Wednesday, March 21, 2018

ACES HIGH (1976) (Umbrella DVD Review)

ACES HIGH (1976) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region Free (NTSC) 
Rating: M
Duration: 109 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.77:1) 
Director: Jack Gold
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Malcolm McDowell, Sir John Gielgud, Ray Milland, Peter Firth

Set in 1916 during WWI Aces High (1976) starring Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) follows a week or so in the life of a group of pilots in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), beginning with the arrival of fresh-faced recruit Lieutenant Croft (Peter Firth, Life Force) who has had all of fifteen hours of air-time prior to his assignment, much to the chagrin of squadron leader Major John Gresham (McDowell), not just because he's woefully inexperienced, but because he's familiar with the new recruit, having dated his older sister back in college. 

The film deals with the tension among the pilots, many of whom drink away their fears and worries, numbing them to the realities of war. Gresham is an experienced combat pilot, an ace pilot but also suffering from the anxiety of war, not helping is that new recruits have a week long life expectancy, and young Croft idolizes him, adding further tension to the already Hell-ish wartime scenario. McDowell and Firth were quite good, if a bit stodgy, but maybe that's just because they're English upper crust, and Sir Christopher Plummer  is also great as a reassuring veteran figure, but it's the aerial battles that are the most engaging aspect of the movie. The  air battle action is captured with vintage WWI-looking aircraft engaged in dogfights and buzzing each other with strafing gunfire was actually quite well done, I found myself craning my neck in response to the imagined g-force of the acrobatic plane stunt work, which were very well shot. Some of the most effective dramatic moments are captured in the cockpits as the pilots bare witness to the carnage of aerial battle, pilots engulfed if flames, and wing men bloodily shot my machine gun fire, with the final reel of the film being particularly powerful, both in terms of dramatic weight and carnage, with one final and haunting gut-punch. 

Audio/Video: Aces High (1976) arrives on region-free (though labeled region 4) DVD from Umbrella Entertainment framed in anamorphic widescreen 1.77:1, the source looks to be a well-worn print with lots of specks, scratches and grit evident throughout though it's the first reel that's most affected by print damage. Colors are drab and the image soft, further marred by some of the worst aliasing I've seen in the modern age on a home video release (just check out those jagged edges on the title card). The English Dolby Digital mono audio is serviceable, not a lot of separation or subtlety, and no subtitles are provided. This is a bare bones release with no extras, the film starts-up without a menu as soon as you pop the disc in. 

Special Features: None 

Aces High (1976)is not an overly powerful wartime dramatic film, but as a WWI film dealing with the tension and horror of war it's a good watch, highlighted by some truly fantastic aerial battle scenes that make up for it's dramatic shortcomings. The video presentation from Umbrella is not all that I would have hoped for, but at least I was able to check this off my to-watch list. 


PATH OF BLOOD (2016) (Synapse Blu-ray Review)

Special Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Synapse Films

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 62 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: Japanese DTS-HD MA Japanese 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Eric Power
Cast: Kenji Kiuchi, Yoshi Okai, Shinya Wakao and Leo Shue Schuster

Path of Blood (2016) is an ambitious indie-animated film from  director Eric Power, the guy shot this sucker all by himself (aside from the score and voice cast) using  traditional frame-by-frame cut-paper animation, meaning he clipped all these pieces of paper to create the film, which is startlingly detailed all things considered, so this two-years in the making feature is certainly a labor of love, which regardless of what you think about the film can be appreciated.  

I have never been a huge fan of samurai movies, I love all sort of goofy low-grade action and horror but for some reason samurai and kung-fu films have long left me disinterested, only taking one in occasionally on late might TV or when one is sent in for review (such as this one was), and you now what, more often than not I enjoy them, but that doesn't mean I'm seeking them out in my free time the way I do obscure 80's slashers, but I do seem to enjoy them in measure, which brings us to this slice of samurai animation. 

Set in Japan in the year 1614 when samurais find themselves displaced after the war, they wander the countryside as Ronin looking for work where they can find it. One such Ronin is told of a forgotten village where a path leads deep into the mountains, legend has it that those brave and skilled enough with a sword will be rewarded with fortune untold, however, he is also warned that those whom have chosen follow path have never returned, and as such he makes his way to the fabled place in search of meaning and purpose. 

