Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

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  • Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury (2017)

    Director: Various

    Starring: Various

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As a surge of trailer compilations celebrating exploitation’s finest offerings continue to make their way to home video, Severin Films, in assosciation with The Cube, assaults viewers once more with a second helping of bone-cracking madness in Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury!  Collecting another 35 trailers consisting of over two hours of sizzling martial arts badassery, this celebration of kung fu cinema’s peak decades during the 70s and 80s spotlights such legends as, Angela Mao, Don Wong, Chang Yi and Bruce Li in some of their most prized efforts.  Unspooling in all their high-definition glory, prominent inclusions encompass, Thunderbolt, Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, The Invisible Terrorist, Bruce and the Iron Finger, The Owl, White Haired Devil Lady, The Super Kung-Fu Fighter, Revenge of the Shaolin Kid, The Old Master, Itchy Fingers, The Dragon and the Tiger Kids, The Avenging Boxer among many more.  A natural extension of its impressive predecessor, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury ensures a doubling of brutality and energetic fight choreography to make serious martial arts movie aficionados bowing in approval at its continued depth and preservation of these nostalgically tattered promotional pieces.  

    Severin Films presents Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio on the overwhelming majority of bumpers included.  While each trailer contains expected and varying levels of age-related anomalies including, faded colors, scratches, vertical lines and film tears, their enhanced resolution is evident with the overall quality of the 35 trailers surprisingly besting the original volume’s 31 without question.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that suffers from similar battle wounds with cracks and pops common on each trailer, traces of hiss and a general narrowness in their pitch are also unfortunately present but nonetheless expected given the condition of their elements.  Included as the disc’s sole special feature, an Audio Commentary with Kung Fu Movie Experts Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller & Rich Stelow is wonderfully chatty and informative, capturing the vibe of a casual party-like conversation with some of the genre’s biggest fans whose passion is as deep as their vast knowledge for the subjects on hand.  Fans breaking wooden boards in anticipation for another tidal wave of hand-to-hand combat trailers will be most pleased with Severin Films’ Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury.  Bearing their grindhouse wear with pride, two additional hours of content with yet another insightful commentary track is the perfect opponent for your Blu-ray player to do battle with. 

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Severin Films, Return of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • World Without End (1956) Blu-ray Review

    World Without End (1956)

    Director: Edward Bernds

    Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Nelson Leigh, Rod Taylor, Shawn Smith & Lisa Montell

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A cost conscience effort that earnestly takes audiences to infinity and beyond, World Without End, using rocket ship stock footage from 1951’s Flight to Mars as a launchpad, finds four daring astronauts en route back home following a successful mission to Mars when a space warp spirals them centuries ahead into a brooding future.  Crash-landing in the nuclear ravaged Earth of 2508 A.D., our daring explorers are confronted by mutated cyclops-men and overgrown spiders in search of civilization.  Creating a pacifist way of life underground away from the savages, the astronauts are welcomed by a peaceful community of colorful bald cap-wearing men and miniskirted vixens who dare not retake the land above, jeopardizing the existence of mankind’s future generations.  Determined to ensure humanity’s survival, the time traveling outsiders fight back against this Earth’s beastly mutations.  Beautifully shot in CinemaScope (the genre’s very first) and boasting a respectable cast of brave souls including an early appearance from Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, The Birds), World Without End takes what should be a routine saucer men from Mars cheapie and instead delivers a lost in space, time traveling cheapie with commendable style that echoes later genre classics (much to the chagrin of its director who felt ripped off) including, Planet of the Apes.  While not a top-tier sci-fi feature, the film’s vibrant colors, effective but seldomly seen brutes and gorgeous sights of Nancy Gates (Comanche Station) and Lisa Montell (She Gods of Shark Reef) make World Without End an entertaining prime directive from the director of Queen of Outer Space and Return of the Fly.

    Warner Archive welcomes World Without End to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Presented with spotless detail, colors are bold and exacting, giving radiance to matte paintings, earthly greenery and flashy costume choices while, black levels are as deep as one could hope for.  Retaining a prominent layer of natural film grain throughout and rosy skin tones, this lesser revered space effort has never looked and surely will ever look better!  Matched with a pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that offers crisp dialogue levels with no indications of crack or pops, special features are unfortunately void on this release.  A wonderful bone thrown to space-age baby boomers, World Without End is a fun, adventure-filled journey to a ravaged world with only travelers from the past to save it.  Although absent of any supplemental content, Warner Archive has singlehandedly ensured this B-movie favorite a grandiose Blu-ray debut that makes its Cinemascope photography pop like never before.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 28th from Warner Archive, World Without End can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Firestarter (1984) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Firestarter (1984)

    Director: Mark L. Lester

    Starring: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney & Louise Fletcher

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Sandwiched between several other Stephen King adaptations from Producer Dino De Laurentiis (Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet), Firestarter may have failed to ignite explosive box-office returns, yet stands as an above average retelling of the best-selling novel with a top-tier cast and spellbinding score lighting the way.  Shortly after partaking in a paid medical study, Andy McGee (David Keith, White of the Eye) and his future wife Vicky (Heather Locklear, T.J. Hooker) develop the unique abilities to read and overtake others’ minds.  Raising their young daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) who has developed her own abilities to ignite fires and foresee future events, a secret government agency, known as The Shop, intent on capturing the child for their own weaponizing needs, murders Vicky, forcing the widowed Andy and Charlie to permanently outrun their seekers.  Relentless in their search, the head of The Shop, Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), hires the methodically unhinged Agent John Rainbird (George C. Scott, Patton) to retrieve the little girl with her destruction being his sole consolation.  Fighting tooth and nail to remain with her father at all odds, Charlie is eventually pushed to her boiling point and must rely on her repressed powers to fight back.  

    Featuring brief appearances from Art Carney (The Honeymooners) and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as trustworthy old-timers, Firestarter is an affectionately faithful adaptation that rises above the genre-laden capabilities of its leads with their onscreen chemistry as father and daughter reflected best.  The film’s all-star cast from the fresh faced Barrymore to the Oscar winning Scott, in a deliciously underrated role, all bring their A-game while, Director Mark L. Lester’s (Class of 1984, Commando) graduation to studio pictures is a solid progression from his much loved drive-in fare.  Concluding with an inferno of effects-work akin to the finale of King’s debut novel, Firestarter is hardly the pinnacle of the Master of Horror’s cinematic responses, yet deserves more credit for its survivalist tale of struggle and Tangerine Dream’s (Thief, Legend) synth-inducing score that ranks amongst their best.

    Boasting a new 2K scan from the interpositive, Scream Factory presents Firestarter with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Eviscerating Universal Studios’ previous and heavily DNRed transfer from 2014, the King adaptation maintains a gorgeously filmic appearance with vibrant greenery on display during exterior sequences while, the skin tones of all actors are natural and exceptionally detailed, making way for the crispest of clarity in observing Barrymore’s rolling tears and Keith’s delicate nosebleed streams.  Although insignificant speckles are occasionally spotted, Firestarter’s latest hi-def outing is nothing short of definitive.  Equipped with a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue efficiently, the surprisingly light on sound effects track offers little to bite into while, the fiery blasts and thuds of the unfortunate souls in Charlie’s path offer their best punch.  Without question, Tangerine Dream’s hypnotic score is the best dish on the menu.

    A solid entry into the boutique label’s Collector’s Edition banner, newly conceived special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mark L. Lester, Playing with Fire: The Making of Firestarter (52:40) that hosts Lester recalling John Carpenter’s original role in the production before earning himself directorial duties, praise for De Laurentiis’ sound advice and other intriguing anecdotes such as Drew Barrymore beating Poltergeist’s Heather O’Rourke for the lead role.  Actors Drew Snyder, Freddie Jones, Dick Warlock and Tangerine Dream’s Johannes Schmoelling also offer their own unique insights to working on the show in this first-rate featurette.  In addition, Tangerine Dream: Movie Music Memories with Johannes Schmoelling (17:07) catches up with the keyboardist as he recounts the band’s peak decade in the 80s and their work on such films as Michael Mann’s Thief.  Meanwhile, the awesome and self-explanatory Johannes Schmoelling of Tangerine Dream Plays “Charlie’s Theme” (3:43) is the surprise nugget of the release while, Theatrical Trailers (3:43), Radio Spots (4:34), a Still Gallery (69 in total) and Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster design round out the bonus feature selections.  A worthy King adaptation that unfairly gets lost in the shuffle too often,  Firestarter returns to Blu-ray with a definitive 2K scan upgrade and another juicy offering of featurettes, aptly produced by the tireless Cavetown Pictures, that serve Scream Factory’s Collector Edition moniker proud.  

    RATING: 4/5

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

  • We Are the Flesh (2016) Blu-ray Review

    We Are the Flesh (2016)

    Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter

    Starring: Noé Hernández, María Evoli & Diego Gamaliel

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in an impoverished underworld of solitude, We Are the Flesh finds wandering brother and sister Fauna (María Evoli, Extraño pero verdadero) and Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) taking refuge in the peculiar dwelling of off kilter hermit Mariano (Noé Hernández, La Hermandad) where carnal desires and nightmares reign free.  A disorientating and visually grim experience that thrives on shocking and sexually perverse imagery, We Are the Flesh offers little insight into its intentions other than to rattle the senses of audiences who reside in a world of rules and morales, to which it unfailingly succeeds.  Unfortunately, Emiliano Rocha Minter’s experimental directorial debut, befit with a psychedelic presence and a certifiably Manson-like performance from the magnetic Noé Hernández, feels too dense in its delivery to appear as anything more than a flashy exploitation of scandalous imagery for shock’s sake.  

    Tasked with building a cavernous interior made of cardboard in exchange for shelter, Fauna and Lucio quickly find themselves at the mercy and under the spell of Mariano’s depraved fantasies, igniting an incestuous love affair between the two virgin siblings.  Performing vivid acts of fellatio on her brother and seductively dripping menstrual blood into his mouth, Mariano meets his untimely fate after climaxing to the sight of the teenagers fornicating in a dizzying display of abstractness meant to represent the dark underbelly of Mexico.  Returning to existence following a slimy rebirth from the cave’s womb-like crevices, Mariano’s resurrection calls for a cannibalistic feast where the throat-slitting of a captured soldier and an orgy of consumption and penetration takes place.  Concluding with an unexpected revelation of what we believe is a post-apocalyptic world, We Are the Flesh, unquestionably showcasing the artistic individuality of its maker, is a scarring and equally confounding experience unlikely to lure many to its cave of madness for long.

    Arrow Video presents We Are the Flesh with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  An intentionally bleak-looking picture, the cool grays and overall washed out appearance of the setting maintain strong detail while, the dirty complexions of the actors and their bare bodies spattered with sweat and blood are competently presented.  Furthermore, black levels are overwhelmingly healthy with only scant appearances of crushing on display.  Meanwhile, the few bursts of red and blue lighting cues along with infrared photography during an intimate sequence between the siblings offer the transfer’s boldest shades that nicely contrast the film’s otherwise somber color scheme.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the minimal Spanish dialogue (accompanied by optional English subtitles) is effectively handled while, the few areas of dreary ambiance serve the track and the effectiveness on the visuals admirably.  An optional LPCM 2.0 has also been included for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, Minter’s two earlier short films for Dentro (12:39) and Videohome (10:55), the expertly enlightening Virginie Salévy on We Are the Flesh (36:21) video essay, Interviews with Emiliano Rocha Minter (18:20), Noé Hernández (20:20), María Evoli (13:09) and Diego Gamaliel (13:30) plus, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:29).  Additionally, a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (30 in total), a 22-page booklet accompanied with an insightful essay by Anton Bitel that better explores the film’s themes and intentions with Reversible Cover Art concluding the disc’s supplementary inclusions.  As bizarrely perverse as they come, We Are the Flesh will attract the curiously daring with only few destined to take more away from its proceedings than its seedy visuals have to offer.  Graced with a respectable home video treatment north of its border, Arrow Video maintains its expected high quality of care with scholarly supplements that although unlikely to alter the opinions of many, appreciatively reveals more of the film’s kooky inner workings.

