The Film: The story of Jackie Robinson entering professional baseball is one of the most inspirational in the annals of sports. ’s film takes broad strokes toward this landmark moment in history, but is aided by strong performances from both as Robinson and as Branch Rickey. Still, the dramatic beats are effectively struck and the postscript reminder of Jackie’s legacy is stirring.
Sight & Sound: 42 steps up to the plate with an impressive high-def transfer. The high level of detail in both flesh and fabric is striking, even as it shines through a sea of glaring natural light. When indoors, the lighting is largely warmer, softer. Some of the details can become lost in the contrast, but overall the picture quality is great. The sound mix is sensational in moments of action, diverting the din of the game to the front channels in an engaging roar. The rear mix seemed less active, hardly involved at all in fact, especially in the climatic game.
The Goodies: Warner Brothers has sadly skimped on the extras for this Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet release. There are only three featurettes that all basically cover the same information about the production. Even the short feature that is supposed to be about Robinson’s legacy is but another EPK fluff piece more glorifying of the film than of the man. With the extensive catalog of fascinating Robinson documentaries in existence, this Blu-ray’s bonus content feels sorely lacking.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If sports films in general, especially those based on true events, tend to move you, this film pays a mostly respectable tribute to one of the greatest sports stories and one of the most courageous human beings of all time.
Bullet to the Head
The Film: In the 80s, director redefined the buddy cop formula into something he called “the anti-buddy” movie. Unfortunately he’s saddled with a lead duo in Bullet to the Head bereft of anything resembling chemistry. is doing his best to bring energy to the limp script, but (who I really enjoyed in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) is dull and given absolutely nothing to work with, and the result is a woefully routine action romp.
Sight & Sound: The depth of contrast is the big draw to Bullet to the Head. Much of the film takes place at night, and the intentionally gritty film noir overtones present an interesting challenge. Truth be told, an increase in brightness would not have been unwelcome, but the slight dimness does little to detract from the richness of the transfer. The sound is excellent, as even conversations move dynamically about the front channel speakers. The rear channels are utilized especially well in echoing larger spaces, the ending warehouse for example, and the explosive action sequences. The quality mix on the Blu-ray also spotlights the phenomenal sound design of the film; the fight Foley art is particularly good.
The Goodies: Almost none to speak of on this Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo pack. There is one behind-the-scenes featurette, and to its credit, it has more of a pulse than the film itself.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you are a Stallone or Hill completionist, pick up this Blu-ray. Otherwise, not sure it’s for you.
Cohen and Tate
The Film: It is unsurprising that lists among his influences. Both Peckinpah and Red redefined the western, not only bringing a bleakness to the otherwise romantic genre but also physically redrawing the territories that comprise the wild west. Cohen and Tate is a road movie about two outlaws transporting a pint-sized eyewitness to a Houston mob boss. The conceit is simplistic perhaps, but the cinematography and stellar performances of and elevate the material and make Cohen and Tate a true gem.
Sight & Sound: Shout! Factory has done a remarkable job cleaning up the picture for the Blu-ray release of Cohen and Tate. One need only watch the deleted scenes to understand the state of the original film elements they had to work with. The picture is clear and the detail levels incredibly high. If there is a complaint to be had it's that it appears, looking at Baldwin’s overly smooth complexion, that perhaps the noise reduction was a bit overzealous. As to the sound mix, Shout! once again offers a 5.1 version as well as an HD re-master of the original 2.0 stereo track. The latter proves to be the better; working nicely with the dialogue if a bit underwhelming during the few action scenes.
The Goodies: A decent amount of extras to be found here, considering the relative obscurity of the film. There is a commentary with Eric Red, a retrospective featurette with cast and crew, deleted scenes, a still gallery, and the film’s trailer. The most entertaining of the lot has to be the appearances of the now-grownup who played young Travis in the film. Understandably, his memory of his costars is a bit…hazy.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Fans of classic hitman films, criminals-on-the-run flicks, and the grittier western stylings of Sam Peckinpah are in for a treat here. Also, Roy Scheider fans should definitely add this against-type villain performance to their collection.
