Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Last Duel – Given that masterful director Ridley Scott has probably made just as many bad movies as he has good ones over his storied career, I’m inclined to be a bit standoffish about this new medieval film and with the trailer for his next film after, House Of Gucci, looking borderline awful, it worries me even more. That said, he did make the incredible Kingdom Of Heaven, the descriptor is reserved for the director’s cut only, and this is the sole reason that I feel any sort of excitement for this one besides the cast. Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck, the film is based on a true story amid the Hundred Years War about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges was a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield and Le Gris was a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in the court. When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a gruelling duel to the death and I have to say the trailer is pretty damn intense but Affleck’s hair in it makes me laugh every time. I’m willing to put aside the absence of French accents aside to give this one a fair shake.

Halloween Kills – It’s the most wonderful time of the year, especially if you’re a horror fan because Halloween is the gift that keeps on giving and October is full of genre spoils for us including this franchise follow-up that we should have gotten last year. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, a badass survivor who is looking to eliminate some family baggage before it nabs her. Picking up minutes after Laurie, her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor. But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes and, as Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. The Strode women join a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage who decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a vigilante mob that sets out to hunt Michael down, once and for all. That story sounds so killer and it all sets up the finale, Halloween Ends, which is said to be a definitive ending to the franchise. I know that my appetites are going to be more rampant when the credits hit for this middle piece, I’m ready for it.

Mass – Usually comedic actor and writer Fran Kranz makes a dramatic turn in this film, his debut as a director, and the buzz behind it is huge. It also helps that he has a damn good cast assembled for it that includes Jason Isaacs, character actress Ann Dowd and former Goonie Martha Plimpton. The film follows the meeting between two sets of parents, years after an unspeakable tragedy tore their lives apart. Agreeing to meet privately for a discussion to hopefully gain some closure, the story is one of grief, anger and acceptance by coming face-to-face with the ones who have been left behind in the aftermath. For a first feature, Kranz lands with such an emotional resonance that I felt like a truck had run me over and all I could do was sit in stunned silence. I still don’t know when I will be fully able to unpack all that I saw, it is that heavy.

I’m Your Man – Dan Stevens is an actor that I have such an aversion to as he has done so much incredible work in all different genres and variations. This is why I immediately gravitated towards this German film that also features a role with actress Sandra Huller who’s film Toni Erdmann is still one of my favourite European-made comedy dramas ever. Seriously, seek it out if you haven’t seen it or heard of it. This movie is an odd choice, a sci-fi romantic comedy with relationship science at its core. The story follows a scientist who accepts an offer to participate in an extraordinary experiment to obtain research funds for her studies. For three weeks she is required to live with Tom, a humanoid robot designed to be the perfect life partner for her, tailored to her character and needs. What results is a playful romance about relationships, love, and what it means to be human in the modern age in a film that is incredibly thought-provoking and original in every way. I started at the top of this raving about Stevens and Huller but it is lead actress Maren Eggert who stunned me in this, an absolute revelation of a star. This movie is such a hidden gem in my opinion.

The Velvet Underground – One of the most influential groups of all time and the conduit through which we got the idiosyncratic stylings of the incomparable Lou Reed and the wild Nico, it’s so cool that AppleTV+ has given us this deep look in documentary form. The film is a spotlight on a group that created a new sound that changed the world of music, cementing its place as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most revered bands. It shows just how the group became a cultural touchstone representing a range of contradictions: the band is both of their time, yet timeless; literary yet realistic; rooted in high art and street culture. The film features in-depth interviews with the key players of that time combined with a treasure trove of never-before-seen performances and a rich collection of recordings, Warhol films, and other experimental art that creates an immersive experience into what founding member John Cale describes as the band’s creative ethos: “how to be elegant and how to be brutal.” Directed by acclaimed director Todd Haynes, this played directly into my love of music documentaries, classic music and bigger-than-life personalities and I loved every second of it.

Fever Dream – I have a pretty solid love for Chilean films as I have been stunned by some great ones like the works of Pablo Larrain, Sebastián Lelio and Sebastian Silva but the limited knowledge I had of director Claudia Llosa didn’t connect with me in her film Aloft with Jennifer Connolly. This one looked like a great second chance, a beautifully shot, Terrence Malick-like twisted experience into mystery and the descent into death. This movie is damn near impossible to describe on paper but follows two women and their kids who seem to be on a purgatorial transition to the next plane in one form or the other. The film is about parental protection, loss and letting go and seems to catch everything in the prism of a fantasy mystery in the mind of Llosa through the novella it was based on, The Rescue Distance, which is the name of the film in Spanish. I feel like this isn’t a recommendable film but it kind of captured my art film eye in the end. 

Blu-Ray:

Free Guy – It feels like we had been waiting a long time for this Ryan Reynolds video game-centric film to hit theatres and that’s really because it was supposed to come out more than a year ago and the first trailer for it was probably almost two years prior. The film was originally scheduled to release on July 3rd, 2020 but was delayed to December 11th, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being shelved indefinitely in November. After getting rescheduled another two times this Shawn Levy comedy has done its theatre run and is on home release for everyone to see and enjoy. It follows a bank teller who discovers he is a background player in an open-world video game who decides to become the hero of his own story when a user shows him the reality of his world. The movie did not at all suffer from building it up in our minds for two years and gave a happy and fun ride that plastered a smile on my face for the whole time. Reynolds is charming as always, Jodie Comer and Joe Keery are great and Taika Waititi damn near steals the movie as he usually does but this time in a villain role. This is such a fantastic movie and I highly recommend it.

The Green Knight – This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and holy hell did it ever deliver and, unbeknownst to me, it was a Christmas movie which the trailers do not let you know. I guess I have a new one to occupy the shelf with Die Hard. The film is a mesmerizing looking blood and sword epic art film from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story director David Lowery and the almost literally left my jaw on the floor at my local theatre after the credits and end credit stinger finish. Yes, it has one of those. Starring Academy Award nominee Dev Patel, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton, the film is an epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend that tells the story of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. This movie is easily my favourite movie of the year although I feel like it isn’t accessible for a mainstream audience. To be real on that, most of my favourites aren’t anyways.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain – When Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in June of 2018 it, without hyperbole, shook the world. I swear that most people were shaken by the loss of one of the greatest chefs on the planet who took his love of food out of the kitchen and into and all across the world with his incredible travel shows that went much deeper than the surface level in every way. This documentary is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon known to us also as a writer, adventurer and provocateur. The film comes from Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville who curates thousands of hours of footage of Bourdain, dating back to the late nineties, to create a portrait of an absolute legend with the help of his close friends as well. The film never shies away from the darkness and impulsiveness that peppered Bourdain’s life and gives an incredible well-rounded resolution to his story without softening the blow of his end. This movie was incredible.

The Snake Girl And The Silver Haired Witch – Arrow Video is giving us a new collector’s edition for a classic piece of Japanese cinema that was nowhere near any North American theatres. Even more fascinating, this was an early comic book adaptation because it came from a horror manga series and even featured an early form of special visual effects that still look pretty cool now. The story is about two rival, shape-shifting sisters who are on less than good terms but when an evil creature threatens to destroy both of their existences they have to overlook their differences and join forces to battle it. This movie seems to transcend the time in which it was made, the late sixties and is a fun thrill ride that clocks in at less than an hour and a half. I have to think that the influence level of this film is huge.

The Haunting Of Bly Manor – 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 favourite things about Hill House.

The Flash: Season 7 – Wow, it’s crazy to see the DC Comics television universe still alive and well after Arrow, the original kickstart to this small screen franchise, has been gone for a year now. This season is all about change too as two series regulars say goodbye and the dynamic shifts a little bit. The show picks up after last season’s cliffhanger which saw the brilliant and powerful Eva McCulloch victorious and still-at-large in Central City and Barry must regroup to stop her and bring back his missing wife. With help from the rest of Team Flash, Barry will ultimately defeat Mirror Monarch and reunite with Iris West-Allen but, in doing so, he’ll unleash two more devastating threats, one that could tear his marriage apart and another that will lay waste to Central City and change the future forever. I love this show and the depth of the characters and the care to the source material is next level.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

A Clockwork Orange 4K – My favourite film of all time, number one with a cockney bullet and an incredible adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel (which I have read) by the greatest cinematic master to ever grace the earth Stanly Kubrick, is nowhere in glorious 4K. Yes, this is the film responsible for my deep love of film and basically, the reason that I talk to all of you here and on the air every week so this is a pretty special film to bring to the blog this week. For those who don’t know this Malcolm McDowell-led film, it follows protagonist Alex DeLarge, an “ultraviolent” youth in a futuristic Britain. As with all luck, he eventually runs out and he’s arrested and convicted of murder and while in prison, Alex learns of an experimental program in which convicts are programmed to detest violence. If he goes through the program, his sentence will be reduced and he will be back on the streets sooner than expected but Alex’s ordeals are far from over once he hits the streets of Britain and his consequences come to implode what’s left of his world. This movie is pure perfection, always incredible looking and the 4K just adds so much more to it. This is like a sliver of pure gold to me and I couldn’t be more excited to possess it.

Inglourious Basterds 4K – This one was cool to receive as I already have it on blu-ray but I have become a bit obsessed with the even higher format of 4K, especially with modern shot films, as they seem to add a little bit more to the fun. This is a great one to try it out on, Quentin Tarantino’s one and only World War II action flick with that same great dialogue style with an incredible cast, all led by a commanding performance from Brad Pitt. For those unaware, the film is set in the first year of Germany’s occupation of France, following Pitt’s character of Allied officer Lieutenant Aldo Raine who assembles a team of Jewish soldiers to commit violent acts of retribution against the Nazis, including the taking of their scalps. He and his men join forces with Bridget von Hammersmark, a German actress and undercover agent, to bring down the leaders of the Third Reich and their fates converge with theatre owner Shosanna Dreyfus, who seeks to avenge the Nazis’ execution of her family. This is one of my favourites of Tarantino’s films and I’m even cool with him shifting history a bit and those who have seen the film know what I’m talking about.

Another 48 Hrs. – One of the originators of the buddy cop slash mismatched partners action comedies, I have such a deep place in my heart for all of these films that came out of eighties Hollywood cinema including the first film this Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy pairing. That said, I think the sequel is pretty damn solid and I was really happy to see it arrive in blu-ray form on my doorstep. The film picks up again with Nolte’s Jack Cates, who has been after an unidentified drug kingpin who calls himself the “Ice Man” for the last four years. Jack finds a picture that proves that the Ice Man has put a price on the head of Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond, who is scheduled to be released from prison on the next day. Jack tries to convince Reggie to help him clear his name and find the Ice Man, but Reggie says he won’t help well, at first, but you know the drill. Action legend Walter Hill directed this film amid a hot streak of genre filmmaking and, although it is nowhere near perfect, this movie is still really entertaining and both stars have phenomenal chemistry. 

Oculus – We’re doing double duty this week when it comes to Mike Flanagan mentions because I just picked up this little beauty of a horror film for a great price and wanted to share it with everyone. This movie is always regarded as his debut feature when it was the film Absentia that kicked off this horror master’s career but this is a damn good one to remember. Starring Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Karen Gillan and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, the film follows adult siblings, Kaylie and Tim who are struggling to rebuild their relationship, still haunted by the violent demise of their parents ten years earlier. Kaylie suspects that their antique mirror, known as the Lasser Glass, is behind the tragedy as the seemingly harmless reflections contain a malevolent, supernatural force that infects the mind of anyone who gazes into it. As Kaylie gets closer to the truth, the siblings become caught in the mirror’s evil spell in a horror story that is so effective that it seemed to slip into my dreams after watching which was super creepy. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s a perfect choice for Halloween time.

Television:

The Babysitters Club: Season 2 (Netflix) – This series of books is so classic that I remember the original series sitting in my elementary school’s library and now my kid reads the revamped book series as I write this right now. She’s a total fan. She’s also a good source of information because I can tell you that the series so far is playing exactly how the book series outlines it to be so it is faithful to the source material. The story is pretty simple and follows a group of friends that form a business to babysit for families in their neighbourhood. There they have to contend with their new responsibilities, conflicting ideas, mature choices for their future and even competition claiming ideas as their own. The show is well done and the target audience seems to love it. I’m still trying to get over the fact that Alicia Silverstone plays the main character’s mom in this.

You: Season 3 (Netflix) – This creeper thriller gets another new season, proving the audience lust still is at a fever pitch, as Penn Badgley reprises his role as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who you hate but can’t keep your eye off of. Now the question of season three is “How much further can Joe go for his version of love now that he’s found it?” and according to the star, this season, again, was tough to pull off without repeating themselves, and it’s a character he has a hard time playing as he is so massively unlikeable. Who knows? Maybe this is the season that fails to connect with the massive audience the first pulled in. I love that Joe was pretty unable to dupe his new love interest, played brilliantly by Victoria Pedretti who broke my heart in The Haunting Of Hill House, and she even added a new element to his trajectory which I can’t even begin to talk about for spoiler reasons.

Just Beyond (Disney+) – R.L. Stine has something new to chill you to the bone with and this comes on the heels of his seventy-second birthday which means that this dude has no room for slowing down his creative juices. As a big Fear Street reader and a guy that pushed his fair share of Goosebumps onto a younger audience, I’m all about taking in some new horror from a master. to the young adult audience. He, again, goes anthology-style because he’s damn good at it, and tells a series of journeys of supernatural self-discovery through the worlds of witches, aliens, ghosts, and alternate dimensions. Having gotten the chance to watch a few of these I have to say that your Halloween with the kids would be perfectly capped off with a viewing of one or two episodes of this before sending them to bed. It definitely will tickle their brains as it did mine.

Chucky (Showcase) – As an old-school fan of the Child’s Play series and especially when it went more horror comedy and just did away with all the rules, I have been looking forward to this new iteration of it in series form ever since it was announced. Even better, the show was created, written and run by the original guy behind it all, Don Mancini, so you know that everything is going to go just right for all you Chucky fans. In this TV series adaptation, a vintage Chucky doll turns up at a suburban yard sale, and an idyllic American town is thrown into chaos as a series of horrifying murders begin to expose the town’s hypocrisies and secrets. Meanwhile, the arrival of enemies and allies from Chucky’s past threatens to expose the truth behind the killings, as well as the demon doll’s untold origins as a seemingly ordinary child who somehow became this notorious monster. I have no idea if this all turned out for the multitude of fans out there but I do know that I will certainly be tuning in to gleefully watch the mayhem started.

Legends Of The Hidden Temple (The CW) – This is kind of a cool new reboot and it is especially cool for us Canadian kids who never got to experience the original Nickelodeon-made series. The show was the thing of epic memories that put kids during an Aztec jungle obstacle course to make their way to the finish for cash and prizes. Now the show has been supersized and stultified for its reboot and I’m happy because now I still have a chance to compete in it unless they are barring Canadians. Again. That said, I’d probably lose spectacularly but that’s all the fun I think.

New Releases:

No Time To Die – It feels like we’ve been waiting forever to see Daniel Craig’s swan song as cinema’s most famous super spy and now it is here and it looks glorious. There’s a lot to make up for as the last installment, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, was a complete and utter disappointment that blew the great casting of Christophe Waltz as Blofeld and gave us a lacklustre paint by numbers action film instead of the Bond that had been set up for us in Skyfall. At least he’s back for another go as the most iconic Bond villain and it is now helmed by a filmmaker with a perfect record, True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga. The story picks up with Bond having left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help but the mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology, played by Rami Malek in a role that I’m pretty sure is Dr. No. The trailers look awesome for this and at a runtime of close to three hours< I really hope it is jam-packed with breathtaking moments.

There’s Someone Inside Your House – This is a movie I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced and it was just because it comes from director Patrick Brice, the guy who made the Creep movies for Netflix, two delicious little fright fests that people should watch this month. Honestly, I feel like this new teen slasher film would fit great with a marathoning of the new Fear Street trilogy so keep that in mind to give yourself a solid Halloween this year. Based on a novel by Stephanie Perkins, the story follows the graduating class at Osborne High who are being targeted by a masked assailant, intent on exposing the darkest secret of each victim, and only a group of misfit outsiders can stop the killings, so it’s kind of like Fear Street in that sense. I love the aesthetic of the killer wearing masks modelled after the victims’ faces which gives it a stylish edge in my opinion and the reveal might be a bit telegraphed but it is still a satisfying conclusion and the cinematography is great.

Night Raiders – As far as Canadian films go, this one is sitting at the top of my anticipated watches of the year and not just because it is a notable Indigenous made production but purely based on the involvement of lead actress Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers who blew me away in Jeff Barnaby’s zombie thriller Blood Quantum as well as writing, directing and starring in her first narrative feature The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open which is must-see for anyone and everyone. This new film is a sci-fi, written and directed by Danis Goulet in her feature film debut, set in 2043 with a military occupation that controls disenfranchised cities in post-war North America. The main thread follows a desperate Cree woman who joins an underground band of vigilantes to infiltrate a State children’s academy and get her daughter back. A female-driven dystopian drama about resilience, courage and love, this movie looks like an intense piece of cinema that brings the indigenous voice to a deep genre story.

Defining Moments – Burt Reynolds was a legend no matter how you feel about him. A guy that was a sex symbol in the seventies and a badass that took no crap from anyone for his entire life. When we lost him a few years back he has so much unreleased work because, unfortunately, he had done a lot of lower budget work as the man worked up until he died. This is the final film of his, a story of eight very different people who are at a crossroads in life and must make decisions that will forever change who they are. Jack must decide to spend the rest of his life with his girlfriend Terri. Marina must reconnect with her ageing father. Laurel must embrace her new pregnancy and come to terms with her father’s early Alzheimer’s, and Dave must learn why life is worth living. Burt plays the father suffering from Alzheimer’s and it feels bittersweet because this is a final performance where we will remember this and not the natural causes that he went out on. Again, love him or hate him, he went out on his shield.

Summertime – Carlos López Estrada is a director that has had a hell of a diverse filmmaking career already. I first saw his work as the phenomenal tale of Oakland gentrification with Daveed Diggs and Raphael Casal’s Blindspotting, which was one of my favourite movies that year. Already this year he did the incredibly gorgeous Disney animated film Raya And The Last Dragon and now his film from last year finally gets its time to shine. This film is another dagger into the reality of society, set over a hot summer day in Los Angeles, following the lives of twenty-five young Angelenos as they intersect. A skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver-they all weave in and out of each other’s stories and through the poetry they express life, love, heartache, family, home, and fear. Although, one of them has simple goals in life and just wants to find someplace that still serves good cheeseburgers. This is another fantastic film from Estrada and without hugely notable stars in this, weaves and crafts a narrative that bonds you to each of the characters. This is one special filmmaker.

The Rescue – It’s documentary time, so listen up because it’s time to learn, feel and take something away from some hard-hitting film. This one also got a recent boost from Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins who called it must see. The film chronicles the enthralling, against-all-odds story that transfixed the world in 2018, the daring rescue of twelve boys and their coach from deep inside a flooded cave in northern Thailand. Using a wealth of never-before-seen material and exclusive interviews, filmmaking duo E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the geniuses being Free Solo and Meru, keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they bring alive one of the most perilous and extraordinary rescues in modern times, shining a light on the high-risk world of cave diving, the astounding courage and compassion of the rescuers, and the shared humanity of the international community that united to save the boys. This is another incredible piece of work from two documentarians who bring amazing insight into all of their projects.

V/H/S/ 94 – Nothing gets me going more than a cool anthology movie and especially one in the horror department. This series has been going for a little bit as we’ve gotten two releases then a sort of spin-off called Viral, a short television series and now this throwback to when the VHS format was in high gear and we all got frustrated with tracking. The main story revolves around a police S.W.A.T. team that investigates a mysterious VHS tape and discovers a sinister cult that has pre-recorded material that uncovers a nightmarish conspiracy. The stories within are helmed by three interesting filmmakers like newcomer Chloe Okuno, rising star Ryan Prows and current horror favourite Simon Barrett so, working in the short film format, this could be another cool collection of chilling little stories.

Blu-Ray:

Space Jam: A New Legacy – I feel like a sequel or reboot of the NBA and Looney Tunes collaboration fantasy action film Space Jam was inevitable and with Lebron James being the modern equivalent to Michael Jordan, sidestepping Kobe Bryant who was another player in that echelon, and with King James being so involved in movies these days, he’s the logical choice to lead the charge. The film is about a rogue artificial intelligence that kidnaps Lebron’s son and he must get them home safe by leading Bugs, Lola Bunny and the whole gang of notoriously undisciplined Looney Tunes to victory over the A.I.’s digitized champions on the court made up of a powered-up roster of professional basketball stars. It’s really what you would expect from a reboot but just modernized and with so many other Warner Bros. properties in the background. I think that the most fun is pointing all of them out because I even saw A Clockwork Orange in the crowd which is kind of inappropriate. After all, the result is a soulless dragging of many Warner Bros intellectual properties with no other weight than just showing them off and doing nothing with them. This could have easily been missed in my viewings and I wouldn’t have thought more of it.

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions – The original film to this horror sequel was a huge surprise to me as I thought it was going to be a badly written cash grab that was honing in on the escape room craze that still runs rampant all over the world. What we got was a cool sort of horror adventure as we see the characters go from elaborate trap to trap in an unpredictable and thrilling film. So, was I looking forward to this follow-up? You bet your ass! Joining forces with two of the original survivors, the story follows six people who unwittingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. AS they move room to room, they soon discover that they are all survivors of a previous game and are now playing on a sort of “championship” level. I’m here for the unique set pieces and the mystery so hopefully, this one can keep it going and we get a franchise out of it.

Six Minutes To Midnight – This is a slight Bond connection here with a former M taking center stage in this new historical-based drama as Dame Judi Dench and the great Eddie Izzard have a little piece of World War II-centric story to tell you. Set in the summer of 1939, the story follows the influential families in Nazi Germany who have sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town to learn the language and be ambassadors for a future looking National Socialist. A teacher there sees what is coming and is trying to raise the alarm, predicting the horrifying future, but the authorities believe he is the problem. This movie plays out interestingly at first but then the story starts to slide in an unbelievable direction, causing me to frantically look up the real story to fact check and, lo and behold, this is a completely fabricated plot. That kind of thing bothers me as there are so many real tales in this time and made-up ones feel unnecessary in my opinion. It is great to see Izzard and Dench on screen together though.

Broken Diamonds – Oh no. Not another Ben Platt movie, I don’t know if I can take it. The good news is Platt isn’t playing a teenager and it comes from Peter Sattler who did the phenomenal Kristen Stewart drama Camp X-Ray, which gives it a bit of an immediate boost. The story has Platt as a twenty-something writer who, in the wake of his father’s death, sees his dream of moving to Paris put in jeopardy when he’s forced to temporarily take in his wildly unpredictable, mentally ill sister, played by Mistress America’s standout stat Lola Kirke. Let’s just say that the Dear Evan Hansen actor only redeems himself a small amount with a movie that sometimes hits with its dark comedy and handling of mental illness but nothing sticks around enough to be memorable and at the end, it felt very dime a dozen for damaged guy dramedy films.

Fried Barry – Leave it to South Africa to make the most twisted alien odyssey that still manages to channel some of the sweetest-hearted moments from Amblin Entertainment like classics of the eighties and make you feel sort of dirty for connecting them. This is exactly what writer and director Ryan Kruger does with this insane body possession sci-fi horror, his feature-length debut and a statement maker if there ever was one. The story is pretty simple at its core, following Barry, a drug-addled, abusive bastard who, after yet another bender, is abducted by aliens and takes a backseat as one of the visitors assumes control of his body and takes it for a joyride through Cape Town. What follows is an onslaught of drugs, sex and violence as extraterrestrial tourist enters the weird and foreign world of humankind. This movie is insane and after a quick introduction of the characters, grabs you by the collar and directs you on an unpredictable journey with the oddest of drivers in actor Gary Green who was chosen for his unique look. The brilliant crosscutting gave me Edgar Wright comparisons but Kruger is looking at grand pictures here and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Night Of The Animated Dead – As we are in the beginnings of October it’s cool to see this cartoon reimagining of a horror classic that also gets a little chance to expand on some of the violence and gore that the time and technology limited when one of the original masters of the genre, George A. Romero first told us this story in 1968. As in the original, the film follows siblings Barbara and Johnny as they visit their father’s grave in a remote cemetery in Pennsylvania when they are suddenly set upon by zombies. Barbara flees and takes refuge in an abandoned farmhouse along with stranded motorist Ben and four local survivors found hiding in the cellar. Together, the group must fight to stay alive against the oncoming horde of zombies while also confronting their fears and prejudices in a movie that never loses the substance of what is at heart or, in this case, the brain meat of the message. What I could have used was a better animation style as this felt a little cheap and underdone, like it was driven to be a forgotten direct to blu-ray title. At the end of the day though, nothing will tarnish the lustre that this story contains.

Universal Classic Monsters 4K – Usually Shane gets a tad exasperated with my long list of horror films I bring to the show but these are absolute classics and it says so in the title. If it wasn’t for these four iconic movie creatures we wouldn’t have the films we have today and I’m not just talking about the horror genre. This set, bringing every film to the high definition platform of 4K, has all four of the startings to the most famous movie monsters with Bela Legosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster, Claude Rains’ Invisible Man and Lon Chaney’s Wolfman. These are films I can even show my nine-year-old, who hates horror but is pretty fascinated by the origins of it. This is a damn cool set, I think.