At just over an hour long the movie zings by in no time, the layered paper animation looking a bit like the early South Park episodes, but the story is simple and told straight-faced, this is a dramatic and action packed story, it's not a comedy or spoor as the animation style might intone, this is a love-letter to samurai films

I was surprised by how into the story I got, the animation style draws attention to itself at first but soon enough I was sucked into the story. The action and gore was surprising, sure it's paper-animated, but it is nicely detailed and well pieced together, even the static environmental shots of grasslands and wooded areas are quite amazing, layered in such a way as to give it some illusion of depth. The swordplay and numerous decapitations, disemboweling and bloody limb severing were a riot, again I was impressed how detailed it was, such as bones jutting from the bloody stumps of severed fingers, it's fun but not necessarily comedic, though it does have some laughs, too. 

Audio/Video: Path of Blood (2016) arrives on Blu-ray from Synapse Films framed in 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio, giving the paper-cut animated samurai flick a nice widescreen canvas to work with, which Powers takes full advantage of. The 1080p HD really is crisp, so much so you can see the differing grains and textures of the paper used, even seeing some edges peeling up a bit from the background, it gives the pic some nice illusory depth, more than what I was expecting from paper stop-motion animation. Audio comes by way of robust Japanese DTS-HD MA Japanese 2.0 stereo track with optional English subtitles. I love that Power went with an authentic Japanese dialogue, keeping it true to the genre he's homaging.

Onto he extras we  have an 11-min featurette with director Eric Power who walks us through the process of creating the film, his struggles with a failed crowd-funding campaign and what it was like to single-handedly tackle the ambitious project, scissoring all those trees, characters and whatnot, whew, plus how he achieved the layered look of the film through trial and error. There's also the original 4-min short film, a promo trailer and a video game style trailer, plus an image gallery. 

Special Features:

- “Making of PATH OF BLOOD” Featurette (11 min) 
- PATH OF BLOOD – The Original Short Film (4 min) 
- Original Promotional Trailer (2 min) 
- “Video Game” Inspired Trailer (2 min) 
- Image Gallery (1 min) 

While I am clearly not the ideal audience for this slice of paper-cut samurai action I still had a fun time watching it, finding myself drawn into the Ronin-adventure story quite easily. True fans of samurai films will probably enjoy to an exponentially higher degree, as I'm sure if I was more aware of the genre I would recognize and have fun with the nods and homages to various other films. The Blu-ray from Synapse looks and sounds great, I love that they saw fit to release this, it's not what I would call a traditionally Synapse-esque sort of title, but that's what I love about Don May and the crew at Synapse, you never know what they're gonna release next, but it's always worth checking out, and it's usually at least interesting. 

DEEP RED (1975) (Arrow Video 2-Disc LE Blu-ray Review)

DEEP RED (1975) 

Label: Arrow Video 
Region: Code: Region-FREE
Rating: 18 Certificate:
Duration: 127 Mins (Director's Cut) 106 Mins (Export Version)
Audio: Italian DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0, Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1, English/Italian Hybrid DTS-HD MA Mono, English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0, English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Dario Argento
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra, Piero Mazzinghi, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, Aldo Bonamano, Liana Del Balzo, Nicoletta Elmi

Synopsis: YOU WILL NEVER FORGET IT!!! From Dario Argento, maestro of the macabre and the man behind some of the greatest excursions in Italian horror (Suspiria, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), comes Deep Red - the ultimate giallo movie. One night, musician Marcus Daly (David Hemmings, Blow Up), looking up from the street below, witnesses the brutal axe murder of a woman in her apartment. Racing to the scene, Marcus just manages to miss the perpetrator... or does he? As he takes on the role of amateur sleuth, Marcus finds himself ensnared in a bizarre web of murder and mystery where nothing is what it seems... Aided by a throbbing score from regular Argento collaborators Goblin, Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso and The Hatchet Murders) is a hallucinatory fever dream of a giallo punctuated by some of the most astonishing set-pieces the sub-genre has to offer.

Dario Argento's directing career began auspiciously with three brilliant whodunit thrillers in just the span of a few years, this trio of films included The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Cat O' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). Each one an electric and stylish genre defining film. After this trio of films Argento would go onto direct ther comedic mid-1800's period piece The Five Days (1973) which turned out to be a  failure at the box office, and still stands as the only Argento film I have not seen, I believe it's the only title not widely available on home video (anyone wanna help me out with that?). Fresh off that disappointment Argento would once again return to the stylish whodunit subject matter that brought him notoriety, a film many consider to me his masterpiece, Deep Red (1975). 

