Thursday, May 31, 2018

DEVIL'S GATE (2017) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory / IFC Midnight 

Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Clay Staub
Cast: Amanda Schull, Milo Ventimiglia, Shawn Ashmore, Bridget Regan, Jonathan Frakes

In Devil's Gate (2018) FBI agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull, TV's Pretty Little Liars) arrives in Devil's Gate, North Dakota to investigate the disappearance of the wife and son of local farmer Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia, TV's Heroes), who she believes probably had something to do with his family's disappearance. She's accompanied by local deputy Colt Salter (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men)and the pair make their way to Pritchard's dilapidated farm house on the outskirts of town. Arriving they find the tense farmer none to helpful and surprisingly violent, they restrain him and search the home where the agent finds the whole property is elaborately booby-trapped, even stranger, he keeps an unidentified quivering mass of flesh locked away in a cage the basement. Then oddly powerful and localized lightning begins striking an area near the farmhouse, revealing a strange glyph covered stone under the ground, and it only gets stranger after that.  

This tense thriller offers a little bit for everyone, we get some Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired trappings (and traps), a bit of otherworldly supernatural and science fiction, it's a real genre-bender. Our three main characters not only fight each other but must team-up when thet find themselves under siege from... something, something diabolical that keeps evolving in away, is it something from Heaven, from Hell or something from off-planet, this one will keep you wondering just what the fudge is going on right up until the end, though it definitely goes in a direction, it just keeps a nice veil of mystery and ambiguity throughout. 

The film is well-shot and executed, visually impressive and a bit of a genre bender that kept me tuned-in from start to finish even if I wasn't really sure what was happening exactly, plus we get some cool creature special effects by way of actor Javier Botet (all the [REC] films) in a rubber-suit, a design that falls somewhere in between fluke-man from that episode of the X-Files and albino xenomorph. 

The cast is really good here, Milo Ventimiglia is chewing up a bit of scenery to a degree as the religious zealot farmer, I found my self hating and liking him in equal measure, and Shawn Ashmore is always a welcome, expecting him to be a clueless hick-cop, but he turns out to not be. I dug Amanda Schull's agent who is out to prove herself in the face of a past tragedy that is revealed but not dwelled on. Also be on the lookout for Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as the local sheriff who hates that the F.B.I. is in town investigating the disappearances.  

There's not a whole lot I didn't like about this one, I went along with it just fine, my ideas of about what the creature-menace was evolved throughout and I liked the direction it went, though there was scene wherein the FBI agent spots a small black and white photo hanging on the wall of the house and pops out a theory that seem a bit far-fetched, I mean she just sees this thing and goes off on a tear, spotting minute details she couldn't possibly have glanced at the distance she saw it from, but that's just a small niggle, otherwise this was a tense thriller with some fun sci-fi/supernatural phenomena, and I like that it kept a fun air of mystery about it, feeling a bit like a stand-alone episode of the X-files, in a good way. I didn't love it, but this was an entertaining watch. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)


Label: Umbrella Entertainment 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 88 Minutes
Rating: R
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen(1.77:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Tom Savini
Cast: Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Katie Finneran, Tom Towles, Patricia Tallman

Synopsis: Fleeing from the legion of limping undead, a small group of survivors comprised of Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness), Ben (horror legend Tony Todd, Candyman) and Harry (Tom Towles, Halloween), hole-up in a remote farmhouse and prepare for a bloody onslaught. As the marauding zombies surround the house, tensions between the survivors flare up, desperate to do anything to survive the hideous battle that is before them.

Directed with flair and gusto by leading horror exponent Tom Savini (who provided make-up effects for Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead), Night of the Living Dead cuts to the chase and sets the splatter count high – leaving behind a grisly trail of blood and guts, like any good zombie movie should.

Much like the original Romero film the Tom Savini remake opens with siblings Johnny (Bill Moseley, The Devil's Rejects) and Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness) visiting their mother's grave at a rural cemetery - it's as picturesque a location as could hope for in an eternal resting spot with it's rolling green hills overlooking a lake. Johnny is an acerbic and witty sibling who takes pleasure in tormenting his more reserved sister about zombies, intoning the iconic line "they're coming to get you Barbara" with a ghoulish Boris Karloff affectation, while also referencing how horny the dead can be. On cue a disheveled man with a bloody wound on his head stumbles into the scene, you're thinking , there it is, that's the zombie, but in a nice bit of misdirection the man is only dazed and injured, he mumbles an vague apology before wandering off, and while we're watching him from screen left a zombie shows up, Johnny struggles against the fiend for a bit while Barbara screams her head off. Johnny then falls onto a gravestone at a weird angle, his neck snaps, it's a brutal fall that always makes me cringe. The panic-stricken Barbara flees the scene and eventually ends up at a rural farmhouse, where the rest of the film plays out. 