The Nevers: Season 1 Part 1 – This new HBO series already leaves a bad taste in my mouth as it was shepherded to the television screen by the former nerd messiah and current Hollywood pariah Joss Whedon and episode one has the markings of him all over it which, up until Justice League, wasn’t a bad thing. Hell, we used to celebrate it! How times have changed. The series is set during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign in a London that is beset by the “touched” group of people, mostly women, who suddenly manifest abnormal abilities, some of them charming but some are very disturbing. Among them are Amalia True, a mysterious, quick-fisted widow, and Penance Adair, a brilliant young inventor. They are the champions of this new underclass, making a home for the Touched while fighting the forces of every malevolent force that crosses their path to make room for those whose history as we know has no place. I will say that I have hopes that the show will improve as the acting is great and the production value is stellar but the world-building is sluggish, disjointed and kind of nonsensical in moments.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:

NCIS: Season 18 – I’m starting to lose any sort of time gauge on this show as season eighteen has rolled around now and it’s still a juggernaut for the old folks with no sign of slowing down? In this spin-off of J.A.G., as you all must know after almost twenty years of episodic television, Mark Harmon plays Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the leader of the Major Case Response Team in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and rocks possibly the worst haircut in television. The latest season kicks off with a mystery as Gibbs disappeared at the end of season seventeen and, through the international intrigue and investigations, the show hit episode four hundred this season, a huge milestone. I seriously can’t believe the show is still going at full steam, those ratings must be big enough to keep them going well.

The Shawshank Redemption 4K – One of the greatest films ever made and probably the best Stephen King adaptation to date, this Frank Darabont-directed prison story finally makes its glorious debut on beautiful 4K. As a huge King fan, the author that got me heavily into reading, this is a story I read before I saw the movie and it will forever have a place in my heart as the most faithful translation I have ever seen. For those who have never had the privilege, the story chronicles the experiences of a formerly successful banker as a prisoner in the gloomy jailhouse of Shawshank after being found guilty of a crime he did not commit. Over the years, he retains hope of freedom and eventually gains the respect of his fellow inmates, especially longtime convict “Red” Redding, a black marketeer, and becomes influential within the prison. This movie is incredible and the performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the driving heartbeat of it that keeps you so engaged. This is such a special movie and now you can have it in its best possible format.

Mommie Dearest – This movie is a batshit film that goes to huge levels dramatically and all of this is even more insane when you realize that this is supposed to be a true story. Faye Dunaway turns in a role that has to be recognized in her career as a tent pole, playing the real-life diva and actress Joan Crawford. Based on a book written by her adopted daughter Christina Crawford, the film follows Joan as she decides to adopt children of her own to fill a void in her life, yet, her problems with alcohol, men, and the pressures of show business get in the way of her personal life, turning her into a mentally abusive wreck seen through the eyes of Christina and her brother Christopher, who unwillingly bore the burden of life that was unseen behind the closed doors of “The Most Beautiful House in Brentwood.” Dunaway’s performance in this film was so big and over the top that the bad reviews effectively derailed her career. She believes that she should have won an Oscar for it and to this day the mere mention of the film sends her into a rage and she refuses to talk about it. That is the ingredients for a cult classic.

Television:

On My Block: Season 4 (Netflix) – Deep within the catalogue of all the many Netflix original programming are shows that have been going on multiple seasons and have just flown under the radar in a large mainstream way. This is one of those shows and one that showcases some of the diversity that can be seen on the streaming service but I believe this might be the final season of it which may be bittersweet for anyone discovering it now. The series is a coming-of-age story about four bright, street-savvy friends navigating their way through high school in the gritty South Central Los Angeles while trying to get their friend out of a gang and navigating the battlefield of all types of relationships, friendships and those that turn into something more. The show got me with the writing as it features a couple of writers who found their footing here when they paired up with Awkward creator Lauren Iungerich who is excelling as a showrunner.

Muppets Haunted Mansion (Disney+) – If you have Muppets doing anything, well, I’m easily swayed to be on board and this is a full-on special so it has my attention. That said, I start to recognize the new voice of Kermit The Frog more and more as I watch newer Muppet productions and it does throw me off but the heart is still all there for sure. This special borrows a little bit from the Muppets now being owned by Disney and has Gonzo being challenged to spend one full night in the infamous Haunted Mansion. Simple and effective, this special has all of your favourite Muppets plus Will Arnett, Danny Trejo, the late Ed Asner in a final performance and more. Let’s face it, even if I said it was awful, you’d watch it anyway because it’s the Muppets. I get it.

The Walking Dead World Beyond: Season 2 (AMC) – The first season of this second Walking Dead spin-off arrived on blu-ray a couple of months ago, just as the final season of the original series has been gearing up to close the first television bloodline of a now-massive entity and this one has 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. So far it’s great, though not as good as Fear The Walking Dead but I will continue to immerse myself in Robert Kirkman’s imagination as season two is on the horizon and the first ends with such a great cliffhanger. Of course, with Kirkman behind it, I will say that it’s not for the faint of heart at all.

Escape The Undertaker (Netflix) – This one is really simple so I won’t spend too much time describing it. The WWE signed a deal with Netflix to produce content and so far we have gotten a now-cancelled sitcom with The Big Show, a family film about a magical luchador mask and this new interactive Halloween special. The story has you playing as the eleven-time tag team champion team The New Day as they go through the Undertaker’s mansion to find his mysterious urn to add it to their Power of Positivity. Yeah, it will only appeal to wrestling fans and only the st decade current fans at that. I know where I stand on this.

New Releases:

Venom: Let There Be Carnage – After many delays and release date shifts we finally get the follow-up to a non-MCU-connected franchise that still manages to include Spider-Man and, yes, I know that this is all convoluted and confusing. That all said, the first Venom movie was a stupid amount of fun and Tom Hardy really brought his A-game to the absurdity and now we get the fan-favourite villain of Carnage to join the antics. The sequel follows Eddie Brock as he still struggles to adjust to his new life as the host of the alien symbiote Venom, which grants him super-human abilities to be a lethal vigilante. Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution. With Andy Serkis taking over directing from Ruben Fleisher, I feel like the special effects will see a step up and it looks like Naomie Harris is in the role of another symbiote creature, Shriek, so I’m pretty excited about this one as a total comic book nerd.

The Many Saints Of Newark – The anticipation of this new prequel story to possibly one of the greatest television shows ever made is huge and for me, situated in Penticton, my disappointment couldn’t be greater as we aren’t getting it in my small town. That sadness aside, I find it fascinating that James Gandolfini’s son Michael is taking the young Tony role in this film and I’m so excited to see how his compatriots in Paulie Walnuts, Silvio, Big Pussy and even his uncle Junior are handled. The film follows young Anthony Soprano, growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family’s hold over the increasingly race-torn city. Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we’ll later come to know, the infamous Tony Soprano. The reviews that have been pouring in so far are mixed but the consistency in all of them is that this movie was made for the fans and we’ll all eat it up like a plate of gabbagool.

The Addams Family 2 – We’re already at a second animated feature of the kooky, ookey and spooky family that was done so well in live-action form by Barry Levinson in the nineties. Heck, I didn’t even know that the film had done well enough for a sequel but I guess this is our new Hotel Transylvania in a way. Once again featuring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron as Gomez and Morticia Addams, now distraught that their children are growing up, skipping family dinners, and totally consumed with “scream time” so, to reclaim their bond, they decide to cram Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and the crew into their haunted camper and hit the road for one last miserable family vacation. Their adventure across America takes them out of their element and into run-ins with their iconic cousin, It, who is “voiced” by Snoop Dogg but he doesn’t really talk though, does he? This is pure entertainment for the kids based on an IP that we all know and love within different generations who loved the movies or the original television show. I’m just in it for the adult references.

The Guilty – Jake Gyllenhaal and Antoin Fuqua reteam after their boxing flick Southpaw for a remake of a Danish thriller that really comes off as a better final product than their first collaboration. Gyllenhaal is doing all the powerlifting in this film as the whole film is just essentially him on the phone for the entire duration but it really does work. The film takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call center with call operator Joe Baylor trying to save a caller that says she has been kidnapped, propelling him into an intense race against time as he feverishly attempts to locate her and get her to safety all from his desk. Adding to the mix of emotions, he is on the eve of finding out his fate in an incident that took him off the streets and put him in the office he works out of now. Gyllenhaal displays some of his best characteristics in this film that he could have made or broke. I wouldn’t have believed that great tension and suspense can be made in this format but Fuqua excels with every edgy scene we get. A great audience-pleasing thriller.

Mayday – This is an oddball of a movie but it really works in a crazily existential way. What immediately drew me to the film was the cast which features the young stars, Grace Van Patten, from the currently running Nine Perfect Strangers, Mia Goth from High Life and French actress Soko from Her and all anchored by the veteran prowess of Juliette Lewis. The story centers around Ana who is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins an army of girls engaged in a never-ending war. Though she finds strength in this exhilarating world, she realizes that she’s not the killer they want her to be and struggles to find her exit from the conflict. The film looks gorgeous and the plot is engaging but it is vapidly fleeting by introducing so many elements that it has no intention of wrapping up or even fleshing out. I wanted to love this film but it leaves you cold in so many different ways.

Titane – Well, it’s twice in a row the little town I live in deep in the beautiful Okanagan has pissed me off by not having a sought-after film playing but this one I can understand because it’s foreign, a really niche indie and it is decidedly messed up. The film comes from writer and director Julia Ducournau who’s last movie, Raw, became one of the most talked-about horror movies of the decade. For this one she’s going further out there, telling the story of a father who is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years following a series of unexplained crimes. That doesn’t sound immediately weird but it’s almost just the basic bullet point of what the basis is. This film is deeply cerebral body horror mixed with an uncompromising and unpredictable journey into provocative filmmaking that I can’t wait to get my eyeballs deep into. The buzz made my anticipation for this hit a fever pitch and now all of you lucky people get to see it before I can.

Adventures Of A Mathematician – On the surface this movie sounds incredibly boring, it’s not easy to sugar coat that one at all. It’s a German, Polish and English collaboration on a true story of a renowned mathematician and it doesn’t feature any actors that I can recall seeing before. Snorefest, right? Coming from writer and director Thor Klein, it is the story of Polish immigrant and mathematician Stan Ulam who moved to the U.S. in the 1930s and helped to create the hydrogen bomb and the first computer while deals with the difficult losses of family and friends at the same time. It felt so hard to keep engaged with this movie as the character story seemed to get lost in a muddied telling of history that felt so lacklustre in its presentation that it couldn’t elevate above how boring I already felt the subject matter to be. This movie felt punishing and it was only just over an hour and a half long.

Blu-Ray:

The Forever Purge – They’re still making these movies? Yes, of course, they are because they make money, cost little and even spawned a television spin-off. Also, it seems like everyone in America kind of wants to kill each other already so the thirst for a horror film about a one-night mass killing spree is still pretty appealing. This installment has the fallout from the events of the previous film and instead of improving the world through the main characters heroic actions and the exposing of the elite who created it, all the rules are now broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end. The imagery is totally gnarly with all of the Purge costumes and this aesthetic is what always brings me back to these movies as a glutton for punishment I guess. That said, the implications from all of the previous installments hit a fever pitch in the story of this one as the franchise moves closer and closer to a believable America which might be the most chilling take away from it. I really enjoyed this one, a favourite in the series.

Blithe Spirit – Dan Stevens is such a great actor in anything he does that no matter what project he is a part of I will still give it the infinite time of day to watch. That includes this pretty silly ghostly comedy that is not getting any good word of mouth whatsoever. The film has him playing a married crime novelist suffering from writer’s block who hires a spiritualist medium to hold a seance that accidentally summons the spirit of his deceased first wife, which leads to an increasingly complex love triangle with his current wife of five years. Co-starring Dame Judi Dench, Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher, the film has the foundation to be great but falls into slapstick and contrived trappings that do everything but engage you on the level this cast has done before. Even at a run time of an hour and a half, it feels like the script has been stretched and warped into a longer form of storytelling which just does not work in any capacity. These stars deserved better.

Twist – Got to love a weird choice in the reimagining of a classic story and that is exactly what we got right here. The story of Oliver Twist has been told in many different ways by many different and accomplished filmmakers through the film age, including one by controversial director Roman Polanski, but none quite like this. This one goes for the “inspired” route, an action-fueled crime-thriller set in contemporary London that follows the journey of Twist, a gifted graffiti artist trying to find his way after the loss of his mother. Lured into a street gang headed by the paternal Fagin, played by Michael Caine, he is attracted to the lifestyle and to Red, an alluring member of Fagin’s crew but when an art theft goes wrong, Twist’s moral code is tested as he’s caught between Fagin, the police, and a loose-cannon enforcer played by the formidable Lena Headey. All of this sounds original and cool but unfortunately, this film is the equivalent of a thick skull with no brain, hard-hitting action with zero substance underneath. It’s targeted at a younger crowd that doesn’t have any reverence for the source material, not that it was necessary to have that in the end.

Children Of The Corn 4K – Some classic Stephen King gets the collector’s edition treatment this week from Arrow Video and even better it gets the full 4K update to show this chilling story in all of its glory. It was so great to see Peter Horton and a young Linda Hamilton, the same year The Terminator would be released, in this adaptation of a short story I read way too young. For those who never had the privilege but have for sure heard the name or reference, the story is about a young couple who enter into a desolate midwestern town where all the adults are apparently dead and the children, led by a creepily charismatic boy, have formed a cult that worships a malevolent force in the cornfield, He Who Walks The Rows. This movie is iconic and a major piece of “creepy kid” cinema that is always brought up in the best of the eighties horror. The ending is a beautifully hopeless downer that feels so ballsy to do but really speaks to the power of King’s storytelling.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:

Beverly Hills 90210: The Ultimate Collection – *bu-nuh-nuh-nuh* *bu-nuh-nuh-nuh* *clap-clap* Yeah, I still know the Beverly Hills 90210 theme song opening but that’s because my mom and I watched it originally so when I got this massive box set that includes the original series as well as the revival limited series she texted me as soon as she saw me Instagram it. My wife was equally as static as this is a big show in her upbringing as well, a seminal moment in our coming of age. In a show about a group of friends living in Beverly Hills, California making their way through life from their school days into adulthood, we all had our favourites, our crushes and our favourite episodes and it seems to connect all of us nineties teens and the older viewers who may have gotten pulled into the fan vortex as the show continued it’s run. Does it work now? Probably not with all the weird fads, clothing choices and lack of technology but it never hurts to try and indoctrinate the next generation. Now, let’s continue to rock out to the theme song.

District 13 Ultimatum – Sometimes it’s a good opportunity to watch some mindless action with cool sequences and the barest existence of a plot. That is exactly where this film fits in, the sequel to a French action flick that seems like more of an excuse for mega-producer Luc Besson to show off some parkour-style fighting and dazzle people with crazy stunts. Five years after the original, vigilante justice-keepers Damien (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito (David Belle) are back in the outer-Paris ghetto of District 13 to save the impoverished, violence-riddled community. Controlled by fiYve ruthless gang bosses jostling for ultimate power, District 13 is in dangerous decline and, to save those living within, Damien and Leito must restore peace before the city’s secret law enforcers take measures into their own hands. The subtext of this installment gets needlessly political and it starts to drown in the bigger story it’s trying to tell but that aside the action still rocks and it has sequences that will constantly have you rewinding and wondering how the hell they did that.

Young Sheldon: Season 4 – With the main series of The Big Bang Theory long in the rearview now, this piece of the Chuck Lorre created series with this spin-off about the childhood years of Sheldon Cooper, a show that Jim Parsons narrates naturally and has been doing great ratings for CBS for two straight seasons even standing apart from the show it spawned from.  This show could have been a real bust but a weird thing happened after I watched a few episodes and that was a simple notion that I was enjoying it and Annie Potts plays his “MeeMaw”! Sold! The second season proved that this show is beyond a flash in the pan sophomore hit as it takes that groundwork laid out by the original series and puts it in an almost Wonder Years-like filter and now it can continue its Sheldon Cooper lore without any new encumbrance or retcon. That and it doesn’t have a laugh track, an instant killer with me.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – One of Terry Gilliam’s troubled productions has now landed itself in my collection finally and it’s a film that will largely be remembered as the one that Heath Ledger died during the production but it really deserves to be recognized on its own merits. It is really classic Terry Gilliam at its core ad immediately gives remembrance to films like The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King and Brazil from his phenomenal filmography. Starring Christopher Plummer in the lead role, the leader of a travelling show and the harbourer of a dark secret. Thousands of years ago he traded the soul of his daughter, Valentina, to the devil and now the devil, played brilliantly by Tom Waits, has come to collect his prize. To save her, Parnassus must make a final wager to see whoever collects five souls first to gain possession of Valentina. Tony (Heath Ledger), a man saved from hanging by Parnassus’ troupe, agrees to help collect them, but deviously has his eye on marrying Valentina himself. This film is crazy and ballsy in a way that only Gilliam can deliver with his idiosyncratic form of storytelling. Filmed in Vancouver, it’s insane how much it looks like dirty old London.

Mona Lisa – Bob Hoskins is a character actor that never really got his due but featured in some of the best films from over thirty years of work and this movie is definitely part of the greatest roles he ever played. Mona Lisa was a Neil Jordan film that was nestled in the middle of a four-year stretch that included Brazil, A Prayer For The Dying and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which informed a really cool era in his career but this one was something special on its own. He plays a man just released from prison who manages to get a job driving an expensive call girl from customer to customer. Initially, they don’t get along, and he doesn’t fit in with the high-class customers Simone services but the two slowly form a bond that extends to being a protector from the outside elements as well as those in control, like the kingpin in charge, played brilliantly by Michael Caine. This film now gets its own praise in the form of a Criterion Collection release and after taking it in again, it wholly deserves this honour. Jordan’s authentic filmmaking shines through in a film that is, from top to bottom, a total masterpiece.

Television:

Attack Of The Hollywood Cliches! (Netflix) – We all know the horrible cliches that Hollywood films love to throw at us time and time again without learning a thing. The romantic comedies that have a mad dash through the rain to reunite for a kiss, the cool guys that don’t look at explosions, the constant belittling of ethnic minorities, the list goes on and on. Now Netflix is going to shine a little light on it through host Rob Lowe in a special that features some of the most famous films along with screenwriters, academics and critics like Andie MacDowell, The Lucas Brothers, Andrew Garfield, Amy Nicholson, John August and many more as they guide through the funny, weird and controversial clichés which appear on the screens. Some of them were super obvious to me but some of them I cling to going “no, no, no, not Garden State” but, yes Steve, that is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and it is a massive cliche. Sigh, my heart is broken.

Maid (Netflix) – Coming from Orange Is The New Black and Casual writer Molly Smith Metzler in her debut as a creator and showrunner, this new series had me intrigued right away as it has the real-life mother and daughter tandem of Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley in the same production for, I believe, the first time. The show was inspired by the New York Times best-selling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land and follows a single mother who turns to housekeeping to make ends meet as she battles against poverty, homelessness, and bureaucracy. Also escaping a brutally abusive relationship, this is an interesting story of one woman’s struggle to empower herself against all odds and Qualley is the perfect actor to portray it with a simmering intensity that boils over from time to time. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Seinfeld (Netflix) – What can I say about this show that you really don’t know already? It debuted on NBC in the late eighties and had a huge run, inspiring so many along the way ad still is consistently quoted to this very day. Heck, creator Larry David is still kind of living off of it as Curb Your Enthusiasm is a direct offshoot of it and even did a reunion series within the HBO show. For fun though, why don’t I give you a synopsis? Running for nine seasons, Jerry Seinfeld stars in this television comedy series as himself, a comedian. The premise of this sitcom is Jerry and his friends going through everyday life, discussing various quirky situations, to which many can relate to (especially if you live in New York City). The eccentric personalities of the offbeat characters who make up Jerry’s social circle contribute to the fun. That’s it in a nutshell and, damn, reliving these episodes, what an incredible ride it was and I can appreciate it a lot more than I did when it originally aired.

The Problem with John Stewart (AppleTV+) – I feel like we’ve all been waiting for it and it’s finally here as The Daily Show originator and beloved host John Stewart returns with a brand new show without any tether or constraint as he has the freedom of the AppleTV+ platform. The series is less comedy and more Stewart tackling issues that affect Americans the most, with Stewart in discussion with the people who are impacted by each issue, as well as those who have a hand in creating the impact and, together, they will discuss tangible steps that can lead to a solutionary path forward. This may not be the kind of return you’re looking for and, honestly, if you want that I think Trevor Noah is doing a great job with The Daily Show. This is something needed, something cathartic and something Stewart needed to do with the cloud that he had. This is special television right here.

New Releases:

Dear Evan Hansen – It seems like we haven’t learned from Glee at all and we’re still going forward with close to thirty-year-old actors playing high school teenagers. I know that it is a special case with this film as star Ben Platt played the role on Broadway and was the originator of it but I think it is distracting and tanks the movie immediately. This is the adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high school senior with Social Anxiety disorder and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance following the suicide of a classmate. The film does not translate well at all in my opinion and besides Evan looking like a guidance counsellor rather than a student, the story is contrived, manipulative and more and more cringeworthy with every song he belts out. I tried to get beyond the simplicity of its problems and, in the end, couldn’t overcome them.

Joe Bell – A lowkey Mark Wahlberg film makes its quiet debut this week and just based on the subject matter and the story it’s based on, it should have earned a lot more attention and overall celebration and put director Reinaldo Marcus Green on the A-list track with his second well-received film in a row after Monsters And Men. This film is the true story of a small town, working-class father who embarks on a solo walk across the United States to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay. Wahlberg brings the soul to this movie in a heartfelt performance that gets off to a bit of a rocky start and it’s interesting to note that the relationship between Wahlberg and the youngster that plays his son, Reid Miller, was really important to the blockbuster star and he invited him to his house for breakfast just to tell him in person he booked the role of Jadin Bell. Stories like this are what makes these dramas so important and must-see in my opinion and it has been a few years since Wahlberg made a straightforward drama and I feel that it was largely pulled off and gives a great insight into the ability to change some of the most staunch and stubborn minds when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community.

The Starling – With two lead stars like Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, I thought this movie was going to be an immediate home run and the fact that Hidden Figures and St. Vincent filmmaker Theodore Melfi was behind it just added to the draw. Unfortunately, everything falls apart really quickly by being way too overdramatic but, at the same time, completely unoriginal and not relatable. The film follows Lilly and Jack, a couple dealing with a devastating loss, leading Jack to head off to deal with his grief while Lilly remains in the “real” world, dealing with her guilt. As if Lilly’s troubles weren’t bad enough, a starling that has nested in her backyard begins to harass and attack her and she becomes obsessed with killing it. Lilly eventually finds guidance from Larry, a quirky psychologist-turned-veterinarian with a troubled past of his own. I wish this film lived up to its promise because it has Kevin Kline, who is an absolute treasure any time he’s on-screen, playing the vet but it can’t save itself from a bad script, sluggish pacing and some janky CG.

Intrusion – After the sleeper hit that was The Invitation I have vowed to get a little bit hyped for every film I see actor Logan Marshall Green-billed in and it’s worked out pretty well so far. I’m looking directly at you, Upgrade, you beautiful bastard. This film also has the benefit of the fantastic Freida Pinto in the lead role and comes from director Adam Salky who’s movie I Smile Back with Sarah Silverman wrecked me. This one is a drama thriller that follows a woman who moves to a small town with her husband and has her world shattered when she is targeted for a home invasion and in the fallout becomes suspicious that those around her might not be who they seem. The film was written by Greenland and Buried writer Chris Starling and looks to be filled with great twists and turns. Netflix wouldn’t give me an early look but I’m psyched for it still.

Between Waves – This is an odd film as it is an existential fantasy love story about reconnecting with a loved one across planes of existence which immediately brings to mind the Richard Matheson story What Dreams May Come which was adapted with Robin Williams starring. The story is about a woman’s pursuit to join her missing lover by crossing into a parallel dimension, after his presumed death, when he continuously visits her, pleading for her to find him. Through her own pragmatic and driven ways, she tries to defy everything she knows to achieve the impossible in a Canadian film that is quite remarkable to look at. None of the stars were known to me but the execution and performances were engaging and, with a few parts that dragged, I felt the outcome resonated well.

Blu-Ray:

F9: The Fast Saga – After over a year of delay we finally got our dose of “The Family” film and I’m not talking about a Disney animated adventure, I’m talking about Vin Diesel and his family of, well, we used to call them car thieves and a heist squad but after the insane things in the previous movies I have lost track of what to identify them as. This film takes a twist on the family theme as it opens with Dom Toretto leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but knowing that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, the new threat aligned with old enemies will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most as his crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered, a man who also happens to be Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob, played by John Cena. As ridiculous as this is, it was massively satisfying to see a film as epic as this was and no matter what they threw at you, which was pretty much everything, it kept you into the action for the whole ride. Even better, for those who experienced it in theatres, this edition has a director’s cut with more insanity.