The story is pretty familiar, an everyday man finds himself mixed-up in the dealings of a black-gloved murderer, it's a pretty standard giallo set-up and one that Argento mined thoroughly with his previous films. This time our amateur sleuth is an English musician  working in Rome named Marucs (played by David Hemmings fresh off Antonion's Blow Up). Marc is out for a drink when he runs into drunken friend Carlo outside a piano bar when both men hear a frightful scream ring out in the night. Carlo merely raises a toast to the "deflowered virgin" and heads back to a nearby bar. Marc remains a bit longer and witnesses the murder of a woman from the street below her apartment window. The woman is struck with a hatchet to the back of the head and crashes through a thick window pane and her throat is slashed by the jagged glass. Marc dashes to the woman's aide but is too late to save her. Through the window Marc spots a figure fleeing the scene in a rain slicker and hat which obscures the killer's identity. The woman was a psychic medium named Helga who earlier in the evening attended a conference for paranormal psychology when she sensed the thoughts of a murderer among the attendees. The traumatic experience left terrified, the murderous minded figure left the conference unnoticed but followed Helga back to her apartment where she's attacked after hearing the strains of a creepy children's lullaby. After the police arrive at scene of the murder Marc meets bubbly tabloid journalist Gianni played by a never lovelier Daria Nicolodi (Phenomena). The pair develop a playful relationship as Gianni vies for Marcus's attention, they're a fun, dynamic duo and easily stand as Argento's most defined character pairings. In typical giallo fashion the police prove to be largely inept and most of the sleuthing is left to the unlikely amateur mystery-solvers. As the intricate thriller plays out Marc is dogged by the fact that he cannot recall a crucial piece of the puzzle,  something is missing from the scene of the crime that he cannot put a finger on. Together he and Gianni follow the clues beginning with the psychics death which lead them to some truly improbable deductions that lead them further down the mystery laden path, with the killer seemingly one-step ahead of them, each of the following murder preceded by the familiar haunting refrain of a children's lullaby.

Argento is often singled-out as a visually stylish director who forgoes proper narrative elements in favor of striking imagery, I wouldn't disagree, I see it myself in the visually delightful but narrative-challenged Suspiria(1977) but Deep Red is an exception. The characters are interesting and particularly defined, especially the two leads, the plot is full of intricate twists and turns but Argento's signature style is ever present, each camera shot is meticulously staged and framed by Luigi Kuveiler's fluid cinematography. The killings are magnificent, with great staging and sharp editing along with some very fine special effects that hold up very well. A particularly brutal scene involves a man having his teeth repeatedly smashed on the corner of a marble table after being attacked by a nightmarish porcelain-faced mechanical doll which charges at him from out of the dark. Then there's a gorgeously shot drowning in a tub of scalding hot water, it's all great stuff.

Audio/Video: Dario Argento's Deep Red arrives on Blu-ray for a second time fro Arrow Video from  4K scan of thew original negative, improving on their previous 2011 HD release with richer colors and more fine detail, it's a crisp and gorgeous presentation with nicely managed grain and deep blacks. We get both the shorter (106 min) export version and the longer (127 min) director's cut, both derived from the same 4K restoration, presented on separate discs.

Audio options have also been expanded, for the director's cut we get to choose from Italian DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 and Surround 5.1, English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0, or an English/Italian hybrid with optional English subtitles. The phenomenal Goblin score sounds fantastic, it comes across deep and resonating, the dialogue and effects also come through crystal clear, I give the surround mix the edge for the use of the surrounds, it really fleshes out that wonderful Goblin score to a satisfying degree. The export version gets an English PCM Mono 1.0 mix with optional English subtitles. 

Arrow Video previous Blu-ray had some amazing exclusive extras, and I am pleased they carry them all over for this release. There's a brief introduction from Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti voicing his pleasure at being involved with a film he rightfully considers a masterpiece. Then onto Lady In Red: Daria Noclodi Remembers Profondo Rosso (18 min). Argento's former lover and mother of his children discusses not only her involvement with Deep Red but her other works, Argento's career and Argento himself who she described rather unflatteringly several times throughout, it's a great piece. Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red (14 min) an interview with the Goblin Composer who is nearly as much a part of Argento lore as the master himself. Like Nicolodi I always find the Simonetti interviews to be quite interesting and revealing. Rosso Recollection: Dario Argento's Deep Genius (12 min) features the director himself speaking about his family and the film, strangely the Argento interviews are usually my least favorite of the extras found on his films. Rosso: from Celluloid to Shop (15 min) is a tour of the Profondo Rosso Shop in Rome with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, the place is a museum to all things Argento and rounding out the special features are both an Italian and U.S. trailer for the film. It's interesting to note the difference in approach between the two markets. There's also an audio commentary from  Argento expert Thomas Rostock, and honestly while they are info packed I find his delivery and tone to be dry and monotonous, I much prefer commentaries from Kim Newman, Troy Howarth or Stephen Thrower, the content is good the delivery is just dry.  

