Blu-Ray Review – The Legend of Billie Jean/Anaconda/Flatliners/Last Action Hero

billiejeanblufront

Mill Creek released several noteworthy Blu-ray releases on Tuesday, most of which were re-issues, but The Legend of Billie Jean makes its high-def debut. Those of you that are familiar with this film, or its practically non-existent home video presence, will realize immediately how big of a deal it is to have this film released to the Blu-ray format. The Legend of Billie Jean has always been an eighties favorite of mine. A lot of really cool movies came out during the decade, but this one always stood out. It could be that it got away with being as dark as it is, even with a PG-13 rating, or it could be it is one of Helen Slater’s few, and very best roles. I know, I know, Supergirl, The Secret of My Success, blahblahblahblah, but I genuinely consider this to be the seminal Helen Slater role. It doesn’t hurt that it has a soundtrack that deserves to be ranked among probably the top 10 movie soundtracks of all time. Mix in an intelligent, dark and seductive script, extremely interesting characters and countless horror and genre references, and you have a recipe for badassery. The Legend of Billie Jean just barely even made it to DVD, being released just a couple of years ago, and on a MOD(Manufactured-on-demand) disc to boot, regardless of how vanilla this Blu-ray release is, I still feel it is an important day in home video history. 

From Millcreekent.com

The last thing she ever expected was to become a hero…

“Fair Is Fair” Edition

Billie Jean is Rambo, the Pied Piper and Pat Benatar all rolled into one Botticelli blonde” – People Magazine

When local rich kid Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) steals and wrecks Binx Davy’s beloved motor scooter, Binx’s older sister, Billie Jean (Helen Slater), demands the $608 it costs to fix it. Binx (Christian Slater) shoots Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford) by accident and he and Billie Jean flee town accompanied by Billie Jean’s girlfriends, Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and Putter (Yeardley Smith). They become fugitives and when they pick up a very willing hostage, Lloyd (Keith Gordon), they become criminals. Billie Jean becomes a legend in her own time, a symbol of freedom to teenagers everywhere!

Does the movie hold up after all of these years being largely unavailable? It really does, though in the interest of disclosure, it really hasn’t been that long since the last time that I watched it. Like most people, I got tired of waiting for this day to happen, and sought out a bootleg version of the film in HD, which had been mastered from stream captured from an HDTV broadcast. I knew when this was announced, that while it would be pretty similar to the HDTV version of the film that I had recently watched, I knew it would look and sound a little bit better, and I was right. For most of the film, and especially in exterior scenes, or well-let interior scenes, Billie Jean looks just the way she should in 1080p. However, in scenes that feature low-light, and most of the darker interior scenes, the picture becomes far less detailed, and muddied by excessive grain. Whenever this happens, though, it only lasts for a split second, and even with these imperfections this is a huge step up from what was previously available for this film. There is only one extra provided, and that is the commentary track featuring Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith ported over from the MOD DVD. Still you can currently order the disc from Amazon for around 8 dollars, and if you want to save a few bucks, you could venture out to your local Best Buy in a week or so and find it for 4.99 near the front of the store. That’s a great deal, even for a budget title. Mill Creek’s Blu-ray release of The Legend of Billie Jean is highly recommended to both long-time fans of the film, or fans of eighties dark comedies wishing to discover something new. You may purchase your copy here

Also Available From Mill Creek Entertainment:

anacondablu

 

It seems that I went to great lengths to scrub Anaconda from my memory. I knew that it was made, and I knew that I had seen it, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you any specifics, other than the fact that there was Ice Cube mugging for the camera, and a big ass, poorly-rendered CGI snake. Yeah, I know that some of the closeup scenes are of a puppet, but in every action scene, the CGI is so bad that I can’t even believe this movie made it into the theaters at one point. Take a piece of advice from me. If you don’t remember liking this movie the first time you watched it, you’re going to dislike it even more this time around. The only reason to even consider sitting through Anaconda again if you’re not a fan of the film, is to listen for every time that Ice Cube overemphasizes a random word within a sentence, and because you get to see J-Lo’s nipples through her braless wife-beater.

From Millcreekent.com

When you can’t breathe, you can’t scream!

“A slick, scary, funny creature feature…” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight

A documentary film crew headed by anthropologist Steve Cale (Eric Stoltz) and director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) travel down the Amazon River in search of a mysterious Indian tribe. On their journey they save a man, Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), from a sinking boat. He offers to help in their search for the tribe, but he is actually a snake-hunter looking for the legendary Anaconda snake. When an accident leaves Cale unconcious, Sarone takes charge of the boat, leaving the rest of the crew in grave danger.

