March 28, 2023

The Indecipherable CODE OF THE ASSASSINS

2022 / 118 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

About halfway into Code of the Assassins, my daughter, Lucy, came into the room and sat down, engaged by the elaborate fight scenes (which play much like the video games she’s into). But before too long, she finally asked, “Dad, what the hell’s going on in this movie?”

Normally, I would have snarkily come back with, “Well, you should have watched from the beginning.” But this time, her question had considerable merit. Though it begins as a fairly straightforward revenge story, Code of the Assassins grows increasingly convoluted, introducing new characters or plot twists which significantly alter the narrative every ten minutes. By the time Lucy asked her question, I had given up all pretense of following the labyrinthine plot and simply took in the spectacle.

The only character we’re certain of is Junyuan (William Feng), who was raised by a village of masked assassins known as Ghost Valley. As a child, he helplessly watched his entire clan get slaughtered after his father designed a treasure map. Now, several other clans want the map and one of them hires Ghost Valley to kill whoever currently possesses it. But all Junyuan wants is revenge, so even though he wasn’t selected for this mission, he defies his elders and goes anyway.

Christmas with Slipknot.
But it’s at this point the story goes in a thousand different directions, introducing conspiracies, double-crosses and way too many secondary characters, most of whom have constantly shifting agendas. Rather than get frustrated, the film is best enjoyed for how it looks. Code of the Assassins is loaded with some spectacular fight sequences, sometimes with obvious CGI enhancement. And speaking of CGI, Junyuan is equipped with a multipurpose mechanical arm that shoots darts, throwing stars and allows him to snap necks from across the room. These scenes border on ridiculous, but they’re pretty entertaining, as are some of the other fantasy elements.

The film also benefits from impressive choreography and production design. We may give up on the plot, but Code of the Assassins is an aesthetic wonder, with elaborate sets, hyper-kinetic editing and some jaw-dropping fight sequences (even if they’re mostly devoid of plausibility). The visuals alone might make this one worth checking out. After all, they kept mine and Lucy’s attention ‘till the end.

March 26, 2023


2022 / 148 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

Back in the day, my 11th grade English teacher made the class read All Quiet on the Western Front. Unlike most of the other ancient artifacts he force-fed us, I really gave this one a go, mainly because I needed to boost my grade to remain on the soccer team. Though I didn’t actually finish the book - thank God for Cliff’s Notes! - I managed to squeak by with a C on my final. However, most of author Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war themes were lost on me.

Just recently, I approached this latest film adaptation - the first actually produced in Germany - with a similar sense of obligation. This time, it was because the film just racked up a buttload of Oscar nominations and I like to see as many contenders as possible before the Big Night (which is sort-of like the Super Bowl at my house). Decades after trying to plow through the novel, I still associated the title more with impenetrable old literature than a war movie (a genre I generally enjoy). But with nothing to lose than a few hours on Netflix, I dutifully sat down to watch it…

…and was pretty much blown away. Though I still think Everything Everywhere All at Once deserved to sweep the Oscars this year, All Quiet on the Western Front runs a close second. It’s arguably the best war film since Dunkirk and the most harrowing one since Saving Private Ryan. Vivid, cynical and violent, it’s a compelling story punctuated by distressingly believable characters and uniformly excellent performances. The film is also a technical triumph, with excellent production design, tight editing and ominous music to underscore the grim tone. More importantly - to me, at least - the story’s overall theme is abundantly clear and repeatedly hammered home: the futility and utter insanity of war, especially when dictated by a misguided sense of national pride.

Not bad for a film with a budget that’s a fraction of a typical Hollywood production.

Paul decides he's gonna give his two weeks' notice.
You know Netflix has acquired a truly great film when it actually gets a physical media release. Like such recent Oscar hopefuls as Roma and The Irishman, All Quiet on the Western Front is getting the 4K/Blu-ray treatment. This time, it’s being put out by Capelight Pictures & MPI Media Group, who’ve done right by the film with an excellent transfer, and both formats are free of the compression you typically get with streaming. But even if one isn’t concerned with such trifles, it’s packaged in a sturdy, nicely-designed Digibook and comes with a smattering of interesting bonus features. 