    RATING: 2.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, We Are the Flesh can be purchased via ArrowVideo.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Colors (1988) Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Colors (1988)

    Director: Dennis Hopper

    Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Don Cheadle & Damon Wayans

    Released by: Shout Select

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Eye-opening at the time of its original release and unfortunately still potent in today’s divided society, Colors presents the dangerous world of gang warfare in a realistically gritty light.  Within a year’s reach of retirement, veteran L.A.P.D. officer Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall, The Godfather) is partnered with hot-headed rookie Danny McGavin (Sean Penn, Milk) in an anti-gang unit.  With clashing personalities, the two must learn to trust one another in order to survive the mayhem of Los Angeles’ South Central district.  Returning Academy Award nominee Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) back behind the camera, Colors stages the murder of a Bloods gang member that heightens the turf war between the neighboring Crips and Barrio residing hoodlums, culminating in bullets, bloodshed and the police’s role in the center of their fatal path.  Riskily shot in the thicket of real gang territory that adds a genuine honesty to the proceedings and resulted in the actual shooting of extras during filming, Colors doesn’t flinch at the harsh realities of its crime-infested ghettos while, balancing the line of controversial good cop/bad cop approaches in protecting lawmen’s own and the community.  

    Although the casting of Penn and Duvall is inspired, their characters never fully develop as deeply as anticipated while, gang vengeance toward trigger-happy Crip member Rocket (Don Cheadle, House of Lies) takes control of the final act, leaving Hodges and McGavin’s purpose all but lost in the shuffle and shortchanging a still harrowing but, nonetheless weakened conclusion.  Featuring a chart-topping soundtrack of rap hits from such artists as, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa, Colors also costars future players Damon Wayans (Lethal Weapon) as a drug-addicted gangbanger, Tony Todd (Candyman) and Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss him role as a young thug.  An intense examination of gang life that has debatably improved over time, Colors is perhaps best recognized for its capturing of the lifestyle’s arguably darkest era and the L.A.P.D.’s equally deadly attempts to right its ship.

    Preserving its unrated cut for the first time on high-definition, Shout Select presents Colors with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Welcoming natural skin tones and lush radiance during the many sunny daytime sequences, black levels found in officer’s uniforms are deeply inky while, the drama’s filmic integrity remains firmly intact with no major anomalies to speak of.  Equipped with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is never challenged by cracks or pops while, the heavy beats of the film’s hip-hop soundtrack and jackhammering assault of bullets pulverizes onscreen action terrifically.  Carried over from Second Sight’s U.K. edition, special features include, Cry of Alarm: An Interview with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (28:46) that shares the dangerous risks Schiffer undertook to understand the gang culture and accurately capture members’ speech patterns and slang for the script.  In addition, Cops & Robbers (16:53) hosts Technical Advisor/L.A.P.D. Gang Division Dennis Fanning on his unique career perspectives that were brought to ensure a legitimacy to the story.  Lastly, the film’s Trailer (1:53) is also included while, a hidden Easter Egg (accessed by clicking right of the Trailer in the disc’s bonus features section) offers an additional interview snippet with Screenwriter Michael Schiffer (2:16).  While the lack of supplements may fall short of other Collector’s Edition entries in the Shout Select catalog, what is included is luckily informative.  Appreciatively ensuring the film’s uncut presentation, Colors’ mileage may vary by viewer but, remains a recommendable watch for its believable expression of L.A. gangs and their very real mean streets of the era.

    RATING: 3.5/5

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

  • Fences (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Fences (2016)

    Director: Denzel Washington

    Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson & Saniyya Sidney

    Released by: Paramount Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the award winning play by the late August Wilson who also contributed the film’s screenplay adaptation, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters) returns to the director’s chair after a decade long hiatus while reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the Broadway revival.  Set in the hardworking community of Pittsburgh during the 1950s, garbage collector Troy Maxson (Washington) carries on to provide for his loving wife Rose (Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder) and teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo, The Leftovers).  Strict and dismissive of Cory and his elder son Lyons’ (Russell Hornsby, Grimm) ambitions of playing football and music over committing to real careers, Troy’s troubling past of his own abusive father, lengthy imprisonment and unrealized potential as a baseball player weighs heavily on his complicated role as a husband and father.  Proudly promoted as the first African-American garbage truck driver while getting embroiled in an affair with another woman, Troy’s once dominantly controlled world comes under fire as friendships dissolve and family members rebel against him.  Recycling the majority of its talented cast from the 2010 revived production, Fences thrives on Wilson’s written words and powerful performances in its tale of blue-collar hopes and broken dreams.  Retaining the otherwise simplistic nature of a stage production with the rhythmic intensity of the thespians heightened thanks to Washington’s watchful direction, Fences is a powerhouse drama dependent on its first-rate performances, namely Washington in one of his most commanding roles and Viola Davis, who deservedly earned an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  

    Paramount Pictures presents Fences with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Beautifully shot on film and resulting in an equally filmic and impressively detailed home video experience, the earthy color palette shines while, the Maxson’s red brick house and aged outdoor furniture are handsomely preserved in all their lived-in condition.  Furthermore, skin tones are flawless with detail in facial wrinkles and graying hair reading immaculately.  A solid transfer from start to finish, Fences is built for perfection.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that offers little to overly impress, the film’s dialogue-driven agenda never misses a beat with crisp exchanges throughout yet, the lack of musical interludes or other sonically-challenging moments excuse the track from a grander purpose.  Bonus features include, Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen (8:53) that explores the original stage production and its impact with interviews from its revival’s director Kenny Leon and cast members, The Company of Fences (9:17) details the play’s cast and their leap to bringing the show to the big-screen, Building Fences: Denzel Washington (6:56) sits down with the film’s star and director as he addresses his love for the source material and his artistic approaches in its adaptation, Playing the Part: Rose Maxson (6:57) finds Viola Davis discussing her character in-depth while, August Wilson’s Hill District (6:25) spotlights the real Pittsburgh locations used for the film’s shoot.  Lastly, Digital HD Codes for Fences and the Denzel Washington-starrer The Manchurian Candidate are also included.  One of last year’s critical darlings, Fences brings the work of August Wilson to life on film with the effort’s true calling card being its masterful performances.  Additionally, Paramount Pictures’ home video presentation does not disappoint with its limited supplements offering worthy anecdotes on the film’s making and its enduring stage production.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Paramount Pictures, Fences can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956) Blu-ray Review

    23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

    Director: Henry Hathaway

    Starring: Van Johnson, Vera Miles, Cecil Parker & Patricia Laffan

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Philip MacDonald’s novel and invoking an unmistakably Hitchcockian tone that stumbles only slightly in its execution, 23 Paces to Baker Street offers thrills and intrigue when American playwright Philip Hannon (Van Johnson, Battleground), blind and now residing in London, overhears a potentially criminally-minded conversation involving kidnapping and extortion.  Reporting his findings to the local authorities with little evidence to act on other than his instincts, Hannon, with assistance from his loyal butler (Cecil Parker, The Ladykillers) and ex-fiancée (Vera Miles, Psycho), takes matters into his own hands.  Filmed on location in England and the Fox studio lot, Henry Hathaway (Niagara, True Grit) directs with precision while, Milton Krasner’s (All About Eve) cinematography brings a warm vibrancy to Philip’s tidy flat and dreary mood to the fog-entrenched streets of London.  While striking similarities to Hitchcock’s own Rear Window including, protagonists both restrained by physical debilities and consumed by mysterious plots may hinder its overall effectiveness and a finale riddled with unanswered questions regarding the shrouded child-napping culprit, 23 Paces to Baker Street stands tall as a moderately effective whodunit worthy of more eyes spotting it.

    Beautifully restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes 23 Paces to Baker Street with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.55:1 aspect ratio.  Shot in colorful CinemaScope, the mystery-thriller arrives with little to no source damage while, details shine most effectively in Philip’s London flat with textures in costume attire reading nicely.  Skin tones are warm and natural-looking with black levels looking respectably inky with occasional variances in lieu of intentional fogginess understandably clouding some moments.  Although slightly imperfect, KL Studio Classics’ restoration marks the film’s finest home video outing to date.  Joined by an exceedingly strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is sharply relayed while, sound effects from gun shots to pinball machine racket all offer distinct exchanges.  Furthermore, Leigh Harline’s (Pinocchio) score of dramatic cues and romantic melodies are sonically pleasing, making for the grandest statements on the track.  Special features include, an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kent Jones and Trailers for 23 Paces to Baker Street (2:15), Cast a Giant Shadow (3:38), Foreign Intrigue (1:55), The File of the Golden Goose (2:37) and When Eight Bells Toll (2:49).  Lastly, a Reversible Cover Art is also included.  Familiar territory to The Master of Suspense’s work, 23 Paces to Baker Street instills gorgeous photography and a generally curious plot of its own to make its investigation a recommendable one to viewers.  Appreciatively restored to its finest state yet, KL Studio Classics’ 4K presentation is a filmic sight to the beholder sure to please without fail.  

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, 23 Paces to Baker Street can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Mickey and the Roadster Racers DVD Review

    Mickey and the Roadster Racers

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Bret Iwan, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer, Daniel Ross, Tress MacNeille & Nika Futterman

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Less educationally-minded than the preschool geared Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey and the Roadster Racers whizzes into the fast lane of fun for a delightful serving of after school entertainment.  Set in the racer-loving community of Hot Dog Hills, Mickey Mouse and pals Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Pluto compete in the pedal-pushing sport while finding themselves in a series of adventures at home and abroad.  Presenting two tales per episode, the gang sees their vehicles go loony after filling up with Goofy’s experimental gasoline while, Minnie and Daisy, as the Happy Helpers, find their petsitting duties go haywire and their search and rescue of an escaped ape from the zoo be anything but easy.  Also facing off against the infamously unfair Piston Pietro at an international race in Rome, Mickey and friends’ colorful new exploits are a blast from start to finish and ones that young viewers will be glad they took the ride with.  Collecting the program’s first three episodes and featuring appearances from beloved favorites such as, Chip and Dale, Pete, Clarabelle Cow and introducing racing emcee Billy Beagle (voiced by Jay Leno), Mickey and the Roadster Racers is a wildly fun return for the characters where their vibrant personalities and engagement in humorous scenarios takes first place.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents episodes of Mickey and the Roadster Racers in their widescreen (1.78:1) format.  While target viewers may be less enthused by the release’s technical merits than the quality of the show itself, Disney Junior’s latest boasts a colorful vibrancy throughout that makes the computer-generated animation shine nicely.  Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes make for easy dialogue delivery and heightened sound effects, offering more than acceptable listening enjoyment.  Special features include, a Bonus Episode: “Mickey’s Perfecto Day!” / “Running of the Roadsters!” (the show’s fifth), Music Videos for the “Mickey and the Roadster Racers” Theme Song (1:15) and the “Happy Helpers” Theme Song (1:30) plus, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Tangled: The Series (0:18), Elena of Avalor (0:48), Born in China (1:16) and Cars 3 (0:59).  Lastly, a customizable Metal License Plate is included inside the disc’s packaging.  Screeching into high-gear with plenty of laughs, Mickey and the Roadster Racers is tailor-made for tikes looking to join Disney’s golden characters on a track course built on fast speeds and hearty good times.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Mickey and the Roadster Racers can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lesson (2015) Blu-ray Review

    The Lesson (2015)

    Director: Ruth Platt

    Starring: Robert Hands, Evan Bendall, Michaela Prchalová, Dolya Gavanski, Tom Cox & Rory Coltart

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported from England, The Lesson offers a promisingly taut setup of reprimanded disobedience from first time filmmaker Ruth Platt before shades of familiarity untether its agenda.  When disrespectful students Fin (Evan Bendall and Joel (Rory Coltart) push the limits of their rowdy classroom behavior too far, their English teacher Mr. Gale (Robert Hands, Charlotte Gray) vows to educate them at terrifying costs.  Kidnapped and bound to a table, Mr. Gales’ unorthodox teaching methods subjects the conscious Fin to a rapid-fire scurry of definition searches met with nails impaled through his bloodied hands should time run out.  Waxing intellectual on a variety of topics from Charles Dickens to totalitarianism, Fin’s hallucinations of his deceased mother and a blood splattered Joel assisting his captor clouds his thinking that will be essential to his survival.  Developing commendable character development of the troubled youths including Fin’s broken home situation and lust for his older brother’s girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalová), The Lesson’s true tour de force belongs to Robert Hands whose motives may be simplistic and monologues occasionally longwinded, demands the viewers strictest attention like a whip-wielding dictator.  Achieving moments of genuine suspense, The Lesson ultimately feels all too familiar to the tired torture-horror antics popularized in America over a decade ago with only the witty nuttiness of its antagonist truly separating itself from the pack.

