines in the 1970s, The Sacrament tells its tale through the lens of a fictionalized documentary.  Vice magazine journalists,  Sam (Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Swanberg) are intrigued by their friend’s desire to reunite with his former drug-addicted sister, Caroline (Seimetz), who now resides out of the country in a remote community.  Upon arriving at Eden Parish, the trio are fascinated by the self-sufficient village and its residents‘ infatuation with their savior, known as Father.  Virtually plucked from obscurity, Gene Jones‘ performance as the elderly commune leader is the domineering force that makes The Sacrament as chilling and absorbing as it is.  Clothed in a simple khaki outfit and sporting tinted aviators reminiscent of Jonestown leader, Jim Jones, Father is seen as a warm, loving individual by his followers.  As Caroline parades her brother around her new home, Sam and Jake interview several parish members before sitting down with Father.  Expertly acted, Sam and Father’s interview beings routine enough with followers watching and applauding Father’s every response.  An ominous tone settles in when Father eerily turns the tables on Sam’s inquiries, using personal information against him.  The interview draws you in with curious information about Eden Parish until Father’s brief, off kilter demeanor sends an uncomfortable chill.  Shortly after, Sam and Jake are pulled aside as several members inform the journalists that Eden Parish is not what it seems.  Genuine fear settles in as Sam and Jake have difficulty locating Patrick the night before their return to New York.  The following morning, Eden Parish appears to be crumbling when residents are denied permission to leave the isolated area, resulting in violent force used against them.  Hunted by Fathers’ devoted followers, Sam and Jake know their fate if they remain at Eden Parish any longer.

    The Sacrament goes to great length to create a sense of realism enhanced by Sam and Jake’s affiliation with the very real Vice magazine, known for its unique journalistic stories.  Captured through the lens of Jake’s camera, the viewer is put in the first person of this very tense and chaotic situation with seemingly no way out.  Mirroring the final 48 hours of Jim Jones‘ infamous cult, The Sacrament’s final act is a grim depiction of the control authoritative religious leaders have on brainwashed followers and the extremes those will go to for the ultimate sacrifice.  Unrelentingly suspenseful and believable, The Sacrament is not only one of the most haunting cinematic experiences in recent years but also, Director Ti West’s finest achievement in terror.

    RATING: 5/5

    VIDEO:

    The Sacrament is presented with a 1080p transfer sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally with a documentary flair, the transfer bears no instances of scratches or other such anomalies.  Skin tones are relayed naturally, boasting nice contrast.  Eden Parish’s jungle-like surroundings come across lush while, black levels are handled significantly well considering the lack of more controlled lighting.  With no assistance of tripods and operated entirely handheld, The Sacrament is true to its faux-documentary roots and still looks mighty fine.

    RATING: 4.5/5  

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, The Sacrament’s documentary style enables most of the principal cast to be visibly wired, making dialogue come across clearly as can be.  Moments of more hushed tones, especially when Sam and Jake are fighting sleep after their interview with Father, are audible with no issues.  Tyler Bates‘ ominous score is goosebump-inducing and offers a nice contrast to the relatively quiet film.  More climatic moments including gunshots and the roar of helicopters come across effectively blaring as well.  While, not bearing a groundbreaking sound design, The Sacrament sounds more than satisfying.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Ti West and Stars AJ Bowen & Amy Seimetz: The trio command the commentary track with ease, hardly ever taking a breather.  West expresses his first experience with Composer Tyler Bates to be a rewarding one and his extreme satisfaction with the vastly talented group of extras.  The three friends keep it informative and always enlightening while, also sharing humorous stories from the shoot.  A worthy listen for those hungry for more behind the scenes information.

    • Creating The Sacrament: Revealing the Vision (21:07): Director Ti West along with co-producers Eli Roth, Peter Phok and Jacob Jaffke discuss the early seeds of the project and the breakneck speed it was made.  In addition, the cast explains the approaches to their roles and the real-life incident that inspired the film.  Covering nearly everything worth knowing about the production, this featurette is essential viewing for fans of The Sacrament.

