Cooley High (Blu-ray Review)

Cooley-HighIt’s 1964. JFK has just been assassinated. Martha & the Vandellas, Little Stevie Wonder and the Four Tops rule the airwaves. And two high school students discover themselves – and the taste of freedom – for the first time. Preach (Glynn Truman), a serious-minded writer, and his best friend Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), a basketball hero headed for college, are best friends at Cooley High. Together they cut classes to go to the zoo, crash parties, put the hustle on some hustlers and dream about getting out of their impoverished, rough neighborhood. But when an innocent joy ride makes them the targets of two vengeful hoods, their already uncertain futures seem even further out of reach. Featuring a “well handled mix of comedy and drama with a soundtrack of Motown gold” (Blockbuster Entertainment Guide) and a “universal appeal” (Los Angeles Times), Cooley High is the best American comedy so far this year (Village Voice)!

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The story explores the adventures and relationships of Leroy “Preach” Jackson and Richard “Cochise” Morris, two high school students at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School, in Chicago, during the 1960s, whose carefree lives take a turn for the worse through several twists of fate, including violent carjacking friends, drugs, failing grades, and girls.

Referred to as the “black American Graffiti“, I can see where the comparison can come from, but Cooley High truly is its own thing.  Its a film set in a much more tough and challenging environment.  The characters also aren’t as loveable and make questionable choices.  The film also isn’t afraid to show some of its deflating gut punch moments as opposed to just using them as some afterthought wording.  Structurally and technically, American Graffiti runs circles around Cooley High, but taking the subject matter and conflict, Cooley High might be just a tad more gutsy and daring.

One thing that can instantly make you fall in love with Cooley High is its soundtrack.  The film is filled with classic Motown hits of the 1960s that’ll have you singing and moving around in your seat.  From the opening credits to the solemn closing titles, songs will strike some nostalgia and love on their own, giving you a fondness for a movie that may have subject matter challenging those feelings.  That closing credits song, “Its So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” was actually recorded FOR this film.  So, when you’re jamming out to that Boyz II Men cover that blew up in the 90s, remember Cooley High.

The cast is led by one of my favorite character actors, Glynn Turman as well as Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs.  Both are absolutely great in their youthful roles, and the way this is film, they come across as so natural.  At times it sort of feels like a proto-Kids.  Turman especially gets the meatiest of scenes.  And his monologue at the end of the film is absolutely perfect and beautifully delivered by the youthful actor.  Adding some class to the young cast is a terrific turn by SNL vet, Garrett Morris as the “teach that cares” role.

While some may not know or be familiar with Cooley High, it did make a pretty substantial impact on pop culture in its heyday.  Its been named one of the greatest high school movies of all time.  The film also was adapted for television.  It was redubbed Whats Happening!!…some of you are now going…ahhh…yeah…I know that!  Also, Turman has gone on to have himself a terrific career (He had an outstanding performance in an episode of the REAL final season of Scrubs).

Cooley High is a bit loose, but it all somehow manages to buck up and really come together in the end.  It works even better on further trips to viewing it.  There’s a great message on the importance of life and irresponsibility of youth supplanted all over the thing and I think it really could hit home for audiences even today.  I think we really should be thanking Olive Films for helping this one make the jump to Blu-ray and keeping its legacy going!
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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  This film looked surprisingly crisp and clear.  Detail and clarity is probably the best this film has ever seen.  Wall surfaces show their defects as well as clothing fabrics.

Depth:  Decent.  Clarity in the background is as good as the source allows.  Movement is pretty fluid.

Black Levels:  Blacks are accurate to the picture’s image.  No real loss of detail to report, though a couple night moments do get quite a bit darkened.

Color Reproduction: Colors looks really gorgeous here.  Blues and reds stick out and dingy teals look nice.  Its a really great looking display of natural color here.

Flesh Tones: Natural and consistent.  The closer up the shot is, the higher the detail

Noise/Artifacts: Grain, specs and some minor scratches at intervals.

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Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Stereo

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics: This audio track is a mere “decent”.  It does sound like the source is pretty date and features a sort of “muffled” sound an older film can sometimes carry without a big time restoration.  The film doesn’t demand a whole lot in terms of effects, but what it does bring is pretty solid.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and audible.  As mentioned above, it does sound a little dated and muffled.

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Cooley High does not feature any bonus material.

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Cooley High is one of the best high school coming of age dramedies be it it back in the 70s or even now.  Its a movie that will have you giggling, piss you off and also move you to some tears.  This Blu-ray features a strong presentation in the video department and decent enough audio.  Extras are void on this release, but I really think the film getting the jump to the Blu-ray format is a victory in itself.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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