    Scream Factory presents The Lesson with a 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally, skin tones are immaculately handled while, tight shots exposing sweat beads, dripping blood and Mr. Gale’s fogged eyeglasses are all sharply detailed.  Although flashbacks presented in black and white are relayed with an expected deepness, instances of digital artifacts creep their way into several sequences that while not deal-breaking, surely make their presence known.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that prioritizes dialogue (with the optional English subtitles coming in handy for some of the actors’ thicker accents), the agonizing screams of the film’s victims to the quieter ambiance at Fin’s home and surrounding neighborhood streets demonstrate the effective ranges of the track.  In addition, an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is also included.  Virtually nonexistent, the film’s Trailer (1:38) serves as the sole on-disc special feature while, a Reversible Cover Art is also provided.  Not quite the arthouse shocker it’s hailed as, The Lesson demonstrates the encouraging chops of its maker while, its delivery of imprisoned hooligans subjected to torturous enlightenment grows faint quickly and stands as a reminder of a recycled genre already beaten to death.  Worthy of commendation for Hands’ performance and well-handled development of its youthful characters, The Lesson doesn’t teach anything new but, makes a strong case for respecting educators who are dying to inspire young minds.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Moana 3D (2016) Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

    Moana (2016)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements and Chris Williams & Don Hall

    Starring: Auli’i Cravalho & Dwayne Johnson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    A mythic adventure like no other, Moana sets sail on a daring teenager (Auli’i Cravalho in her film debut) whose mission to fulfill her ancestors’ wish teams her up with the powerful and cocky demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas).  Charting the gorgeous seas together, the determined duo encounter waves of danger and immeasurable odds on their journey.

    From the talented twosome that helped redefine a Disney generation with such milestone hits as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Directors John Musker and Ron Clements, with co-direction from Big Hero 6’s Chris Williams and Don Hall, tell a richly original tale seeped in the culture and splendor of the South Pacific islands.  Once great sailors, the ancient islanders have seized voyages for a thousand years until their picturesque home begins to crumble.  Teenage Moana, spiritually connected to the sea since childhood and Polynesian princess to her people, rebels against her land’s reef-fearing rules and sets sails on a daring mission across the sea to restore balance.  Seeking out the aid of demigod Maui whose reputation has since been tarnished, Moana’s youthful ambition matched with Maui’s desire to redeem himself and live up to his heroic mantra make for an unexpectedly ideal combination to face the peril of cantankerous coconut warriors, lava monsters and their own self-doubt.  

    Continuing their virtually flawless streak of quality animation and instantly classic storytelling, Disney’s oceanic adventure adheres to the studio’s high benchmarks of recent years with the film’s uniquely proportioned character designs, mind-blowingly photorealistic settings and inventive interpretation of factual mythology all contributing to its arresting effect.  Creating harmonious chemistry with one another, newcomer Auli’i Cravalho’s range of fearlessness and innocence coupled with the inherent charm and full-of-himself humor of Dwayne Johnson bring true magic to the screen.  Serving as an invaluable component to the film’s rhythmic nature, the combined musical efforts of Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda offer viewers culturally moving compositions and immensely catchy tunes including, but hardly not limited to, the terrific track “You’re Welcome” that showcases Johnson’s surprisingly solid singing chops.  Riding a current of immaculate artistic beauty and a moving story filled with unwavering heart and humor, Moana is yet another shining example of the very best of Disney animation that fans will happily be sailing with for years to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Moana with a pitch-perfect 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Thrusting viewers into the action with its depth-fulfilling 3D capabilities, the deep blue waves of the sea and Maui’s constant in your face moments are shining examples of the format solidly put to use while, its 2D transfer is an equally glorious sight of tropical colors, lifelike water effects and the deepest of black levels that are nothing short of reference quality.  Equipped with a striking DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is crisply relayed while, oceanic sound effects and the film’s delightful musical numbers seal the track’s fate as another first-rate Disney effort.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, Inner Workings (6:26), featuring an introduction by the filmmakers, Disney’s latest short feature examines the struggle between’s a man’s logistical and free-spirited sides in a gorgeous blend of animation styles, a Maui-Mini Movie: Gone Finishing (2:29) and Voice of the Islands (31:13), takes a detailed look at how the Pacific Island people and their vibrant culture impacted the film and its makers.  Additionally, Things You Didn’t Know About… (4:00) hosts Q&A’s with the voice cast and musical teams while, Island Fashion (5:13) catches up with Costume Designer Neysa Bové and her artistic approaches to the film’s garbs plus, The Elements of… (14:14) explores the effects work that brought to life many of the film’s supporting characters in this four-part featurette.  They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37) hosts musicians Opetaia Foa’I, Marc Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda as they reflect on their life changing involvements crafting the memorable tunes, a Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” (3:41), Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52) explores the hidden nods to other Disney features found in the film and Deleted Scenes (25:56) with optional filmmaker introductions are also found on the release.  Finally, the “How Far I’ll Go” Music Video by Alessia Cara (3:04), “How Far I’ll Go Around the World” (2:44), a multi-language reel of the song and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Disney’s Aulani Resort (0:32), Cars 3 (0:57) and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) round out the on-disc supplements while, separate 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray and DVD editions are provided alongside a Digital HD Code.

    With little else to add except you’re welcome, Disney has once again rode the waves into viewers’ hearts with Moana, delivering delightful characters, exceptional visual sights that seamlessly captures the splendor of the Pacific Islands and a phenomenal selection of songs that rivals the titanic popularity of Frozen’s biggest hits.  Dazzling audiences with yet another pristine presentation of reference worthy 3D and handsome supplements, Disney’s Academy Award nominated feature is a sight of beauty that will move the hearts of many like the rhythm of the sea.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available March 7th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Moana can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) Blu-ray Review

    No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

    Director: Corey Yuen

    Starring: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter Cunningham, Kent Lipham & Jean-Claude Van Damme

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Unquestionably reminiscent of other more prominent teenage-geared martial arts pictures, No Retreat, No Surrender plays far more emphasis on its combat sequences as evidenced by its unoriginal narrative and charmingly cheesy performances.  After a pack of threatening mobsters with plans of taking over every dojo in the country descends on his father’s establishment, Bruce Lee obsessed teen Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney, Guiding Light) and his family head to Seattle to start anew.  Finding a pal in the break-dancing R.J. Madison (J.W. Fails, 21 Jump Street) and rekindling a romance with a former flame, Jason finds himself targeted by overweight bully Scott (Kent Lipham, Extreme Prejudice) and local karate hothead Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby, Ring of Fire) on the regular.  Consistently outmatched by his peers and punished by his father for his improper use of fighting, Jason seeks solace at the gravesite of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.  Training in an abandoned house with a shrine to his hero, Jason is stunned when the ghost of Lee returns to personally guide him on his path to becoming a prized fighter.  Trouble strikes again when a local tournament is disrupted by the mobsters and their deadly enforcer Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kickboxer) who ravages the competition with only young Jason left to defend the community and his family’s name.  An unsurprisingly first time effort for much of the principal talent, No Retreat, No Surrender is a ridiculous fight feature with hilarity to be had at the expense of the film’s goofy screenplay and unexpectedly silly plot device of Bruce Lee returning from the grave to play sensei.  Adorned with amusing training montages, a feverishly high-powered theme song and a fast-paced final round bout between the American teen and oh-so-80s Russian villain, No Retreat, No Surrender can’t help but be a fun time, using its amateurish shortcomings to its full advantage.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Retreat, No Surrender for the first time on high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bearing surface scrapes and scratches throughout its runtime, colors are bold and exacting seen through the bright costume choices with sharp detail observed in facial closeups.  Furthermore, skin tones are consummately natural with a solidly filmic presence left intact.  Joined by a rather shoddy DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that struggles to make any definable distinctions, dialogue is serviceable while, music, roaring crowds and the clatter of punches being thrown fall flat and underwhelming.  Although pops and other such anomalies are virtually absent, a large increase in volume during viewing is essential for the rather subdued track.  

    Containing both its recommend International (1:38:55) and U.S. Theatrical Cuts (1:24:01), additional special features include, an Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg, Stand on Your Own with Kurt McKinney (17:12) where the film’s star recalls training in martial arts his entire life, landing the gig during an open casting call and the production spending more rehearsal time on fight choreography than the actual performances.  In addition, McKinney delves into the rather shady circumstances that convinced both he and Van Damme to pass on the sequel.  Lastly, Trailers for the International Cut of No Retreat, No Surrender (3:20), An Eye for an Eye (1:52), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Avenging Force (1:18), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41) and Steele Justice (1:36) are also on hand.  Delightfully silly with respectable fight sequences featured, No Retreat, No Surrender may technically be a poorly made effort but, one that cult enthusiasts will revel in for all its dodgy issues and valiant efforts.  Making its Blu-ray debut with both cuts included, KL Studio Classics delivers a roundhouse kick of satisfaction to fans anxiously awaiting for this Cold War of martial arts movies.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Retreat, No Surrender can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Deadtime Stories (1986) Blu-ray Review

    Deadtime Stories (1986)

    Director: Jeffrey Delman

    Starring: Scott Valentine, Melissa Leo, Cathryn DePrume, Anne Redfern, Nicole Picard, Matt Mitler, Kathy Fleig & Phyllis Craig

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    As imperfect as most horror anthologies go, Deadtime Stories is a mixed bag of mostly tricks and few treats where nightmares and fairy tales converge.  In order to put his monster-fearing nephew to bed, a disgruntled man retells three beloved bedtime fables with a macabre twist.  With the exception of atmospheric scenery, Peter and the Witches acts as the film’s unfortunate Sandman story where an enslaved boy (Scott Valentine, My Demon Lover) must kidnap a fair maiden for his witch captors to use in a sacrificial ceremony to resurrect their deceased sister.  Featuring effective make-up effects of a gory corpse being reanimated, the chiller’s first chapter is anything but a page turner.  Next up, Little Red Runninghood finds an attractive teen stalked by a ravenous werewolf who blames the sexually curious girl for mistakenly stealing his meds.  A decently modeled beast taken down by a silver cake server during a tense standoff, the second segment remains far from memorable but, a modest improvement over its predecessor.  Lastly, the final and most enjoyable of the trio, Goldi Lox and the Three Baers finds Mama (future Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, The Fighter) breaking her criminally insane husband and son from the loony bin only to learn their shady residence has been taken over by the homicidally telekinetic Goldi Lox (Cathryn De Prume, Wild).  Turning the absurdity into overdrive with over the top performances so intentionally bad, they’re a hoot, the closing tale is the true saving grace in this otherwise lackluster anthology of not-so-many frights.

    Boasting a new HD transfer culled from the original camera negative, Scream Factory presents Deadtime Stores with a solid 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that puts to shame previous bargain bin releases sourced from grainy and barely watchable VHS prints.  Retaining a natural grain structure and robust colors, the film has never seen better days.  Joined by a respectable DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue and music, most notably the goofy opening song by Taj, solidly, the track satisfies fine.  Kicking off with a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Jeffrey Delman, additional special features include, I Like the Grotesque: A Conversation with Jef Delman (15:42) that finds the filmmaker discussing everything from shooting in Westchester County, NY and the difficulty in selling an anthology picture to the special effects, casting, locations and music of the film.  Furthermore, A Band of Gypsies: The Making of Deadtime Stories (15:35) catches up with Cathryn DePrune (Goldi Lox), Melissa Leo (“Mama” Baer) and Scott Valentine (Peter) as they reminisce on their clique at the time of the movie’s making and their warm regards for the project’s loyal following.  Lastly, The Black Forest (29:49), the original short film version of the Peter and the Witches segment with an introduction by Delman, Deleted Scenes (2:32) also prefaced by Delman, Theatrical Trailers (3:12), a Photo Gallery (4:14) and DVD Edition wrap up the release’s bonus features.  Offering sporadic bursts of intentional and not-so intentional ridiculousness, Deadtime Stories may have its followers but, its trifecta of tales do little to terrify and much to disappoint.  Thankfully for fans, Scream Factory have rescued the film from tape-sourced hell with a new high-definition makeover and a modest spread of supplements that demonstrate the class of Academy Award winners humbly unashamed of their earliest beginnings.  Cautiously recommended to horror anthology curiosos.  