That's the vintage stuff, the only new extras is a 33-min video essay by Michael Mackenzie featuring an in-depth appreciation of Deep Red, an in-depth and detailed look at the film documenting the influence of Argento on the whodunit films, his early success and returning the gialli after the failure of The Five Days (1973), I'm quite a fan of the Mackenzie video essays which turn up on quite a few Arrow releases. . 

Special Features: 
Disc 1:
- Deep Red (Director's Cut) (127 min) 
 - Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
- Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
- Introduction to the film by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin (23 sec) HD 
- Profondo Giallo– a brand new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie featuring an in-depth appreciation of Deep Red, its themes and its legacy (33 min) HD 
- Rosso Recollections: Dario Argento’s Deep Genius– the Deep Red director on the creation of a giallo masterpiece (12 min)  
- The Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi Remembers Profondo Rosso (18 min) HD 
- Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonettion Deep Red (14 min) HD 
- Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid to Shop– a tour of the Profondo Rosso shop in Rome with long time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi (15 min) 

Disc 2: 
- Deep Red (Export Version) (106 min)  
- Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
- US Theatrical Trailer (3 min) HD 

While Mario Bava defined the classic black-gloved giallo with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) it was Argento who fine tuned it with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and arguably perfected it with Deep Red (1975), few if any even come close to matching the artistry and execution of his early slasher-y whodunits. Arrow's 4K restoration is pretty damn definitive in it's A/V presentation and the extras are great, here's hoping Arrow can come through with a brand new 4K restoration of Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) so we can have shiny 4K restorations of Argento's entire "animal trilogy".  

Cult Epics Presents FRANK & EVA: Living Apart Together - A Pim de la Parra film, featuring Sylvia Kristel in her debut.

Label: Cult Epics
Release Date: May 23rd 2018 
Duration: 97 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Full Screen (1.33:1)
Audio: Dutch Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Pim de la Parra
Cast: Willeke van Ammelrooy, Hugo Metsers, Sylvia Kristel

Frank (BLUE MOVIE's Hugo Metsers) and Eva (THE LIFT's Willeke van Ammelrooy) cannot live with or without each other. In the liberal 1970s, Frank sleeps with every woman he can get. Eva, meanwhile, is looking for more security and wants to start a family. Frank's behavior frustrates her so much that she starts an affair with their mutual friend. This social drama offers a view on relationships not much different than today. For Sylvia Kristel (her debut prior to EMMANUELLE), a special role was written after she said to Pim de la Parra, "Why won't you discover me? I'm the best."

Frank & Eva is the second artsploitation film by director Pim de la Parra, after he produced BLUE MOVIE with his partner Wim Verstappen. Cult Epics presents its worldwide premiere on Blu-ray & DVD, in High-definition with extensive bonus features.

Special Features: 
- New High-definition transfer
- Audio Commentary by Pim de la Parra (2018)
- Up Front + Naked: Sex in Dutch films (2017) featurette with Willeke van Ammelrooy a.o.
- Frank and Eva Poster + Photo Gallery
- Sylvia Kristel Film Poster Gallery
-Original Theatrical Trailers

Lina Romay in 'Rolls Royce Baby' (1975) - Now on DVD!


Label: Full Moon Films
Region Code: ALL NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 
Director: Erwin C. Dietrich
Cast:  Lina Romay, Erik Falk, Roman Huber, Usrula Maria Schaefer, Kurt Meinicke

After producing a string of films for notorious Spanish director Jess Franco (Barbed Wire Dolls, Jack the Ripper),  Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich "borrowed" Franco's main muse, actress Lina Romay, for a sexploitation romp of his own. Their resulting collaboration was 1975's Rolls Royce Baby, a salacious and intensely erotic cinematic experience featuring the beautiful Romay at her most sexually uninhibited.

Romay stars as Lisa, a curvy nymphomaniac who prowls the countryside in her classic, chauffeur-driven, Rolls Royce picking up any man she can find and engaging in all manner of explicit sexual acts. Dietrich forgoes any narrative contrivances and simply focuses on Lina's outstanding natural physical attributes,  picturesque scenery and a cavalcade of hot couplings that happen in and out of that glorious Rolls Royce, while composer Walter Baumgartner's delirious score pumps away in the background.

Full Moon is excited to present this ultra-rare, insanely sexy slice of vintage European erotica in a digitally remastered DVD, FULLY UNCUT transfer, culled directly from Dietrich's own 35mm negative. Jump in Lina's Rolls for the hottest ride you'll ever take!



Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Duration: 102 Minutes 
Rating: PG
Audio: English DTS-H DMA
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)

Director: Peter Duffell
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee, Joanna Dunham, Joss Ackland, John Bennett, John Bryans, Wolfe Morris, Tom Adams, Ingrid Pitt

Vampires! Voodoo! Vixens! Victims! Terror waits for you in every room. A quartet of frightening fables is presented in The House That Dripped Blood, which comes to Blu-ray for the first time on May 8, 2018.

A Scotland Yard inspector’s search for a missing film star leads him to a haunted house. The house sets the framework for four separate tales of terror written by the author of Psycho, Robert Bloch, and starring horror icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. All four stories center on the mysterious fates of tenants who have leased the mansion over the years.

Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary by film historian/author Troy Howarth
- NEW interview with second assistant director Mike Higgins
- Audio Commentary with director Peter Duffell and author Jonathan Rigby
- Vintage Featurette - A-Rated Horror Film – featuring interviews with director Peter Duffell, actors Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt and Chloe Franks
- Theatrical Trailers (English and Spanish)
- Radio Spots
- The Amicus Radio Spots Collection
- Still Gallery


Sunday, March 18, 2018

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989) (Olive Blu-ray Review)


Label: Olive Films
Duration: 108 Minutes 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Jim McBride
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Dennis Quaid, Trey Wilson, Winona Ryder

This biopic of wild man rocker Jerry Lee Lewis documents the singer's early career,  as played by Dennis Quaid (Jaws 3-D) the pic is pretty glossy and one dimensional but it does showcase the piano-rocker's exquisite pumping piano sound and Quaid is actually pretty damn good as the piano-man, he's got his sexual energy and charm down pat, including his goofy faces and manic stage presence. Then we have Winona Ryder (Beeteljuice) as his enraptured teenage cousin Myra Gale Brown, and yes, they do end up married, which is a stone-cold truth, and while the movie seems to be taking liberties with the truth to a degree there's no denying that Jerry Lee married his then thirteen year-old cousin, which just makes Lewis all sorts of creepy. The revelation is still a shocker today, but back in the 50's it was a bombshell, inspiring the whole of the country of England ( and the U.S.) to turn their back on him, throwing his burgeoning career straight into the toilet pretty much overnight. 

Aside from the capable presence of Ryder and Quaid we have Trey Wilson (Raising Arizona) and Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog's Day) as the founders of Sun Records, a small (now legendary) label who signed Jerry Lee Lewis and started up his career shortly after he cut his first demo at the studio. The label was still smarting from recently having sold off Elvis' contract for the paltry sum of thirty-thousand dollars, they acted quickly to exploit Jerry Lee's raucous rock n' roll piano sound which becomes all the rage on the radio. Alec Baldwin shows up as Jerry's cousin Jimmy Swaggart, who tries to steer his cousin away from the influence of the devil's music, rock n' roll. Swaggart himself would become something of an infamous figure himself in the 80's when his money-grubbing Evangelical ministry was brought down by the revelation that he fornicated with a New Orleans' hooker, I love it when the pious are brought down by their own hypocrisy 

The film glosses over a lot of the finite details of the story, but what it gets right are the incendiary live performances and huge ego of the star, as I've already said I think Quaid really nailed it, aside from some questionable lip-syncing from time to time. It's sort of a brave performance playing a lusty child-bride fornicator, but he goes for it with a lot of bravado, and somehow doesn't come off too awful though that aspect of his life certainly is reprehensible. More reprehensible perhaps are the parents of Myra Gale Brown, especially the father who was Jerry Lee's cousin and the bass player in his band. For starters they don't see the alarming chemistry between the kin, though to be fair her father does after Lee with a pistol at one point, but when the cash starts rolling in they just go along with it! 

The film has some great performances of Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis setting his piano on fire in a successful attempt to upstage the legendary Chuck Berry during a concert, plus a sultry roadhouse show with a lusty group becoming entranced by the piano-pounder, it's good stuff. My favorite aspects of the film are the burgeoning Memphis music scene, Jerry Lee cutting his first record at Sun Records, meeting Elvis, I love all that scene-type stuff.   

The film  was based on a biography by Myra Lewis, so there's some authenticity to it but it seems that director/co-screenwriter Jim McBride took some liberties with the story, while rooted in reality there's clearly some creative license in evidence. Notably Jerry Lee Lewis re-recorded a few of his best known tunes from inclusion in the film, including "Great Balls of Fire", "High School Confidential", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "Breathless", "Crazy Arms and more. They sound great but lack the rollicking lo-fi venom of the original Sun Records recordings in my opinion, but I am sure these more refined songs  probably went over a bit better with the masses who went and saw it at the cinema. 