Cruella – Before I get into one of the biggest Blu-ray releases this week, I have to begin by saying that I find the trend of humanizing these classic villain characters a little troubling, as the direction for blockbuster filmmaking is heaping sympathy on the truly evil in their origin story so that we look at their endgame a bit differently. In the case of Cruella De Vil, played in this film by Emma Stone, we all know that she goes on to try and murder dogs for a coat. This film is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution and follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly Haute, played by Emma Thompson, but their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella. The film is lavishly shot by director Craig Gillespie but feels bloated in its over two-hour run time and has some moments bending through music and dialogue. That said, it still is pretty entertaining even if Stone’s British accent comes and goes.

Lady Of The Manor – As a guy just getting into Justin Long’s podcast Life Is Short, I missed out on the mention that he and his brother Christian has written and directed a new comedy together in their directorial debut. It even has a killer cast with Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Ryan Phillippe and Luis Guzman which intrigues me quite a bit. The film follows Hannah, a farty, aimless stoner who becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost, Lady Wadsworth, a Southern belle who died in 1875. She tells Hannah it’s time to change her slacker ways or she’ll haunt her until she does in a comedy that is pure insanity and pretty much anything the Long brothers wanted to make. They are playing to their audience and themselves and not all of its lands but when it does it is funny. I’m unsure there is a wide audience for this one.

Last Call – I’ve been a Jeremy Piven fan for a long time now and this was well before we even got the script for Entourage and the tailor-made role of Ari Gold because, yeah, I watched Ellen’s sitcom. The cast that surrounds Piven in this is a great who’s who of television and movies as Black Sails’ Zach McGowen, Orange Is The New Black’s Taryn Manning, Rescue Me’s Jack McGee, Jamie Kennedy and so many more veteran faces feature in this too. The film has Piven as a local success story and real estate developer who returns home to his offbeat blue-collar Irish neighbourhood in the shadows of Philadelphia for a funeral and is obligated to stay to ensure his parents’ ailing family business gets back on course. As he begins to reconnect with the neighbourhood he grew up in as well as get closer to his childhood crush, he finds himself at a crossroads when forced to either raze or resurrect the family bar. My biggest issue with this movie comes from how unreal and coincidental almost every plot point feels in this story and, no matter how great the people in the roles are, it never leaves your mind. With a better script and story drive, this could have been way better than the mediocrity we got.

The Vigil – Some good ghostly horror to get some less funny supernatural content this week and the initial reviews for this one were big heading into it so I was intrigued. The cast is comprised of unknowns and writer and director Keith Thomas is making his debut with this film but after people get to this one eventually by word of mouth, he will be on the horror fans must see list. The story is set throughout a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighbourhood and follows Yakov, a man low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community who reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vigil he finds himself opposite a malevolent entity that is hell-bent on destroying him. This movie was an awesome surprise, creepy and full of a dark atmosphere that draws you in and chills you to the bone. I think this film has a broader appeal if you’re looking for something to quicken your pulse.

The Power – Religious horror seems to be a little bit of a recurring theme this week and as a non-religious guy, I still find myself drawn to this specific sub-genre. I also really love that this brings a new voice to the women’s side of horror filmmaking as Corinna Faith wrote and directed a film that could easily sit in the best of the year category. Set in 1974, the story follows a young nurse who is forced to work the night shift in a crumbling hospital as striking miners switch off the power across Britain. As the night goes on, she starts to realize that inside the walls lurks a terrifying presence that threatens to consume her and everyone around her. Again, I was blindsided by another thrilling ghost story that gets under your skin using the device of deep-seated trauma as its trigger. It uses its location so well to create its claustrophobic atmosphere that doesn’t leave until the credits hit.

A Dark Foe – I love a good obsessive mystery horror and I’m feeling like it’s an embarrassment of riches this week because I get five of them that I can watch in the comfort of my own home which is an exciting and reclusive prospect. This film follows a guilt-ridden FBI agent, stranded in the painful memory of the abduction of his sister, who suffers from a rare condition known as Nyctophobia, an irrational fear of the dark, and will have to face off with the cunning serial killer who took her away to find any sort of resolution in his life. Featuring Selma Blair and Graham Greene in supporting roles, I dug into this one deep and thought it was incredibly studious and driven, which is crazy because it is the debut of filmmaker Maria Gabriela Cardenas. This may not be a perfect movie but I feel like the next one will be even closer to a masterpiece.

Boys From County Hell – This is a combination of the best of things for me as it has Irish brogues and blood-curdling horror colliding for pretty effective and chilling storytelling. Coming from Chris Baugh, the writer and director of the fantastically gritty revenge thriller Bad Day For The Cut, the film follows the strange events that unfold in Six Mile Hill, a sleepy Irish town that claims to have been travelled by the famed author Bram Stoker, when construction on a new road disrupts the alleged grave of Abhartach, a legendary Irish vampire said to have inspired Dracula. Deadly forces terrorize the work crew led by Francie Moffat and his son Eugene, a free-spirited young man who prefers pints to pickaxes and they’re forced to fight to survive the night while exposing the true horror that resides in the town’s local myth. This movie is gnarly in every way and satisfies all of your vampire horror needs while bringing a fresh attitude and original ideas along the way. I love the British Isles and their cinema, it’s always such a breath of new air.

Hardball – Back when Keanu was in another reinvention of his career with Neo and the Matrix movies, he also would do a drama here and there to remind you of how charmingly blank he could be as well as being an action star. This was one of those films that also had the greatness of Diane Lane to play off of as well with her stepping in as the love interest. For those who let this one skip them by twenty years ago almost exactly, the film is about an aimless young man who gets by scalping tickets, gambling, and drinking who agrees to coach a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago as a condition of getting a loan from a friend. His sense of pride in becoming the boys’ sole idol and the exhilaration of competition start to motivate him to become better and the kid’s attractive teacher helps as well. This movie was a sweetheart when it came out and I think it aged well as it still will bring a smile to your face.

Breakdown – Kurt Russell against an enraged trucker. That should put butts in seats alone but no, it seems like anything involving truckers doesn’t get the love it deserves as we look back at all the underrated films of the past like Duel, Convoy, Joyride and Over The Top. Well, maybe not Over The Top. Even sadder, this film features J.T. Walsh as the villain and is still forgotten but I digress. The story follows a man and his wife who are driving cross-country from Massachusetts o San Diego when their new car mysteriously breaks down. A truck driver stops and assists them by taking his wife to the nearest diner to phone for help but in reality is kidnapping her, causing her husband to track down his wife and the kidnapper himself. Funny enough, this movie was actually really well-reviewed at the time of its release and still holds up well, I think. As I mentioned, Walsh is so damn good and Russell digs into that action hero stuff that we love from him.

Love & Basketball – This is a great pull from the year 2000 to add to the Criterion Collection that is a beautiful love story with driven performances plus it’s just a great piece in modern black cinema. Starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, the film follows Monica and Quincy, two childhood friends who both aspire to be professional basketball players. Quincy, whose father, Zeke plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, is a natural talent and a born leader while Monica is ferociously competitive but sometimes becomes overly emotional on the court. Over the years, the two begin to fall for each other, but their separate paths to basketball stardom threaten to pull them apart. Writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood established herself with this phenomenal film that I only saw just a few years ago and now it has its rightful place in this prestigious collection. Very worth picking up.

The Equalizer: Season 1 – Move over Denzel, Queen Latifah is coming through to take your place in the lead chair as this property, once a television series made into a couple of movies with the greatest actor of the last thirty years, now reverts to being a new network series again proving that everything in Hollywood is cyclical. Latifah is Robyn McCall, an enigmatic African American woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall comes across to most like an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter. But to a trusted few, she is an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption. The series takes off on the original Edward Woodward show from the late eighties as each episode seems to be reworkings of the older plots to get things going then it will hopefully find its footing.

Batwoman: Season 2 – I’d been waiting a long time for a live-action onscreen version of Kate Kane aka Batwoman to be made and finally we got it and I thought the casting of Ruby Rose is kind of incredible as she already invoked many of the character traits right out the door. Now, a year later, and Rose has departed the role and has left the producers scrambling for their unpredicted new direction. For those not in the know, Kane was inspired by Batman to use her resources to fight crime in Gotham as well under the moniker of Batwoman, but is a woman of Jewish descent and is also a lesbian, something that was a hard pill to swallow for the mainstream. Now the new actress that has stepped in is Javicia Leslie, star of the cancelled series God Friended Me, as Ryan Wilder who steps into the cowl in Kate’s absence. With other Arrowverse shows being shown the door, it isn’t known what the longevity of this show is but I’m enjoying it so far.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Star Trek Lower Decks: Season 1 – More Star Trek from CBS All Access? Well, why not because it seems to be a lucrative cash cow for them and if I can throw my opinion in on this, I’m enjoying everything that has come out so far. This new show though begs the question “can we do comedy in this universe of science fiction that has been so serious up until this point?” Not only is this show forging new ground in genre shift it is also animated and follows the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos, who have to keep up with their duties, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies. The voice cast includes former Sliders star Jerry O’Connell, The Boys’ Wee Hughie, Jack Quaid and Eugene Cordero from Tacoma FD and looks like it is pretty damn funny. In a void of missing shows like Futurama, this series makes a mark outside of its niche audience I think because it nabbed me pretty quickly.

Legend – First the twins in Spandau Ballet, Martin and Gary Kemp, did the biopic of the notorious Kray brothers Reggie and Ronnie, in the appropriately titled crime saga The Krays and then the always fantastic Tom Hardy took on both roles for this redo of the biopic for Mystic River writer Brian Helgeland and, I’ll be honest, he’s the only reason to watch this. For those who need to be caught up with this story, it is the true story of London’s most notorious gangsters, who just happen to be twin brothers of very different temperaments. As the brothers rise through the criminal underworld, Ronnie advances the family business with violence and intimidation while Reggie struggles to go legitimate for local girl Frances Shea. In and out of prison, Ronnie’s unpredictable tendencies and the slow disintegration of Reggie’s marriage threaten to bring the brothers’ empire tumbling to the ground. The vibe of the movie is weird, the editing is a little lacklustre and it drags in many parts but Tom Hardy is blisteringly intense every moment he is on screen and it makes up for a large degree of its shortcomings.

Prodigal Son: Season 2 – I love Michael Sheen in just about everything he does, one of the best character actors working today, but when I saw he was doing an American network television show I kind of felt like he might be slumming it. Then I got a whiff of the role he was playing and My trepidation turned into anticipation as he has a very dark and sinister monster to embody in this. The series follows Malcolm Bright, a gifted criminal psychologist who uses his twisted genius to help the NYPD solve crimes and stop killers, all while dealing with a manipulative mother, a serial killer father still looking to bond with his prodigal son and his own constantly evolving neuroses. Bright’s only ally is his sister, Ainsley, a TV journalist who wishes her brother would take a break from murder and have a normal life. Unfortunately for his sister, the only way Bright feels normal is by solving cases with the help of his longtime mentor, NYPD Detective Gil Arroyo. Arroyo’s one of the best detectives around, and he expects no less from his team, which includes Detective JT Tarmel, a born-and-bred New Yorker who questions whether Bright is a psychopath himself. The series comes from one of the guys behind the great comedy-action series Chuck and uses some of that great wit in a new fashion. Disappointingly, the series was cancelled this summer but what we got was pretty damn cool.

Free Fire – Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker usually known for horror or that one time when he adapted a seemingly unfilmable novel in High Rise but he made this phenomenal ensemble crime shootout story that got swept under the rug like it never happened and I’m going to shine a light on it. Featuring a killer cast including Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Jack Reynor and Armie Hammer, this movie kept a constant smile on my face. Set in Boston in 1978, simply put, the film follows a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs that turns into a shoot-out and a game of survival when a black-market arms deal goes outrageously wrong. A snappy script, incredible performances all around and a fun ride of violent action and wild camera shots make this one unforgettable to anyone who’s seen it. I love this movie and more people should too.

Snatch 4K – Not only is this movie possibly Guy Ritchie’s crowning achievement in his career but I’m not shying away from saying that this could be the greatest British crime comedy ever made. When it came out in theatres I saw it multiple times, bought it immediately on DVD, have easily seen it fifteen times at least, know the script off by heart and now it is in glorious 4K. For those who are emerging from there under a rock nap, the story follows Turkish, an unlicensed boxing promoter who is pulled into trouble when he becomes involved in big-time criminal Brick Top, who wants him to arrange a fight and fix it. Meanwhile, a diamond theft goes down but the eighty-four karat stone goes missing which leads Avi, the boss who was supposed to receive the stone, to come to England to search for it, with the help of his cousin, Doug The Head and Bullet Tooth Tony. As events twist and turn, the two situations blend into one with a chain reaction of events carrying on for each character in a movie that is infinitely quotable, massively influential in its style and featuring a soundtrack that is one of the best since the turn of the century, I will always have a deep love for this brilliant comedy.

Television:

Foundation (AppleTV+) – As I find myself once again blasting through seasons of The Expanse on Amazon Prime, I keep finding myself wondering if this is the bar set for fantastic and well-written science fiction shows and I guess Apple heard me because incomes this brand new show to hopefully blow minds. Already, the cast has me so intrigued with Halt And Catch Fire’s Lee Pace, Mad Men’s Jared Harris and Voyagers actor Lou Llobell leading it. The show is a complex saga of genre television that follows the existence of the human race, scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, all living under the rule of the Galactic Empire, something that feels vaguely familiar. Not going quite as fantastical as the franchise I’m alluding to, the show is centred around Dr. Hari Seldon and his loyal followers and their attempt to preserve their culture as the galaxy collapses. This show is so cool because it isn’t an original idea but is based on the book of the same name from one of the forefathers of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, and I think if it is a huge success then it opens the door for more adaptations of his work like the Rama series or Cradle. Please, just make it happen.

Dear White People: Season 4 (Netflix) – Adapted from a critically lauded movie from 2014, this Netflix series is about a group of black students attending an overly white Ivy League college and sparked a boycott immediately with its season one, with people being offended over its trailer, calling it racist. Now we are at season four, which might be its finale, and this show keeps rolling with brilliant writing from the original film’s creator Justin Simien in a time that I think is so important for this show to exist. The more we keep the conversation of race going through media like this the more we may be able to affect some change.

Doom Patrol: Season 3 (Crave) – After a killer first season and a killer sophomore season that kept the momentum going and added even more fun to the mix, I know people are chomping at the bit for this new season of a show that not only gives White Collar’s Matt Bomer a cool role but also gave some new life to 90s star Brendan Fraser who is continuing to get that redemption he deserves. For those who are uninitiated to this DC Comics world, it is a re-imagining of one of DC’s most beloved groups of outcast superheroes: Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Crazy Jane, led by modern-day mad scientist Dr. Niles Caulder, also known as The Chief. The series is tied to the cinematic universe by the common character of Cyborg so it’s neat to see exactly where all these stories meet up. Another great show to look forward to this week.

Midnight Mass (Netflix) – Mike Flanagan returns with his latest offering, which would be number three for the Netflix miniseries. After reliving Haunting Of Bly Manor, I was looking for a bit more of a return to form as I feel that the second series was such a huge step down from the first and within the first two episodes of Midnight Mass I knew I was in for a treat. The series is the tale of a small, isolated island community whose existing divisions are amplified by the return of a disgraced young man and the arrival of a charismatic priest. When Father Paul’s appearance on Crockett Island coincides with unexplained and seemingly miraculous events, a renewed religious fervour takes hold of the community but these miracles come at an evil price that will destroy everything. This is one of those shows that keep your hand off the remote when the credits hit and you just let the autoplay take over. Gripping and engaging, this might be one of the best this year.

Star Wars: Visions (Disney+) – Disney, Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise release their newest addition into the ever-expanding universe with a series of little short episodes that I didn’t think was going to be that cool until I started watching them. Seven Japanese animation studios bring their unique perspectives to the Star Wars universe through a series of short films that bring backstories to some, create new Jedi and Sith legends and pull back the curtain a bit of the inspiration and homages that this beloved entity has brought since A New Hope. The first episode, The Duel, is a beautiful ode to the classic style of Akira Kurosawa with an old-fashioned battle between two warriors that is reminiscent of Hidden Fortress, the film that inspired George Lucas on this initial path. It all just gets better and better as the stories continue and I hope we get another series of them afterwards.

New Releases:

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye – With a tale as wild as teleevangelist couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I’m really surprised that it took this long to get a biopic of the God and money driven power couple that had a storied rise and a scandalous fall. Now that it’s here, I have to address the boldness of Jessica Chastain taking the lead role alongside Andrew Garfield as Jim because I didn’t see how it could work and now, after seeing the trailers, I can’t unsee it. The film is an interesting move from The Big Sick director Michael Showalter who gives an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. In the 1970s and 80s, Tammy Faye and her husband, Jim Bakker, rose from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park, and were revered for their message of love, acceptance and prosperity. Tammy Faye was legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life but it wasn’t long before financial improprieties, scheming rivals, and scandal toppled their carefully constructed empire. The reviews pouring in a pretty solid and are celebrating Chastain in a big way and we know Oscar likes the biopic performances so expect this one to be in the mix when the award season kicks off.

Cry Macho – Clint Eastwood returns to not only direct another film but star in it as well but I have to admit that I really dislike the title. It’s smashy and I saw a tweet that said they heard it as “Crime Nachos” which sounds like a way more intriguing film but I digress. The story has Eastwood as a one-time rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder who takes a job to bring a man’s young son home and away from his alcoholic mom. On their journey, the horseman finds redemption through teaching the boy what it means to be a good man in a film that looks like it’s beautifully shot, as it comes from cinematographer Ben Davis who did Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Guardians Of The Galaxy. Where do my expectations lie? Eastwood has declined in his consistency to make solid films but his last outing, The Mule, was great in my opinion and I do have hopes for this one because of that.

Copshop – Joe Carnahan is a gritty action filmmaker who I generally enjoy in his more bombastic stories like Smokin’ Aces, The Grey and his adaptation of The A-Team. Just from the trailer alone I feel like this new flick is going to be one that fits nicely into the better side of his work. Starring Frank Grillo, Gerard Butler Toby Huss and newcomer Alexis Louder, the film follows a wily con artist on the run from a lethal assassin who devises a scheme to hide out inside a small-town police station but when the hitman turns up at the precinct, an unsuspecting rookie cop finds herself caught in the crosshairs. The trailer for this looks violent and darkly funny with all three of these experience character actors throwing their all into their roles with Huss looking like the standout. I can’t imagine this movie having a lot of substance to it, just high octane and fast paced fun.

Blue Bayou – Justin Chon is a Korean American actor, writer and director who is now coming through with his fourth feature film and, although not being a badly reviewed filmmaker, he might break through to the mainstream with this character driven drama that features him alongside an Academy Award winner. The film follows his main character, a man raised in the Louisiana bayou who works hard to make a life for his family but suddenly must confront the ghosts of his past as he discovers that he could be deported from the only country he has ever called home. Reviewer friends of mine have told me that they loved this movie when it was press screened and I don’t think there is any sort of a ad campaign behind it so word of mouth is going to help in immensely. I love little dramas like this os I’m certainly on board.

Best Sellers – Two things immediately drew me to this movie and it started with the casting of Aubrey Plaza in the lead role but not just because my wife and I binged the entire series of Parks And Recreation recently but from her incredible performance in the indie film Black Bear. The second thing is it also stars Sir Michael Caine in a great wheelhouse of his, the crotchety and angry old man performance type. Plaza plays Lucy Standbridge, the daughter of a famed publisher who has inherited her father’s publishing house, and the ambitious would-be editor has nearly sunk it with failing titles. She discovers she is owed a book by Harris Shaw (Michael Caine), a reclusive, cantankerous, booze-addled author who originally put the company on the map decades earlier and, in a last-ditch effort to save the company, together release his new book and embark on a book tour from hell that changes them both in ways they didn’t expect. As much as I loved both performances in this film, and I do, it just felt like this film was missing something in between and starts to drag before it becomes a little formulaic. This isn’t to say that I disliked it, I just wanted a little more from it.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland – It’s now common knowledge if you regularly read my blog, listen to me on The Shift or follow me on any of my social media accounts that I adore the talent of Nicoals Cage. I am aware of his bad films and others but the man takes chances and I love him for it, something he certainly does here. This film from gonzo director Sion Sono he plays a ruthless bank robber who is sprung from jail by the wealthy warlord The Governor in the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town to find his adopted granddaughter Bernice that has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway and, strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within three days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman and his own path to redemption. Co-starring The Kingsmans’ Sofia Boutella and The Devil’s Rejects’ Bill Moseley, this film is like a frenetic samurai art film inserted into a post apocalyptic landscape. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t but you can tell that Cage is having a fantastic time and he has stated this in interviews about it already. If you enjoy the man’s work, you’ll appreciate this one.

Nightbooks – On first glance this might not be a film that hits exactly in my wheelhouse as it fplays more on the family side of horror but when I saw that it was from Brightburn director David Yarovesky and it stars Jessica Jones herself, Kristen Ritter in the villain role, well, I changed my tune. The story follows a young boy named Alex who becomes the prisoner of a witch and, to avoid certain death, he convinces her to let him tell her a scary story every night. Upon meeting the witch’s servant, Yazmin, the two must use their wits to escape her apartment, a magical labyrinth filled with various dangers, before the witch kills them both. The trailer makes this look like a lot of fun and it has great flow to it thanks to the camera work from cinematographer Robert McLachlan who just did six episodes of Lovecraft Country and some really great episodes of Games Of Thrones just to name a few. This could be a slick little family hit.

The Mad Woman’s Ball – French actress and filmmaker Melaine Laurent is probably best known to a wide audience as the revenge seeking Shoshanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds but she has also made four notable feature films behind the camera and now comes to Amazon Prime with her fifth and another one on the horizon. This thriller is the story of Eugenie, a luminous and passionate young girl at the end of the 19th century who has the ability to see and hear the dead. When her family discovers her secret, she is taken by her father and brother to a neurological clinic at La Pitié Salpêtrière, un by the eminent Professor Charcot, with no possibility of escaping her fate. She then plots to escape with the help of one of its nurses, played by the director herself. The attention to detail, both in character nuance and historical accuracy, help bring a richness to the film and continues to pull you into the drama until it’s conclusion. A very solid film.

Schumacher – If you’re looking for a sport biopic documentary to get immersed with, Netflix has heard your call out into the wild and has a film about an undeniable giant in his industry. I will be forefront in saying that I’m not really a racing fan myself, not even casually, but I do know exactly who Michael Schumacher is. Followed by millions worldwide, his strong will and triumphant fight to win against all odds put Michael Schumacher at the centre of global attention but there is a lot more than motor racing to the success of this very private man and his self-doubt and insecurities complete the picture of a sensitive and reflected being. Through exclusive interviews and archival footage, this documentary traces an intimate portrait of seven-time Formula 1 champion through a trio of talented German filmmakers. I’m looking forward to this one.

Saint-Narcisse – One of the Canadian films that is getting a lot of indie buzz right now, the mind and work of Bruce La Bruce was already in my mind after seeing his film L.A. Zombie from over a decade ago. This film is decidedly less zombified in it’s horror and instead opts to tell a very character driven story which plays out in totally unpredictable fashion. Set in 1972 Canada, the film follows twenty two year old Dominic, a man that discovers a deep family secret when his loving grandmother dies, that his lesbian mother didn’t die in childbirth and he has a twin brother, Daniel, raised in a remote monastery by a depraved priest, held captive against his will. Charged with a new life goal to reunite his family, he sets off to complete the seemingly impossible and wrestle his twin from the grips of indoctrination. This film is a boundary pusher from the get go and the ability to understand the characters and their motivations may not be apparent but it is absolutely captivating the entire time.

Blu-Ray:

Black Widow – It’s been over a year since we were robbed of the next installation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a film that was a long time coming and, honestly, show have been made years earlier. Yes, Scarlet Johansson finally gets her own solo Black Widow movie and I am happy to have it, especially with the supporting cast of Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz and the emergence of Marvel villain Taskmaster. The film follows Natasha in a story that precedes Infinity War and Endgame as she confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. The action is fast and hard-hitting, the characters are well fleshed out and this is exactly the Black Widow story we have been waiting for and I hope it becomes a massive hit because it really deserves to. This is the real welcome back to theatres thanks to the legends at Marvel and, sadly, with Scarjo seeing for her fair payment in the box office earnings, I hope it doesn’t hurt the legacy of a very entertaining movie.

The Boss Baby: Family Business – Dreamworks Animation is definitely looking to snag that supposed post pandemic family movie money as they kept this one out of theatres and off of VOD the whole time, patiently waiting for theatres to re-open, to a smaller box office pull unfortunately. It may not look like any sort of an entertaining film but I really enjoyed the first movie about a little businessman baby voiced by Alec Baldwin and that’s probably due to how much I love his 30 Rock Character Jack Donaghey and how he seems to channel it with this character. The sequel picks up with the Templeton brothers, Tim and his Boss Baby little bro Ted, who have become adults and drifted away from each other. Tim is now a married stay-at-home dad and Ted is obviously a hedge fund CEO. The adventures reignite when a new boss baby with a cutting-edge approach and a can-do attitude aims to bring them back together which starts with a quick de-aging process, reverting them to babies. The animation is goofy and fun and the script feels like a snappy improv of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks which I really like but audiences can sometimes be cold to. It makes me think of how much I was into the Andy Samberg film Storks and how much everyone else hated it.

