Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Rebecca – The trio of director Ben Wheatley, cinematographer Laurie Rose and composer Clint Mansell have collaborated for a second time to make a complete masterpiece of a film again and after doing an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High Rise, a project that the legendary Stanley Kubrick once said was impossible, they set their sights on this Alfred Hitchcock remake. Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristen Scott Thomas, this story follows a young newlywed woman who arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the house’s domineering headmistress as well as the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death. This movie just pops out of the screen at you from the get-go, a beautifully crafted piece of cinema and with the story and plot twists to match. This might easily be one of my favorite films of the year.

The Secrets We Keep – Nazis are evil no matter what and we should stomp them out whenever we come across them, no question, no if, and or buts. This is unwavering but what if you were unsure because your trauma may be clouding your judgement. This is the story at the heart of this new thriller starring former Lisbeth Salander Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina and Joel Kinnaman, set in a post-WWII America following a woman rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband who kidnaps her neighbor, seeking vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her. The film is well-paced and Rapace is absolutely riveting, wearing every emotion on her sleeve, so palpable with each drag of her character’s cigarette. Pieces of this movie feel a bit far fetched but it’s her conviction that keeps it all grounded.

Love And Monsters – These days, if a film is attached to the name of Brian Duffield I am pretty much on board immediately with his last works being the Babysitter movies and his directorial debut Spontaneous which was just fantastic. This new film has Five Fingers for Marseilles director Michael Matthews behind the camera for his second feature and star Dylan O’Brien in front of it to hopefully show off how great he was in Teen Wolf and not the failings that were the Maze Runner series and the action flick American Assassin. The story is set seven years after the Monsterpocalypse, following Joel, who, along with the rest of humanity, has been living underground ever since giant creatures took control of the land. After reconnecting over the radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee, who is now 80 miles away at a coastal colony, Joel begins to fall for her again and as he realizes that there’s nothing left for him underground, he decides against all logic to venture out to Aimee, despite all the dangerous monsters that stand in his way. The supporting cast also has Michael Rooker, which is an instant sell in my opinion.

Totally Under Control – Just a couple of weeks ago the public was informed that master documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney had been meticulously working on a comprehensive timeline of the coronavirus pandemic and now it is available and it is certainly in-depth. Gathering public health officials in a unique and safe fashion, the discussion of the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is brought to light and how the current administration has failed the American people and has led to over two hundred thousand deaths that could have largely been avoided. The frustration is palpable and you can’t help but feel angry and a little bit hopeless watching it, much like you do anytime you see a comment thread about it on social media. The feeling that we are all pretty much screwed seems to be never shakeable.

I Am Greta – To follow up the new Alex Gibney film with this biopic documentary about a young girl making big changes in our fight with climate control was probably a mistake as I really wasn’t emotionally ready for this. The film starts in August of 2018, with Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old student in Sweden starting a school strike for the climate. Her question for adults is very blunt and simple at its heart if you don’t care about her future on earth, why should she care about her future in school? Within months, her strike evolves into a global movement and Greta, a quiet Swedish girl on the autism spectrum, is now a world-famous activist with the team behind Greta following the young activist from her very first day of school striking to her trek across the ocean to speak at the United Nations in New York City. This film gave me a deeply emotional reaction as I look at my own eight-year-old daughter and fear for her future, especially during these very uncertain times. I reiterate again, we all feel hopelessly screwed right now and, as Greta says, the leaders have failed us with no recourse of change.

Clouds – Disney is looking to inspire this week but they’re digging in that well of inspirational stories that really turns me off and we have a double shot of it this week. The film follows seventeen-year-old Zach Sobiech, a fun-loving high school senior with raw musical talent whose world gets turned upside down when he finds out his cancer has spread a few weeks into his senior year, just after asking out his long-time crush, leaving him with a life expectancy of just six months. With limited time, he follows his dream and makes an album, unaware that it will soon be a viral music phenomenon and, you guessed it, a total inspiration. The film is directed by actor turned filmmaker Justin Baldoni who was an audience favorite in the series Jane The Virgin and this film kind of soared above my expectations for it entirely, a story that is heartbreaking, well acted and leaves a lasting effect more than just a good tune.

2 Hearts – The words “inspirational true story” are usually the kiss of death for me in a movie as it usually contains the words “faith-based” somewhere in the descriptor and if you’ve followed this blog you know I absolutely hate those message over substance films. This one has me in the fact that it has Radha Mitchell in it and follows two couples across different decades and different places but with a hidden connection that brings them together through faith and there it is, I’ve already checked out. No matter what, these movies always devolve into a preach fest that yields nothing story-wise and feels like a constant reach for more people to attend church and that ship has sailed for me. That said, it’s weird that this comes from the director of the Chuck Norris action flick Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

Making Monsters – It’s the Halloween month so let’s continue a bit down the path of horror again, shall we? We haven’t touched much on the subgenre of slasher movies so this film hits that quota quite nicely and, although its low budget, it really does encompass all of the things that started this type of film back with Friday The 13th and Halloween. The very basic story follows a social media prankster who finds his idyllic country weekend with his fiancée turned into the ultimate video prank where the stakes are life and death as the two have to outwit a sadistic killer. Surprisingly the suspense in this movie is really well executed which manages to overcome its small budget look to be one of the more inventive horror movies, especially being pigeonholed as a Canadian film which is still trying to claw out of its stereotypes for a large part of the movie audience.

Blu-Ray:

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie – The fan demanded movie follow up to Breaking Bad is now able to be purchased on a home entertainment format complete with digital sound surround and all the bells and whistles and if you still haven’t gotten around to it, the great thing is that the trailer and synopsis released by both Netflix and AMC are so fantastically ambiguous that there is really no hint to what this movie will be about except that Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman leads it. It should be noted that Badger, Mike, Skinny Pete and Old Joe are the only other characters listed in the cast list so a contained cast means a smaller scope film but that definitely leads to a bunch of uncredited cameos just to blow away the viewer with surprise. Breaking Bad fans, you can now finish up your original series collection and await the final season of Better Call Saul which might just be the superior series.

Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite! – They’re making more of these movies? Yes, two were in theaters to varying successes and now Warner Bros. wants to squeeze a little bit more out of the franchise with this direct to blu-ray sequel. Many out there, including the target demographic, have no clue that these movies exist but to give the quick rundown, cats and dogs are secret agents working in a constant battle with each other and in this film, Gwen the Cat and Roger the Dog have now partnered up due to the Great Truce which has stopped dog and cat hostility for a decade. The long-standing peace is threatened though when a supervillain parrot discovers a way to manipulate wireless frequencies that only dogs and cats can hear, and that parrot is extra villainous because he is voiced by George Lopez. This film is without a doubt just meant for the kids as it is pretty much unbearable to human adults. Most times talking animal movies are just the worst and this is one of those frequent times.

Seized – Yes, I will be the first to admit that direct to video action films are almost all terrible and I just had an example of that last week with The Invincible Dragon but this movie definitely is aiming for that crown too. Starring martial arts expert Scott Adkins and Mario Van Peebles, this follows a former special forces agent who has moved to a quiet beach town to raise his son and leave his past life behind but that’s all thrown out when he is awakened by a phone call from a modulated voice telling him that his son has been kidnapped. He must now wipe out three dangerous crime syndicates using his deadliest skills if he wants to see his son alive again in obvious bloody fashion. It’s such a bummer that Adkins constantly does these mediocre films because I think if he had a great writer and director he could be at the top of the action mountain in no time.

Bad Mothers – Bad Moms with Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell is now a television series? No, not quite. This is a brand new series that is not playing for the comedy at all, instead going the dramatic route via some deep melodrama. The story follows five very modern women juggling the life engrossing issues of love, family, careers, infidelity and eventually murder as they end up getting in their problems way over their heads. When their lives collide following a series of shocking events, the group of women have unexpected support among each other and a bond that might keep them out of jail, given that they can stay out of trouble. I had never heard of this show coming into this week and, although it doesn’t feature any notable stars, it really isn’t half bad if you’re in for a Desperate Housewives without the horrible cheesiness.

Sergeant York – Warner Archive has brought another old classic to the elevated format of blu-ray and this one happens to be my first Gary Cooper movie in my collection. Cooper takes the title role in this somewhat fictionalized account of the life and war service of Alvin York, who went from humble beginnings to being one of the most celebrated American servicemen to fight in World War I. The film follows York having turned to religion when he was struck by lightning during one of his drunken outings, taking this newfound belief very seriously, claiming to be a conscientious objector when receiving his draft notice and when that was refused, he joined the infantry where he served with valor, capturing a large number of Germans and saving the lives of many of his men who were under heavy fire. The film was directed by legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks and ended up winning Cooper an Academy Award as well as one for editing.

Reversal Of Fortune – Based on a novel by Alan Dershowitz, this was always a film that I saw on video store shelves as a kid but never paid it any notice and now as an adult, I’m like “whoa, Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons in a Barbet Schroeder movie?”, so, yeah, things have changed. The film follows actor Ron Silver as Dershowitz himself, a brilliant professor of law who is hired by wealthy socialite Claus von Bulow to attempt to overturn his two convictions for the attempted murder of his extremely wealthy wife. Based on a real story, the film concentrates not on the trial like other legal thrillers, but on the preparatory work that Dershowitz and his students put in as they attempt to disprove the prosecution’s case and achieve the “Reversal of Fortune” that is implied by the title. Irons ended up winning an Oscar for his performance in this film.

Space Ghost & Dino Boy: Complete Series – I’ll be completely honest about this one, when I unwrapped it I thought it was the Adult Swim cartoon for more than a decade ago that put this superhero behind a talk show desk where he got really cantankerous and eventually would execute all of his guest by fire. It was hilarious. This, though, is the original series all of that was taken from, as well as Brak who featured on The Brak Show, although in this series he was one of the villains. This series is simple and classic Hanna Barbera stuff, following the adventures of a space superhero who can become invisible and his sidekicks. It’s been neat reliving all of these episodes that I never knew existed plus it’s an early role for 80s staple actor and National Lampoon alumni Tim Matheson.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Beau Travail – I love bringing all of these Criterion Collection releases to the show as they are the definitive films that should be in all cinephiles’ collections and, a lot of the time, they are a new discovery for people, even myself sometimes. I definitely knew of Claire Denis and had watched her last film, the Robert Pattinson sci-fi High Life, which I loved, so I was very excited about this one. This film focuses on Galoup, an ex-Foreign Legion officer, as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in the Gulf of Djibouti. His existence there was happy, strict and regimented but the arrival of a promising young recruit, Sentain, plants the seeds of jealousy in Galoup’s mind and he feels compelled to stop him from coming to the attention of the commandant who he admires, but who ignores him. Ultimately, his jealousy leads to the destruction of both Sentain and himself in an incredible finale that needs to be seen to believe it. Denis’ work is forever inspirational and this film was the one that inspired Greta Gerwig to become a filmmaker so now I am forever in the debut of the French writer and director. Trust me, this film is special.

World Cinema Project, Volume 3 – Another cool thing that Criterion does is their film compilation box sets like the ones that are curated by Martin Scorsese and already in 2020 we got all of his early short films and now we get the third volume of his world cinema project. Scorsese has been curating the World Cinema Project for around thirteen years now and the result has been a plethora of international films from 1934 to 1981 that in some cases his efforts have helped save from the ravages of time and film deterioration. This set features six of these rejuvenated classics with Lucia, After The Curfew, Pixote, Dos Monjes, Soliel O ad Downpour to hopefully give it new life with a new audience. This is for the tool film nerd and to see what inspires a legendary filmmaker like Scorsese is fascinating.

A Dog’s Courage – Last week I was baffled by Well Go USA, a predominantly Asian cinema distributor sending me a western and now I have this animated family film that they sent me. A South Korean made film, this is an animal centric story with a deep emotional core to it as it follows stray dogs who have been abandoned by humans who find “a place without humans” and realize their identities and the meaning of freedom and self-identity. I know, you’re asking how kids can latch on to a story like this but many forget that we had to endure the existential questions that don Bluth’s All Dogs Go To Heaven posed us with at a very young age so I feel lie kids can handle it and the animation is absolutely gorgeous in this so it really is a treat to look at.

