John Wick: Chapter 4 – The anticipation of the most incredible action film of 2023 is so big in my mind right now and seeing the advance reviews from critics I respect online and friends who have gotten the privilege of seeing it last week has me over the moon with excitement. I really can’t be surprised as every film in this series has been awesome but to be reassured of this is very satisfying. Picking up after the events of the last film, John Wick uncovers a path to defeating The High Table but before he can earn his freedom, he must face off against a new enemy with powerful alliances across the globe and forces that turn old friends into foes. This one will now be admittedly bittersweet after the death of franchise mainstay Lance Reddick but it should serve as a finale to an amazing character actor. The trailer for this film leaves me absolutely jazzed every time I see it and, at almost three hours long, I know we are in for an epic ride in every moment. Buck up, people, this one’s going to get wild.
Babylon – Damien Chazelle has been one of those must-see filmmakers for me ever since I saw his Academy Award-winning drama Whiplash and it’s been about four years since his last film, the awards snubbed Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, so I was eagerly anticipating this one. A sort of old-fashioned filmmaker in a lot of ways, it’s interesting that the La La Land writer and director has done a classic Hollywood film and has one of my favourites in the cast as well with the great Brad Pitt. The main story is a mosaic of three characters, Manny, played by newcomer Diego Calva, a dreamer doing odd jobs to get into the movie industry, Nellie LeRoy, played by Margot Robbie, a seductive bombshell willing to do anything to get in from of a camera and Jack Conrad, Pitt’s character, a legend of the silent era on his way out but clawing tooth and nail. A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess tracing the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood, I thought this movie was a completely unpredictable riot from the go-go and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. The film’s reception landed on the negative side of mixed reviews but I found myself loving ti, almost like it was Damien Chazelle’s sort of Clockwork Orange in his filmography. It pushes boundaries and succeeds with great satire and a biting sense of humour.
The Whale – This is a big one to talk about in the last we, no pun intended, as lead actor Brendan Fraser has completed the full comeback by winning the best actor Academy Award for this character-driven film from one of my favourite filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky. Honestly, it’s a long time coming as Fraser has been giving incredible performances since films like Gods And Monsters but the general public only recognizes things like The Mummy or George Of The Jungle. The film follows Fraser as a reclusive English teacher who is massively obese and descending into dangerous levels of mortality. Feeling like he needs to make amends in his life before his situation kills him, he reaches out to his estranged daughter, played by Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink. When I saw this film at my local theatre I was glad that I was the only person attending it because, no lie, I was bawling my eyes out for possibly the entire film. Fraser is riveting as a man seeking some sort of redemptive closure in his life, trying to rectify the mistakes his lifestyle has presented to his loved ones. This film is special and will be remembered as one of the great performances of this decade, especially that ending. No spoilers here though.
Dragonslayer – Another one of my childhood favourite films has now been immortalized in a special edition restoration from Paramount Pictures. The amount of times I made my mom rent this movie alongside Conan The Barbarian, Conan The Destroyer and more is uncountable but she should be grateful that it led to me appreciating this one today. See, it was all for SOMETHING, Mom! Future Ghostbusters II actor Peter MacNichol stars as a wizard’s young apprentice who volunteers with his master to kill a dragon that has been preying on the girls from a nearby kingdom which the king has made a blood pact with. The film was made by filmmaker Matthew Robbins who only directed a small handful of films but they were memorable, like the Mark Hamill movie Corvette Summer and the underrated Helen Slater action film The Legend Of Billie Jean. The film also has the distinction of being called the greatest dragon on camera by the creator of Game Of Thrones, George R.R. Martin himself. That is a hell of an accolade I think.
Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Season 1 – Well, I have made it a habit to check out everything Star Trek the streaming service of Paramount+ has done, ever since it started as CBS All Access, launching with what would set the flagship assail, Star Trek: Discovery. It was the second season that brought in Anson Mount as Captain Kirk’s processor, Captain Christopher Pike, along with his number two, played by Rebeccas Romijn and this universe’s version of Spock, which served to set up this brand new spin-off that might be the best that the new shows have done. Effectively, this is exactly a prequel to that original series and how close we snug up to the Willaim Shatner and Leanard Nimoy landmark series is really unknown but I do know that what we’ve gotten so far is exciting and colourful stories punctuated by great character work and deep digs in the Star Trek lore. I suggest that viewers get fully emersed in this show as season two is just around the corner and it’s going to get much better, which is a crazy thing to say about an already awesome show.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Training Day4K – One of the best crime dramas of the past twenty years gets the full 4K treatment from Warner Brothers and I am absolutely elated. An Academy Award winner for lead actor Denzel Washington, I really don’t have to explain how iconic this damn near-perfect thriller is. For those who need a refresher, the film follows a rookie cop’s first day with his new partner, a Los Angeles narcotics detective who has a lot more ties into the system he is supposed to be investigating than is legal. The tension in this film, the sophomore film from action-heavy director Antoine Fuqua, makes it an undeniable rewatch perfect for the upgrade of format. This is easily one of my favourite films of all time and I’m so psyched that I have it in the collection.
Rocky: The Knockout Collection4K – It feels like a late after-effect to be bringing this one to the geek outs as Creed III has been out for a while now but the upgrade in picture and sound to 4K for the first four Rocky fans can’t be denied. Why didn’t they include the fifth movie? I guess street fighting Rocky wasn’t something they wanted to get into in the restoration department. That said, all the best Rocky films are here including all of his best opponents like Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed, Mr. T’s Clubber Lang or Dolph Lundren’s Ivan Drago and there is no better time to relive this thoroughly entertaining franchise than now. Then you can proceed with V at your own discretion then one to the fantastic remaining four films. A hell of a group of films in my opinion.
D.O.A. A Right Of Passage – On my continued path to being an ultimate film nerd in the collector’s department, I came across the MVD Rewind Collection which a few titles were sent to me by the distributor and as soon as I saw it was a numbered collection of cult hits, well, I was hooked in. The first title in this collection happens to be this High Times-produced documentary. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the punk movement with rare interview footage of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen and also concert footage of the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, The Clash, X-Ray Specs and anymore as well as newsreel stories. I had never seen the film before and after watching Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols series Pistol, I feel like I was in exactly the right frame of mind to watch it. As a kid who grew up with a lot of this music in my headphones, thanks to a mother with some eclectic rock tastes, it combines things I already knew with the context I never had. If I knew about this movie during my video store days I would have been all over it.
Up Here (Disney+) – The biggest reason I wanted to get my eyes on this new series produced by Hulu was that Mae Whitman is the star, an actress I’ve loved for a long time, back to her child star days, and one that has just gotten better and better as her career progressed. The biggest turn off heading into it was that, unknown to me, it is a musical and I’m sometimes allergic to those. The story is set in the late 90s and follows Mae as Lindsay, a woman who decides to give up her boyfriend and home life for New York City for a fresh new start and the same old neurosis of the voices in her head, flesh out as imaginary versions of her parents and the school bully who gave her some obvious lifelong trauma. She eventually comes across Miguel at a party and the possibility of a new romance is high but the quality of the music is low and as soon as the second song rolled around I was pretty much out. Just not for me. The show also has a difficulty finding it’s tone between a sugary sweet musical and a horny bridge from the teen to twenties mind and an adult. If it opted for the second option and leaned away from the Disney Channel feel I definitely would have stuck around for episode two.
The Night Agent (Netflix) – I will admit that this series, on the surface, looks totally bland and something we’ve seen before, a thriller that focuses on the search for a man or woman on the inside of a government organization that must be sought out to save America. Well, this one happens to be written by executive produced by Shawn Ryan, the creator of The Shield starring Michael Chiklis and Walton Goggins, one of my favourite shows of all time. For that reason, I gave this series a chance which follows Gabriel Basso as a low-level FBI agent named Peter Sutherland who works in the basement of the White House manning a phone that never rings. Things are just filling reports and fending off boredom until the night the phone finally does ring, propelling him into a conspiracy that leads all the way to the Oval Office. I was surprised about how much I felt myself getting into the series over the first few episodes and was happy to see 2022’s MVP Hong Chau show up in a supporting and very important role. This isn’t anything insanely awesome but it is entertaining enough to keep me following it.
Yellowjackets: Season 2 (Crave) – Okay, this one is embarrassing because I usually pay close attention to Showtime releases and this one totally slipped my radar. Mere episodes in, it was called one of the best shows of last year and hit Twitter like fandom wildfire. I was already a huge fan of actresses Christina Ricci, Melanie Lynskey and Juliette Lewis and now Jasmine Savoy Brown from Scream and Scream VI but I was unprepared for the awesomeness of this show. The series is set in the nineties and in modern times and follows the lead-up to and fallout of a high school girls soccer team whose plane crashes in the mountains, forcing them to fight for their survival. The show definitely has a Lord Of The Flies angle to it but the originality and depth of character blew me away. Both the young and older cast are fantastic and the intrigue of the storyline gives me a Lost level feel. This is the must-see series right now in my opinion and with a second season now here, it could possibly cement that to an even bigger audience.
Shazam!: Fury Of The Gods – After a few delays, what appears to be the final part of the DC Cinematic Universe as we know it is ready to debut. It is unknown, in the future, if Zachary Levi will continue to be the super version of young Billy Batson but I really hope he does because the first film was a lot of fun and I expect the same from this one. The film picks up right after the first film where, spoilers, Billy’s entire group home got the same mystical powers of Shazam and became superpowered. This angers two of the fallen gods, Hespera and Kalypso, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, who decide to do anything to strip them of their newfound abilities and mould the planet into their personal thrones. As I said before, this movie looks like so much fun and the teenage sensibilities of Billy in the adult body of Levi add so much charisma and charm to a different style of superhero films. Director David Sandberg, a guy that started out in the horror genre with Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation, has adjusted so well to this superhero genre and I hope that James Gunn and Peter Safran keep him in mind for the new DC rebirth that’s to come in the next few years.
Boston Strangler – I have a weakness for a good serial killer investigation film and this has to be one of the most notorious in the unsolved murders section of mass murders. At the top, the leads of the film got me immediately invested as it stars two personal favourites with Keira Knightley and the always underrated Carrie Coon, an actress on her way to a definite Oscar win in the near future. Knightley plays Loretta McLaughlin, a reporter who always is relegated to the fluff pieces of her newspaper until she starts independently linking murders in the Boston area, creating the narrative of the Boston Strangler. When the case picks up steam, she is paired with undercover reporter Jean Cole to report on the city’s most notorious serial killer and challenge the sexism of the early 1960s in doing so. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin in his big studio debut after a few indie features, and he brings grit and intrigue to this story that had me very enthralled. I also love seeing Academy Award winner Chris Cooper in anything and he is pretty solid as McLaughlin and Cole’s editor who is at the forefront of the public’s outcry against the two’s reporting. I also thought the implications of the investigation were fascinating but that conversation gets into spoiler territory.
Moving On – I think that legendary actresses Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have found a way to constantly and consistently work together for the rest of their movie and television careers after the end of their hugely popular Netflix series Grace & Frankie. It has already proved lucrative with the unexpected success of 80 For Brady so, just a handful of weeks later, they’re going to try it all over again with another comedy. This film has them as estranged friends who reunite to seek revenge on the petulant widower of their recently deceased best friend, played by a personal all-time favourite, Malcolm McDowell. Along the way, Fonda’s character reunites with her great love, the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, and each woman learns to make peace with the past and each other so they can start “moving on”. This is sure to clean up with the same audience that made the Tom Brady film a hit and the fact that both films have received favourable reviews, better than I was ever expecting, with solidify these two stars as the base for successful films going forward. I expect many more films like this to come, starting with the Book Club sequel on Mother’s Day.
Brother – So happy to include some Canadian content this week, especially coming after the big win for Sarah Polley at the Academy Awards so there is hotness in the air for our home and native land in the film department. This one comes from acclaimed filmmaker Clement Virgo, a major television director but also one who brought us the steamy Lie With Me over fifteen years ago. His new film is set in the early nineties and follows two brothers with Caribbean immigrant parents who are growing up and influenced by Toronto’s early hip-hop scene. Exploring themes of masculinity, identity and family, a mystery unfolds during a sweltering summer and escalating tensions set off a series of events that change the course of the brothers’ lives forever. This is a deeply interesting character drama featuring two very strong performances from lead actors Lamar Johnson and Aaron Pierre, two actors I’m only a little familiar with, but Pierre was unforgettable in the M. Night Shyamalan thriller Old and Johnson is having a strong 2023 too with a feature role in HBO’s The Last Of Us. It is also shot gorgeously by Guy Godfree, the cinematographer of Slash/Back, Wildhood and so many other stunning-looking films.
A Man Called Otto – 2023 kicked off in theatres with a trope that Hollywood studio filmmakers love to do, remake a fantastic foreign film that probably didn’t need to be done. This new film is a remake of a 2015 Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, but it has the added bonus of starring Tom Hanks which is, at most times, a win. The film has Hanks playing against type as Otto, a grump who’s given up on life following the loss of his wife and wants to end it all. When a young family moves in nearby, he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol, leading to a friendship that will turn his world around and renew his joy in life. The film was adapted by Monster’s Ball and Kite Runner filmmaker Marc Forster and does a great job of not just adapting the original film by Hannes Holm but honouring it as well with a very Swedish feel to it and a great deal of heart. Because it was one of my favourite comedy-dramas of 2015 and a film I didn’t really feel got the love it deserves, I maybe had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about an English language version but I really enjoyed it.
Spoiler Alert – I have to admit, I saw the trailer for this film before Bros and it really did absolutely nothing for me, felt pretty formulaic and bland. After I read up on it, I saw that it is based on a true story about television journalist Michael Ausiello, a man whose work I have read many times and my interest was piqued, just another Hollywood drama that suffers from an excessive bland trailer. The story follows the relationship of Ausiello and his husband, photographer Kit Cowan, from its inception through to Kit’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Jim Parsons plays Michael, an actor I still place in the role of Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, a stigma that this movie helps to clear away in small scoops. The winning formula is it being directed by Michael Showalter who will always have a place in my heart with his partial biopic The Big Sick and a filmmaker who excels with dialogue that feels fresh new and, in this film, heartwarmingly funny. The final result is a film that feels a bit “paint by numbers” but the ending still swoops in to make you shed all your tears as it was handled so beautifully. I’m also starting to really love the actor who plays Kit in this, Ben Aldridge, who was just in the Shymalan thriller Knock At The Cabin a few weeks ago.