This was movie I watched many times on cable in the 90's, it was my introduction tot he music of Jerry Lee Lewis, and I don't quite love the way I used to, there's no denying the power of that wild man's rockin' piano sound, too bad he fucked it up by buggering his own cousin. 

Audio/Video: Great Balls of Fire (12989) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in  1080p HD widescreen framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, it looks a bit dated but it looks solid enough for a catalog title, the image is a bit soft and lack crispness, but the grain is adequately managed and colors look natural. The lone audio options is an English DTS_HD MA 2.0 Stereo track, it's not robust but does the job, the Jerry Lee Lewis tunes sound great as does additional soundtrack contributions, including  "Rocket 88" from Jackie Brenston and The Delta Cats. This is a bare-bones release but offers optional English subtitles are provided. 

The single-disc Blu-ray comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, I find the Olive Films style a bit hit and miss, it's not bad in that it's easily identifiable as an Olive Films release, but your mileage will vary based on your appreciation of the artwork-style, this one reminded of the 1950's style typography used on vintage concert posters of the era which is appropriate. The disc itself featuring an orange background with the same logo-font as the artwork.   

This biographical film isn't exactly deep in it's portrayal of the rock n' roll wild man, it paints in broad strokes and doesn't dwell overly long on the incestuous teen-bride stuff, but it does manage to get across the man's persona and the music shines through. Glad to this get a Blu-ray finally, surprised it took so long. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

UNEARTHED AND UNTOLD: THE PATH TO PET SEMATARY (2015) (Special Edition Blu-ray Review)

Special Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Synapse Films
Rating: Unrated 

Duration: 97 minutes
Region Code: Region All
Video: 1080i HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround
Director: John Campopiano, Justin White
Mary Lambert, Denise Crosby, Dale Midkiff, Miko Hughes, Brad Greenquist, Andrew Hubatsek, Susan Blommaert

If you ask me what my favorite Stephen King movie adaptation is I will say Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) without hesitation, and yes I know it's not truly an adaptation, Kubrick strayed from the source material and did his own thing, and thank you Mr. Kubrick for doing so. Now if asked what's my second favorite, it's gonna be Pet Sematary (1989) every time, when I saw it at the cinema my freshman year of high school I thought I was too much of a horror fan to let a studio horror movie get to me, but I was fucking wrong - the movie is creepy and frightening as Hell, and even when I watch it these days it still gets right under my skin, the issues of the loss of a child are only more poignant now that I am a father, the movie is still a powerhouse of a fright film which is a testament to the script, the excellent cast and director Mary Lambert (Urban Legends: Bloody Mary). I own Pet Sematary on Blu-ray and the disc has some very minor extras plus a decent audio commentary with Lambert, but it doesn't get into the nooks and crannies of making the movie, and that's where this new making-of doc come into play, Directed by John Campopiano and Justin White, two average horror fans who had a calling to deep-dive into the making of this cult film, a project that started as a five hour road-trip to Maine to scout out some of the filming locations in  Ellsworth, Maine. Keep in mind that they had to do the hard work themselves because this is a movie that did not have a dedicated episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds to do it for us, though that would be cool, though it would be a bit redundant at this point because these guys pretty much went everywhere and found out everything about this friggin' movie that you could ever want to know! 

The doc has interviews with director Mary Lambert, and the stars Denise Crosby, Dale Midkiff, Miko Hughes, Brad Greenquist, Andrew Hubatsek, Susan Blommaert, the Berdahl twins, Michael Lombard, all the main cast are here, and then it goes deep into the local peeps in Maine who worked on the production doing carpentry and landscaping to bring the otherworldly horror flick to the big screen. There's also are behind the scenes footage of the making of the film, location visits and a brief archival video of Stephen King speaking about writing the book, there's even a university professor espousing some psycho analysis of the Lewis character and his questionable yet somewhat logical actions throughout the film. The film opens with a quote from producer/studio exec Lindsay Doran (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) who speaks about her failed attempt to bring the movie to the silver screen in the early 80's at Embassy Pictures when the script landed on her desk, and then moving to Paramount where she again tried to pitch the script only to have it once again fall on deaf ears, finally getting the green light when the studio was scrounging for completed scripts during the writer's strike of 1988. It's that sort of cool insight into the process of making the movie that I love about this doc.  I loved the loads of interviews from non-Hollywood types who worked on the film locally, speaking about the impact of the film on their lives and their community. 

