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I undoubtedly get more unsolicited Blu-ray discs from Lionsgate than any other studio. What is solicited I try like hell to get out on time, and the unsolicited stuff falls through the cracks. Most of these are STV releases, or releases from the studio’s substantial catalogue. To keep up with my pile here I’m going to invoke the right of the group review, because I figure these releases are already available, most readers already know if they like the films themselves, and there isn’t a whole lot to say about the video or audio qualities.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

Death Warrior


I’ve done my best to develop an interest in mixed martial arts fighting (MMA), but I don’t have the appreciation for sport, and usually turn it off when the massive guys start hugging each other out of exhaustion. I am not the ideal audience for this incredibly generically titled film, but I can appreciate a good dumb action movie just as much, if not more than anyone else out there. Death Warrior doesn’t step up to the challenge of overcoming its title, or generic plot (the back of the box basically says “An MMA world champion is lured into the illegal world of underground cage fighting and realizes the only way out is kill or be killed”), and its non-actor main cast doesn’t have it in them to surprise anyone. Every character is a cliché, every scene is a cliché, the production values are lousy, and the production is oddly anachronistic the whole way though (they could’ve called it Best of the Best 4, and said it was made in 1992, and I would’ve believed them). But what about the fighting? In a word, it’s boring. The fisticuffs are shot with an abstractly shaking camera, the cutting is random, and the fights themselves are kind of slow. There’s some random fake breasts thrown into the mix (sometimes the film looks more like a Cinemax softcore flick than an action flick), but the violence is pretty tame, frankly. Enjoy a good laugh when one dead girl clearly blinks during a wide shot, because that’s all you’re going to get so far as entertainment value is concerned.

Death Warrior is cheap, and the price tag is present in every frame. The digital transfer is grainy, the lighting is underwhelming, and the colours are dirty. Blacks are certainly dark, and the overall hues are relatively natural. The biggest issue is consistent ghosting and smoothing effects. I’ve got no specs on imdb, but I strongly suspect that this is a 1080p transfer in name only. I kind of suspect things were shot 720 or 480, but I have no proof. Curiously, televised MMA fights actually look sharper. The sound, which is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is pretty much exclusively centred dialogue and a sloppy mix of Foley and set-based effects (which are also centred), and obnoxious stereo Nu-Metal. I think I caught some vague ambience in the rear channels, but otherwise they are bare. The extras include a behind the scenes featurette (13:30, SD), ‘Rules of a Knife Fight’ (05:20, SD), three cast interviews (George St. Pierre, Rashad Evans and Keith Jardine), a ‘micro video’ (01:40, SD), ‘Training in Hawaii with BJ Penn’ (01:20, HD), and trailers.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

The Phantom


In 1996 comic book movies hadn’t quite found their footing, and studios seemed more concerned with adapting forgotten or relatively unknown properties, usually with an adventure or high concept slant rather than a traditional super-hero slant, Batman being the big exception. Following the modest successes of The Mask and The Shadow, Paramount gave a shot at adapting The Phantom, a ‘30s newspaper strip about a Bengallan raised pirate fighting masked man. The film, starring Billy Zane as the title character, was a massive flop, but has since developed a bit of a video following. The Phantom really does deserve its bad rap, as it’s cheesy in both intended and unintended reasons. The pulp aspects are relatively successful (I love the all female air pirates), as are the occasional tongue-in-cheek moments (The villain is genuinely funny), but the action-adventure stuff is pretty much a joke. The special effects are consistently fumbled, despite a sizable era budget, and the action is lethargically cut. The film looks handsome, cutting between stylized Deco and colourful jungle landscapes, perfected with detailed production and art design. The exception to this rule is, of course, Zhan’s costume, which is ridiculous for all the wrong reasons. Funnily enough, I mostly know of The Phantom because of everything it wasn’t. It wasn’t directed by Sergio Leone or Joe Dante, and it wasn’t staring Bruce Campbell. The cast is actually pretty impressive (Zane and Treat Williams are both pretty hard to resist), but the lack of visionary direction certainly hurts. A decent waste of time, but I say re-watch The Rocketeer again instead.

