February 23, 2024

THE LUZHIN DEFENCE: An Enjoyable Letdown

2000 / 109 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

Over the past year or so, I’ve become something of a belated fan of Dutch director Marleen Gorris, having the opportunity to review some of her films on Blu-ray. Though I have yet to check out her most renowned work, Antonia’s Line, which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually.

But a lot of her earlier movies are pretty great. 1982’s A Question of Silence, was an incendiary debut about three women who are total strangers that impulsively team up to murder a man they don’t know. Broken Mirrors, juggles two concurrent storylines, the bleak daily life in a brothel and a serial killer who imprisons women and then starves them to death. I think The Last Island might be my favorite because Gorris incorporates two of my favorite genres - disaster and survival.

The common threads between these provocative films are themes of female empowerment weaved into the narratives, which aren’t prevalent in The Luzhin Defence. Since she didn’t actually write this one, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. This period drama might also be the closest Gorris has ever come to making a mainstream film. In a way, that’s kinda disappointing. A big part of what made her other movies compelling (aside from some incendiary social commentary) was the sense that Gorris herself was personally invested in her characters (the female ones, in particular). 

Sasha's subtle response to Turati's last move.
Not that The Luzhin Defence isn’t a good film. It’s a perfectly enjoyable - and beautifully shot - story of eccentric, obsessive chess wizard Aleksandr ‘Sasha’ Luzhin (John Turturro), who arrives in Italy for a championship tournament, which is expected to be a showdown between him and rival Salvadore Turati (Fabio Sartor). Also in attendance is fellow Russian Natalia Katkov (Emily Watson) and her doting mother (Geraldine James), who’s bent on hooking her up with a respectable suitor. Instead, she and Luzhin fall in love (quite quickly, actually), much to Mom’s chagrin.

Complicating matters is the arrival of Leo Valentinov (Stuart Wilson), Luzhin’s former mentor who plans to exploit Luzhin’s weaknesses and insecurities in order to give Turati an advantage. The reason for this particular conflict is depicted in numerous flashbacks of Luzhin as a young prodigy, as is the tumultuous relationship between his parents.

The performances are excellent, though none of the primary cast are really stretching themselves here. We’re used to seeing Turturro as an oddball and Watson in period dramas. As for Wilson…I don't recall anything I’ve seen where he wasn’t a bad guy, though he’s especially cold-blooded and hateful in this one. 

For the most part, the story is engaging, with nice moments of drama, levity, romance and conflict. Aside from the somewhat surprising climax, though, the narrative itself generally treads pretty familiar ground. It’s an enjoyable, ultimately poignant journey, but unlike some of Gorris’ earlier films, there isn’t a lot to ponder afterward. It kinda feels like she was a director-for-hire here.



AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Marleen Gorris.


February 21, 2024


🤠ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST Celebrates Its 55th Anniversary With 4K Ultra HD Debut May 14 from Paramount.
Director Sergio Leone’s monumental Western classic ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST celebrates its 55th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion Paramount Home Entertainment will release the fully restored film for the first time on 4K Ultra HD May 14, 2024, as the latest addition to the studio’s Paramount Presents line. One of the most iconic and influential movies ever made, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST has been restored from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative by Paramount’s archive team, L'Immagine Ritrovata and The Film Foundation. This restoration honors the 2007 Film Foundation photochemical restoration overseen by legendary director Martin Scorsese by matching its build and color palette.  The result is the definitive home release of the film, which features the 165-minute extended cut restored to its glory. A must-own for every cinephile’s collection, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST will be presented in a Limited-Edition two-disc 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray set that includes both new and legacy bonus content, as well as access to a Digital copy of the film.  The film is presented in Dolby Vision and HDR-10, along with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English Restored Mono Dolby Digital for an exceptional home viewing experience.

💀THE CROW Celebrates 30th Anniversary with 4K Ultra HD Debut May 7th
from Lionsgate.
Celebrate the 30th anniversary of the thrilling, cult classic THE CROW when it arrives for the first time on 4K Ultra HD May 7, 2024 from Paramount Home Entertainment. Originally released on May 13, 1994, THE CROW entranced audiences and critics alike with its gothic aesthetic, breathtaking action, and Brandon Lee’s soulful performance at the center of director Alex Proyas’ revenge fantasy.  A sleeper box office hit, the film developed a passionate cult following that spawned three sequels, a television series, a video game, toys, and novels.  Based on the comic book saga of the same name by James O’Barr, THE CROW delivers an action-packed thriller bursting with hypnotic style and dazzling visuals. Newly remastered, THE CROW will be available nationally on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc™ with new and legacy bonus content and access to a Digital copy of the film.  In addition, there will be a limited-edition SteelBook with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc and access to a Digital copy of the film, featuring an o-sleeve with a cutout of a crow that lifts to reveal a portrait of Brandon Lee with his guitar. Both releases include a brand-new three-part documentary created for the 30th anniversary entitled “Shadows & Pain: Designing The Crow.”  The new piece is a fascinating deep dive with legendary production designer Alex McDowell, who discusses all aspects of designing the 1994 classic, as well as his experience working with visionary director Alex Proyas and the film’s late star, Brandon Lee.


🎵MEAN GIRLS (2024) Arrives On Digital February 20th and MEAN GIRLS (2024) and MEAN GIRLS (2004) Debut On 4K Ultra HD April 30th from Paramount.
Get in, loser…we’re watching the hit comedy MEAN GIRLS (2024) at home on February 20, 2024 when it arrives to buy or rent on Digital from Paramount Home Entertainment. The new movie will debut on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray™, and DVD on April 30, which just happens to be the 20th anniversary of the original contemporary classic MEAN GIRLS (2004).  And the original MEAN GIRLS (2004) just happens to be arriving on 4K Ultra HD for the first time, like, ever on April 30, too.  It’s gonna be totally grool. Fans who purchase the film on Digital can go inside the making of the new movie with more than 30 minutes of bonus content AND sing their hearts out with a sing-along version featuring lyrics to select songs from the film! MEAN GIRLS (2024) and MEAN GIRLS (2004) will also be available in a 2-movie collection on Digital on February 20, 2024.

😺THE IRON CLAW will be available March 26 on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital from Lionsgate. 
The true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach, the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports. Bringing the true story of the Von Erich brothers to the world, The Iron Claw will be available on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital on March 26 from A24 and Lionsgate. Starring Zac Efron and Golden Globe® winner Jeremy Allen White (Best Performance by an Actor in Musical or Comedy TV Series), Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Harris Dickinson and Lily James. This release includes a making-of featurette and cast/crew Q&A.

😺Oscar Nominated ANATOMY OF A FALL on Blu-ray and DVD May 28 from Criterion Collection.
The closer we look, the less we know in Justine Triet’s masterful Palme d’Or–winning Anatomy of a Fall, an eerily riveting courtroom thriller that examines the line where truth becomes fiction and fiction becomes truth. When Sandra Voyter (a transfixing Sandra Hüller), a writer who turns the material of her life into autofiction, is put on trial for the suspicious death by defenestration—or was it suicide?—of her husband, it opens up an inquiry that will turn a troubled home inside out. Tapping into the minimalist intensity of a chamber drama—and using intricate, elliptical editing—Triet constructs a mystery that is ultimately less about a death than about the hidden lives we lead. This release includes an interview with director Justine Triet, audition footage and an essay by critic Alexandra Schwartz.

February 20, 2024

HARRIET (4K): Superficial But Exciting

2019 / 125 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

With only a rudimentary knowledge of Harriet Tubman’s life and accomplishments, I can’t attest to this movie’s historical accuracy. Nor do I actually care. If the law required films based on true stories to be accurate, how many of them would end up being all that entertaining?

What’s important is that Harriet is very entertaining, even though it doesn’t offer much in the way of depth. It’s more of a chronology of Tubman’s (Cynthia Erivo) rise from lowly, abused slave to the legendary abolitionist we read about in school. But to her credit, director/co-writer Kasi Lemmons keeps her filmmaker hat on and leaves the educating to others. Her skills elevate the movie from one feels obligated to see to one they want to see.

The worst place to lose a contact lens.
Harriet is surprisingly action oriented, with many sequences focused on Tubman’s daring - and dangerous - efforts to not-only escape north to freedom, but repeatedly risk her own life by returning south to free others (including most of her own family). The uncomplicated narrative presents its characters as clear-cut heroes and villains. The latter, Tubman’s vindictive former owner, Gideon (Joe Alwyn), is evil personified. 

As “Minty”, Cynthia Erivo rises above the proficient-but-unremarkable script with an excellent performance (which earned her an Oscar nod that year), providing a majority of the movie’s emotional heft. A chief reason the escape sequences and conflicts are effective (and suspenseful) is because Erivo’s earnestness has us invested in the character from the get-go. 

Is this the definitive Harriet Tubman story? Probably not. It’s more of a checklist of events that never dives too deeply into its subject, the divisive political turmoil of the time or atrocities committed against slaves. And aside from Tubman herself, none of the other characters resonate much. Still, Harriet is exciting, well directed and fast-paced. Boasting impressive cinematography, authentic production design and an affecting music score, the film looks and sounds great with this 4K UHD transfer, which is an improvement over the 2020 Blu-ray disc (though it looks good, too). Both formats are included here, along with a smattering of perfunctory bonus features.



FEATURETTES - Her Story; Becoming Harriet.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/co-writer Kasi Lemmons.


February 18, 2024

LUNAMANCER: Small Film, Big Ideas

2021 / 71 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Pepper the Poopy😺

Dr. Isaac Blake (Jake Pirkkanen) returns to his hometown in search of his twin sister, Sue (Nikki Clyne), a tarot card reader who’s gone missing, though no one else appears to be aware of it. The viewer gets the impression Isaac already knows her fate, since they appear to have some sort of supernatural connection to each other (established in the prologue).

In the meantime, Lunamancer keeps the viewer consistently in the dark, often perplexed by what the hell they’re watching. The film is loaded with surreal sequences and imagery which blur the line between reality and illusion, seemingly perpetuated by a local garage mechanic (Cliff Tullis) who Isaac first questions when he arrives in town. Throughout much of the narrative, we’re not entirely certain what’s driving Isaac or if what he’s experiencing is real.

Isaac doesn't feel like making his bed this morning.
While watching this, I was often reminded of Darren Aronofsky’s debut, Pi, a similarly low budget sci-fi film driven more by cerebralism than a clear narrative or visual aesthetics. And like Aronofsky, Lunamancer’s bleak setting, evocative score and subdued performances contribute greatly to the somber (and quietly menacing) overall tone. It’s one of those films where it’s only after the denouement is revealed that (most) of the narrative pieces click in place.

Until then, Lunamancer is intriguingly ambiguous. While the deliberate pace does threaten to test one’s patience at times, it’s a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience that, at 71 minutes, doesn’t wear out its welcome. Co-written by first-time feature director Noah Mucci and producer Matt Patterson, the film is worth seeking out by adventurous viewers.

THE BLACK MASS: Don't Judge A Book (or a film) By It's Cover

2023 / 82 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

In this case, you definitely shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, which suggests The Black Mass is some kind of slasher horror film. The box art features a collage of the film’s more photogenic female cast members and a silhouette of a mysterious killer, along with a synopsis that carefully avoids who and what it’s really about.

The Black Mass is not another modern slasher movie in the vein of Scream and its ilk. It’s about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. More specifically, the film is an account of one particularly infamous 24-hour period in 1978 when he stalked and attacked several girls from a Florida sorority house. Not only that, the entire narrative is presented - almost literally - from Bundy’s point of view. 

The film follows Bundy (Andrew Sykes) around in his VW Beetle as he methodically targets potential victims, sometimes initiating friendly banter, as well as lengthy segments when he’s peering through the sorority house windows to observe the largely anonymous female characters. For the most part, their conversations and activities are intentionally mundane (and barely audible), save for one hallucinatory shower sequence that reflects Bundy’s view of violence as a sexual act.

Herbie Goes to Florida
We don’t really learn much about Bundy beyond his actions. In fact, it isn’t until late in the film that he’s even clearly shown, after already committing the gruesome murders. It's a conscious creative decision that renders the lengthy voyeuristic stalking sequences especially unnerving. Director Devanny Finn (who also has a supporting role) obviously realizes that she’s not going to reveal anything about Bundy that hasn't been documented in countless other books and movies. The film is simply a reenactment of that horrific night.

At no point does The Black Mass look or play like a horror film, nor are there any twists, surprises or character revelations. However, it’s extremely well made, with believable performances, outstanding attention to period detail and a cinema vérité style that instills dread in nearly every scene. The murders themselves are lengthy and brutal, more intended to horrify, not glorify.

Though I can certainly understand why The Black Mass is marketed as a thriller, that’s sort of misleading. This is an uncomfortable film to endure, which is appropriate, considering the subject matter. And despite a nearly complete lack of sensationalism, suspense or meaningful character exposition, the film is morbidly fascinating.




February 16, 2024

The Beautiful Ugliness of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

2003 / 80 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😺

If there was an Oscar category for originality, The Triplets of Belleville would surely have taken home a trophy back in 2003. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature that year, but while Finding Nemo arguably deserved to win, this one had a narrative, aesthetic and tone unlike anything we’ve really seen before…in a cartoon anyway.

The weird-ass story has an elderly woman, Madame Souza, using her meager resources to help her grandson, Champion, achieve his dream of participating in the Tour de France. But during the event, he and two other bikers are abducted by mobsters, who take them to America and force them to compete in backroom gambling houses (with fatal consequences for the loser). With family dog Bruno, Souza follows them to New York. Penniless, she’s taken in by three old ladies who were once a French singing sensation known as Triplets of Belleville. 

The triplets themselves are sort of a subplot, introduced in the film’s first scene by appearing on French television performing their hit song, “Belleville Rendez-Vous” (which was also nominated for an Oscar). It’s a surreal sequence that sort-of sets the tone for the entire film. When they reappear much later, they’re kindly but repulsive old ladies, living in a sleazy apartment building and killing frogs in a nearby marsh to sustain themselves. They still perform, though, with Souza joining their band. And eventually, when Souza learns where Champion is being held, the triplets are more than happy to help free him, taking on local gangsters in an amusing climactic chase through the city streets.

Chick-Fil-A's secret ingredient.
Whimsical, weird and often grotesque, The Triplets of Bellevue is fairly light on characterization and plot (the latter is sometimes set aside for strange sequences of Bruno’s dreams or the Triplets’ sickening eating habits). But it’s brilliantly animated, sometimes reminding me of a stylistic mash-up of Studio Ghibli and Heavy Metal (along with a smidgen of CGI in some scenes). The characters themselves - even the minor ones - are cleverly conceived, their appearance and movements reflecting their roles in the story. Speaking of which, the film is nearly free of dialogue, the narrative largely driven by expressions, action and Benoît Charest’s evocative score.

At first, there doesn’t appear to be any overt effort to engage the viewer on an emotional level. With the exception of Bruno the Dog, the characters seem fairly aloof. But as the story unfolds, Souza’s fearless resolve is ultimately kind of touching. The Triplets of Bellevue is sometimes aesthetically abhorrent, but as animated features go, there hasn’t been anything else quite like it.

Previously released on Blu-ray in 2017, this new version features slightly upgraded picture and sound, along with vintage bonus features, as well as a new teaser for director Sylvain Chomet’s next film.


FEATURETTES - The Making of The Triplets of Belleville; The Cartoon According to Sylvain Chomet.

THE MAGNIFICENT LIFE OF MARCEL PAGNOL TEASER -  This is a teaser trailer for Chomet next animated feature, due in 2025.

SELECTED SCENES WITH COMMENTARY - 3 scenes with commentary by director Sylvain Chomet.

MUSIC VIDEO - “Belleville Rendez-Vous”


February 14, 2024

BACK TO THE DRIVE-IN Paints a Gloomy Picture

2022 / 105 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

Being of a certain age, I have fond memories of drive-ins. From piling into the backseat in my jammies as a kid to piling into the backseat with dates, it was always a lot of fun. More often than not, whatever movie was actually playing was secondary to the experience. 

Though hardly the optimum way to view a film, I miss drive-ins. They aren’t quite extinct yet, but there are two left in my home state and the closest is a 90 minute drive away. Like Fotomat booths, it’s just a matter of time before they’ve all gone the way of the dodo. Because of its subject, I thought I’d enjoy Back to the Drive-In a lot more than I actually did. But it's not-so-much an affectionate reflection of the past as a gloomy forecast of the future.

This documentary visits 11 currently-operating drive-ins across the country, from big multi-screen spreads to humble family-run businesses and everything in between (such as an enterprising man who turned his own backyard into one). Some of them have been open for decades, while others are - surprisingly - fairly new. We meet the owners and managers who discuss the joys and tribulations (mostly the latter) of operating such a business in this day and age.

If this is what's playing, I'm not going to the drive-in either.
The locations may be different, but their stories are more or less the same…the COVID pandemic triggered a brief resurgence in the popularity of drive-ins, but since then, business and interest continues to dwindle. These owners seem determined to remain open, but also appear painfully aware that the days of drive-ins as a sustainable business are probably numbered. Filmmaker April Wright must think so, too, since the entire film is accompanied by the kind of melancholy score one usually hears during a poignant death scene (even during moments of levity).

Hence, the film ends up being kind of somber. Seeing how these theaters operate is certainly interesting, as are the personal stories of owners explaining how and why they got into the business in the first place. And if nothing else, I’m inspired to finally make that 90 minute trek to my nearest drive-in just to relive the experience one more time. But Back to the Drive-In is hardly the nostalgia trip I was expecting. As someone who fondly recalls enjoying movies under the stars, it’s more like visiting a loved one who’s on life support.