Reversible Artwork 
The doc runs along pretty briskly at 97 minutes but does have a few slow moments, I have to wonder if it would drag more for someone not too keen on movie docs, it would have to, but then again why would you buy it if you weren't, right? Anyway, I originally watched this a few months streaming on Amazon Prime ( I think it's still on there), and at the time my attention did waver a bit, but I tend to wander mentally when watching streaming movies for some reason, not sure what's that about, but I tend not to value the streaming experience as much as when I watch physical media, I guess that's why I am a collector of physical media. I will say that when I popped in the Blu-ray disc I was thoroughly entertained and properly enthralled by the re-watch, if you love Pet Sematary and have the yearning for an in-depth and thorough making of doc with some cool local-flavor about it this is an easy recommend. 

Onto the extras we get quite a few, this sucker is packed to the rafters with content, beginning with an audio commentary from directors John Campopiano and Justin White, there's also a second track that's a podcast commentary/interview with the duo. onto the video extras we get 8-min of edited/alternate scene, 18-min of deleted scenes that were cut because they strayed from the narrative of the film, but there's some cool stuff in there. Actress Dawn Crosby speaks about trying to buy a car from a local Maine guy who scared her something fierce, and a story of how the local carpenters were a bit taken aback when the painters showed-up to distress the house to make it look work by taking bats and chains to the exterior. Creators John Campopiano and Justin White show up for an 18-min video interview discussing their love of the film and the grassroots origins of the doc and how what started as a filming location scout tuned into a years long process, and I would just like to say thank you to them for doing it, it certainly doesn't seem like an easy undertaking. 

The disc is finished-up with some rare behind the scene VHS footage of the shoot running about 7-min, poster art concept gallery a location photo gallery, promotional trailer and a sizzle reel for the doc. The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in a standard blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring art by illustrator Alexandros Pyromallis which really captures the vibe of the film, and also brought to mind Guillermo Del Toror's The Devil's Backbone in a way. The disc itself features the say illustration from Pyromallis

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Creators John Campopiano and Justin White
- Podcast Commentary with Creators John Campopiano and Justin White
- Edited / Alternate Scenes (9 min)
- Video Interview with Creators John Campopiano and Justin White (8 min)
- "PET TALES - From the Cutting Room Floor" Featurette (18 min)
- PET SEMATARY Location Photo Compilation (2 min)
- Documentary Poster Art Concepts (2 min)
- Rare On-Set Video Footage from Rhonda Carter (7 min)
- Documentary Sizzle Reel (4 min)
- Promotional Trailer (3 min)
- Reversible Art Design by Alexandros Pyromallis

Unearthed and Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2015) goes in deep and leaves no stone at the Mic Mac burial ground un-turned, if you're a fan of the film and crave an insightful, well-rounded and incredibly thorough making of doc look no further - this is essential stuff for fans. Synapse have put out a few impressive making-of movie docs through the years, from Document of the Dead (1995) to Michael Felsher's Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007), and now we have this one, quite a trio of movie docs they've got there, hope to see more soon, I love these things.  

Thursday, March 15, 2018

I, TONYA (2017) (Blu-ray Review)

I, TONYA (2017)

Label: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Region Code: A
Rating: R

Duration: 119 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39;1) 
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Margo Robbie, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Julianna Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser 

Synopsis: Based on the incredible true events, I, Tonya is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with the infamous attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

As someone who was in his twenties in the nineties I have a pretty vivid recollection of this whole professional figure skating incident that rocked the world in '94, an event that was in the news for what felt like way too long even at the time, let alone in retrospect. IN fact when this movie was first announced I zeroed it out in my mind, it barely registered as a blip on my cinema-radar, and I had no interest in an overly-dramatic retelling of the story for the big screen. However, when I saw a trailer for the film I began to change my tune, the film seemed to be going for an off-kilter Coen Bros. tone, and having watched the film now I can say that initial impression was right-on. 

Here we have a mockumentary-styled confessional documentary mixed with dramatic footage and what reports to be vintage news reel footage, not told soley from Tonya Harding's (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) perspective, but also that of her abusive mother LaVonna (Allison Janney, Drop Dead Gorgeous), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooley (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and her dip-shitted bodyguard (Paul Walter Hauser). This is one of the unreliable narrator stories only this time we have four unreliable liars and none seem to agree on their intent, involvement and/or guilt in the proceedings, often times break the fourth wall to address perceived inaccuracies about the public record of the event or to contradict a confessional of another narrators, it makes for an uneven but awesomely entertaining watch. 