    • Working with the Director: The Ti West Experience (5:56): Cast and crew, many of whom are frequent collaborators, speak highly of the director and commend his genuine passion and rich imagination to each project he brings to life.

    • Preparing for Takeoff: Behind the Scenes Helicopter (4:52): A brief look at the film’s finale showcasing West at work with his actors, blocking the intense sequence.

    • AXS TV: A Look at The Sacrament (3:38): A condensed EPK with cast and crew offering their insights on the production.

    • More from Magnolia Home Entertainment: Trailers include Filth, Nymphomaniac Volume I, The Protector 2 and The Double.

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:

    Always challenging himself, Director Ti West opted to tell a truly horrific tale, free of the shelter of supernatural genre elements with glowing results.  Akin to Ruggero Deodato’s iconic faux-documentary, Cannibal Holocaust, The Sacrament tells a familiar tale of an unhinged cult leader inspired by unimaginable real events.  Grim, shocking and unsettling, Gene Jones‘ performance as Father will chill viewers to the bone as his effect on his loyal followers is anything but holy.  The realistic, first person perspective as well the leads‘ Vice magazine positions make accepting The Sacrament as a work of fiction, a tough pill to swallow.  Magnolia Pictures‘ video and audio treatment are exceptional while, the special features package is as informative as one could possibly desire.  A gripping work of terror, The Sacrament is Director Ti West’s finest achievement to date, one that wonderfully exemplifies a gifted filmmaker growing and mastering his craft.

    RATING: 5/5

     

  • Rage (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Rage (2014)

    Director: Paco Cabezas

    Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover & Aubrey Peeples

    Released by: Image Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in this tense crime-drama from Paco Cabezas (Neon Flesh), the director’s first American production.  Fueled by revenge, the darkest of skeletons are revealed as Cage seeks justice for a loved one.  Surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Image Entertainment proudly presents Rage, a thrilling tale of retribution and dark pasts.

    Rage centers on Paul Maguire (Cage), a successful businessman and former mob criminal.  When his teenage daughter, Caitlin (Aubrey Peeples, Sharknado), is kidnapped, Paul rounds up the old gang and reverts back to his old tactics to settle the score.  Consumed by vengeance, Paul’s journey will send him down a road of betrayal and dark secrets from his past.  Rachel Nichols (Star Trek), Danny Glover (The Color Purple), Max Fowler (The Killing) and Peter Stormare (22 Jump Street) co-star.

    MOVIE:

    In recent years, Nicolas Cage has caught flack for his eccentric and dime a dozen choosing of roles.  Many would consider his recent work to be lazy and lack the depth of some of his earlier performances.  Contrarily, Cage is an actor who has perfected his craft without need to prove much else.  After 30 plus years in the business, the Face/Off star has earned arguably more respect for his love of playing in the acting sandbox with little concern for critics or awards ceremonies.  That said, moviegoers tend to forget that for every Stolen, Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry, a Matchstick Men, Adaptation. and The Weather Man exists in Cage’s vast filmography.  For better or worse, Rage lies somewhere in the middle of mediocrity for the Academy Award winner.  Former gangster turned legit, Paul Maguire (Cage), falls back on old habits in the aftermath of his daughter’s disappearance.  Turning to his closest allies, Maguire’s violent past returns to haunt him as the group seek revenge.  Early on, Cage feels slightly stiff and reserved before thankfully morphing into a rather inspired performance.  The grim fate of his daughter finds Maguire reigniting a mob war, causing havoc everywhere he goes.  Cage channels a wealth of emotions as seeks the truth and the perpetrators responsible.  Countless shootouts and high-speed car chases ensue while Detective St. John’s (Danny Glover) patience wears thin and Maguire’s wife Vanessa (Nichols) longs for the safety of her husband.  In addition, Rage re-teams, albeit briefly, Cage with Peter Stormare as his former crime boss.  The pair were formerly pitted against each other in 1999’s underappreciated 8MMRage’s biggest issues stem from its slow-building first half, leaving the viewer underwhelmed as Cage searches for his emotions.  Furthermore, in the wake of Taken’s success, this revenge-fueled narrative feels redundant and not a far stretch from Cage’s other recent roles (Drive Angry, Stolen).  Luckily, the final act proves to be more exciting as the mob war intensifies to an action-filled head matched with a surprising twist and justifiably grim ending.