Zola – The anticipation for this movie was absolutely huge for me as the festival and critical buzz has been looming all over social media since the Sundance Film Festival and now that it’s here I am happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint. The crazy thing, and an indicator of where we can get film stories now, the inception of this story came from Twitter and a story told through a series of one hundred and forty eight tweets that laid the whole insane narrative out. “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” These are the words that start this Florida odyssey, following Zola, a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer named Stefani that seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures. This movie is crazy and jaw dropping with it’s developments but still holds on to a rough command of cinema that puts it into the same category as the Sean Baker masterpiece The Florida Project. Oh man, I loved this movie so much.

Censor – Horror is a varied genre and one that has a high level of over saturation to it, much like action films, but when you strike with a fresh new idea and spin the ideas to an unpredictable level, this is where new experiences and new voices shine the brightest. This is definitely the case with this new brilliant piece of cinema that comes from Wales and showcases not just the brilliant filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond in her debut but lead actress Niamh Algar whose performance has you glued to your seat. The story follows film censor Enid, a professional who takes pride in her meticulous work, guarding unsuspecting audiences from the deleterious effects of watching the gore-filled decapitations and eye gouging she pores over in films listed as “video nasties” in the eighties. Her sense of duty to protect is amplified by guilt over her inability to recall details of the long-ago disappearance of her sister, recently declared dead in absentia. When Enid is assigned to review a disturbing film from the archive that echoes her hazy childhood memories, she begins to unravel how this eerie work might be tied to her past as her reality starts to crumble around her. This film is a mind-bending experience with an ending that left me reeling and thinking deeply about it ever since. This is one of my favourite films this year.

Out Of Death – Guess who is doing more direct to blu-ray work? That’s right! Bruce Willis is back to collect a quick pay cheque but this time he gets to play around in a villain role possibly in a film that looks formulaic even if you just watch the trailer. Starring Sin City star Jaime King in the lead role, this thriller that follows a corrupt Sheriff’s department in a rural mountain town that comes undone when an unintended witness throws a wrench into their shady operation and leads a retired forest ranger to help a woman after she witnesses a crime. This movie has a zero on Rotten Tomatoes which gives you an immediate indication of whether to pick this one up right away or wait for a streaming service to inevitably pick it up for you to watch in the background as you do chores, laundry or anything that you don’t need to dedicate both of your eyes to.

Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! Meets Courage The Cowardly Dog – What can I really say about this new movie for the kids other than it combines the long and storied history of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and Mystery Incorperated and combines it with some deep nineties nostalgia that I don’t think kids will get these days. Simple put, the movie involves Scooby-Doo and his friends finding a strange object in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, which just happens to be the backwoods hometown of Courage and his owners, Eustace and Muriel Bagge. How wild! A Courage The Cowardly Dog crossover! Who knew it was possible? Anyways, this is for the kids and a very niche audience. That should be obvious.

Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman – I get an odd little excitement from the sets that Arrow Video puts out from time to time as they are usually cult hits that they dug deep for and have deeper meaning in our own zeitgeist now as they have somehow inspired art we see today. This one is a definite deep dig as it celebrates the work of Sam Katzman, one of the most versatile producers of his time, focusing on four films that defined his career. A mob boss hires an ex-Nazi scientist to reanimate his dead thugs in Creature with the Atom Brain, an auto-accident survivor is used as an experimental subject to create a vaccine for nuclear fall-out with hair-raising side-effects in The Werewolf, treasure hunters get more than they bargained for in the search for a cargo of diamonds that went down with a sunken ship when they discover the zombified crew members are guarding the loot in Zombies of Mora Tau and lastly an enormous bird from outer-space descends to chow down on the people of planet Earth in The Giant Claw. With the origins of creature horror and suspense in the lens here, this is definitely a cool set to check out.

Death Screams – The other release from Arrow Video this week is another throwback movie, although it is not as old as the box set I just talked about. This film is as straight up American as we can get in it’s era of the early eighties as it is an old school slasher film as you love to see them. The story is very simple, following a small town who is in for a night of chaos as a machete wielding pyschopath descends on the town to off teenagers during the last night of the carnival. This feels like one of those forgotten horror films that didn’t get it’s due in 1981 as it just got lost in the shuffle of so many like it getting released and now, with the loving guidance of the Arrow Video collector’s edition, gets a sort of new life. Very cool to discover in my opinion.

Magnum P.I.: Season 3 – Against all my beliefs that they could work, CBS has managed to reboot a handful of their classic line up from decades ago and has made them work. Hawaii Five-O has just ended their run a while backand actually featured this show’s main character, MacGyver has been sort of a runaway hit and, really, Magnum has done good numbers for them as well, especially in that aforementioned crossover, palling around with McGarrett and Dann-O. Not sporting the Selleck mustache for this, Jay Hernandez steps into the role of Thomas Magnum with a gender switch for his sidekick Higgins in Ready Player One’s Perdita Weeks as it follows the ex-Navy SEAL as he returns from Afghanistan to use his military skills to become a private investigator in Hawaii. It’s your basic procedural, as you would expect it, and Hernandez kind of makes the show his own. I see it getting another few seasons as it’s doing well in the demographic.

Mare Of Easttown – HBO does limited series stuff so well and one of the shows I really liked from years ago was Mildred Pierce which featured Kate Winslett. Well, they’ve pulled her in again for a brand new show and if the first episode may be something to gauge the rest of the show on we might have ourselves the best new show of 2021 here. She plays Mare Sheehan, a small-town Pennsylvania detective who investigates a local murder as life crumbles around her. The series is an exploration into the dark side of a close community and an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present while showing a care and fully rounded dimension of each person that doesn’t seem to be present in other shows like this. Maybe it’s that the show comes from Craig Zobel who has had such a storied film career in the “human behaviour” department with Compliance, Z For Zachariah and the blood dripping satire of The Hunt.

Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geekouts:

Rugrats: The Complete Series – This is a huge blast of nostaligia for any kid that grew up in the nineties as this is probably a show that binds us together in a cohesive memory of the Pickles family and their family and friends. Yes, we all sat around and watched YTV as Tommy, Angelica, Chuckie, Phil and Lil and more grew up over multiple seasons of the show and now we can relive it again with our own children. Need a refresher? Running from 1991 til 2006, the show is about four babies, Tommy Pickles, Chuckie Finster, and Phil and Lil Deville as we see their lives unravel and get to hear them talk. On the sidelines are Tommy’s mean cousin Angelica, their friend Susie Carmichael, the same age as Angelica, and everybody’s parents. My kid immediately fell in love with the show which lends more credibility to it’s draw and shows that we were right to love it as much as we did.

The Loud House: Season 3 Volume 1 – Absolute Madness – More crazy Nickelodeon cartoons for your children to feast their eyes on but is it going to drive you nuts as a parent? Well, let’s look at the voices and creators so we can have some sort of latching on point for this show about Lincoln Loud, an eleven-year-old boy who lives with ten sisters and with the help of his friend Clyde finds new ways to survive in such a large family every day. Any voices you would know? Well, Batman The Animated Series’ Grey Griffin features in it as well as Bender himself, Joh Dimaggio but aside from quick guest spots by Wayne Brady, Phil Lamarr and the late and so great Fred Willard, that’s about it. The show was created by Chris Savino, a long time writer on The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory, so you can see where this show is aimed at.

In The Good Old Summertime – I’ve got two super classic films to bring this week that will seem odd against two Nickelodeon made shows but bear with me. First up I have a musical from 1949 that featured two of the biggest stars of the time, Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The story is set in turn-of-the century America and follows Andrew and Veronica, two co-workers in a music shop who dislike one another during business hours but unwittingly carry on an anonymous romance through the mail. This film is a beloved classic that many of the big stars, including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and June Allyson, were all vying to play in. It also features an early performance from Liza Minnelli as a toddler.

Shadow Of The Thin Man – I know I have already brought a couple Thin Man films to this blog before so this is just another addition to that pile thanks to the greats at Warner Archive. Released in 1941, this movie had more to it than just being another early franchise hit as it was also the debut of starlet Ava Gardner. The story follows famous detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora as they investigate the death of a jockey that has been shot dead at the race track, where the two happen to be on the scene. The eleventh of fourteen films pairing lead stars William Powell and Myrna Loy, this movie was amazingly filmed in only two weeks by director W.S. Van Dyke, living up to his nickname of “One-Take Woody” and would b popular enough to spawn two more sequels. This movie is the fourth in the Thin Man series for those keeping track.

American Gods: Season 3 – Coming from the mind of the great Neil Gaiman, this series is one that honestly never got it’ due until t was far too late and got cancelled before it’s time. The show is essentially led by The 100’s Ricky Whittle but features incredible performances from veterans like Ian McShane, Orlando Jones and Gillian Anderson as well as an unforgettable turn from Sucker Punch’s Emily Browning. To get the goods on it, the series follows Shadow Moon, a man serving three years in prison who is given an early release and is hired as the mysteriously knowledgable Mr. Wednesday’s bodyguard. He quickly finds himself in a hidden world where a battle is brewing between the Old Gods and the New Gods to a cataclysmic end. This show is totally bad ass and was brought to us by Hannibal and Pushing Daisies showrunner Bryan Fuller before he left for other things, as he always does. Don’t let that deter you, this show is seriously great.

Television:

Scenes From A Marriage (Crave) – Two of the best and brightest on the A-list get their own HBO show this week and for Jessica Chastain, it’s her second appearance on the list besides the top new release and her co-star, Oscaar Isaac, had an absolutely incredible film hit theaters last week under the eye of the great Paul Schrader. A new series from In Treatment creator Hagai Levi, this show is an ambitious adaptation of Ingar Bergmann’s classic 1973 Swedish TV miniseries about a marriage falling apart and re-examines the original’s iconic depiction of love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage and divorce through the lens of a contemporary American couple. I really didn’t hear about this until recently but Isaac and Chastain burning up the red carpet together at the Venice Film Festival has ignited a total fever for this show. Folks, it’s sure to get hot.

American Rust (Crave) – To paraphrase my mother in law who was a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, “If it has Jeff Daniels in it, I’m watching it. They should just have his face on the poster, no words. I’d still watch it. Yes, that’s a big endorsement, I think. Based on Philipp Meyer’s celebrated debut novel, the show is a compelling family drama that will explore the tattered American dream through the eyes of complicated and compromised chief of police Del Harris (Daniels) in a Rust Belt town in southwest Pennsylvania, which forces him to decide what he’s really going to do to protect the son of the woman he truly loves when he is accused of murder. The other part that has me excited for this is it stars Maura Tierney who was celebrated for her performance in another Showtime series, The Affair. This one has great buzz around it and I think it’ll live up to it.

The Morning Show: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Jennifer Aniston returned to television and it was a huge deal even if audiences at the time weren’t exactly sure what AppleTV+ is and how they can get it. Well, this kicked it off and Ted Lasso has certainly roped more in as this series continues into it’s sophomore season. The first season featured an amazing cast including Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, Bel Powley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Reese Witherspoon, and took an inside look at the lives of a nationwide morning show, exploring the unique challenges faced by the men and women who carry out this daily production. The unfortunate thing is the initial reviews of the show call it a vanity project for Aniston, a story that goes over on surface value and never digs into anything interesting but, let’s face it though, the audience won out and it was massively watched by the current subscribers just salivating at the launch of this platform. I expect more of the same for this new season as well as a quick pick up for a third.

Sex Education: Season 3 (Netflix) – This British comedy series got a huge boost with geat numbers when the first season debuted and after the second season roped more fans in and because a huge trending hit for Netflix, it was a no brainer for another pickup. The show stars Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield and is about the teenage son of a sex therapist who decides to use the smarts he’s learned from her to run his own “practice” in his high school with the help of the edgy girl in his class. The script for this series is so snappy and smart with both Butterfield and Andeson giving some of their best work and the best thing is how incredibly unpredictable the storyline is. Honestly, it is so good that I can’t get even a toe into spoiler territory because I would hate myself for it. Just watch it.

Chicago Party Aunt (Netflix) – With the words “from the producers of Big Mouth and Paradise PD” comes a double edged sword because, while I love Big Mouth and everything it does to make it’s audience uncomfortable, I absolutely despise Paradise PD and all of it’s easy and bottom feeding jokes. This new series tries to hit a middle ground by having some really funny dialogue but still languishing it utterly irredeemable characters. It’s pretty simple at it’s core and follows Diane Dunbrowski who is always the life of the party, and also known as the “Chicago Party Aunt”, a neighborhood figure who uses her own style to help her fellow Chicago residents and get wasted at the same time. After one episode, I have to say that it has promise but is nowhere near the caliber of a show like Big Mouth that pushes boundaries in a fresh and original way while still creating a conversation. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong as I continue through the rest of it.

New Releases:

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – It’s crazy to think that the pandemic created a huge rift in the releasing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and we just got Black Widow a couple of months ago after an over a year delay and now we get the first Asian superhero in his own film after a delay of about six months. It’s so cool to note that star Simu Liu got the ball rolling with this film just by shooting his show with Marvel on Twitter saying “Ok Marvel, are we going to talk or not?” with the hashtag Shang-Chi. The film follows the title character’s origins, a man who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization, AKA The Mandarin who was already eluded to in Iron Man 3. I’m choosing not to get any deeper into my own research into the film but it does have a great supporting cast with Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and the legendary Tony Leung as the villain. With an already Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m totally psyched for this one.

Cinderella – With the flash mob stunt that was pulled in Los Angeles by James Corden, this fairy tale remake is already skating on thin ice for me as, c’mon, you guys know that Corden is the friggin’ worst, right? Anyways, I really love what Kenneth Branagh did with the Disney live-action version of the story so I feel like this one is highly unnecessary and a musical as well and with the heavyweight that is also coming on blu-ray in that department, this one doesn’t have a chance. This remake stars Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel and opts to take a modern take on the traditional story you grew up with, even down to the fairy godmother who Porter plays as Fab G. Yeah, I don’t like any of it either but I’m sure this one will find an audience and become a pretty sizeable hit and we’ll all still regret that horrible PR traffic stunt.

Worth – I got really interested in this film when I saw it grace my preview bar on Netflix as it boasts it’s from the producers of Spotlight and it features Michael Keaton in the main role which gave me the utmost hope that it was going to be great. Featuring a supporting cast that has Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci and Tate Donovan, the more I read about it the deeper I got in my interest. This true story follows Keaton as attorney and renowned mediator Kenneth Feinberg that is appointed to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund by congress following the horrific 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Assigned with allocating financial resources to the victims of the tragedy, Feinberg and his firm’s head of operations face the impossible task of determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses. When Feinberg locks horns with Charles Wolf, played by Tucci, a community organizer mourning the death of his wife, his initial cynicism turns to compassion as he begins to learn the true human costs of the tragedy. This film hits me on a fifty/fifty level as a lot of the procedural stuff works but the melodrama feels overly done and takes you out of the story from time to time. The acting from Keaton, Tucci and Ryan is top-notch though and is the reason to check this out.

Mogul Mowgli – Let’s just make it all 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.

Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles – We’ve got a new Billie Eilish documentary here this week but this one is a little different than the intimate AppleTV+ released film The World’s a Little Blurry which debuted about six months ago, a must-see before you even press play on this one. This is more of a concert film that showcases tracks from her new album and has a little bit more dazzle to it than you’re regular concert, thanks to the direction of Robert Rodriguez. The multiple Grammy Award-winning and chart-topping artist debuts on Disney+ with a very cinematic experience, fresh off the heels of her brand-new album, “Happier than Ever,” which features an intimate performance of every song in the album’s sequential order, for the first and only time, from the stage of the legendary Hollywood Bowl. As a fan of hers, I loved the documentary and am digging the new album a lot but for those who are just dipping their toe into the talent of Eilish, this film clocks in at just over an hour so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James – When it comes to popular R&B and pop music in the eighties, Rick James is an artist and producer who was a bigger-than-life persona, especially in his excessiveness. Heck, it was so legendary that Dave Chappelle was able to capitalize it with the stories of CharlieMurphy’s and give a sort of renewal to the “Superfreak” icon. This feels like a documentary film that was a long time coming as it is a profile of the legendary funk/R&B superstar, capturing the peaks and valleys of his storied career to reveal a complicated and rebellious soul, driven to share his talent with the world. The film is in great hands as it comes from writer and director Sacha Jenkins who made the fantastic music docuseries Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, which is another great watch for music fans. I can’t wait to see how deep this goes and how long they focus on Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”.

Yakuza Princess – On the outside of this new action flick and comic book adaptation, it should really be an easy and stylish slam dunk. Based on the indie series Samurai Shiro, this film comes from the guy who did the crazily fascinating horror Motorrad and features singer MASUMI, 13 Assassins actor Tsuyoshi Ihara and life long bad boy and middle-aged trainwreck Jonathan Rhys Meyers and, on paper, has a damn cool storyline. The plot follows an heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate who forges an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger that believes an ancient sword binds their two fates. With his help, she reluctantly must unleash a war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead. I wish the execution on this film was as good as the setup because the movement of this story always feels a little half-baked and not thought out and none of the action scenes feel that exciting or well shot no matter how many moments of good blood and gore that we get. I was left feeling very underwhelmed by this one.

The Madness Inside Me – Mental trauma is a really universal affliction that affects all of us, whether we like to admit it or not, and the more it’s brought up in the mainstream the more it will be de-stigmatized and taken way more seriously. One action is to bring it to film and television which is a piece of this new mystery thriller that stars the immensely talented Merrin Dungey. She plays Madison Taylor, a forensic psychiatrist who spends her days interviewing prison inmates and her evenings with her husband Jeremy. When Jeremy is killed in a home invasion, her world begins to turn itself inside out. Madison’s fascination with morbid crime begins to gnaw away at her character and she becomes sleepless, her evenings spent stalking and photographing strangers. She refuses to identify her husband’s killer and instead chooses to stalk him for revenge and, finding pleasure in her thrill-seeking, dangerous life choices, she starts to put herself in compromising situations for arousal. Yes, this film gets deep into mental fractures and does it well through her performance but the low budget of this production is evident in many ways so if you don’t stay hyper-focused on the character work, you may find the tears in its seams.

Saving Paradise -Remember the oldest kid from the Disney adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia? Well, his name is William Mosely, not to be confused with The Devil’s Rejects horror villain Bill Mosely, and he is definitely not a kid anymore as this new film illustrates. This film is based on true events and has him playing a ruthless corporate raider who s forced to return to his small-town roots where he suddenly inherits his father’s nearly bankrupt pencil factory, which is the heart and soul of the depressed community. With the foreclosure deadline looming, he must decide to either let it close or join the community’s fight to save it. So, yes, if you look at this storyline, it is essentially a real-life Grinch story of a guy who needs his heart to grow a few sizes but the melodrama is the make or break aspect of this film for me. Just like with Worth, sometimes it works to serve the story and other times it pulls you right out of it although, in the latter film’s case, it works more than it doesn’t.

Blu-Ray:

In The Heights – A casualty of the pandemic, this film was supposed to premiere in the summer of 2020 and is the much anticipated new musical created by Hamilton mastermind Lin Manuel Miranda that would definitely have some new viral tracks contained within it. Now we sit almost a year later, and the film’s anticipation still exists, especially with Hamilton being a highly streamed film on Disney+ right now. Coming from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, the film centers on a variety of characters living in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after the ageing Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighbouring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi, has returned to the neighbourhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighbourhood get a dose of what it means to be home in a film that is, at this point, earning perfect scores from critics who are calling it a joyous and infectious celebration of life and culture. I will be among the naysayers when I say that I felt the movie was a little bit long and meanders here and there but the joy is pretty infectious and Miranda just knows how to make an immensely catchy song with a delicious hook and that’s what this film thrives on.

Spirit Untamed – This was one of those family animated films where I really had to rely on my eight-year-old daughter’s knowledge of the pre-existing Netflix series that proceeded it to get an idea of where it was coming from. Also, being a Dreamworks property, the film was derived from Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron which was one of the animation division’s first films. For this expanded theatrical adventure, the story follows young Lucky Prescott who, after moving to a sleepy little town to live with her father, she befriends a wild mustang named Spirit that shares her rebellious spirit. When a heartless wrangler plans to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that forever changed her life. The story is light and fluffy, great for all the little kids and the animation is gorgeous but I was surprised with some of the star power in the voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Andre Braugher and Walton Goggins. With only another weekend and a couple of days to keep the kids occupied before going back to school, this may be a perfect way to have them zone out in front of the television for a bit.

12 Mighty Orphans – Getting some of that era-specific sports dramas in this week with this new football film that has an interesting true story behind it but the execution is a little off to me. The film comes from Texan filmmaker Ty Roberts who always has a lot of pride in shooting his homegrown films in his state but this is his first true-to-the-story movie in this adaptation of Jim Dent’s novel of the same name. The film has Luke Wilson as a devoted high school football coach haunted by his mysterious past who leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a nation absolutely devoid of any hope. Wilson is very solid in his leading role and plays well with veteran actor Martin Sheen who also produced this film but their calibre makes everyone else look like they’re struggling to keep up with that kind of gravitas and it is very noticeable. On top of that, I feel like this inspirational sports story of underdogs and ne’er-do-wells rising to the top has been done before and this one doesn’t stand out by any means.

Beasts Of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga made an incredible film six years ago with his Netflix-produced feature that is jaw-droppingly astounding in its vision, execution, cinematography and performances. It even got caught up in critical acclaim and the award season, earning it award nominations everywhere except the Oscars because it was in a weird time that Netflix released films that were still looked down on and didn’t earn that respect for the Academy. The story follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in a fictional West African country. Fearing his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination. This movie is a damn masterpiece and now has the esteemed honour of being added to the Criterion Collection, the top echelon of film. With incredible special features and in-depth interviews and commentaries, this is the ultimate film lovers brick of gold, trust me.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle Of The Realms – It’s a hot year for Mortal Kombat because after years of teasing it Warner Bros. finally gave us the R-rated film that we fans deserve and, yes, it was a bit cheesy in parts but with a limited story like this, what did you expect? Now, we get a little addition on the animated side, one to follow up the killer Scorpion prequel we got not too long ago. Featuring the voices of Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter and Community’s Joel McHale, the story picks up right after Scorpion’s Revenge where the heroes are attacked by Shao Kahn, which will force “Raiden and his group of warriors into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms.” This forces the good guys to travel to Outworld to defend Earthrealm while Scorpion journeys to find the Kamidogu (a mystic relic made by the almighty Elder Gods) before it is used to bring back the mysterious One Being, who would destroy the universe. If you’re a fan of the video game, this series or just animation in general, you will definitely dig what Warner is doing making their own little animated universe of this intellectual property.

The Brotherhood Of Satan – Arrow Video has a couple of notable collector’s editions coming out this week and one of them, to me, is an absolute monster but let us get this one into your eyeballs first. This one will make none horror fans roll their eyes big time but for a guy like me that feels he is discovering pre-1975 genre films almost weekly, this is a fun one. Starring Slapshot’s Strother Martin and Casino’s L.Q Jones, this story follows a widower who is taking his young daughter and new girlfriend to visit a relative when they find a grizzly car accident by the highway. They report the incident to the sheriff in nearby Hillsboro, New Mexico and discover the town in the grips of a deadly fear because in the past 72 hours, 26 people have died, and 11 children have gone missing. As Ben investigates, a local priest (Charles Robinson) informs him that a Satan-worshipping cult is to blame and soon all hell starts to break loose. This film is a cult film and in more than just including a cult-like presence in the movie but a film that is enjoyed and appreciated way more than at the time of release because I will say that it was definitely not well regarded in the release year of 1971.

Dune 4K – Arrow digs up some more unappreciated gold from the past as they have given new 4K life to David Lynch’s attempt at making a Frank Herbert epic that gets the remake treatment this year from Denis Villeneuve. If you’ve seen the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune then you know the strife that has gone into making Dune and through this release, you can see the trouble that Lynch went through to get even a sliver of his vision. For those who don’t know, Dune is loosely about a Duke’s son who leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s evil nemesis to free their desert world from the emperor’s rule in the vaguest of description. The film had an incredible cast including Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart and so many more and still holds a dear place in my heart but really just for the extended version. Also, the 4K beef-up looks so incredible too.

Bugsy Malone – I have to say that when I saw it in my parcel of movies I definitely laughed my ass off and not because of a young Jodie Foster on the cover but for the guy who plays the title character in it, Scott Baio. Now, living in the times of 2021, Baio’s name has a different connotation besides being Charles In Charge or Chachi because now he is a batshit crazy Trumper who is a bigger joke than he was but I shouldn’t let that affect how I feel about this one. Made in 1976, this was a weird studio experiment that had, essentially, kids playing adult roles as notorious gangsters. Instead of real guns and ammo, they use “splurge guns” that cover the victim in whipped cream in the story of the rise of Bugsy Malone and the battle for power between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. Did I mention that it is also a musical? Yes, the deeper you go on this the weirder it gets but it is still pretty oddly intriguing, right?

NCIS New Orleans: The Complete Series – The television year on DVD isn’t quite over until I’ve received every iteration of NCIS and its spinoffs and now with the arrival of this complete series of the southern fried Louisiana version, well, we can close on this chapter of it forever, although I hear a NCIS Hawaii is coming. This one starring Scott Bakula in the lead as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who heads his crew in a colourful city that harbours a dark side and is a magnet for service personnel on leave who often delve into vices that land them in a series of different troubles. The show is your standard fare for these procedurals in the military vein, just factoring in a cajun flavour for the locale, but the charm of Bakula himself, the friendly face of classics like Quantum Leap and Star Trek Enterprise may draw you to it. I like the cast formed around him like stalwart veteran CCH Pounder and current Fast family star Lucas Black. I find it interesting that the second spin-off of the original series finished its run first of all the NCIS shows.