I don’t recall much of the original novel, other than it didn’t really hold my attention, but that was obviously due more to my 17-year-old self than Remarque’s writing. And I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t yet seen the 1930 adaptation, which is widely considered definitive. However, this retelling of a classic story is a gripping, visceral experience in its own right, an epic war film that stands up to repeated viewings, especially in 4K.



MAKING OF FEATURETTE - Running just under 20-minutes, this features numerous cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

AUDIO COMMENTARY -  By director Edward Gerger.

24 PAGE BOOKLET - Includes an interview with director Edward Berger and 


March 24, 2023

PLANE: Carrying the Torch

PLANE (Blu-ray)
2023 / 107 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😺

Whether he's aware of it or not, Gerard Butler performs a valuable public service. With Charles Bronson long gone, Bruce Willis’ sad retirement and Liam Neeson reaching the nadir of his plausibility as an action hero, who’s left to carry the torch? Don’t you dare suggest Vin Diesel. 

Like those ass-kicking everymen of the past, Gerard’s resume primarily consists of mid-range thrillers that seldom challenge the intellect or rule the box office. In fact, most of ‘em play a lot better on your living room sofa. But more often than not, they’re reliably entertaining because they deliver exactly as advertised. And while Gerard isn’t likely to ever stick an Oscar statue on his shelf, he displays grim determination with an earnestness that’s perfect for these roles.

Add Plane to his growing list of meat & potatoes action films, which meets audience expectations without ever exceeding them. In this one, he plays airline pilot Brodie Torrance, forced to make an emergency landing on a remote Philippine island after his plane is struck by lightning. Also on board is captured fugitive Louis Gaspere (Mike Colter), who’s facing murder charges. Unfortunately, the island is populated by vicious rebels led by Datu Jumnar (Evan Dane Taylor). Though distrustful of each other, Brodie and Louis venture through the jungle to a nearby abandoned compound hoping to contact authorities. But while they’re gone, Junmar captures all the surviving passengers - killing a few - with plans to hold them for ransom.

What Would Dean Martin Do?

Neither local law enforcement nor the military is willing to tangle with the rebels, so the airline recruits combat expert Scarsdale (Tony Goldwyn), who organizes a rescue operation by hiring mercenaries to infiltrate the island…armed to the nuts, of course. But until they arrive, it’s up to Brodie and Louis - also armed to the nuts after dispatching a few rebels - to spring the hostages before Junmar kills any more of them. Naturally, mayhem ensues.

Storywise, there ain’t a hell of a lot of surprises, but after some brief obligatory exposition, the movie delivers an abundance of violent, well-executed action. Of course, Gerard is his usual dependable self…an engaging hero who’ll throw down if forced to, but not so invulnerable that he ceases to be credible. Actually, Louis does most of the dirty work here, offing bad guys with ruthless efficiency. Well played by Colter, he’s a great character. Considering his background and skill set, Louis would make an entertaining antihero in a movie of his own.

Like most of Gerard Butler’s filmography, Plane ain’t gonna rack-up awards or end up on anybody’s top 10 list, but we knew that going in. What ultimately matters is it’s exactly the movie you think it will be. In that respect, it’s hard to imagine being disappointed. Butler continues to carry the action hero torch quite admirably.


FEATURETTES - “This is Your Captain” (cast & crew praise working with Gerard Butler); “Plane Clothes” (about the costume design); “Brace for Turbulence” (this one is mostly about the action scene, particularly the plane turbulence sequence).



March 23, 2023

THE POOP SCOOP: Bears, Bots & Bautista

🙀KNOCK AT THE CABIN arrives on Digital March 24 and 4K, Blu-ray and DVD May 9 from Universal.
Critically acclaimed filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan returns with his seventh #1 movie debut, KNOCK AT THE CABIN, yours to own on Digital March 24 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on May 9 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Based on the book “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay, the suspenseful apocalyptic thriller is “a relentlessly gripping winner” (The Playlist) that “commands your attention at every reveal” (Comicbook). The film comes home with more than 40 minutes of exclusive bonus content, including deleted scenes and featurettes that dives deep into the film’s layered and multi-dimensional themes, Shyamalan’s visionary filmmaking process, and more. KNOCK AT THE CABIN is a thriller about  a tight-knit family who are taken hostage by four armed strangers while vacationing at a remote cabin. The visitors, led by Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Dune), demand that the young girl and her parents make an unthinkable choice: to save their family or save humanity.