It's at the farmhouse that Barbara meets Ben (Tony Todd, Candyman) who  also finds the house while fleeing the chaos of whatever it is that's happening in the area, a radio informs them that people are turning violent and cannibalistic.  The two set about clearing the house of a few zombies, fortifying the entrances and windows in an effort to prevent the massing zombie hordes from entering the home. They remove doors from entry ways inside the home and barricade the windows, in the process of looking for lumber they discover the house is not as empty as it once appeared, in the basement they find hard-ass Harry Cooper (Tom Towles, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), his wife put-upon Helen (McKee Anderson), plus their young daughter Sarah (Heather Mazur, TV's Pretty Little Liars), who it turns out was bitten by one of the flesh-hungry fiends. The young girl is deathly ill but no one realizes just yet how dire the situation really is for her and for them yet. Also taking refuge in the basement is a teenage couple Tom Bitner (William Butler, Ghoulies II) and his girlfriend Judy Rose Larson (Katie Finneran, TV's Wonderfalls).

Immediately Cooper rubs Ben the wrong way - both are strong headed men of action who have differing opinions on the best course of action in regard to holding off the zombies, which leads to a loads of hard-headed tension on both end with plenty of drama and physical altercations, with damning consequences. One of the most noticeable departures from the original is that Barbara as portrayed by short-coiffed ginger Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5) is quite the opposite of the nearly catatonic blond Barbara (Judith O'Dea) from the '68 original. Tallman is a red-haired fire-brand, she starts off a bit  on the prissy side but by the film's end she is a straight-up zombie-killing bad-ass, it's a great switch-up and makes for a better film. Tony Todd capably fills the shoes of Duane Jones as Ben - this just might be Todd's finest performance in my opinion, he's a likable guy with good intentions. Special mention goes out to Tom Towels (Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum) as the abrasive Harry Cooper, a real bastard, super unpleasant and quite intense, there's a nice exchange of words between his character and Ben as they fight over control of the only TV in the house. I love it when Towles character heatedly calls people "lame brains" and "yo-yos", which he does a lot! 

The film has atmosphere to spare, the rural farmhouse proves to be an claustrophobic setting as hordes of zombies arrive at the farmhouse until they end up falling through the boarded up windows like a mass of swarming insects. The sound of incessant hammering  as windows are boarded up and patched throughout the siege is unnerving, the zombies are slow-moving shamblers, it's creepy stuff, it worked in the original and it work with this one. 

Sadly, this would be the only feature length film directed by splatter-master Tom Savini - though a remake of Nightmare City is in the works -  he's directed some shorts both before and after but this is far and away his finest moment behind the camera. The extras reveal that Savini had some really elaborate Argento-esque gore gags and ideas that were vetoed by Romero and the producers, who apparently meddled quite a bit on this one, keeping Savini from adding his own stylish flair and keeping more to the look and feel of the original film, I still love this one though, but I have to say I really wanted to see some of Savini's ideas executed on film! 

The films is shot in color but like the black and white original it is propelled by chilling atmosphere and dread, not just gore, though there are certainly some great gore provided by the capable special effects make-up team of John Vulich (Re-Animator, The Hidden) and Everett Burell (Dolls) whom created some great zombie make-ups for the film, the undead in this one look fantastic, this is all pre-digital and everything looks wonderfully gruesome, with loads of memorable zombies, including a cool-looking autopsy zombie with the y-incision on his chest. 

The film pretty much sticks to the blueprint of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) save for a few fun twists, one being the wickedly great finale, there's a delicious irony in Ben taking final refuge in the basement after disputing it so vehemently with Cooper, because as we all know after watching the original, Cooper was actually right about holing up in the basement. I've always said in conversation with my son, if there was a zombie outbreak I'd climb on the roof and lay low for a bit, no one ever seems to do that in movies, but at least temporarily the rood seem like a damn good option, right? Anyway, there's  a fun final twists with Barbara and Cooper that always blows me away with this one, great stuff from the beginning to the end, this is one of the best remakes ever. 