It may not be everyone’s ideal Blu-ray release, but damn The Phantom looks really good in high definition. The jungle settings are lush, and feature deep focus details. The comic book colouring is bright and poppy, the blacks support richly, and the whole thing is definitively consistent, minus a handful of process effects shots. Sometimes the brighter reds are slightly noise-stricken (though mostly they’re well cut against the cooler hues), and there are a few small flecks of artefacts, but strictly speaking I’m very impressed. In some cases the transfer does its job too well, as you can often see wires during stunts. The DTS-HD 7.1 surround sound track is also much more impressive than expected. The bass is slightly lacking, but the stereo and surround channels are very busy, if not a little on the ‘processed’ side. There aren’t too many directional effects, but the rears support the bigger moments, like explosions or buzzing airplanes. David Newman’s swashbuckling score gets a good treatment as well, including a few rear channel surprises.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

New Police Story


Excepting Armour of God II: Operation Condor and Legend of the Drunken Master (aka: Drunken Master II), the first three Police Story films may very well be the best thing Jackie Chan has ever done. New Police Story, apparently the fifth in the series, doesn’t quite live up to the precedent set by its predecessors. The virtuoso camera work is a big plus, even if the digital camera work is rather unconvincing, but I still remain somewhat unimpressed by director Benny Chan’s neon, music video style, which loses a lot of the raw danger that made late ‘80s and early ‘90s HK cinema so delightful. Chan (director of Heroic Duo and Divergence) clearly knows how to cut the action (which is to say he doesn’t overcut), but his suspense and drama are both lacking in real weight. Though the Police Story series was never among Jackie Chan’s most comedic series, but the darkness of this particular plot, which knocks the lead character down in the first act through a seemingly Jigsaw inspired challenges, seems a little out of place. The violence isn’t really an issue, but the brutality is kind of intense. Then Inspector Chan falls into a drunken, depressing stupor, and it takes him most of the film to pull himself out of his rut. The big action set pieces are worth the wait, including a great bus chase throwback to Police Story 2, and a smash-up last act, but the melodrama is a lot to get through.

New Police Story is a very, very, very clean looking film, and certainly benefits from the added resolution this Blu-ray has to offer. There is some overall grain to the thing, but the look is pretty smooth and colourful. The sharp details lead to a few unfortunate licks of edge-enhancement in brighter shots, but overall detail consistency is relatively even (love that rubber ducky bus crash). The black levels suffer more grain and noise than expected from a more recent release, but the Hong Kong neon lighting and bright costumes (love that Lego fight scene) are impressively cut and poppy. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is certainly loud, but not overwhelming in its layered approach or multi-channel mixing. Shootouts and car chases fill the speakers, but the bulk of the soundtrack’s effects come from the front. The rather thin soundtrack gets the most rear channel work, though the LFE is a regular part of the action, even during quieter scenes. The DTS-HD unfortunately only applies to the dubbed English track, though the lossy DTS Cantonese track sounds just about as loud and sharp. The extras include two scene specific commentaries from Jackie Chan (Chan is presented in PiP), ‘The Making of New Police Story’ (15:30, SD), ‘English Dubbing with Jackie’ (07:10. SD), and Lionsgate trailers.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

Hard Rain


Hard Rain is one of those maligned flops that home video was made to revisit. Twelve years is enough time for the negative words to subside into the ether. It turns out the film isn’t terrible, at least not as terrible as its $40 million domestic loss, it just isn’t very good. The problems mostly pertain to the predictable script, which is based around a series of set pieces and flat characters, but the film also suffers having been released at the wrong time. Hard Rain was produced by the people behind Speed, one of the defining action films of the early ‘90s, and it follows Jan De Bont’s visual lead. Unfortunately, the film was released the same year as Saving Private Ryan, and on the cusp of The Matrix, both films that utterly changed American action cinema. TV director Mikael Salomon does his best with the material, which includes a decent impression of ‘90s era John Woo. The suspense based scenes, the ones where someone is forced to deal with the quickly rising water while somehow trapped, are convoluted from a scripting standpoint, but Salomon does squeeze out quite a bit of excitement, all things considered. Salomon’s TV roots don’t help the basic production values though. It’s clear the film cost a lot to make, but the sets look very much like sets and the model work is atrocious.

Hard Rain has some really terrible CG augmentations, and high definition video certainly doesn’t help matters. Besides unintended effects like these, this is actually a pretty sharp transfer, though not quite as incredible as the Phantom. The close-ups details are sharp without any noticeable artefacts, and the backgrounds, though clearly less sharp, are beyond your SD release’s capabilities. The whole transfer is darker than I’d prefer, and some details are lost due to some undefined highlights. Colours are clean enough, but not very bright or poppy. Hard Rain features a lot of, ahem, hard rain on the soundtrack, and rain and thunder are always satisfying surround sound elements. The centre channel does get a little more than its share during non-action scenes, but overall this DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is pretty well awash with splashes. The Western infused Herrmann-esque score, by Christopher Young, gets a pretty loud and wide representation through the front channels, and is featured in an echo form through the rears. The LFE gets stuff to do during the louder musical moments, gunshots, and of course, thunder. Extras include: a single trailer.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