🙀COCAINE BEAR arrives on Blu-ray and DVD July 1 from Universal.
Inspired by the 1985 true story of a drug runner's plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it, this wild dark comedy finds an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists and teens converging in a Georgia forest where a 500- pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow … and blood. Cocaine Bear stars Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Christian Convery-Jennings, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince , Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra and Aaron Holliday, with Emmy winner Margo Martindale and the late, great Ray Liotta. Directed by Elizabeth Banks from a screenplay by Jimmy Warden, Cocaine Bear is produced by Oscar winners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman for Brownstone Productions, Brian Duffield for Jurassic Party Productions and Aditya Sood for Lord Miller. The film is executive produced by Robin Mulcahy Fisichella, Alison Small and Nikki Baida.

🤖TRANSFORMERS 6-Movie SteelBook Collection Arrives on May 30th from Paramount.
Get ready to roll out with the AUTOBOTS and their human allies as they defend the world from the evil DECEPTICONS with a Limited-Edition SteelBook™ set featuring six blockbuster TRANSFORMERS movies on 4K Ultra HD™!  Debuting May 30, 2023, this out-of-this-world collection arrives just in time for fans to catch up on all of the thrilling adventures before the newest chapter, TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS, arrives in theatres on June 9th. The TRANSFORMERS 6-Movie SteelBook Collection includes TRANSFORMERS, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT and BUMBLEBEE all in eye-popping 4K Ultra HD.  Each film is presented in a separate SteelBook with the feature on 4K Ultra HD Disc plus a Blu-ray Disc with legacy bonus content.  All six SteelBooks are housed in a striking magnetic slipcase that also includes a collectible decal and access to Digital copies of each film.

😺SUPERMAN 1978 – 1987 4K 5-Film Collection RELEASE UPDATE
The street date for Superman 1978 – 1987 5-Film Collection 4K UHD has shifted from April 18 to May 9.  The collection will still be available on April 18 on digital. As part of the year-long centennial celebration for the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. Studio, five films featuring the iconic DC Super Hero Superman – Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman III, and Superman IV - will be available for purchase in a five-film collection on 4K Ultra HD Disc and Digital on April 18. It will be available to purchase on Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc from online and in-store at major retailers and available for purchase Digitally from Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play, Vudu and more. The Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Packs will include an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc with the feature films in 4K with HDR, a Blu-ray disc with the feature films and special features in HD, and a Digital version of each film. Based on the DC character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Superman films star Christopher Reeve as the legendary “Man of Steel.”

March 20, 2023

Revisiting DRAGONSLAYER in 4K

1981 / 109 min
Review by Mr. Paws😼

“Oh, yeah…Dragonslayer. I forgot all about that one…”

Surely I’m not the only guy of a certain age thinking that very thing right now. Its simultaneous 4K and Blu-ray debut suddenly sparked memories of paying to see this at the now-defunct Eastgate Theater when I was a teenager. Back then, the Eastgate was the largest, most state-of-the-art theater in Portland. That’s where the “event” movies played. 

Staring up in awe at the three-story, 100-foot-wide screen, Dragonslayer was indeed something to behold, with special effects that rivaled those in Star Wars and a convincingly monstrous dragon, brought-to-life by a team who never heard of CGI. For a couple of hours, I was enthralled. But shortly after leaving the theater, I never give the movie another thought, nor would I have been able to tell you a single character’s name.

Revisiting Dragonslayer four decades later, my overall assessment remains more-or-less the same. Considering the advances in special effects since then, Vermithrax Pejorative, the malevolent serpent terrorizing the kingdom of Urland, is still a visually impressive creation. Watching sorcerer’s apprentice Galen (Peter MacNicol) square off against the beast in its lair stirred a fond bout of nostalgia (though its impact at home is inevitably diminished a bit…even in 4K).

But aside from newly appreciating the great Ralph Richardson’s performance as sorcerer Ulrich of Cragganmore, nothing beyond Dragonslayer’s visuals is particularly memorable. While it’s interesting to see a very young, pre-AllyMcBeal MacNicol in a rare leading role, the characters are uniformly bland, as is the perfunctory dialogue. Even the plot is standard fantasy fare, with elements that are clearly inspired by Star Wars.

Still, the film has a bit of a cult following these days, perhaps some of the same folks who were blown away 40 years ago (and maybe found the story more memorable than I did). For them, this new 4K release will be a treat. Though Dragonslayer was always best-appreciated in a theater, the overall picture and sound are outstanding…the next best thing to being there.


“THE SLAYER OF ALL DRAGONS” - An hour long multi-part retrospective documentary features interviews with Matthew Robbins and FX artists Phil Tippett & Dennis Muren.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro (who’s a fan of the film).




March 19, 2023

BABYLON: Subtle, It Ain't

BABYLON (Blu-ray)
2022 / 188 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer🙀

I’ll say this much…even at 3+ hours, Babylon is seldom boring (though it is exhausting). Sprawling, brash and deliberately over-the-top, the film wins no awards for subtlety, but the decadence and histrionics on display are often morbidly fascinating. Though virtually ignored at the box office, it certainly has the potential to become a cult classic.

The first 30 minutes set the tone (before we even see a title card), depicting the mother of all Hollywood parties, a delirious orgy of music, booze, drugs, sex, death, perversion and an elephant with explosive diarrhea. Here’s where most of the primary protagonists are introduced, including silent film heartthrob Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), reckless aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie), ambitious studio gopher Manny Torres (Diego Calva) and African-American jazz musician Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo). Some characters are based on real people, others are completely fictional.

The debauchery is (somewhat) dialed down as Babylon settles into its story, which mostly takes place during the late 1920s through the early 1930s, just as “talkies” are beginning to impact the movie business. Manny’s opportunism has him rising through the studio ranks, while Nellie becomes an overnight star by displaying uninhibited sexuality, which is exploited by the studio, gossip columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) and her own dimwitted dad (Eric Roberts). Manny sees Sidney’s musical talent as an opportunity to reach black audiences, though the latter doesn’t like the humiliating compromises he is forced to make. Unfortunately, his story is given considerably less screen time than the others.

"The ice cream man is here!"
The transition to talkies proves difficult for Jack, whose star begins to wane. Nellie has trouble adjusting as well - exacerbated by a serious drug and gambling problem - yet she resists efforts by the studio to refine her image for a new era. Meanwhile, Babylon provides a fascinating look behind the scenes of the film business, which is composed of folks who are ruthless, opportunistic, self-aggrandizing, morally questionable and occasionally tragic. So from a narrative standpoint, it offers little we didn’t already suspect about the industry.

But by dialing everything up to 11, writer-director Damien Chazelle manages to put together a film that ultimately ends up being a lot more fun than his “respectable” efforts (such as La La Land and Whiplash). As with Tony Montana in Scarface and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, we may not exactly “like” all these characters - only John displays anything resembling depth - but as human dumpster fires, they’re sure entertaining (as are the harrowing situations a few of them get themselves into).

We’re sort-of drained by the end, having endured enough depravity for three movies, compounded by an epilogue that shoehorns-in some manufactured sentiment and goes on way too long. But until then, Babylon is an epic guilty pleasure, loaded enough wild WTF moments to justify repeated viewings.


FEATURETTES - “A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon” (making-of doc); “The Costumes of Babylon”; “Scoring Babylon.”



March 18, 2023

THE WHALE: Title Doesn't Tell All

THE WHALE (Blu-ray)
2022 / 117 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😹

To superficially assume the title of The Whale refers only to the obesity of its main character is doing the film a disservice. There’s more to it than that, but other than allusions to Melville, elaborating any further would be unconscionable, since it’s the crux of the story’s most powerful moment.

As of this writing, Brendan Fraser has already won the Best Actor Oscar for his role, and with hindsight, it is well-deserved. Barely ten minutes into the film, not only was I convinced it was the best performance of the year, it’s easily the greatest of his entire career. Though buried under gobs of unnervingly convincing make-up, he delivers a stunning emotional and physical performance. As someone who mostly associates Fraser with goofball roles, I didn’t know he had it in him.

Charlie is a morbidly obese, binge-eating, home-bound man who teaches English online. While passionately imploring his students to find their own unique voice in their writing, he keeps his camera turned off so they can’t see him. Charlie’s health is growing worse each day and impending death is looming because, despite pleas from his nurse and best friend, Liz (Hong Chau), he refuses to get the hospital treatment he needs. All he really wants is to make amends with Ellie (Sadie Sink), the estranged & angry teenage daughter he abandoned years earlier when he left her mother for another man.