Reversible Artwork
Audio/Video: Night of the Living Dead (1990) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Aussie distributor Umbrella Entertainment in 1080p HD widescreen 1.77:1., the framing is slightly cropped compared to the TT Blu-ray, but only just slightly. Notably this is sourced from a different HD master than the now out-of-print 2012 Twilight Time Blu-ray, which was infamous for having the daylight scenes tinted a heavy blue to simulate dusk, which angered a lot of fans. This Blu-ray corrects that error with the original warmer tones without the blue-tinting, which is excellent news. This looks to be sourced from a theatrical print with the some dirt and minor print damage throughout, mostly by way of white speckling and not much else. Grain looks solid, it's not DNR-scrubbed to death and there's some pleasing fine detail, but the condition of the source is not as well-graded as the Twilight Time version, though I don't think anyone will much mind the slight step down in source quality versus having the original color grading. 
Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with optional English subtitles, there's some nice atmospheric touches in the surrounds but the majority of the action is front and center, dialogue is crisp and the atmospheric score from Paul McCullough and effects sound great in the mix, robust and immersive. 

Umbrella carry-over all the extras from the previous DVD version, this includes the theatrical trailer, making of featurette and the audio commentary with director Tom Savini, it's a relaxed and scene-specific commentary covering many facets of the film, it's quite an interesting listen as he discusses the numerous splatter scene excised from the film by the MPAA and an alternate death scene for the character of Helen. The TT Blu-ray was missing the making-of piece, but did have an isolated score highlighting the score by composer Paul McCollough (The Majorettes), which this release does not, the TT release also had a booklet with liner notes from Julie Kirgo.  

Umbrella also offer up some new extras produced by Severin films, with the help of Red Short Pictures' Michael Felsher, beginning with a 28 minute interview with director Tom Savini who goes into how he was chosen to direct, his preparation for the film by creating over six-hundred storyboards, and his general unhappiness  during the making of the film, partly because he was going through a divorce at the time.He also discusses how Romero and producers keept him from executing some if his ideas due to tone and budget, and you can tell it really bothered him. He goes into some great detail about deleted and unfilmed scenes, some with accompanying storyboards. He also discusses the cast, and who auditioned for the role of Ben that didn't land the role, including Laurence Fishburn (The Matrix) and Eriq La Salle (TV's ER).

There's also an interview with special make-up effects supervisors John Vulich and Everett Burrell who touch on a few excised scenes and visiting a morgue in Pittsburgh   to do research on corpses, going into detail how they strived for authenticity in the undead, not just a coll artists rendering of the undead, notably the yellow fleshtones. They also go into the ideas like a cool sound bullet POV shot that was dreamed-up by Savini that he was not allowed to film.

Next up is star Patricia Tallman who recounts auditioning for the role, being a Romero fan from way back, being drawn-in by the characters shift from meek in the original to a total bad-ass woman and her experiences on-set with Savini, Tom Towles and the rest of the cast. 

The single-disc release comes housed in an over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side featuring the original movie poster illustration, the b-side a good-looking illustration from Umbrella's in house designer Simon Sherry. The disc itself featuring an excerpt of the a-side artwork. It's nice to finally have a NOTLD '90 release with some decent looking artwork, past releases have been not-so-great, including the TT release. 

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with Director Tom Savini
- The Dead Walk Featurette (25 min) 
- NEW! Tom Savini Interview (28 min) HD 
- NEW! Return to the Living Dead: Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Supervisors John Vulich and Everett Burrell (21 min) HD 
- NEW! Being Barbara: Interview with Lead Actress Patricia Tallman interview (17 min) HD 
- Behind the Scenes featurette (8 min) SD
- Trailer (1 min) HD 

Night of the Living Dead (1990) is a chilling and poignant take on George A. Romero's '68 original, with Romero himself penning the screenplay the film follows the sketch of the iconic black and white classic with precision with but a few nice surprises. I will offer up that when I take in Romero's trilogy of the Dead I actually throw this on instead of the '68 original oftentimes - which might be heresy - but I think it's that good. As remakes of classic horror films go this is right up there with The Blob (1988), The Thing (1982) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) in my opinion - definitely one of the better horror entries of the 90's. The Blu-ray from Umbrella looks and sounds great with the correct color grading and the extras are super-cool, highly recommended. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

ANNIHILATION (2018) (4K UltraHD+Blu-ray+Digotal Review)

Label: Paramount Pictures 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 115 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Alex Garland 
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Sonoya Mizuno 

I was thoroughly  impressed with director Alex Garland's debut film, the A.I. tale Ex Machina (2015), and I was excited to see what he would bring us next. He was already a talented sci-fi screenwriter before Ex Machina with films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine to his name, but his directorial debut was both electrifying and stunning. With his sophomore bit of direction he gets to play in a larger sandbox with the story of a meteor impacting the Earth on the coast of Florida, it strikes a lighthouse which become ground zero for a strange phenomena dubbed the "shimmer", a multi-colored translucent curtain that envelopes the area around the lighthouse, slowly expanding deeper into a swamp, threatening to eventually swallow more heavily inhabited areas. The military have quarantined the area and sent in multiple military forces to investigate, but communication is lost once the men enter the shimmer and the men never reappear, save for one. After having disappeared for over a year on a secretive military mission Army Special Forces soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse) returns home unexpectedly to the surprise of his still grieving wife Lena (Natalie Portman, The Professional), a cellular biologist, who clearly believed him to be dead. 