A lot of films from the mid-to-late nineties are not holding up as they make the jump from standard-to-high definition. I haven’t quite pinpointed the exact issue, whether it be the popular film stock of that era, or lighting standards. Whatever the case may be, I’ve seen films from the fifties on Blu-ray that look and sound better than films from 1995 on. This is a re-release of Anacando. The first release was distributed by Sony, while this licensed version comes from Mill Creek. I didn’t own the first incarnation of this Blu-ray, but I would almost bet that the two releases are identical, at least as far as PQ and AQ go. Most of the film looks fairly acceptable as far as budget release standards go, with only scenes of fast-moving action suffering from the occasional blurring effect. However, this disc can be ordered from Amazon currently for around 5 dollars, so if you’re a fan of this one, I can’t think of a single reason that it wouldn’t be worth that amount.

flatliners

Flatliners is another reissue, and also another personal favorite. Flatliners was technically released in 1990, but as far as I’m concerned it still qualifies as an eighties film. It was produced in the last part of the decade, and it retains all of the flare of the era, with a touch of that confused, new-decade sensibility that some films in the first couple of years of the nineties maintained. I honestly can’t believe that there are so many people that have never seen this one. Even my mother, aunt, grandmother etc were all huge fans of this film when it was released. I’m almost certain that’s how I came to see it when it reached home video, because my mother brought it home from the video store. I immediately made a VHS dub of the film, and revisited it quite often. The cast of this film, for the time, was almost unrivaled. Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and William Baldwin were all at the top of their game when this was produced, and their professionalism translates into solid performances, in a dark, funny, seductive and haunting – if not a little preachy – mixture of scientific analysis and spiritual belief.

From Millcreekent.com

Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.

Flatliners is an original, intelligent thriller” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon

Medical students begin to explore the realm of near death experiences, hoping for insights. Each has their heart stopped and is revived. They begin having flashes of walking nightmares from their childhood, reflecting sins they committed or had committed against them. The experiences continue to intensify, and they begin to be physically beaten by their visions as they try and go deeper into the death experience to find a cure.

Like Anaconda, you can currently purchase Mill Creek’s Blu-ray reissue of Flatliners for around five bucks on Amazon. If you ask me, it is well worth that price. It is a budget title, and contains absolutely no extra features. There’s barely even a menu, to be honest. When you insert the disc, the film automatically plays. You can visit the menu by either allowing it to play until completion, or pressing the menu button on your remote, but when you get there it is an extremely generic menu, with just a still image of the poster, and a massive PLAY button in the center of the screen. The PA and AQ are actually quite impressive for such a cheap release. It’s not a perfect restoration, and if somebody gets their hands on the elements one day, a great special edition transfer could be produced, but for what this is and what it costs, you couldn’t ask for much better. It suffers from far less blurriness and oversaturation than Anaconda did, and at times, looks quite remarkable. This is a must-own title, if you don’t already have the SONY disc in your collection.

lastactionheroblu

 

And finally, another SONY reissue, we have the Mill Creek Blu-ray release of Last Action Hero. This film, one could say, was way ahead of its time. Sure, it wasn’t the first meta film, but it certainly predates Scream, and most other popular examples of that style of film. This is a lot of people’s favorite Schwarzenegger film, I have learned recently. I remember liking it quite well, but this isn’t a film that I watched more than a time or two. In fact, I pretty much forgot it even existed until very recently. So, when I saw that Mill Creek were reissuing the disc soon, I reached out and asked if I could receive a copy for review, and I’m glad I did. I probably enjoyed revisiting Last Action Hero more than I enjoyed it the first time that I watched it. Granted, it’s not a super-violent, profanity-laced Schwarzenegger film, but for a PG-13 “big kids” film, it gets away with quite a lot. The language is quite coarse for the type of film it is, and the violence, while not bloody at all, is huge, and well choreographed. It’s purposefully over-the-top, and filled with references to Schwarzenegger’s previous works. To sum it up in just a few words, Last Action Hero is just a fun film to watch.

From Millcreekent.com

He’s Mean . . . And He’ll Blast Through Your Screen! Now In High-Definition! 

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) knows the first three Jack Slater movies by heart and the fourth one is just about to be released. With the aid of a magical ticket, Danny gets to know the latest movie really well, literally speaking. While watching the opening action sequence during an advance screening, Danny is transported right into the movie! While on the other side of the silver screen, Danny becomes the sidekick of Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the toughest cop on the police force. Complications arise while Jack and Danny are working on the case, when one of the bad guys gets ahold of Danny’s magic ticket and escapes out of the movie into the real world. Now Danny and his hero Jack Slater must chase the arch villain in the real world, a world where evil guys can actually win!

In case you had any doubts, yes the trend continues, in which this budget Blu-ray release from Mill Creek entertainment has absolutely zero extra features, and a generic menu that only shows up after the film has finished. I didn’t own the previous version of this Blu-ray, I only owned the DVD, but in all honesty I never even watched that. The last time I watched Last Action Hero was on VHS, so I have no real digital frame of reference in which to compare. I will say that I didn’t notice any major problems with the picture or audio quality. It seems to be an acceptable exhibition of the film, especially priced as low as it is. Currently the disc can be found for under 10 bucks on Amazon, but I’m certain that if you made a quick trip to your local Best Buy, that you would be able to find a copy for five bucks or less. And, despite the lack of extras, this is certainly worth that amount. Maybe one day SONY will license these titles out to a label that has the capabilities of doing a full restoration, maybe even digging up and/or producing new special features, but for now, this will certainly do.

About Shawn Savage

I say stuff. Shawn@liberaldead.com @theliberaldead
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