Yellowstone: Season 1 & 2 – Kevin Costner takes the lead in this new series that has been created by the Paramount network but really hasn’t landed in Canada yet until now but has a whole bunch of clout behind it because it is damn good both in writing from Hell Or High Water and Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan and a well rounded cast around Costner. The show follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton played by Costner, who controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, under constant attack by those it borders, such as land developers, a nearby Indian reservation and the keepers of America’s first National Park. It is an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny, where land grabs make developers billions, politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations, where drinking water poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news. I’m currently immersed near the end of the first season and am really enjoying it, a good series for those who like crime series like Sons Of Anarchy or The Sopranos.

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection – One of the greatest directors to ever step behind the camera, I have a deep adoration for Alfred Hitchcoc so when this new 4K box set landed on my doorstep, I really freaked out. This one contains the most notable films from his filmography with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, about a wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder, Vertigo, another Stewart film with him playing a former police detective wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with a hauntingly beautiful woman, The Birds, well, you know the story on that Tippi Hedren film and Psycho, which actually contains two different cuts of the highly influential horror classic. This is a set made for the deep cinephile and I’m so grateful to own it.

Television:

The Right Stuff (Disney+) – Disney is hoping to bolster their library with this brand new co-production between them and National Geographic, who they own as well, for an informative and engrossing look at space and those who have explored it so far. Combining real life footage and dramatic recreations with actors, this is the story of U.S. fighter pilots who are recruited to test experimental aircraft and rockets to become first Mercury astronauts. This is the TV adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s book, ‘The Right Stuff’ which had been previously adapted as the four time Academy Award winning film of the same name starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid and Fred Ward but in a more expanded series approach to give it more depth.

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 6 (AMC) – Let’s face it, at this point Fear is the best zombie show on television as the original incarnation of this series needs a little shot in the ass to get going again. The cast is flying on all cylinders with Lennie James’ Morgan being my absolute favorite at the moment but don’t let that take away from how stellar Alycia Debnam-Carey is on a consistent level. In a ramble of names, this show is always getting the best of the best as Garret Dillahunt, Jenna Elfman and Matt Frewer are still feature roles and the breakout star, Colman Domingo, is still killing it as Victor Strand.

Star Trek Discovery: Season 3 (Crave) – Ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien in this series that now enters into it’s latest season and I know a lot of Trekkies out there do not like this show but as a fleeting Trek fan myself I really dig it. Great casting, exciting adventures and inner politics and an infinite ceiling due to being on the CBS All Access streaming service, I really like what they’re doing with this show and the possibilities are really endless to where they can go.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (Netflix) – If one writer gets me hook, line and sinker everytime he writes a movie or television series, it’s Aaron Sorkin. I’m just addicted to his stories. For his latest film, that he directed as well as wrote, he takes a bite out of Chicago history as well as adding his own spin with sardonic humor and grandiose moments of grandstanding with a phenomenal cast that includes Oscar winners Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance, recent Emmy winners Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong as well as Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton and more. Yes, this is a heavyweight. The film is about the fallout after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where there were massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War, which was reaching its peak. When a curfew was finally instated, this led to even further protests, eventually leading to a police riot. and following this, seven of the demonstrators, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, and David Dellinger, were tried for conspiracy. The meat and potatoes of this film is the trial that followed. This is a big recommendation this week because, though it is heavy on talk and exposition, this could go down as one of the best films this year and when it debuts on Netflix in two weeks it will be the must watch movie, trust me.

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (Crave) – I don’t think I’m alone in wanting a new limited series to continue this fantastic White House set drama amongst all the reboots and revivals we’ve been getting in television these days but I will definitely take what I can get. Originally running for seven seasons, including I believe two different presidential runs, starting with Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett, this show returns for a play style table read episode to bring voter awareness for the fastly approaching election as well as fundraise for the Biden and Harris campaign. It’s probably a known fact that many Trump supporters don’t have the intellect for a smart show like this so their proposed boycott of it pretty much means nothing. Yeah, I said it.

New Releases:

Honest Thief – It’s really kind of funny now that after the Taken trilogy had wrapped up, Liam Neeson stated that he was done with the action genre, retired I think was the term he used. Since then, he has made six more of them, including this film here, and five more on the horizon so, contrary to this movie’s title, he isn’t very honest at all. Coming from Ozark producer Mark Williams, this new movie has him playing Tom Carter, nicknamed the In and Out Bandit because of how meticulous of a thief he is, stealing $9 million from small-town banks while managing to keep his identity a secret. After he falls in love with the bubbly Annie, played by Private Practice’s Kate Walsh, Tom decides to make a fresh start by coming clean about his criminal past, only to be double-crossed by two ruthless FBI agents. Neeson action films seem a dime a dozen in the last twenty years with glimmering hopeful spots here and there but I can’t say that this is one of them.

Yellow Rose – This film was a total surprise, one that I had heard no buzz about or one that had any real ad campaign behind it which is kind of a shame because it is an incredible movie. Written and directed by Diane Paragas in her feature narrative debut, this is the story of Rose, an undocumented 17-year-old Filipina, who dreams of one day leaving her small Texas town to pursue her country music dreams. Her world is shattered when her mom suddenly gets picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, facing this new reality, Rose is forced to flee the scene, leaving behind the only life she knows and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for a new home in the honky-tonk world of Austin, Texas. This film is beautifully shot and gives each character on screen such a rounded reality that we feel the weight of the situation at all times, most heavily felt with any of the dealings with the Gestapo nature of ICE. This movie has soul and will infuriate you with the immigration practices in today’s America. Highly recommended.

The War With Grandpa – As a general rule now, I don’t get into any movie involving Robert De Niro and the word grandpa because I’m still in a state of trauma from having to go to the press screening for his raunchy comedy Dirty Grandpa which made me severely question his financial state as well. This one will definitely go in a different route than that, a family film that follows a boy thrilled that Grandpa is coming to live with his family until he finds out that Grandpa is moving into his room, forcing him upstairs into the creepy attic. Though he loves his grandpa, he wants his room back and has no choice but to declare war, so, with the help of his friends, he devises outrageous plans to make Grandpa surrender the room but Grandpa is tougher than he looks and rather than give in, Grandpa plans to get even. Oh man, now reading that back, this movie may be no better than the previous movie I mentioned and seeing that it comes from the director of Alvin And The Chipmunks, well, the positivity meter is shrinking.

The Curse Of Audrey Earnshaw – A theme that comes up a few times this week, being the Halloween month, is witchcraft, possession and ghostly curses and I don’t think it’ll slow down until the end of the spooky season. Let’s kick it all off here with this Canadian made film, a period piece about a devout community suffering from a plague which they believe is caused by a beautiful young woman and her mother using the forces of witchcraft, black magic, and possession to decimate crops and livestock. The film features some great Canadian talent like Travelers and Hello Destroyer actor Jared Abrahamson and, a favorite of mine, actor, writer, producer and director Don McKellar and while it has a storyline with so much potential it never feels like it rises to an actually scary level. This movie always feels like it needed that extra nudge that it never got.

Percy – Speaking of crops in Canada, this film takes it to the plains of Saskatchewan for a real David versus Goliath battle with some great veteran talent taking the screen, led by the legendary Christopher Walken. Directed by actor and filmmaker Clark Johnson, this film is based on events from a 1998 lawsuit and follows small-town farmer Percy Schmeiser, who challenges a major conglomerate when the company’s genetically modified canola is discovered in the 70-year-old farmer’s crops. As he speaks out against the company’s business practices, he realizes he is representing thousands of other disenfranchised farmers around the world fighting the same battle and suddenly he becomes an unsuspecting folk hero in a desperate war to protect farmers’ rights and the world’s food supply against what they see as corporate greed. Featuring co-stars Zach Braff, Christina Ricci and good Canadian Adam Beach, this film is a great character drama that excels over its small flaws to be a compelling story about a real fight that rages on now. I really enjoyed this one.

Blu-Ray:

The Secret Garden – A classic story from novelist Frances Hodgson Burnett who also wrote A Little Princess, it’s about time we got another theatrical adaptation of this book as the last one was made over twenty-five years ago. Beautifully shot by 45 Years cinematographer Lol Crawley and directed by usual miniseries guy Marc Munden, this is the heartwrenching and equally uplifting tale of Mary Lennox, a spoiled 10-year-old girl of rich parents who grew up in India who, after everyone in her family dies from cholera, is sent to live in Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire with her uncle. There, she discovers that the household’s many secrets and finds a key that leads her to a garden held locked for years by her uncle after the death of his wife, a secret place that she brings to life which rejuvenates her and her bedridden cousin thought to be on his deathbed. This film is very well done, a visual feast every moment that had me captivated while dealing with some deep and dark issues.

Valley Girl – The curse of “why, why, why remake this movie” is upon us with this completely unnecessary redo of Martha Coolidge’s classic 80s teen love story. Adapted by Rachel Lee Goldenberg who recently did the highly recommended Unpregnant, this is a musical version of this classic story of a pair of young lovers from different backgrounds who defy their parents and friends to stay together all set to an 80s new wave soundtrack. Even though the film features Jessica Rothe, who really won me over in the horror sequel Happy Death Day 2U, I felt nothing but bile towards this movie as I am a huge fan of the original and it really misses the charm of Deborah Foreman and Nicolas Cage. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

The Tax Collector – Writer and director David Ayer is a filmmaker who started with such promise, penning Training Day for Antoine Fuqua before stepping behind the camera himself. Unfortunately, that has only worked out for him once, the fantastic LAPD thriller End Of Watch and everything else has been less than middling or straight-up bad. His latest film since his big-budget Suicide Squad is this crime thriller, set on the streets of Los Angeles following family man David and his longtime partner, Creeper, played by one of this generation’s greatest actors, Shia LaBeouf, who are “tax collectors” for the crime lord Wizard, meaning they collect his cut from the profits of local gangs’ illicit dealings. When Wizard’s old rival returns to Los Angeles from Mexico to take his turf back the business is upended, and David finds himself desperate to protect what matters more to him than anything else, his family. If Suicide Squad was bad, and it was, then this movie is infinitely worse, suffering from bad directing, a terrible script and the acting of a lead actor who would lose an audition to a cardboard cut out. LeBeouf is the only saving grace in a film that I couldn’t wait to be over.

Eli Roth’s History Of Horror: Season 1 – Who better to breakdown the history of one of the most fan loved and driven genres in film that still to this day doesn’t get the respect it deserves, especially when it comes to awards season than Hostel, Cabin Fever and The Green Inferno filmmaker Eli Roth. Featuring interviews with the who’s who of the horror world including Greg Nicotero, Rob Zombie, Stephen King and John Landis as well as famous fans who have dabbled in it like Quentin Tarantino, Elijah Wood and Jack Black, we get a comprehensive look at what makes this filmmaking so addictive and the fans so ravenous for it. I absolutely loved this entire season and can not wait for more to return to my television screen. Hook it to my veins, Eli.

Yummy – A Shudder original that is now making its way to physical disc, this is a definitely quirky zombie horror film out of Belgium that may end up on a lot of genre fans’ lists this Halloween. A movie with a darkly comedic edge, this is an orgy of blood, violence and fun in which a young couple travel to a shabby Eastern European hospital for plastic surgery. The young woman wants a breast reduction and her mother comes along for yet another face-lift. While wandering through an abandoned ward the boyfriend stumbles upon a young woman, gagged and strapped to an operating table and finds out that she is the result of experimental rejuvenation treatment. He frees her but does not realize he just caused the outbreak of a virus that will change doctors, patients and his mother-in-law into bloodthirsty zombies. This movie is so insane from the get-go and is an unrelenting ninety minutes that will relentlessly poke you until the end. I really loved this one.