The cast is great, Robbie as Harding is a tough-as-nails slice of white trash trying to make in the world of figure skating, a sport apparently ripe with class warfare, and Tonya didn't quite fit the wholesome profile they'd hoped for, which spurred the rivalry with figure skating princess Nancy Kerrigan, leading to the knee-capping that eventually ended Harding's professional career. The characters are a mix of losers and abusive family that surrounded Harding for her entire life, we have her venomous mother verbally and physically abusing her, and a lover who regularly beat her. The domestic abuse is not glossed over either, it's hard to watch it happen, but the weird and wacky Coen Bros. tone of the film makes it feel like an odd juxtaposition, it really brought to mind Fargo in that way.  The violence and degrading is presented matter-of-fact, as if to show this this what Harding grew up with and not surprisingly fell into as an adult. 

While Robbie is impressive in the role it's the insanely wonderful Allison Janney who steals the damn movie, her abusive character often wearing a fur coat with a parrot perched on her shoulder, constantly chain-smoking and eschewing the worst sort of motherly verbage, certainly not a nurturing woman to say the least, and just when you think she's about to redeem herself she blows it! I, Tonya (2017) might just become my new favorite ironic mother's day movie, this was blast.  

Audio/Video: I, Tonya (2017) arrives on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Universal framed in 2.39:1 widescreen looking sharp and vibrant, the early 90s aesthetic comes through with great detail. The surround DTS-HD MA 5. is solid, the mockumentary stuff doesn't ask a whole lot of the surrounds but the soundtrack sounds great, we have fantastic song selections from ZZ Top, Supertramp, Fleetwoood Mac and the Violent Femmes among others, optional English subtitles are provided.  

Extras include an audio commentary with the director, a behind the scenes featurette featuring interviews and a glimpse of the making of the film, trailers and 18-minutes of deleted scenes. The 20disc dual format release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of one-sided artwork, featuring an embossed slipcover (o-card)) with the same artwork. 

Special Features: 
- Deleted Scenes (18 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes (16 min) 
- Feature Commentary with Director Craig Gillespie
- Trailers (6 min) 

I, Tonya is a very very fun film, it's not what I was expecting but it exceeded all my expectations, making me laugh and wince in equal measure. If you're a fan of the Coen Bros. off-kilter comedies or mockumentaries along the lines of Drop Dead Gorgeous definitely give this one a watch, a high recommend.  


SCHLOCK (1973)

Label: Turbine Media
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 79 Minutes 
Audio: English, German DTS-HD Master Audio Mono with Optional German and English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: John Landis 

Turbine Media Group in association with director John Landis present John Landis' long out-of-print first feature film, the cult comedy SCHLOCK, in its Blu-ray world premiere in an exclusive dual-format mediabook Blu-ray/DVD worldwide-playable combo set limited to 2000 copies, releasing April 27th, 2018.

A love stronger, and stranger, than King Kong and Fay Wray! The long-slumbering banana monster Schlock wakes up after 20 million years and escapes from his cave, befriending a blind girl who thinks he's a dog, and causes mass panic in the small town with a shocking bloody massacre setting the scene. Schlock tries to escape but the military is fast approaching…

This low-budget prelude to Landis' brilliant career which includes ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, SCHLOCK is an ingenious monster comedy filled with wild movie references and absurd gags, with the then 22-year-old filmmaker paying respect to some of his favorite films like KING KONG, 2001, THE BLOB, and FRANKENSTEIN. SHLOCK is also the beginning of Landis' partnership with makeup artist extraordinaire  Rick Baker, and early feature from the gifted artist

Now being released for the first time ever in high-definition from Turbine Media Group, this exclusive limited 2000-copy Blu-ray/DVD combo mediabook edition contains the main feature in full HD sourced from an all-new, detailed 4K frame-by-frame restoration on Region Code–Free Blu-ray for worldwide playback, and an NTSC SD 4:3 full-frame open-matte DVD version, just like in the good old days of VHS. The mediabook packaging features original artwork and a bound-in, fully illustrated booklet with rare pictures and new writing on the film in German and English.

Exclusive new introduction by creator John Landis
- Exclusive newly shot interview with John Landis (approx. 41 min.)
 -Vintage audio commentary by John Landis & Monster Maker Rick Baker (from the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD)
- Trailers from Hell clip: John Landis on SCHLOCK
- Original trailers (theatrical release, re-release, "Banana Monster" title, the original German 35mm trailer, and a new transfer of the German version)
- Original 1970s radio spots
- Bilingual edition: menus and booklet in English and German