    RATING: 2.5/5 

    Available now from Scream Factory, Deadtime Stories can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazom.com and other fine retailers.

  • Slaughterhouse (1987) Blu-ray Review

    Slaughterhouse (1987)

    Director: Rich Roessler

    Starring: Sherry Bendor Leigh, Joe B. Barton, Don Barrett, Bill Brinsfield, Jane Higginson & William Houck 

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Hog wild horror ensues in Slaughterhouse when financially ruined butcher Lester Bacon (Don Barrett, Hobgoblins) finds his business rival, with an informed lawyer and town sheriff in his back pocket, itching to buy his decrepit property.  Convinced a conspiracy is at hand, the eccentric old-timer orders his cleaver-wielding, pig sound-making son Buddy (Joe B. Barton, Blood Diner) to take care of the offenders.  An above average slasher offering from the glory days of video rentals, Slaughterhouse delivers a simplistically sound plot that takes pride in its story better than most of its indie competitors where body count was always priority.  Following a dare to remain in the foreclosed kill kennel the longest, four teenagers, befit with big hair and hammy dialogue, find themselves at the mercy of the overall-wearing madman where the film truly lives up to it name.  Graced with hilariously oddball performances from Barrett and Barton, Slaughterhouse draws blood with a variety of kills including, limb chopping, skull crushing and taking advantage of the tools at their disposal, corpse grinding.  Climaxing with an expected yet, surprisingly well-orchestrated showdown between the hulkish killer and the film’s final girl surrounded by a shrine of meathooked victims, the inexpensively shot Slaughterhouse may not reinvent the cycle yet, stands as a solid entry next to other southern comfort slashers where its buckets of blood will make likeminded viewers squeal like piggies.

    Exceptionally restored in 2K from the original 35MM interpositive, Vinegary Syndrome proudly presents Slaughterhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Shattering preemptive expectations based on the scratchy American Artists logo at the film’s onset, the low-budget slasher dazzles like never before.  Boasting stable skin tones, bold color grades throughout costume choices and the film’s bloodier moments to deep black levels offering a clear presentation of the onscreen occurrences, Slaughterhouse shines with filmic grace and a virtually spotless cleanup that definitively puts to bed shoddier standard definition and overseas releases alike.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that honors the film’s original Ultra-Stereo track for the first time on home video, dialogue is clear and robust while musical selections are handled with fine authority, making the feature a delightful listen.  Additionally, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 is also included.  

    Packed with both new and vintage supplements, bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Rich Roessler, Producer Jerry Encoe & Production Designer Michael Scaglione, Reminiscene: Interview with Sherry Bendorf Leigh (10:40) catches up with the film’s leading lady as she reflects on the wild time making the film, Making a Low Budget Indie with Writer/Director Rick Roessler (28:16) sits down with the filmmaker as he recounts the development process of the slasher and his goal to push plot while, The Art of Producing a Low Budget Feature with Executive Producer Jerry Encoe (5:37) echoes many of Roessler’s sentiments including, their boredom making military training films that encouraged them to make Slaughterhouse and the difficulty of financing the project.  In addition, an Archival Interview with Rick Roessler from 1999 (15:16), an Archival Interview with Jerry Encoe from 1999 (10:45), Epilogue: 30 Years After the Slaughter (1:13), a Radio Interview Featurette from 1987 (4:50), Local News Coverage of Slaughterhouse Premiere (3:59) and a Shooting the Scenes: Behind the Scenes Featurette (20:48) is also included.  Lastly, Outtakes (3:08), a “No Smoking” - Slaughterhouse Theatrical Snipe (0:28), Theatrical Trailers (2:04), TV Spots (4:26), Radio Spots (0:45), the Slaughterhouse Shooting Script, a DVD Edition of the release and Reversible Cover Art conclude the mammoth spread of supplements.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary in true style, Vinegar Syndrome continues to prove their status as one of cult cinema’s leading distributors with its sparkling 2K restoration of this pigsploitation slasher, tailor-made for fans hogtied by its bloodtastically promising cover art.      

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Vinegar Syndrome, Slaughterhouse can be purchased via VinegarSyndrome.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • One Million Years B.C. (1966) Blu-ray Review

    One Million Years B.C. (1966)

    Director: Don Chaffey

    Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick, Robert Brown, Percy Herbert & Yvonne Horner

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Exchanging gothic ambiance and monsters for prehistoric excellence, One Millions Years B.C. would skyrocket to become Hammer Film Productions’ biggest box-office smash and one of science fiction’s finest efforts of the era.  After being banished by his own tribe, Tumak (John Richardson, Black Sunday) scours the desolate wasteland and stumbles upon the generous and resourceful Shell People.  Finding a kindred spirit in the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch, Fantastic Voyage), the two decide to face the land on their own, confronting a siege of deadly dinosaurs and other ferocious beasts on their journey.  Guided only by a documentary-like narration by Vic Perrin (The Outer Limits) and grunts of caveman lingo, One Million Years B.C. thrives on its visual splendor of gorgeous rocky vistas and fantastical elements that find our heroes pitted against giant iguanas, spiders and brilliantly conceived stop-motion dinos.  Engineered by Harryhausen-effect driven wizardry and keen direction by Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts), the scantly-clad sight of sex symbol Raquel Welch in the starring role not only is invaluable to the film’s success but, a lasting testament to its impact on popular culture.  Featuring barbaric beatdowns amongst the many tribesmen, soaring Pteranodons flying off with victims and a volcanic finale, One Million Years B.C. is a towering achievement of special effects magic, ranking as one of the best fantasy features of its time.

    Gorgeously restored in 4K, KL Studio Classics welcomes One Million Years B.C. to domestic high-definition with a flawless 1080p transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Colorful and crisp, filmic quality is excellent while, skin tones remain immaculate with detail in the film’s stop-motion critters relaying their many intricacies with ease.  A first-rate achievement that will leave fans young and old bewitched by its restoration, stampedes of praise can only be recommended.  Equipped with an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that gives prominence to the thundering crash of dinosaur attacks and the more subtle grunts of its human characters, the track satisfies on all fronts.  Appreciatively appeasing completists of the film, the preferred International Cut (1:40:37) and shorter U.S. Cut (1:31:59) are included on separate discs with Disc 1’s supplemental offerings featuring an expert Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tim Lucas, an Animated Montage of Posters and Images (3:05) and the Original International Theatrical Trailer (3:00).  Joining the U.S. Cut on Disc 2, bonus features include, vintage offerings such as Raquel Welch: In the Valley of the Dinosaurs (7:45), An Interview with Ray Harryhausen (12:29) and a 2016-shot Interview with Martine Beswick (16:36).  Lastly, the Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer (3:08) rounds out the disc’s extras.  A fantastical fun time that highlights some of Harryhausen’s finest stop-motion effects work and the sexy radiance of Raquel Welch, One Million Years B.C. is a primeval journey into the past that glows with imagination and wonder.  Already ranking as one of the year’s genre must-haves, KL Studio Classics’ 4K restoration is a stunning sight that includes both cuts of the film and a healthy spread of bonus content sure to please cavemen from all walks of life.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, One Million Years B.C. can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Survivor (1981) Blu-ray Review

    The Survivor (1981)

    Director: David Hemmings

    Starring: Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner & Lorna Lesley

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on James Herbert’s novel, The Survivor takes flight when a bustling 747 suffers a fiery demise, leaving only its pilot (Robert Powell, Tommy) alive and thoughtless on the doomed event’s occurrence.  Investigated by many demanding answers and befriended by a psychic (Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London) with connections to the fallen passengers, David Hemmings’ (Running Scared) mystery-thriller crashes and nearly burns in its cerebrally dull approach.  Although impressing with its genuinely chilling crash sequence that spearheads the film’s narrative, The Survivor wanes with subdued performances and unclear developments meant to enhance thrills that instead leave viewers scratching their heads in confusion.  While a nosy photojournalist meets his maker via a rolling train and sporadic appearances from child apparitions attempt to give rise to the film’s supernatural touches, The Survivor ultimately settles for an admittedly unexpected albeit, uneventful revelation that is more flesh and blood plotted than hauntingly engineered.  Dismissing the adaptation of his work as sheer rubbish, Author James Herbert’s critique of the competently made, if not uninteresting, film may be overly harsh while, Ozploitation producing maverick Anthony I. Ginnane’s (Thirst, Patrick) regrets over the film’s lack of gore and misguided emphasis on flat mood are far more accurate for this Aussie dud.

    Newly transferred in 2K, Severin Films proudly presents The Survivor with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Released several times before with varying results, the film’s high-definition debut is a step above past offerings with a healthy layer of natural grain intact, steady skin tones and a radiant color scheme observed in sunny exterior sequences.  While mild instances of speckling and early frame wobble early in the film are observed, cool shades of blue and deep black levels give rise to the film’s nighttime and plane-based scenes for an otherwise solid viewing experience.  Joined by an LPCM 2.0 mix that is hardly sonically-defining yet, more than capable of relaying dialogue and explosions clearly, the cargo-filled hatch of bonus contents include, Extended Scenes (3:34), Not Quite Hollywood Extended Interviews with Producer Anthony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale (22:12) and The Legacy of James Herbert (9:19) with Chris Cooke of Mayhem Film Festival and David Flint of The Reprobate Magazine waxing intellectual about the author and his many works.  Additionally, Robert Powell on James Herbert (3:24), an Archive TV Special on Location Featuring Interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner (29:59), an Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings (15:43) and an Archive TV Interview with David Hemmings and Robert Powell (5:56) are also on hand while, an Anthony I. Ginnane Trailer Reel (32:03) and TV Spot (0:28) conclude the supplemental offerings.  An instance of tone and mood creating drowsiness rather than shocks, The Survivor offers good intentions for the right viewer while leaving most seated in coach yearning for more.  Presented with excellent care, Severin Films ensures viewers a first-class presentation of the thriller with a slick 2K remastering and a high-flying offering of special features Ozploitation fans will revel in.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from Severin Films, The Survivor can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Gate (1987) Blu-ray Review

    The Gate (1987)

    Director: Tibor Takacs 

    Starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp & Christa Denton

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After an innocent backyard excavation for crystal stones unearths something sinister, The Gate finds best friends Glen (Stephen Dorff, Somewhere) and Terry (Louis Tripp, Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird) forced to defend themselves against a siege of demons and determine a way to close the evil portal before it’s too late.

    Eliminating parents and other authority figures as rapidly as possible, The Gate pits unsupervised adolescents against the forces of darkness, using only their ingenuity and household items to defend themselves against the ghouls and goblins of the underworld.  Inadvertently opening a hellish backyard portal with the assistance of a satanic heavy metal album, best friends Glen and Terry are confronted with a series of nightmarish images of deceased parents back from the dead and the painful realities of a beloved pet’s passing to shake their youthful cores.  With no adults in sight and Glen’s older sister Al (Christa Denton, 8 Million Ways to Die) taking full advantage with a house party rampant with underage drinking and levitation attempts turned frighteningly real, the demonic forces grow stronger in their attempt to invade the teen’s quaint suburban existence.  Pursued by a pint-sized army of fiendish minions realized through a series of technical tricks ranging from costumed performers, stop-motion animation and forced perspective, Glen, Terry and Al must face their fears in order to definitively close the gate before time runs out.  Although slow-building with a genuine innocence captured in the chemistry between the young performers, The Gate stretches the boundaries of its PG-13 rating with macabre touches of a dead construction worker emerging from the walls, a punctured eyeball through a child’s hand and an overgrown demon flinging his young victims with no remorse to effectively chill preteen audiences.  With false senses of security at every turn and survival seemingly futile, the trio of teens rely on Barbie dolls, dad’s shotgun and model rockets to banish the demons in Director Tibor Takacs’ (I, Madman) effectively realized and certifiably scary devil-raising feature.