    Ultimately, Rage does little to inject anything fresh to the revenge-thriller genre.  After a bumpy start, Cage does manage to conjure the right emotions to satisfyingly sell an emotionally distressed father.  Surrounded by memorable and competent supporting actors, Rage is entirely Cage’s show with little room to spotlight others.  Violent gun wars and car chases with the Con Air star at the wheel of a Mustang turn the excitement notches up on Rage’s thrill factor.  In addition, the unexpected twist and somber conclusion work to the film’s benefit.  While slightly generic in a post-Taken filmscape, Rage is far from Cage’s best or worst, but still finds the star serving up a decent performance.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    VIDEO:

    Rage is presented in a 1080p widescreen transfer sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally on the Red One Camera, Rage is free of any anomalies such as dirt or scratches.  In addition, skin tones are relayed accurately with nice detail picked up in facial features and wardrobe.  Black levels are handled well with no noticeable crushing to report.  Image Entertainment have provided a terrific transfer for this action-packed thrill ride that should satisfy all viewers.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    AUDIO:

    Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Rage handles high-octane shootouts and engine revving car chases with thunderous force.  Laurent Eyquem’s heavy guitar-led score is another audio highlight that will please your speakers.  Dialogue, while audible, felt slightly underwhelming and a pinch on the low side.  Overall, this impressive mix is more than satisfactory with moments of dialogue possibly requiring an increase in volume.

    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - The Making of Rage: This short 5-minute EPK is broken down into three sections that showcase the principal cast discussing the film, its themes and being directed by Paco Cabezas.

    - Deleted Scenes: Several omitted sequences are provided including an alternate opening and ending.

    - DVD Copy

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:

    As a dedicated fan of Cage’s work, Rage is a decent entry in the thespians recent output but does little to revolutionize the revenge subgenre. While, cold in the beginning, Cage warms up to the viewer and ultimately delivers a satisfying role filled with emotion and range.  Danny Glover, Rachel Nichols and others provide nice appearances but are hardly on-screen long enough to make a lasting impression.  Director Paco Cabezas’s first foray into American moviemaking is a suitable effort with a focused eye and close attention to action sequences.  Image Entertainment’s video and audio specifications are more than pleasing to the eyes and ears while, special features are unfortunately minimal.  An exciting second half and a respectfully welcome dark ending allows Rage to rise slightly above mediocrity.

    RATING: 3.5/5

  • Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger (2011) DVD Review


    Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger (2011)
    Director: Emanuele De Santi
    Starring: Emanuele De Santi, Giulio De Santi, Alessandro Gramanti & Christian Riva
    Released by: Autonomy Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    What happens when you attempt to mix The Crow, fast MTV-eqsue editing and ridiculous amounts of blood?  Apparently, Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger happens.  This 2011 hyper-gory Italian film seems to take influences from many different works before it and create something unique.  Unfortunately, the result is more painful than anything some of the characters experience in this flick.  Let’s not waste any time and dive right into this horrendous mess…

    Adam Chaplin: Violent Avenger is set in the fictional Heaven Valley, where Adam is investigating the murder of his wife and learns the local mafia boss is to blame.  Unable to turn to the corrupt police, Adam makes a deal with a demon to offer him superhuman strength and dark powers to avenge his wife.  In exchange for power, Adam must obey the demon’s wishes.  It doesn’t take long before a bloody war is waged on the mafia.