His startled wife presses him for details about his whereabouts for the past year but he's not forthcoming with any specifics, in fact he seems unable to recollect exactly what happened at all, which upsets her. Soon after arriving he falls ill and begins to bleeds from his nose leading to Lena calling an ambulance, en route to the hospital they are intercepted by military police who take both to a military facility known as Area X and placed in quarantine. There Lena is questioned by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) who interogates her questions about her husband's strange reappearance, in addition to informing her about the "shimmer", explaining that it's an electromagnetic field of alien origins that's been expanding for three years, inside the perimeter plants and animal are transformed in strange ways, animals are hybridized, even humans who enter the shimmer are transformed as well. 

With her husband quickly deteriorating from systemic organ failure cellular biologist Lena joins Ventress on a research mission into the shimmer in hopes of obtaining information that could possibly save her husband's life, or at least give her an understanding of what happened to him. The team consists of physicist Josie Radeck (Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok),  geomorphologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny, Stoned) and paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez, TV's Jane the Virgin). Once inside the team quickly discover that their communications do not work and they experience a reoccurring loss of time and they cannot seem to get a bearings. Eventually make their way to an abandoned military base where Kane and the previous expedition holed up for a a period of time, there they find a memory card from a video camera which contains video of Kane and the others cutting open one of the soldiers while he's still alive, revealing that his intestines are moving around like the coils of python inside of the man.  

Along the way a sense of hopelessness and dread settle upon the group, they're attacked by a mutated albino alligator with what looks to be the teeth of a shark, and a hideous emaciated looking bear with a harrowing shriek that sounds like it's screaming "help me", mimicking the voice/cries of one of the women who was attacked and carried off by the beast earlier, it's a strange and dread-filled touch, and the attack is brutal. The beast tears the lower jaw off of one of the women in the process, her tongue left hanging from her torn mouth, there's not a lot of gore, but what there is is pretty damn disturbing, just wait till you see what happens to the corpse of the man with the squirming intestines! The group also begins to crumble as the women begin to contemplate what exactly is happening, turning on one another when it is revealed that Lena's husband was part of the earlier expedition, a fact that was known only to Lena and Dr. Ventress but kept from the remainder of the group. 

The film is based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer which I've never read, but it bares more than a passing resemblance to the H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Color Out of Space" which has been adapted many times before (Die Monster Die, The Curse II), it tells the story in flashback (as Annihilation also does) of a meteorite that lands on Earth, transforming the landscape and afflicting the local inhabitants, I'm not saying it rips it off but it certainly is heavily influenced by it in many ways, as I have not read the novel I cannot say if this is something shared by the source material or something brewed into the adaptation.  

Set in the transformed swamps of Florida (but cleverly shot in England) the film balances a familiar setting with a subtle alien transformations, we see strangely hybridized flowers, deer with tree-like antlers, strange fish, and crystalline trees, all set among the dense canopy of moss covered trees drenched in pervasive fog, it's familiar yet alien all at same time. The hybrid creatures and transformed plant life are cool looking, though I would have loved to see more of creatures, but what we do get is pretty great. The film comes to a deeply satisfying discovery/encounter when some of the surviving team finally make their way to the epicenter of the event at the lighthouse that I thought was a real showstopper, with Lena discovering the true fate of her husband in a mind-bending sequence. It's something strange, unknowable and hard to describe, which was a lot of the essence of what Lovecraft wrote about, definitely falling into the category of a slow-burn sci-of tale along the lines of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in that it's a movie that moves along decidedly paced with a stunning visual event that caps it off, but still maintains a lot of it's mystery, and I liked it a lot, I didn't love it, but I've watched it three times this week, and each time I was more and more intrigued by the questions and ideas it posed, not just of alien encounters but of human grief, loss and environmental issues. 
Audio/Video: Annihilation arrives on 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray on this 2-disc set from Paramount Pictures, framed in the theatrical aspect ratio of  2160p HD widescreen (2.39:1). For a science fiction film I will say that visually the movie has a bit of a subdued color palette, there's a lot of lush green swamp canopy punctuated by some muted colors, a lot of it shrouded of fog, but the 4K does offer some crisp visuals with nice clarity, resolving the fog nicely, details of the mutated creatures and plant life which populate the swamp look fantastic.  The effect of the prismatic shimmer which envelops the area has a nice unearthly quality about it, the purples and greens of it have a good intensity in 4K. It looks true to the theatrical but might not be the truly eye-popping 4K UltraHD experience some might be hoping for visually.  