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Gate with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The latest addition in their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, the film is a remarkable upgrade from its near decade old DVD release that honors filmic integrity, mildly soft but still natural-looking skin tones and a sharp color scheme present in the suburban greenery as well as Glen’s red space camp jacket and Al’s lime green sweater.  In addition, black levels are solid with detail largely admired in the creature designs while, only the slightest hint of speckling is observed in this otherwise picturesque presentation of the 80s cult classic.  Equipped with a perfectly adequate DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles dialogue with ease, heavy metal tunes, lightning storms and rocket blasts all offer solid emphases on the well-orchestrated track.

    Much like the demons bursting from the gate, the overflowing wealth of special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, a second Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere & Matte Photographer Bill Taylor plus, an Isolated Score and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig & J. Peter Robinson.  In addition, Red Shirt Pictures delivers several newly recorded featurettes that explore many of the low-budget effort’s technical achievements including, The Gate: Unlocked (27:54) where Takacs and Cook discuss the film’s making in-depth, Minion Maker with Craig Reardon (22:36), From Hell It Came with Andras Hamori (13:13), The Workman Speaks! with Carl Kraines (12:22) and the most interesting Made in Canada (28:28) that sits down with six local cast and crew members from the Canadian shoot as they recall their own unique experiences making the film.  Meanwhile, ported over from the 2009 release, From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate (14:53), The Gatekeepers with Tibor Takacs & Michael Nankin (15:46) and The Making of The Gate (22:55) are also on-hand with the Teaser Trailer (1:08), Theatrical Trailer (1:50), TV Spot (0:32), Storyboard Gallery (9:27) and a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (10:20) rounding out the profound assortment of extras.

    A childhood staple that still stands up, The Gate is a fiendishly fun effort of teens going toe to toe with demonic beings with no one but themselves to rely on.  Incorporating the then timely black sheep of heavy metal into its vortex of fear, Tibor Takacs’ sharply constructed and gloriously effects-driven opus plays largely into the comforting confines of nostalgia where its discovery for many through video rental and repeat cable viewings made it a longstanding favorite.  Hoped for since its line’s formation, The Gate makes it high-definition debut with remarkable technical grades that far exceed its previous release and an overwhelming supply of bonus features earning it the highest praise as one of Vestron Video’s best offerings to date!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available February 28th from Lionsgate, The Gate can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Doctor Strange 3D (2016) Cinematic Universe Edition Blu-ray Review

    Doctor Strange (2016)

    Director: Scott Derrickson

    Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachael McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Embarking into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe, Doctor Strange offers shades of familiarity while conjuring enough freshness and action-packed spells to make the stay an entertainingly magical one.  After suffering a debilitating accident, accomplished neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) travels to Nepal seeking guidance beyond what his world can offer.  Taken under the wing of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Strange learns the art of sorcery and the impending threat of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), a former student deceived by the dark and brooding Dormammu of the Dark Dimension.  Ditching his trivial arrogance and opening his mind to his new teachings, Strange yields his new powers, with invaluable assistance from the Cloak of Levitation, to stand with his fellow sorcerers and save the planet from Kaeciliius’ wrath of destruction.  Bringing to life their trickiest character to date with his own unique challenges, Marvel Studios welcomes Doctor Strange to their expansive universe with passionate direction from Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil) who handles character development, humor and the film’s trippy action sequences with seamlessness.  In addition, the core cast, led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor (12 Years a Slave) as the Ancient One’s second-in-command Mordo, the underused but competent Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as Strange’s former flame and the controversial yet, inspired turn from Tilda Swinton as Strange’s sorceress mentor are all excellent in their respective roles.  With its intense fight choreography and building bending visual effects bringing prestige to their thrilling sequences, Doctor Strange suffers mildly from perhaps an unavailable case of origintitis that fans have become all too accustomed to.  While Doctor Strange’s narrative may appear predictable at times, fun remains in ample supply with the sorcerer’s anticipated future adventures already looking brighter.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Doctor Strange with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  With its mind-bending sequences of skyscraper turning set battles and eye-popping destruction featuring immersive depth, Marvel Studios’ latest adventure awards viewers with their finest 3D release to date.  In addition, the equally strong 2D presentation handles skin tones, bold color grades in Strange’s cloak and the Dark Dimension as well as exceptionally inky black levels, of which their are many, up to the usual standards viewers have come to expect from Marvel’s latest superhero epics.  Equipped with a reference quality DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that honors immaculate clarity in dialogue exchanges and thrilling emphases in action scenes and Michael Giaccino’s (Jurassic World, Star Trek Beyond) effective score, the track is nothing short of a stunner.  

    Plentifully packed, special features include, an Introduction by Director Scott Derrickson (1:06), an Audio Commentary with Director Scott Derrickson, A Strange Transformation (9:42), a fairly standard EPK overview of the production with interviews from key participants, Strange Company (12:37) covers the film’s supporting cast while, The Fabric of Reality (12:32) explores the costume and set design.  Furthermore, Across Time and Space (13:21) details the film’s impressive fight choreography and visual effects with The Score-Cerer Supreme (9:51) examining Michael Giacchino’s score with footage of its actual orchestral recording process.  Also included, a Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28), the hilarious Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38) short, Deleted & Extended Scenes (7:52), a Gag Reel (4:12) and Sneak Peeks at Marvel Contest of Champions (1:32), Marvel Future Fight (1:32) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (1:34).  Lastly, in addition to separate 3D and 2D Blu-ray’s, a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code are included alongside an Exclusive Collectible Lenticular.  In closing, Doctor Strange’s bold debut into the MCU has landed with surreal excellence and a strong cast to guide its mystical maneuvers.  While Strange’s fall to rise story from neurosurgeon to superhero sorcerer feels largely paint by numbers, the embracement of his powers and battle against darker forces are what makes the film the visual treat it is.  Unsurprisingly, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment provides viewers with not only their most noteworthy 3D release to date but, one of stuffed supplements well worth exploring after the film’s curtain call.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 28th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Doctor Strange can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Fuller House: The Complete First Season DVD Review

    Fuller House: The Complete First Season

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, Andrea Barber, Michael Campon, Elias Harger, Soni Nicole Bringas & Dashiell & Fox Messitt

    Released by: Warner Bros.

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In one of the small screen’s most popular revival series embraced by nostalgic fans and newbies alike, Fuller House: The Complete First Season returns to San Francisco where the family who hugs and laughs like no other are back.  Widowed with three young sons to raise, dedicated mother and veterinarian D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure, The View) takes over her childhood home as younger sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin, Walt Before Mickey) and best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber, The Skateboard Kid 2), along with her own young daughter, move in to help care for her kids.  A carbon copy of the original show’s premise that stands proudly on its own, Fuller House retains the innocently cornballish comedy and lovably cheesy saccharine heart that fans have come to expect with a playful new self referential spirit in stock.  Inviting former series regulars to the festivities sans youngest sister Michelle (famously played by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) including, John Stamos (Grandfathered), Bob Saget (Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right), Dave Coulier (The Real Ghostbusters) and Lori Loughlin (90210), the new series balances the fan favorite stars exceptionally well, making their appearances enjoyably welcome without ever derailing the show into a constant series of tired reunion episodes.  Matured while fitting back into their original roles like a glove, the self-proclaimed She-Wolf pack of D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy bounce off each other with a vibrancy as if they never left us.  Accompanied by an equally talented roster of child actors, hilarity and hijinks ensue as Kimmy’s Ricardo-esque husband Fernando (Juan Pablo Di Pace, Mamma Mia!) wins her heart back, the She-Wolf pack dance off during a girl’s night out and D.J. decides between love with a new flame or picking things back up with hungry high school boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger, Aladdin).  Good old fashioned family fun across 13 episodes, Fuller House: The Complete First Season will make being back home a bonafide treat of familiar faces and never enough hugs to go around.

    Warner Bros. presents Fuller House: The Complete First Season in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is both crisp and colorful while, celebrating the familiar sets of the show, wardrobe choices and nicely detailed and throughly natural skin tones of its cast.  Although a newly produced program of its caliber would have only further benefitted from a Blu-ray release, the DVD quality of the episodes are most satisfactory all the same.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that offer sound dialogue deliveries, the well balanced laughter of recorded studio audiences and Carly Rae Jepsen’s new rendition of the title song are handled most appropriately.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.  With its second season currently streaming on Netflix and a third already greenlit for production, the fans have spoken with their approval for the lighthearted shenanigans of San Francisco’s most loving family.  While its debut season doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it intend to, Fuller House: The Complete First Season is a humorous return to form for family sitcoms that will win audiences over that previously embraced big hair, quickly solved household dilemmas and harmlessly cheesy catchphrases.  Have mercy!

    RATING: 4/5

    (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.)

    Available February 28th from Warner Bros., Fuller House: The Complete First Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • No Highway in the Sky (1951) Blu-ray Review

    No Highway in the Sky (1951)

    Director: Henry Koster

    Starring: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, Elizabeth Allan, Ronald Squire & Jill Clifford

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on Nevil Shute’s acclaimed novel, No Highway in the Sky stars James Stewart (Rear Window) as bookish aeronautical engineer Theodore Honey whose unproven theory concerning the failure of England’s Reindeer planes is challenged under dire circumstances.  Aboard a Reindeer plane crossing its calculated flying time of disaster, the absent-minded yet nonetheless determined Honey painstakingly struggles to convince the crew of the certain doom that awaits them while, inspiring a famous actress passenger (Marlene Dietrich, Witness for the Prosecution) adored by his late wife and a kind flight attendant (Glynis John, Mary Poppins) to trust his judgement.  Suspending viewers in a dizzying trance of nail-biting suspense, No Highway in the Sky reteams Stewart with his Harvey director, the underrated Henry Koster, in a professionally constructed aviation feature that not only puts lives in peril but, Honey’s credibility and sanity under fierce examination.  Almost singlehandedly, Stewart’s performance of an eccentrically forgettable scientist and single father makes the film, as unconventional as it is, soar as gracefully as it does with Honey’s stirring sticktoitiveness serving as its glue and offering audiences a leading man to believe in.

    KL Studio Classics presents No Highway in the Sky with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of expectant traces of speckling and sporadic vertical lines, the black and white cinematography arrives in otherwise splendid condition with strong detail observed in facial features while, Stewart’s dark suit and jacket are displayed with throughly inky levels.  Joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that captures dialogue exchanges with ease, the engines of the Reindeer plane roar satisfactorily without overwhelming the track’s more primary concerns.  Surprisingly and most pleasingly to report, cracks and pops are of no discernible concern.  Special features include, a rather chatty and informative Audio Commentary with Film Historian Jeremy Arnold & Bob Koster that deeply covers the film’s making as well as the directorial career of Koster’s father who claims No Highway in the Sky was one of the late Koster’s proudest efforts.  In addition, Trailers for No Highway in the Sky (2:09), Deadline - U.S.A. (2:45), Ten Seconds to Hell (2:14) and Witness for the Prosecution (3:07) conclude the on disc supplements while, Reversible Cover Art reveals the film’s gorgeous U.S. 1-sheet poster presented centerfold style.  Richly conceived and remarkably performed by Stewart, No Highway in the Sky is an undervalued suspense-drama worthy of new sights now made possible by KL Studio Classics’ solid hi-def handling.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, No Highway in the Sky can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Blu-ray Review

    The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

    Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

    Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson & Kyra Sedgwick

    Released by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the fresh of breath air directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen finds teenage social outcast Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, Pitch Perfect 2) struggling to adjust to her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) and popular older brother Darian’s (Blake Jenner, Everybody Wants Some!!!) new relationship.  Forever out of touch with her own generation and now more alone than ever, Nadine finds solace in her blunt but truthful teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective) as she comes to grips with growing up.  Set in today’s modern times while, appealing to all whoever felt out of place roaming the locker-filled hallways where bad lunch and geometry roamed, The Edge of Seventeen is a sharply funny and emotional topsy-turvy that channels the pain and pleasures of our teen years with the utmost sincerity.  Featuring a standout performance from Hailee Steinfeld as the disheveled youth and a hilarious turn from Woody Harrelson as a teacher unafraid to tell a student they’re a loser, The Edge of Seventeen earns flying grades in the yearbook of other coming-of-age charmers that manages to bridge the rare gap between contemporary relatability and timeless angst that is both comforting and entertaining.