The Apology – With the sad news coming before Christmas about the layoffs at AMC it appeared that a major part of the horror-centric streaming service of Shudder had been cut and laid off so I still wonder how much longer we will get Shudder original films like this one, now debuting on Blu-ray. Featuring Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, Mandy villain Linus Roache and comedian Janeane Garofalo, it has a hell of a roster of talented character performers to give a chilling and thrilling tale. The story follows a recovering alcoholic who is preparing to host her family’s Christmas celebration while still dealing with the trauma of the disappearance of her daughter twenty years earlier, when her estranged ex-brother-in-law arrives unannounced, bearing nostalgic gifts and a heavy secret. The film is the feature debut of a new voice in horror with writer and director Alison Locke and it looks like a successful endeavour as the story looks unsettling and unpredictable with a cutting edge that could lead to a shocking ending. I also appreciate that it is a Christmas-set thriller to join the side nice of holiday horror. It’s something, as a genre fan, that gives me pleasure, especially with my horror podcast Tremble, rate and subscribe!
The Good Fight: The Final Season – Al good shows eventually should come to an end and, as a big fan of the series that this show spun off of, The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies, I feel it’s finally time to move on from the characters. I have been a fan of this show since it started on the less constrained CBS All Access for two reasons, the carryover star from that show, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhardt and the always incredible Delroy Lindo but also the returning actors like Alan Cumming and Michael Boatman, make this. For those out of the loop, this series picks up one year after the events of the final broadcast episode of The Good Wife, where an enormous financial scam has destroyed the reputation of a young lawyer, played by Game Of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, while simultaneously wiping out her mentor and godmother Diane Lockhart’s savings. Forced out of Lockhart and Lee, they join Lucca Quinn at one of Chicago’s preeminent law firms to hopefully rebuild an empire. The show plays heavily on real politics and it is going out with a big one as it tackles the overturning of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court. I will miss how biting this show was in current events but glad it’s going out on its own accord.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Goodbye Mr. Chips – It’s all Warner Archive stuff this week on the geek out-side as the good people there hooked me up with a trio of classic films. The first is this romantic drama from the late 30s that earned seven Academy Award nominations, won one of them for Best Actor and was included on the American Film Institute’s top four hundred of the greatest films of all time up until 1998. Starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson, the film follows old classics teacher looking back over his long career, remembering pupils and colleagues, and above all the idyllic courtship and marriage that transformed his life. Playing his one-time wife, Garson ended up earning her Leading Actress nomination with just twenty-five minutes of screen time. She would ultimately lose to Vivien Leigh for Gone With The Wind, the juggernaut of that year, but the accomplishment is still so impressive.
Wife Versus Secretary – Let’s peel it back a few years for the second entry of the week and this one has some heavy star power with Clark Gable leading, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow rounding out the top cast and James Stewart in a supporting role. This would be the fifth of six films paring for Gable and Harlow, and the fourth picture for Gable and Loy starring together. It was the first film Loy and Harlow appeared in together and they would be cast together again for “Libeled Lady” in 1936, which I’ve covered in this section before. The film follows Loy as the wife of a publishing executive who starts to question the professional relationship between her husband, played by Gable, and his new secretary, played by the alluring Jean Harlow. Pretty standard story here but it ended up a success for MGM at the time, bringing in a profit of $876,000 which would be about $15.2M in modern inflation according to studio records. It is a fun audience pleaser that is definitely trapped in the gender roles of its time but this can’t keep down the star power of the leading ladies who always find little pieces to shine, even dwarfing Gable in some points.
The Long, Long Trailer – When I initially posted this film on my Instagram feed which sends to Facebook as well, I got a lot of feedback on it from some older friends and my mother-in-law as apparently this was a big movie in their childhood and was absolutely cherished. Just on the outside, I can see its charm as it stars one of the greatest husband-and-wife comedy pairings ever, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It also was directed by one of the biggest filmmakers of the era, the legendary Vincente Minnelli, husband to Judy Garland at one point and the father of the iconic Liza Minnelli. The film follows the hilarious couple as Nicky and Tacy, two bigger-than-life people in the midst of a whirlwind romance, looking to be married. When it comes to their living situation once married, Nicky has a more traditional idea planned out with the house of their dreams but Tacy has bigger thoughts in the more mobile trailer approach that would add some excitement to their young marriage. This was the first film of a multi-picture deal Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz signed with MGM when I Love Lucy was America’s top-rated television show. When their second vehicle Forever, Darling, released two years later, turned out to be a box office and critical disaster, the rest of the contract remained unfulfilled. That film aside, which I have never seen, this one brilliantly showcases exactly why these two were America’s sweethearts for so long.
Shadow And Bone: Season 2 (Netflix) – Let’s head back into a world of fantasy within the Netflix fold that gain a lot of popularity and one that still may catch the attention of rabid streaming fans looking for their next binge. Adapted from the Leigh Bardugo written book of the same name, the first of the Grisha trilogy, the first season of the series drops you in a war-torn world where a lowly soldier and orphan named Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive. The show has a really great look to it and I loved the solid production value that keeps the fantastical story driven and not waiting on how cheesy it looks. I also have to praise actor Ben Barnes who seems to get better and better every time I see him. He also isn’t a stranger to Netflix as he did the villain thing on the awesome Marvel series Punisher.
Agent Elvis (Netflix) – The animation section on the streaming giant Netflix has become incredibly deep over the years with many different genres of shows for adults so when Matthew McConaughey wants to voice Elvis in a new action-oriented show, I think you have another hit on your hands. That is if the bosses don’t get antsy and axe the show after one or two seasons. Yes, the glorious Texan voices the King in this series that has him trading in his jumpsuit for a jetpack when he joins a secret government spy program to help battle the dark forces that threaten the country. Obviously, Priscilla Presley has spearheaded this new show that is definitely trying to capitalize on the Oscar-nominated biopic from last year bringing Elvis back into the pop culture conversation and I love the supporting cast around McConaughey with Christina Hendricks, Kaitlin Olsen, Simon Pegg, Kieran Culkin and more. I’m really liking the art style of it and the showrunner is Mike Arnold, head writer on Archer for years, so the potential is there.
Ted Lasso: Season 3 (AppleTV+) – Probably one of my most anticipated shows of 2023, the moustachioed Jason Sudeikis is back for one more time as he tries to guide his club, Richmond FC, to the top of the Premier League. Is this doable? well, first he must get over the obstacle of former assistant coach Nathan Shelley who has left the club under bad circumstances and become the coach for the villainous West Ham, run by Richmond owner Rebecca Welton’s ex-husband Rupert. While it feels sad to be saying goodbye to a series that I have loved every single moment of, I am grateful that it is going out on its own terms and not getting itself to a “jump the shark” moment that makes us all turn on the writers and producers. I believe that all of the focus will be shifted onto the new series Shrinking from that same team and I am okay with that as the show is phenomenal. That said, I will be hanging on every second of this final season and I’m guaranteeing that there will be some tears along the way.
Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming With Dave Letterman (Disney+) – My love for the music of Irish rock legends U2 is all owed to my mom, a die-hard fan who has sentimental attachments to a lot of their catalogue. For fans like her, this movie is for you, a special love letter that is unforgettable in both being a celebration of U2’s past and a freshening of some of their greatest songs. The film follows David Letterman on a trip to Dublin for a one-night intimate experience of Bono and The Edge playing some of their greatest songs with a new perspective for a modern time. The film also explores the band’s beginnings and its relationship to their country, beliefs and legacy. I loved this film so much and the new versions of songs like One, Vertigo and A Beautiful Day will stick with me, just as hearing the origins for a forever favorite with Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Scream VI – It really is impressive how fast Paramount moved on to the next installment of the Scream franchise and the second without series creator Wes Craven as the fifth film just came out in January or last year. The writers and directors behind this film, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, collectively known as Radio Silence, have got the aesthetic down well. This one takes us from the familiarity of Woodboro and into New York City and I’m happy that the time between these movies is so quick as it feels like a rare studio gift I wasn’t expecting. The film follows surviving sisters of the first film Sam And Tara Carpenter who are looking for a fresh start in the Big Apple. As it turns out, the legend of the ever-changing Ghostface killer isn’t done with them as the killings start all over again, bringing Scream veteran Gail Weathers aback into the fold as well as Scream 4’s Kirby Reed, which franchise fans are surely applauding. I have big hopes for this movie, especially as they are pushing the move to New York as a big game changer and at a two-hour run time, there has to be so much bloody mayhem included there. This is the big movie this week and another indicator that the blockbusters are now arriving weekly in 2023
65 – To set this one up in a quick synopsis to get genre fans going, this movie is Adam Driver with sci-fi weapons defending himself from dinosaurs. I readily admit that the kid in me loves that idea and could have possibly come up with it in his imagination, as it feels like a surface-level kids’ playtime narrative. Now, this is actually a new big-budget thriller from A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods which makes this one. a must-see as I really enjoyed their last effort, an indie feature called Haunt in 2019. To go a little deeper into the story, Driver plays an astronaut who crashes lands on a mysterious planet with a cargo of cryogenically frozen passengers only to discover that the earth is inhabited by giant reptiles who we know as the dinosaurs, including tyrannosaurus rexes and raptors. So, yeah, it is sci-fi action meets Jurassic Park but given the awesome trailers I’ve seen everywhere for it, this looks like my type of movie fully. It also reminds me of a toy series from my childhood called Dino-Riders and if this s the closes conduit I get to that, then I am satisfied.
Champions – The mistakes in Hollywood comedies always feel doomed to repeat themselves and get into sensitive topics to get laughs in centrifugal and it can be seen right here in this new Bobby Farrelly film. The great thing about this new comedy is that it reunites star Woody Harrelson with one-half of his Kingpin directors, a movie that is still hilarious but I experience trepidation with everything else. The film has Woody as a hothead basketball coach who is ordered by the court after a public incident to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined in a movie that looks really formulaic at its core and has learned nothing from the cautionary tale that was Johnny Knoxville’s The Ringer from 2005. It may be comforting to see that, unlike Peter, Bobby has retained his comfort level in making comedies like what kept him popular with There’s Something About Mary and Dumb And Dumber but we also must regard it in the same sentence as The Three Stooges big screen adaptation and The Heartbreak Kid. This movie just looks like such a dud to me.
Luther: The Fallen Sun – This may come off as a bit of hyperbole but the Idris Elba-led BBC series Luther will go down in history as one of the greatest mystery thriller shows of all time. Elba is fantastic as a serial killer profile and a definite sociopath over the five seasons that aired from 2010 until 2019, the last time we saw the character. Well, he’s back in this new Netflix original, and as the film opens the brilliant detective is locked away in a prison as a gruesome serial killer is terrorizing London. Haunted by his failure to capture the cyber psychopath who now taunts him, Luther decides to break out of prison to finish the job by any means necessary. Original creator Neil Cross returns to write the film with stalwart episodic director Jamie Payne making his feature film debut here and the results are really solid. If this is the last time we see Idris step into this role again, at least we have some sort of closure and it does feel like an inconsequential as the Breaking Bad movie El Camino.
Inside – An easy way to get my butt in a seat for a movie is to say “Willem Dafoe stars as a…” and I’m there immediately. This is an easy indicator of why I wanted to cover this film, even if the studio was unable to hook me up with a screener to fully review it. No worries, they will still get my money eventually. Dafoe plays Nemo, a high-end art thief, who is trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist doesn’t go as planned. Locked inside with nothing but priceless works of art, he must use all his cunning and invention to survive and see his next plan come to fruition. The film is the English language debut of Greek writer and director Vasilis Katsoupis and the advanced word on it is that it is a blend of Dafoe’s on-screen mastery of his craft and a contained heist film that explores its subject in just one location. All of Dafoe’s work with Abel Ferrera and Paul Schrader in the last few decades has taught me a valuable lesson of paying deep attention to leading performances from this legend.
I Like Movies – Well, they made a Canadian movie that, on its surface, plays as exactly my sort of film, with a main character who has a deep obsession with cinema that may be construed by others as possibly unhealthy. Judge all you want. Underneath that is a story about a deep need to become something that ends up blinding our main character with a massive ego and an inability to read social cues. Coming from writer and director Chandler Levack, the film follows Lawrence Kweller, a socially inept seventeen-year-old cinephile who dreams of being the next Paul Thomas Anderson. With the next step to achieving his goal being attending NYU’s film program, he gets a job at the local video store and forms a platonic bond with his store manager. I was enthralled with this movie, so well written and wears its heart on its sleeve. The film plays with the same quirks that made us love John Hughes and Kevin Smith movies but also brings a naive reality to it that tugs on your emotions with its familiarity. This is an impressive first feature from Levack and I’m excited for whatever comes next from her.
Women Talking – Sarah Polley is a Canadian treasure that we’ve loved for decades since her debut as Anne Of Green Gables on Road To Avonlea and, for me, her leading role in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. In my adult years, she also devastated me as an actress in the drama My Life Without Me and as a filmmaker in the drama Away From Her and now she is back in the director’s seat to deliver a film that is the best shot film of 2022 in my opinion and wholly important to the current gender conversation. Featuring a stacked cast with Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley and more, the film is set in 2010 at an isolated religious commune and follows the lives of a group of women trying to make a life-altering decision of leaving the colony or forcing the men who assault them on a nightly basis. With the cast this film has in place, it is certainly a powerhouse level, but it might have a harder time with a broader audience as it very much feels like a play adaptation that was originally conceived as a one-set production. The conversation that derives from the film is a thoughtful discourse that starkly frames damning metaphors that fully exist in our own reality and leads to a lot of self-reflection, hopefully in those that sourly need it. Polley gives a meaningful voice to the ongoing struggle for equality and equity between genders and it truly might be the best film of 2022, although I doubt the Oscars will recognize it as such. They wouldn’t dare wade that deep into its politics.
Christmas Bloody Christmas – Another Christmas horror after the blu-ray release of Violent Night a few weeks back, yes, I know, but this one aired originally as a streaming title on Shudder and gets the physical release treatment now. This ultra gory and sort of music hipster descent into mayhem comes from the mind of writer and director Joe Begos, a brash filmmaker who debuted with the killer-tortured L.A. artist story Bliss and kept the ball rolling with his old guys versus gangbangers action horror VFW. His new film’s premise is deadly simple and follows record store owner Tori who just wants to get drunk and party on Christmas Eve. This all gets thrown out the window when a robotic Santa Claus at a nearby toy store goes haywire and begins a rampant killing spree through her small town, putting her in a fight for her life. Filled with bright neon, torrents of blood and five fucks per minute in the dialogue, this film is really entertaining on a B-movie level but I don’t think it has a real appeal beyond that level. The characters in my opinion are largely unlikeable, aside from our main who becomes better as her horrible night continues. Not my favourite of the Begos library but he brings a Rob Zombie-like style slammed into an homage to Richard Stanley’s Hardware that won me over.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:
The TV Set – In my continuing journey to collect all of the entries into the numbered collection from Shout Factory known as the Shout Select series, one of my best friends Mark, sent me a copy of this, the 111th title, and it was a film I remember loving when I work at Rogers Video. The film was an early one from Walk Hard and Orange County director Jake Kasdan and one of those early 2000s films that had an ensemble cast to die for. Starring David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver and more, the film was a sardonic and sarcastic fly-on-the-wall comedy-drama that shows the ins and outs of a television series set and all of the chaos contained within. It’s an interesting exercise in showing the creative process but applied to a situation in which the man behind the idea is using it as a catharsis to say goodbye to a loved one. I feel like a lot of set knowledge fueled this film as Jake is the son of legendary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and is for sure pulling from a lot of experience. This was a hidden gem that really only had a rental run rather than a theatrical one and I think people should check it out.
House Party – Being a kid of the nineties, I am well-versed in the escapades of Kid and Play and their three house parties which is why I’m so very wary about this remake that invokes nostalgia with the name but I was unsure if it would with it’s follow through. I do like that original director Reginald Hudlin is an executive producer on the film alongside Lebron James but new stars Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole definitely have sweet shoes and high fades to fill. The story this time around follows two house cleaners who get the opportunity of a lifetime when they are assigned to clean Lebron James’ mansion while he is overseas. They decide to make a life-changing decision to throw a giant party in a quest for immortality and some cash and, as the party gets out of control and one of Lebron’s championship rings goes missing, which may turn the dream night into a felony. I will say that this movie is by no means great but it still manages to recapture the fun vibe of the first film with great music and cameos from Kid Cudi, Mya, Bill Bellamy and the original stars themselves which made me really happy. Those who scoured the shelves for VHS tapes in 1992 will be as into this as I was.
Perry Mason: Season 2 (Crave) – As a kid, I used to sit with my grandparents and watch reruns of this classic lawyer show starring the legendary status Canadian Raymond Burr and was captivated time and time again. Well, Robert Downey Jr. made my dreams come true as he and the global force of HBO collaborated to bring this new series set in the era that creator Erle Stanley Gardner intended it to be in and it stars The Americans’ Matthew Rhys in the title role. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series focuses on the origin story of famed defence lawyer Perry Mason who is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage. The first season followed him on a case of a kidnapping gone very wrong which led to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovered the truth of the crime and uses it, sometimes lawlessly, to find some redemption. Needless to say, this show rocks in every way and Rhys is powerful, gripping and definitely deserving of all the acclaim that has come his way, I’m so excited to see where the series goes next.
History Of The World: Part II (Disney+) – I can’t believe this is a reality but possibly one of the longest anticipated sequels ever is finally here and, even better, it has expanded to being a series. Yes, Mel Brooks has returned, twenty-eight years after Dracula: Dead And Loving It to follow up a film he made forty-two years ago and to put that in context is pretty amazing. The king of the spoof is clearly here with an updated look at the history of this planet in a style that is very Brooks and a modern sensibility with Ike Barinholtz, Nick Kroll and Wanda Sykes who co-wrote it as well as starred in it. I feel like this is something I’m going to watch again in its entirety after ingesting all of Brooks’ filmography. This series has inspired me to do so.
Chang Can Dunk (Disney+) – Disney+ has a brand new series hitting the service this week, unrelated to Star Wars and Marvel or something that was previously released on Hulu and FX previously in the states but something a little more heartwarming. Looking to join the Mighty Ducks sequel series in the family sports shows, this series follows Chang, a young Asian-American teen and basketball fanatic who just wants to dunk and get the girl, the full NBA dream. Though his peers treat him as though he is insignificant, he becomes obsessed with learning how to slam dunk and becomes determined to beat the high school’s all-star named Matt, all while hopefully winning the adoration of his romantic interest, Kristy. I found the show really quite charming, having never heard anything heading into it, and the young cast shines with a really fun script that I hope catches on with the older audience. Heck, you don’t even need to like basketball to find the draw with this show.
Creed III – I had no idea that we would get movies set in the Rocky cinematic universe that didn’t feature Sylvester Stallone but now, with this third film in the spin-off movies, we have hit that point. It’s acceptable because both of the Michael B. Jordan films have been great up until now, and he steps behind the camera in his feature film directing debut. The film picks up with Adonis thriving in both his career and family life until a face from his past comes back to threaten the empire that he’s built. With a mentality that Donny has taken everything that was owed to him when he was incarcerated, Damien looks to be the most formidable foe of our hero and he’s played by the incredible Jonathan Majors. It really is the year of Majors as he was just the best thing about the last Ant-Man movies and also features in this week’s Blu-ray release, Devotion. I have high hopes for this film as I’ve loved every movie that was connected to Rocky since I was a kid.
Joyride – I’m always in for a good Olivia Colman film and with Empire Of Light last week and her doing a voice in Puss In Boots: The Last Wish this week, it really is an embarrassment of riches if you enjoy the Oscar-winning actress. This one wasn’t on my radar at all until Level Film brought it to my attention and after a few weeks delay, it is here now. Colman plays a headstrong attorney who has made a plan to offload her newborn baby to her sister and is scrambling to adjust when a vulnerable but opinionated teenager steals their taxi. Colman carries this film squarely on her shoulders as she is the sole reason to give it any thought at all as it clearly lacks something in the credibility department. The manipulation of it trying to tug at your emotions feels moot because there isn’t a moment that you feel the characters won’t resolve their situations and, aside from Colman, it’s very hard to get immersed in their problems as the exposition feels very shallow.
The Quiet Girl – Having just seen the Academy Award-nominated story of a young friendship destroyed in the film Close, I was not ready for another tragic tale of childhood tragedy and this new Irish film took quick advantage of that weakness. I can easily say that it made itself memorable in how much it devastated me and a very deserving entry into the official submissions for the Oscars, in which it is the first ever Irish language film to earn the accolade. The story is set in rural Ireland in the early eighties and follows a quiet, neglected girl who is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with foster parents for the summer where she blossoms and starts to become comfortable with herself in their care. Of course, the fairy tale can’t last forever as discovered secrets end up bringing an abrupt end to the new happiness she has found for herself. This film is punctuated by a fantastic performance from young actress Catherine Clinch who is able to tell so much in an obviously very subdued way and the final scene is so heartbreaking and resonant that it will stick with me for a while. It’s such a tough race for Best Foreign this year, I’m really curious as to what will take it.
Huesara: The Bone Woman – Have you ever wanted a version of What To Expect When You’re Expecting but from a total horror perspective? I know, this is a completely focused projection but that has to be what writer and director Michelle Garza Cervera had in mind when she conceptualized this horror drama. The story follows Valeria, a woman who has long dreamed about becoming a mother and that day has arrived. The happiness quickly turns to worry and concern as the pregnancy begins to veer into supernatural depths as she connects everything to unsettling dark magic. This is a film that is destined to mess with your mind and push you to revulsion with the disturbing body horror contained in a seemingly straightforward story. Cervera and her lead actress Natalia Solián have crafted a character journey that is disturbing in ways that set itself apart from other horror films like it and the final product is definitely not for the faint of heart. I really wish I saw this one in theatres with an audience, it is so atmospheric in some scenes and the reactions must have been wild.
Return To Seoul – A fish out of water sorry is always compelling but there is something about this new film, mostly spoken in French but set in South Korea, that hits a whole new level. At the heart of it, I think it’s incredible that the lead performance in this drama is from a plastics artist named Park Ji-min who gives such a soulful and complex depth that resonates with so much experience. The film follows Ji-min as Freddie, a twenty-five-year-old French woman who returns to Korea, the country she was born in before being adopted by a French couple, for the very first time. Out of her element and unaccustomed to the traditions and ways of the locals, he decides to track down her biological parents, a decision that she might have not thought through the impact of before pursuing. This film is an enlightening and sometimes heartbreaking journey of one character’s seemingly aloof quest for self-discovery and the process seems to run the gamut on how the audience can feel about our main character. This is one of those great dramas that excels in the human condition experience.
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish – It feels like the Shrek franchise and spin-offs are so long ago in the pop culture zeitgeist that it really only exists in an internet meme cache and oddball nostalgia posts but then this film comes along. Not only is it a follow-up to the spin-off for the Antonio Banderas voiced character but it also has a new animation style to boot which is incredibly dynamic especially in the fight scenes leaving me to think that, given the film’s success, we may get more from the big ogre that got the ball rolling for Dreamworks Animation. This film follows our titular fairy tale character as he discovers that his passion for adventure has taken its toll and he has burned through eight of his nine lives. With knowledge of something that can restore him to his adventurous self, he sets out on an epic journey to find the mythical Last Wish with the prize of a brand new nine lives and with a villainous Goldilocks, voiced by the lovely Florence Pugh, on his tail. Much to my surprise, this might be the best-animated film of 2022 or at least in the top echelon of that category.. The film leans into a Sergio leone style coupled with an anime sense o storytelling featuring a bold voice cast that brings a punch, fun and funny script to life. I found myself fully engaged with the story within moments and am delighted with the fact that they could rejuvenate something that, honestly, felt stale going into. This was possibly the biggest movie surprise of last year.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody – I have to admit, every time I saw the trailer for this film it looked worse and worse to me and maybe it’s just that I feel a little burnt out on the music biopic scene. Yes, we’ve had great ones recently with Rocketman for Elton John and, to a slightly lesser degree, Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen but we’ve also had the bland Respect for Aretha Franklin and the unapproved disaster of Stardust and I just have a feeling that a lot will be omitted or glossed over in this one. The film stars Star Wars actress Naomie Ackie as the hit-generating but tragic singer in her meteoric rise to superstardom against a backdrop of family betrayals and a whirlwind but misguided love affair. I do love that Stanley Tucci is playing mega-producer and collaborator with Houston, Clive Davis, which is just perfect casting for me. After loving the documentary on the man himself, this might be the shining piece in a film that looks very mediocre to me.
Violent Night – Just describing this film, you know exactly why one like this would be at the top of my list for the best holiday films ever and, yes, David Harbour is a big reason for it. Not being a huge Christmas movie guy except for the classics, it takes a hook to get me immersed in a new one and this one definitely has it. The story follows a team of elite mercenaries who breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage to obtain the millions in an underground vault. The team isn’t remotely prepared for a surprise combatant in the form of Santa Claus who takes it upon himself to dispatch each one of these naughty listers in increasingly gruesome ways. Translation? My type of movie. The film comes from the producers of the Bob Odenkirk action flick Nobody and is directed by the madman Tommy Wirkola, responsible for the Nazi zombie comedy horror films Dead Snow and its sequel, a team that has created absolutely glorious insanity from start to finish. Harbour is charming as a Santa disillusioned with the greed of the modern world and John Leguizamo plays a fantastic villainous foil with a certain charm of his own. The script is biting and hilarious at times and the action is ferocious and pops off the screen. I loved this movie.
Devotion – It’s really interesting that we got this true story fighter pilot film nearing the end of 2022 as it was the same year that Top Gun Maverick was released and, not only that, it also shares a leading star with Glen Powell who played Hangman in that long-anticipated sequel. Now it goes to a Korean War story featuring the great Jonathan Majors, on blu-ray now the same week as Creed III and just a couple weeks after Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, both in villain roles. The film tells the story of the friendship between two of the elite pilots in the American air force who are sent on the most dangerous of missions due to their precision strikes. The issue of racism in the leadership is another element of the film obviously with Majors being black and the action looks pretty rip-roaring in ti but it will have to do a lot to best Top Gun. The pandemic really messed this release up as it should have come out two years after the biggest film now of 2022 and I think it, unfortunately, hurt the film’s box office chances which is a total shame because it was a damn good movie.
God’s Country – Thandiwe Newton has been one of the best character actresses in the business for at least a couple of decades now but it was her brilliance in Westworld that made us go “oh yeah!” to a large degree. She can play big but when she is understated, this is where her best work comes out and this slow-burn character drama thriller from first-time feature film writer and director Julian Higgins makes brilliant use of that. Newton plays a grieving college professor who is forced to confront two hunters on her rural property land and gets the authorities involved to keep them away. What starts as a simple but tense confrontation turns into a daily terrorizing as the two enlist their community to push her over the edge and escalate the problem to a dangerous and possibly deadly level. Newton is so stellar in this but it was co-star Jefferson White who grabbed my attention, only known to me for his role on Yellowstone as the ranch hand looking for redemption, Jimmy Hurdstrom. He gets to play into the menacing a bit more in this film and he does it so well plus the final scene does so much heavy lifting with just sound and the audience’s imagination, I couldn’t help but be massively impressed. I think Higgins has a big future in rural thrillers if he makes a niche of it.
Pretty Little Liars Original Sin: Season 1 – There are honestly so many network television shows that I have been picking up on very late into airing or even after the full run of the show and the original series for this spinoff, Pretty Little Liars, was one of them. It was massively popular with a faithful fanbase so it made sense that they would want to keep that magic going and after ingesting all of that first show into my brain via Netflix, I was ready to go for more. Knowing where the money is in the meat of their storytelling, Original Sin brings a whole new mystery to the little liars of Millwood but with an all-new cast of characters and I have to say I appreciate that all the homages and references to other horror and mystery properties seem to be consistent. Although I do miss the old cast, there is a charm to this new series and I’m digging the originality of it, not to get all punny and referential to the subtitle.
The Adventures Of Batman – Warner Brothers sent me this new update of a revamped old Batman series that I can’t even research on IMDb because apparently, it doesn’t exist but what I can say is that it is really a product of its era and Casey Casem voices Robin in it proving that he was the busiest voice over artist with this Scooby Doo and Josie And The Pussycats to name a couple. The plot is really simple, Batman and his sidekick Robin solving mysteries and foiling his rogues’ gallery in some of the cheesiest episodes I have ever seen. Seriously, it makes the live-action series look edgy and Josie and Scooby’s show look more palatable in comparison. It looks good in my Batman collection but I can’t say I will be revisiting it.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Our Dancing Daughters – Going classic this week as all three films were released years before I was born and we are starting with the oldest one, thanks to the great people at Warner Archive, and it is a film that is five years away from being one hundred years old. It also is a two-time Academy Award-nominated film although it was in the writing and cinematography department. The film follows the legendary and iconic actress Joan Crawford as Diana, a well-put-together girl who works as a flapper with her friend Ann, looking for the love of her life. She finds herself at odds with Ann when the two compete over the affections of Ben, a soon-to-be millionaire and it then comes down to how attractive Diana’s good-girl nature is against Ann’s devious attitude. This is the film that would propel Crawford’s name to the a-list, a path that would lead her to multiple Oscar nominations and even a win but not for a couple of decades. The film also proved to be a massive hit for the studio, MGM, turning a profit six times the amount of its production cost. People really loved this classic and the blu-ray revisit it well put together.
Rancho Notorious – Thi is a really cool release from Warner Archive from the mid-fifties as it features a formidable star of the time, Marlene Dietrich, was a western genre film and came from legendary filmmaker Fritz Lang, the mind behind M and Metropolis just to name a couple. The film was notable for pushing the limits of the MPAA at the time with its depictions and discussion of sexual assault and murder, a theme central to its main plot. The story follows Arthur Kennedy as Vern Haskell, a likable rancher who seeks out to avenge his fiancé’s death when she is slain during a robbery. His revenge leads him to Chuck-a-luck, Altar Keane’s ranch set up to hide criminals where he quickly finds that he may be in over his head. At the time the film was made, Dietrich was considered one of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies and, at fifty years old at the time of filming, used every trick in the book to get lighting and camera to show her youthful side. Disagreements about this creative turn almost lost the film its cinematographer, who contributed to the film’s iconic and celebrated look and style.
Elvis – While everyone is still talking about Austin Butler’s star-making and Academy Award-nominated turn as Elvis Prestley, I went out and bought the Shout Select edition of John Carpenter’s version of the story starring a young Kurt Russell. In their first collaboration and a made-for-television movie at that, it was a must to have all of their films together and this was the last piece in the collection puzzle. Covering the rise of Elvis, the film starts with his early years in Mississippi and Tennessee raised by his parents, Gladys and Vernon, before he forms a partnership with “Colonel” Tom Parker that leads to the release of his first song, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which zooms to the top of the charts. Elvis soon catapults to stardom, marrying the beautiful Priscilla and cementing his legendary status in pop culture. The film has a really interesting cast around Russell including Shelley Winters as his mom, Pat Hingle playing Parker and Kurt’s own father Bing playing the father of the King which is a really neat detail. Being a Carpenter die-hard fan, this was a must-own for me as I continue to buy all of these films in the numbered collection.
The Mandalorian: Season 3 (Disney+) – The wait is finally over as we get more of the continued adventures of the Mandalorian and his sidekick, the “child” or “Baby Yoda”, Grogu. Every season of this has been absolutely incredible in my mind and, yes, I include the little mini-season of it in the Book Of Boba Fett series which seemed to be paned by a lot of viewers. For those who aren’t fresh to this incredible series, the story follows the travels of a lone masked bounty hunter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic, where he takes jobs and completes them with ease until one mission changes the entire trajectory of what he believed his legacy to be. This is another notch on the belt of actor Pedro Pascal who has to be the hottest television actor on the planet right now with this series and the currently running The Last Of Us on HBO. I’m so damn happy this show is back and it is a big reason to look forward to Wednesdays.
Cocaine Bear – We kicked off the year with a living doll in M3GAN and had Mia Goth give another gonzo performance in Infinity Pool and, now, 2023 is giving us the next installment of horror risk-taking with this piece of insane genre filmmaking which is, believe it or not, inspired by a true story. Judging from the trailer, this looks like a Tarantino-esque ensemble grouping of stories around our titular forest creature and I’m here for every second of it. The film follows an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens who converge in a Georgia forest where a five-hundred-pound black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine. Besides the insane premise, this film is notable for being the final completed role of Ray Liotta before his passing last year, so it will be a few bittersweet moments within the carnage. I can’t wait to see how big this film will go as the trailer features some really hilarious and totally out-there stuff. I can’t believe that this is Elizabeth Banks in her follow-up to directing the Charlie’s Angels reboot. That directorial range in my opinion.
We Have A Ghost – Let’s get this clear, if David Harbour is leading a movie, I’m in. This has been a newer development since Stranger Things debuted and it has worked against me, like in Hellboy, but this holiday season he played a kickass Santa in Violent Night and now, well, he’s a ghost. This new film from Freaky and Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon follows a teen named Kevin and his family who move into an old house that has a current inhabitant named Ernest who has been haunting the attic. Immediately deemed a non-threat, Kevin is intent on finding out the mystery about Ernest’s death and ends up forming a friendship along the way in a film that is sweet, charming and a whole lot of fun. This movie could easily come off really cheesy but Landon gives it great self-awareness and a funny script tinged with his fantastic horror prowess to give it a knowing flavour. I enjoyed this film a lot and I hope it finds its audience on Netflix.
Juniper – Veteran actors usually are a good selling point for me in any character study drama and Charlotte Rampling has had a handful of these types of films that I have loved like Swimming Pool and 45 Years. This film is also deeply rooted in the country where it takes place, New Zealand and, like Aussie films, I have a certain affinity for their cinema as well. The film follows a self-destructive teenager spiralling into suicidal thoughts that is asked to look after his ailing grandmother when he is suspended from school. Obtuse to each other at first the two start to bond over each other’s strong will and battle for control over their situations, hers as it dwindles to a close and his as he searches for meaning and a purpose in it. The film is well acted and beautifully shot but I feel like it doesn’t do enough to secure its own singular voice and kind of gets lost in the shuffle of other films like it and dwarfed by ones that are better. I still love the mauri culture that is represented, an indigenous voice that has such a great presence in all New Zealand productions.
Empire Of Light – My initial feeling on this new drama was that it seemed like the perfect pairing to put acclaimed filmmaker Sam Mendes and Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman together for a story loosely based around cinema, or at least the holy temple for movie fans, the theatre. Add to that the film nerd panache of the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins shooting it and you have all the makings of a Steve-certified favourite. The story is set in a small English coastal town in the early 1980s and follows a cinema manager struggling with her mental health and her new employee who longs to escape the provincial town where he faces daily adversity as a black man in England. Together they find a sense of belonging and experience the healing power of companionship in the quiet solitude of the closed-down section of the Empire Theater where they work in. Olivia Colman gives another astounding performance that hit runs the gamut of emotions, proving her grit as a character actress once again. I’m in awe of every beautiful shot that Deakins created in this film and still find myself surprised that it scored so low with critics as I really loved it.
The Inspection – It’s a telling sign that I got a tingle up my spine when I saw the A24 logo because, as usual, I knew I’d be seeing something special, either incredibly personal, definitely resonant and something that no other huge studio would take a chance on. That said, so much of this film was unknown to me. I didn’t know who Jeremy Pope is as I don’t watch Pose (yet), I was unfamiliar with writer and director Elegance Bratton and I didn’t know anything about the plot itself other than being a military story. A semi-autobiographical story from Bratton, the film follows a young, gay Black man who has been rejected by his mother and, with few options for his future, decides to join the Marines, doing whatever it takes to succeed in a system that would cast him aside. The character building of this film is so fantastic and this isn’t just focused on our main lead as the squad around him seems to grow and develop alongside him. The command Bratton observes in just his first feature is that of a creator who has been running this film in his mind for a long time. I also have to acknowledge how incredible Gabrielle Union is in this as the main’s homophobic mother.
Nocebo – I always love a good Shudder original and know that no horror films appeared in last week’s list, so I’m overdue. This film also has the added gravitas of having the incredibly alluring Eva Green in the lead role and Mark Strong as her husband, a definite favourite of mine, all to make a film that definitely borrows in its tone from the Italian giallo style. Green plays a fashion designer who is suffering from a mysterious illness that puzzles her doctors and frustrates her husband until help arrives in the form of a Filipino carer, who uses traditional folk healing to try and cure her ailment. Director Lorcan Finnegan really surprised me with his last film, the thriller Vivarium with Jesse Eisenberg which had a “blink and you miss it” release during the pandemic and this follow-up has a lot of those same qualities that made that one work but with a bit of a disturbing edge to it. The ending was a bit divisive for me but it was still a really thrilling ride.
Dazed And Confused4K – I know I’ve talked about this film a few times here but the 4K is out this week so I revisit it once again. Richard Linklater is a Criterion giant so for this to be my first of his films to own in the format is pretty poetic because it was the first one of his films I had ever seen and it is an all-time favourite and one that hits the same every time I watch it. The film is also the launching point for a huge cast including Matthew McCougnehey, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey and so many more. The film is a seminal last day of high school classic set at the end of the 1976 school year in a Texan small town. The upperclassmen are hazing the incoming freshmen, and everyone is trying to get stoned, drunk, or laid, even the football players that signed a pledge not to, an act of rebellion from our quasi-lead Pink, played by Jason London. This is one of those tent pole movies in the mid-nineties that still finds itself being discovered by generation after generation because that is how good and relatable it is. There is a damn good reason why it is a part of this prestigious collection.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
The Dentist Collection – Most people know actor Corbin Bernson as a television actor from his days on the David E. Kelley series L.A. Law but for me, it was, firstly, the first two Major League movies and then these shlocky horror films that followed in the footsteps of his co-star Larry Drake’s hilarious thriller Dr. Giggles. Yes, over-the-top gags, dumb one-liners and that classic nineties cheese make these movies so much fun to watch and it all came from director Brian Yuzna, one of the minds behind Re-Animator as well as the iconic Society. The first film follows Bernsen’s Dr. Feinstone, an extremely successful dentist who goes off the deep end after he catches his wife cheating on him while the second film has him freshly escaped from the mental hospital where he has been since being caught at the end of part one. Of course, the second movie tries t up the ante a bit but it does so by getting totally insane in dream sequences and an abundance of gore. These will only appeal to a certain audience but those people will enjoy the blu-ray upgrade as I do.
Bones And All – Is it weird that Luca Guadagnino made a film about cannibals just a few years after his award lauded drama Call Me By Your Name which starred now-outed weirdo Armie Hammer? I’m definitely not the first to bring that connection up but even so, I’ve been really excited to get my eyes on this new collaboration between the Italian director and his star, Timothee Chalamet. The film is the story of first love between Maren, a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee, an intense and disenfranchised drifter, as they meet and join together for a thousand-mile odyssey which takes them through the back roads, hidden passages and other trappings of a Ronald Reagan era America. Oh, I also have to mention that they both have an incredible and undeniable urge to eat human flesh, another element that bonds them but inadvertently puts them on the path of like-minded but dangerous individuals. This film may go down as one of the most underrated films of 2022, a story rich with brilliant character work from two young actors in Taylor Russell and Chalamet as well as some career-best stuff from Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and another scene-stealer for one solitary moment by another one of Luca’s favourites, Michael Stuhlbarg. This movie is going to be one that is re-evaluated in the future and we will realize that we did it dirty for sure.
Party Down: Season 3 (Crave) – This is a show that I heard a lot about before and never gave it a chance for unknown reasons. It just was an unnecessary blindspot as it has actors I love with Adam Scott Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr and Lizzy Caplan so when the new season was announced it gave me an opportunity to correct my mistake. Originally debuting in 2009, the series focuses on a group of wannabe actors and writers who work their day job as part of a catering company. After burning through most of the first season already, I’m kicking myself for not supporting this show earlier as it is hysterically funny and definitely my type of humour. So many great guest stars feature in this and it is a show that definitely shouldn’t have been cancelled after season two initially.
The Reluctant Traveler (AppleTV+) – When Schitt’s Creek made its farewell, the question on people’s minds was mostly relegated to what is next for Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy because Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara have already done so much in their careers so whatever was next was just icing on a fantastic career cake. Well, I will say that a travel show for Eugene wasn’t a prediction for me but here we are. This new docuseries follows the adventures of the Canadian comedy legend as he visits some of the world’s most remarkable hotels, as well as explores the people, places and cultures starting with Finland in the opening episode that features all of that charm and nervous reservation that Levy exudes so easily. I’m not generally into shows like this but I can’t resist a good host and that is their strength here in a show that would be pretty bland otherwise.
Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania – The next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here and needless to say that I’m really excited about it as I am not experiencing the apparent fatigue with these films and I just adore Paul Rudd in this role. Another reason I’m anticipating this film as it sets up our next big villain for the foreseeable future for the next grouping of the Avengers. The film follows our heroes of Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, along with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, who must explore the Quantum Realm they find themselves lost in after an experiment gone wrong by Scott’s now teenaged daughter Cassie. They find this new world inhabited by strange creatures, embarking on an adventure that goes beyond the limits of what they thought was possible and putting them face to face with a formidable foe known as Kang the Conqueror. This movie looks visually stunning as far as the trailers go, something reminiscent of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune here and there. It will be interesting to see what effect the story revelations will have on future stories within the MCU and I look forward to seeing the first piece in a fantastic year for actor Jonathan Majors who plays Kang here and then the villain in the upcoming Creed III in a couple of weeks.
Sharper – I love a solid grifter film and I had no idea that is what I was heading into when I threw on the screener for this AppleTV+ release that was also surprisingly produced by A24 as well. I had a movie nerd moment as soon as the logo splashed across the screen, I’m not going to lie. The film is a multi-storyline project that intersects our main characters at certain points which is a trope if done right, that I really enjoy. The film starts out by following the beginning of a new relationship leading to the woman in the situation needing money to save her brother. After $350,000 is given, the woman disappears with the cash and we now follow her story of how she became a con artist which adjusts to her mentor’s story and so on and so forth. The film is guided in supporting roles by veterans like Julianne Moore and John Lithgow and one of the current hot stars, Sebastian Stan, but the bulk of the main character weight has to be Pokemon Detective Pikachu’s Justice Smith and actress Brianna Middleton who I have only seen in a small role in George Clooney’s The Tender Bar. Everyone gives great performances in a film that feels slick with its reveals and kept me engage with the story from start to finish. Director Benjamin Caron has made great television with Andor, The Crown and Sherlock and he definitely nailed his first feature film now too.
Marlowe – I know I’ve been ragging on Liam Neeson every time one of his new geriatric action thrillers is released but I will obtain from it his week because his new film is directed by the legendary Neil Jordan, the man behind films like Interview With The Vampire, The Crying Game and Mona Lisa among others. I’m also digging into the fact that this is an old-school film noir following one of the iconic characters of the genre, Philip Marlowe, which Neeson is pretty perfect for. The story is set in a late 1930s Bay City, with the brooding, down-on-his-luck detective being hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress, setting up all the delicious cliches of a damsel in distress or a femme fatale. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm started to wane when I found that it was all talk and no bluster as Jordan’s Marlowe knows how to construct the dialogue but has a hollow quality underneath as it starts to parrot much better detective stories. Neeson also can’t seem to get out of that gruff Taken gear and it becomes distracting more and more as the film goes on. I thought this was a break out of the slog that he’s put himself into for more than a decade now but, alas, we are still in the rut.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – Twenty-three years after its initial release, Ang Lee’s epic martial arts story is getting a re-release into theatres, maybe to compete with the twenty-fifth-anniversary release of Titanic but also maybe to make reparations for the ignoring of Michelle Yeoh’s great performance now that she’s an Oscar-nominated actress. I remember seeing it in the, at the time, new theatres of International Village with my aunt when it came out and was blown away. For those who have never seen this masterpiece, it follows a young Chinese warrior who steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of romantic adventure with a mysterious man on the frontier of the nation. The film is incredible from top to bottom, featuring a cast with a legend in its lead character played by Chow Yun Fat and a rising star named Ziyi Zhang. Gorgeously shot with amazing fight scenes on the ground, in the trees and in mid-air, to experience this film in theatres again is an absolute cinematic gift ad is highly recommended.
Of An Age – The international film race starts out early in 2023 because I think this new drama could already be a front-runner and, yes I’m aware it is mid-February. The film is also produced out of Australia and I have a definite weakness for Aussie-made movies, especially dramas featuring new actors I’ve never seen before. This is a gay romance that is set in the summer of 1999 following a seventeen-year-old Serbian-born and Australian-living amateur ballroom dancer who experiences an unexpected and intense twenty-four-hour romance with his friend’s older brother. What results is an awakening of his true self in a story that is beautifully framed and under great direction from filmmaker Goran Stolevski who is following up his incredible debut, the horror chiller You Won’t Be Alone, with another stellar outing. Soon, his name will be on a list of up-and-comers and I can not wait.
Hidden Blade – Well Go USA has its next theatrical epic lined up here and it has some serious star power as Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is the lead role, n actor I hope North American audiences still remember after his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. The film follows the story of underground workers who risked their lives to send intelligence and defend the motherland, set after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor when the Wang Jingwei regime declared war on Britain and the United States. I love films like this, reminiscent of the South Korean masterpiece Age Of Shadows mixed with a bit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s World War II spy drama Army Of Shadows. Stories of the resistance are always gripping and it feels like writer and director Er Chang really did his homework on this one.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
The Fabelmans – Being a lifelong Steven Spielberg fan, clearly the number one filmmaker in the world now for decades, he has tackled so many different stories and genres over his life and career but this one is the most personal he has ever done. It is a film that definitely speaks to his fans but to the filmmakers and creators that he has inspired as well as the heart of this story is about imagination and the creation of cinema from a young age. The story follows young Sammy Fabelman growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, aspiring to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence. Armed with a camera, Sammy makes his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother, played by the phenomenal Michelle Williams. With an incredible cast and the powerhouse and comfortable team of Spielberg and longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, this film might be one of the most special of 2022 and has the potential to be the Best Picture Oscar winner. I can’t even say that is hyperbole because it is the master of modern cinema, Steven Spielberg, who took on a writing credit as well with a project to help him mourn the loss of his father and give him some closure in a sense.
Strange World – It’s crazy how developed Disney’s own in-house computer animated division has gotten as it is now easily on par with all of the Pixar releases, something that used to far exceed it. With recent releases in memory like Raya And The Last Dragon and Encanto, it fueled the excitement big time for this sci-fi foray for the gifted studio. The film follows a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog and a slew of ravenous creatures. Featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid and stalwart Disney voice-over master Alan Tudyk, I have to say that Disney failed their own film with a low-key ad campaign that led to a bad box office return. This is really sad as I brought my daughter to see it in theatres and had so much fun with it. Vibrant and imaginative, this film just popped off the screen with its colourful world and a storyline that felt fun and sadly relevant in a lot of ways. Kids will really like this one, which is already available on Disney+, but I implore adults to give it a chance as well. It reminds me of how fun Treasure Planet was too and also how that film failed at the box office too.
Project Wolf Hunting – Between the Shudder-released horror thriller The Sadness and this film, I can’t imagine that there is any blood left to make any more of these types of movies because the sheer volume of it is insane. For a guy like me, this should be my wheelhouse for sure but there are certain moments in both films where I felt a bit squeamish and, well, I guess they really did their job here as filmmakers. This film frames itself as an action thriller, following a group of dangerous criminals on a cargo ship who are transported from the Philippines to South Korea. The inmates have organized a daring attempt to escape but in the process unleash an experimental super soldier contained in the bowels of the ship that rips through everyone with an unfathomable bloodlust. This movie rocks and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. The violence is fast and heavy, definitely designed for shock and awe, something that is made for a certain audience. I loved every second of it and am so happy to own the blu-ray to watch over and over again.
On The Come Up – Actress Sanaa Lathan makes her feature film directorial debut in this new drama and it looks like she wanted to pull on a bit of the 8 Mile chain as she adapted this novel by The Hate U Give writer Angie Thomas. She has some solid help with the legendary Method Man playing a role and Only Murders In The Building’s Da’Vine Joy Randolph in supporting roles in a story that feels compelling at the start. The plot centers on sixteen-year-old Bri, who wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time but not in the name of her late father, a neighbourhood legend. Facing controversies and with an eviction notice staring down her family, Bri doesn’t just want to make it, she has to make it but can she keep her persona intact or become a parody of it just to make money? This movie has all the potential in the world but it falters in having too much going on to satisfy every character arc. What results is a noticeably uneven film that misses the mark hip-hop-wise as well. It’s a great start for Lathan but she needs to smooth some of those rough edges.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & 4K Geek Outs:
Rock Dog 3: Battle The Beat – This section is usually designed for films that I geek out about, just like the header suggests, but sometimes it is about the late arrivals that I didn’t get to review during release week and that’s where we sit with the three this week. To start off, this is a family film that is now in its third story and I will warn you now, this is strictly for the kids. This film picks up with our hero Bodi, voiced by Gregory Hamilton, looking to restore the stature of his idol and legendary rockstar Angus Scattergood, voiced by the hilarious Eddie Izzard, one of the most recognizable voiceover actors to British comedy nerds like myself. The animation is solid but Lionsgate, the film’s producer, has had a bad track record of half-fleshed-out animated properties and this is one that has been a downgrade with each installment. When they lost Luke Wilson as the voice of Bodi after the first movie, the writing was on the wall.
Belly4K – This is a blast from the end of my high school days as this was a film that got so many views by my group of friends as it stars two of the biggest hip hop stars of the late nineties and early 2000s, DMX and Nas. There were many films like this at the time like State Property and any Steven Seagal movie of the era, but this is a film that stuck and it has its debut in 4K glory now. The film follows the two legendary rappers as young up-and-comers looking to make their mark on the streets as they rise to power in the drug game. With the gain of power, struggles begin to emerge between the two as their ideals start to differ and ruthless actions are taken to impede each other’s business. The rose-coloured glasses of watching this film now to watching it then is obviously there as it hasn’t aged all that well. Even still, with DMX’s passing so recently in our memories, it is really cool to see one of the films that had him in the driver’s seat and it was done pretty well for its budget and time.
Mindcage – This is such a weird little thriller that I had to request it from Lionsgate. Why is it so weird? Well, it has Martin Lawrence starring in a dramatic role and not one that is action infused with comedy like the Bad Boys movies are. If that doesn’t grab you, then John Malkovich playing a serial killer might get you in the movie mood, maybe. The film has Lawrence and actress Melissa Roxburgh as two detectives who are trying to hunt down a serial killer who is mimicking the modus operandi of a much more famous killer now incarcerated for life. The detectives quickly find themselves trapped between the two diabolical masterminds in a cat-and-mouse game that may lure both of them to their demise. I will fully admit that I hate the title, something to me that seems clunky and ill-conceived but the hamminess of the script and the performances kind of make it work. Lawrence and Malkovich are the best pieces of a film that feels like it was ripped out of the nineties, borrowing tropes that feel so dated that no one would notice. Seeing so many movies all the time, I will say that I noticed but didn’t mind that much.
Carnival Row: Season 2 (Prime Video) – It’s crazy to think that one of the earlier Prime Video episodic series is only now just getting its second and final season but for this fantasy mystery that is the case and I’d have to think it is because it is really expensive to make. The show comes from the mind of the Pacific Rim creator Travis Beacham and the first season featured episodes directed by Lucky Number Slevin’s Paul McGuigan, Entrapment’s Jon Amiel and two veteran television stalwarts Anne Foerster and Andy Goddard. The show stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevigne as a human detective and a fairy respectively who rekindle a dangerous affair in a Victorian fantasy world, where the city’s uneasy peace collapses when a string of murders reveals an unimaginable monster. I really enjoy world-building things like this and the first season impressed me with great character builds, cool special effects and a gruff performance from Bloom as our lead, a human detective with a love for a faerie woman. Intriguing enough right? I think this was Prime’s Game Of Thrones, at least before the Lord Of The Rings: Rings Of Power debuted.
Star Trek Picard: Season 3 (Crave) – All good things come to an end and after a really killer second season, it looks like we are at the finale of Jean Luc Picard’s journey. Patrick Stewart and his new crew are welcoming some old friends though to close it out as Worf, Riker and more of the “Next Generation” cast reprise their roles to go out in style. The first season felt a bit uneven for me but having the Borg Queen return along with Picard’s ultimate nemesis Q to cause chaos had me glued to the show and I have been impatiently waiting for its return. Let me reiterate that I’m not a Trekkie in any way but I like Discovery and I like this show
Hello Tomorrow! (AppleTV+) – I absolutely adore Billy Crudup as an actor so when I saw this release pop up on my AppleTV+ preview screen I knew that there was a definite element of likability to this new series. The show also features a favourite of mine, Hank Azaria, in a supporting role, a character actor usually in a comedic vein that always improves everything he’s a part of. I mean, we all remember his scene with Al Pacino in Heat, right? The series is set in a retro-futuristic world and follows Crudup as a charismatic salesman named Jack Billings who leads a team of fellow sales associates determined to revitalize their customers’ lives by hawking timeshares for condos built on the moon. Under Billings’ calm and personable exterior lives a man running from something in his past, some of which comes to find him in the form of an estranged son that he takes under his wing as his protege. The catch is that his son doesn’t know that his new boss is the father who left him when he was two. I really loved the first episode, with its subtle sci-fi being very background to the story, but the character building being the full focus. This show acts like an odd Mad Men-tinged comedy story and I’m here for all of it.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance – Channing Tatum has returned to possibly the most popular character of his career for the final time but is in great company as Steven Soderbergh has resumed his position behind the camera and the lovely Salma Hayek is Mike’s new top lady. I will admit that the series doesn’t have an enormous appeal for me but that first film is way better than it should have been and I think it’s because of the great relationship between the lead actor and the basis for the entire character and this brilliant auteur so I hope for more of the same. The film follows Mike after a business deal goes south and leaves him broke and bartending in Florida when he meets a wealthy socialite who lures him to London to take the stage again, putting together his own show. Normally, I would ignore a film like this but my opinion of Tatum has changed a bit since his brilliant directorial debut Dog and I know he wouldn’t put energy towards this second sequel unless there was some substance behind it. That would go doubly for Soderbergh who isn’t known to do sequels beyond the Ocean’s movies so this might be a good date night bet for the weekend.
Somebody I Used To Know – Dave Franco has become a really interesting filmmaker in the last few years but not in the big theatrical way but on streaming services and more independent avenues. To this point always starring his wife, the great Alison Brie from Community, he made the fantastic horror mystery The Rental in 2020 but now he’s back with something a bit more grounded and relationship based. Reuniting Brie with her Community co-star Danny Pudi, she plays a workaholic named Ally who reminisces with her ex Sean on a trip to her hometown and starts to question everything about the person she’s become. Things only get more confusing when she meets Cassidy, who reminds her of the person she used to be and forces her to start making some changes in her life. Franco’s attention to detail in character is fully on display here as, different from your everyday romantic dramas, they actually feel like real people which to me is a big deal. With another well-rounded film under his belt, his sophomore feature, I look forward to seeing what he tackles next.
Your Place Or Mine – The headlines are more about how little the two stars of this new romantic comedy had on the red carpet at the premiere but even still I was looking forward to what Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher would bring to this Netflix original film. Immediately I’m drawn to it being the directorial debut of The Devil Wears Prada writer and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna as I love her style. The film follows Kutcher and Witherspoon as two long-distance best friends who change each other’s lives when she decides to pursue a lifelong dream and he volunteers to keep an eye on her teenage son. Reese has years of experience of being the charming lead in many from coms but it has been a tougher battle for Ashton who only has a few hits under his belt and I’m not talking about Dude, Where’s My Car. That said, this film largely worked for me, aside from a handful of corny scenes and I believe the star power is what gets it through coupled with a solid script from McKenna.
Disquiet – Jonathan Rhys Meyers should have been a huge star after the King Henry VIII series The Tudors ended its run because it was so damn good but personal problems and drunken airport incidents squashed all that momentum. Since then, he’s been appearing regularly in direct-to-video or streaming projects which is what this one is but it plays on some supernatural horror themes so I’m on board with it to an extent. Meyers plays Sam, a man who wakes to discover he is trapped in an abandoned hospital after a near-fatal car accident by mysterious and sinister forces that have no intention of letting him leave. Disoriented and confused, he must find his bearings in a situation wildly out of control if he’s going to survive his ordeal. Meyers is the biggest star here besides home-grown character actor Lochlyn Munro and I’m sad to say that this vehicle isn’t going to catapult the troubled star anywhere near the A-list. The production feels cheap, the script is awful and even the horror feels like a retread of better ghost stories. This is just a dud on all levels that felt like a waste of time.
One Fine Morning – Mia Hansen-Løve is a writer and director whose work I got familiar with by attending the Vancouver International film Festivals for the last handful of years and the French storyteller’s way of telling simple human tales really gripped me. It is for that reason, and her collaboration with one of my favourite French actresses Lea Seydoux, that had me excited for this new film, mainly because I missed it at last year’s festival. The story follows Seydoux’s character, a young woman who lives with her eight-year-old daughter and finds her life under considerable stress with her father suffering from neurodegenerative disease. While struggling to secure a decent nursing home, she runs into a now-married former friend with whom she embarks on a torrid affair that she might be putting more weight on than he is. Beautifully shot and crafted, Seydoux gives a stellar performance under Hansen-Løve’s directing that gives a very distinct “moment in a life” feeling that is the bloodline of the film. My issue that renders it good rather than great is there isn’t enough of a dramatic shift to justify the two hours the audience is seeing. In the end, it just sort of rests in an all-well-that-ends-well sort of way and I found myself a little unsatisfied by that in particular.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – This week you can climb back into the Marvel Universe in your own home for what is an emotional goodbye to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa but the birth of a new hero to take the mantle, as his sister, Shiri dons the suit and that’s not a spoiler because it is in the trailer. Leading up to the release in theatres, I had been thinking about the way that they were going to handle the death of a major Avengers player but I definitely had the utmost confidence in writer and director Ryan Coogler and was right to do so as he hasn’t let us down with any of his films yet. The story picks up with Queen Ramonda, Shuri, M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje fighting to protect the kingdom of Wakanda from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death of an unexplained disease. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with the help of War Dog Nakia and Everett Ross to battle the emergence of a new enemy from the sea, in the form of a debuting Marvel heavyweight in King Namor the Sub Mariner and forge a new path for their nation. Namor is a key ingredient in the shaping of us getting mutants in the MCU, something already hinted at in the recent Ms. Marvel series and I love the Indigenous route that took with the character and his kingdom. The whole film feels so rich with style and substance, Coogler and his team knocking the whole production out of the park, and you can really feel the love in every moment, This film definitely belongs to now Oscar nominee Angela Bassett who again proves she is a force to be reckoned with and, heck, she may take that trophy home. She’s that damn good.
Legion Of Super-Heroes – The comic book nerd in me is excited as we get a new DC Comics animated adventure this week and something that pushes some usual background characters to the forefront. I love these movies because they are always a tight hour and twenty minutes, packed full of action and character moments, a tradition that has been going on for almost two decades now. The centrepiece of this adventure is Kara, Superman’s cousin, who we pick up with as she is devastated by the loss of her home planet Krypton, and struggles to adjust to her new life on Earth. Superman mentors her in her transition from being an intergalactic alien to a resident of Eatrth and a protector of it as Supergirl. Her new responsibilities come quickly though as she must contend with a mysterious group called the Dark Circle who searches for a powerful weapon held in the Academy’s vault. Like the films that came before, these DC animated films are an absolute blast to watch and this one is no different. The voice casting is always impeccable and this one has the benefit of Darren Criss, Jensen Ackles and Matt Bomer as the Justice League trifecta Superman, Batman and The Flash once again and Meg Donnelly does a solid job of voicing our new Supergirl. I also recommend getting it on 4K as the sound and colours just pop so differently.
Bergman Island – This is a real cinematic gift this week as there are two Mia Hansen-Løve movies available this week and this one happens to be a brand new Criterion release. Even better than that, this film also celebrates the art of movie making and creation in all of the best ways and at the heart of it is one of the greatest auteurs to ever grace the screen with his vision, Ingmar Bergman. The film follows an American filmmaker couple played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth who retreat to the mythical Fårö island for the summer, a breathtaking landscape where Bergman lived and shot his most celebrated pieces with the hope to find inspiration for their upcoming films. As days spent separately pass by, the fascination for the island operates on Krieps’ character and souvenirs of her first love resurface as lines between reality and fiction will then progressively blur and tear our couple even more apart all in the creative process. While Hansen’s new film this week wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, this movie may possibly be one of my favourites in her catalogue and very deserving of its placement in the Criterion Collection. If you are a film lover of any generation, I think you will find there is a lot to appreciate about this movie.
You: Season 4 Part 1 (Netflix) – This creeper thriller is making its moves to the finish line because Netflix usually rolls out the finale series as a two-part release and we get the first one here. Penn Badgley reprises his role as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who you hate but can’t keep your eye off of but he is looking for a bit of redemption and a break from the life he created for himself. Now the question of season four is can he change his DNA to become a regular citizen? The story takes him out of his native United States and drops him in London which is very interesting and Joe even looks very different, like he’s in the Witness Relocation program, which makes me laugh. I really like Penn Badgely in this role, a weird thing to say, I know, but it’s high time that it comes to an end because, seriously, how many times can he get away with his dastardly actions?
Kindred (Disney+) – I really love the partnership between Disney+ and FX because if it wasn’t for that, we never would get this series which has already aired in the States and now arrives on Canadian soil. I find it disappointing that no one is talking about it though because it is perfect for mystery thriller fans who loved shows like Lost and Manifest and the first episode sent me into a need to binge it all. The series follows a woman named Dana who moves across American from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, buying a heritage house in Silver Lake. Acclimating to her new surroundings, things blow out of control when she experiences something that at first she addresses as sleepwalking but the reality is much more strange and unusual as she is finding herself transported back to slave times in America. This show is a slow burn for the first twenty minutes but as soon as we are on the path of weird, it get’s really fascinating. It really reminds me of the Janelle Monae film Antebellum but, you know, if it was done way better. This one could be that word-of-mouth thriller that slowly hooks viewers in I think.
Knock At The Cabin – We get some brand new M. Night Shyamalan this week, surely guaranteed to have some sort of a quirky twist and it brings to mind how fantastic this filmmaker can be but also how much the hype of his work can let audiences down. Of course, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs are classics but up until Split, the pickings were slim and after The Visit, he started to slump again because Glass and Old just weren’t great movies. Well, now he has Dave Bautista, Servant’s Rupert Grint and more descending on a family vacationing in a cabin in the woods for his new thriller as part of a group of armed strangers who demand that they make a choice to avert the apocalypse. The trailer looks really fascinating but I’m disappointed in the marketing team which gives sole credit for the idea to Shyamalan and not the author of the book this was adapted from. That kind of thing sets a bad precedence for any medium being made into a film but still, it all looks interesting and I hope my hype doesn’t ground my final thoughts on it.
80 For Brady – When I first saw the existence of this movie I really thought it was some sort of Saturday Night Live sketch because the idea of it is so goofy. It is definitely trying to pick up on the crowd that loves films like Book Club or any Diane Keaton-led movie but it’s also for football fans too apparently and it has me confused. The film is set right at the time the New England Patriots reach Superbowl LI in Houston following four female fans who are determined to attend the game and meet quarterback Tom Brady, which proves a more memorable experience than they expected after the Patriots fall behind by four touchdowns. The cast is pretty solid, featuring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field but I feel like it is all a vehicle for Tom Brady to now become a movie producer when he retires, which will probably be when he turns sixty. I honestly have zero hopes for this movie to be at all good so any laughs will be an upside.
Alice Darling – Anna Kendrick is generally known for comedic roles or ones that lean into comedy from the drama side as she was a mainstay in the three Pitch Perfect movies, the protege foil to George Clooney in Up In The Air and many more projects but this new film heads into some dark territory. Domestic abuse is at the forefront of her new drama and the word of mouth on it has been stellar. In the film, Kendrick plays a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship who becomes the unwitting participant in an intervention staged by her two closest friends. Kendrick This is really Anna’s movie and she nails it with a phenomenal performance that makes up for any mistakes in the storytelling. What is crafted is a story about friends creating a support network to try and save a friend who hasn’t gotten the courage to make the exit of a toxic and dangerous relationship. Bill Nighy’s daughter Mary makes her directorial debut with this film it is a bright first feature and I can’t wait for what’s next from her.
Pamela, A Love Story – British Columbia’s own Playboy playmate, actress and bombshell Pamela Anderson has her story told but instead of a sensational and scandalous Hulu original, she’s telling the story herself. What is contained in this documentary is the real story of a Canadian girl who was thrust into the spotlight, hit massive notoriety, married one of the biggest rockstars in the world and then when the scandal broke out she was systematically destroyed by the media, talk show hosts and those around her who was supposed to protect her. With interview segments recorded from her home on Vancouver Island in Ladysmith and with no makeup, Pam starts from her humble beginnings in one of the most gorgeous parts of Canada and reveals things about her life that she never has before. At times flanked by her two now adult sons, the raw and unguarded nature of the film was captivating from the start and I was hooked. This has to be a cathartic project for her and it really feels like she wanted to clear the record and has absolutely nothing to lose.
Close – This is a late addition to the list this week and I almost didn’t include it but the Academy Award nominations came out and this one is highly touted to win Best Foreign so how could I not mention it. The official selection from Belgium, the film comes from writer and director Lukas Dhont, a creator that was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the 30 Under 30 on the European list and with Oscar gold possibly in his near future, everything beyond looks bright. The story follows the intense friendship between two thirteen-year-old boys named Leo and Remi which suddenly gets disrupted. Struggling to understand what has happened, Léo approaches Sophie, Rémi’s mother to try and move past the infraction with his friend and resume their fun. If you were a kid at all in your life and can identify with those adolescent feelings, this movie will hit you like a tonne of bricks. Moving and soulful, I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful this story was and how gorgeous the cinematography was. I wasn’t huge on the ending, felt a bit flat for me, but the journey is intense and I really enjoyed it.
Armageddon Time – One of my favourite filmmakers working today, I had been waiting for the next film from writer and director James Gray after his underappreciated sci-fi masterpiece Ad Astra. It seems par for the course for Gray’s films to go largely unnoticed but he does have a rabid fan base, me included, and the cast of this new drama, with Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Succession’s Jeremy Strong, all actors he has never worked with, brewed up the perfect cathartic film for the brilliant storyteller. The film is very loosely based on real events in Gray’s childhood in the Reagen era of the 1980s and is a coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream, something that is lost in today’s America. The film received a seven-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival last year and I really think it deserved it. Fantastic performances and stellar direction propel this movie to be one of my favourites of 2022. It’s fascinating that both Spielberg and Gray made films that reflect their upbringings and what brought them to be so gifted in their field.
Paradise City – Yes, Bruce Willis has done so many direct-to-video movies leading up to his unfortunate retirement due to his Aphasia diagnosis but none of the have had another direct-to-video star like John Travolta in it before to my memory. A reunion of the two Pulp Fiction stars that share one pivotal scene together in that film, there’s something super enticing about that which got me through the duration of this film. Much like most of his smaller film work, Willis is the top-billed but has limited screen time as Everybody Wants Some!!’s Blake Jenner takes the lead as Ryan Swan, the son of a bounty hunter who must carve his way through the Hawaiian crime world to wreak vengeance on the kingpin who shot his father and left him for dead. Co-starring Stephen Dorff, a low-budget favourite of mine, this movie is made for the fans of crime films that don’t have a lot of depth to them so I really wouldn’t expect much from it which is kind of sad because director Chuck Russell has been responsible for some great films in the nineties like The Mask, Eraser and Nightmare On Elm Street 3 way back in the eighties.
The Grandmaster Of Kung Fu – I’m a big fan of martial arts films but there is something about this genre in a classic setting that gets me and I refer to the Ip Man series as a great example, the trilogy which I talked about last week. Well Go USA has hooked me up with more in that vein with this feature which is actually a couple of years old now, originally released in China in 2019. The story is set near the end of the Qing Dynasty and follows a renowned Chinese martial artist who engages in a life-or-death battle with a feared Japanese military commander in order to prevent Japan’s ultimate goal of seizing martial arts stronghold Tianjin. No Donnie Yen in this film, yet the character seems very Master Ip-like in nature, but the action scenes rule and that’s really what we’re all here for. The script and the plot aren’t so much fun and it drags a lot between fight scenes which makes it merciful that it clocks under eighty minutes long. If anything, it is a great lead-in for better classic kung fu films, which there are so many to choose from.
Steve’s 4K & Blu-Ray Geekouts:
House Of The Dragon: Season 1 4K – Many have been waiting for this prequel to Game Of Thrones and many are shunning it due to the final season of its predecessor but I know one thing, I am damn excited to see the family history of the Targeyrrens played out because we only got Dany and Visyrys in the original show and it is a fascinating lineage. The cast has former Doctor Who, Matt Smith, and Hot Fuzz actor Paddy Considine but the actors aren’t the draws, it’s the story and one headed by creator George R.R. Martin who says he was way more hands-on and into the production than he was before. Set two hundred years before the first episode of Game Of Thrones, this show looks like it will exclusively focus on the family of dragons rather than being a multi-storied look at the people of Westeros and with the cancelling of the other planned spinoffs that might be my only gripe. On the other hand, with all of the HBO Max cancellations recently, it has made me far more grateful for the things that we haven’t had taken from us yet. I will end off, without spoilers, saying that the entire first season was fantastic and I can’t wait for the follow-up season, even though we now have to wait more than a year as it won’t debut until 2024.
Train To Busan4K – Putting aside the sequel Peninsula which felt enjoyable but tacked on, this is your ultimate in South Korean zombie films, an experience that was talked about across that entire year of release and became the “have you seen it” for horror fans for a while after. The energy and emotion that writer and director Sang-ho Yeon gives this story is intense on every level and it may end up being his crowning achievement. Following up an animated original story called Seoul Station, the film picks up after a viral outbreak has changed the citizens into bloodthirsty zombies leaving the remaining survivors to flee on a train from Seoul to Busan, the only known part of South Korea safe from the effects, for now. The film in this 4K edition hits harder than ever with the optimal sound and the effects look really stellar in the upgraded picture scan, even though it is only a few years old. That said, if you’re a genre fan and still haven’t gotten around to this one, this is the perfect way to do it.
Cunk On Earth (Netflix) – One of my favourite parts of the Netflix year-end wrap-ups, Death To 2020 and Death To 2021, it looks like the joint venture of Netflix and BBC has registered Diane Morgan as worthy of her own show and I’m psyched for it. Brilliantly playing the vapidest of characters is where she succeeds best and this series is the perfect fit, which makes sense as she co-wrote it with a lot of funny people including Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker. The mockumentary series follows Morgan as Philomena Cunk, an ill-informed news pundit who comically tells the story of our greatest inventions and asks experts hard-hitting questions about humanity’s progress but in the worst possible way. This might only be for viewers who love to do deep dives on British programming but I think anyone who loves things like Alan Partridge or any of the numerous Ricky Gervais shows will really have fun with this one. I just hope it’s enough to get another series or to propel Diane Morgan into other great shows because she is hysterically funny.
The Proud Family Louder and Prouder: Season 2 (Disney+) – Disney has been doing its damndest to resurrect all of its great animated shows from the nineties and 2000s, giving it the modern update and this one was definitely. a huge hit in its time although it was in a period that was a bit of a blind spot for me. Bringing back most of the original cast, the show follows Penny Proud, a fourteen-year-old girl and her family, as they navigate their lives in the 2020s. Trudy, Penny’s mom, has new career highs, Oscar, Penny’s dad, has wild dreams, and Penny faces a myriad of challenges while her Suga Mama returns, as does Michael, Dijonay, Zoey, and LaCienega. New kids Maya and KG, who are raised by two dads, try to adapt to life in Smithville. Helmed by the original creators, Ralph Farquhar and Bruce W. Smith, the show is now entering its second season and from season one episode one it hasn’t missed a step. Farquhar is responsible for so much black-led television including Moesha and The Parkers so the return of this series to the zeitgeist is a big win for the community and many can introduce this show to their kids and have it infused with a time that they know. The previous season left off on a pivotal cliffhanger so I implore people not to just jump into season two without the seasoning of the first grouping of episodes.
Infinity Pool – With the moves that Brandon Cronenberg has been making in film, it is only a matter of time before he is regarded on his own rather than being referred to as David Cronenberg’s son. He has made disturbing content in the form of the almost satirical Antiviral and the violent sci-fi mind warp Possessor and I think with this third feature he may hit the big time as he has a red hot cast with The Northman’s Alexander Skarsgard and X and Pearl’s Mia Goth. This film has Skarsgard as one half of a vacationing couple named James and Em Foster who are enjoying an all-inclusive beach resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa when a fatal accident exposes the resort’s perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism, reckless violence and surreal horrors. Yes, this is going to be another descent into the violently depraved as only the offspring of the man I believe created the term in our genre lexicon, body horror. I’m also really excited to see another gonzo performance from Goth who has to be on a fast track to huge acclaim at this point.