Audio comes by way of both English Dolby Atmos with optional English subtitles, the Atmos track strong and robust, the sounds of the surrounding swamp come to life in the surrounds, and the score from of Ben Salisbury and Portishead's Geoff Barrow (Ex Machina) is nicely atmospheric but also menacing throughout, particularly during the stunning finale which becomes an overwhelming symphony of low-end frequency and dread-making sounds. Everything is razor sharp and crisply delivered, dialogue is never hard to decipher. 

Onto the extras we get three 2-part featurettes which add-up to about 72-minutes in total. These feature contributions from the director, cast, cinematographer and special effects crew members, it goes into adapting the source material, the shooting locations, selecting the cast, creating the digital and practical effects, I found it all very interesting, this is a film that doesn't button up a lot of questions you might have after watching it, and truthfully the extras don't either, but I enjoyed hearing about the process of making the film. 

The 2-disc 4k/Blu-ray release is a Best Buy exclusive for the time being, it comes in a black 4K keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork and a slipcover with the same art. The artwork itself is a standard issue photo-shopped floating head style number that doesn't impress on any level. As a side note, I do wish that they would not print the HDR box directly on the slipcover and the sleeve, what an eyesore!   

Special Features: 
Part 1 Southern Research 
- Refractions (11 min) HD
- For Those That Follow (15 min) HD
Part 2 - Area X
- Shimmer (12 min) HD
- Vanished Into Havoc (15 min) HD
Part 3 - To the Lighthouse
- Unfathomable Mind (12 min) HD
- The Last Phase (8 min) HD

Annihilation (2018) is a science fiction film of the brain-tingling variety, it's not a alien shoot 'em up disguised as science fiction movie, it's a sci-fi film that makes you think, it inspires wonder, and might leave some viewers thoroughly unsatisfied, but it's exploration of environmental and behavioral ideas are interesting. We get some healthy world building and visuals with a healthy dose of Lovecraft-ian other-worldliness made for a great watch. I've watched it three more times this week and each viewing brought a bit more understanding but more questions than answers, but that's the sort of the sci-fi I tend to love. It's a slow-burn that generates wonder not finality, highly recommended for fans of thoughtful sci-fi and Lovecraftian horror.   

THE MATRIX (1999) (4K UltraHD Review)


Label: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 136 Minutes
Audio: Dolby Atmos 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 2160p HD Widescreen (2.39:1)
Director: The Wachowskis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

I remember walking out of the cinema in 1999 after taking in The Matrix and being all like "whoa!", my mind was properly blown by the kung-fu sci-fi actioner, the story of a computer programmer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves, River's Edge) who also goes by the hacker handle "Neo". As the story unfolds he learns that his perceived reality is really an elaborate virtual simulation created by intelligent machines that have enslaved mankind for hundred of years at this point, having placed all of humanity into fluid-filled pods, immersed in a false digital reality, all the while feeding off of their warmth and electrical activity, effectively turning people into the batteries that power this dystopian future-world while humans believe that their virtual prison is a true reality.

The movie opens with in very noir scenario with the character Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, Fido) being pursued by police, she's cornered in a room at gunpoint when the film kicks into reality-bending awesomeness as she runs up a wall and the camera does a full 360 degree turn around her as she whoops some serious ass, defying gravity with a kinetic blend of kung-fu and black leather-clad cyberpunk aesthetics. Trinity later makes contact with Neo inviting him to a meet with the resistance leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburn, John Wick: Chapter 2), who gives him a choice, take the blue pill and remain in his current reality, or take the red pill and have the veil lifted from his eyes. He chooses the red pill and finds his perceived reality literally melting away before his eyes, waking up naked in a goo-filled pod where he basically flushed down the drain by the machines, where he is picked-up by Morpheus in a hovercraft vehicle named the Nebuchadnezzar. Once on-board he is introduced to the rest of the resistance fighters who have aligned themselves with Morpheus, we have Cypher (Joe Pantoliano, Memento), brothers Dozer (Marcus Chong, The Crow: Wicked Prayer) and Tank (Anthony Ray Parker, Dead Air), Apoc (Julian Arahanga, Once We Were Warriors), Switch (Belinda McClory, Turkey Shoot) and Mouse (Matt Doran, The Thin Red Line). Once they get Neo up to speed he learns of the intelligent machine uprising of the 21st century, of how machine rose up against the humans and enslaved them in the Matrix, pacifying their minds with the illusion of reality, and of how there are freed humans living in a secret city called Zion, and how the Matrix is protected by sentient programs called Agents who manifest as C.I.A. looking spooks in suits, lead by Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings) as Agent Smith. 

Neo is trained in the ways of the Matrix, taught that his strength and skill inside the Matrix world are only limited by his imagination and determination, and niftily he can learn kung-fu and martial arts by simply downloading them directly into his brain through a port created by the machines, leading to a fantastic dojo fight sequence with Morpheus, one of the early highlights of the film, as Morpheus presses him to go beyond his perceived limits while inside the Matrix. . 

The action in this one comes fast and furious, plenty of cyber-kinetic kung-fu action rolled into the heady philosophical mind-fucking, with Neo and the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar re-entering the Matrix and facing off against the dreaded agents while also facing real world threats like the squid-like machine known as Sentinels who hunt the freed humans. Also mixed into this is a budding love story between Neo and Trinity, plus a Christ-like prophecy with Morpheus believing Neo to be the "chosen one" who will lead to the destruction of the Matrix once and for all.

This was mega-hit right out of the gate from what I remember, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box-office, inspiring loads of action and sci-fi films in it's wake, including two sequels of it's own. The kinetic kung-fu action and slick cyberpunk visuals - including "bullet time" - have been aped and re-used ad nauseum since it was revealed here, it was certainly a ground-breaking movie, though the cyberpunk, mind-bending sci-fi and dystopian elements were seen previously in films like Dark City (1998) and Strange Days (1995), but this is the one that captured movie goers attentions the most, it expanded on and perfected what those films hinted at. 

Audio/Video: The Matrix (1999) arrives on 3-disc Blu-ray/4K UltraHD + Digital from Warner Home Entertainment with a new 4K transfer from the original camera negative, supervised by the film’s director of photography, Bill Pope (Baby Driver) framed in 2160p HD Widescreen (2.39:1), and the results are potent. The image has a pleasing layer of film grain, it's crisp and finely detailed with facial details and textures coming through as never before, this is a very pleasing upgrade in fine detail and texture. Color grading is notably different than past editions have been, the somewhat overwhelming green hue has been toned down, the skin tones look more natural as a result, but the new color-grading isn't perfect in my eyes, it fluctuates quite a bit, and some of the whites do seem slightly blown in certain scenes, but overall I find this to be a nice upgrade that brought me lots of enjoyment.

Onto the audio, we get choice of Dolby Atmos or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, strangely the lossy Dolby Digital is the default audio option, with optional English (and many other languages) subtitles. The audio presentation for the Matrix has always been fantastic, from the cinema to the first DVD and onto the previous Blu-rays, but this new 4K presentation includes a new Dolby Atmos track, which is also included on the Blu-ray, that is simply stunning, the bass rumbles deeply, scenes of bullet-fire and breaking glass come through crispy and powerfully, everything is nicely balanced with the pulsing score pounding away, it's truly an ear-gasm of sound. 

Onto the extras we get what looks to be everything from the past releases ported over, with the 4K disc and Blu-ray containing the feature films plus a written introduction from the Wachowskis, and the four audio commentaries which includes a critic's commentary, a philosophers commentary, cast and crew and one from the composer, the highlight is the philosopher's commentary, it adds a lot to the viewing experience. Disc one also includes the In-Movie Experience which features commentary and video interviews that pop-up during playback. A second Blu-ray contains the rest of the extensive special features which are quite good, it's been years since I re-watched any of them, so it was a fun revisit. 

This 4K release comes housed in a black 4K keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the white rabbit, which I'm not too keen on, but it does include a slipcover with a slightly more attractive artwork, but not by much. I think my favorite artwork for the original Matrix release was the Best Buy exclusive Steelbook with the pod artwork, I would have loved that for this release. 

Special Features:
- Written Introduction by the Wachowskis
- “Philosopher” Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilbur
- “Critics” Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson
- “Cast and Crew” Commentary by Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta
- “Composer” Commentary by Don Davis with Music Only Track
- The Matrix Revisited (123 min)
- The Music Revisited (
- Behind the Matrix (33 min)
- Follow the White Rabbit (23 min)
- Take the Red Pill (18 min)
- Marilyn Manson “Rock is Dead” Music Video (3 min)
- Teaser Trailer (1 min)
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
- TV Spots (4 min)