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Edge of Seventeen with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Without a false note on display, skin tones are immaculate and well-detailed while, colors found in Nadine’s assortment of sneakers, store signage and neon-lit amusement park attractions shine brightly.  Meanwhile, black levels observed during Nadine’s regrettable rainy drive with the dreamy bad boy Nick and late night swim with the equally shy and awkward Erwin all appear with the utmost crispness.  Equipped with a polished DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the dialogue-driven track with solid clarity, Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right” makes an impressively worthy statement on the otherwise straightforward mix.  Regrettably scant, special features include, a Gag Reel (5:21), Deleted Scenes (4:03), a DVD Edition and Digital HD Code.  While John Hughes’ high school high note equated growing up and your heart dying being one and the same, The Edge of Seventeen reminds us all that no matter how far removed or engaged we are in the turbulence of our youth, the laughs and tears don’t kill us but, strengthen us to look back at our growing pains with a smirk and maybe slightly less awkwardness.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 14th from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Edge of Seventeen can be purchased via 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.

  • Scavenger Hunt (1979) Blu-ray Review

    Scavenger Hunt (1979)

    Director: Michael Schultz

    Starring: Richard Benjamin, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Ruth Gordon, Cloris Leachman, Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowall, Richard Mulligan, Tony Randall, Dirk Benedict, Willie Aames, Stephanie Faracy, Stephen Furst & Richard Masur

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After the passing of eccentrically wealthy game maker Milton Parker (Vincent Price, House of Wax), Scavenger Hunt brings his fifteen diverse would-be heirs together for a competitive shot at his $200 million estate.  Simply instructed, whoever finds all the items by the day’s end will be hailed as the winner in this mad dash through the streets of sunny California.  Michael Schultz (Car Wash) helms the ensemble comedy.

    Feeding the flame that gave rise to other comical rat races in pursuit of cold hard cash, Scavenger Hunt follows the formula admirably with a mansion sized cast serving as its most prized asset.  Summoned for the announcement of dearly departed millionaire Milton Parker’s will, fifteen possible heirs to his fortune including, his staff of servants: Jenkins (Roddy McDowall, Fright Night), Henri (James Coco, Man of La Mancha), Jackson (Cleavon Little, Once Bitten) and Babette (Stephanie Faracy, The Great Outdoors), son-in-law Henry Motely (Tony Randall, The Odd Couple) and his four children, Parker’s widowed sister Mildred Carruthers (Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show), her buffoonish son Georgie (Richard Masur, The Thing) and their greedy attorney Stewart Sellsome (Richard Benjamin, Westworld) plus, Parker’s nephews Kenny (Willie Aames, Charles in Charge) and Jeff (Dirk Benedict, The A-Team) Stephens, joined by Mildred’s stepdaughter Lisa (Maureen Taffy, Grease 2) and thoughtless cabbie Marvin Dummitz (Richard Mulligan, Empty Nest) all arrive with a once in a lifetime opportunity at luxury and wealth.  Required to retrieve an endless supply of oddball items including, but surely not limited to, an ostrich, crystal ball, toilet, safe, moose head, false teeth, fox tail and even a fat person, the diverse pool of participants form five separate teams in order to better their odds at the desirable $200 million.  

    Featuring additional appearances from Scatman Crothers (The Shining), Meat Loaf (Roadie) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator) as a fitness instructor, Scavenger Hunt is littered with one loony sequence after another when Richard Benjamin’s Stewart suffers from a case of bad luck with elevators and a run-in with a violent biker gang while, a high-speed pursuit of the many scavengers through San Diego is met with expected crashes and a lemon meringue mess.  While the film may not be the laugh-a-minute bonanza one might expect with a runtime that overextends itself by a minuscule margin, Scavenger Hunt packs plenty of physical sight gags and feverish energy to make the ride a worthy one.  Additionally, the dynamite selection of performers also ranks as one of the finer ensemble casts found in a star-studded comedy of its ilk.

    KL Studio Classics welcomes Scavenger Hunt to high-definition with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Maintaining intermittent moments of softness, colors are bright and bold with Kenny and Jeff’s orange van as well as Stewart’s baby blue suit popping most effectively.  Furthermore, skin tones are healthy and respectably detailed with the greenery of the San Diego Zoo making an authentic presence.  Natural grain is evident throughout with no digital-noise tinkering observed.  Equipped with a rather hollow sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is always audible yet, lacks a stronger push that trickles down to the film’s rather lifeless score and dull-sounding action sequences.  A faint hiss is detected throughout but hardly a deal breaking bother.  

    Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Schultz, Play to Win with Richard Benjamin (10:07) where the star recalls his early work on the stage and other career highlights while, addressing Wile E. Coyote’s direct inspiration on his character in the film.  Benjamin also praises Schultz’s generous nature and his love for Laurel & Hardy that he also injected into the film’s many physically funny moments.  In addition, Winner Take All with Richard Masur (10:12) confirms the obvious that the film was consciously attempting to be Hellzapoppin’ and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the late 70s.  Masur shares that his character and mannerisms in the film were based on a young neighbor while, recalling the difficulty of handling an ostrich which can be extremely dangerous to contain.  The Risky Business star also praises Leachman and her underrated comedic abilities.  Lastly, Trailers for Moving Violations (1:28), After the Fox (2:49) and Married to the Mob (2:09) are also included along with Reversible Cover Art.

    A zany romp where the working class and well off compete for a shot at millions, Scavenger Hunt stays the course of similar ensemble efforts before it with varying results.  While its laughs aren’t always as huge or memorable as its impressive cast, the film’s hunt for absurd items and the physical exploits that follow in their pursuit make for an entertaining journey to take with the fellow scavengers.  Arriving on Blu-ray with strong albeit, uneven technical grades, KL Studio Classics buffers the release with a welcome assortment of new cast interviews and a filmmaker’s commentary worth exploring.

    RATING: 3/5

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

  • Wild Beasts (1984) Blu-ray Review

    Wild Beasts (1984)

    Director: Franco E. Prosperi

    Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Louisa Lloyd & Ugo Bologna

    Released by: Severin Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Rome, Wild Beasts finds a city zoo of animals running amuck when their water supply is contaminated with PCP.  Escaping from the confines of their cages and waging bloody destruction throughout the city, the drug-crazed creatures revert to their savage instincts to feast upon the unsuspecting population.  Boasting notable faces from the many avenues of Italian cult cinema, the Godfather of Mondo Franco E. Prosperi (Mondo Cane) directs.

    In shock documentary maker Franco E. Prosperi’s final film outing, Wild Beasts delivers a bark as loud as its ferocious bite, ranking highly amongst the siege of naturicide pictures from the wild and crazy heyday of Italian made insanity.  After an unexplainable contamination of the local zoo’s water supply with hallucinogenic angel dust, the normally well-behaved animals go rogue, escaping from their barred dwellings to hunt fresh meat found in the unexplored region of the city.  Tasked with determining the cause of the animal’s bloodthirsty behavior, zoologist Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and Inspector Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna, Nightmare City) combine their efforts to save the citizens now considered prey.  In addition, Berner’s girlfriend, Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, Cannibal Ferox), independently stranded in the chaos struggles to reach her young daughter who is also embroiled in her own animalistic nightmare along with her fellow dance classmates.  With its shocking sequences of beastly brutality brought to life by trained circus tamers under animal attack, Wild Beasts supplies ample doses of blood splattering carnage and wild life lunacy that must be seen to be believed.  Featuring a backseat rendezvous of intimacy disrupted by gnawing sewer rats, face-flattening elephants, a hungry cheetah in pursuit of a Volkswagen Beetle, explosive car wrecks, lions, tigers and much more, Wild Beasts is rabid with over the top energy and chaotic shaky camera kills that adds a level of documentary-like realism to its already impressively captured moments of vicious animal feasting.  Topped with dependably silly dubbed dialogue and a shocking twist that contaminates more than the zoo’s residents, Wild Beasts stands as one of the best and most brutal “animals attack” features that supplies everything and more one would hope to find in an Italian production of its maniacal caliber.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Severin Films welcomes Wild Beasts with a newly remastered 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  Outside of minimal speckling, filmic quality is consistent throughout while, skin tones are appropriately natural-looking and gore effects nicely detailed.  In addition, the film’s few prominent colors found in Laura’s bright red attire pops strongly with textures found in animal fur also well preserved.  Predominately set under the cloak of nighttime, black levels are impressively handled with visibility never questioned.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers the English dubbed dialogue with crispness, animal roars, car crashes and the film’s mix of sax and synth stylings by Composer Daniele Patucchi (Sacrifice!, Warrior of the Lost World) all leave exacting and effective marks.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Italian mix is also included.  

    Special features include, Altered Beasts: Interview with Director Franco E. Prosperi (15:33) reveals the film’s original intention to shoot entirely in Rhodesia before war broke out and a frightening encounter with terrorists prompted the production to relocate to South Africa.  Shortly after recommencing filming, Prosperi recalls his association with Mondo Cane pushed the production out once again before finally settling back in Italy for the remainder of the shoot.  Several funny tales concerning the difficulty of wrangling the film’s many animals are also shared in this intriguing interview with its maker.  Wild Tony: Interview with Actor Tony Di Leo (12:54) finds the film’s lead, credited as John Aldrich, sharing his early beginnings in a musical band before becoming a circus tamer turned into an opportunity at acting.  Di Leo fondly recalls Prosperi’s humorous spirit, his personal distaste for his performance in the film and the fear he held shooting scenes with the animals regardless of his taming experience.  Furthermore, Cut After Cut: Interview with Editor & Mondo Filmmaker Mario Morra (34:54) covers Morra’s lengthy career highlights in detail while, The Circus is in Town: Interview with Animal Wrangler Roberto Tiberti’s son Carlo Tiberti (10:25) discusses the family’s long history and many experiences in the circus business.  Lastly, House of Wild Beasts: A Visit to the Home of Franco E. Prosperi (12:42) and the film’s International Trailer (2:24) conclude the release’s bonus features.

    A top-tier inclusion of the ravenous animals gone mad subgenre, Wild Beasts insanely puts drug-tripping lions, tigers and hyenas at the forefront of this solidly produced slice of spaghetti cinema.  Effectively realized with in-camera animal attacks and grisly gore for likeminded cult enthusiasts to feast upon, Wild Beasts is a stampede of entertaining screams.  Brought to high-definition with a praiseworthy remastering by Severin Films, Freak-O-Rama’s helping of newly produced bonus features is the icing on top of this blood dripping cake.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available February 7th from Severin Films, Wild Beasts can be purchased via Severin-Films.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pinocchio (1940) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Pinocchio (1940)

    Director(s): Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson & T. Hee

    Starring: Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Mel Blanc, Charles Judels & Evelyn Venable

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece, Pinocchio finds a magical wooden puppet coming to life and assisted by his conscience, the faithful Jiminy Cricket.  In an adventurous quest that tests the impressionable marionette’s bravery and honesty, the wave crashing events will determine his desire to become a real boy to his loving creator Geppetto.

    Based on, albeit severely deviating, from Carlo Collodi’s enduring tale, Disney’s followup to the spectacle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eclipses its predecessor in every way.  With the profits of Disney’s animated feature-length debut handy, technical advancements from blended color effects to animated underwater realism and a profound desire to prove his studio and artists were more than one-trick ponies, Pinocchio stands as the defining work of a creator unrestricted by his limitless imagination, never to be seen or experienced on such a grand scale again.  Yearning for a child of his own, lonely toymaker Geppetto wishes upon a star for his latest puppet to become a real boy.  Given life to his wooden body by the enchanting Blue Fairy, Pinocchio must prove himself honest and brave before the wish can truly come to fruition.  Narrating the film’s proceedings and serving as Pinocchio’s personal conscience, pint-sized Jiminy Cricket promises to guide the now stringless puppet on his journey of self-discovery.  As temptation rears its head and ignoring the advice of Jiminy, Pinocchio finds himself conned by the swindling Honest John and his feline companion Gideon before being sold to the heinous Stromboli as a moneymaker in his puppet sideshow and whisked away to the anarchic Pleasure Island by a devilish Coachman.  While Geppetto, along with his faithful pets Figaro and Cleo, frantically search for his son, Pinocchio is absorbed by the island’s seedy activities and ultimately transformed into a donkey.  Before long, Pinocchio’s family is swallowed whole by the ghastly whale Monstro, inspiring the wooden boy and Jiminy Cricket to risk life and limb to save them from certain doom and rightly earning his place as a real boy.