Blue Bloods: Season 11 – I have another traditional procedural this week for those who love them, as I now move onto more primetime crime dramas with this Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg-led show that has well over two hundred episodes now. Basically, for those uninitiated into this police show, this is like the Charles Bronson series of made for television movies A Family Of Cops but told much better as we have Tom Selleck as the patriarch of the family and also the commissioner of police, his sons Wahlberg and Will Estes as a detective and police sergeant respectively. The cast rounds out with Bridget Moynahan as the sister, an assistant DA, and the great Len Cariou as the grandpa, a former commissioner himself and the show is actually very solid and its long tenure is indicative of that. I know that when I post on social media that I have it, fans come out of the woodwork to like it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:

The Great – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and The Favourite writer Tony McNamara combine for this new series that is filled from top to bottom with great character work, beautiful set pieces and a brilliantly dark humour that will absolutely tickle you if you liked McNamara’s Yorgos Lanthimos film as much as I did. The show follows a royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century who is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia when she marries an Emperor. I love that this series takes the stuffiness out of the usual period piece and allows each character to breathe with dialogue that feels quick and totally sardonic. With a second season on the horizon, this may be a dark horse here in Canada as it originally aired on Hulu.

One Crazy Summer – As a huge Bobcat Goldthwait fan, I was over the moon to get this Warner Archive release in the main as I was a huge fan of it when I was a kid and rented it multiple times on VHS and anytime I notice it on television, I really have to watch it all the way through. That is why I was overly ecstatic when I received this new edition in the parcel of Warner Archive titles from this month as I now have it on a high definition in my collection. For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing this one, the film is led by John Cusack and Demi Moore and follows art school hopeful Hoops McCann who struggles to complete his application to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduating from high school. Resigning himself to a summer of boredom, he agrees to go along with his best friend on a family trip to Nantucket but after McCann and his buddy meet rocker-in-distress, Cassandra, boredom takes a back seat. This is some eighties Brat Pack gold here that comes from writer and director Savage Steve Holland who had such a great one-two punch with this and the film before it, Better Off Dead. Classic stuff.

Rock Dog 2: Rock Around The Park – This one is predominantly just for the kids as we head into the final weekend before school starts and you need to park them in front of the television to maintain a grip on your sanity. What better way to do that than with a dog rocking a Stratocaster, I guess. This is a sequel to a Luke Wilson movie no one really cared about, granted, but it follows the main man Bodi who decides to take his newly formed band True Blue out of the comfort zone of his home, Snow Mountain, and takes them on a whirlwind world tour to show off their music but, of course, fame comes with a price. The movie loses all of its actor credit as no one came back to reprise their roles for this but it does have some voice-over royalty as My Little Pony’s Ashleigh Ball lends her very studious and capable talents to this sequel. It is what it is at the end of the day.

Television:

Only Murders In The Building (Disney+) -* Steve Martin and Martin Short are returning in a big way with this brand new series debuting on Disney+ through the Star side of things and it’s something that the legendarily funny actor came up with showrunner and former Grace And Frankie writer John Hoffman. The series is also produced by the stars, along with the third in their trio, Selena Gomez, and I will say that I’m just in the beginning but I already adore it. The story follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, the endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living among them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before they possibly become victims themselves.

What We Do in the Shadows: Season 3 (FX) – Following up a phenomenal second season that capitalized on a great season one and brought in some great new characters and visits from old ones, it really delivered on all levels and we have been not so patiently waiting for the return of our favourite vampire roommates. Created by the star of the original film, Jemaine Clement, this show follows a different cast than people who have only seen the movie are used to, led by the brilliant Kayvon Novak and one of my favourite current British comedic actors Matt Berry. The story simply follows three vampires and their night lives living on Staten Island, their home for a century in, by far, one of the most clever new comedies on television and their return is so welcome at this depressing end of the summer season that has us all feeling that step into autumn ennui.

Turning Point: 9/11 And The War On Terror (Netflix) – Time to get your tinfoil hat on, maybe, and turn your clocks back twenty years and get back into the mindset you were when you saw the planes hit the World Trade Center the first time. Netflix has been killing it in the documentary series department for a long time now so honestly, I’m really intrigued to see how this one will play and with what angle. The series claims to be a cohesive chronicle of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., offering illuminating perspectives and personal stories of how the catastrophic events of that day changed the course of the nation. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the country’s breathtaking collapse back into the hands of the Taliban just weeks before the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, the show pushes on the real fact that history continues to be made and will continue as nothing has been learned or gained for this horrifying moment in time.

Q-Force (Netflix) – In a mix of Archer meets Space Force meets a kind of depressing gay stereotype, Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes leads this new animated series that comes from Parks And Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place master creator Michael Schur and I think that’s what bums me out the most. Featuring the voices of Gary Cole, David Harbour and Shrill’s hilarious Patti Harrison, I might have placed the bar way too high seeing the voice and creators involved and ruined the experience for myself. I digress though, as the series is about a group of undervalued LGBTQ superspies, and is centred on a gay secret agent who is like James Bond, Steve Marywhether (also known as Agent Mary), as they try to prove themselves on personal and professional adventures. One day, Mary decides to prove himself to the American Intelligence Agency (AIA), solve a case, and get the approval of the agency, but they have to add a new member to their team, a straight guy, which proves to throw off the progress they have going. Easy jokes and lazy writing totally bungled up the pilot for me and I had to muster enough energy to get through the second episode which was only a slight improvement. Maybe it gets better but this one is a miss for me.

Reservation Dogs (Disney+) – Taika Waititi is largely known as the guy who rejuvenated the Thor series for Marvel and directed himself as an imaginary Hitler in Jojo Rabbit but those of us who love New Zealand’s filmmaking know the incredible mark he has made on us through his independent films and with him producing this new series, not from his home country but centred in the Southern United States, it is for this reason that I am fully on board. The series is about four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma who try to steal, rob, and save everything they can to get to the exotic, mysterious, and faraway land of California. Not featuring any notable stars or locals you will be used to, the seemingly aimless nature of this series is so endearing and the script is so whip-smart that I really feel that the show has a broader appeal than what you just see on paper. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on some top ten lists at the end of the year as the reviews are big for it.

New Releases:

Candyman – For horror fans, we were pretty much robbed of getting the renewal of the Candyman franchise last year due to the pandemic and the buzz around the film made the sting even more intense as it was produced by Jordan Peele and it comes from director Nia Decosta who booked a Marvel gig out of the deal with her now helming Captain Marvel 2 as we speak. That said, there are huge shoes to fill with this movie and the fact that Tony Todd doesn’t reprise his role in any shape or form is an immediate mark against it. This film is set in the present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, following Anthony and his partner who move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman and anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh ideas for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence. I really love the trailers for this film which seems to build on the original lore as an almost spiritual sequel while taking the story on in a new and modern way. This one could be really great.

Vacation Friends – John Cena has to be the busiest dude around right now because just at the beginning of this month he starred in The Suicide Squad as Peacemaker who has his own spin-off series that premieres in January next year, he was just challenging for the WWE Universal Title at Summerslam this past weekend and now he has this new comedy on Disney+. Just as busy is the hilarious Lil Rey Howery who many know as the buddy in Get Out but he just starred in the really great Ryan Reynolds movie Free Guy. Now he takes the lead in this raw and raunchy comedy, playing Marcus, a straight-laced dude on vacation with his wife Emily who is befriended by wild, thrill-seeking partiers Ron and Kyla at a resort in Mexico. Living in the moment, the usually level-headed couple lets loose to enjoy a week of uninhibited fun and debauchery with their new “vacation friends” but, months after their walk on the wild side, Marcus and Emily are horrified when Ron and Kyla show up uninvited at their wedding to create more chaos. This is a brainless comedy but I have to admit, this is where Cena is at his best. Funny is his wheelhouse it seems.

Flag Day – Sean Penn returns to the director’s chair for the first time on a feature film since 2016’s The Last Face which was not well received. I’m really hoping that he gets back to the form he was in for Into The Wild and this one is really interesting because it features his daughter Dylan as well who co-stars alongside him in pretty much the main roles. The film has the senior Penn as a father living a double life as a counterfeiter, bank robber and con man to provide for his daughter who struggles to rise above the wreckage of her past while reconciling the inescapable bond between her and her father. Unfortunately, as good as the performances are in the film, Penn keeps falling into the trappings that dogged his last one and that is just plain bad melodrama trying to adhere these talents into something cohesive. I’m still waiting for Penn’s directorial renaissance it seems.

American Sausage Standoff – This is such a weird movie and it isn’t just the crazy title but the Scandanavian lens through which it was shot. To be honest, my draw to this movie was that Antony Starr is the main character in this and I have been absolutely riveted by his performance as Homelander in The Boys. The film is a character-driven comedy about sausages and friendship, set in small-town America, about two hopeless dreamers who join forces in a quest to erect the ultimate German sausage restaurant. Deeper than that, it is also a social satire about the nexus of identity fear, where religion becomes an intellectual cul-de-sac, and racism, homophobia and intolerance reign supreme. The film co-stars Trainspotting star Ewen Bremner and Deadwood’s W. Earl Brown and would have won me over with its quirks but actor turned director Ulrich Thomsen gets a little carried away with his stylings and it never feels like we are in small-town America for a moment, just an exaggerating of it which takes the bite out of any message contained in it. That said, Starr is so great in this movie.

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed – Whenever you think of instructional artist Bob Ross the sayings “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”, “There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend.” and “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than being able to express yourself to others through painting” come to mind but behaving the “Joy Of Painting” apparently there was something a little darker. This new Netflix documentary looks to dig in behind the Bob you knew and flush out something a little different but is it something to be skeptical about as well? The Bob Ross we knew encouraged everyone he met to embrace their creativity and believe in themselves with a keen appreciation for nature, and a kind and gentle demeanour but a battle for his business empire cast a shadow over his happy trees and that is the basis of this film. The film comes from director Joshua Rofé who helmed the Lorena Bobbitt docuseries so he has a penchant for turning out interesting character stories already so I have good hopes for this one.

He’s All That – Who thought it was a good idea to remake this nineties classic but do a gender swap in the process? Doesn’t that defeat the original idea? Anyways, Netflix and Mean Girls director Mark Waters has decided to do the unthinkable and at least Rachel Leigh Cook and Matthew Lillard return to make it legit because, honestly, they’re the only reason I’m watching it. In a modern re-imagining, the story follows teen social media influencer Padgett who’s humiliating on-camera breakup goes viral, leading her to make a risky bet to save her reputation, turning scruffy antisocial Cameron into prom king material. Of course, things get complicated when she finds herself falling for him in real life in the most predictable of turns. Is there any hope for this? Probably not and the fact that it’s being led by Tik Tok star Addison Rae gives me no faith in it whatsoever.

Till Death – Megan Fox, again? Yes, two movies in one month on this blog but the good news is that this movie is pretty damn great and I’m not exaggerating. I think it might also be that this is a horror thriller, something I love, and Fox has experienced some audience success in this genre, thinking back to the Diablo Cody film Jennifer’s Body. The story to this one is pretty simple, a woman is left handcuffed to her dead husband as part of a sick revenge plot and, unable to unshackle, she has to survive as two killers arrive to finish her off. Easy peasy. Amazingly the character development and progression are fascinating in this and it is even good enough for you to overlook some of the story and logic gaffs that happen along the way. I know this sounds slightly insane but I hope people give this Megan Fox movie a chance. Again, weird but true.

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf – To hold you off until the new season arrives before the end of the year, the creators of The Witcher have given us a little animated prequel to snack on and when the credits hit at the end I think you’ll be pretty satisfied. I had just finished the first season myself when this landed on my Netflix preview bar and, again, very heady with its lore and back story, this may be the origin story that fans are looking for. Featuring the voices of Theo James and Mary McDonnell, this follows Vesemir, once a beaten and downtrodden orphan servant who becomes a witcher, slaying monsters for coin and glory until a new menace arises, forcing him to confront the demons from his past he was running from. The animation is slick, on par for those who love the DC animated movies, and the action is awesome and just as gory and violent as the series is. At only an hour and twenty-three minutes, it breezes by quickly but it is a lot of fun in the process.

Mosquito State – Shudder has been releasing great content every Thursday on the best streaming platform for horror fans out there and the trend continues with this solid little chiller. This film is interesting from the get-go as it comes from Polish writer and director Filip Jan Rymsza who produced the restoration of the unreleased Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind as well as directed the tripped-out fever dream Dustclouds so the anticipation is real. The film is set in 2007 and stars Beau Knapp as obsessive Wall Street data analyst Richard Boca who, in his austere penthouse overlooking Central Park, starts to see ominous patterns as he further isolates himself from the outside world. His computer models are behaving erratically and swarms of mosquitos start to appear and are breeding in his apartment, becoming an infestation that fuels his psychological meltdown. This film has everything going for it but seems to hit that feverish paranoid pitch too early like it crescendoed way too fast. That said, Knapp is still really good in a film that very much feels like an actor’s experiment.

The Hidden Life Of Trees – Two big documentaries hit theatres this week and it starts with this film, a German-made film that delves into some deeply existential themes that move along with the awe of nature. Seems heady, doesn’t it? The film is a meditation of author Peter Wohlleben’s book of the same name, a best-seller around the world. Through this medium, Wohlleben is able to give his thoughts on life, death, the regeneration of trees and his experience that formed the notion that trees can communicate with each other. It sounds kind of crazy on paper but the final execution, through filmmakers Jörg Adolph and Jan Haft, who did the nature shoots for the film, the message never feels muddled and I think you come out the other side richer for it. I really love thinking person’s documentaries like this, they seem to enrich the soul and the mind.

The Lost Leonardo – The second documentary of the week gives a more focused approach to its subject matter and delves into both the mystery of a stolen masterpiece but also the processes of art sales and the passing down through generations and how the would kind of gets muddied in the transactions. The film was written and directed by Andreas Koefoed who isn’t a stranger to documentary filmmaking by any means but is a new one to me and this film is so well executed that I’m definitely going to have to dig up his establishing work. The film is the inside story behind Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold at $450 million. From the moment the painting is bought for $1175 at a shady New Orleans auction house, and the restorer discovers masterful Renaissance brushstrokes under the heavy varnish of its cheap restoration, the Salvator Mundi’s fate is determined by an insatiable quest for fame, money and power and s its price soars, so do the questions about its authenticity. Unravelling the hidden agendas of the richest men and the most powerful art institutions in the world, Koefoed masterfully reveals how vested interests in the Salvator Mundi are of such tremendous power that truth becomes secondary in a film that intrigued me far more than any piece of Dan Brown fiction and any Da Vinci Code movie could. Well worth checking out.

Black Conflux – We get some Canadian content this week with a film that has been getting so much great buzz on the festival circuit and it all has to be from the twist on conventional psychological thrillers it gives. A little in-joke for Canadians, the film is also set in 1980s Newfoundland meaning that it is a straight-up Newfie movie so get your jokes ready now. The film is a dreamy account of two converging lives, fifteen-year-old Jackie, who is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood, and Dennis, a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call. It opens with Jackie auditioning for her school choir with a gorgeous rendition of “Hey, Who Really Cares?” by little-known 1970s psychedelic folk singer Linda Perhacs, in a symbolic opening for a promising young woman from a broken home. Raised by her aunt and living under the cloud of all the failures endured by the women in her family, Jackie finds herself giving in to internal and external pressures like partying, skipping school, and hitchhiking in search of her own identity. Her choices leave her speeding inevitably towards Dennis, whose car doubles as a venue for his violent desires. The film is a fantastic debut from filmmaker Nicole Dorsey with a completely unpredictable script and I can’t wait for her next film which looks to be heading into production soon according to IMDB.

They Who Surround Us – A European independent film shot in the Albertan wilderness telling an immigrant’s story. This is a fascinating and deeply human story that involves grief, adjustment to a new land and new people and the raw scabs of a traumatic past and writer and director Troy Ruptash puts it together quite well. The story follows a Ukrainian farmer living in Alberta who loses his wife in a tragic accident and the cascades of guilt and grief afterwards send him into an emotional spiral where mysterious and inexplicable events force him to relive traumatic incidents from his childhood in Ukraine. The film features lots of Canadian actors and actresses that may be recognizable from different locally shot films and television series but this film feels bigger in its emotional scope than any one actor. Not a lot of people will pick up on this one but I will say that Ruptash puts it together in a way the is meant to resonate deeply.

Blu-Ray:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – Director James Wan has sat on top of the horror game for closing in on twenty years now, starting with his surprise hit Saw that grew into a massive franchise and now with his Conjuring universe which all kicked off almost a decade ago and brought an old school feel with the all-new scares. After doing the sequel, another trip in a based on a true story horror, he steps back into the producer role for this new installment in the originator series, with The Curse of la Llorona director Michael Chaves taking the reins in this adaptation of one of the most sensational cases from the files of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. A chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil, it starts with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then takes the ghost experts beyond anything they’d ever seen before, to mark the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defence. The aspect I love about these movies is the fully immersive nature that they bring through sound design and simple visuals and it looks like this third piece of the Warren puzzle brings that style and more. This all said, the film does lack in the style that Wan brings to his particular productions but you have to step away and relinquish the control at some point I guess.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – When the first film adaptation of this rolled out of the Sony lineup, I was totally trepidatious but, in the end, my daughter and I both got a solid kick out of this and even adored the human element, being the great tandem of Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne, which makes up for Peter himself being voiced by the often insufferable James Corden. Well, after a lengthy pause in release dates due to the pandemic, Peter is up for another adventure and this one gets into the bunny lineage, really. The film picks up a bit after the first with Bea, Thomas, and the rabbits having created a makeshift family, but despite his best efforts, Peter can’t seem to shake his mischievous reputation. Adventuring out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where his mischief is appreciated, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, Peter must figure out what kind of bunny he wants to be. The great news for adults, beyond being an entertaining and, at times, a silly movie for the kids, is that it works and is enjoyable for adults, is pretty well written, and has a great sense of self-awareness. I’m not saying it’s Paddington levels of great but it still earns your time watching it.

How It Ends – Zoe Lister-Jones has had an interesting career as a filmmaker as the Life In Pieces star releases her third feature and the follow-up to her reboot of a beloved nineties favourite that didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, The Craft: Legacy. The bite of this new comedy looks to me like a total redeemer as it follows a woman named Liza, played by Lister-Jones, who scores an invite to one last wild party before the world ends but making it there won’t be easy after her car is stolen and the clock is ticking on her plan to tie up loose ends with friends and family. Accompanied by her younger self, she embarks on a hilarious journey across Los Angeles, running into an eclectic cast of characters played by a great cast including Helen Hunt, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Lamorne Morris and Nick Kroll. The film is co-directed by Lola Versus filmmaker Daryl Wein and almost has a vignette or skit sort of delivery to it, like a Jarmusch film but I kind of have a thing for the end of the world comedies so I’m on board.

Lansky – Harvey Keitel returning to a leading role for some good character work is a happy thing for any Bad Lietenenant fans out there or, more recently, those who enjoyed Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth with Michael Caine. This also is a double-edged sword as it is a proving ground for new writer and director Eytan Rockaway but at least he has the rock-solid resume of Keitel to rely on. Keitel is the title character, the ageing Meyer Lansky, a man who is is investigated one last time by the Feds who suspect he has stashed away millions of dollars over half a century. Hoping to either throw people off the path or to prove his untouchable nature, the retired gangster spins a dizzying tale, revealing the untold truth about his life as the notorious boss of Murder Inc. and the National Crime Syndicate. Playing the interrogator, Sam Worthington proves to be a good foil to Keitel’s character but the final result leaves a lot to be desired but the skeleton of a good film exists and Rockaway’s start does show promise even if it doesn’t follow through.

Habit – When the preview scene for this new film popped up on Bella Thorne’s Instagram featuring a scene between her and Bush singer Gavin Rossdale, I’m sure we all thought the same thing, “that looks terrible”. The good news is that we are all right and the bad news is that I had to watch it. This film tries so hard to be edgy Tarantino, following an L.A. party girl who gets a gig running drugs for a washed-up Hollywood star. When their cash gets stolen and her boss is popped by a rival drug lord, she and her two friends hideout by dressing up as nuns, which is probably the worst disguise for industrious girls like this. This movie is rough. Underwritten, half baked and more of an excuse for Thorne and her crew to prance around and be raunchy, this made me think of Bell’s claim that she makes so many films a year. Yes, you do, but what is the ratio of good to bad on that list?

The Fatal Raid – Thanks to the people at Well Go USA, I’ve got some martial arts action but don’t be thrown off by the title, it sadly has nothing to do with the Gareth Evans made The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berendal. Digging into that Hong Kong action style, this film comes from writer and director Jacky Lee who is new to making films in this genre but he honestly makes it work for the most part. The story starts with two elite police teams who undertake a secret operation tracking a dangerous gang across the border into Macau which ends in a deadly firefight. Twenty years later, an escort mission brings the survivors back to the scene and reignites a bloodbath of a battle between the two sides. Any fan of Asian cinema and violent actioners is going to latch onto this movie right away because if you love long gunfights and little exposition, character development and the thin netting of a plot then this movie is for you.

The Cat O’Nine Tails 4K – It feels like just a couple of weeks ago I was celebrating the 4K release of Dario Argento’s debut film and now I get to talk about the follow-up to that which now also gets a high definition release. This is an interesting film in the Argento oeuvre as well because it’s a film that the filmmaker really dislikes so it’s interesting that it was chosen. The film is that awesome iconically stylized Giallo mystery noir about a newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist who try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company’s experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, both become targets of the killer. I find it interesting that Argento hates this one because it is an improved production over his debut. Although it gets pretty convoluted at times, the story is fascinating. I also enjoy Karl Malden’s work in this, a veteran American doing some Italian horror with the same gravitas he always brought.

Blind Beast – Keeping on the same classic international film tangent for another couple of films, this is a 1969 horror film out of Japan that is getting the Arrow collector’s edition treatment this week and, in the cult film circles, this is a deep favourite. It comes from director Yasuzô Masumura who was known as a maverick director whose main legacy was films portraying and promoting individualism, which was the opposite of the norm in Japanese society. I previously brought his work with the film Irezemi and like that one, this one goes the racy route following a blind sculptor who kidnaps a beautiful young model and takes her back to his home, a warehouse that he and his mother live in and has turned into a surreal tribute to the senses. It is filled with huge sculptures of body parts and the female form, a deadly obsession that has snuffed out many a life and will take this model too if she doesn’t have the fortitude to survive. As a newbie to classic Japanese cinema, this is definitely something that feels like an anomaly and not something that was accepted by the societal majority.

Ashes + Diamonds – We’ll finish up the new collector’s editions in the international field with this Polish-made film from the late fifties made by the acclaimed writer and director Andrzej Wajda and through the lens of another impeccably put together Criterion Collection release. This film was influenced by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and in turn, influenced many others like Martin Scorcese who lists this as one of his favourite films and showed it to Leonardo Dicaprio on the set of The Departed. The story follows the Polish resistance and the Russian forces who turn on each other in an attempt to take over leadership in Communist Poland as World War II and the German occupation ends. This movie was far ahead of its time with mind-blowingly intricate cinematography that would astound burgeoning filmmakers for generations. Now, on an immaculate-looking high def blu-ray, it is just as incredible and will hopefully reach up to a whole new audience.

Prince Of The City – This is a far-off film that many have forgotten about but when Warner Archive announced that it was a new addition to their library, I was really excited to land it in my collection. I don’t know why it isn’t talked about as much because it was so well received and came from the master filmmaker Sidney Lumet but I feel a renaissance is in order. The film stars Treat Williams who plays an NYPD officer who is involved in some questionable police practices and tries to make a deal with internal affairs. In exchange for him potentially being let off he’s instructed to begin looking at the inner workings of police corruption, which he agrees to, as long as he doesn’t have to turn on his partners. Soon he learns he cannot trust anyone and must decide whose side he’s on and who’s on his. This movie is so badass and you can see its influence on other filmmakers throughout, even something as recent as Todd Phillip’s Joker film has pulled from this one. Very cool and definitely a must-see.

NCIS Los Angeles: Season 12 – Well, It looks like it’s that time of the year again when all the previous seasons of television hit DVD and I get all of the naval crime shows that are still miraculously going, like this Chris O’Donnell, and LL Cool J led spin-off and this is just the beginning of the yearly install of NCIS shows in my home release reviews. They play key agents in the Office of Special Projects branch of the organization which puts them undercover to crack cases, utilizing their backgrounds as street kids. I’m fully aware of the dime a dozen nature of crime procedurals but I will admit something about this particular one and that is that I kind of like it and, really, at the end of the day it needs to be somewhat good to make it far past the initial double digits and now into season thirteen, right? Holy crap, that’s a lot of episodes.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Hydra – I’m kicking off a series of very different geek-outs this week with an action flick from Well Go USA to pair up with The Final Raid which I plugged above but this one comes from the Japanese side of the Asian cinema and is the directorial debut of Kensuke Sonomura who is mostly known for stunts. Why should this be significant? Well, former stunt players like Chad Stahelski and David Leitch usually make for incredible action filmmakers as the John Wick series is evidence of. The story is pretty simple, set at a small bar in the middle of Tokyo called Hydra and following Takeshi, a standoffish guy working there who has to hide his other identity of a highly skilled hitman that’s past is catching up with him and he now has to face a brutal killing game that he has been pointed as a target. This movie, although low budget, really packs a wallop that I wasn’t expecting in its action sequences. More than that, there is a care and a method delivered with the character development, giving us some stake in what happens to them, which is rare in this genre. This film was an utter surprise for me.