    This review was originally published through Euro Cult AV.  To view it in its entirety, click this link:

    http://eurocultav.com/Reviews/Adam_Chaplin__Violent_Avenger_/adam_chaplin__violent_avenger_.html

  • Night of the Comet (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review



    Night of the Comet (1984)
    Director: Thom Eberhardt
    Starring: Robert Beltran, Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney & Mary Wornov
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the cinematic year of 1984, audiences were introduced to a team of ghostbusting gents from the Big Apple and a crane-kicking kid.  In addition, teenagers residing on every Elm Street found a new reason to be terrified of their nightmares while Indiana Jones returned to the screen for a journey into a doomed temple.  Amidst all that excitement, a low-budget picture made a splash that showcased teenagers practically inheriting the Earth after its demise.  Scream Factory, the horror off-shoot of Shout! Factory, invites fans to rediscover the cult classic from the producers of Valley Girl.  After nearly 30 years since its original release, let’s see if Scream Factory’s highly anticipated edition has the chops to earn a spot on your shelf or be left for the comet zombies...

    Night of the Comet centers on an exciting night where the first comet to grace the planet in 65 million years occurs.  Unfortunately, not everyone is quite as interested in the event.  Regina Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart of The Last Starfighter) and younger sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney of Chopping Mall fame) are two Valley Girls who are far more involved in their fashion trends, video games and of course, boys!  Upon daybreak, the girls discover they’re the only people left in Los Angeles while the rest of the population is either a pile of ash or a zombie.  What are two Valley Girls left to do in a world to themselves?  Shop, of course!  It isn’t long before the sisters have to defend themselves against ravenous zombies and blood-seeking scientists.

    MOVIE:
    The strength of a film like Night of the Comet comes from its ability to be so many things in one adventure.  While, the concept of the world ending and being the only ones left is far from new, it’s characters and tone make this a unique ride that knows nothing but fun.  Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney’s chemistry is the glue that makes this film as entertaining as it is and allows for terrific humor to emerge.  Stewart’s hardheaded, almost tomboy-like attitude mixed with Maroney’s adorable but quick-witted nature is a perfect combination that never grows tired.  While both characters certainly fit the bill as “Valley Girls”, Stewart manages to hold a job at a movie theater and is gnarly at video games while Maroney wears the title more appropriately as the ditzy cheerleader type.  When the sisters encounter another survivor (Mexican Actor Robert Beltran of Eating Raoul), Stewart injects some hilarious, albeit politically incorrect, insults toward Beltran (“This isn’t date-night in the barrio, Hec-tor”) which makes you nostalgic for times when people weren’t so serious.  Switching gears, the film manages to make way for some creative make-up work on the zombies courtesy of Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dreamscape).  Moments of zombie encounters are far and few between, but when they do occur, the jump scares are effective.  Some would consider surviving the end of the world as a tragedy itself, but never doubt the resilience of teenage girls.  Stewart and Maroney revel in the world they’ve inherited by going on an endless shopping spree as they jam to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (performed by Tami Holbrook here).  It’s a scene like this that perfectly embodies the fun factor this film has to offer before being disrupted by a gang of thugs.  These humans on the verge of becoming zombies, headed by leader Willy, have an action-packed shootout with the girls resulting in some choice one liners by the head goon (“I’m not crazy, I just don’t give a fuck!”).

    As if this film wasn’t already hitting all the right cult buttons, more genre actors join the party in supporting roles.  Mary Wornov (Rock ‘n Roll High School) and Geoffrey Lewis (The Devil’s Rejects) are members of a scientific research team who also survived the comet catastrophe.  They are hellbent on scooping up any survivors in order to extract their blood for use in a serum.  The girls now not only have the occasional zombie on the prowl but now human beings gunning for them.  The film’s finale takes place in the scientists‘ secret bunker where the girls are preparing for their imminent doom.  Luckily, you can count on more exciting shoot-outs and explosions before the girls and their faithful companion Hector reclaim the world that is rightfully theirs.  Night of the Comet hits all the right chords in telling a fun, exciting and action-filled roller-coaster adventure.  Sure, there’s the occasional slow spot as the girls are getting accustomed to an empty Los Angles but it doesn’t take long to build its speed back up.  Night of the Comet came out at a time and place that captured a spirit that would be virtually impossible to duplicate today.  30 years later, it’s no real surprise why this film bears the title “cult classic”, it’s a hilarious and scary tale delivered by a talented cast and a bitchin‘ soundtrack.  If there’s one comet-related flick you need to see in the next 65 million years, there’s no question it’s Night of the Comet.
    RATING: 4.5/5