The Pale Door – Let’s keep going down the horror path being that it’s the perfect month for it, with a film that does a bit of genre-mixing refreshingly with the good ole’ fashioned western. Fresh off his segment in the great anthology horror film Scare Package, writer and director Aaron B. Koontz spins this story of the Dalton gang who must find shelter in a seemingly uninhabited ghost town after a train robbery goes south. Seeking help for their wounded leader, they are surprised to stumble upon a welcoming brothel in the town’s square but the beautiful women who greet them are actually a coven of witches with very sinister plans for the unsuspecting outlaws. Executive produced by Bubba Ho Tep and Cold In July’s novelist Joe R. Lansdale, this is a flawed little film that entertains but doesn’t entirely make the best use of its trappings. Featuring Magnum P.I.’s Zachary Knighton, veteran actress Melora Walters and Knives Out’s Noah Segan, I was still entertained enough by this film to enjoy it.

The Invincible Dragon – Martial arts films can usually feel like a dime a dozen and we know that the really good ones or the ones passing for really good usually hit theaters so it’s suspect when there’s one that flies under the radar right to blu-ray. This s one of those movies, focusing on an undercover agent with a dragon tattoo named Kowloon who continually helps the police to solve mysterious cases, which made him known as a rising star in the city. However, his impulsive personality drags him into endless troubles as many in the criminal underworld are looking to take him down for good. The most intriguing thing about this film is to see the fight choreography between the star, Jin Zhang from Pacific Rim: Uprising, and former UFC champion Anderson Silva playing the heavyweight villain. The film is also directed by acclaimed filmmaker Fruit Chan who steps outside of his usual films into a new genre.

Trump Card – I really don’t even know why I’m including this documentary, and I really use that term loosely, as this is a film, another loose term, written and directed by an ex-con and lie spreader, Dinesh D’Souza, who hasn’t made a film that has rose over ten percent on Rotten Tomatoes. For his latest piece of garbage that is sure to rile that MAGA base and be shared like a truthful gospel, this is an “expose” of the socialism, corruption and “gangsterization” (not a work but he uses it) that now apparently define the Democratic Party. Whether it is the feared socialism of Joe Biden or the overtly feared socialism of Bernie Sanders, the film desperately tries to reveal what is unique about modern socialism, who is behind it, why its evil, and how all the other idiots can work together with Trump to stop it. This movie is a complete waste of time, skewing facts into their narrative and omitting that which doesn’t work with it. Pure and utter trash.

Roger Waters: Us + Them – One of the greatest theatrical musical presences ever on stage graces us with another mindblowing concert just five years after he performed The Wall in its entirety, another concert movie definitely worth checking out. Roger has certainly not gotten less political as this whole tour was a direct shot at the Trump administration as well as the Putin regime and the Boris Johnson Brexit debacle. I know a lot of friends that had the chance to see this show in person and while I was extremely jealous at the time, and still am, this is the closest we can all get to being there and it is a pretty sweet consolation prize in my opinion. As a long time Pink Floyd fan, one of my first concerts ever, attended at BC Place, this is a beloved addition to any fans collection.

To Your Last Death – One of the great things about reviewing everything that hits blu-ray is to get contacted out of the blue by a company looking to get eyes on their product and that’s what happened here with this violent and gory animated film that I was sent. Featuring the voices of Firefly’s Morena Baccarin, Star Trek legend William Shatner, The Devil’s Rejects’ Bill Moseley and Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise, this is the story of a young woman who takes on her father and a powerful entity known as Gamemaster that ensnares humans into diabolical plots while her species gambles on the outcome to save her siblings. This movie is pretty insane and uses all the tropes of horror and death metal imagery that dominated the nineties to a really satisfying degree. This will definitely not be for everyone, as it heads down some really dark paths for some comedic reasons, but I found myself very engrossed by it.

Happy Halloween Scooby Doo! – How can it be Halloween if you don’t include the iconic Scooby, Shaggy, the rest of the crew and the Mystery Machine? The simple answer is it can not and will not and even better about this new animated film is that Matthew Lillard is in his rightful place as the voice of your favorite animated secret stoner, Shaggy. Being the gang’s favorite holiday as well, filled with fake monsters and candy galore, this one turns sour when the neighborhood pumpkin patch is infected by a toxic ooze, creating high-flying jack-o-lanterns, and a king-sized pumpkin leader squashing everything in its path. Featuring the guest voices of Bill Nye The Science Guy and, a lifelong crush, Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark, this movie is a throwback to all the Scooby Doo cartoons we grew up on collectively as it has been running for decades. The kids will love it too.

Pierrot Le Fou – Criterion Collection is no stranger to the works of Jean Luc Godard as he has a few of them already in the collection but this one is pretty damn important in the Criterion releasing as it was first released on Blu-ray in the U.S. by The Criterion Collection in 2009, however, it was discontinued almost immediately due to them losing the rights to Studio Canal, its previous owners. For a while, it became a collector’s item due to its out of print status, until now where everything has been restored without the possibility of being taken away again. The film follows the title character who escapes his boring society and travels from Paris to the Mediterranean Sea with Marianne, a girl chased by hit-men from Algeria. Together they lead an unorthodox life, always on the run in this entertaining and wholly different classic film.

Drop Dead Gorgeous – A really dark film from the 90s, the first thing that stood out to me when I received this from Warner Archive is how much two of the stars are pretty much Hollywood pariahs with Kirstie Alley being a MAGA hat-wearing Trumper and Denise Richards being a straight out nutcase but this movie definitely had its charm. The film takes place in a small Minnesota town with the mockumentary style of the annual beauty pageant being covered by a TV crew. Former winner Gladys Leeman, played by Alley, wants to make sure her daughter, Denice Richards’ character Becky, follows in her footsteps by doing some dastardly deeds which include explosions, falling lights and trailer fires. As the Leemans are the richest family in town the police are pretty relaxed about it all but, despite everything, her main rival and nice girl Amber Atkins, played by the wonderful Kirsten Dunst, won’t be stopped even though there is more death and disappointment to come. This movie wasn’t well-reviewed when it came out but I enjoyed it then and still enjoy it now.

Star Trek Picard: Season 1 – Everyone was waiting for this return series featuring one of the most popular Star Fleet captains ever and, in my opinion, the best captain as Sir Patrick Stewart slips back into the chair as Jean-Luc Picard for a brand new series. Set 18 years after his last appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis, the show finds him deeply affected by the death of Data from the events of that film as well as by the destruction of Romulus as referenced in the J.J. Abrams reboot which has me slightly confused. Wasn’t that storyline called the “Kelvin” line? Not a big issue to me in the long run as I really enjoyed this whole series, loved the inclusion of Riker and Deanna Troy later in the season and even the new characters of Michelle Hurd’s gruff Raffi Musiker, the rogue pilot Cristóbal Rios, played by Santiago Cabrera and Allison Pill’s Dr. Agnes Jurati are a welcome addition and feel well written. After an exciting first and establishing season, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

She Should’a Said “No!” – These old “marijuana-slpoitation” movies from the Reefer Madness era always make me laugh so when Kino Lorber has them up for grabs I always accept them. Made in 1949, this film, also known as Wild Weed, follows a chorus girl who’s career is ruined and her brother is driven to suicide when she starts smoking marijuana because of hysteria, miseducation and fear-mongering. Sorry, I had to throw that last part of the description in because it is all just so ridiculous. It’s funny that the main actress of this film, Lila Leeds, was cast almost as a punishment because she was arrested in 1948 with Robert Mitchum for possession of marijuana, so I guess she’s the cautionary tale. The film was also put together in seven days making it suspect that it was a government initiative to get cannabis out of people’s hands and fear on the rise immediately. Too funny.

Bloodstone – Time to head back to the forgotten vaults of B, C, and D grade movies in the possession of those film-loving maniacs at Arrow Video with this film from Dwight H. Little which may have fallen a tiny bit under the radar, although it does have a sequel. This action-adventure follows an American couple on a business trip to Bangalore, India who are dragged into the theft of a ruby called ‘Bloodstone’. The wife is then kidnapped and the husband teams up with a resourceful taxi driver to free his wife and retrieve the ruby. The film, released in 1988, almost seems to be borrowing that energy from Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile but miss having the acting caliber of Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny Devito as there’s absolutely no star power to this one at all.

Life Is A Long Quiet River – Let’s get a bit classier with the Arrow Academy side of the Arrow releasing and dig into this French comedy that was released the same year as Bloodstone, although for an entirely different type of audience. From writer and director Étienne Chatiliez in his debut film, this is the story of two babies are switched at birth by a revengeful nurse and are raised in two radically different families. When the mistake is discovered 12 years later, it leads to complications in the lives of both families, one family is affluent with dutiful and contented children while the other family is poor, with rambunctious and delinquent children, often hungry, but with lots of laughter in the house. This is a fascinating film that almost acts as a sociological experiment and how it can all be blown apart by a reveal of lineage.

A Soldier’s Revenge – Well Go USA, usually known for Asian cinema releases, sent me this film and I stared at it a little bt because I definitely was not expecting a western in any parcels from them. Featuring only a small handful of actors I recognized like Jake Busey, AnnaLynne McCord and, a good cowboy staple, Val Kilmer, this is the story of Civil War soldier-turned-bounty-hunter Frank Connor, haunted by wartime horrors, who spends his time post-war polishing off two things, whiskey and fugitives, but when two desperate children arrive on his doorstep and enlist his help to find their missing mother, Frank must face his past to take down the notorious Major Briggs, with whom he has a violent past with. The first thing to be said about this movie is it is way too freaking long, clocking in at almost two and a half hours which feels wildly unnecessary. Will it satisfy western fans? Only on the surface level of seeing the time period as it is a mess of close-ups and strained dialogue and Kilmer certainly doesn’t look like Doc Holliday anymore, maybe more so like his corpse.

Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs – Lionsgate sent this animated family film to me which features the voices of Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Claflin, two bankable stars, and has been highly praised by the Dove society, a film advisory board that gives awards to the “best” family films but I have never even heard of it. Obviously a take on the classic fairy tale Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, this plays things differently as princes who have been turned into dwarfs seek the red shoes of a lady to break the spell, in a parody with a twist. Is it any good? Well, the parents will find it predictable but with some nice looking animation and some recognizable supporting voice work from Gina Gershon, Community’s Jim Rash and the always welcome baritone of Patrick Warburton but the kids will be delighted with it. I will warn everyone upfront that they may have to have a body issue conversation with their kids afterwards as some of the dialogue and themes in this is slightly problematic and I don’t know how that slipped by Dove.

Television:

The Lie (Amazon Prime) – Hot off of her stellar awards season, cleaning up for her lead role in the miniseries The Act, Joey King stars in this new film opposite Peter Sarsgaard as a father and daughter who are on their way to dance camp when they spot the girl’s best friend on the side of the road. Stopping to offer the friend a ride, their good intentions soon result in terrible consequences and the family quickly closes ranks and decides not to tell anybody. Secrets rarely stay secret for long and they soon find themselves faced with an impossible choice that will alter the course of their lives forever. I’m being vague with the details on this for a reason as The Killing creator Veena Sud writes and directs this film, a creator that revels in her reveals and keeping the mysteries close to her chest. This film is intensely engrossing from start to finish.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor (Netflix) – With his first series based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Mike Flanagan proved once again that he is a horror director at the top of his game and the perfect fit for this series that took in many of Netflix subscribers. Now, we head into his next series that will be sure to give you nightmares just like Hill House did for me, shot in Vancouver, this series once again follows Henry Thomas’ character Henry, who hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. Soon after arriving at the Bly estate, she begins to experience strange occurrences and a grim history starts to unravel. This series is full of emotion and atmosphere and it is really neat to see Flanagan pivoting off of Jackson’s classic into this version of The Turning Of The Screw. Also, like the first series, there are so many hidden ghosts to be spotted in this season, one of my favorite things about Hill House.

The Forty-Year Old Version (Netflix) – Right now, with the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and giving a signal boost to the creations made by people of color being on the forefront it’s really great to see Netflix give it’s platform to a film like this one, written, directed by and starring writer and producer Radha Blank and it’s even better to know that the movie is seriously great and very relatable to women of all colors that hit the forty-year milestone and still feel lost in their own lives. This film follows Blank as a down-on-her-luck New York playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before she turns forty after being one of the prominent winners of the top 30 under thirty award a decade earlier. Reinventing herself as a rapper named RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of hip hop and theater to find her true voice but finds herself trapped in a lie as she has to adjust her playwright voice to get it seen. Through the sighs of everyday comedy, Blank makes this an enriching experience that I believe everyone can take something away from and emerges as a great voice in black cinema that I really hope to see more from. This was a fantastic movie.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond (AMC) – Another Walking Dead spin-off arrives just as the final season of the original series has just been announced and this one has definitely a different vibe to it as it seems to combine the themes of Lord Of The Flies a little bit with the shambling flesh, brain and entrail eating ghouls we are oh so familiar with these days. Featuring Nico Tortorella from Scream 4, this series focuses on the first generation to grow up during the zombie apocalypse, centred around a trio of characters and judging by the trailer it looks suspenseful and will carve a new side in this new zombie lore. If it’s as good as Fear The Walking Dead is I will definitely continue to immerse myself in Robert Kirkman’s imagination.

The Cleansing Hour (Shudder) – Yes, I’m bringing so much horror this week but we have to consider that we are in October and people are clamouring for more of the genre to round out their monthly viewing. This movie had horror critics raving during festivals and has now made its way to the Shudder streaming service at the perfect time. Starring Ryan Guzman and Kyle Gallner, this is about millennial entrepreneurs, Drew and Max, who run a webcast that streams live exorcisms that are, in fact, elaborately staged hoaxes. They get their comeuppance when their latest actress becomes mysteriously possessed by a real demon that holds the crew hostage and, to make matters worse, the possessed victim is Drew’s fiancée, Lane. In front of a rapidly-growing global audience, the demon subjects Max to a series of violent and humiliating challenges meant to punish him for his online charade and, to save the love of his life, Drew discovers that the demon’s sinister motive is not only about revenge, but also to expose the dark secrets he, Max, and Lane have been hiding from one another. This film is brutally effective and a total diamond in the rough as it really has a bumpy start but settles in for some fantastic possession horror that satisfies on all levels.

Mogul Mowgli – Let’s just make it al clear at the get-go. If I see Riz Ahmed’s name attached to a film I immediately become very interested in it because he is one of the best emerging talents of this generation and the projects he picks are always so fascinating. This new film feels very closely connected to Ahmed and his experiences growing up in the United Kingdom dealing with race and culture as a British Pakistani, following him as a rapper on the cusp of his first world tour that is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. Learning his lessons the hard way, he realizes that the way he was living his life in excess of ego and forgetting the culture of what made him have slowly deteriorated his soul and his being, leading him to this unfortunate fate. Riz’s performance in this film is riveting and gives dramatic focus to the monkey on his back while we observe him like a living fish tank. That last wistfully triumphant moment in this movie will go down as an unforgettable cinematic moment for me this year.

Lapsis – On the outside of this film it just looks like a man laying cable to provide money to help his sick brother but there is something so much bigger at the heart of this sleepy pseudo-science fiction film that has a real headiness to it. The film follows Ray, a delivery man struggling to support himself and his ailing younger brother, who suffers from a crippling narcoleptic disorder that is running rampant across the world. Getting the nudge from a scheming friend, he takes a strange job in a strange new realm of the gig economy laying cable across the wilderness, connecting devices meant to change the technological future of man. As he journeys further into the forest, he comes across Anna, another cabler who has a deeper insight into the company they are employed by and the endgame to their work. This film is deeply subtle and feels like you the viewer must fill in the blanks a bit but to that end, it still feels wildly satisfying at the finish.

Undine – I am here for any collaboration between actress Paula Beer, one of my favorite international actresses in the last ten years and writer and director Christian Petzold, who she did her last film with, Transit, an excellent film that also co-starred this film’s lead, Franz Rogowski from the one-shot thriller Victoria. This film has Beer starring as the title character Undine, who works as a historian lecturing on Berlin’s urban development but when the man she loves leaves her, the ancient myth of her name catches up with her and, to satisfy the fable of which she believes she is based on, she has to kill the man who betrays her and return to the water. This film is fascinating and intimate, possibly my favorite work that Petzold has done, and a story that keeps you guessing until the finale. The third act is layered in a way that only accomplished filmmakers cand pull off and Petzold does it with a flourish that is jawdropping.

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President – Trying to squeeze in a last couple films, this documentary was on my radar since the announcement of the festival titles as Jimmy Carter is always a president that I had a lot of respect for and one that still continues to do great work through humanitarian and charity causes as well as building houses with his bare hands. The film comes from CNN Films by way of director Mary Wharton  and follows Jimmy Carter and journey from the country town of Plains to being the governor of Georgia to becoming the thirty ninth  U.S. president and one who openly embraced rock ‘n’ roll the whole way. With interviews with Willie Nelson, the surviving members of the Allman Band, Bob Dylan and more, a fascinating portrait of not only a great but stifled president but a fantastic human being is painted. In this time leading up to one of the most important elections in U.S. history, this film was definitely a breath of fresh air.

Siberia – Rounding out this year’s festival with something weird, metaphorical and from the very unique and volatile brain of filmmaker Abel Ferrara through the conduit of Willem Dafoe and I’m still trying to make heads or tails of it. The film had Dafoe as a bartender in the middle of the Siberian wilderness, dishing drinks out to fur drapped inuit, dogsleds containing elders and pregnant women and more, although, none of it is real. Ferrara uses this landscape to traverse the subversive nature of dreams and, from what I can glean from this film, nightmares. The film feels to me like its set on a sort of purgatorial landscape with heaven on one side and the drop off to hell on the other with Dafoe’s character Clint being magnetized to the latter. There were points of this film that reminded me of Von Trier’s The House That Jack Built where you get the slow realization in the subplot that Bruno Ganz is escorting Matt Dillon’s character to the depths of hell. I’m still trying to make a uniform sense of this but it was incredibly jarring at many points and ends with a guttural death metal roar. Fascinating stuff.

Black Bear – Well, we finally got to the movie in the festival where once the credits rolled I had a confused look on my face and went “huh?” It was bound to happen but even though it looks like I’m throwing a bit of shade at this film I am really not as the direction is great, the cast delivers but I just don’t think that the dual complexity of it worked. So. now, as I have you all confused I’ll try to give you a little context. Directed and written by Lawrence Michael Levine, the film follows a filmmaker at a creative impasse, played by Aubrey Plaza who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat with a married couple, played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. This description is almost a red herring as this only sort of describes the first half of the movie before it shifts to a real film being made at the remote house, flipping te character motivations and dynamics completely. Again, I enjoyed it but am still trying to unpack it.

NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE

My Salinger Year – This is definitely one of my favorite films of the festival this year and the crowning achievement for director and screenwriter Philippe Falardeau whose last outing I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival was My Internship In Canada, an absurd comedy that I’d love to forget. Based on Joanna Smith Rakoff’s novel of the same name, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley plays Joanna as a young aspiring writer who lands a day-job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency in n New York City during the late nineties. While her eccentric and old-fashioned boss, played by Sigourney Weaver, tasks her to process Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, she struggles to find her own voice through romance, a crash course in the publishing world and communications with the reclusive writer that she knows as Jerry. This film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and leaves a resonance that will put a smile on your face.

Summer Of 85 – Director Francois Ozon returns from last years By The Grace Of God, a movie that made me yell at my television screen when I watched it, with this teenaged romance that gave me glimmers of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. Punctuated by two fantastic and glowing performances from young actors Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin, this is the story of Alexis, a boy on the verge of becoming a man, who meets the individual responsible for the release of his sexuality during the summer of 1985 after the dreamy David rescues him from his capsized boat one afternoon. A torrid romance leads to heartbreak and tragedy which informs the rest of Alexis’ future and leaves an indelible mark on his soul. This film is such a beauty, a very endearing story of naivete that is gorgeously shot along a breathtaking French seaside. Ozon crafts one of my favorite singular stories in his career, showing that he is still a filmmaker who brings the soul every single time. 

Women In Blue – This is a massively topical documentary that puts us right in the center of a city going through massive turmoil still to this very moment and a fight that is not going to relent any time soon. The film is a close “fly on the wall” documentary that follows the stories of the women police officers in Minneapolis who try to reform the department and restore trust in the community after a high-profile police shooting forces its first female chief to resign. I can’t say that the end result of the movie leaves a lot of hope for women in leadership roles in police departments as it feels that al of those who are focused on end up marginalized or used as a scapegoat for public ridicule. The film also doesn’t touch on the George Floyd murder which would surely have added another element to the story. I couldn’t help but think, with everything going on at the moment, that this film was shot through a sort of “Blue Lives Matter” lens and it was a bad taste I couldn’t shake.

NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel – Remember The Corporation, a Canadian made documentary from 2003 that that looked at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance and even put it through the psychopath test? Well, director Jennifer Abbott and new co-director Joel Bakan are back this the very and, yes, unfortunately, necessary follow up that exposes how companies are desperately rebranding as socially responsible and how that threatens democratic freedoms. It is infuriating to watch in detail how these tactics had blurred political lines between massive conglomerates and dirty politicians and have effectively choked the life out of democracy to the point that it is almost completely unrecognizable. It’s also really interesting to see how close this has all gotten in the timeline as the filmmakers have been able to include the happenings of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies’ reactions and ad campaigns around it, exploiting the public needs and even the exploitation of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a great movie but, be warned, it will piss you off.

Falling – Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut with this drama that he wrote and starred in as well and I know awards season is going to be weird this year but if both he and his other star Lance Henriksen aren’t even mentioned during it, well, that’s going to be a serious indictment on the industry. Henriksen plays Willis, a gruff and brutal father rapidly descending into dementia who moves from his rural farm to live with his gay son and his family in Los Angeles very much against his own wishes. From the get-go, nothing but hazy bile, vitriol and resentment comes out of Willis’ mouth and it all takes out characters downhill as they just try to do what’s right for him as they put their lives on hold to figure out his situation, The film explores the deep commitment to family, for better and in this case for worse in an experience that largely feels stressful and uncomfortable but is some of the best character work I’ve seen this year. Bravo to Viggo in his first film and it was a nice touch to see a David Cronenberg cameo in this.

Beauty Water – After starting my festival with Brandon Cronenberg’s latest shocker, I’m really surprised it’s taken me this many movies in to finally come across another totally messed up movie then this little slice of weird came up next on my list. An animated South Korean film blending traditional stylings with computer-generated movements, this is the story of an unhappy and overweight woman named Ye-ji who comes across an infomercial for a mysterious water that enables her to lose weight and reshape her appearance. The upkeep of this procedure proves to be a murderous obsession for her and her life starts to spiral out of control but the tables are turned when what she perceives to be the man of her dreams enters her life and the stakes turn from keeping her beauty to keep her life. The film plays like an episode of The Twilight Zone and the twists and turns last all the way up to the final moment. This is definitely a hard film to recommend but if you like to be disturbed by your art then have at it.

My Wonderful Wanda – One of the best things about this festival is starting the screenings of these films with little to no knowledge of what they’re about and that was the perfect case for this drama. This new film from Swiss writer and director Bettina Oberli follows a Polish caretaker named Wanda who looks after the ailing patriarch Joseph, living in his family villa by the lake. She is there for him around the clock and also helps his wife Elsa and the youngest son Gregi care for her on a level beyond being romantic. The work is poorly paid, but Wanda needs the money for her own family in Poland and since everyone lives under one roof, Wanda gets an intimate view of their family life, one so intimate that Wanda unexpectedly becomes pregnant and the source of this ends up blowing the family apart in order to repair the decades of damage that occurred before Wanda arrived. This film is beautifully shot and constructed with characters you find yourself getting behind that, on the first reveal, are not ones that you would find yourself caring about. This movie is filled with so many perfect human imperfections that its hare not to root for it as a whole.

Fucking Idiots – I’m so happy that I got to the absurd comedy corner of the festival and this movie was so much fun to unpack from its completely ambiguous opening to its slide down to its inane finish. Not everyone will appreciate a film like this but it really landed with me very well, all the lines working with me but maybe it’s because I’m a fucking idiot as well and they’re just preaching to the choir. The story to it seems simple, a seemingly money-strapped couple heads to their wealthy friend’s house for dinner, looking to propose some sort of deal and, as the audience, we are totally unclear of what their intentions are but we know they’re nervous. Honestly, that’s the only plot morsel I’ll feed you but the trifecta of Ben Cotton, Christina Sicoli and Stephen Lobo is hysterically funny as I felt the grin on my face getting wider and wider as the movie progressed and the absurdity reached a fever pitch. I thoroughly loved this movie and I think it was swinging for my audience, especially as a blu-ray collector. That will make more sense if you see the movie but, what do I know, I’m a fucking idiot.

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Nadia, Butterfly – Retirement must be a hard transition to go through and must be even harder to do when you’re at a young age and still have so much future ahead of you. When you’re an athlete it must be doubly worse, a problem I will never know. French Canadian writer and director Pascal Plante delves into this notion in this new drama about a Canadian Olympic swimmer who finishes her final race, a relay in which her team wins the bronze medal, and then the real implications of her decision start to dawn on her, pushing her to some self-destructive actions with all start with her alienating her teammates during their celebration that night. Plante does a phenomenal job in illustrating our main character Nadia’s isolation that she feels deep inside and does a great job of keeping everything so internal with actress Katerine Savard giving a knockout performance in the process. The weird irony that struck me was that this takes place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an event that, due to COVID-19, hasn’t even taken place. Maybe this movie is set in the future.

New Releases:

Possessor: Uncut – Let’s mess you up right out of the gate as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

Spontaneous – Coming of age is hard as I remember it. Budding sexuality, hormones, high school cliques, exploding bodies… wait, exploding bodies? Yes, this is the direction that this teen horror from com goes in The Babysitter writer Brian Duffield’s directorial debut and although the story seems insane he makes it work for the entire duration. Starring the “it” girl of right now, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford alongside Charlie Plummer, they play seniors Mara and Dylan two newly found lovebirds who struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last as students in their school begin exploding like balloons full of blood. The dynamic of the film is so interesting as the explosions at first come off as comical but when you start putting faces behind the victims the seriousness arises along with the stakes to keep everyone alive. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this film and the script and lead stars are definitely what keep it afloat.

Save Yourselves – Nothing like a good sleepy little hipster comedy to give you some laughs and make you think about existence but this one has a bit of a twist. Coming from first time writing and directing duo Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, the story follows Jack and Su, a hip Brooklyn couple who, like many of their friends, find themselves dependent on technology and unable to put down their phones. Fearing their mindless scrolling may impact their connection with each other, they seize the chance to head to an isolated cabin in the woods, vowing to unplug from the outside world for a week. Sheltered from texts and push notifications, they are blissfully unaware that the planet is under attack and real danger looms just outside their door. As strange events unfold, the couple must figure out a way back to civilization, or what’s left of it in one of the most surprising comedies of the year. The script of this film is hilarious and although I only recognized the female lead from GLOW, the whole cast delivers no matter how big or how small their role is.

Eternal Beauty – To be honest, the first thing I think of when the name of actor turned writer and director Craig Roberts is his role in the Seth Rogen movie Neighbors in which he was a fraternity pledge nicknamed Ass Juice. Not flattering, I know, but the reality is that he made a great first movie with Just Jim and this new film is nearly a masterpiece. The film stars the amazing Sally Hawkins as Jane who, after being left at the altar, had a breakdown spiralled into a chaotic episode of schizophrenia lasting twenty years in which love, both real and imagined, and family relationships collide. Things change when she begins a darkly comic romance with Mike, played by David Thewlis, a failed musician and fellow lost soul. This movie is intense in its delivery and deliciously shot like it’s completely from Jane’s point of view which gives such a deeper insight into her affliction. Again, Hawkins bats for the fences with a fierce performance that demands to be seen.

On The Rocks – Sofia Coppola has returned during this odd year of movie delays with possibly my favorite movie this year and she brought Bill Murray back with her and I couldn’t be happier with it. The film stars Rashida Jones as a young mother who reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father, played by Murray,  and they embark on a mission to see if her workaholic husband, played by Marlon Wayans, is having an affair. The chemistry between Jones and Murray, first displayed in the Netflix Christmas special A Very Murray Christmas, is so palpable that you just want them to star in absolutely everything together. The script is so snappy and fun, The film charms you in every moment and I would be perfectly content in watching this film every day for weeks on end, I loved it that much. This is a true gem of a movie and I highly recommend it.

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 – If one writer gets me hook, line and sinker every time he writes a movie or television series, it’s Aaron Sorkin. I’m just addicted to his stories. For his latest film, that he directed as well as wrote, he takes a bite out of Chicago history as well as adding his own spin with sardonic humor and grandiose moments of grandstanding with a phenomenal cast that includes Oscar-winners Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance, recent Emmy winners Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong as well as Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton and more. Yes, this is a heavyweight. The film is about the fallout after the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where there were massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War, which was reaching its peak. When a curfew was finally instated, this led to even further protests, eventually leading to a police riot. and following this, seven of the demonstrators, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, and David Dellinger, were tried for conspiracy. The meat and potatoes of this film are the trial that followed. This is a big recommendation this week because, though it is heavy on talk and exposition, this could go down as one of the best films this year and when it debuts on Netflix in two weeks it will be the must-watch movie, trust me.

The Boys In The Band – Everywhere you look these days on Netflix you can’t really go through a row of releases and not find a Ryan Murphy written, directed or produced film or television series as the deal he signed with the streaming service must be massively lucrative. This new film feels like it was a long time coming and brings in a cast of actors that have been working with Murphy for quite a while now and it’s an adaptation of a famous gay play and one that was adapted by acclaimed filmmaker William Friedkin way back in 1970, a hugely different and more taboo time for the subject. The film is set in that same time, 1968 New York City, when being gay was still considered to be best kept behind closed doors, following a group of friends gather for a raucous birthday party hosted by Michael, played by Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, a screenwriter who spends and drinks too much, in honor of the sharp-dressed and sharp-tongued Harold, played brilliantly by Zachary Quinto, who could double for Elliot Gould. Other partygoers include Michael’s former flame, Donald, Larry, a promiscuous commercial artist living with a school teacher, Hank, who has just left his wife, Bernard, a librarian tiptoeing around the bro codes of friendship alongside Emory, a decorator who never holds back an opinion to his detriment and a guileless hustler dressed as a cowboy hired to be Harold’s gift for the night. Everything gets upended when Alan, Michael’s straight-laced college roommate, shows up unexpectedly and each man is challenged to confront long-buried truths that threaten the foundation of the group’s tight bond. This film is all about the performances and the dialogue will remind you that it was all based on a play so sometimes the theatrics do hit the ceiling. For those looking for a well put together conversational drama, this is it.

2067 – Self-contained sci-fi and lower budget sci-fi, it can either be great and captivating or it can leak air for ninety minutes and make you wonder why you got into it in the first place. This film hits somewhere in the middle, starring former X-Men’s Nightcrawler Kodi Smit McPhee and former True Blood star Ryan Kwanten and is set, obviously from the title, over forty years into the future following a man sent on a dangerous mission to an unknown world to save the human race when Earth’s air becomes unbreathable, only on the prodding of a mysterious message that was sent out. The film has a detailed plot with several intriguing mysteries at its core but that may be the biggest issue being that it has so many strands going outward that it can’t resolve or make sense of most of them besides our main character’s increasing existential quandaries. It’s still a bold film for former VFX artist turned director Seth Larney to take on.

The Glorias – One of my favorite visual storytellers of all time, Julie Taymor, returns after a ten-year absence to tell a true story in her own way that I feel is sorely needed right now, especially when women’s right once again hold so delicately in the balance. This is the story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s itinerant childhood’s influence on her life as a writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide as told through multiple timelines, the later two in life played by Academy Award winners Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore. This film is a visual feast, as all of Taymor’s movies are, which at times distract from the reality of the story at hand but the powerfulness of the message is never dulled and the imperative anger that should never stop in the treatment of women is always on display. For whatever shortcomings the film has, and it has more than a few, this movie is massively important and will have a guttural effect on any forward thinker that sees it.

Blu-Ray:

Rogue – For a while, Megan Fox was the it girl, one of the hottest women on screen who made us sweat during Transformers movies until her franchise ending riff with Michael Bay stopped that and I still think her horror film Jennifer’s Body is still a hidden gem. Well, for years she’s been making these little films that don’t get much publicity and this time she made an action film that even critics are saying has some merit. In this new film, she plays O’Hara, a mercenary leading a squad of soldiers on their mission to rescue hostages in a remote part of Africa when, unfortunately, the mission goes wrong and the team are stranded, forced to survive against the local rebels. I was completely shocked by this movie as Fox shows an emotional depth that I honestly thought she was incapable of and, even a production that can’t really shake that B-movie feeling, it all is still effective filmmaking. I also love that a female director was behind the camera for this, MJ Barrett who my favorite work of hers is all the Ash vs The Evil Dead episodes she did.

The Silencing – After the last weirdo film that former Game Of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was in, the deliriously entertaining thriller Exit Plan, I’m feeling like I can finally be on board with each of his projects afterwards because it has wiped the taste of that awful De Palma movie he did. This new action thriller has him playing a reformed hunter living secluded in a wildlife sanctuary after the disappearance of his teen daughter years ago who saves a young girl from being killed by a serial killer but gets caught in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the deranged man he foiled plans for. His path crosses with the town’s sheriff, played by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis, who also seems to bring the serial killer to justice after the discovery of a dead body of a teen girl. The story feels like a retread of the familiar but all in all, I still found myself sucked into the film and Coster-Waldau when he has something to work with, always seems to deliver.
The Legend of Tomiris – We’re going international now for this new blood and sword epic from Kazakhstan to get some serious storytelling done before Borat arrives later in October and we’re all sort of mocking them by going “my wife” and other lines. This is the story of the life of the great queen of the steppe, the legendary Tomiris, a woman destined to become a skillful warrior, survive the loss of close people and unite the Scythian and Saka tribes under her authority, simple as that. Lead star Almira Tursyn is fierce in her action scene, as the choreography is quite good and works with the cinematography well, but the dialogue scenes come off a bit cringeworthy at times and maybe that’s just the language barrier or her inexperience as a front and center role. Still pretty entertaining but definitely very long, clocking in at over two and a half hours.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own – Got to get some sort of informative documentary to this week and this intimate portrait of an artist is a great way to do it, also as a cool way of inspiration. The film is the story of Ursula von Rydingsvard, a woman who has struggled for years to overcome the hardship of her upbringing and to follow her true calling to become an artist and live her dream of painstakingly crafting public sculptures in New York. Sophomore documentary filmmaker Daniel Taub does a great job in giving Ursula the necessary backstory of her plight to the audience but also going fascinatingly in-depth on her process to create her works as well as the scrutinizing harshness that artists always seem to put on their shoulders. This documentary will really only speak to a certain crowd but for them, it will speak volumes.

The Secret: Dare To Dream – Remember that self-help book that everyone was raving about years ago that was supposed to fix your life through the easy steps of listening to the world’s secret messages? It was something like that, I honestly don’t remember but they put out a movie based on that, direct to video and now there’s this one, starring Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas for some reason, that follows a widow struggling to get by who meets a stranger that subscribes to a philosophy of positive thinking and messages of hope, compassion, and gratitude. Needless to say, this movie was awful in every sense, much like a faith-based film, it’s clunky in dialogue, overreaching and overbearing in its need to hammer home the message and a complete was of time if you don’t feel the urge for a browbeating of indoctrination. Holmes may have escaped Scientology but she still landed herself in The Secret which I can’t say is really any better.

Genesis II/Planet Earth – Warner Archive is aiming for those deep Star Trek fans with this new double set of forgotten films that Gene Roddenberry wrote in the mid-seventies. Genesis II follows a scientist, Dylan Hunt, who has been preserved in suspended animation in a NASA cavern in 1979 and wakes up to find himself in a primitive society in the year 2133 because during the 154 years he had slept, war has broken out and the world’s scientists rebelled against the war-loving military and developed a society known as the Pax, whose goal is to keep the spirit of mankind alive. The sequel, Planet Earth, follows Hunt awakening from suspended animation again and awakens in the twenty-second century where women rule the world and men are slaves called Dinks. He is captured and sold as a slave, but escapes and hooks up with a male rebel movement. It’s campy but undeniably from the mind of a science fiction genius.

Variety – Have you ever wanted to see the flip side of Taxi Driver and see the seedy underbelly from a troubled woman? This is sort of what Bette Gordon’s 1983 drama is, following Christine, played by Sandy McLeod, who takes a job selling tickets at a porno theater near Times Square and, instead of distancing herself from the dark and erotic nature of this milieu, she develops an obsession that begins to take over her life. a story of this nature was definitely a taboo of its time and I would argue that the film would still come off as massively controversial today but it is affecting and undeniably hard to look away from, a total forgotten gem of a movie. It was shot by Jim Jarmusch’s guy Tom DiCillo and scored by John Lurie and fits in the pantheon of dirt and seedy New York City films near the top. A must-see.

Penny Dreadful City Of Angels: Season 1 – A pretty sizeable fan base is very excited to get the spinoff to the popular Showtime series that started back in 2014 and ran for three seasons. While the original series followed explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, American gunslinger Ethan Chandler, scientist Victor Frankenstein and medium Vanessa Ives as they combated supernatural threats in Victorian London, this series goes ahead in time to a late 1930s Los Angeles at a time that city expansion was aggressive and pushing out the Latino community and the rise of the Nazi ideals were taking hold in the city. The kick is that an evil and godly entity is responsible for pushing the weaker-minded humans into furthering the agenda of the destruction of humanity. The show stars Game Of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer, Nathan Lane and It Follows and Don’t Breathe actor Daniel Zovatto and I loved episode one. Looking forward to what’s next.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

The Captain – I’m bringing some Asian cinema this week with the newest film from Andrew Lau who is the guy who shot the entire Infernal Affairs trilogy as well as directed the very cool action flick Initial D. Playing back into the action-adventure, this film is based on a real-life incident in May 2018, when the cockpit windshield of a Sichuan Airlines flight shattered while the plane was flying 30,000 feet above the Tibetan Plateau and the co-pilot was sucked halfway out of the cockpit as passengers started losing consciousness due to low pressure, causing our title character to step up and be the hero. The character development and script of this film are definitely lacking but the action and suspense of it keep you on track from beginning to end and some of it seems too crazy to believe. A wild ride but slightly forgettable.

Hiroshima – Coming from Arrow Academy, the classier side of the Arrow Video releasing, this film is an updating of the 1953 film that detailed the day the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In the focused plot of the film, it is the story of Hiroshima seen through the eyes of the targeted civilians, but mostly the children in particular, as they live amidst the war, then as victims of the atomic bomb, and subsequently as they try to subsist in the aftermath on a pile of ash, rubble and corpses. Even made almost seventy years ago, this film is still affecting, tragic and comes packed with world messages and morals all seen through the eyes of youth.

Brute Force – I’m bringing a double shot of Criterions this week because I’m a total geek for them and they’re the definitive versions of the film, those most important to cinephiles like me. Both films coming from director Jules Dassin, this film features Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn and follows Joe Collins, a convict in the State penitentiary who decides he’s had enough and wants to break out. Fed up with the Captain of the Guard, Mr. Muncey, who uses both physical and psychological torture to get his way with the men, Joe and his cellmates are assigned to work in the drainpipe located just outside the prison gate which Joe uses a tactic from the US military during World War II in Italy as the basis of a breakout. This film is incredible but was not well received at the time of release in 1947 due to the brutal violence of it which turned audiences off. The new Blu-ray transfer is gorgeous and I was astounded by this absolute classic

The Naked City – My second Jules Dassin film this week to geek out on, this is an excellent representation of classic film noir and the inspiration for so many filmmakers who make homages to it all the time. The film, at its heart, is a murder mystery, as somewhere in New York’s bustling post-world-war-two metropolis, a beautiful blonde and a former model, Jean Dexter, has been found dead in her apartment, drowned in the bathtub. With the news of her death spreading like wildfire across the city, Irish homicide Detective, Lt. Dan Muldoon, and his young protégé, the rookie Detective Jimmy Halloran, smell out clues all over Manhattan’s tangled asphalt jungle, as the deceased’s crafty boyfriend, Frank Niles, becomes the prime suspect. So many guilty lies and a string of unsolved jewellery robberies cloud Jean’s mysterious case and the two must make or break the case by tossing aside their emotions to keep the city safe from more crime. Again, this is a product of the time so it’s best to keep an open mind about it but I will say that the intrigue of the mystery still holds up over seventy years later.

Television:

Warrior: Season 2 (Crave) – I can’t believe this show flew under my radar as it is based on stories written by Bruce Lee and comes from director Justin Lin, which is great being that he directed the Lee centric comedy satire Finishing The Game, a solid movie if you haven’t seen it. The actors aren’t known but the story will grab you, set during the Tong Wars in the late 1800s, following a martial arts prodigy originating from China who emigrates to San Francisco and ends up becoming a hatchet man for the most powerful boss in Chinatown. The action is phenomenal and the attention to detail feels impeccable. The first season was a great Blu-ray pick-up, a ten-episode series and if you’re a classic martial arts fan then they made this show for you.

Fargo: Season 4 (FX) – It’s honestly funny how much mud I slung at this show before the first season aired saying “why would they do a remake of a perfect Coen brothers movie?” and each season has proved me more and more wrong, each series is a self-contained new story, told masterfully by showrunner Noah Hawley and an ever-changing cast of great performers. The fourth season is set in 1950 in Kansas City and the story follows two crime syndicates as they vie for control. The cast is led by Chris Rock, who plays Loy Cannon, the head of a crime syndicate made up of black migrants fleeing the Jim Crow South who have a contentious relationship with the Kansas City mafia and the supporting cast has I’m Thinking Of Ending Things’ Jessie Buckley, Jason Schwartzman, Ben Whishaw and Jack Huston. I have a good feeling that this season will be incredible and awards caliber as well.

Gangs Of London (AMC) – As a network that generally has made great decisions for its line up by picking up British programming like Quiz most recently, they have done it again by nabbing this gritty crime series from the UK network Sky. Coming from the man behind The Raid movies, Gareth Evans, this series tells the story of London being torn apart by the turbulent power struggles of its international gangs and the sudden power vacuum that’s created when the head of London’s most powerful crime family is assassinated. The only recognizable stars in this are Joe Cole who featured in the other British crime saga Peaky Blinders and Colm Meaney who was O’Brien in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine but it’s shot so beautifully and the story is absolutely fascinating for fans of these crime family series.

The Comey Rule (Crave) – I really love these true story political films and television series like Game Change, Vice or The Loudest Voice and the producer of that last one has made this new series, based on the book by James Comey. Emmy winners Jeff Daniels and Brendan Gleeson star as former FBI Director James Comey and President Donald J. Trump in this limited event series that tells the story of two powerful men, whose strikingly different personalities, ethics and loyalties put them on a collision course. Part one follows the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and their impact on the election while part two is an account of the first months of the Trump presidency where allies became enemies, enemies became friends and truth depended on what side you were on. As it seems the world was paying close attention to everything at this time in history, all of this comes off as an interesting but horrifyingly real as you want to say that it is all satire but it is all terrifyingly true and getting worse by the day.

Monsterland (Crave) – This looks like a really fun new series from Hulu which is still, to this day, unavailable to us Canadians unless Crave decides to pick it up, so my fingers are crossed on this one. The series features Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever, Luke Cage’s Mike Colter and Orange Is The New Black’s Taylor Schilling in an anthology show about encounters with gothic beasts, including fallen angels and werewolves, and broken people who are driven to desperate acts in an attempt to repair their lives, ultimately showing there is a thin line between man and beast. The esthetic is awesome and I’m honestly a real sucker for these types of shows like Creepshow, Tales From The Crypt and Masters Of Horror so this one is definitely up my alley.

Servants – Another black and white film, my second of the festival, proving again that this format has such an immediate ominous tone that given the right circumstances makes you feel uneasy and on edge. This film puts you in that feeling right away, set in 1980, following Michal and Juraj, two students at a theological seminary in totalitarian Czechoslovakia, a school on the verge of dissolution through an investigation by the secret police. All of the students must make the ultimate decision whether they will subject themselves to the surveillance or collaborate with the regime to fight the draconian oppressors, joining in a fight with a mentor priest battling his demons who may or may not be on their side, blackmailed by one of the secret police that helped him cover up a hit and run. This all feels convoluted but it all comes to a head in a tragic ending that felt like a constantly deepening slope that you can’t avoid. This movie may leave a lot of viewers cold and in the dark.

This Is My Desire – One of my favorite things about taking in the international cinema at these festivals is to get immersed in other cultures and other walks of life and this film is a perfect example of that, a deeply intimate insight into a country I know nothing about, Nigeria. This film follows two separate Nigerians, living in Lagos, trying to better the lives of their families. On one side you have Mofe, an engineer and electrician trying to provide for his sister and er family when she tragically passes away leaving him with the problems on his shoulders. On the other side is Rosa, a woman working odd jobs trying to support and care for her pregnant sister which may come at the cost of giving herself up for marriage and negating a relationship that may be a wholesome one with a future. Beautifully shot, the film puts you on the shoulders of two lives that may look bleak in the outcome but are enriched with soul.

THERE IS NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE

Time – Another black and white shot film but this time it’s an emotionally affecting documentary and for the first time this festival I was extremely grateful that this is a virtual festival this year so other filmgoers wouldn’t see me shedding tears at the end of this film. From filmmaker Garrett Bradley, this is the hard-hitting story of Fox Rich, a black woman and the wife of Rob, a man convicted to a sixty-year prison sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early 90s in a moment of desperation when both of their kids were toddlers. For the last two decades, Fox, now an entrepreneur and a fierce abolitionist has campaigned for the release of her husband and we see this struggle documented with family video and the follow-along that Bradley did with her and the final result is such a powerful story and an indictment on the lopsided nature of the law, the harshness of those who convict black men in America and the justice system as a whole. Another deeply affecting documentary for this festival that can be described no loss then must see.

Another Round – One of my most anticipated films of the festival, I was already seeing great reactions to this new Thomas Vinterberg film on Twitter before I even got the chance to check it out and they are all very much warranted. Starring one of my favorite international actors of all time, Mads Mikkelsen, the story is about four friends, all high school teachers, who embark on an experiment where they each sustain a certain level of alcohol intoxication during their everyday life, believing that all people, in general, would benefit from a bit higher Blood Alcohol Content. As a result, their working experiences are turned upside down, forcing their lives into deeper turmoil than they were in the first place. The performances are phenomenal as the story keeps descending into a chaotic nose dive until an odd resolution that seems like a conflicted triumph, What a pure cinematic gem this movie is!

The Reason I Jump – Being the parent of a child that is on the spectrum of ADHD with slight autism, documentaries like this are fascinating to me and I entered this film with a bit of fear but a healthy amount of curiosity as well. Based on a book written by a non-speaking Japanese thirteen-year-old boy named Naoki Higashida this film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world from each kid as well as their parents. It’s so interesting to see the connections between the behaviours of each child and see how culture and global geography influences how differently each child is dealt with, all in good ways, and what the crossover was. It gets pretty emotional any time you are dealing with children and their mental wellbeing.

There Is No Evil – Well, I guess I wanted to start my festival off with something pretty heavy and I found it in this Iranian film, co-produced by Germany and the Czech Republic. Written and directed by Mohammad Rasoulof and the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, this film is divided into four stories set in Iran all dealing with the brutal death penalty sentences that are given out without regard by the authorities. Each of the stories deals with different very distinctive human themes, the first story focusing on a man’s devotion to his family, the second following an executioner who has lost his ability to make these prisoners anonymous like as his co-workers do, the third on how the grief is dealt with in these situations and the fourth focuses on the estrangement of familial bonds that are a direct result of the second story. Beautifully shot and always thoughtful in its repose, Rasoulof leaves you with so much food for thought when the final credits roll.

Last And First Men – So it looks like the next type of movie I wanted to cross off the list immediately was the “hard to unpack” film but this is one I was certainly looking forward to as it was the directorial debut of one of my favorite composers, Johann Johansson, who passed sadly away two years ago. His arrival as a feature filmmaker definitely leaves you for a thirst for what he could have created beyond this as this film presents itself as a documentary shot in black and white with narration from Tilda Swinton but only at first as we slowly realize that the aged stone structures and landscapes we are seeing are of a world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and all that there is left is to beam essentially the codex of humankind to the ethos of the galaxy. The film’s tone comes off as artistically scientific and evoked feelings of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in its visuals mixed with a side of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Knowing how gifted of a composer Johansson is, it’s not hard to feel that this film was completely drafted to the ominous tone in his mind. This movie is definitely a hard sell to any casual viewer.

Special Actors – This is definitely the shift in tone I was looking for and after the last Shin’ichirô Ueda, the incredible One Cut Of The Dead which I caught at the festival three years ago, this is one of my most anticipated films of this year’s collection. Leaving the one-take zombie cinema for a more narrative approach, Ueda still keeps the twists and turns alive for this story of Kazuto, a shy and afflicted young man who has a lifelong dream of becoming an actor, but has been suffering from a special medical condition where he faints and collapses when he gets nervous. His brother presents him with an opportunity to take his hopes and put it into guerrilla-style acting that puts him in real situations to coerce, con or, in the film’s major case, disrupt scams. Ueda is taking an almost Fight Club Project Mayhem styling and using it to juggle multiple themes in it, always keeping you on your toes, and on a shoestring budget. It doesn’t equal up to his last effort but it was a fun ride.

No Ordinary Man – In one of the most effective and soul-bearing documentaries I have seen in recent memory, directors  Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt and writer Amos Mac explore the life of American Jazz musician Billy Tipton who, moments after his death was revealed to be a woman living as a man by his son which then resulted with his family being paraded all over tabloid television as a rating grabbing freak show. In this film, Tipton’s story is reimagined and performed by trans artists as they are brought together in an audition like situation to paint a portrait of a posthumous trans hero and relate their stories to the struggle Tipton went through in his era. The filmmakers also go to Tipton’s son Billy Jr. to reconcile a complicated and contested legacy that has informed his entire adult life without seeing the boundaries his father had broken for trans and non-binary around the world. This documentary was thoroughly fascinating and informative, my first great doc of the festival.

Merkel: Anatomy Of A Crisis – Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t live in Germany or that the orange tyrant we know as Trump is so large and looming over North America but I have to say that I consider Dr. Angela Merkel as one of my favorite leaders on the planet and not just from the cold shoulder she gave to previously mentioned Cheeto Mussolini. This film kind of boosted up that view and also, in small moments, gives the softer side to the German Prime Minister as it follows her decision in the fall of 2015 to open the borders for refugees and how it divided the opinion of the country, some praising the moral stance, others criticizing the surrender of sovereignty. On the outside, it all appeared to be well-planned activity but in reality, it was a policy of muddling along, chance, trial and error, a hair’s breadth from spinning out of control and taking down Merkel’s entire administration with it. The film shows the power struggles and playing against each other that ensued in the time of leading up to the final decision in a way that feels almost surgical in its depiction. If you enjoy a good heady political drama then you will love this one.

New Releases:

Kajillionaire – One of my favorite filmmakers in the last twenty years and a storyteller who is very idiosyncratic in her own right, like Nicholas Winding Refn or Yorgos Lanthimos, I have always been excited about Miranda July’s new projects and this film didn’t disappoint. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez, the story follows two con artists who have spent twenty-six years training their only daughter to swindle, scam and steal at every turn to get them by. During a desperate and hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down as she upsets the dynamic that had been working so well for them and starts to show Old Dolio (yes, that’s really what they named her) the real way of the world and the goodness in people. Wood is absolutely incredible in this movie, playing a morose feeling monotone character that reflects so well in every nuanced reaction. Just another phenomenal performance in 2020 that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Last Shift – It’s a glorious double Richard Jenkins week to end the summer and I couldn’t be happier. In this film, he plays Stanley, a long time employee on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish who is calling it quits after 38 years and must train his young replacement, a talented but stalled young writer who was recently paroled and his provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. Jenkins gives another fantastic performance as he’s done throughout his career but like The Visitor, a film that got him nominated for an Oscar, this is another benchmark in his great career. This is a strong narrative debut for writer and director Andrew Cohn and a really solid supporting role from Shane Paul McGhie as well as former Modern Family star Ed O’Neill.

LX 2048 – Hmmm, a future set movie where the earth is under attack from the damages of climate change? Wow, science fiction, am I right? All jokes with a depressing center aside, this film feels really close to reality right now as certain parallels in the story come up that funhouse mirror our own current pandemic situation. Set in the near future, the sun has become so toxic people can no longer leave their houses in the daytime, and normal life is conducted mostly inside the realm of virtual reality. Against this dystopian backdrop, a dying man seeks to ensure the future well-being of his family, while coping with what it means to be human in this new reality. The film stars Cloud Atlas’s James D’Arcy, Atonement’s Gina McKee and the great Delroy Lindo who makes an appearance again on this list later and it’s written and directed by Guy Moshe who did the entertaining but wholly dumb action film, Bunraku. This one is a decent watch and another cautionary tale wrapped in sci-fi.

The Artist’s Wife – Films dealing with couples going through dementia or late-stage Alzheimer’s are always a rough watch but it is through incredible performances that we get full rounded stories that we can relate to and Bruce Dern delivers one this time that is so full of soul that it’s hard to forget. Written and directed Last Weekend’s Tom Dolby in just his second film, the story follows Lena Olin as the wife of a renowned abstract artist who is plunged into a late-life crisis when her husband is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is in danger of not completing the paintings for his final show. Both Olin and Dern play off of each other so well, which makes the moments of pure devotion between them so beautiful and when the opposite of that happens you are sure to feel it. I also have to say that the feature debut of cinematographer Ryan Earl Parker was a great thing as well.

We Are Many – I would like to say that this is a brand new documentary hitting video on demand this week but that’s not really the case as this film was actually completed five years ago when the world was in certainly a different political climate and is about a time over a decade before that, three years removed from the tragedy of the World Trade Center, an even more different political time. The film is about the global protest against the Iraq War on February 15th, 2003, which was a pivotal moment in recent history, the consequences of which have gone unreported. This documentary looks in-depth at the struggle to shift power from the old establishment to the new superpower that is global public opinion, through the prism of one historic day featuring Susan Sarandon, Mark Rylance, filmmaker Ken Loach, Noam Chomsky and more.

Blu-Ray:

Tesla – Filmmaker Michael Almereyda is kind of known for making pretty idiosyncratic films, doing an adaptation of Hamlet in modern-day Wall Street, a sci-fi about holograms of the recently deceased or, my personal favorite, a film about a radical psychological experiment based on a true story. For this film, he goes the biopic route with Ethan Hawke taking the title role as Nikola Tesla in a freewheeling take on the visionary inventor, his interactions with Thomas Edison, played brilliantly by Kyle MacLachlan and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, through Bridge Of Spies’ Eve Hewson who narrates the film seemingly in the future, and his breakthroughs in transmitting electrical power and light. Hawke is the saving grace in a film that feels disjointed and confused even if the backdrop of the story is as interesting as it is. It made me think of how great Experimenter was the whole time I was watching it. Almereyda has definitely done better work.

Babyteeth – Another under-advertised little indie film, this debut feature from director Shannon Murphy absolutely floored me. The film follows Milla, a seriously ill teenager who falls madly in love with small-time drug dealer Moses and, obviously, it’s her parents’ worst nightmare. But as Milla’s first brush with love brings her a new lust for life, things get messy and traditional morals go right out the window and she soon shows everyone in her orbit, like her parents, Moses, a sensitive music teacher, a budding child violinist, and a disarmingly honest pregnant neighbour, how to live like you have nothing to lose. This movie is driven by fantastic performances in a coming of age story that, in a sea of genre films just like it, rises to the top in a way that demands to be recognized. I highly recommend this movie, one of my favorites this week.

Pizza: A Love Story – Pizza is a common thing that bonds most of us, our love for it, the comradery it makes when we gather around a box to open it for a fresh slice or the fact that any party feels lackluster without it. Well, this new documentary is made for all of us then. This film is about three pizza palaces, Sally’s, Pepe’s and Modern, all in the 6 block radius of Wooster square in Elm City, loved by everybody from presidents to rock stars. Hell, even Frank Sinatra used to send his driver all the way from Hoboken just to pick up some pies. The film feature interviews family members that ran Pepe’s, lifelong fans, both famous and not and food critics, intercutting archival footage and vintage photographs, many never before seen publicly, all to explain the passion, the long lines, and how a small town in Connecticut became the pizza center of the universe. This is a great film but be sure to have your own pizza in front of you during it or you will seriously regret it.

The GoodTimes Kid – Azazel Jacobs is a name that is only really bandied around the indie world but those who know his work know how special it is. With the John C. Reilly film Terri, the beautifully written and acted The Lovers and the endearing HBO series Doll And Em, Jacobs should be far more popular than he is. Well, thanks to Kino Lorber, we’re reaching back in his catalogue to 2005 with the director starring front and center as Rodolfo, a brooding slacker who gets a summons from the Army to report for duty even though he did not enlist. He heads to a recruitment office to try and straighten out the mess where he meets another recruit named Punk, a journalist who joined the Army to get away from his life and girlfriend, Diaz who Rodolfo quickly befriends. This film is an early showcasing of Jacobs ability to write characters that find nuance behind their scripted words and have a grounded real emotion to them that bleeds off the screen. Truly great indie filmmaking.

Momma’s Man – Let’s fast forward to 2008 for another one of Azazel Jacob’s early work but this time instead of him starring in it, he cast his mother and father in the pivotal main roles. The film follows a man who flies from Los Angeles to Manhattan for a business meeting and takes a moment to see his graying parents in the dimly lit downtown loft where he grew up. Overcome with nostalgia and a sudden longing for his increasingly distant adolescence,he decides to make himself at home but as the nights wear on, and his father and his wife grow increasingly concerned, he struggles to confront his fears of becoming a full-fledged adult. This film is incredibly moody but still finds that sweet spot of satirizing real life and being totally dedicated to keeping the true emotion of the human condition vibrantly alive. Azazel Jacobs might be one of the prolific voices of our times but he just hasn’t hit that needed level of notoriety for mass attention.

The Dead Ones – This movie landed on my doorstep and once I pulled it out of the packaging I noticed on the cover that Film School Rejects boasted it as the best horror movie of the year. The thing was that I hadn’t heard one thing about it. Now that I’m educated on it, I can tell you it follows four outcast teens who are being punished with summer detention, assigned to clean their high school after a horrific incident. They soon discover they are not alone as a macabre gang wearing guises of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Famine, Pestilence, War and Death, have locked them inside and are hunting them through the school’s hallways. As the four students battle to survive, each must confront the supernatural echoes of past traumas they have tried to leave in the past. You know what? The Rejects might be on to something as I really dug this film and that it was pretty original to boot. The scares are smart and don’t feel like a jump scare cheapening of the genre. Director Jeremy Kasten has a serious future in front of him and I look forward to what is next, along with writer Zach Chassler.

Beckman – When I got this one I looked at the cast and content and I was pretty intrigued. Then a friend pointed out that the movie was produced by Pure Flix, a faith-based production company that is in love with putting out its religious message over delivering a cohesive film and my heart sank. Starring David A.R. White, William “Can we still call him Billy?” Baldwin, and Rocky’s pal Paulie, Burt Young, Crazily enough, this is an action film following a contract killer who has become the reverend of a LA church living the “good life” until a cult leader and his minions kidnap his daughter. Blinded by vengeance, he cuts a bloody path across the city and, of course, the only thing that can stop him is his newfound faith. These movies always have the audience to a certain point and that’s when the religious message comes in clanging it’s pots and pans and ruining everything that came before it. As this movie seems to go the extra mile in being terrible I ask again, can we get a passable faith-based movie for the love of God?