Guess who just sat on a tack.
But Charlie’s self-loathing isn’t the whole story, nor is the film entirely about him. With the exception of a mostly-unseen pizza guy - and even he figures into a key scene -  the narrative slowly offers revelations about the supporting characters, such as the reasons for Liz’s tough love approach while still enabling Charlie’s worst compulsions, or how Ellie grew into an anti-social bitch who appears to hate everyone (Charlie, in particular). Then there’s Thomas, a missionary with dark secrets who seeks redemption of his own and sees Charlie as a means to achieve it. Not everyone is likable, but the more we get to know them, we certainly understand what makes them tick. 

Typical of director Darren Aronofsky, The Whale is occasionally off-putting and often uncomfortable to endure, and not just because of Charlie’s appearance or the particulars of his disorder (his exhausting efforts to speak, move and even breathe). Through much of the film, Ellie’s treatment of her dad - and Thomas, to a lesser extent - borders on abusive and we hate her for it. However, it’s those scenes that lay the foundation for the moving final act, where the true meaning of the film’s title becomes obvious (if it hasn't already, by then). 

Then there’s that ending. Some viewers might see it as frustratingly ambiguous, while others will consider it beautifully poetic. The final scene lingered with me for a long time afterwards, and from an emotional standpoint, I can’t imagine any other conclusion being nearly as rewarding. Though many will vehemently disagree, The Whale is Aronofsky’s best film since The Wrestler.


“PEOPLE ARE AMAZING: MAKING THE WHALE” - Features interviews with director Darren Aronofsky, screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter, actors Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau & Ty Simpkins. Also includes behind-the-scenes footage.

“SOUNDS OF THE OCEAN: SCORING THE WHALE” - Interview with composer Rob Simonsen.


March 14, 2023

WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN: The Vivid Reminder

1978 / 127 min
Review by Mr. Paws😺

Somewhat forgotten over time - at least by this author - revisiting Who'll Stop the Rain after all these years was a vivid reminder what a formidable screen presence Nick Nolte was back in the day. Still young and (relatively) fresh-faced, I don’t know if he was ever mistaken for versatile, but he was just coming into his prime as an earnest actor adept at portraying antiheroes.

And they don’t get much more antiheroic than Ray Hicks, a merchant marine during the Vietnam War who’s coerced by old buddy John Converse (Michael Moriarty) into smuggling a kilo of heroin into the U.S. All he has to do is bring it to John's wife, Marge (Tuesday Weld), and he’ll collect a thousand bucks. However, one doesn’t simply sneak-in a load of smack without other interested parties getting involved. In this case, it’s crooked FBI agent Antheil (Anthony Zerbe) and his hired thugs, who show up to snatch the drugs for themselves.

Ray and Marge manage to escape with the kilo and go on the run, heading to California in hopes of finding a new buyer (with the amount they’re carrying, that’s easier said than done). Meanwhile, Antheil beats and kidnaps John, then drags him along while pursuing Hicks. 

"Left at Albequerque...just like the rabbit said."
Part crime drama, part road movie, Who’ll Stop the Rain is fairly light on action, but still manages to create tension with its bad-guys-vs.-worse guys-scenario. And while Ray is morally ambiguous at-best (his solution to dealing with Marge’s opiate withdrawl is to give her heroin), but we’re definitely invested in him and Nolte provides just the right measures of toughness, cynicism and vulnerability. The entire supporting cast is great, as well. Zerbe has always made an effective villain, while Moriarty’s performance, in some ways, reminded me of his role as Jimmy Quinn in the crazy creature feature, Q - The Winged Serpent, in that both characters seem blissfully unaware they’re in way over their heads. 

Overall, the performances are the best part of the movie, which ain’t exactly a barrel of laughs and is sometimes a bit meandering. But while no classic, Who’ll Stop the Rain is a great reminder that Nick Nolte was once a compelling leading man who excelled at playing flawed characters. 


INTERVIEWS - Individual interviews with actor Richard Masur, associate producer Roger Spottiswoode & co-screenwriter Judith Rascoe.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historians Daniel Kremer & Scout Tafoya.