Saturday, May 20, 2023

L.A. Wars (1994) (MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray Review)

L.A. WARS (1994) 
Special Edition Blu-ray 

Label: MVD Rewind Collection (#48)
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 91 Minutes 37 Seconds 
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono, LPCM 2.0 Stereo, French Mono, Italian Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1) 
Director: Tony Kandah & Martin Morris
Cast: Rodrigo Obregón, Carlo Giovani, Vince Murdoco, Mary E. Zilba, Johnny Venokur

In the straight-to-video 90's actioner L.A. War (1994) power crazed drug lord Raul Guzman (Rodrigo Obregón, Hard Ticket to Hawaii) and his crew are making moves into L.A. mafia boss Carlo Giovani's (A.J. Stephans) turf, brazenly stealing his money and drugs, angering the Italian kingpin. As the violence between the Central American newcomer and the Italian boss erupts into an all-out turf war Giovani's right hand enforcer Vinny (Johnny Venokur, Savage Streets) orders a hit on Guzman's crew. The hit kills Guzman's nephew, which triggers an attempt to kidnap Giovanni's sexy daughter Carla (Mary E. Zilba), which is interrupted by a disgraced former cop named Quinn (Vince Murdoco, Kickboxer 2: The Road Back), who kills the kidnappers, which earns him that gratitude of the mafia boss.

His former LAPD boss Capt. Roark (David Jean Thomas) has been looking for someone to go undercover within Giovanni's ranks and sees Quinn's newfound connection with the boss as the perfect opportunity to infiltrate his inner circle. With the promise of re-instating his badge Quinn reluctantly agrees, joining the crime family as the personal bodyguard for Giovani's beautiful daughter, much to the dismay of Vinny who is unhappy that the mafia boss is bringing someone in from the outside. It doesn't help that Carla is attracted to Quinn while she won't give the increasing obsessed Vinny the time of day, and when Quinn and the mob princess hook up it drives Vinny nuts. 

Eventually Vinny attempts to rape Carla but is stopped by Quinn and tossed out on his ear by Giovanni, he then teams-up with Guzman to seek revenge on Giovani and to get his hands on Carla. Things get ugly as Giovanni's power is usurped, Guzman is double-crossed, and Quinn armed to the teeth storms a warehouse to rescue the kidnapped Carla, where he has to deal with Vinny's thugs Rosa (Kerri Kasem, daughter of radio legend Kasey Kasem) and her boyfriend Miguel (Butch Tonisala, Ring of Fire II: Blood and Steel) before dispatching of vile Vinny. 

This action flick falls somewhere betweens the Andy Sidaris school of machismo action-packed cheese and the balls-out low-budget pluck of something like Action U.S.A., chock full of heightened acting (to be polite about it), rock hard fake tits, big muscles, some ropey but fun martial arts, and a couple of impressive explosions. This is perfect Friday night no-brainer entertainment, a scrappy low-budget action flick dripping with testosterone, stereotypes, and big-dumb action. The opening scenes feature shotgun-toting Rosa shooting at a car which inexplicably turns into an instant fireball - it don't make sense but it makes total 80's/90s action-sense, you know? It's also full of gratuitous nudity, bad guys with Uzis, and a lot of angry square-jawed guys that are so amped-up and mad that spittle is flying out of their mouths constantly. It all makes for a fun watch with no shortage of cop-action flick cliches either. It's not original, the plot is threadbare, the budget is low but the pure entertainment value of this straight-to-vide gem is priceless, I had a blast with it - recommended. 

Audio/Video: L.A. War (1994) was previously issued on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in 2019, that limited edition VSA release is long out-of-print but this MVD Rewind Collection release brings it back into print using the same 2020 2K restoration of the archival 16mm elements, framed in the original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio. The source is not flawless, there are white specks and quite a few horizontal lines throughout, but the course 16mm grain and textures look organic and have some pleasing detail, and colors are generally quite pleasing. Audio options include English LPCM 2.0 Mono, LPCM 2.0 Stereo, plus PCM Digital French Mono and Italian Mono with optional English subtitles. Neither of the English options are overly dynamic track but it does the job; gunshots, explosions and dialogue are well-balanced. 

Carried-over from the Vinegar Syndrome release is the 17-min Starting a War - A Conversation with L.A. Wars producer, co-writer and co-director Tony Kandah, he discusses his early career in commercials, then a PA, before jumping headfirst into L.A. Wars, writing the script in 9 days, securing the financing, how much he loved pulling it all together, the collaborative elements, and what he loves about shooting action, and the logistics of shoot an exploding car flip. He also touches on a few of the production struggles, mistakes in the film, and the importance of staying true to your vision, as well as his longtime friendship with Mark Morris. Also carried over is the 23-min Shoot First - Interview with ‘L.A. Wars’ cinematographer Mark Morris; the cinematographer speaks about coming off a string of Andy Sedaris flicks, introducing co-director Martin Morris (no relation) to Tony Kandah, as well as editor Michael Haight who he knew from the Sedaris flicks, in addition to Sedaris alum Rodrigo Obregón as one of the big-bads . He also gets into the very quick pre-production, his style of shooting fight sequences, explosions, and car chase sequences on a budget, shooting on 16mm film for the first time here, and how impressed he was by the toughness of Murdoco and the other guys during the fight sequences, and being pleased that not only did he actually get paid but he thought it turned out quite well given the limitations of the production. Not carried over from the VSA Blu-ray are a pair of audio interviews with Vince Murdocco and Rodrigo Obregon.

No frets though, MVD stamp this release with their own new extra(s) as well, we get a new Audio Commentary with producer, co-writer and co-director Tony Kandah moderated by ‘Cereal at Midnight’ host Heath Holland that is pretty great, both Kandah and Holland are enthusiastic about the flick, it's a fun conversation. That commentary is also featured as a video commentary recorded over video conferencing software. The disc is buttoned-up with Trailer for the film, an Image Gallery, plus a selection of MVD Trailers. 

The single-disc release arrives in a clear Viva Elite keepcase with a Reversible Sleeve of Artwork featuring two VHS artworks, plus a Limited Edition Slipcover that is available with the first pressing, which has the same artwork as the main wrap but with faux shelf-wear look to it with VHS rental stickers plastered all over it. Inside there's a Collectible Mini-Poster with one of the VHS artworks.

Special Features:
- High Definition (1080p) presentation of the main feature in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, scanned and restored in 2K in 2020 from 16mm archival elements
- Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono, LPCM 2.0 Stereo, French Mono, Italian Mono with Optional English Subtitles
- NEW! Audio Commentary with producer, co-writer and co-director Tony Kandah moderated by ‘Cereal at Midnight’ host Heath Holland.
- NEW! Video Commentary with producer, co-writer and co-director Tony Kandah & Heath Holland.
- "Starting a War" - Conversation with ‘L.A. Wars’ producer, co-writer and co-director Tony Kandah (17:26)
- "Shoot First" - interview with ‘L.A. Wars’ cinematographer Mark Morris. (23:00)
- Photo Gallery (2:04)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2:51) 
- Collectible Mini Poster
- Reversible Sleeve of Artwork
- MVD Trailers: Action USA (1:51), Miami Blues (2:11), Final Justice (1:42), Drive (1:38), Boogie Boy (2:23)

Screenshots from the MVD Rewind Blu-ray: