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US Blu-ray and DVD Releases: The Menu, Groundhog Day, Voodoo Macbeth, Death Knot, Big Time Gambling Boss and more

There are a few standouts in an otherwise small week of home video releases. Read on to see what’s on shelves this week!

The Menu

Sometimes films are easy to boil down into a few sentences or to categorize the genre of, and sometimes they’re The Menu. A dark comedy/thriller/drama/horror hybrid, there’s no easy way to define The Menu, and that’s part of what I loved about it. Effectively, the film is about a group of rich, spoiled patrons at an exclusive restaurant on an island where the chef is world-renowned. As the evening and the 12-course experiential meal goes on, secrets are revealed, judgments are made, and things start to go worse and worse for our patrons. It sounds like it could be a straight-up horror movie, but I’m not even sure it fits into the horror genre at all. The film is funny, biting, sarcastic, dramatic, sad, suspenseful, and occasionally even a bit ridiculous. Ray Fiennes is absolutely uncompromising as the chef who rules with an iron fist, while a game supporting cast surround our other lead, Anya Taylor-Joy, with familiar faces such as Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo, and Judith Light. My only real problem with the film comes at the climax; I wish the film had been able to stick the landing a bit better. There are some actions that characters take that I honestly just don’t buy, and that took away a little bit of the effectiveness of the film for me. That said, the film is a lot of fun, it’s unpredictable, and it will keep you glued to the screen the whole time. It’s hard to ask for much more than that.

Groundhog Day 30th Anniversary SteelBook (4K Ultra HD)

It’s hard to believe that Groundhog Day is 30 years old. It’s also hard to resist the temptation to just write the same sentence four or five times over as an intro to the film, but I’m pretty sure that’s been done before. One of Bill Murray’s most popular and beloved films, Groundhog Day celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new Steelbook 4K Ultra HD release from Sony. Murray plays Phil Connors, a sarcastic and grouchy weatherman sent to cover the groundhog day celebration in small-town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where he finds himself stuck in a time loop, living the same day over and over again. Now, I’m pretty sure Groundhog Day wasn’t the first film to do the time loop thing, but it’s since become shorthand for any story in which a character repeats the same day over and over. Murray is in fine form here, trying to figure out what he can do and what he can’t do and how to get out of this torturous day, while supporting cast members Andie MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky add a lot of character to the proceedings. The film has now been released on 4K Ultra HD (in a very nice Steelbook package) and it gets a solid audiovisual upgrade. This isn’t the kind of movie with crazy visuals or an intense soundtrack, but you do get brighter color saturation, clearer imagery, and nicer contrasts than previous home video versions of the film, alongside a soundtrack that makes the most out of the surround channels. You also get a nice collection of extra features included, although none of them are new and they’re all ported over from previous releases. Still, Groundhog Day is a modern comedy classic, and this is a great new version of it on home video.

Voodoo Macbeth

This may be old news to some people, but I’ll admit that the fact that Orson Welles directed a theatrical version of Macbeth with an all black cast and crew was actually news to me. This based-on-a-true-story drama tells the story of how Welles, as a 20-year-old up-and-coming talent, took on the challenge of bringing what would ultimately become known as “Voodoo Macbeth” to the stage thanks to funding from a federal endowment. The show became a huge success, but this film focuses on the cast and crew and — most notably — Welles himself, who even at age 20 was already a controversial figure with numerous bad behaviors. The film is anchored by Jewell Wilson Bridges as Welles, who gives a solid performance but not one that is great enough to really carry the entire film, although the supporting cast is quite excellent. It’s an interesting and intriguing film, and it does paint a picture of Welles’s early career that I would wager many people aren’t familiar with.

Death Knot

This new Indonesian horror film — directed by the cheerily-named Cornelio Sunny — is more an “atmospheric dread” kind of horror movie than a “blood, guts, and jump scares” one, and I’m okay with that. The film follows a pair of siblings, Hard and Eka (plus Eka’s boyfriend) who return to the village their mom came from, only to find themselves largely shunned thanks to their mother’s reputation as a practicer of the black arts. That’s the general thrust of the film, and it’s not really a plot-heavy movie; instead, it’s a slowly building sense of unease and dread that permeates the film and makes it effective. Occasionally it’s a bit too slow for my tastes — I think it could have trimmed about 15 minutes — but director Sunny has a nice eye behind the camera and his ability to build the tension is admirable. It’s an intriguing horror outing for viewers looking for something a little bit different.

Big Time Gambling Boss

Sometimes films come to home video and are touted as a huge or important release for cinephiles… and I’ve never heard of them. Such is the case with Radiance Films’ new Blu-ray release of Big Time Gambling Boss, a 1968 Japanese crime film that apparently is a classic of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) genre. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama of the Lone Wolf and Cub films and directed by Kosaku Yamashita, and it has been hailed by writer/director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) as a true classic. Properly educated on the film’s pedigree, I dove into it and found a tense, layered crime film that feels of its time but also somewhat timeless. Kind of like a Japanese Godfather, the film follows a Yakuza gang in charge of gambling who must select a new boss, which ultimately leads to strife within the organization. That’s a gross simplification, but there’s a lot happening here in the story and I don’t want to spend too much time telling you the story when you can just watch it. The Blu-ray comes complete in a Criterion-styled amaray case and includes a number of extra features, including two documentaries and a photo gallery. Fans of Asian cinema and classic movies will definitely want to check out this high-quality home video release.

Also Available This Week on Home Video – 
  • Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle – You may have heard stories about Japanese soldiers who refused to believe World War II was over and lived in the jungle for many years afterwards. Well, the most famous case is probably that of real-life figure Hiroo Onoda, upon whose life this movie is based, and who spent a whopping 30 years in the jungles of the Philippines acting as a soldier because he didn’t believe that World War II had ended. This dramatization of his time shows his life in different phases, both as a young man and as an older man coming to grips with reality. The downside for me is that the movie is almost three hours long, which is too long by an hour for my tastes, especially for a movie with a very small amount of characters. It’s a well made film and it features some strong cinematography, I just don’t know that I needed quite as much of it. For those of you who enjoy the film more, there are also about two hours of making-of materials on the disc, which is a nice bonus as well.
  • Gunfight at Rio Bravo – One of these days, I’d like there to be a western movie out on home video that I don’t have to say literally the exact same thing about as I do every other western movie on home video. I swear, we get a new low-budget, direct-to-video western about every other month, and without fail, they offer the same thing: a cliched story, low-budget action, an uninspired script, and either no-name actors or B-list actors who are way past their prime and are simply collecting a paycheck. While this film does vary slightly in that the main character is a Russian gunslinger named Ivan Turchaninov (a real-life figure of the old west), everything else about the film checks all the same boxes. The story is about a gang trying to break their leader out of prison (and Turchaninov steps in to help), and it’s as by-the-numbers as it gets. If you’re a die-hard western fan, maybe this will offer up something for you, but the lack of budget and the poor acting will probably leave you wishing for a truly good western to come along.
  • Poppy – People with Down syndrome are often used as supporting characters in Hollywood productions, but rarely get the lead role. In the New Zealand film Poppy, 19-year old Poppy is the main character of the story, which is a nice change. Sparklingly played by Libby Hunsdale (who does have Down syndrome in real life), the film sees Poppy trying to take charge of her own life, and wanting to learn how to drive and become an auto mechanic (there’s a car shop in her family that she works in already.) She also strikes up a relationship with a classmate of hers , which does not go unnoticed by fellow townspeople, who are friendly towards Poppy but of course, also sometimes closed-minded towards her. The film hits on some of the same cliches we often see in people-with-disabilities movies, but they work well here for the most part, especially since Hunsdale is so likable in the lead role. The film has a lot of heart and is quite enjoyable, so give it a watch.

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