February 29, 2024

PEACOCK Occasionally Flies

PEACOCK (Pou) (Blu-ray)
2022 / 89 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

At the beginning of this South African film, Anna (Warryn Wyngaard) is a free-spirited young woman living at an oppressive all-girls institute known as The Foundation. For repeatedly violating their puritanical rules, she’s sent to a remote home in the middle of nowhere to serve as caretaker for Sarel (Johan Botha), the theologian who founded the institute decades earlier.

Though not quite an invalid, he’s not quite in his right mind, either. Something of a religious zealot, he’s obnoxiously stubborn, prone to nasty outbursts and obsessed with ridding the human race of sin. Anna soon discovers why The Foundation seems to have so much trouble keeping caretakers here for very long…the house is also occupied by noisy apparitions which appear to be connected to dark secrets from Sarel’s past involving his daughter. 

Much to the chagrin of both Sarel and the doctor who sent her there in the first place, Anna begins digging through his piles of records, books and research, uncovering something sinister (though the narrative doesn’t quite go into specifics…probably for the best). It’s soon apparent that the presence of these entities represents his sins…also symbolized by the ailing peacock Sarel keeps caged in the yard.

"You see that helicopter right there? I think it's been following me all morning."

has a lot on its plate besides a simple ghost story (though they aren’t really ghosts), presenting such themes as sexuality, gender identity, institutional religion and hypocrisy. For the most part, the story is interesting, and if not particularly scary, the film is bleakly atmospheric and often creepy. A languid pace does tend to test one’s patience at times. Surreal, slow burning horror is difficult to pull off well, which director/co-writer Jaco Minnaar occasionally struggles with.  

Still, Peacock manages to stick the landing with a hauntingly poetic denouement, though it might frustrate some viewers used to being spoonfed. It features excellent performances by the two leads, especially Wyngarrd, who is in nearly every scene. While probably not conducive to multiple viewings, it’s certainly worth checking out at least once.

February 27, 2024

DR. CHEON AND THE LOST TALISMAN: The Beginning Of A Franchise?

2023 / 98 min
Review by Pepper the Poopy😽

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman is based on a popular Korean “webtoon,” and after watching this one, it’s clear that those behind it have franchise aspirations. Whether or not it actually becomes one remains to be seen, but if viewers keep their expectations in check, these characters might be worth revisiting in another adventure. 

The premise is pretty straightforward. The title character (Gang Dong-won) is the grandson of a legendary shaman, but doesn’t actually believe in all that spiritual hokum. Instead, he uses his knowledge and skills as a fake exorcist, visiting families who pay him to save “possessed” loved ones. We see Cheon and beleaguered tech savvy assistant Inbae (Lee-Dong-hwi) at work during an amusing prologue, which sort of sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Too cheap to hail a cab.
His next client, Yoo kyung (Esom) offers Cheon a huge sum to perform an exorcism on her little sister. In a plot turn that will surprise no one, the girl turns out to be really possessed. This demonic entity, Beom-Cheon (Huh Joon-ho), has also taken control of an entire village with his ability to possess people at-will to do his bidding. Not only that, flashbacks reveal he’s the man who killed Cheon’s grandfather and wants his half of a broken sword that banished him to the netherworld in the first place.

Storywise, there aren’t many surprises. Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman is mostly a fantasy film with a few vivid horror elements, along with welcome bits of humor that seldom feel shoehorned in (the banter between Cheon and Inbae is especially amusing). The film is briskly paced, with likable main characters and decent special effects. And of course, the door is left wide open for a sequel or two.

Will Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman leave viewers waiting with bated breath for another chapter (if there is one)? I dunno…this one isn’t likely to knock your socks off or leave a lasting impression. But even though the film serves up little we haven’t seen before, it’s generally pretty entertaining. 




February 26, 2024

WONKA Is Better Than It Had A Right To Be

WONKA (Blu-ray)
2023 / 116 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺

I’ll say this much…Wonka was a hell of a lot better than I thought it would be.

One might take that as great praise, being that I’m one of those old curmudgeons who not only grew up on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but felt Gene Wilder embodied the title character so brilliantly that anyone else stepping into the role would be an exercise in futility. Even today, I’m convinced Wilder is almost the sole reason the film is a classic. 

Timothy Chalamet is not gonna make anyone forget Wilder, but to his and director Paul King’s credit, he isn’t trying to. At the same time, there’s no misguided attempt to re-invent the character as a creepy manchild (as in Tim Burton’s godawful remake). While the new film is a prequel, there’s a definite connecting thread between this young, confident, optimistic Willy Wonka and the wise, cynical, condescending one that’s now the subject of countless memes.