You People – I’m not going to lie, I was really excited when I saw that Eddie Murphy was starring in a new comedy on Netflix and his co-star was Jonah Hill, an actor I absolutely adore. The film is written and directed by television mogul Kenya Barris who has massive hits on his resume so teaming him up with a superstar like Eddie seemed like a no-brainer. The film follows Jonah’s character Ezra, a finance worker with a dream for podcasting, who falls for Amira after an Uber mixup. Six months later, it’s getting serious and it’s time to bring the families together with Ezra’s Jewish Mom, Dad and sister and Amira’s black Muslim one, and the tensions flare but, you know, comedically. Or so it is supposed to be. Boasting a great surrounding cast including Julia Louis Dreyfuss, David Duchovny, and Nia Long, this movie feels completely ungrounded in any sense of reality with cliches, poorly written characters and even a sort of slapstick humour scene that feels completely misplaced. With a story that could have said something original or even poignant, it manages to say absolutely nothing ad give you some serious muscle workout with the sheer amount of cringe humour.
Shotgun Wedding – I can’t really say that I’ve ever actively looked forward to any Jennifer Lopez movie. Not to throw any sort of shade at her but my favourites of her films were all discoveries after the fact, like the Elmore Leonard adaptation Out Of Sight or Tarsem’s mind-bending serial killer thriller The Cell. It’s just not my thing but seeing the first trailer for this action comedy and getting a glimpse of some solid chemistry with lead actor Josh Duhamel, well, I was sold but not “oh my god, it’s must see!” The film has Jenny From The Block and Josh as Darcy and Tom, a couple just about to hit the stage in a destination wedding with all of their family in attendance. Of course, it’s the perfect time for pirates to take over and hold everyone, hostage, while the now bickering couple tries to get it together and pull off the action hero thing. To my increased surprise, I actually had a lot of fun with this movie and had some great laughs, mostly due to every line the Golden Globe-winning actress Jennifer Coolidge said in her role as Tom’s mom and, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? To be entertained? Now, I will never go out of my way to say “hey, watch this JLo movie.” but, honestly, it really isn’t a waste of your weekend.
Loudmouth – My favourite saying from the legendary John Lewis was to make “good trouble” and I think Reverend Al Sharpton is a man that follows that philosophy to its depth, a man that has fought and continues to fight for black rights for decades, an unforgettable and powerful speaker. Not knowing a massive amount of information about the man himself, I found this documentary fascinating, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement reaching a huge level in the summer of 2020 with the George Floyd murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. The film tells the story of Sharpton, painting an intimate portrait of a tireless warrior who has never ducked a fight in his mission to transform the status quo, all while having an impeccable style and the most memorable hair in politics. This film is informative but also hits incredibly emotional moments when you see how intimately Sharpton treats everyone in the families of those he fights for and it gave me a way better understanding of a man I just generally saw as a talking head on NBC, CNN and the like. As far as documentary biopics go, this one was pretty solid.
TÁR – Let’s be honest about this right off the bat, this is your Academy Award winner for Best Actress withing moments of the film the viewer will want to hand the award to Cate Blanchett themselves. This isn’t to say that Blanchett plays a likeable character in composer Lydia Tár but she does it with such incredible conviction that it puts her in that incredible character actor category as Daniel Day-Lewis. Set in the international world of Western classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and the very first female director of a major German orchestra as he is entering the rehearsal period for one of her crowning moments on stage. We get an early portrait of someone at the top of their game but as the film progresses, through the practices and her teachings at Julliard, we see a woman drove by the strive to be the best but a woman that uses her ego and stature to destroy others. Yes, this is a movie very much about the rise and fall of an egomaniac and the fall becomes really satisfying to watch. I will say that the film is a bit long, clocking at just over two and a half hours, but I was totally engrossed in every moment of it.
Taurus – If you pay attention to any sort of music or entertainment news you will most likely have heard the name of rapper turned alt-rocker MachineGun Kelly, maybe not through his music but possibly through his high-profile relationship with Megan Fox and their gratuitous sessions of public displays of affection. Kelly has been pursuing acting in the last few years, notably playing Tommy Lee in Netflix’s The Dirt, and is playing a little flipped reality in this new drama under his real name, Closon Baker. Very much modelled on himself, he plays a rising but troubled musician who searches for the inspiration to record his next song, pushing himself deep into the void. A work of fiction that explores fame, addiction, the artistic process, and the music industry, this serves as another cautionary tale of superstar excess and the descent into abuse. I was really surprised with the acting depth that Baker exhibits in the film, a sure sign that he is on a good path in a new industry but at the end of the film it felt a bit predictable and even pointless at the heart of its’ story. I didn’t feel like Taurus had anything new to say, especially when we have real stories of real artists going down the same lifeline, beat for beat. I will say that I really like his track Papercut which ends the film.
Steve’s DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K Geekouts:
The Staircase – If your series is led by Colin Firth and one of the greatest actresses to grace the screen, Toni Collette, well you’ve got yourself a hit with this guy immediately. Not only that but it is also a mystery that is the adaptation of a famous suburban murder that Nancy Grace obsessed over for years which is kind of cool but may turn others off due to the oversaturation of the story. This is once again the telling of the story of Michael Peterson, but this time by HBO and not Lifetime, a crime novelist accused of killing his wife Kathleen after she is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home. Beyond that, which is told in flashbacks, this follows the sixteen-year judicial battle that followed and features a great cast around Firth and Collette with Game Of Thrones’ Sophie Turner, Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Stuhlbarg, Dane Dehaan, Juliette Binoche and Parker Posey. I love these mystery melodramas that HBO puts out like The Undoing so I’m looking forward to this one.
Ip Man Trilogy 4K – Well Go USA gave audiences the gift of Master Ip in 4K late last year and now that I’ve got them in my possession, I can gush about how great they are. I know that Donnie Yen has done many great films over his legendary career but these have to be my favourites. For those who haven’t heard of them, these are based on the true story of Grandmaster Yip, the legendary martial arts master who was responsible for teaching Bruce Lee his ways which were subsequently brought to America as his star pupil would teach others. The first film in this series is definitely the best and it coasts a bit downhill until he’s fighting Mike Tyson in the third movie but, that said, all of the fight scenes in the films are flawless and so entertaining to watch again ad again. Also, with the new 4K transfer, the hits are harder and the bones crunch louder, perfect for any martial arts film fan.
Call Jane – A timely and relevant story about abortion, this is the type of filmmaking we need in the world right now without question. The benefit, to be completely honest, is that this isn’t an independent film as well and features known Hollywood stars in Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Mara which gets it in more theatres and more commercials on television. The film follows Banks as a married woman with an unwanted pregnancy who lives in a time in America when she can’t get a legal abortion and works with a group of suburban women to find help. This leads to her joining the growing movement in the hope to empower the women around them and take the fight to the powers that be but under the contact eye and thumb of those who hold their choices, including her own husband. This movie just played at the Vancouver International Film Festival, so it is very fresh in my mind heading into its home release. I really dug the film, fully focused on its message as it should be but it definitely lacks in enriching the characters who are supposed to be based on real people. When it comes to telling that story it feels a little contrived and familiar in most parts. I still can’t stress enough how important it all is though.
Shrinking (AppleTV+) – Bill Lawrence is a creator ad producer who I have enjoyed for decades now, starting with his Michael J. Fox series Spin City in the nineties, moving into Scrubs then Cougar Town in the 2000s and, of course, AppleTV+’s runaway hit Ted Lasso. He has a penchant for finding great and funny stories and, alongside Roy Kent actor Brett Goldstein, he has found his next hit I believe and it stars a favourite of mine, Jason Segal. The show has a definitely different tone to Ted Lasso, following Segal as a grieving therapist who starts to tell his clients exactly what he thinks, ignoring his training and ethics, and he finds himself making huge changes to people’s lives, a tactic that may spread to his own. The highlight of this show has to be Segal’s stoner boss, played by Harrison Ford who seems to be getting comfortable doing television which is great for lifelong fans of his like myself but, beyond that, I’m really happy to see Jason Segal get a great role like this, a very deserving actor for years. Perhaps this one becomes a monster hit for AppleTV+ as well?
Wolf Pack (Paramount+) – As a fan of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series, and a big one at that, I’ve been looking forward to this new show as it is the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to the series format and it has to be something cool to get her interest. Yes, a s an “original scoobies” fanboy, I’m predestined to like this show no matter what but it is created by Jeff Davis who found success with his other series Teen Wolf so I have faith in this show at least being fun. Definitely a teen show that may have fit in on The CW, it follows two teenagers who are witnesses to a supernatural creature that is unleashed during a California wildfire. With the rising of each moon, more and more teens in town start feeling connected in an eerily similar way but what does it all mean? The intrigue has certainly got me and hopefully, it is enough to become a hit for Paramount+ who are surely looking for one beyond all of their Taylor Sheridan-created stuff.
How I Met Your Father: Season 2 (Disney+) – When it was first announced that they were actually going ahead with this sort of spin-off series to the extremely popular CBS sitcom with a disastrous end, I was honestly too jaded from the finale of How I Met Your Mother to give it a fair look. Starring Hilary Duff in the main role, it seemed like a fleeting cash grab that was mostly hoping to capitalize on the name it came from but I was wrong in the end. The series follows Duff as Sophie, a single New Yorker while, along with her close-knit group of friends, are in the midst of figuring out who they are, what they want out of life, and how to fall in love in the age of dating apps and limitless options. My biggest worry heading into the show was that it would do all it could to piggyback on what was already successful but this wasn’t the cast. There are no similar archetypes to Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney Stinson as “Father” makes its own characters and has a cast with enough charisma to embody them. I really enjoyed the first season of the show, laughed a lot and hope it has a future beyond this second season too. This might be one of the better shows that you aren’t watching.
Lockwood & Co. (Netflix) – When I was first exposed to the works of Edgar Wright, I became ravenous about taking in every single piece of media he took part in, leading me to writer, producer and director Joe Cornish, all starting with Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Since then, he made his debut film, the incredible sci-fi action Attack The Block as well as the King Arthur modern adventure The Kid Who Would Be King, release a few years ago but I had no idea he was going to do a story in the long form of episodic television and I didn’t know it was based on a popular book series in the United Kingdom. The series is so fun in its nature, following a tiny startup detective agency run by two teenage boys and a newly arrived, supremely psychically gifted girl who are destined to unravel a mystery that will change the course of history. I love the atmosphere of the episodes and the gothic nature of the ghosts that this trio has to navigate. It also has that bold and biting style that you would come to expect from British teens who are smarter than your average adult, marginalized by the system, at least in Ruby Stokes’ character’s experience and may be too clever and ambitious to stay alive. I’m loving what I’ve seen so far as I binge through it this week and really hope we get more.
The Son – When Florian Zeller made his dementia-fueled drama The Father with Anthony Hopkins, I was quickly given the knowledge that this was a filmmaker who had a definite grip on how these sad situations played out but to do it from the point of view of the man suffering from it was absolutely devastating. Well, Zeller is back again to shatter your emotions and give you reasons to cry in the fetal position and it is through the conduit of Hugh Jackman this time. The film centers on Peter, whose hectic life with his infant and new partner Beth is upended when his ex-wife Kate appears at his door to discuss their son Nicholas, who is now a teenager. The young man has been missing school for months and is deeply troubled and Peter strives to take care of Nicholas as he would have wanted his own father to have taken care of him while juggling his and Beth’s new son, as well as at work with an offer of a dream position in Washington. However, by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold onto Nicholas in the present. Although I enjoyed The Father more as a well-rounded film, Jackman’s performance drives a hard-hitting drama that is unpredictable in where it’s going and its emotional manipulation is so well embedded that you find your eyes leaking almost out of nowhere. It won’t get the attention that his first film did but Zeller has to be regarded as some sort of emotional terrorist at this point.
Missing – The John Cho-led thriller Searching introduced a new kind of thriller to movie audiences and that is the storytelling through a computer interface and I have to say it was pretty effective. Presented through Facetime videos, Skype or Zoom calls and internet searches, it was pretty effective in ramping up the intensity and now writers and directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, who were editors on that film, make their feature film debuts by going back to that well. The film follows June, played by A Wrinkle In Time’s Storm Reid, who has free reign of her house when her mom goes on vacation overseas with her new boyfriend. The terror sets in when June’s mom doesn’t return and she is sent on a tech-driven search, fearing the worst with all signs pointing towards the new man in her life. The unpredictability of the story method makes me really excited for this one as, admittedly, I was lukewarm heading into Searching and ended up loving it. The advance word is really good on this film so it may be another unexpected January gem to join M3GAN this year.
Living – Bill Nighy is an incredible actor with a plethora of fantastic performances on his resume but he may have just put a new and bright gem in the crown of his career with this new drama and it also happens to be inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in cinema history. This new character-driven film driven by Nighy’s stellar outing is based on Ikiru, a drama written and directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1952, a film he considered his greatest work. The story follows Nighy as a humourless civil servant who decides to take time off work to experience life after receiving a terminal diagnosis from his doctor. Realizing that he has no legacy, he strives to make his life mean something for the community he’s served all of his life. I cannot stress enough how beautiful Nighy’s portrayal is in this film and the direction from Moffie director Oliver Hermanus is on a whole new level with intimate and gorgeous cinematography from Jamie Ramsey who also shot the unfortunate fanfare silent See How They Run. Presented in a fascinating 4:3 screen ratio, it added so much to the experience.
There’s Something Wrong With The Children – I’ve been a fan of horror thriller filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin since her segment of the dusty anthology film Southbound in 2015 which led to a great short piece in XX before her debut feature, Body At Brighton Rock, a fantastic outing for her. Now, she is back with a creepy little vacation thriller involving some creepy kids and it even had the master of horror Stephen King so chilled to the bone that he even tweeted out his approval. The story follows a couple named Ben and Margaret that takes a weekend trip with longtime friends and their two young children to a remote cabin. Ben starts to suspect something supernatural is going on when the kids behave strangely after disappearing into the woods overnight. The film reminds me of an eighties or nineties chiller, like an episode of Tales From The Crypt, and has an awesomely atmospheric soundtrack to match the film’s intensity, even if it creates a couple of red herrings along the way. I love that Lower Mainland actress Amanda Crew has a supporting role in this ut he film’s heft, besides the two kids, belongs to Midnight Mass actor Zach Gilford who does such a great job as the audience conduit. This coupled with the alluring cinematography from Yaron Levy, who also has the new horror flick Sick, hammers it all home for me. I have to say that Blumhouse is just killing it right now.