The Film: In this fascinating documentary, former leaders of Israel's intelligence agency Shin Bet speak for the first time about the various operations that were executed under their tenure. Their storytelling is as candid and matter-of-fact as it is chilling. The Gatekeepers isn't exactly an indictment of Shin Bet, but it is far from an endorsement. The film uses the first-hand accounts of its subjects to delve into the complexities of what it means for a nation to obtain and retain that oh so dubious state of security.
Sight & Sound: The crisp, clear high-def transfer may seem superfluous for what is essentially a talking heads doc, but during the creative interstitials, this care is appreciated. The filmmakers actually transform stock photographs into 3D motion graphics as well as frame archive footage into encasing, digitally-produced surveillance bays that underscore the themes of the film. The sound is also far more elaborately mixed than I would have expected, and succeeds in communicating the frantic chaos of various riots and attacks discussed.
The Goodies: Few special features to speak of for this Sony Pictures Classics release. There is a commentary and Q&A with director Dror Moreh as well as The Gatekeepers' trailer. That being said, except in exceedingly rare circumstances, I’ve never understood the need for an abundance of bonus features on documentary releases in the first place.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Those with a nagging interest in world politics and/or the history of intelligence gathering will certainly appreciate The Gatekeepers. Be forewarned however, some of the archive images are quite graphic, so this doc may not be fore those with weak stomachs.
Hands of the Ripper
The Film: Though not featuring the likes of Frankenstein or Dracula, Hands of the Ripper is nonetheless an exemplary title in the Hammer canon. This psycho thriller weaves the tale of a young girl whose father was none other than Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately a portion of his innate evil has imparted itself upon her, turning her from demure to demented whenever triggered. It’s a sensational concept played with such striking sincerity by all involved. The setups may become rote quickly, but the payoffs are always satisfying. The film also boasts a rather emotionally complex ending.
Sight & Sound: Synapse has done a wonderful job with the HD transfer on Hands of the Ripper. The contrast is sharp, the blacks are inky, and the level of detail often belies the film’s age. It can be a bit noisy at points, but there is a note of aptness in its momentary imperfections. The audio is a DTS-HD re-master of the original mono soundtrack. It’s full enough, though your center channel will get most of the workout. There is also a dedicated music and effects track, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it’s for.
The Goodies: Synapse has included several varied bonus features on the Hands of the Ripper Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The documentary ‘The Devil’s Bloody Plaything’ is a wonderful retrospective featuring historians and filmmakers alike, including none other than . There is also a strange featurette entitled ‘Slaughter of Innocence,’ which is said to be an evolution of Hammer gore though it proves to be just a slideshow of makeup tests for various Hammer productions. Possibly the most unusual extra here is a recovered recording of the audio from the cut-down U.S. television broadcast. This intro to the film was an interview with an actor pretending to be a psychologist. Apparently the footage of this interview was lost in the Pinewood Studios fire of 2008. It adds an extra layer of mystique to the film if nothing else. Rounding out the bonus content are a still gallery and original TV spots.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Fans of Hammer, as well as those enamored of all British horror and any variations on the Jack the Ripper mythos will have a bloody good time with Synape’s Hands of the Ripper Blu-ray/DVD combo release.
The Film: After the enormous success of Hard Days Night, Britain’s Fab Four ditched the faux documentary style for a more narrative, more absurd comedy. For my money, Help! is the better film for precisely that reason. The Beatles are able to again employ their natural charms while simultaneously having their comedic muscles stretched by the over-the-top plot. The script has the breakneck wit of something as stellar as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the sight gags are fantastic. The requisite musical performance story breaks are present, but it helps that the guys are performing some of their very best songs. Hilarious, strange, well-shot, and endlessly entertaining, it’s about time Help! found its way to Blu-ray.
Sight & Sound: In many ways, Capitol Records’ Help! Blu-ray is the most impressive release of this entire group. The amount of painstaking care that has gone into resorting this cinematic oddity is unbelievable. Though it’s clear from the featurette that the majority of the restoration was done many years ago, most likely for a DVD release, the Blu-ray is bright, sharp, and impeccably polished piece by piece. The sound is exceptional, as one would hope from a film starring, and featuring the music of, The Beatles. In the DTS-HD 5.1, every strum of the guitar sounds like a private concert has broken out in your living room. Be aware however, the disc defaults to the PCM stereo so you'll need to manually make the switch.