    A clear advancement over Walt Disney’s game-changing opus just three years earlier, Pinocchio is the fullest embodiment of Disney’s visionary style and also the studio’s bleakest effort produced during its Golden era.  Retaining the cautionary tone of age-old folktales, Pinocchio urges young viewers to mind menacing temptations and remain truthful while, at its core, is a heartfelt story concerning fathers and sons.  From its serene beginnings in Geppetto’s warm workshop to the foreboding downpours and unwholesome characters Pinocchio encounters on his road to righteousness, the film serves as a fabled account of prepubescent maturity.  Through the garishly intriguing sights of Pleasure Island and Pinocchio’s frightening confrontation with Monstro, the unrelenting suspense and drama captured in these sequences are unparalleled in Disney’s vast history.  Juxtaposed with touching yet, not overly sentimental warmth and comical sight gags at the expense of the puppet’s naiveté, Pinocchio runs the emotional gamut with ease and utmost precision.  With his money firmly placed where his mouth was once again, Disney spared no expense from the film’s grandest moments to its more rudimentary details presenting a feature eclipsing anything produced by its makers, earning its place as Disney’s gold standard for all other features to be compared to.

    Recycling the technical specifications of its Platinum Edition release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pinocchio with a 1080p transfer, retaining its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  A mark of high-definition excellence, colors are vast and bold with age-related anomalies nonexistent and black levels appearing deeply rich.  Furthermore, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix strongly relays the film’s dialogue levels and award winning score with only mild exchanges of softness that is less a complaint then an observation.  Newly produced supplements on this release include, the two-part featurette The Pinocchio Project: “When You Wish Upon A Star” with The Project (3:03) focusing on the recoding of the beloved track’s cover with interviews from the musical participants while, The Video (2:49) presents the finished music video of the completed song.  In addition, Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7:14) takes transcriptions from 1938-1939 story meetings and presents them with recreated narrations and stills to detail the development of this awe-inspiring sequence.  Also included, In Walt’s Words - Pinocchio (4:48) is an archival recording of Walt Disney from interviews conducted in 1956 and his thoughts on his animated followup.  Lastly, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit in “Poor Papa” (5:19), an animated short featuring Disney’s pre-Mickey star rounds out the release’s new to disc bonus  features.

    Offering the film’s Original Theatrical Edition, DisneyView and Sing-Along with the Movie options, classic bonus features ported over include, No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (56:09), Deleted Scenes (10:33), The Sweatbox (6:25), Geppetto’s Then and Now (10:57), Live-Action Reference Footage (9:57) and a Publicity section featuring the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52), the 1984 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and the 1992 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:33).  Furthermore, “When You Wish Upon A Star” Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin (3:14), A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio (5:06), a Storyboard-To-Film Final Comparison (4:04) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Born in China (1:14), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Moana (1:37) round out the entirety of the disc’s supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Simply stated, the artistic majesty, adventurous storytelling and iconic characters of Disney’s Pinocchio make the film a direct result of wishing upon a star and witnessing true magic come alive.  Released in a golden era of unequivocal classics, Disney’s daring second feature is unlike anything else with a beauty and emotional core unmatched, soaring above the others as the studio’s towering achievement.  Retaining its Platinum Edition’s already flawless restoration, the Signature Collection’s handful of new and stockpile of vintage supplements make those without this essential slice of animated perfection a no-brainer.  

    RATING: 5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pinocchio can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Parents (1989) Blu-ray Review

    Parents (1989)

    Director: Bob Balaban

    Starring: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt & Sandy Dennis

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in the suburban comfort of the 1950s, Parents centers on ten-year-old outcast Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky in his only film role) who suspects that his model mother and father (played by Mary Beth Hurt, The World According to Garp and Randy Quaid, Kingpin respectively) are up to more than meets the eye.  As Michael’s curiosity grows regarding the family’s limitless supply of leftovers, the nightmarish truth is revealed.  Academy Award winner Sandy Dennis (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) costars in Bob Balaban’s (My Boyfriend’s Back) directorial debut.

    Painted with stark black comedy and horror undertones of cannibalism, Parents is a quirky slice of life from yesteryear demonstrating father (and mother) know best, especially when they’re eating you.  Relocating from Massachusetts during the picturesque 1950s, quiet and peculiar youngster Michael Laemle struggles to fit in his new surroundings while, experiencing a wrath of hellish nightmares that feel all too real.  Hauntingly awkward and an incorrigibly picky eater, Michael sticks out like a sore thumb next to his seemingly perfect All-American parents.  Looks prove deceiving as Nick and Lily Laemle demonstrate their own eccentricities and questionable behavior alerting their young son that all is not kosher at home.  Further troubled by increased nightmares and bloody hallucinations, Michael’s imagination runs wild when determining the origin of the family’s nightly supply of meat.  Sneakily following his father to his job at the local chemical lab where human cadavers are tested upon, Michael’s suspicion blossoms into full-blown fear when discovering the source of the Laemle’s personal meat market.  Developing a trust with the school psychologist (Dennis) while attempting to concretely prove what he already knows, Michael pits himself and the few close to him in finger-lickin’ danger with mommy and daddy.  Never hysterical nor the bodycount picture prevalent at the time, Parents never makes fully clear when we should cackle or wince in terror, making such uncertainty all part of its Rubik’s Cube of unconventional attraction.  Recreating the time with Rockwellian precision, Quaid and Hurt are inspired casting, if not slightly one note, making the entirety of the Laemle family appear rather and perhaps intentionally, subdued throughout the film.  Featuring a grossly underdeveloped friendship between Michael and a female classmate who insists she's an extraterrestrial from the moon, Parents is not immune to miscalculations while serving as an offbeat statement on yesterday’s rarely discussed domestic dilemmas that’s earned its place amongst cult circles.

    (image not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series, presents Parents with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Digitally restored and appearing appreciatively filmic throughout, the bright canvas of suburbia brings attention to the Laemle’s orderly household while, bolder colors found in Nick’s bright yellow sweater vest and the family’s turquoise Oldsmobile pop graciously.  Detail is also strongly admired in facial features and closeups on the cannibalistic parents carving into cooked meat with skin tones reading naturally.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that hones dialogue levels strongly for such a character-driven film, Michael’s nightmares provide suspenseful boosts that rattle the mix comparatively.  

    Graced with a winning serving of supplemental features, a newly recorded Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban & Producer Bonnie Palef is on hand with Isolated Score Selections and an Audio Interview with Composer Jonathan Elias also included.  Additionally, Leftovers to Be with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne (16:48) reveals that prolific producer Ray Stark (Steel Magnolias) was attached to the project before Vestron opted out citing Stark’s high fee as the cause.  Furthermore, Director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Doll House) turned down the film before Balaban joined the production with the latter injecting much of his own childhood into the narrative.  Hawthorne also retells that the parallels between Quaid’s performance and his own father were so close, his parents refused to speak to him for a lengthy period of time.  Mother’s Day with Actress Mary Beth Hurt (14:29) finds the cannibalistic homemaker recalling Balaban offering her the role during a regular charades game that was frequented by the likes of Tim Robbins and Al Franken.  Hurt also expresses her love for the film’s time period and the prospect of its costumes being her major draws to the project.  Next up, Inside Out with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon (13:58) finds that the cinematographer took over duties after original D.P. Ernie Day’s (Revenge of the Pink Panther) wife fell ill.  Shooting the majority of the film’s interior sequences, Vidgeon believes his work on Hellraiser landed him the job on Parents.  Lastly, Vintage Tastes with Decorative Consultant Yolanda Cuomo (9:26), the Theatrical Trailer (1:33), Radio Spots (1:42) and a Still Gallery (4:52) conclude the release’s extra features.

    (images not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    A satirical sendup of 50s family values with a taste for flesh, Parents uniquely portrays every child’s safeguards as the source of their nightmares in this cannibalistic comedy.  Served with a side order of limbs, Bob Balaban’s oddball feature arrives with a fittingly scatterbrained tone and an underlying statement on the romanticized notion of growing up in the wholesome decade.  A cooky concoction of cultish charisma, Parents joins the Vestron Video Collector’s Series with solid technical grades and a most revealing slate of extras sure to fill up the hungry horror fan.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, Parents can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Lair of the White Worm (1988) Blu-ray Review

    The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

    Director: Ken Russell

    Starring: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis & Stratford Johns

    Released by: Lionsgate

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From noted auteur Ken Russell (The Devils), The Lair of the White Worm finds Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant, Love Actually) returning to his English castle where the legendary folklore of his ancestor slaying a monstrous white worm with a taste for virgin flesh is literally dug up.  Discovering the skeletal remains of a large reptilian beast and other questionable finds, archaeology student Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who) seeks to convince the Lord of the tale’s legitimacy when James’s girlfriend vanishes, leading the daring duo to uncover the worm’s lair and rid its evil.  

    Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s final novel, The Lair of the White Worm blends the gothically sinister with Russell’s innate taste for the erotic and darkly humorous ensuring a most unusually psychotronic trip of sexy serpents, religious blasphemy and acquired campiness.  Following the excavation of an abnormally huge snake-like skull, archaeology student Angus Flint believes his find roots directly to the local legend of John D’Ampton who bravely slain the dreaded White Worm in years past.  Solely occupying the family estate, James D’Ampton begins to find merit in his ancestor’s fantastical history when his girlfriend Eve Trent (Catherine Oxenberg, Dynasty) disappears shortly after searching for her own missing parents with sister Mary (Sammi Davis, The Rainbow).  Suspicious of nearby neighbor, the gorgeous Oscar Wilde quoting Lady Sylvia (Amanda Donohoe, Liar Liar) and incognito priestess to a pagan snake god, who uses her alluring lingerie and thigh-high leather boots to seductively slither victims into her grasp, Angus and James combine their efforts to locate the worm’s cavernous lair and save the Trent sisters.  A deranged assemblage part arthouse, part B-movie monsterpalooza, juxtaposed with bursts of extreme music video energy, The Lair of the White Worm is an uneasily definable genre mash that equally defies and baffles most viewer expectations.  Doused with tedious touches of complicated exposition in accordance with Stoker’s own work, The Lair of the White Worm works best as a visual opiate that shocks viewers senses with religious imagery depicting a crucified Christ and virgin nuns being raped at his feet.  In addition, Donohoe commandeers the picture with her magnetic charm and ssssinister handling of weak-minded men in hot tubs who are left squealing shy of one body part.  A cult curioso certain to divide audiences, The Lair of the White Worm will surely entrance those swayed by its peculiar blend of oddness while, the film, for better or worse, places style above substance.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    Digitally restored, Lionsgate presents The Lair of the White Worm with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  True to the gray overcast of the film’s setting, colors are sparse while skin tones remain natural-looking and nicely detailed.  In addition, black levels are respectable with only mild softness detected.  Furthermore, scratches or other age-related follies are washed away ensuring the film the most proper of HD debuts.  Equipped with a satisfactory DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that handles the heavy accents of its performers adequately, the sexy saxophone injections by Composer Stanislas Syrewicz (The Fantasist) provides the liveliest mentions on the otherwise unvaried mix.  Continuing the tradition of its fellow Vestron Video Collector’s Series titles, substantial supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Director Ken Russell and a second Audio Commentary with Lisi Russell, in conversation with Film Historian Matthew Melia.  Meanwhile, Red Shirt Pictures offers enthralling new featurettes with Worm Food: The Effects of The Lair of the White Worm (27:08) where Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Designer Geoff Portas, Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Modeler Neil Gorton and Special Make-Up & Creature Effects Technician Paul Jones share their unique experiences working with the eccentric Russell and their artistic approaches to the project.  Furthermore, Cutting for Ken with Editor Peter Davies (9:32) discusses his rather easy hiring on the job while, Trailers from Hell featuring the late Dan Ireland (2:45), Mary, Mary with Sammi Davis (15:42), the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:11) and a Still Gallery (2:59) round out the bonus feature offerings.