Jade


At the time of release expectations for Jade were pretty high. Producer Robert Evans and director William Friedkin were both in pretty dire straits in the ‘90s. Friedkin was coming off some of his biggest critical disappointments ( Rampage was never even released in theatres), and Evans had just dealt with massive box office disappointments like Popeye, The Cotton Club and The Two Jakes. Lead actor David Caruso was the big story, however, and Jade’s poor box office returns were mostly placed on his head. Most viewers seem to remember the film only for its sexual excesses, probably because the plot is an unremarkable mess of clichés and predictable plot twists. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who gained acclaim for Basic Instinct, falls back on familiar sexually-charged murder mystery themes, but doesn’t really come up with anything to set the film apart from an average episode of Law and Order. Friedkin, on the other hand, draws a lot attention to himself. The opening titles and climax both play like the director’s best impression of Dario Argento, and from here the Friedkin continues experimenting, leading to a pretty inconsistent overall look. From scene to scene he changes from assertive Dutch angles and superfluous quick cuts, to steady medium shots set to standard lighting schemes. The camera rarely stops floating, sometimes subtly, often way above the heads of the actors. The car stuff, Friedkin’s go-to element in a career crisis (see Cruising and Live and Let Die in LA), is the film’s major saving grace.

Jade fits right in the middle of these discs in terms of its 1080p transfer. The details are never super sharp, and grain is a constant, and especially apparent when set against white backgrounds. Details are inconsistent from scene to scene, but within a scene are similar despite camera placement. Colours are impressive beyond SD capabilities, and relatively pure, though some of the edges are a little muddy. Colour is clearly important to Friedkin’s vision for the film, so the vibrancy is certainly welcome, even if they occasionally bleed into the otherwise deep blacks. The disc features a 5.1 DTS-MA track, which comes most obviously to life during the centrepiece car chase through busy Chinatown streets. Surround elements are actually a bit over-done. Crowd scenes feature clear dialogue instead of general wala, and it’s distracting. The stereo channels feature a similar overdone style, but they’re less pointed, and work better in terms of directional feel. The centre elements are warm and effective (though dialogue effects occasional sound a little inconsistent), and James Horner’s large scale score is well integrated without overstepping important elements. The only extra is a trailer, and none of the extra footage that found its way into the original video release is included (apparently twelve minutes).

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up

Flight of the Intruder


I’m probably the only film fan of my generation that has never been sold on the talents of right wing man’s man John Milius. Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn both have their moments, but I’ve rarely found the interest to watch either film more than once the whole way through. This probably makes me a poor judge of Milius’ directorial swan song, Flight of the Intruder. Based on a book by pilot Stephen Coonts, the film follows the director’s usual trajectory, and despite some historical basis, mostly works as a jumble of anti-Communist, pro-military propaganda. There are some solid performances, and Milius manages to produce more moral ambiguity than more chest pounding films like Red Dawn, Top Gun or Rambo: First Blood Part 2, but it also feels a little anachronistic for a 1991 film. Besides feeling late to the party, Flight of the Intruder is pretty listless in terms of storytelling, and Milius’ direction only really comes to life during the flying sequences, which really aren’t all that impressive either. It’s pretty clear why the film was made (to tell the relatively untold story of Vietnam bomber pilots), but there’s very little to discern it from similar films, and the family friendly PG-13 rating keeps the director on a disappointingly short leash.

Despite some reasonably thick grain, and some really dark photography, Flight of the Intruder sits on the higher end of the 1080p catalogue release spectrum. The image is sharp, details are tight, and overall these elements are relatively consistent. Helicopter shots of the central aircraft carrier are a little slight in fine detail, but most of the actor involved shots are even. Problems arrive in the form of the film grain, which changes a lot based on lighting, and the quality of blacks, which are lighter than preferable. Besides some bright red highlights colours aren’t particularly impressive, and mostly consist of different shades of brown and blue. The lack of real black support leads to a slightly washed out look, but occasionally lush jungles and blue oceans stand out. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix is hit and miss. The big action scenes are big and loud, and feature some effective directional effects, but the rest of the film is a little off. Dialogue is usually warm enough, but is occasionally muddied with unlikely reverb effects. The basic sound effects and ambiance are solid enough, though speaker placement is slightly off on a few occasions, and the rear channels are pretty quiet throughout. Basil Poledouris’ score is mixed surprisingly low on the track for the most part, silenced in favour of both dialogue and effects. Extras include the original trailer.


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