    VIDEO:
    Night of the Comet is presented in a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen transfer (1.78:1).  There’s no denying that this is the best Night of the Comet has ever looked but I couldn’t help but feel there was an aura of softness to the transfer.  By no means deal-breaking, just a pinch softer than what I had expected.  Skin tones are nice and natural while detail looks peachy in close-ups.  Instances of dirt and debris are minimal at best, making this one clean looking transfer with that filmic grain we love so much firmly intact.  Colors pop as well as I had anticipated with highlights being the neon lights in the radio station as well as Stewart’s turquoise jacket and Maroney’s blue and pink cheerleader outfit.  Scream Factory did a wonderful job on this flick and I almost dare anyone to do better.
    RATING: 4/5

    AUDIO:
    Night of the Comet features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that fell just a bit short of my expectations.  Dialogue comes across clearly although scenes at the radio station become harder to hear as background music overpowers the dialogue.  Raising the volume level to nearly 60 helped, but it still would have been beneficial to adjust the mix at certain moments.  That said, the terrific 80s soundtrack comes blasting out of your speakers which adds to the enjoyment factor of so many scenes.  Action scenes are blaring as can be while again falling a wee bit below my standards.  I found myself reaching for the the volume button again to really get the full impact out of shootout scenes.  Overall, the film does sound clear with soundtrack moments being the highlight.  My only real complaint is the lack of a louder push at more intense moments.  In addition, a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix and English subtitles are included.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    EXTRAS:

    In true Collector’s Edition form, Scream Factory goes the extra mile in the special features department (NOTE: An interview with Actress Mary Wornov is listed on the back cover of the packaging but was never shot.  A busy schedule prevented this and the packaging was already printed before changes could be made).  

    - Audio Commentary with Writer / Director Thom Eberhardt

    - Audio Commentary with Stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart

    - Audio Commentary with Production Designer John Muto

    - Valley Girls at the End of the World: Stars Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart contribute to a series of interviews that run roughly 15 minutes.  The actress’ discuss the audition process, the late night shoots, the excitement of filming in a mall to themselves and the lasting impact of the film.

    - The Last Man on Earth?: Actor Robert Beltran sits down for a 12-minute interview injecting interesting anecdotes about his role in the film.  Beltran turned the film down twice before he finally came around and agreed to take the role.  

    - Curse of the Comet: Special Make-Up Effects Creator David B. Miller discusses how his previous work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller landed him the job on Night of the Comet.

    - Behind the Scenes Galleries

    - Film Photo Gallery

    - Theatrical Trailer

    - Reversible cover

    - DVD copy

    RATING: 5/5

    OVERALL:
    Night of the Comet is like a fine wine, it just continues to grow better with age.  The film is a unique bundle of fun that keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.  The core cast do a phenomenal job making us laugh and root for them as they take down zombie scum and buzzkill scientists.  Nearly a year after its announcement, Scream Factory made the wait for this Collector’s Edition well worth it!  A solid video presentation, serviceable audio mix and a plethora of incredible special features along with Nathan Thomas Milliner’s custom artwork make this a crucial addition in every cult enthusiasts‘ collection.  The burden of civilization rests on you owning this!  Bitchin’, isn’t it?
    RATING: 4.5/5 

  • Eve of Destruction (1991) Blu-ray Review



    Eve of Destruction (1991)
    Director: Duncan Gibbins
    Starring: Gregory Hines, Renée Soutendijk, Michael Greene & Kurt Fuller
    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Scream Factory, the horror offshoot of Shout! Factory, is back with some android thrills from the 1990s!  Debuting the same year as Terminator 2: Judgement Day (although beating it to the punch by six months), Eve of Destruction appears to tread on similar waters as James Cameron’s sci-fi epic.  That said, things can only take a fun turn when you make the deadly android a sexy female and have a hot-headed terrorism expert on her trail.  If Cameron’s The Terminator and its equally superior sequel are the A-list answer to human-like robots run amok than Eve of Destruction is the B-Movie response.  Does this scandalous killer android have what it takes to keep you entertained or will this flick be means for self-destruction?  Let’s find out…

    Eve of Destruction centers on Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk), a human-like android modeled after her inventor, who after an unexpected hiccup during testing sends her on a deadly rampage against anything perceived as a threat.  Terrorism expert Jim McQuade (Gregory Hines) is the only hope in finding and deactivating her before nuclear annihilation!