The Matrix (1999) still looks great some twenty years later, though some of the leather-clad visuals haven't exactly aged well in my opinion, and the digital Sentinels and scenes of the digitally created Nebuchadnezzar cruising through the utility tunnels of the future stand out as not being seamless integrated, especially with this 4K presentation, but otherwise I'm still impressed by the production design and detail that went into this one. The fight-sequences are outstanding and well shot, the energy and momentum combined with the gravity defying special effects in 4K are still mesmerizing,

This release was sent by Warner Bros. for review on the site, but this did not effect the review one way or the other, the review is my own. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Impulse Pictures Releases naughty Nikkatsu 'Nun Story' and 'White Rose Campus' in July 2018


Label: Impulse Pictures
Release Date: July 10th 2018 
Duration: 69 Minutes
Rwgion Code:1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles  
Director: Nobuaki Shirai
Cast: Eri Kanuma, Nami Misaki, Yuri Yamashina

A young woman takes a vow to become a nun for the rest of her life. Now known as "Sister Maria," she settles in at the local monastery for her new life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Maria soon discovers something horrifying is happening within its locked gates... Something beyond mere sin! The nuns are being mercilessly tortured and when they try to flee, they suffer a worse fate! After a brutal assault, Maria discovers she is now pregnant. Knowing it is strictly forbidden for any nun to have relations with men, Maria must figure out how to escape her own living Hell!

Nikkatsu Films is famous for their controversial and sexually-themed films, but with NUN STORY: FRUSTRATION IN BLACK they tackle one of the most forbidden taboos with explicit nunsploitation.

Special Features:
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles


Label: Impulse Pictures
Release Date: July 10th 2018 
Duration: 66 Minutes
Region Code: 1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital Mono with Optional English Subtitles  
Director: Koyu Ohara
Cast: Nami Misaki, Ayako Ota, Waka Oda, Makato Mino

A relaxing and fun White Rose Academy field trip turns horrifying when a school bus full of young girls is hijacked by rifle wielding, cross-dressing thugs. These sex-crazed maniacs have no agenda except to fulfill their own sexual desires. Soon all the "ugly" girls are thrown off the bus and those that remain are subjected to unspeakable assault and terror. Will any of them escape this living nightmare?

Prepare yourself for WHITE ROSE CAMPUS, one of the most notorious, controversial, and offensive titles ever released from Nikkatsu Film Corporation. This 1982 oddity makes its North American DVD debut from Impulse Pictures in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer with newly-translated, removable English subtitles. Watch it, if you dare!

Special Features:
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Newly Translated Removable English Subtitles

Provocative Thriller 'The Cured' Makes Blu-ray and DVD Debut July 3rd, 2018 from Scream Factory

THE CURED (2018) 

What happens when the undead return to life? In The Cured, the world has been ravaged for years by a virus that turns the infected into zombie-like cannibals, until a cure is at last found and the wrenching process of reintegrating the survivors back into society begins. Available July 3rd, 2018 from Scream Factory, in conjunction with IFC Midnight, this provocative thriller also comes with a behind the scenes featurette as a bonus feature. Fans of this creepy film can pre-order their copies now at

Among the formerly afflicted is Senan (Sam Keeley, This Must Be The Place), a young man haunted by the horrific acts he committed while infected. Welcomed back into the family of his widowed sister-in-law (Ellen Page, Juno), Senan attempts to restart his life — but is society ready to forgive him and those like him? Or will fear and prejudice once again tear the world apart? Pulsing with provocative parallels to our troubled times, The Cured is a smart, scary, and hauntingly human tale of guilt and redemption.

The Cured Bonus Features
- Behind the scenes featurette
- Theatrical trailer
The Cured (2018) - Official Trailer (HD)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

BRUCE'S DEADLY FINGERS (1976) (VCI Blu-ray Review)


Label: VCI Entertainment 

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes
Audio: English Uncompressed PCM Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Joseph Kong 
Cast: Bruce Le, Chen Wai-man, Lo Lieh, Nora Miao

In the past I have found kung-fu martial arts films to be something of a mind-numbing experience, while I've always been drawn to a variety of exploitation cinema genres the kung fu films have always kind of bored me if I'm being honest. The whole "bruceploitation" thing is brand new to me as well, I've known of them for quite a long time, but I've never sat through one, till this one. Bruce's Deadly Fingers stars Bruce Lee knock-off Bruce Le, who I know from the bonkers 80's slasher Pieces (1982), he appears in that one as a non-sequitur character known only as "karate professor" who shows up for about a minute of complete what-the-fuckery.