That being said, Wonka is a whimsical, aesthetically gorgeous musical depicting its titular character as a young man, filled with hope and ambition in his attempts to introduce his unique brand of chocolate to the world. He’s met with opposition, of course, in the form of Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph), the leader of the Chocolate Cartel, which essentially runs the city like the mafia. Wonka gets help from a variety of others who, like him, are indebted by-contract to crooked launderette owner Mrs. Scrubitt (Olivia Colman). The smartest of them is Noodle (Calah Lane), a young orphan who was dumped at the launderette as a baby and becomes Wonka’s most trusted friend.

Willy's killing jar.
As with most musicals, the actual plot takes a backseat to the characters, performances and musical numbers. The songs themselves are generally forgettable (save for a few nostalgic callbacks to the original film), but presented pretty spectacularly, bursting with exuberance and color. Several character-driven moments are charming (particularly those shared by Wonka and Noodle) and funny (such as Hugh Grant, who was born to be an Oompa Loompa).

As Wonka, Chalamet wears the hat quite nicely, displaying confidence and earnestness while avoiding turning him into a caricature. However, he’s sometimes upstaged by his co-stars, including Colman, Lane, Keegan-Michael Key (as the corrupt chief of police) and Tom Davis (as Bleacher, Mrs. Scrubitt’s nasty partner). Perhaps that’s because their characters were newly created for this film, so we have no basis for comparison, whereas Chalamet was never going to completely escape Wilder’s shadow. He’s good, but he’s no Heath Ledger.

Still, as prequels go, Wonka is a lot better than it had a right to be. While there are obvious ties to the original, it works just fine as a stand-alone story. In fact, it was only during certain musical cues, the arrival of Lofty (the Oompa Loompa) and the inevitable denouement that I was reminded this was a prequel.


FEATURETTES - Unwrapping Paul King’s Vision (interviews with director King and most of the cast); The Whimsical Music of Wonka (the film’s songs, mostly written by Neil Hannon); Welcome to Wonka Land (mostly focuses on production design); Hats Off to Wonka (costume design); Wonka’s Chocolatier (featuring Gabriella Gugna, who created the candies).

MUSICAL MOMENTS - 13 isolated music segments.


February 25, 2024

Revisiting CONTAGION In 4K (And Hindsight)

2011 / 106 min
Review by Mr. Bonnie😻

If life does indeed imitate art, at least we aren’t yet talking about Deep Impact.

I must have seen Contagion a half-dozen times, but it was only while doing this review that I noticed this cryptic message during the end credits: “It’s not IF, but WHEN,” along with a web link that apparently offered more info. That link doesn’t work anymore, but considering all that’s transpired since 2011, maybe it should.

Oh, Contagion…how prophetic you turned out to be.

Now that we’ve actually lived it, watching the film today is an interesting experience. It’s clear that screenwriter Scott Z. Burns didn’t cook this story from scratch. For a movie once simply intended as cautionary entertainment, its jargon, scientific accuracy and narrative eventually played itself out in the real world, albeit with less apocalyptic implications (being a disaster film at heart, Contagion naturally presents a worse-case scenario). This movie was serving-up terms like ‘novel’ and ‘social distancing’ before most of us even knew what they were.

Unlike The Andromeda Strain’s sci-fi trappings and Dustin Hoffman’s action heroics in Outbreak, what makes Contagion especially unnerving (now historically relevant) is its grounding in reality. With no main protagonist (like most of Steven Soderbergh’s best work), it chronicles the rapid spread of a lethal virus – labeled MEV-1 - from the perspectives of specialists, doctors from the CDC, victims and everyday folks subjected to quarantine. We see the breakdown of services we usually take for granted, mass graves, false information spread by conspiracy theorists and the overall fragility of our society.

When you show up late on Coupon Day.

But despite the terrifying scenario, ruthless proliferation of the virus and staggering body count,
Contagion is ultimately an optimistic film. The authorities know what they’re doing, methodically attacking the pandemic with all the resources at their disposal without dealing with petty politics (too bad that didn’t happen in real life). And the one character who does exacerbate the problem, touting conspiracy theories and fake cures, ultimately faces consequences for his recklessness. That never really happened in real life, either.

While some of the dimmer bulbs and COVID deniers of the world will still view it as science-fiction, Contagion remains one of the greatest  - and scariest - disaster movies ever made. Due to the large ensemble cast, it’s a little light on character dynamics, but the pace, plausibility and urgent tone keep it compelling (punctuated by Cliff Martinez’ propulsive score). 

For its 4K UHD release, Contagion gets an excellent video upgrade, which nicely preserves Soderbergh’s intentionally muted color palette. The audio is identical to the Blu-ray, which is fine for such a dialogue-heavy movie. It still sounds good, especially during the outdoor and crowd sequences. Unfortunately, no new bonus features are included. Considering how prophetic the film turned out to be, one would think a retrospective “I told you so” documentary would be amusing.


FEATURETTES - The Reality of Contagion; The Contagion Detectives; Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World. Like the film, watching these in insight puts a different perspective on them.


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

THE POOP SCOOP: Classics & Future Classics

🤠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.