The Devil’s Offering – A late arrival this week from VVS Films, this movie almost didn’t get the coverage which is almost a tragedy as it will be a word-of-mouth film for horror fans to check out. Known as simply The Offering overseas, this British genre film makes its way across the pond in a limited release and features It’s All Gone Pete Tong star Paul Kaye and the vision of a new voice in horror with director Oliver Park which is always exciting for a fan like me. The story is a very contained one about a family struggling with loss who finds themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon trying to destroy them from the inside. This is a well-crafted thriller that is very reminiscent of the ghostly horror films that punctuated the 2000s and early 2010s like Insidious and the like but with its own subtle twists. I would also say that as an establishing piece for Park, it set’s him up for a bright future and maybe even a studio film for a company like Blumhouse, which is my hope.
Turn Every Page: The Adventures Of Robert Caro And Robert Gottlieb – Documentaries about writers walk a little bit of a fine line between interesting and dull and it all depends on your level of knowledge about the subject heading into the film. That said, I knew next to nothing heading into my screening of this new film and didn’t know the reverence that the literary world had for writer Robert Caro and editor Robert Gottlieb. The film follows the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning author and his editor, considered a literary giant, in this chronicle of a unique 50-year professional relationship that was volatile in getting the work done but something that captured the minds of many different walks of life. Early on in the film, it is shown that Caro’s book The Power Broker is on the shelf of many on-air pundits and experts, something that seems to connect the political and business world but the major works from the two Roberts are much more presidential. Grown from a fixation on the man who would succeed John F. Kennedy, Caro made most of his life’s work on the story of the life of Lyndon Johnson and one that is still being worked on til this day, with both me now in their nineties. This film is definitely a bit dry and not appealing to everyone but I found my interest points in it here and there.
Ticket To Paradise – Without knowing anything about it, on paper, the casting of George Clooney and Julia Roberts in a comedy would probably lead to a hit given that they have great chemistry in the Ocean movies and audiences love a reunion. Then the trailer rolled around and it felt like we’d seen every funny part and plot twist contained in a two-and-a-half-minute mash but the name of the game is casual optimism. The film follows the two bankable stars as a divorced couple who team up and travel to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made twenty-five years ago, marrying the supposed love of her life. To be honest, there is so much predictability in the story that the film does have to rely on the charisma and charm of these two A-listers but they do manage to play to their strengths and with some good laughs contained within, I thought it worked out to be an enjoyable film. It comes from writer and director Ol Parker who is mostly known for the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again so it is definitely playing to a certain kind of audience but the name of the game is “crowd pleaser” and it does just that with some help from the great Kaitlyn Dever as their daughter and a very game and fun Billie Lourd as the trainwreck bestie.
The Menu – The trailers for this were very mysterious and secretive but after the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, many made the mash-up of genre connection between Saw and Succession which is kind of true at its baseline. Interestingly enough, it was directed by Mark Mylod, who has directed a handful of the Succession episodes so the comparison is almost on the nose. The story follows a young couple who travels to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu for a group of elite guests but it might come at a deadly price as the patrons seem to see their deepest and darkest secrets exposed as each course is delivered to the table. Led by the enigmatic chef Slowik, his grand master plan has a little wrench thrown in it with the inclusion of Anya Taylor Joy’s character Margot as she was not on the guest list. The casting in the film is impeccable with Joy and Ralph Fiennes as the chef in question giving incredible and award-worthy performances as well as Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo and the incomparable Hong Chau adding to the devious fun with equally fascinating portrayals. This film was an easy pick for one of my favourite films of 2022, something that had me on the edge of my seat in theatres and now everyone can revel in the awesome end game of this 1% skewering thriller.
Till – I’ve known the brutal story of Emmett Till’s lynching in 1950s America for a long time and have even seen a couple of documentaries about it but this has to be the first time it’s been done in a narrative film. The supporting players are known, with Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Patrick Thomas, Franki Faison and Haley Bennett but the heavy lifting goes to lead actress Danielle Deadwyler who I know from the killer Netflix western The Harder They Fall. Deadwyler plays Emmett’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley who, after her son’s brutal murder, vows to expose the racism behind the attack while working to have those involved brought to justice. Lots of love for this movie appeared online when the film was released in theatres but as far as the awards talk for it, all has been silent, which is a shame because Deadwyler is electric from the first scene and it just gets better and better. Some of the biopic tropes and glossiness of the story rub me the wrong way in this but the heart of the truth is where it excels. Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu made a hell of a first major studio film with the Alfre Woodard-led Clemency and it’s good to see the quality didn’t shift for her follow-up. She has so much promise in the future.
Spin Me Round – Writer and director Jeff Baena, the husband of the great Aubrey Plaza, has really carved out a niche for himself with these oddball comedies that I think no big studio would take chance on in a wide release. He has made films about zombie love, grieving with friends, horny nuns and socially isolated mental breaks and now he’s going for a lampooning of the sweeping romance with some of his usual suspects joining the fun like Alison Brie who co-wrote it, Molly Shannon and, of course, Ms. Plaza. Brie plays a woman who wins an all-expenses-paid trip to a company’s gorgeous “institute” outside of Florence, and also the chance to meet the restaurant chain’s wealthy and charismatic owner. In the process, she finds a different adventure than the one she imagined and an avenue to switch gears out of the mundanity that her life has become. I will say that this might be among Baena’s lesser works but that doesn’t mean it’s bad by any degree. I have always enjoyed Brie as a comedic actress, back in the Community days, but her dramatic work is fantastic and with a little comedy edge she always excels. The highlight of the film is definitely Alessandro Nivola as the romantic lead, an excellent character actor in everything he does.
Speak No Evil – I feel very late to the game on this Shudder original as the reviews that I have seen on Letterboxd and Twitter have all praised it and called it a must-see and completely unpredictable thriller and now that I’ve finally got my eyes on it, I feel part of that collective. It also happens to be a Danish-made film, a part of cinema I have a real soft spot for too. The story follows a Danish couple vacationing in Italy who befriends a couple and their son from the Netherlands that invites them to stay with them at their remote home in Holland. Slowly, the visit becomes marred by moments of awkwardness, questionable motivations and violent outbursts from their hosts to their young son which all careen towards a third act that is disturbingly jaw-dropping and totally unshakable. As the credits rolled, I sat in stunned silence at what I saw. I love Scandanavian films as they have zero constraints in messing with the taboos of what North American films will do and this is a great example of it. The less known about this film is better as the impending dread washes over you in a whole different way. I highly recommend this film to everyone who loves a good devious thriller.
Death Knot – When Well Go USA does genre films, they are usually something to take note of as the distribution company takes productions from all over the world and gives them a bright spotlight. This film comes from Indonesia, a country whose cinema has gifted us with phenomenal action epics like both the Raid movies and The Night Comes For Us as well as the new Netflix original, The Big 4, so a horror flick with that energy has all sorts of promise. The story follows a woman named Hari and her sister who return to the village where they were born after the death of their mother, a practitioner of black magic. This seems to be the catalyst for a rash of inexplicable suicides of several villagers which causes the hostility of the other citizens towards the two to explode and their safety hangs in a precarious balance. The film has a great atmosphere to it and a veteran quality to the chills it gives off which is impressive as it is the writing and directing debut of Cornelio Sunny, really just known as an actor before this. There’s something utterly fascinating about horror stories told in an environment that is unfamiliar to those abroad and I think this film takes full advantage of that.
Cloverfield4K – I have to say that one of the coolest theatrical experiences of the last twenty years has to include this handheld shot thriller that had a trigger warning of motion sickness plastered all over the theatre at the time. It all stemmed from a mysterious teaser that showed before the first Transformers live-action film and the intrigue of what the hell we just saw sent us to the internet for a fantastically crafted viral ad campaign leading up to its release. Now fifteen years old with this brand new steelbook edition, the spoilers are flying and I can say for those who haven’t seen it that it follows a group of friends attending a party in New York City when a massive monster attacks the city, sending them scrambling for their lives. All documented by their friend Hudson, nicknamed Hud in a funny reference to “Heads Up Display”, the experience of this film is unlike any other and had me enamoured with the ingenuity of it all. This is a sci-fi monster classic and should be respected as one of the best in my opinion.
Steve’s Criterion & Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Fast Times At Ridgemont High – Written by Cameron Crowe in his first film and directed by the teen voice conduit that always delivers, Amy Heckerling, I still think it’s a pretty easy call to say that this is one of the greatest high school films ever made. I think we all probably know this film deeply and intimately from Sean Penn’s stoner character Jeff Spicoli to Brad masturbating in the bathroom to a daydream of Phoebe Cates in the pool, we all know it. For those who don’t, the film is a reality-infused look at the lives and loves of a group of high school students. It’s the final year of high school for Brad Hamilton who decides he should break up with his longtime girlfriend to play the field and gets completely floored when she breaks up with him first. Spicoli continues to take delight in getting under the skin of his teacher, Mr. Hand in one of the best onscreen rivalries in history and others are looking for love, sex and just plain having a good time which, for the most part, they all seem to find though sometimes in unexpected places. This movie had laughs, tackled issues, got into the inner workings of high school cliques and had such an honest heart to it which I believe will always keep it relevant. This is a must-see forever and the fact that Criterion put this into the collection is a clear indication of that.
Attack Of The 50ft Woman – Digging into some new Warner Archive this week in the Geekouts, I get to play in some genre stuff which happens every now and then but this is a cult classic for sure. Playing in the silly realm of science fiction, the poster for this movie still ranks in the top ones ever as compiled by Premiere magazine but has anybody really seen it these days? The storyline is pretty simple, following an abused socialite who grows to a giant size because of an alien encounter and an aborted murder attempt and decides to use her new giant stature to go after her cheating husband and grind him into the dust. The signs of the times are so fascinating with this film, released in 1958, as it was budgeted to be made for $100,000 and ended up coming under that by $10,000 which is kind of unheard of in the current climate of sci-fi productions. Either way, this is a pretty fun romp of a revenge film wrapped up in something pretty ridiculous and something that really couldn’t be remade in a straightforward way like this.
The Night Of The Iguana – Bringing out the big guns for the last Warner Archive release this week as this drama is directed by the legendary John Huston, written by the incomparable Tennessee Williams and starring the big screen power of Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The film would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and would win one for Best Costuming but that really isn’t the point as real cinephiles know the reach of this fantastic story. The plot follows an ostracized Episcopal clergyman who leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women on a tour of the Mexican coast and comes to terms with the failure haunting his life. Speaking of budgeting with the last film on this list, this movie dedicated half of its budget alone to the on-screen talent with Burton earning $750,000, Gardner getting $400,000 and Kerr pulling $250,000, which is such a stark contrast to the 50ft Woman. This is an actor’s film for sure and I really think it reflects that.
Mayor Of Kingstown: Season 2 (Paramount+) – The reach of Taylor Sheridan’s genius extends beyond his creation of Yellowstone and its spin-off shows 1883 and 1923 because he has reteamed with Wind River star Jeremy Renner for this series on Paramount+ which now enters its sophomore year. The show also features veteran actress Dianne Wiest, Game Of Thrones, The Wire alum Aidan Gillen and Headstones frontman Hugh Dillon, a former Yellowstone cast member who also is the co-creator of this. The series follows the McLusky family who are power brokers tackling themes of systemic racism, corruption and inequality in Kingstown, Michigan, where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry. I really love how gritty Sheridan’s writing is and it doesn’t relax one bit in this show at all, just puts it into a whole new avenue, away from the farm life. I’d say that maybe it would be good to stretch this one out viewing-wise as Renner just had a horrible medical emergency that will probably keep him out of action for a good long while.
Godfather Of Harlem: Season 3 (Disney+) – I really loved the Ridley Scott based on a true story crime epic American Gangster and own it on DVD in the most special of editions so I felt it was a betrayal to myself when I found out that not only is there a prequel series but as of this week there is three seasons of it. Granted, this isn’t a show that features either Denzel Washington or Russell Crowe, obviously, but it does feature a character that is so important to their characters or Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. Set during the 1960s in the neighbourhood that Lucas would one day run, this series follows the life of crime boss Bumpy Johnson, played by Forest Whitaker again in a role I loved him in. It picked up with him just released after a ten-year prison sentence to find the streets he once ruled in shambles with the streets controlled by the Italian mob and Bumpy must take on the Genovese crime family to regain control. The show doesn’t seem to have a huge amount of clout behind it, being an EPIX series, which is kind of a bummer but with the Canadian platform being Disney+ I think it does have a chance of being a sleeper binge for those who love a good crime series.
That ’90 Show (Netflix) – For me, this is a highly anticipated series reboot to kick off 2023 and it feels like the return of friends to see Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith reprising their roles as Kitty and Red Forman, the patriarch and matriarch that guided us through the seventies in the nineties. It is filled with cameos from all of your favourites from the original cast, aside from Danny Masterson for obvious reasons, but I won’t spoil exactly how they show up to give you some mystery. This series is set in 1995 and follows Donna and Eric’s daughter Leia Forman who is visiting her grandparents for the summer where she bonds with a new generation of Point Place, WI, kids under the watchful eye of Kitty and the stern glare of Red. I think the biggest deterrent for viewers will be that this is more about a new generation of kids with the older cast serving as more background characters, aside from Red and Kitty, but I really felt like it worked. Callie Haverda does a great job as the anchor for a new group of friends and there are some really sweet moments that kept me totally engaged. I hope that viewers enjoyed it as much as I did and we could get a second season.
The Last Of Us (Crave) – One of the most gripping video games of all time gets its live-action adaptation in the best possible form, in a series produced by HBO. In just one episode so far, I will say that it has broken the usual video game to screen curse and I have to credit the creator, Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin, and fantastic casting with The Mandolorian’s Pedro Pascal, Fringe’s Anna Torv and Game Of Throne’s Bella Ramsey as your three-piece lead tandem. The story follows the main characters, Joel and Ellie, a pair connected through the harshness of the world they live in, one that has been plunged into the darkness of a worldwide pandemic that has infected the majority of the human race with a mind-altering fungus. Forced to endure brutal circumstances and ruthless killers on a trek across post-pandemic America, Ellie has a secret that could change the world as they know it and Joel must do her best to protect her and that knowledge as they make their way to some sort of salvation. This show gripped me from the opening and totally chilling talk show segment that opens it and I will note that I never played the video game so I don’t have that context. It may look like the next Walking Dead but I think the show is more grounded in character development and story than horror so if that is the mindset you are coming into it with, you may be slightly disappointed. That said, I can’t wait for what’s next.