Nashville – One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Robert Altman, gets the blu-ray treatment with one of his classic films and, really, this one is just about the treatment of the film itself because, to be completely honest, the better edition is the Criterion Collection with an abundance of special features. This film had Altman weighing in on both the country music scene at the time as well as the political upheaval of the mid-seventies featuring two great actors of the time, Keith Carradine and Karen Black. The film tells the intersecting stories of various people connected to the music business in Nashville with Barbara Jean, the reigning queen of Nashville nearing a total collapse, Linnea and Delbert Reese and their shaky marriage and two deaf children, Opal, a British journalist touring the area as a stranger in a strange land. This is really one of Altman’s underrated masterpieces that was celebrated at its time and was quickly shuffled away as more of his other, more prestigious and Hollywood’s centric productions were released. I really think that as a film fan, this movie is a must-see and that comes from a guy who hates country music. Yeah, I said it.

The Herculoids: The Complete Original Series – I got to add to my growing classic cartoon library this week with an old show that I really hadn’t heard of and now even seeing the case I definitely never saw it as a kid. It originally aired in the late sixties and was later resurrected in the early eighties as part of the Space Stars but this set just contains those first nineteen episodes. A Hanna Barbera production, the show follows King Zandor and a group of bizarre creatures as they protect their futuristic kingdom from creatures from other galaxies. This is definitely a product of its time and the King’s bowl cut hairstyle is really funny but the legacy that it leaves and the influence it had on other cartoons and their creators is definitely evident.

Television:

Clickbait (Netflix) – Adrian Grenier is returning to series form but he isn’t Vincent Chase anymore and this is definitely far from an Entourage style story. This thriller series comes from a couple of creators with some substance as Tony Ayres was a co-creator on the newer Netflix series Stateless, which I feel like got pushed to the side quite quickly even though it was great, and Christian White ho wrote the phenomenal New Zealand horror film, Relic plus it has Zoe Kazan who I adore. The show is an unravelling mystery racing against time that follows a family man who is abducted in a crime with a sinister online twist forcing those closest to him to scramble to uncover who is behind it and why. I’m just a few episodes in and the series is so intriguing to me but I’m getting a little worried that it’s getting a bit convoluted and a wrap-up would have to be huge. I hope it pays off.

See: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Jason Momoa returns to lead the new season of this Campbell River shot sci-fi series set in a dystopian future about the human race, years into the future, which has lost the sense of sight and society has had to find new ways to navigate the world and survive as a society. Of course, when a set of twins are born with the ability to see everyone’s world is blown wide open, setting off new wars, new alliances and this season brings the big bad of Momoa’s character’s brother, played by the great Dave Bautista. This show obviously features a lot of local talent, like my friend Josh Blacker, but beyond those reasons to get on board, the show is actually pretty damn great and had me engaged entirely from episode to episode. The appeal to me for story elements is that the show makes use of the freeform of Apple’s platform and is gory as hell. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think it is a hit with me and the ceiling of possibility is so huge.

The Other Two: Season 2 (Crave) – I always feel like I’ve always had a finger on the pulse of what is available of HBO or the new little brother or sister streaming service HBO Max but then a show like this comes along and presents it’s season two and I find myself scrambling to catch up with the first season. I feel like such a dolt for not knowing about this one too because it feature one of my favourite Saturday Night Live players ever, Molly Shannon, and was written by College Humor alumni Sarah Schneider. The show follows an aspiring actor and his sister, a former professional dancer, who try to find their place in the world while wrestling with their feelings about their thirteen-year-old brother Chase’s sudden rise to internet fame. The harder they work on themselves, the more their insecurities and jealousy strike down any progress they make in a show that I’m kicking myself for not knowing about, it’s that good.

Chapelwaite (Crave) – You know if Stephen King’s name is attached to something, I’m going to pick up on it and bring it to this blog, it’s just what I do. I find this one really interesting as it was developed from a short story that the master of horror did for Night Shift called Jerusalem’s Lot and, while it is in the Salem’s Lot novel, it’s a little different than that. The show stars Adrian Brody as Captain Charles Boone, who relocates his family to his ancestral home in Preacher’s Corners’ small, sleepy town in the 1850s. Once there, the secrets of his family start to come to light and he must find a way to confront that darkness and to put it away for good. The great thing about this series is that it was made on the EPIX network and the ceiling is limitless for gore and atmosphere as they don’t have to bend to the basic network constraints so this may be just as awesome as Castle Rock or Mr. Mercedes was. I’m definitely on board for this one.

American Horror Stories (Disney+) – The shift has finally happened after multiple seasons and genre iterations of this Ryan Murphy-created series and I feel like they’ve opened it up to have some endless opportunities for different little short films. I also really like that they’ve opened up the casting a bit more and we have some different stars than the usual Sarah Paulson, Lady Gaga or Evan Peters casting, though I really enjoy them, opening the door for Paris Jackson, Matt Bomer and Merrin Dungey among others. The weekly anthology series features a different horror story in each episode and some of them, it seems, even tie back into the seasons that Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have already made, like the murder house of season one. I was a little burnt out on this series but this new avenue may get it back on track.

New Releases:

Reminiscence – This is another one of those delayed films due to the pandemic but definitely a push back on not getting sued as the film comes from Westworld series creators Lisa Joy and her husband Jonathan Nolan who’s brother Christopher has left the Warner Bros. family over the release of his film Tenet and the streaming schedule. Just judging by the trailer, this movie looks like it commands a big-screen viewing and has a Tenet or Inception look to it as well. The film is a future-set sci-fi that follows a private investigator of a different sort that navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client that quickly moves from being a simple lost and found job to a life-altering obsession. The cast is so great in this with Hugh Jackman leading and Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton in supporting roles. I’m excited for this one.

Paw Patrol The Movie – Every nightmare for the parents of the last eight years has finally come true as the gang from the Paw Patrol have now landed themselves in a big-screen film that will have their faithful fan base tugging at their moms and dads begging to see it. Yes, that’s right, Ryder and his team-up pups have been upgraded and become more textured with their feature film debut and, although it has a few jokes that may land with adults, it’s very much business as usual. The story follows the gang as they move to Adventure City to keep tabs on the sleazy Mayor Humdinger who has gained leadership over the big city in an uncontested election. The movie features some guest voice work from Kim Kardashian West, Dax Shepherd, Randall Park and Jimmy Kimmel and, thankfully, doesn’t overstay its welcome to the point that you want to be euthanized. Honestly, I expected a lot worse.

The Night House – Well, it looks like David Bruckner has joined the chat for horror stories infused with real emotion and emotional trauma, joining the ranks of filmmakers like Ari Aster because this new film lands with such resonance that it is completely undeniable. The director of The Ritual and a couple of stories in the horror anthologies Southbound and V/H/S also uses character actress Rebecca Hall so effectively that it will make you mad they killed her off in Iron Man 3 all over again. The film follows her as a recently widowed woman, still reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, who is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together but then nightmares come, disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into her husband’s belongings, yearning for answers and what she finds are secrets both strange and disturbing, a mystery she’s determined to unravel for her own peace of mind. This film’s scares are so original and unpredictable, chilling you to the bone in a way that feels incredibly fresh. I’m really jealous of anyone who gets to experience this movie in theatres because atmospherically it is in an elite category in my opinion.

The Protege – When I initially saw this trailer on the big screen before F9 I have to admit that it really did nothing for me at all. You can tell me it’s from the producers of John Wick and use a cool version of Amy Winehouse’s You Know That I’m No Good but you can’t take the generic dime a dozen contract killer action trope out of it, I feel like I’ve seen it all before. The film has a pretty solid cast with Maggie Q, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson follows Anna who was rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody, played by Jackson, and trained in the family business to become the world’s most skilled contract killer. When Moody is brutally killed, Anna vows revenge and is entangled with an enigmatic killer (Keaton with all his greatest nuances) whose attraction to her goes way beyond cat and mouse. This movie quite easily annoyed me as it is just as cookie-cutter as it looks and comes from an older world adage of the only way a strong female character like this can be made is to have her be a femme fatale. I’m so sick of this and it really ruined everything about a film that, besides that, doesn’t really have an ounce of originality and a dumb script to match it.

Sweet Girl – This looks like a movie absolutely geared to hit you emotionally and hit you hard but at least it has Jason Momoa in the lead to help soften the blow a bit. The film features the live-action Dora The Explorer Isabella Merced in the main role alongside Aquaman, an actress with a career on the rise and the large platform of this Netflix dramatic thriller’s release can get her swiftly higher on that ladder. The story follows Momoa as a devoted family man who vows justice against the pharmaceutical company responsible for pulling a potentially life-saving drug from the market just before his wife dies from cancer. When his search for the truth leads to a deadly encounter that puts him and his daughter in harm’s way, his mission turns into a quest for vengeance in order to protect the only family he has left. The film is the debut for director Brian Andrew Mendoza who has been the producer on many of Momoa’s projects so it’s good to see a film that makes lead actor cohesion with this that gives me the ultimate hope for it being great.

Annette – The veteran pop duo Sparks have had a hell of a year with their Edgar Wright-directed documentary becoming a huge success and now their passion project that was decades in the making finally got its release now, directed by the incredibly idiosyncratic filmmaker Leo Carax. The film drew such acclaim that it got a long standing ovation at Cannes Film Festival, which is always a good sign. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, the story is set in present-day Los Angeles and follows Henry, a stand-up comedian with a fierce humour, and Ann, an internationally renowned opera singer. Together, under the spotlight, they form a happy and glamorous couple but the birth of their first child, Annette, will turn their lives upside down as she is a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny. This film is an incredible blend of absurd comedy and mindblowing fantasy that meet in the middle of two fantastic performances and, I know it won’t be for everyone, but being on the Amazon Prime platform gives it such a wide arc of roping in the proper audiences which is the deep cinephile. As a person who just discovered Sparks with the documentary, this just solidified my absolute love for them.

Demonic – Neill Blomkamp is a filmmaker who I adored with his first film but has honestly had a series of films afterwards that signified a few diminishing returns creatively. The South African writer and director who is based in Vancouver now debuted with District 9, moved on to the Matt Damon sci-fi action Elysium before his Die Antwoord Short Circuit like story Chappie and now moves to the horror genre for this tech-heavy exorcism movie that has everything aesthetically going for it. Not featuring any big stars, unless you’re Canadian and love Carly Pope, the story follows a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed. I really wanted to like this movie a lot but it feels like a better idea within the concept and maybe realized as a short film but a fully pieced feature film just ran out of steam slowly but surely. I can see why this movie was retooled to be a smaller release because it just isn’t to the calibre of the big boys. That said, I still yearn for Blomkamp’s success.

Cryptozoo – I spent the majority of this movie wondering what the hell was going on but I really had to admire the filmmaking scope and imagination I was seeing on screen in this insane little animated film. Definitely borrowing some atmosphere from the Ralph Bakshi films of the late seventies and early eighties, writer and director Dash Show is full of big ideas, existential curiosity and cosmic wonder which is exhibited in every frame of this, tinged with a little dark humour and cynicism. It’s hard to encapsulate this film but I will say that it follows what is called crypto zookeepers as they try to capture what’s known as a Baku, a dream-eating hybrid creature of legend but the ensuing search has them starting to wonder if they should display these beasts or keep them hidden and unknown in their own worlds, safe from outside harm. As I said, this movie is hard to wrangle in any commonly perceived way but the ambition of the storytelling is limitless and it’s hard not to take anything away from it in the end.

Rare Beasts – Being a big fan of the new Doctor Who when it premiered on BBC with Christopher Eccleston. I was introduced to the fresh and beautiful face of Rose Tyler, played by British pop star Billie Piper, an easy to identify crush. I shed tears when she said goodbye to the Doctor and even continued to watch her show afterwards, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, for obvious reasons. Now she has written and directed this new film, her debut behind the camera and a story she has labelled as an anti-romantic comedy. She stars in it as well as Mandy, a mother, a writer, a nihilist and, above all, a modern woman in a crisis. Raising a son in the midst of a female revolution, mining the pain of her parent’s separation and professionally writing about a love that no longer exists, she falls upon a troubled man, Pete, who is searching for a sense of worth and belonging in a fight to give his perceived mundanity meaning. Oh, I also have to mention that Pete is played by the brilliant Leo Bill who is phenomenal as Charles Darwin in Tarsem’s The Fall. Getting back on point, I really enjoyed this movie and thought that Piper fleshed out a good character story that immediately had us caring about her plight which is always the shortcoming in movies like this. I feel like she has a pretty solid directorial career ahead of her.

I Carry You With Me – Moving for anti-romance to the broken heart of having to leave a romance behind to find your calling, this new drama comes from the acclaimed director of Jesus Camp and The Boys Of Baraka, Heidi Ewing, in her narrative filmmaking debut. The film is a love story that spans decades, starting from a chance meeting between two men in Mexico and after a time being together ambition and societal pressure propel one of them to journey to America to chase his dream of becoming a chef. The distance between the two soulmates starts to change both of their lives in different ways as very separate adjustments start to reshape their souls in a film that is based on a true story. Ewing absolutely nails this film and infuses it with an undeniable emotional richness that resonates long after you’ve finished watching it. What a special film!

Howling Village – The creator of The Grudge series, Japanese writer and director Takashi Shimizu, has returned to give you something more to fear than yowling cat boys, creepy shower scenes and a stair sequence that rivals The Exorcist. Does it have the longevity to kick off another franchise? I would say it’s definitely a possibility if the Americans get their hands on it but I have to say I was intrigued just based on Shimizu’s name. The story follows a young psychologist who visits an infamous haunted and cursed location known as ‘Howling Village’ after her brother goes missing to investigate his disappearance and uncover her family’s dark history that is attached to the legend. I will say that I enjoyed the film for its ingenuity that can only be attributed to the Japanese creator but I feel like he has so many different elements going in the story that it kind of gets lost along the way to his finish. To be honest, I might need another pass at it but the effects are pretty cool.

Blu-Ray:

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – It looks like I’m going to be a bit contrarian to the reviews that have already been given for this Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson action-comedy sequel but it’s a hill I’m willing to die on. It probably helps that I really liked the first movie and think that Reynolds and Jackson have great comedic chemistry and Salma Hayek is pure joy but here we go. Following the events of the first film we pick up with Reynold’s Michael Bryce still unlicensed and under scrutiny from the bodyguard association who is forced into action by Darius’s even more volatile wife, the infamous international con artist Sonia Kincaid. As Bryce is driven over the edge by his two most dangerous protectors, the trio gets in over their heads in a global plot and soon finds that they are all that stands between Europe and a vengeful and powerful madman named Aristotle Papadoulpolis, played by Antonio Banderas. The story isn’t anything new when it comes to odd-couple style action fun but it is riding on the shoulders of these three actors and I feel like it largely works for the duration of it. I’m not burnt out on the comedy stylings of Ryan Reynolds yet, he’s still a British Columbian treasure.

The Water Man – David Oyelowo is an Academy Award-nominated actor who has steadily impressed with every film I’ve seen him in, quickly becoming a favourite. HE impresses further with his debut feature film, which he also plays a supporting role in. The final result is a great family drama adventure driven by imagination, resting on a great thread of hope. The story follows young Gunner, a boy driven on a mission to save his ill mother, played by Rosario Dawson, by searching for a mythic figure who possesses the secret to immortality, the Water Man. After enlisting the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo, they journey together into the remote Wild Horse forest but the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Their only hope for rescue is Gunner’s father, played by Oyelowo, who desperately tries to catch up with them as a wildfire bears down on them. This movie had me for the long run, well-plotted, beautifully filmed and with great character development to it. There are really about two minutes at the end of the film that, to me, is its biggest failing but aside from that I thought this was a great debut for a promising filmmaker.

The Truffle Hunters – I really don’t know if you can make a truffle hunting-related film that would have the same resonance as the recent Nicolas Cage film Pig but it’s probably unfair to say of this Italian film, it was made last year. I should also preface this review by saying that this movie is a documentary and definitely not a grief-driven odyssey through the Portland culinary underground and offers a more grounded story of life’s work and legacy. The story takes you deep in the forests of Piedmont, Italy, where a handful of men, seventy or eighty years old, hunt for the rare and expensive white Alba truffle which, to date, has resisted all of modern science’s efforts at cultivation. This movie played at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year and gave an interesting glimpse into a world that I was definitely on the outside of and presents it in a fascinating way. It is gorgeously filmed and, honestly, made me sad that I was watching it at home and not at a venue screening.

Riders Of Justice – Always, always, always trust in Mads Mikkelsen. This is a tried and true mantra but it is doubly affirmed when this incredible actor does films with writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen who he has already collaborated on Men And Chicken and The Green Butchers, both amazing movies. This new film follows Mads as recently-deployed military man Markus, who is forced to return home to care for his teenage daughter after his wife is killed in a tragic train accident. His grief seemingly unattainable. he finds focus when a survivor of the wrecked train surfaces claiming foul play. Markus begins to suspect his wife was murdered in a conspiracy with a ruthless organized crime group and embarks on a revenge-fueled mission to find those responsible. This film is incredible, filled with dark humour, explosive violence and consistent character building in a story that could have come off contrived. Jensen and Mikkelsen have delivered another instant classic and Mads is for sure the most formidable man on screen these days.

Shook – Oh yes, I love it when the Shudder originals make their way to DVD in an almost reverse way because it is an invitation for stragglers who haven’t gotten a subscription to finally make the plunge. Trust me, it’s always worth it and I’ve never regretted mine for a moment. Actually, mine’s free so that’s a moot point. Anyways, this film follows Mia, a social media star who becomes the target of an online terror campaign and has to solve a series of games to prevent people she cares about from getting murdered. Not knowing if she is being pranked or if the game is real, she fights to find the truth as well as for her own survival. To be honest, this movie feels like it was missing a gear in so many different ways. It didn’t have a skilled enough cast, a studious enough execution and the resolution felt so weak compared to the setup. Jennifer Harrington did a great job on her episodes of the AppleTV+ show Dads but this one did not net me anything.

Stay Out Of The Attic – The second Shudder released film to come out this week, I had to censor the title down a bit as the real title is Stay Out Of The Fucking Attic which I like a lot better but for obvious reasons, it couldn’t be used. The film shares a bit with another Shudder releases film with Maisie Williams out of the United Kingdom called The Owners, which I thought was better but let me refocus here anyways. The story follows a group of ex-cons-turned-movers who are are convinced by their new creepy client to pull an all-nighter in his old Victorian mansion but as the night progresses the evil contained in the house starts to unleash on them one by one and, you guessed it, the attic is a real no-go. This movie relied way too heavily on jump scares and gross-out moments to get itself into your head and it felt like such laziness. It was a swift reminder that a little bit of character development can go a long way, especially in the horror genre.

Analog Love – Who didn’t love making mixtapes? As a huge music lover, this medium and the generational improvement of making burnt CDs was a total pastime of mine and seeing this documentary show up on my list filled me with a gleeful nostalgia. Through a series of conversations with people like the legendary Henry Rollins, L7’s bass player Jennifer Finch and more, the film illuminates the art of making mixtapes, the creation of their flow and the construction behind them that gives it meaning plus gives the history of how we got to this form of borrowed art. The film is using a fascinating subject matter to build on but it can’t get past the talking-head style of documentary filmmaking and, doing it on a microbudget, it really seems to lose its kitsch value really quickly and becomes monotonous. This is aside from Henry Rollins who I could listen to talk to for days on end. Seeing his live-spoken word show is still on my bucket list.

Little Q – Nothing wins an audience over quicker than a cute dog movie and, even more so, a cute puppy movie. It’s rare that the international film market jumps into a kind of manipulative film like this but, instead of an American production, this film is from Japan and is based on a novel called Goodbye, Khoru. The story follows a recently blinded chef who reluctantly forms a bond with his seeing-eye dog, conflicted to relinquish any control of his life to anyone, especially a dog. As time passes, the two grow closer in a film that is so endearing thanks to great onscreen animal work as well as a passionate performance from acclaimed actor Simon Lam. This one will really go for your heartstrings.

Midnight Diner – The second piece of Asian cinema to his blu-ray this week is this Hong Kong drama that not only features the legendary Chinese actor Tony Ka Fai Leung in the lead role but he was behind the camera to shoot it as well in his debut as a director. I have to say that the acclaimed actor must be a foodie at heart because the story he chose to make his filmmaker mark with is destined to make you hungry so fill up before you watch, trust me. The film is set in a little restaurant in an inconspicuous lane of Shanghai that opens every night at midnight, run by a fifty-year-old owner who makes a select menu each time and gives every guest their time to tell their story. The film is really bare-bones, wears everything on its sleeve and I think that is where it wins the audience over. It is predicated on the human condition while exuded over a steaming plate of beautiful food and it is evident that Tony has taken little tidbits from all the creators he has worked for over his career to create this special story. Not many people are going to see this one but those who do will be fulfilled.

A Discovery Of Witches: Season 2 – This is a mixed production between Amazon Prime and Shudder that piqued my interest with the involvement of Watchmen’s Matthew Goode and Australian actress Teresa Palmer but I just never got around to it until I was sent this follow up season on blu-ray, prompting me to stream the first one. The story follows Diana Bishop, a scholar and an unwilling witch who discovers a lost manuscript while studying at the Bodleian Library. The discovery invites chaos into Diana’s life as soon she is surrounded by daemons, vampires and other witches who are desperate to gain what she has found. Her only hope is Matthew Clairmont, a doctor, researcher and vampire who becomes a reluctant confidant in a dangerous new life. So far, so good with this show that has definitely caught on with the fantasy crowd and a third season is definitely on the horizon.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:

La Piscine – I always feel a little bit classier when I start out my geek-outs with a Criterion film as it always lends a bit more credibility in this department. It’s even better when the film is a brand new discovery for me that I can impart to you, my reader, and this week’s leadoff is exactly that. La Piscine, which translates to The Swimming Pool, is a tense romantic drama from 1969 by acclaimed writer and director Jacques Deray that has a rich and insane behind-the-scenes history to it that is too much to contain in this write-up. The film follows lovers Marianne and Jean-Paul who spend their vacation in a villa on the French Riviera near St-Tropez. Marianne invites her former lover, Harry, and his teenage daughter to stay and tension rises between them, especially when Jean-Paul seduces the young woman in a storyline that is definitely more than a little uncomfortable. This is a fascinating piece of French cinema history under the microscope of possibly the greatest release company on earth.

John Wayne 14-Movie Collection – The Duke gets a box set to display every film that made him a star, maintained that status and then secured his legacy as a film legend. Personally, my uncle would be a huge fan of this fourteen film set if he didn’t already own them all on VHS and probably DVD now. I’ve seen his collection and his oldest son is named John Wayne Stebbing just to secure the uber-fan level but that’s enough of my personal history. This set has some of my favourite John Wayne films in it like True Grit, Big Jake, McLintock!, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and others I have yet to discover like Hondo, Donovan’s Reef and Hatari! I will say that the Duke wasn’t the greatest actor by any means but the production level was always top-notch and he was, without a doubt, the biggest draw of his time.

The Descent Part 2 – Neil Marshall’s The Descent is an absolute subterranean masterpiece that is so effective with claustrophobic moments, night vision and pitch-black scares and creature effects that will infuse your nightmares with cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. Yes, I just referenced C.H.U.D. Although not directed or written by Marshall, this film is still pretty cool and brings back star Shauna Macdonald for another cave run. She plays the sole survivor of the last film who is forced to lead authorities back into the cave to prove that her story is the truth. Of course, the reality of her truth comes crashing down on the non-believers as they are picked off one by one in another fun and gory romp that knows when to turn off the lights and freak you out. I still have fun with both of these movies.

Wrath Of Man – The worst thing you can do heading into this new Jason Statham and Guy Ritchie team-up is to watch the trailer which will completely sell a different type of film than you are getting and one totally askew to anything the Snatch filmmaker has made before. The film follows Statham as a new security guard for a cash truck, who surprises his co-workers when he unleashes precision skills during a heist, head-shotting every armed assailant sent to rob the truck. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from and eventually, through intricate flashbacks, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score and exact revenge. This movie is blisteringly violent, takes no prisoners and is filled to the brim with tough-guy bravado and I loved every moment of it. Statham just plain rocks in this movie and the cast around him is immense, including CSI guy Holt McCallany, 2000s heartthrob Josh Hartnett, Jeffrey Donovan, Scott Eastwood and more. It’s gritty and brutal but a great two-hour thrill ride.

Super 8 4K – Ten years ago this year writer and director J.J. Abrams was invited into the Amblin family after Cloverfield and allowed to play in that sandbox of mystery and the results were a damn good sci-fi thriller adventure that I don’t think got enough love. Its ad campaign played with the great viral mystery that got the salivation for his previous monster movie to a fever pitch and the fact that trailers steered away from spoilers of any sort was such a refreshing thing, especially now. The story was perfect for movie lovers too as the main characters were young fledgling filmmakers, set during the summer of 1979, who witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town which includes the escape of a top-secret government capture. The special effects are incredible and the cinematography from the great Larry Fong brings you back to those movies in the 80s that got you loving blockbuster films. 4K also gives a beautiful hug to this film that I hope gets more love now with this special edition.