    MOVIE:
    When originally announced at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, many fans were split on the upcoming titles that were slated for Scream Factory’s 2014 roster.  Eve of Destruction was one of those flicks few were impressed by and some even scratched their head at the thought of its inclusion in the line.  It is for reasons like this that Scream Factory should be praised for taking a chance and giving a nearly forgotten 90s sci-fi flick its time in HD glory because frankly, who else would?  Eve of Destruction is a surprisingly fun flick that manages to take a concept we’ve seen before but present it with some tweeks that are equally entertaining.  Renée Soutendijk’s duel role of the inventor and Eve VIII is a blast to watch as Eve VIII certainly would give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money.  The android’s flirty and sexy nature allows her to act out feelings that her creator always kept bottled up leading to some terrific scenes.  After scoping out the local bar, Eve VIII invites a bar patron back to a hotel room where he learns just how sensitive Eve really is.  The result is an “orally” entertaining time that needs to be experienced firsthand.  The late Gregory Hines offers a great performance with plenty of hilarious one liners as the terrorist expert tasked to take down Eve VIII.

    I’ll admit I have a weakness for films that showcase futuristic technology that is painfully dated by todays standards, I can’t get enough it.  You can count on seeing plenty of over the top screens and computer monitors that are used to monitor Eve VIII’s maintenance but could probably all be operated by an iPad Mini today.  Nothing screams nostalgia more than dated movie technology, period!

    Eve of Destruction succeeds in all the action departments needed to make this one entertaining 100 minute romp.  Plenty of machine gun shootouts and a cross country chase from California to New York that results in an intense final showdown in the subways.  It’s no secret that this film isn’t a masterpiece but to take a familiar concept audiences have seen and create an entertaining piece of cinema is all that matters.  Eve of Destruction is a delightful effort in the killer android sub-genre that probably would have been completely forgotten if not for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release.  Dated technology, a sexy killer android and Gregory Hines demanding “why the fuck there ain’t no off switch on this thing?” is reason enough to saddle up with this flick and a bowl of popcorn.
    RATING: 4/5

    VIDEO:
    Scream Factory presents Eve of Destruction on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1:78:1.  Instances of dirt and specks are apparent throughout the film but not noticeably distracting while skin tones seem a little too warm.  Colors pop nicely and saturation is nice especially on Eve VIII’s red leather jacket.  Grain level is natural while blacks are decent enough.  Not amazing but certainly a serviceable transfer.
    RATING: 3.5/5

    AUDIO:
    Eve of Destruction is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track which is clear and quite loud.  Dialogue scenes come across with no issue while moments of action, especially shootouts, are loud and shattering.
    RATING: 4/5

    EXTRAS:

    - Theatrical Trailer

    While special features are limited on this release, it more than likely has to do with the passing of Gregory Hines and Director Duncan Gibbins who died in 1993.  That said, Scream Factory does include a reversible cover that utilizes the original 1-sheet artwork.

    RATING: 2/5

    OVERALL:
    Eve of Destruction is no Terminator 2: Judgement Day but it will keep you throughly entertained with all the android mayhem you could ask for.  Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is a serviceable one with decent video and a terrific audio track.  Unfortunately, special features are minimal but then again not every release can be chocked full of extra content.  The inclusion of the reversible cover art was an unexpected and appreciated treat.  The entertainment value of the film alone is worth a look and a spot on any die-hard Scream Factory fans shelf.
    RATING: 3.5/5