Goodies: Help!’s lineup of extra goodies is amazing. Highly recommended here is the documentary ‘The Beatles in Help!’ featuring plenty of archive footage. Also included are a featurette of various cast members remembering the film, sadly neither of the living band members, a featurette about the restoration, an actual missing scene, as well as various trailers and radio spots. There is also included a sixteen-page booklet in the box sleeve with an intro from director as well as an mini-essay on the film by . We’re talking Criterion level extras here. Not to mention the fact that every section of the menu screen plays a different Beatles song from the movie. Even the menus feel like bonus features!
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Every Beatles fan, every music fan, every fan of British comedy absolutely must purchase this Help! Blu-ray release from Capitol Records. Definitely the pick of the litter this week.
The Film: ’s big screen adaptation of ’s puritan superhero has been available on Blu-ray overseas for years, given that the film was officially released in 2009. Now finally, Radius and The Weinstein Company have released it stateside. Though it takes liberties with the source material, Solomon Kane is precisely what comic book fans should demand of all darker, period-based superhero films. It presents us with a character dealing with morally and philosophically weighty issues, you know, in addition to being a total badass. We root for him not only to win fights, but to ultimately be redeemed. The story is excellent and the performances across the board, including the late , are tremendous. The digital and practical effects split screen time, complement one another beautifully, and are each expertly crafted.
Sight & Sound: Solomon Kane is a film that utilizes a great deal of darkness, low firelight, and dreary grey color atmosphere overlays. That being said, Radius and TWC have done a fine job balancing these color tones and keeping the overall picture quality clean and vivid. Details and flesh tones are consistent throughout, but admittedly the black levels are a bit foggy at points. The sound quality however is terrific. The 5.1 DTS-HD powerfully deploys sound elements to the appropriate channels, with the surrounds definitely actively engaged, and the result is a booming, immersing auditory experience that would function nicely as a demo for any home theater setup.
The Goodies: Solomon Kane comes equipped with no small amount of special features. Director Michael J. Bassett and star provide a commentary as well as an interview a piece. There is a making-of featurette, and one specific to the creation of the fire demon. A gorgeously-shot deleted scene and original concept art round out this packed Blu.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you’re a fan of superhero cinema, but like your heroes with a little extra severity, or if you’re a big fan of the likes of The Shadow and other period-based heroes, definitely pick up Solomon Kane on Blu-ray.
Street Trash-Special Meltdown Edition
The Film: A largely forgotten and, fittingly, trashy 80s horror film, Street Trash has cultivated a rather sizable cult following over the years. His first and only feature film directing credit, crafts a disgustingly entertaining story about a toxic liquor that causes the homeless and downtrodden who consume it to combust into colorful slime piles. It’s got a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, or more accurately a sharp-tongue-poking-through-melting-cheek sense of humor. It really has to be seen to be believed.
Sight & Sound: Synapse's Street Trash Blu is certainly cleaned up, but retains the appropriate amount of grain. The release makes liberal use of the film's vibrant palette even as it depicts the dingiest of locales. This vivid color is especially important for a sloppy goop-fest of an 80s horror film like Street Trash. The black levels are mostly strong with only a few instances of digression into milky territory. Once again, it is the 2.0 Stereo mix that proves to be more full and lively than the forced 5.1 update. The interactive menu with the bizarre soundtrack offering ‘We Do Things My Way’ by Tony Camillo is weirdly superb.
The Goodies: Synapse has loaded this release to the rancid rafters with special features. The highlight of the bonus content has to be the 2006 two-hour long documentary 'The Meltdown Memoirs.' Not only does this doc yield the most amusing anecdotes and original behind-the-scenes footage, but also something about its construction echoes the rebellious punk rock spirit of the film itself. Also included is the original 16mm short on which the feature was based. The Blu-ray additionally boasts an interview with actress , rare promotional teaser and original trailer, and a host of deleted scenes.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Gore hounds and cult film aficionados should definitely pick up Synapse’s Blu-ray release of Street Trash.