Christ Stopped At Eboli – I honestly geek the hell out every time Criterion sends me another new release selection from their prestigious collection and when I haven’t heard of the movie they turn out to be that much better because the moment of discovery can never be forgotten. This is definitely true of this 1979 Italian drama from acclaimed writer and director Francesco Rosi about a doctor in Fascist Italy who is exiled to a remote village for his political views. He is sent to a remote region of Southern Italy populated by inhabitants who barely survive on the meagre harvest of the unyielding land. Eboli, the closest train station, is the last outpost of civilization (such as it is) before entering a world that has changed very little since the Middle Ages expresses all the sense of abandonment, neglect, desolation and human despair that weighs on our lead character. This is a fascinating piece of both Italian film history as well as their cultural and political history as well. This is recommended for all cinephiles.

The Good Fight: Season 4 – As a big fan of the series that this show spun off of, The Good Wife starring Julianna Margulies, 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. 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 may become exhausting with the consistent anti-Trump message but in this reviewer’s mind, it is all warranted because that guy sucks and makes my blood boil. Hell, maybe I should write for this show, I’ve got a few ideas.

Riverdale: Season 4 – We all know what this show is by now, right? A reimagining of the Archie comics that have been smashed together with the dark elements of Twin Peaks and a little dash of the popular CW series Pretty Little Liars. Yes, the series has definitely carved out its own niche but the latest season had everyone braced for tragedy as we said goodbye to one of the main characters both on the show and in life as Luke Perry passed away last year. This season, amongst that, deals with the residents of Riverdale preparing for the Independence Day parade and Archie receiving that bad news phone call that will change the rest of his life forever. Perry, Skeet Ulrich and the lovely Madchen Amick were the reasons I watched the series so it’s a really tough pill to swallow.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

Black Rainbow – This was a sweet little forgotten horror flick that got lost in the shuffle of largely the marginalization of a whole genre that has been regarded as fluffy, cheap and just plain bad by a big portion of the critic world. Sad but true. The film follows a young female medium on tour who sees a hitman killing a whistleblower in her vision. Unfortunately for her, the killer finds out about this and plans to kill her as well causing some skeptical police, her manager father and a curious journalist to join forces to try to protect her. I love the top line of this cast that has the always welcome Rosanna Arquette, the legendary Jason Robards and former Academy Award nominee Tom Hulce. Hey, remember Amadeus? The film was written and directed by Mike Hodges who has had some great classics in his career including Flash Gordon, the original Get Carter and that gambling thriller with Clive Owen, Croupier. I liked this quite a bit, it’s a really effective supernatural thriller that feels grounded still.

Zombie For Sale – If you put this movie in front of me a few years ago, a campy little zombie film that plays on the slapstick comedy more than anything, I probably would be on the fence until you told me it was from South Korea but after the brilliance that was Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead, well, you can hook this baby to my veins. The story is very simple, about a strange family named Park, who takes in a zombie inadvertently created by a pharmaceutical company’s illegal experiments hoping to make a profit from it. This is the debut for director Lee Min-Jae and he lands with such an interesting and stylish feature that he is definitely on my list of filmmakers to look out for when his next film lands. In a genre that is really feeling like a dime a dozen in the last decade, he made something original that works on all levels.

Million Dollar Mermaid – Let’s take it back to the classics again for another entry from the Warner Archive and this time it’s an American-made film that is about Australia. The film tells the story of Australian swimming sensation Annette Kellerman, who overcame childhood polio to go on and achieve fame as a professional swimmer and film star in the early decades of the 20th century. At the same time, she also scandalized the world by wearing a one-piece bathing suit on public beaches long before the style was accepted in polite company, a definite sign of those times, and made waves in other ways as well as it kind of became her nature. The lead star, Esther Williams, is really great in this, again, for the time, and it was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who also did The Wizard Of Oz and Gypsy. This is some of that “controversial” filmmaking of the times and it looks great in the new Blu-Ray transfer.

Better Days – Ever since I saw the trailer for this new Chinese drama I have been waiting patiently by my mailbox for it to arrive and, although it was sent to me late, it really didn’t disappoint. The film follows a bullied teenage girl who forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations because in China when it comes to their standardized testing, the entire country comes to a standstill. For nearly ten million high school students, this two-day national college entrance exam will determine where and if they get to study and it is not uncommon for the fates of entire families to hinge on the results. This movie is drenched in soul and you feel the uncertainty of the next moment through these beautiful performances from Dongyu Zhou and Jackson Yee.

Bull: Season 4 – Look, this show may feature a former NCIS star in lead Michael Weatherly but it has more in common with Dr. Phil than it does that crime procedural as this is a show based on the famous television psychiatrist’s life although, I assume, very loosely. Weatherly plays Dr. Jason Bull, a brilliant, brash, and charming observer of jurors, attorneys and witnesses to get the pertinent edge his firm needs to defend their clients and, in some cases, condemn them. Unfortunately, and this is something I still can’t shake, this show has the stink of the bad conduct the star showed towards at the time possible co-star Eliza Dushku but I actually enjoyed the couple of seasons I crammed in leading up to now and the season features some pretty good guest stars like one of my favorites, Oz’s Lee Tergesun, Samantha Mathis, The Wire and The Walking Dead’s Seth Gilliam and the returning Mercedes Ruehl, a character actress I always enjoy seeing.

Television:

Utopia: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – This is not to be confused with the British series of the same name but damn this looks cool and I’m really a big sucker for the grand arch mystery shows. The series follows a group of young adults, who meet online and get a hold of a cult underground graphic novel, which not only pins them as a target of a shadowy deep state organization but also burdens them with the dangerous task of saving the world. Featuring John Cusack, Rainn Wilson and American Honey’s Sasha Lane among the young cast, this series looks truly awesome and one that people will gather around to check notes and figure it all out. You know the mystery will be deep and delicious as well because it comes from the mind of Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn who dons the showrunner hat for the first time in her career.

Enola Holmes (Netflix) – Netflix is about to have a phenomenal week and this new film is a big reason why, as it is exhilarating, fun and the lead star Millie Bobby Brown shines in it. Set in England, 1884, a world on the brink of change, The film follows Brown as Enola Holmes who, on the morning of her 16th birthday, wakes to find that her mother, played by the always welcome Helena Bonham Carter, has disappeared, leaving behind an odd assortment of gifts but no apparent clue as to where she’s gone or why. After a free-spirited childhood, Enola suddenly finds herself under the care of her brothers Sherlock, played by the human special effect Henry Cavill, and Mycroft, brilliantly played with a sneer by Sam Claflin, both set on sending her away to a finishing school for “proper” young ladies. Refusing to follow their wishes, Enola escapes to search for her mother in London but when her journey finds her entangled in a mystery surrounding a young runaway Lord, Enola becomes a super-sleuth in her own right, outwitting her famous brother as she unravels a conspiracy that threatens to make progression take a back seat. This movie is reminiscent of the family mysteries of a seemingly forgotten era and commands this to continue as a franchise. Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer makes his feature debut here and nails it in every way.

The Chef Show: Season 2 (Netflix) – Cooking is a journey and making a meal is about more than just food, it’s about appreciating friends, family and tradition and Jon Favreau’s Netflix show is indicative of that. In The Chef Show he and award-winning Chef Roy Choi reunite after their critically acclaimed film Chef to embark on a new adventure, experimenting with their favorite recipes and techniques, baking, cooking, exploring and collaborating with some of the biggest names in the entertainment and culinary world including Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth Rogen, Wolfgang Puck and David Chang. From sharing a meal with the Avengers cast in Atlanta to smoking brisket in Texas with world-renowned pitmaster Aaron Franklin, to honoring the legendary food critic Jonathan Gold in Los Angeles, Favreau and Choi embrace their passion for food and make you hungry constantly. I’ve really been enjoying my run through this series and the David Chang episode was so special to me. I love that dude.

Sneakerheads (Netflix) – This brand new original series lands this week and has a slight edge to it that reminds me a bit of Entourage. Coming from the writer of the basketball film Uncle Drew from a couple of years ago with Kyrie Irving, this series follows Devin, a former sneakerhead turned stay-at-home dad, who gets back in the game only to quickly find himself five thousand dollars in the hole after falling for one of old friend Bobby’s get-rich-quick schemes. Desperate to get his money back before his wife finds out he’s fallen off the wagon, Devin enlists the help of a ragtag group of fellow shoe lovers on his global hunt for the elusive “Zeroes,” the holy grail of hard-to-find kicks. Episode one feels like a good establishing point but the whole story feels a bit flimsy to pull off an entire series around and you can kind of see how anemic it is pretty quickly. As I move through the series I might be wrong but it feels faltering.

Tehran: Season 1 (AppleTV) – I was a big fan of the FX series Tyrant which ran for two seasons on the network along with the recently cancelled Netflix show Messiah so when this show appeared on my list of upcoming television I definitely jumped on it. Coming from a handful of new showrunners, this is the story of Tamar Rabinyan, a Mossad computer hacker-agent undertaking her very first mission in the heart of a hostile and menacing city, which also happens to be the place of her birth. Tasked with disabling an Iranian nuclear reactor, her mission has implications not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world order and when the Mossad mission fails, Tamar goes rogue in Tehran as she rediscovers her Iranian roots and becomes romantically entwined with a pro-democracy activist. The only recognizable cast member for me in this is Shaun Toub who played the scientist who helped Tony Stark build the Mark I Iron Man suit in a desert cave but the storyline is intriguing and has a mix of espionage and melodrama embedded with eastern culture and looks really interesting.

The time is upon us to get all immersed in two weeks’ worth of movies as the Vancouver International Film Festival kicks off which will be my fifth year covering it. Obviously it’s very different this year with the COVID-19 pandemic still in effect so for the most part we’re going virtual with a few limited in theater screenings with a reduced crown.

While I am definitely bummed out that I won’t get that full festival feel, talk movies in-depth with filmgoers, have that anticipation of sitting in the theater and waiting for a film to hit the screen that I have been waiting for all year, I am still excited that there is SOMETHING this year to see and I have a five movie highlight of the top picks heading into this year’s festival.

Possessor – Let’s mess you up right out of the gate as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

The Father – I love Academy Award winner Olivia Colman with all of my heart and if you don’t or find yourself on the fence with her then I don’t believe you have really seen her before because the feelings for her are infectious with everything she does. This new drama sits her opposite another Oscar winner, Anthony Hopkins, as a man who refuses all assistance from his daughter, played by Colman, as he ages. Trying to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality as he descends into his advancing illness. The buzz on this movie is huge as both stars are gunning for another statue for their mantle, giving stellar performances and the adept direction from French writer and director Florian Zeller might just land him on the A-list as well.

Falling – Viggo Mortensen is a man that can really do no wrong. He’s freaking Aragorn, the king of Middle Earth, for one thing, and all of the projects he has taken since, whether it was for David Cronenberg, a Disney adventure film or the must-see Captain Fantastic, all it does is endear him to us more. Now he steps behind the camera for this film that he wrote and starred in about a conservative father, played by legendary actor Lance Henriksen, who gives up his rural farm life to move to Los Angeles to live with his gay son and his family. The film is described as a beautifully paced melodrama about understanding and relationship rebirth and hopefully will be a kickstart of Lance Henriksen back into the spotlight, although us horror fans know he’s been kicking serious ass for decades in the genre. I have big hopes for this movie.

Black Bear – Christopher Abbot makes his second appearance at the festival and on this blog with this new drama featuring Aubrey Plaza, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon and Under The Dome’s Alexander Koch. written and directed by Wild Canaries filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine. The story follows a filmmaker with a severe case of a creative block who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. Again, this is another film that has all of the critics raving about it, just like the other festival-goers who have seen it and I’m very intrigued to see Plaza, usually a comedic actress, tackle something with a deeply dramatic heart and a film that I hear deconstructs the way melodramas are represented. This is one of those films that make the whole festival worth it.

NO TRAILER FOR THIS ONE YET

Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslett and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and now I am just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. The acclaimed writer and director of another festival favorite God’s Own Country from a few years back returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to convalesce by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favorite films of last year and I’m really happy that this LGBTQ+ movie is getting such a grand festival release as one of the draws this year. I’m really excited about this one, as I have been about the rest of these picks, and the critics have been crazy about it already.

Be sure to check if films are streaming or in theater screenings only at viff.org and be sure to chat with me on Twitter about it as well!