Television:

The Chair (Netflix) – With her success on the series Killing Eve, which seemed to lend to co-star Jodie Comer getting all the television awards out there, Sandra Oh is certainly a character of note and one who is kind of must-see which is a long time coming for the Canadian actress. Now she brings her star power to this new Netflix series that comes from debuting creator Annie Wyman and actress and also a debuting creator, Amanda Peet for an interesting new comedy-drama. Oh plays Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim, the first woman of colour to be the Chair of the English department at the prestigious Pembroke University. Navigating her new role, she is faced with a unique set of challenges that her race and gender pose and finds herself being the only Asian in the whole faculty. This has so much potential and features a great cast including the stalwart Bob Balaban, indie darling Jay Duplass and David Morse who is always great in everything. This might catch fire and become another big hit for Sandra Oh. She deserves all the acclaim she gets.

Heels (Crave) – I feel like I’ve been waiting for a good scripted series about wrestling and I think it’s finally here. This is not a slight to GLOW at all as I really love that show but it feels like more of a historical microcosm of a series that was playing off something real while this is a look at indie wrestling in a modern world and I am totally here for it. The show is about the men and women who chase their dreams in the world of small-town pro wrestling, set in a close-knit Georgia community. It follows a family-owned wrestling promotion as two brothers and rivals, Jack Spade and Ace Spade, war over their late father’s legacy. In the ring, somebody must play the good guy, and somebody must play their nemesis, the heel but in the real world, those characters can be hard to live up to or hard to leave behind. With only one episode in the bank, it’s maybe a little premature to say that this is one of my favourite shows this year but, as a massive wrestling fan, it just might be and I think non-fans will pick up on it too.

Growing Up Animal (Disney+) – The partnership between Disney and National Geographic has been a total blessing in disguise as the new original shows and movies have all been incredible. Nature filmmaking is seriously at its finest with the expertise and drive of the people behind Nat Geo and the money and scope of Disney and if all the shows are going to be as intriguing as this one, bring it on, please. This show is going for the kids with the cute angle, following the story of baby animals from their time in the womb to their first steps towards independence, showing their characteristics and tenacity. Yes, you read that right, baby animals. I’ve heard that if you give this show a bad review an army of cute baby cubs, ducks and more come and maul you to death. I believe Disney is totally capable of that.

Truth Be Told: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – AppleTV+ is continuing down the path of following up their original shows with second seasons and it continues on with this pretty intriguing show. The show stars Octavia Spencer as a true-crime podcaster who attempts to solve the mystery surrounding a family patriarch’s death and gets roped into a deeper conspiracy along the way. Featuring a great cast around her, including Aaron Paul, Lizzy Caplan and Mekhi Phifer, this show might just be the thing we want to satiate out mystery cravings before Steve Martin and Martin Short take it n a comedic route with Selena Gomez in a couple of weeks on Disney+. Oh, you didn’t know about that? Then consider it a tease. Getting back on track, the show comes from Justified and The Good Wife writer Nichelle D. Tramble who I think learned a lot on those shows and it really comes through on this series.

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens: Season 2 (Much) – An actress that is perpetually always on fire, including Disney films, her role in the Jumanji sequel and an upcoming Marvel film, Awkwafina is worth every moment you are going to give her. This show is a story very close to her heart as it is the embellishment of her true story and has her playing Nora, her real name, a Flushing, New York native who is trying to figure out her life as a young adult with the help of her dad and grandmother. Awkwafina created the show which started as a ten-episode that I thought would be a one-off limited run and became one of my favourite shows of the last ten years. Awkwafina is hilarious, but her dad, played hilariously by BD Wong, and the Grandma, Lori Tan Chinn, constantly steal the show. Chinn is my not-so-low level MVP of every episode.

New Releases:

Free Guy – It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for this Ryan Reynolds video game-centric film to hit theatres and that’s really because it was supposed to come out more than a year ago and the first trailer for it was probably almost two years prior. The film was originally scheduled to release on July 3rd, 2020 but was delayed to December 11th, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being shelved indefinitely in November. After getting rescheduled another two times this Shawn Levy comedy is here and follows a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game who decides to become the hero of his own story when a user shows him the reality of his world. The movie has been getting a lot of great reviews and a bunch of my reviewer friends have said that they had a smile plastered to their face for its entirety. That’s a pretty great endorsement I think.

Respect – Another victim of the theatre shut down during the pandemic was this biopic that I felt everyone knew was coming after the death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin and just as sure was the casting of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson in that very special role. It should also be known that Franklin herself hand-picked Jennifer Hudson to play her when the movie was in early development. The film looks to be your standard music biopic, following Aretha Franklin from a singer in her father’s church choir as a child, following her as she grows up to become an international musical superstar and an influential figure on all R&B singers to follow. This movie seems like total Oscar bait for Hudson to at least earn another nomination but I’m really curious about the casting around her that includes Forest Whittaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra MacDonald, Marc Maron and more. That is a seriously stacked cast.

Don’t Breathe 2 – A few years after the breakout hit and original thriller from Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez blew our minds, his long-awaited follow up is now on our doorstep and even if Fede is taking a back seat in this one and producing it his fingerprints are all over it. Now, as far as I see, we don’t get the return of Jane Levy in this but we do get the awesome and formidable Stephen Lang reprising his role as the terrifying old blind man and the trailer gives me goosebumps. The film picks up with his character who has been hiding out for years in an isolated cabin and has taken in and raised a young girl who lost her parents in a house fire. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, their quiet existence is shattered when a group of kidnappers show up and take the girl, forcing the Blind Man to leave his haven to rescue her. I expect the same sort of shocking ultra-violence to permeate this film thoroughly but what I find interesting is that the Blind Man has been shifted in his role as the antagonist in the first movie and now is an almost anti-hero we root for in this one. Honestly, when I think about the original film the turkey baster scene always rises to the top so I hope there is just as memorable of a scene in this one.

Infinite – Fourteen years after their last collaboration Shooter in 2007, director Antoine Fuqua and megastar Mark Wahlberg have re-teamed for this brand new sci-fi thriller for the Paramount+ streaming service and the story looks pretty cool, based on the novel by D. Eric Maikranz called The Reincarnationist Papers, the author’s debut book. The story follows Evan McCauley, a man with skills he has never learned and memories of places he has never visited that haunt his daily life. Self-medicated and on the brink of a mental breakdown, Evan is sought by a secret group that calls themselves “Infinites,” revealing to him that his memories may be real but they are from multiple past lives. The Infinites bring Evan into their extraordinary world, where a gifted few are given the ability to be reborn with their memories and knowledge accumulated over centuries. With critical secrets buried in his past, Evan must work with the Infinites to unlock the answers in his memories in a race against time to save humanity from one of their own, played by the great Chiwetel Ejiofor, who seeks to end all life to stop what he views as the cursed, endless cycle of reincarnation. This movie is basically action hero intrigue to me and I’m totally on board for that as who doesn’t love an expensive-looking sci-fi no brainer, right?

The Comeback Trail – I’m not going to lie, I watched this movie based on the involvement of Zach Braff and him alone as he’s been teasing this film for a long time on his social media accounts. Why is he the only draw? Well, because it comes from writer and director George Gallo who has done great screenplays with Bad Boys and Midnight Run but his directed work, as of late, has been horrible, with The Poison Rose and Vanquish. This film stars Robert De Niro alongside Braff as two movie producers who owe money to the mob that set up their ageing movie star for an insurance scam to have him die on set to try and save themselves from their mountainous debt. The film has Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in supporting and pivotal roles and manages to keep itself on the rails for the most part but the problems, both in script and execution, keep rearing their ugly head and the third act features a resolution that almost infuriated me. That said, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.

Naked Singularity – Ever since the British sci-fi action movie Attack The Block I have been a huge fan of John Boyega’s and have just wanted him to succeed in everything. Unfortunately, his Star Wars character got a lacklustre and easy storyline that didn’t pay off and his Pacific Rim sequel just wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first movie and it was left to his Steve McQueen movie to see some of what I wanted. This movie had all the makings of a Steve favourite though as it follows Boyega as an idealistic young New York City public defender, burned out by the system, on the brink of disbarment and seeing signs of the universe collapsing all around him, who decides to rob a multi-million drug deal of one of his clients. Featuring Bill Skarsgard, Olivia Cooke and Ed Skrien, this movie should have been a violent romp with great dialogue but instead is this disjointed mess of a narrative that feels hampered by how cool and edgy it’s trying to be. I kept waiting for something to spark some originality that just never came. I was so disappointed.

Beckett – One of the hottest stars on the planet in my mind is John David Washington who seems to absolutely killing it every time I see him on screen. His last Netflix release was the divisive Netflix two-character study Malcolm And Marie co-starring Zendaya and while I wasn’t a fan of the overarching story and its resolution, both stars were absolutely knock out which has me excited for this new film. Washington plays the title character, an American tourist who becomes the target of a manhunt while vacationing in Greece following a devastating accident. Forced to run for his life and desperate to get across the country to the American embassy to clear his name, tensions escalate as the authorities close in, political unrest mounts, and he falls even deeper into a dangerous web of conspiracy in a film that looks intense and totally predicted on the motions of our lead star. The middling reviews at the time I am writing this are a bit of a deterrent but seriously I don’t think you can go fully wrong with the son of Denzel because he is starting to have the same track record as his rarely miss father.

Nine Days – I hadn’t heard of writer and director Edson Oda before starting his ambitious and deeply philosophical feature-length live-action debut but you can be sure that I know his name now and definitely feel the influence of those who inspired him. It also helps that he had the great talent of Us star Winston Duke to anchor his insanely existential story to and the erratic power of Zazie Beetz to dispel those feelings of narrative control. This film is incredibly hard to describe but to put it into the vaguest of terms, it follows Duke as a reclusive man who conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born into existence. Skirting discussions of existence in an umbrella of grand questions, the movie plays as if Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life was a philosophical thriller and manages to not get ugly in its pretentiousness but instead prompts more introversion into the viewer’s own beliefs. This movie is definitely not going to be for everyone and the reward lies not within individual scenes but the entirety of its mosaic and comes out the other side with its own separate narrative on consciousness and what we choose to do with it. I also loved the casting with Benedict Wong stealing every scene he was in.

CODA – This might be my favourite drama this year, a heartwarming little coastal America story that doesn’t rely on big names, with Marlee Matlin and Eugenio Derbez being the biggest ones in the cast, and it left me with the feeling that the Sundance Film Festival still knows how to pick them as the Sian Heder written and directed production won four of the big awards this year. The story follows Ruby, a CODA or Child of Deaf Adults, who is the only hearing person in her deaf family and is, in turn, the sole interpreter for them and a big part of their existence within the hearing world. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. This film is brimming with heart and character building and I felt drawn into the story more and more as it progressed, moving towards a finish that constantly brought tears to my eyes. Stories like this that can hit you in the heart and stay there without feeling manipulative or contrived are so special and I really hope that it picks up a lot of word of mouth because this film deserves a mountain of it. This will most likely be in my top ten at the end of the year.

Materna – Kate Lyn Sheil might be one of my favourite independent actresses working today with the incredible character actor fueled drama Kate Plays Christine and Amy Siemetz’s existential horror film She Dies Tomorrow popping into my head every time I see her. This is why I was immediately interested in checking out this new drama that has her in yet another challenging role, this time under the direction of writer and director David Gutnik in his feature film debut. The story follows the journeys of four New York women who are isolated by city life, separated by class, politics, race and religion, and yet bound by a shared hunger for identity and connection. With their futures at stake, the characters’ lives are upended by a fateful encounter underground, where their stories of personal transformation become a battle for survival. As you can tell from that description, this movie is super heady and isn’t infused with a moment of levity, just the challenge of existence. It is a driven film with a reality to it that resonates far after the credits roll.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – A new true story drama out of Germany, you always pique viewers’ curiosities when you put the name of Adolf Hitler in the title of your movie, it’s just a horrendous reality. Beyond that, I really didn’t know anything about this movie but conducting my research on it before watching, I noticed that the reviews from festivals and the like were pretty good. The film follows a Jewish family that had to flee from the Nazis from Berlin to Zurich to Paris and finally to London in 1933. Sadly, this forces the youngest, Anna, to leave everything behind just like the rest of her family to face a new life full of challenges and privations abroad but this includes her beloved pink rabbit and, in turn, a piece of her soul. This film is a movie piece of cinema but I really couldn’t say that it had anything the set itself apart from the other Nazi Germany exodus stories and will quickly blend into the crowd of more original dramas.

The East – This week we get a war film from the Netherlands to give us a little more foreign flair for the week and it’s an ambitious first solo film from writer and director Jim Taihuttu who is actually one half of a Dutch DJ duo called Yellow Claw whose music is a mix of a wide range of genres and often incorporates elements from trap, hip hop, dubstep, hardstyle and moombahton. So, nothing to do with World War II. For his debut, the film follows a young Dutch soldier who is deployed to suppress post-WWII independence efforts in the Netherlands’ colony of Indonesia and finds himself torn between duty and conscience when he joins an increasingly ruthless commander’s elite squad. I have to say that Taihuttu’s breakout film was a lofty one that really plays out as the character wor is really solid and it shines a glaring light on the moral mistakes of an entire country. I’m sure it wasn’t received that well in his home country because it really elevates an ugly side of their history I’m sure they’re trying to bury.

Whelm – Got to love a dusty old depression-era movie and, to be honest, my wife loves to make fun of me for saying dusty every time I bring up this time in American history but it really was dusty from all I can see. It was called the Dust Bowl Era even. I know I’m right on that. Featuring an unknown cast and a debuting filmmaker, the story follows two Midwest brothers who get tangled in a rivalry between a legendary bank robber and an eccentric young criminal. Through a series of bizarre occurrences, they are forced to claim allegiance to one, as they hunt down the other and, as they dig deeper for the truth, they find that they are part of a larger historic scheme. I really wish this movie had a little more studio presence behind it as the story is fascinating and well-plotted with great reveals but I felt constantly distracted by the shortcomings of the production. It really almost had me fully invested in certain instances during it and I won’t get into that for spoiler reasons.

Blu-Ray:

Queen Bees – This week’s Blu-ray and DVD dive starts with a film definitely geared towards the older adult crowd and easily so as it features some absolute legends with Ellen Burstyn, Jane Curtin, Loretta Devine, James Caan, Ann-Margaret and Christopher Lloyd. I know it sounds like I’m saying “this is a movie for old people” but c’mon, I can say that in tone and also absolutely praise it too, right? The film follows Burstyn as an independent widow who moves into the Pine Grove Senior Community and discovers it’s just like high school, full of mean-girl style cliques and flirtatious suitors. What she initially avoids leads her to exactly what she has been missing as she starts to make new friendships and even gets a chance at love again with a dashing newcomer to the home. The film is entirely corny and goes for the low hanging fruit of easy smiles but it really has such a charming cast to it and I was very relieved that it didn’t feature Diane Keaton in the lead role who, no matter how legendary her status is, seems to be almost insufferable in everything she does these days. I feel like I dodged an ageing bullet here.

Finding You – A music-driven romantic drama set on the sprawling coastline of beautiful Ireland? Well, you just netted a huge part of the P.S. I Love You audience without getting to the plot, so, kudos on that. Oddly, the film comes from American writer and director Brian Baugh but it makes sense when you see that it involves strangers in a strange land. The story follows Finley, a talented aspiring violinist, who meets Beckett, a famous young movie star, on the way to her college semester abroad program in a small coastal village in Ireland. An unexpected romance emerges as the heartthrob Beckett leads the uptight Finley on an adventurous reawakening and she emboldens him to take charge of his future until the pressures of his stardom get in the way. The film has a familiar face to Arrow fans as Mia Smoak herself Katharine McNamara leads the film alongside The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’s Dorian Gray, Jedidiah Goodacre, who is also Canadian. This film will entertain anyone looking for a fluffy little love story but don’t expect good accents.

American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally – I can’t even begin to get into this new film that features Al Pacino without stating that this movie, trying to be a true story examination, comes off like a badly done reenactment done through the prism of a comedy parody. That’s almost enticing enough to give it a hate-watch but I implore you to not do that and just let the sands of time sweep it away. The story follows an American woman named Mildred Gillars who broadcast Nazi propaganda during World War II and was dubbed Axis Sally by the American GIs who simultaneously loved and hated her. The main plot follows Sally’s eventual capture and subsequent trial for treason in Washington D.C. after the war but more closely her relationship with her lawyer who struggles to clear her name and struggles to not ham it up in a terrible Al Pacino performance. He seems to be getting further and further away from the skills that made him an Academy Award-winning actor, except The Irishman because he was great in that. Don’t watch this movie!

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 – Apparently the Mike Epps spoof comedy Meet The Blacks was lucrative enough to make a sequel because, inexplicably, we are here to talk about this confusion of misspent money. It seems that the movie gods are kicking my ass this week with disappointing movies but this one is no surprise because I suffered through the first film and I failed to see what substance it had beyond being a Purge parody. This film is definitely pulling from Fright Night, a dated reference, The film picks up with returning character and best selling author Carl Black moving his family back to his childhood home and immediately finds that he must team up with oddball neighbours to do battle with a pimp, who may or may not be an actual vampire played by the largely miss or hit, Katt Williams. This movie is complete nonsense, always goes for the lowest of jokes and literally has no redeeming qualities to it whatsoever. The pain I felt in my soul just trying to finish this movie was horrendous. I do not recommend it.

Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two – The finish to possibly my favourite Batman detective-style story ever told is now here thanks to the incredible minds and creators at the DC Comics animated film division of Warner Bros. Picking up where their last film left off a couple of months back. the Holiday killer is still at large, wiping out members of Gotham City’s two major crime families, the Falcones and the Moroni’s with Batman nowhere to be found in the investigation. Why? well, it looks like Falcone has been padding his accounts with some Wayne Foundation money through Poison Ivy’s control over Bruce Wayne. Told with a great animation style and a great voice cast that includes Jensen Ackles, Titus Welliver and the late Naya Rivera, my only gripe with both of these movies is that they are a little too short and seem to cut some corners storywise to make those time constraints. I know a lot of the DC Comics animated films like to make sure they clock in at an hour and fifteen minutes but maybe that template needs to be re-evaluated for the story’s sake. The book is quite thick so a lot is missing in its transition to screen. That said, I’m happy we got what we got.

Occupation: Rainfall – This definitely a weird one as it is a sci-fi film with some recognizable stars like Jason Isaacs, Ken Jeong, Boba Fett himself, Temuera Morrison and more but it is an Australian production that pretty much had absolutely no ad campaign behind it in North America and now lands on our shelves, unceremoniously. It’s an end of the world story, as, two years into an intergalactic invasion of earth, survivors in Sydney, Australia, fight back in a desperate ground war. As casualties mount by the day, the resistance and their unexpected allies uncover a plot that could see the war come to a decisive end and, with the Alien invaders hell-bent on making earth their new home, the race is on to save mankind. Well, I will say that they spent a whole lot of their budget on the special effects because a lot of them look seamless and quite gorgeous but that is as far as the attention to detail goes. The script is terrible, the plotting is predictable and it all feels like a completely hokey little sci-fi story that was better as a concept pitch than a fully fleshed out production.

Profile – Wanted and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter director Timur Bekmambetov is back for probably his most understated films of his career but also one that has been shelved for over three years which is crazy for a movie that only took nine days to film. The film follows a British journalist who goes undercover and infiltrates the digital propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, which has been mobilizing ever greater numbers of women from Europe, in which her daily Internet contacts with an ISIS recruiter gradually pull her in and push the limits of her investigation and maybe turning her into a conduit for the enemy. This film was screened a couple of years back at the Vancouver International Film Festival and pulled in a mixed bag of reviews, some believing that the twists and turns drew them in but others believing it was silly and far-fetched. I haven’t always loved Timur’s work but this one seems inventive and fun.

Friday The 13th: 8 Movie Collection – It is not unknown that I am a huge horror buff and a box set like this is something I fanboy over without end, especially as I kind of own this set already on DVD so getting an upgrade to blu-ray is sweet. Now, this set doesn’t have all of the Jason films as Jason Goes To Hell, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 reboot aren’t here but all the classics are. Now is the time to champion your favourite movie in the series. Is it the 3D installment when he got the mask? Is it baghead Jason from part two? Momma Voorhees in the film that started it all? The Corey Feldman “Final Chapter”? There are so many to choose from but I’ll end this by saying my favourite is part seven, The New Blood, which is usually panned but it has so much great stuff going for it including the greatest actor to play the hockey mask-wearing monster, the great Kane Hodder. This set will keep me occupied for a long time.

A Place In The Sun – Talk about the triple threat of the era as director George Stevens, two years before he did the incredible and landmark film Shane, got Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift together for this romantic drama that ended up earning six Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography in 1951. The story follows the nephew of a wealthy industrialist, who is excluded from high society and given a blue-collar job at his uncle’s factory where he becomes romantically involved with his co-worker. However, when he is introduced to socialite Angela Vickers, played by Taylor, he quickly falls for her, leading to a tragic love triangle. Shelley Winters played the other woman and had mixed feelings about the film as she was made to look very downtrodden in comparison to Taylor and developed a complex around it. I’d love to say that this is pure golden age Hollywood but it still definitely happens in the industry.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark: Curse Of The Shadows – Following up the first installment of Nickelodeon’s rebooting of a classic intellectual property that got a lot of young viewers into horror in the early to mid-nineties, the producers are furthering what is so far a good thing with another story told by a new grouping of the Midnight Society. On the heels of the great Carnival Of Doom, Curse Of The Shadows follows the Midnight Society on the search for one of their own when the lead storyteller goes missing and the remaining crew attribute it to an ancient curse that has been hanging over their town. The scares deepen when they start to investigate and the evil forces start to push back. As far as young adult horror goes, these shows are super effective in giving a bridge to those new to the genre and the story is fun and intriguing, crafted very well by showrunner BenDavid Grabinski who definitely has the proper reverence to lead this show.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Chain Lightning – A late arrival from the Warner Archive collection, I had to give this one a geek-out platform just on the fact that it’s led by the biggest star of the time of its release, Humphrey Bogart, a true giant of classic cinema. Funnily enough, this post-World War II action-adventure was the last film Humphrey Bogart did for Warner Bros., effectively ending a twenty-year relationship between the box office star and the giant studio. The film has Bogart playing war hero and flying ace Matt Brennan who takes a position as a test pilot for a commercial aircraft corporation where he bumps into his old girlfriend, Jo Holloway, who now works as a receptionist for the company. His position is to help the production of a brand new and experimental jet but Matt finds himself conflicted as it doesn’t feel safe for release although the company is pushing him to say otherwise. Bogart brings his iconic smoulder to this performance that drips with his style and does not at all give any of his disgruntled feelings towards the studio at all. He went out of the Warner Bros. system with absolute prideful posturing.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra 4K & G.I. Joe: Retaliation 4K – With the attempted rebooting of this Hasbro made and grown toy franchise has come and gone with Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins disappointing us all with its mediocrity, we can now look back at the two live-action installments with a little more sunshine as I believe they well unfairly maligned. Not to say they were amazing but they weren’t as bad as a lot of people said they were. The first movie is a fun ride, made by Stephen Sommers, the guy behind the Mummy movies, and introduced all the classic characters like Duke, Scarlett and Dr. Mindbender with the stupid mech suits being a major drawback. The second film, Retaliation, tries to reboot it within a retconning but has the benefit of franchise Viagra The Rock to guide it along in his charismatic and charming way. Both being rereleased on glorious 4K, it’s a great opportunity to relive the first fledgling attempt to bring the Real American Heroes to a new generation, for better or worse.

Working Girls – Look, I’ve got to get my Criterion Collection in where I can and when they sent me the physical copy of this unsung drama I knew it was totally Geek Outs worthy. The film operates as a day-in-the-life story of several prostitutes in an upscale Manhattan whore house, a stark portrayal of the women prostitutes, the male customers and the motivations of both. Written and directed by Lizzie Borden, and not the axe-wielding Lizzie you’re probably thinking of right now, this film was in a constant battle with the MPAA over its content with the filmmaker not backing down and subsequently getting an X-rating that meant not many people saw it. Now, with the platform of the greatest home release distributor to film-minded people, the film gets the golden seal it deserves with an incredible revamp of the picture quality and special features the flesh out everything Borden was going for. This movie was a true discovery for me and I hope it gets the attention it deserves between this release and hopefully a streaming one on the Criterion Channel.

Your Honor – When Bryan Cranston does a new series, you take notice, but when he does a new show for Showtime? Get every Breaking Bad fan you know on board because this might be the new binge. A new show from The Night Of creator Peter Moffat, the story has Cranston starring as a judge confronting his convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. Facing impossible choices, he quickly discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life and the boundaries he’ll not only cross but sprint through. Kind of Walter White sounding, right? Look, Cranston is great in this show, as to be expected, but the underlying thread of a father going to the nth degree to save his family is a long threaded trope for him, is it not? I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get past this but otherwise, it’s old hat.

Pixie – Following her career since the sci-fi thriller The Signal in 2014, I’ve always been drawn to the work of actress Olivia Cooke who has since starred in great movies like Thoroughbreds, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and last year’s Sound Of Metal. Her name toplining this crime comedy thriller is why I was drawn to it and the supporting work from Alec Baldwin and Colm Meaney is just icing on the cake. The film has Cooke as the title character, Pixie Hardy, a woman on a path of vengeance for her mother’s death who attempts a heist that will give her the means to leave her small-town life behind afterwards. When the plan goes horribly wrong, she’s forced to team up with a pair of misfits who are clearly in over their heads and, on the run from a criminal gang of priests and nuns, the trio tries to scheme and swindle anyone they come across. The movie definitely feels like filmmakers Barnaby Thompson and Preston Thompson have watched every heist film and nabbed a little tidbit here and there but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter to me, I just enjoyed it thoroughly from top to bottom. This one definitely feels like a crowd-pleaser of gritty crime comedy fans.

Television:

Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 2 (Crave) – The Star Trek universe is ever-expanding under the umbrella of CBS All Access that has since become Paramount+ and going beyond the three and soon to be four seasons of Discovery and the soon to be two seasons of Picard, we also got an animated comedy that exists in that universe as well. Featuring the voices of The Boys’ Jack Quaid, Loki’s Eugene Cordero and Jerry O’Connell, the show follows the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos have to keep up with their duties, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies. I thought the first season was really funny but that may be because I have no real investment into the Star Trek universe and don’t feel so reverent to the source material. I know a lot of Trekkies out there who hate all of this new stuff and I don’t have that high bar set for it I guess.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 8 (NBC) – NINE-NINE! Yes, the greatest currently running television series is back for one last ride and I’m deliriously excited about it as I adore every single character on this show, it is simply perfect. With infinitely quotable lines, series long-running in-jokes, characters that ACTUALLY develop, which is rare in these shows, and a cast that brings it with every episode, what’s NOT to love? This show is up in the hall of fame of great shows with absolutely no bad episodes in it and I can’t think of another show like that except for maybe Breaking Bad? I digress though because I will say now that I feel pretty bittersweet about this one because I know that the sadness will creep through my system with each episode as we get closer to the end and we have to say goodbye to these incredible characters created by Michael Shur and Dan Goor, two of the best writers on television now. Let’s all mentally hold hands and say NINE-NINE together one last time, okay?

What If…? (Disney+) – Following WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and Loki, we now get a Disney+ original from Marvel Studios that don’t have implications on the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead wants to play in the sandbox of what could have been. Featuring already established talent within the MCU like Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Samuel L. Jackson and the final performance of Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa the Black Panther, the show has the brilliantly cast Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, an all omnipotent being who spins tales with the express purpose of reimagining noteworthy events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creating a multiverse of infinite possibilities. I love it when they do this in the comics, so I’m excited to see what they do with it in this form, even if it is just animated. I haven’t been disappointed by any of these shows yet so I’m almost guaranteeing that this is going to be great.

Brand New Cherry Flavor (Netflix) – I’m so excited that we get something totally Lynchian to dig into on Netflix this week as this new series feels totally like a nightmarish Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive spin-off. The cast is another draw to it as it has Alita: Battle Angel’s Rosa Salazar, The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto and Catherine Keener in a way you have never seen her before. The series follows Salazar as Lisa Nova, an aspiring film director who travels to the sun-drenched but seamy world of Los Angeles in 1990 and finds herself embarking on a mind-altering journey of supernatural revenge that gets nightmarishly out of control when a desperate producer takes her short film from her under the pretense of it being made into a feature film. Honestly, if I described the first episode to you it would probably sound like I was lying, it is that insane. I really hope this one catches on because I would love to see multiple seasons of it get made.

Titans: Season 3 (Crave) – DC and Warner Bros couldn’t seem to get their movies to work, but now The Suicide Squad came through to change that and alongside Birds Of Prey, Shazam and Aquaman have given us something to be excited about. Their television division is doing just fine with Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing and this series and now it makes its highly anticipated third season debut. Originally constructed for their DC-centric streaming platform, this is the darker-themed adaptation of the Teen Titans, led by Robin and featuring Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy. It also is still deeply connected to the Doom Patrol, which I still think is the heavyweight in their arsenal and the gift that keeps on giving. Heck, it’s part of the reason that we’re getting a renaissance for actor Brendan Fraser.

New Releases:

The Suicide Squad – Some comic book properties are so good and so deep that if you mess up their transition to the big screen it’s really all on you because the potential is all there. This is exactly what happened with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, a movie totally micromanaged by screaming producers at Warner Bros. and the result was a giant mediocre mess that writer and director James Gunn has to come in now and revamp and retcon to a better result. The Guardians Of The Galaxy filmmaker adds his flair to a new team with some familiar faces from the last film as supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X and are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese on a search and destroy mission. Pushing a hard R rating, this movie is guaranteed to be balls to the wall action with blood, gore and some great lines written by one of my favourite current creators. I’m so excited for this one.

Vivo – Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical genius is back on display for those Hamilton die-hards and people that championed his latest offering In The Heights but this one is for the whole family and the parents who have probably seen Moana in the triple digits by now. Well, hopefully, you can give Maui and “You’re Welcome” a rest for a bit as this new animated feature, originally slated to come out in theatres from Sony Animation which was taken over from Dreamworks, is available on Netflix for the easy repeat viewings at home. The story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou, also known as a rainforest “honey bear”, who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the bustling town square with his beloved owner Andrés and, though they may not speak the same language, the two are a perfect duo through their common love of music. When tragedy strikes shortly after Andrés receives a letter from the famous singer Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés never could which is a love letter to her, written long ago, in the form of a song. To get to Marta, who lives on the other side of the world, Vivo will need the help of Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum, to fulfill his owner’s wishes. The film is lively, vibrant and full of catchy tunes that threaten to make me far less of the musical hater that I think I am. I so love that the film also has Zoe Saldana, Bryan Tyree Henry and Michael Rooker in main roles.

Val – Love him or hate him, Val Kilmer has been part of the popular film zeitgeist for close to forty years and, personally, I was a huge fan of his all through the nineties until I heard of all of his primadonna antics, especially on the set of The Island Of Doctor Moreau, a film that I think he kind of tanked. This documentary, compiled with footage over the last four decades, attempts to give a bit more understanding of the brash actor all documented by himself and put together by filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott. Amassed from thousands of hours of footage, from home movies made with his brothers to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster films like Top Gun and Batman, this raw and wildly original documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled look at what it means to be an artist. I love films like this and have heard nothing but great things about it from the festival circuit. This is going to be a great one I think.

Dream Horse – More than five years ago today I was treated to a great little documentary that told the story of a group of people in a small Welsh town that pooled their resources to breed a championship-level racehorse and ended up with one of the best in modern times. Now that story has been turned into a theatrical film with the benefit of having Toni Collette as its lead star and Damien Lewis in a supporting role. The story is pretty much the same with a little melodrama thrown in, about an unlikely racehorse named Dream Alliance bred by small-town Welsh bartender Jan Vokes, a woman with no experience in the industry who convinces her neighbours to chip in their meagre earnings to help raise Dream in the hopes he can compete with the racing elites. The film is interesting and endearing but if you have already seen the documentary-like I have, it really doesn’t bring anything new to it and feels more like a dramatic reenactment of the events. That said, Collette is phenomenal as always and is worth the price of admission.


12 Mighty Orphans – Getting some of that era-specific sports dramas in this week with this new football film that has an interesting true story behind it but the execution is a little off to me. The film comes from Texan filmmaker Ty Roberts who always has a lot of pride in shooting his homegrown films in his state but this is his first true-to-the-story movie in this adaptation of Jim Dent’s novel of the same name. The film has Luke Wilson as a devoted high school football coach haunted by his mysterious past who leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a nation absolutely devoid of any hope. Wilson is very solid in his leading role and plays well with veteran actor Martin Sheen who also produced this film but their calibre makes everyone else look like they’re struggling to keep up with that kind of gravitas and it is very noticeable. On top of that, I feel like this inspirational sports story of underdogs and ne’er-do-wells rising to the top has been done before and this one doesn’t stand out by any means.

Swan Song – Udo Kier is always known for being a strange actor who has his own unique baseline and usually in the horror genre but this new film may be one of the jewels in the golden crown of his career as it delves into the great chameleon-like nature in his arsenal. Featuring supporting work from the always incredible Jennifer Coolidge, Dynasty actress Linda Evans and Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie, this movie is one of those character-driven movies that become the benchmark in actor’s careers and it is the perfect follow up for Kier after Bacurau. Written and directed by Todd Stephens in his first feature film in thirteen years, the film follows retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger who escapes the confines of his small-town Ohio nursing home after learning of his former client’s dying wish for him to style her final hairdo. Driven with purpose, Pat embarks on an odyssey to confront the ghosts of his past and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job along the way. I can not stop talking about how great Udo is in this movie but Stephens also imbues this film with a colourful vibrancy that is totally undeniable.

Rising Wolf – Sometimes weird science fiction can just reach through the screen and grab a viewer and it doesn’t need a huge star, big special effects or any sort of existing IP to do it if it’s well written enough. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be from North America like this one that is from the Land Down Under from writer and director Anthony Furlong who makes his feature film debut here and it is an ambitious one for sure, which may get in the way for some viewers. The story follows a young woman who wakes up trapped and kidnapped in an elevator of a super high rise building at the mercy of her tormentors. Set in Shanghai, the film follows as her instinct to survive takes over in a situation out of her control and without any form of escape and cocooned in the belly of the beast, she is forced to adapt her thinking, her beliefs and her endurance to connect to abilities that define who she truly is. The great thing about this film is the freedom that Furlong was granted to make an unconstrained sci-fi thriller but the convoluted nature of his storytelling bites him in the ass a bit as it is, at times, frustratingly hard to follow, like he has seven different stylistic thoughts at the same time. It is a bold debut though and I wonder what he has up his sleeve next.

Blackpink The Movie – K-Pop is a huge music genre and market that has millions upon millions of rabid and loyal fans, some of whom helped disrupt the former President Trump’s rally plans and I will always appreciate them for causing the kerfuffle but I still don’t get the music but my kid does. Along with BTS, Blackpink is a group I do know from the continued use of one of their songs on the app TikTok but this film is a tool to get a deeper understanding of a group that is burning up music sales daily. This documentary is a film to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the debut of the world-loved K-pop group and its members, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa. Over the last five years, the film features these superstars’ memories through undisclosed special interviews and even gives their processes on hit songs like The Show, In Your Area, and at least a dozen more songs. This played for me as that Justin Beiber documentary did years ago, going over like a lead balloon, but I can definitely see its fan-focused appeal. 

Escape From Mogadishu – Hell yes, a South Korean-made action-adventure to chew on this week thanks to the great international distribution of Well Go USA. The film comes from director Seung-wan Ryoo, a filmmaker that I am shockingly unfamiliar with a lot of his work, but he did do the incredible and brutal action flick, City Of Violence which I enjoyed a lot. This film is set in 1991, Mogadishu when the capital city and most populous part of Somalia was torn by civil war. The story follows the personnel and the families of the South Korean embassy, who are isolated with no communication, enduring hail of bullets and shells constantly. Then one night, personnel from the North Korean embassy come knocking on the door asking for help and together they make a plan with one goal in mind, to escape from Mogadishu. This film movies with such a great feel of action that there isn’t a dull moment to be had in it. I feel like so many American-made action thrillers try hard and fail to give their films the momentum that this movie does effortlessly.

The Swarm – A creepy little French horror flick that doesn’t feel far off of an Elseworlds Monsanto cautionary tale, I caught wind of this new Netflix release late but I knew I had to bring it. The film is the feature debut of filmmaker Just Philippot that is immediately a fantastic blend of social-political issues and deeply insidious eco terror that is helped along by some fascinating special effects. The story follows a single mother who breeds edible grasshoppers to save her farm from bankruptcy but soon develops a strange, obsessive bond with them that will lead her to confront the local farmers and her own children, who can no longer even recognize her. This film is freshly original and doesn’t have a predictable moment in it that leads to an edge-of-your-seat intrigue that extends to the final frame. Much like the gorefest The Platform that was released last year, this cerebral thriller could find the same footing on Netflix.

Pray Away – Netflix’s executive producer and creator darling Ryan Murphy and head Blumhouse honcho Jason Blum have teamed for this new documentary that hits hard and hits fast with its outrage and it was almost enough for me to yell at my television and story the film, never to pick it up again. The film centers around five former leaders of the “pray the gay away” movement that was created in the mid-seventies as Exodus and now contend with the aftermath unleashed by their actions while one of the subjects, a survivor, seeks healing and acceptance from more than a decade of trauma from similar groups. As a non-religious but educated viewer, this film only served to prove the point I always come to in these programs and movies and that’s that religion is a cult and only serves to create fear, shame and depression in their followers unless they keep on a straight (pun intended) and narrow path without deviation or suffering the consequences. This is a movie that prompted constant engagement from me as I cursed angrily, shook my head in disbelief and felt constant resentment to a spirituality that is supposed to make people happy and find their true selves instead of burying it so deeply that they lost all semblance of their soul. This film is like a slap to the face of believers and I am so here for it.

Ailey – This was a midnight hour addition to the releases this week that was so close to not getting on this blog but I love my PR person at Elevation and wanted to make her happy. This one’s for you, Kate! I’m really glad I did get this one as it comes from Neon, a company I really love and is an incredibly immersive and beautiful-looking movie that I did not know heading in. The film is a portrait of Alvin Ailey, a visionary artist who found his own personal salvation through dance. Told in his own words through the creation of a new commission inspired by his life, evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, this is a documentary that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Sometimes a movie lands in your lap and it feels like a gift from the movie gods and this was my happy piece of that this week.

Blu-Ray & DVD:

Luca – Pixar is back with their second film released during the theatre shut down and I’m reading reports about how disappointed the animators are that their work hasn’t been able to be displayed on the big screen and I definitely feel their frustration because I would have loved to experience Soul that way and now this beautiful film. Inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli and Hiyao Miyazaki, director Enrico Casarosa, this film is set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera and is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca, voiced by Langley’s own Jacob Tremblay, shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto, in the voice of Shazam and It star Jack Dylan Grazer, but all the fun is threatened by the deeply-held secret that they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface. This film is an endearing story of friendship and the need for escapism as they chase their dreams and I feel like it’s another strong entry into the library of Pixar who seem to always bring the top calibre of stories and warm and comforting experiences.

Those Who Wish Me Dead – Remember when it seemed that Angelina Jolie was retiring with her vanity project By The Sea with now ex-husband Brad Pitt being her acting swan song? Well, I guess being a Disney villain like Maleficent or a superhero in the upcoming Eternals for Marvel must have renewed her thirst for the medium because she’s back in this new action thriller from Wind River director Taylor Sheridan and alongside Nicholas Hoult. The story follows a teenaged murder witness who finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert and smoke jumper played by Jolie who takes on the task of protecting him as a forest fire bears down on them, wiping out everything in its path. Automatically, with the attachment of Sheridan’s name, I’m immediately drawn in because he hasn’t made a flop yet. The film was also shot by Ben Richardson who’s done pretty much everything that Sheridan has been behind the camera for as well as Beasts Of The Southern Wild. This is most likely one of the better films to see this weekend.

Here Today – It’s a sure thing that if you have Billy Crystal in your cast that I’m going to check out your movie and more often than not the movie is pretty damn good as was evident in the film he did with Ben Schwartz, Standing Up, Falling Down, which is a must-see. This film puts Crystal into another great position as he teams with the hilarious Tiffany Haddish in a film he also wrote and directed. The film has the legendary comedian as veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz who meets New York street singer Emma Payge and the two form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust. The movie definitely has its moments of sappiness that can drag it down from time to time but the performances from these two massively likeable stars who imbue that directly on their characters right the ship and make it a pleasant and light-hearted watch. If anything, it proves that Crystal still has it and it never left.

Seance – One half of the guys who brought us You’re Next, The Guest and so much more, writer Simon Barrett marks 2021 with a new horror flick that oozes with so many of the elements that make fans of this genre, starting with what I felt was the beautiful nods to Dario Argento. Was it the boarding school setting, the beautiful uses of colour or the Giallo-like kills? Yeah, maybe. The story follows Camille, a young woman who arrives at the prestigious Fairfield Academy, an elite boarding school for girls, following one of the student’s untimely and violent death. The tragedy was the result of six of the students jokingly engaging in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. Featuring the fantastic Suki Waterhouse in the lead role, this movie is a solid slow burn that keeps its cards to the chest before breaking everything wide open in its third act. I love Barrett and Adam Wingard as a team but while Adam is doing Godzilla things, I’m totally cool with more of these great horror set-pieces. Bring ’em on.

Take Back – I feel like I would have been into a movie like this in the nineties and pretty easily too. Mickey Rourke, a known badass who retired from acting for a stint in boxing for a while and Michael Jai White, the only man up to this point to play the comic book demigod Spawn in live-action form. Older me has seen way too many of these though and it takes a lot to rock my world and this film really doesn’t look like it has that gusto. The story follows a couple named Zara and Brian who are living the perfect small-town life when she heroically foils a robbery and becomes headline news. This unwanted notoriety draws elements of Zara’s mysterious past back into her life, putting the lives of her family in danger. When Zara and Brian’s daughter is kidnapped by a sadistic gang of people traffickers led by the vicious Patrick, the pair face a race against time to save her life. The film has a great setup and keeps you strung along for the duration but that third act came in like a bull in a china shop to destroy all the momentum with a corny desert shoot-out that reeks of them writing themselves into a corner.

Lucky – Brea Grant is an absolute favourite of horror genre fans and that is beyond getting knifed by Michael Myers in the Rob Zombie made Halloween II or her role on Dexter. Just look at her latest venture behind the camera, 12 Hour Shift, which subverts the horror genre in many great ways, and now this new thriller, another Grant-written film, which very much does the same defying of the horror tropes. The story has her as a suburban woman who fights to be believed by the authorities and those around her as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands and the explanations are more rifely existential than she could have imagined. This film has a brilliant subtext to it that isn’t quite apparent until the second act but that transition to the finale breaks it all wide open and I felt a smile creep up on my face in recognition of what was going on. This film is clever and driven by a performance by Brea that is a showcase of her total star power. I loved this movie.

Righteous Blood – Westerns seem to be those types of films that either get great and rich Hollywood attention or are some low-budget affair by filmmakers who cut corners and half-ass their productions to a direct-to-video release. Unfortunately, this one is the latter of the two and it is even a lesser one at that. Featuring former Warriors and Dexter star Michael Pare, this story follows an outlaw gun for hire named Jericho who is on the run from the law when he finds himself tangled in a situation that will challenge his skills and his beliefs. Yes, it makes an ugly swerve into the faith department which wouldn’t be so bad if it had any sort of viewing merit before it got into those entanglements. Spoilers, it doesn’t ever earn a moment where you’re not questioning why you are watching it so let my viewing of it absolve you of yours. It isn’t worth it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Mirror – This was a big geek-out moment for me, hence me including it on this week’s list, as it is the first movie in my collection that was written and directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, most known for his sci-fi mindbender Solaris. This is a more grounded film but only in the fact that it has both of its feet planted on the earth but it deals with the very mortal passage in time but on an existential level. The acclaimed and legendary filmmaker mixes flashbacks, historical footage and original poetry to illustrate the reminiscences of a dying man about his childhood during World War II, adolescence and a painful divorce in his family while also interweaving reflections about Russian history and society into the mosaic. This is very much an art film in every way and will only really appeal to the well-versed film connoisseur but if you have the patience for it I really feel the reward is there and the Criterion edition I received for it is absolutely gorgeous. I’m proud to have this incredible film in my possession.

Bringing Up Baby – We’re getting some powerhouse in the classic film department this week as the Criterion Collection recently released this legendary romantic comedy from the powerhouse trio of leading stars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and director Howard Hawks, who took it upon himself to studiously coach the legendary actress in her first comedic role. The story follows paleontologist David Huxley who is trying to make a good impression on society matron Mrs. Random who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. On the day before his wedding, Huxley meets Mrs. Random’s high-spirited young niece, Susan Vance, a madcap adventuress with her pet leopard, Baby. Of course, she immediately falls for the straitlaced scientist and pursues him to no end. This is the perfect example of cast and crew coming together to make timely comedy gold and it’s funny to think that the studio was projecting disaster for the release when it actually did quite well.

Objective, Burma – Delving into some Warner Archive this week with a title that missed my mailbox on the release date, I’m bringing you back to the mid-1940s for a war film that earned itself three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Score. The film stars one of the era greats, Errol Flynn but the decision of one-eyed director Raoul Walsh to cast him created controversy as Flynn had notorious health problems that barred him from ever serving in a military capacity and audiences saw through it no matter how much he loved the role. The story follows a platoon of special ops who are tasked to parachute into the remote Burmese jungle and destroy a strategic Japanese radar station with no means of escaping afterwards. The film is pretty great but audiences, studios and theatres did all they could to kill the film and they really effectively did as it has been long forgotten now.

Pennyworth: Season 2 – The DC Universe-related television shows keep on coming with this new prequel show that has landed on the American cable channel Epix of all places and now has gotten its season two as well. Not to be confused with the recently finished Fox show Gotham that had a younger Alfred Pennyworth, loyal butler to Bruce Wayne and medic and everyman to the Caped Crusader Batman, this show features British actor Jack Bannon in the role, harkening back to his days working for Bruce’s father Thomas. The show will delve into Pennyworth’s past as a British special forces officer and is really well done with a great look to it that comes from showrunner Bruno Heller who has already gifted us with great television like HBO’s short-lived Rome and, yes, he was the man behind Gotham so he is probably the best guy to do another prequel series.

The Walking Dead World Beyond: Season 1 – Another Walking Dead spin-off arrives on blu-ray a few weeks back just as the final season of the original series has been gearing up to close the first television bloodline of a now-massive entity 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. So far it’s really great, though not as good as Fear The Walking Dead but I will definitely continue to immerse myself in Robert Kirkman’s imagination as season two is on the horizon and the first ends with such a great cliffhanger. Of course, with Kirkman behind it,  I will say that it’s not for the faint of heart at all.

Television:

Cooking With Paris (Netflix) – This is a weird one and I even feel kind of weird for bringing it but the curiosity is too great and I guess I can kind of tell what they mean about that notion and its cat-killing ability. It’s been a while since Paris Hilton was in this kind of reality show position after she and Nicole Ritchie did The Simple Life seasons but now since that cat’s out of the bag from her YouTube documentary, which is really great and dispelled her vapidness as just a created persona, this show will play a little differently. Now she’s turning the traditional cooking show upside down, being a person who can’t really cook. With the help of her celebrity friends, she navigates new ingredients, new recipes and exotic kitchen appliances, taking the viewer from the grocery store to the finished table spread and possibly learning something along the way. The guests include Kim Kardashian West, Demi Lovato, Nikki Glaser, Saweetie, Lele Pons and Nicky and Kathy Hilton, which are really hit or miss for me but I’m still morbidly wondering if she can pull this off. I kind of hate myself for it.

Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami (Netflix) – Some more true crime arrives on Netflix this week but this one is like an old coked-out friend who used to entertain you in the mid-2000s. Following the documentary films Cocaine Cowboys and Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin With The Godmother and Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded, we now get another installment but this time in the form of a six-episode limited documentary series. So, kind of like a dude with bloodshot eyes and an itchy nose telling you his life story, longest form. The show follows two high school dropouts who become South Florida kingpins known as Willy and Sal, aka “Los Muchachos”, two of Miami’s biggest celebrities who were accused of smuggling over 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in the 1980s. It’s pretty self-explanatory from the title, I think, and if you’ve watched Scarface more than five times, you’re going to love it.

Mr. Corman (AppleTV+) – The new AppleTV+ originals, at least in the first few years of the streaming platform’s beginnings, feel a lot like shows that were declined by other networks which is definitely the case with Ted Lasso, a series that NBC mistakenly turned down. I feel this is also the case with Rose Byrne’s hard-edged show Physical and this new Joseph Gordon Levitt written, directed and led series which, to me, seem like shows that would belong to a cable network like Showtime. The series follows Josh Corman, a guy who is an artist that has given up on his music career and fallen into the mundanity of being a fifth-grade public school teacher, dealing with the fallout of his ex-fiancé Megan moving out and his high school buddy moving in. Aware that he still has a lot to be thankful for, Josh struggles nevertheless through universal feelings of anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt as he struggles to get back a semblance of a happy existence. A strong and darkly funny pilot episode kept me onboard for a fresh and witty series that shows that Levitt has been able to hone his skills from his great film Don Juan into a compelling character series.

Obama: In Pursuit Of A More Perfect Union (Crave) – If there was anyone I really fanboyed over in politics it is definitely Barack Obama and it is for a whole cornucopia of reasons so when I saw that he was releasing something new and something outside his Netflix deal and on HBO, I was definitely invested in checking it out. The series is an examination of the journey of Barack Obama from his early upbringing to the 44th U.S. President, set against the backdrop of the country’s unfolding racial history. A three-episode show, this is HBO going deep on one of the greatest presidents in history which is I think the best documentary makers in television today. The show features interviews with David Axelrod, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Lewis and many others who help illustrate the life of an incredible man who, even out of office, isn’t quite finished with leading or inspiring.