The plot of this one is a bit of a scramble to me, I think I'd need to watch it a few more time to get it completely right, but the gist of it is that a bad-guy gangster (Lo Lieh, Black Magic) is obsessed with owning the late Bruce Lee's fictional 'Kung Fu Finger Book', a book that he wrote shortly before he died detailing a series of deadly take-downs you can perform with one-finger... I shit you not, this is the impetus of the movie. To that end he sends his kung-fu cronies to kidnap Bruce Lee's ex-girlfriend who somehow knows the whereabouts of said lethal literature. Enter Bruce Lee lookalike Bruce Le as Bruce Wong (that's a lot of Bruces!), a kung-fu master who somehow gets caught up in the action, and who also wants to gain the knowledge of from the coveted 'Kung Fu Finger Book', also setting out to rescue his sister who has fallen under the diabolical control of the nefarious gangster. 

That's about the most plot I could extract from this one on the first go round, it's overlong at an hour and half, the bad dialogue is mind-numbing, but there's plenty of Kung-fu action and enough WTF-ery throughout that I kept plugged in, right on through to the eye-plucking/role credit finale. 

I thought Bruce Le was a decent stand-in for the late Bruce Lee, he certainly has a passing resemblance to the fists of fury legend, often wearing familiar looking track suits and eye-wear to reinforce  that similarity, aping the masters moves, but not with the supernatural grace of Lee, but the fight choreography is fun to watch, from the kicks and punches that seem to send opponents hurling through the air as if there was a tiny explosive charge on the appendage delivering the blows, to the constant nose-thumbing of our sinewy shirtless hero, it's got all the stuff you're looking for in a low-budget Kung-fu film, I was certainly entertained. 

Audio/Video: Bruce's Deadly Fingers (1976) arrives on dual-format DVD/Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment, in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. This is advertised as being a new 2K scan from the original 35mm negative, but the image has been good and scrubbed of fine detail and textures with some excessive DNR, so textures and facial features are waxy and lack definition, sadly. There's some speckling, scratches and print damage evident throughout, nothing to egregious, and a frame or two missing from certain scenes, plus some light fading to the image - it's a grindhouse presentation for sure, but relatively clean, actually a little too clean, the grain has been scrubbed right off the image. Audio comes by way of an English dubbed uncompressed PCM Mono 2.0 track with optional English subtitles, the dialogue sounds appropriately boxy (it is dubbed after all) and thin with some hiss and distortion creeping into it. The score on this one is fun, the title track sounding like a version of a spaghetti western, and music Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon' is sampled a few times, which I loved, this movie just straight-up steals music from Pink Floyd, I'm sure there's no way this was properly licensed, it's rather shocking. 

Onto the extras we get an audio commentary from Michael Worth - author, director, actor, and expert on Bruce Lee, and Bruceploitation films, which I appreciated, being not too familiar with this strange chopsocky sub-genre I appreciated his informative track, he opens with talking about catching the film on a double-feature with teh David Carradine vehicle Circle of Iron (1978) and not knowing it wasn't actually a Bruce Lee film for about ten minutes, as it was deceptively advertised. If you dig his commentary check out his podcast which he co-hosts with Mathew Whitaker, The Clone Cast, which covers bruceploitation films, they're up to nineteen episodes so far and they covered this one on their very first episode. There's also six-minutes of deleted scenes that were cut from the U.S. version. thirteen-minutes of bruceploitation trailers, a trailer for the film, a six-minute gallery of images and lobby cards for the movie,  plus a three-minute montage of bad dubbing featured in the movie. This is a dual format release, the DVD features the same extras and main feature in standard definition.

The 2-disc dual format release comes housed in a clear 2-tray Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, both of which look to be based on home video versions, I din't think the film originally ran in the cinema under this title.  Each disc featuring the same shot of Bruce Le with nun-chucks, the Blu-ray disc with an orange background, the DVD with a yellow background.  

Special Features: 

- Commentary track by Michael Worth - author, director, actor, and expert on Bruce Lee, and 'Bruceploitation films' !
- Deleted Scenes (6 min) HD 
- Brucesploitation Trailers (13 min) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer in HD!(4 min) HD 
- Photo and Lobby Card gallery (6 min) HD 
- Bad Kung Fu Dubs (3 min) HD 

Bruce's Deadly Fingers (1976) features loads of kung-fu in addition to a lot of nude women being mistreated by bad men, from being subjected to vaginal tortures involving a lizard to being tied-up and/or gang-raped in a ring of fire, which from the looks of it probably singed a few of the actors in the process, that didn't look safe at all. I had a lot fun with this one, there's plenty of kung-fu action and mayhem to enjoy, my favorite being a training montage of Bruce Le in action, featuring images of the actual Bruce Lee peppered throughout, while Le is training he's finger-punching holes in wood planks and it ends with him five-finger penetrating a fucking rock - A ROCK - it looks like he's holding a five-holed bowling ball, which was hilarious.