    (images are not representative of actual Blu-ray quality)

    One of Vestron Pictures’ own original productions, The Lair of the White Worm remains an immensely split feature with a deliriously off-kilter tone befitting of Russell’s weird style.  Head-scratchingly bizarre and monstrously campy, the unique adaptation of Stoker’s panned final work is certainly not for all but, one worth digging up for its undefinable place in genre circles.  Making its Blu-ray debut as the sixth installment of the fan-favorite Collector’s Series, Lionsgate gives Russell’s phantasmagoric oddity a most respectable remastering and a generous touch of supplements viewers have quickly come to expect.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Lionsgate, The Lair of the White Worm can be purchased via LionsgateShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988) Blu-ray Reviews

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Poltergeist III (1988)

    Director(s): Brian Gibson / Gary Sherman

    Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Julian Beck, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson & Geraldine Fitzgerald / Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke & Zelda Rubinstein

    Released by: Scream Factory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Haunting high-definition once more in new Collector’s Edition form, Scream Factory, the horror/cult subsidiary of Shout! Factory, welcomes the continued terrorization of the Freeling family to their catalog of frights!  Following the traumatic events of the original film, Poltergeist II: The Other Side finds the Freeling’s attempting to revert back to a normal existence until the forces of darkness, led by the chilling Henry Kane, pursue their clairvoyant daughter Carol Anne with ungodly vengeance.  Next up, from the suburbs to the big city of Chicago, Poltergeist III sees the young Carol Anne living with her aunt and uncle when the restless Reverend Kane weaves his devilish powers upon their daunting high-rise.  

    They’re back as suburban scares persist in the supernatural followup to Steven Spielberg’s original ghostly production of 1982.  Struggling financially in the wake of their house’s frightening decimation, Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson, Coach and JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer respectively), along with their children Robbie (Oliver Robbins, Airplane II: The Sequel) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke, Happy Days) (sans older sister Dana (played originally by Dominique Dunne who was tragically killed following production on the original film)), attempt to start anew in the house of Diane’s elderly mother.  Retaining her clairvoyant touch, it doesn’t take long before the spirits thought left behind in Cuesta Verde emerge once more to claim Carol Anne for themselves.  Discovering an underground tomb located deeper beneath the Freeling’s former home, trusted psychic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein, Sixteen Candles) and Native American shaman Taylor (Will Sampson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) sense the greater danger that now targets the evading family.  Stalked by the chilling and skeletal-looking Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck, The Cotton Club), Taylor rushes to the Freelings’ aide in order to prepare them for the dark battle that awaits.  Demonstrating impressively refined special effects that can’t be understated with Native American mysticism and a disturbingly memorable villain, Poltergeist II: The Other Side admirably balances what made the original a suspenseful success while, instilling its own chilling parameters that stand on their own.  Topped with Jerry Goldsmith’s score that blends innocence and dread effortlessly, climactic seat-jumpers featuring nightmarish braces gone wild, floating chainsaws (originally intended for 3-D effectiveness), an unforgettable regurgitated monster worm and a final showdown into the ghostly netherworld all make this sequel a respectably fun and grossly underrated followup to its pitch perfect predecessor.

    Inspired by Lewis Carrol’s own fantastical continuation Through the-Looking Glass, Poltergeist III ditches small-town frights and much of its original cast for a towering continuation of lofty ideas that struggle to land their mark.  Relocating to Chicago for placement in a school for gifted children, Carol Anne, cared for by her Aunt Trisch (Allen), Uncle Bruce (Skerritt) and teenage cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle, Wayne’s World), finds herself frightened by reoccurring images of Reverend Kane (played by Flowers in the Attic’s Nathan Davis following the passing of original actor Julian Beck after wrapping production on its sequel) from beyond the grave.  Sensing Kane’s return and his pursuit of Carol Anne, faithful psychic Tangina (Rubinstein returning once more) seeks to stop the evildoer once and for all.  Jeopardized by budgetary limitations and a personal black cloud of despair following O’Rourke’s untimely passing during the film’s post-production phase, Poltergeist III’s skyscraper setting lends an intriguing visual change of pace for the series that ultimately falls second best to the familiarity of safe suburbia.  In addition, although Skerritt and Allen’s chemistry feels genuine together, Aunt Trisch’s random spouts of disdain for her troubled niece feels uncomfortably out of touch for a character that audiences should see as more maternally understanding.  Furthermore, while the return of Tangina is most welcome, Zelda Rubinstein appears particularly fatigued in the role, further underlining the fumes the franchise is running on.  Passionately directed by genre helmer Gary Sherman (Raw Meat, Dead & Buried), Poltergeist III conveys several worthy concepts through terrifying reflections, demonic doppelgängers, possessed teenagers and Kane’s hellish wrath literally freezing over the high-rise building.  Unavoidably imperfect given its tragic history, Poltergeist III, although busting at the box-office and ranking lowest on the franchise totem pole, delivers just enough light from the other side to draw the curious into its vortex for a brief time.        

    Boasting new 2K scans from their interpositives, Scream Factory presents both sequels with 1080p transfers, preserving their respective 2.35:1 (Poltergeist II: The Other Side) and 1.85:1 (Poltergeist III) aspect ratios.  While both films received above average debuts on the format in years past, their latest outings are that much cleaner, washing away the slight hints of softness found previously with strong skin tones, vibrant color grades, deep black levels and otherwise graciously filmic appearances on hand, leaving both films in their best conditions to date.  Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that captures crisp dialogue levels and energetic stabs during supernatural attacks, the film’s scores are excellently handled adding necessary emphasis to their quieter moments and rise to their thrilling tempos.  In addition, both films are accompanied with optional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes for your listening pleasure.

    Supplements pertaining to Poltergeist II: The Other Side include, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Michael Grais and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney, both of which are newly recorded for this release.  Additionally, Robbie’s Return with Oliver Robins (14:25) catches up with the middle Freeling child today as he commends Director Brian Gibson’s vision for the film, the fun atmosphere making a feature as a child and the sequel’s special effects sequences.  Meanwhile, The Spirit World (22:09) is a first-rate featurette catching up with Special Creature Effects Artists Steve Johnson & Screaming Mad George as well as Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund to discuss the many memorable monsters and apparitions that separated the film from the original.  Furthermore, Ghosts of Giger (21:02) takes a look back at the iconic H.R. Giger’s contributions to the film through slideshows and interviews with Steve Johnson and Giger’s agent Les Barany.  Lastly, vintage offerings consisting of They’re Back: The Making of Poltergeist II (6:15), Monster Shop (2:45), Ghost Makers: The Magic of Poltergeist II (6:28), the Theatrical Trailer (1:22) and TV Spots (2:04) are on hand while, a Still Gallery (73 in total), the Poltergeist II Script and Reversible Cover Art retaining the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the bonus features.

    Bonus features found on Poltergeist III include, an Audio Commentary with Co-Screenwriter/Director Gary Sherman and an Audio Commentary with Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney, both newly recorded.  In addition, High Spirits with Co-Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02) finds the writer sharing warm memories of his collaborative relationship with Sherman, the film’s budget cuts, O’Rourke’s passing and his friendship with the wise and occasionally feisty Rubinstein.  Reflections with Actress Nancy Allen (12:15) sits down with the star who commends Sherman’s approach to the project, O’Rourke’s old soul personality and her unforgettably sad funeral plus, her working relationship with Skerritt who notes is the only actor she had an argument with in her career.  Furthermore, Mirror Images with Special Make-Up Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (12:47), an Alternate Ending (2:50) that lacks audio with dialogue from the original script added in as subtitles, the Theatrical Trailer (1:04), TV Spots (2:06), a Still Gallery (77 in total) and the Poltergeist III Script are also on hand.  Lastly, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet imagery completes the release’s supplements.

    Topping the television fuzz and tree attacking terror of the original classic may be no easy feat but, the combined efforts of Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III make strong cases for followups of underrated merit.  While, Reverend Kane’s initial attack on the Freeling family is by far the superior sequel, Poltergeist III, although ranking in last place, still maintains a mild charm that continues to persevere through its many setbacks.  Honoring both features with wonderful new scans, a plentiful sum of bonus features exploring the film’s makings and frighteningly fantastic new artwork by Justin Osbourn, Scream Factory welcomes fans back to the ghostly netherworld where your house will be all the cleaner with both Collector’s Edition sequels in them.

    Poltergeist II: The Other Side RATING: 4/5

    Poltergeist III RATING: 3.5/5

    Available January 31st from Scream Factory, Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III can be purchased via ShoutFactory.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Queen of Katwe (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Queen of Katwe (2016)

    Director: Mira Nair

    Starring: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Kabanza & Taryn Kyaze

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the inspiring true story, Queen of Katwe centers on chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga in her film debut) whose gift of the game propels her from poverty to the World Chess Olympiads.  David Oyelowo (Selma) and Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) costar.

    Developed in association with ESPN Films, Queen of Katwe celebrates the tireless spirit and beauty of Uganda through the gorgeously cultivated direction of Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake).  Residing in the slums of Kampala with her siblings and hardworking widowed mother (Nyong’o), Phiona Mutesi's encounter with local missionary Robert Katende (Oyelowo) alters her life for the better.  Teaching his newest student the art and strategies of chess, Phiona’s natural abilities to foresee movements and defeat her fellow players with ease is met with newfound confidence and encouragement to compete.  Harnessing her skills, Phiona finds herself envisioning a future where proper education is within reach and relieving her family of the poverty they’ve only ever known is now possible.  Adhering to the tried and true structure of most underdog tales, Queen of Katwe monitors Phiona’s rise to prominence before overconfidence, family struggles and defeat knocks her down but hardly keeps her out from regaining balance.  Seamlessly tugging at viewer’s heartstrings, the mentor/student relationship between David Oyelowo the young Nalwanga succeeds in overwhelming audiences with emotion and giving reason to cheer during the traditionally quiet game of chess.  In addition, Lupita Nyong’o delivers another standout performance in a career of many as Phiona’s single mother who will stop at nothing to ensure her children’s well-being.  

    Shot inexpensively with its African locations capturing priceless photography, Queen of Katwe also welcomes the sounds of Uganda with soundtrack cuts from A Pass, Jose Chameleone and Goodlyfe Crew included alongside a newly produced song by Alicia Keys.  While its inspirational narrative doesn’t necessarily stretch the wings of what has come before it, Queen of Katwe excels with its prominently all black cast, evocative setting and Nair’s intimate direction all making exacting moves.  Inviting audiences to their latest tale of unconventional athleticism, Queen of Katwe honors Disney’s celebrated blending of family entertainment and true stories for another crowd pleasing checkmate.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Queen of Katwe with a stunning 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Capturing the sunny shades of Uganda’s scenery, bold colors found in virtually all costume choices leap off the screen while, skin tones are radiant and always natural-looking.  In addition, the poverty stricken areas of Phiona’s household and the faded turquoise boards encompassing her chess training ground are captured with immaculate detail, allowing viewers to fully bask in a presentation of such crispness.  Equipped with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that balances the transition of dialogue, bustling street ambiance and the film’s rhythmic song selections seamlessly, the track is nothing short of delightful.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Mira Nair, Queen of Katwe: Their Story (29:39), a three-part featurette exploring the filmmakers’ journey bringing the true story to fruition and the culture’s undeniable impact on the finished product plus, A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight (13:14), Nair’s original short film on the real Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo in the film.  In addition, In the Studio with Alicia Keys (6:26), a “Back to Life” by Alicia Keys Lyric Video (5:01), “#1 Spice” by Young Cardamom & HAB Music Video (3:55) are also included alongside Deleted Scenes (20:25) with optional introductions by Director Mira Nair.  Lastly, Sneak Peeks (4:30) at Born in China, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and Moana conclude the on-disc supplements while, a Digital HD Code is also included.

    Champions are often found in the most unlikely of places and circumstances.  Rising above poverty and a lack of education, Queen of Katwe brings welcome notice to the beauty and hardship of a Ugandan upbringing and the perseverance of the human spirit.  An inspirational journey ripe with heart and humor, Disney’s latest true story dramatization is a hit thematically while, its home video release exudes high-definition beauty and a worthy helping of bonus features including, the continued inclusion of a filmmaker’s commentary.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Queen of Katwe can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.