Spiral – This week is going to be full of me reminiscing or saying “remember when?” so let’s kick it off right with a franchise that was supposed to end after the seventh film, which was a 3D extravaganza, then a soft reboot with the flick, Jigsaw. Now Chris Rock has stepped up as the executive producer and lead star, director Darren Lynn Bousman is back with writer Josh Stolberg and we get a whole new bag of nightmares to start fresh on. This new story focuses on brash detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks who always seems to be working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran played by Samuel L. Jackson. With his rookie partner in tow, he takes charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past, which we all knownow what’s alluded to there. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game as more bodies begin to pile up. These movies all used to operate with a bit of torture porn horror wink but the good news is the reviews piling in right now are really good which has me absolutely pumped to check this out. If theatres ever open up here…
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.
The Woman In The Window – With Hanna and The Soloist director Joe Wright at the helm and a massively stacked cast including Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell and more, this movie easily made its way onto my most anticipated of the week list. Adams plays Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who finds herself keeping tabs on the picture-perfect family across the street through the windows of her New York City brownstone. Her life is turned upside down when she inadvertently witnesses a brutal crime that puts her in the center of the mystery. I started to fall out of love with this movie when I started to see how structured like a play it was and the acting started to reflect that too, almost stilted in the delivery. I was also disappointed by the cinematography, which is done by the incredible Bruno Delbonel who’s done amazing work for Jean Pierre Jeunet and the Coens, but this one feels really bland in its scope. I’m sure it comes across in this write-up but I was really let down by this one.
Together Together – Give me more Ed Helms in sleepy little indie comedy-dramas because I loved every moment of this movie. Helms plays a single man who hires a younger woman to become the gestational surrogate for his child and the two come to realize an unexpected relationship develop that will challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love and give an almost immediate salve to their loneliness that they both experience. The film is a bold second project for writer and director Nikole Beckwith who makes quite the swerve after her drama thriller Stockholm, Pennsylvania by making such a sweetly told story that explores exactly what it means to be human without feeling contrived for a minute. It’s just what Helms needs to keep his star rising and is a catapult for the immense talent of his co-lead Patti Harrison who gets her first major role here.
The Killing Of Two Lovers – It’s a deep and sadly sombre indie drama that I think is the sleeper gem this week and it’s interesting as it features the lead actor of Clayne Crawford whose last big headline was getting fired from the Lethal Weapon television in an on set bullying scandal. The film follows Crawford as David, an emotionally troubled man who desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from Nikki. Both agreeing to see other people during their break, David struggles to grapple with his wife’s new relationship, bringing him to dark points of obsession and contemplating murder. This film is incredibly well shot, opting to use a sort of 4:3 aspect ratio and with a beautiful blank space approach to the cinematography and a script that doesn’t waste words. As far as brooding character dramas go, this is how you excel at it.
Oxygen – One of my favourite horror filmmakers Alexandre Aja has returned to his home country of France to make his next project but this time he’s basing it more in science fiction but he’s still toying with fear in a big way. At its heart, the film is a survival thriller that tells the story of a young woman who wakes up in a cryogenic pod not knowing who she is or how she ended up there and, even worse, she’s running out of oxygen. In a race against a depleting lifeline, she must get her bearings on her surroundings, her identity and her manner of escape into a world beyond her high-tech cage and it is a harrowing and claustrophobic experience throughout. Those who are more used to Aja’s gory nature, like High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, may be taken aback by his singular storytelling approach in this but I took it as him expanding his vision and comfort zone and I really enjoyed it. The reveals are so well constructed in it too.
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 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.
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.
High Ground – I am and forever will be a sucker for Australian film. There’s something that just draws me in about them, the feeling of being a knowing guest into their style of cinema. This new adventure drama has all the great staples around it, starring Simon Baker using his native accent with veteran actor Jack Thompson in a supporting role in a story about a big part of Australia, the aboriginal population. Set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, the film chronicles the life of a young aboriginal man named Gutjuk, who in a bid to save the last of his family teams up with ex-soldier Travis to track down Baywara, the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, who is also his uncle. As Travis and Gutjuk journey through the outback, they begin to earn each other’s trust, but when the truths of Travis’s past actions are suddenly revealed, it is he who becomes the hunted. The film is a stunning narrative that pushes the emotion of the journey at all times and consistently packs the punch of the effect of colonialism on the aboriginal people. This one may not be for everyone but I totally loved it.
The Mauritanian – I picked the perfect time to watch my screener for this drama thriller that is based on the novel from the author and the main focus of this film, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, as it picked up a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress Jodie Foster just before it’s release here in Canada on VOD initially. Coming from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald, this is the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the United States government for years. Alone, afraid and yearning to be reconnected with his family, Slahi finds allies in defence attorney Nancy Hollander, played by Foster and her associate Teri Duncan, played by Shailene Woodley who battles the government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a formidable military prosecutor, The Benedict Cumberbatch played Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, uncovers shocking truths and ultimately proves that the Americans have been so shady and callous in their reaction to 9/11, the catalyst for all their actions. The film is brilliantly acted but there is a dry dullness that snakes through it and kind of drags it down in parts.
The Marksman – Liam Neeson can’t escape the action films even though he says he’s retired from them after the Taken trilogy but maybe he just meant he was now shifting to reluctant heroes on their last legs who make their last stands for a multiple choice of reasons. Well, that’s what we’ve got here, as he plays Arizona rancher Jim Hanson, a recluse who simply wants to be left alone as he fends off eviction notices and tries to make a living on an isolated stretch of borderland. It all changes when he witnesses eleven-year-old migrant Miguel fleeing with his mother Rosa from drug cartel assassins led by the ruthless Mauricio. After being caught in a shoot-out, a dying Rosa begs Jim to take her son to safety to her family in Chicago and, defying his cop daughter Sarah, played by Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick, he sneaks Miguel out of the local U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station and together, they hit the road with the group of killers in pursuit. The film is a bland cat and mouse thriller that seems to hit all the cliches that you would expect with the gravelly loner, the defiant kid and the bloodthirsty killers chasing them while killing everyone in their path. Totally yawn-worthy.
Land – Veteran actress and former crush of mine back in the Princess Bride days Robin Wright makes her directorial debut with this emotional drama the puts a grieving woman in the middle of the wilderness in a story not just of personal survival but soul resurrection. Wright stars in the film and playing Edee, a woman living in the aftermath of an unfathomable event and finds herself unable to stay connected to the world she once knew. In the face of that uncertainty, she retreats to the magnificent, but unforgiving, wilds of the Rockies in Wyoming and, inexperienced in how to live off and protect herself from the land, she puts her life in extreme danger. After a local hunter, played beautifully by Demián Bichir, brings her back from the brink of death, she must find a way to live again and open herself up to the continuation of her being. The film starts off rocky in my opinion, giving so much emotion to a character that we haven’t even gotten to know yet and her survival naivete comes off as frustrating but the second and third act comes in to totally elevate that film and give us a really tender one-two dynamic with these characters. Wright sticks her landing as a filmmaker and I’m looking forward to what she has next.
Earwig And The Witch – We’re hitting up some brand new Studio Ghibli produced animation this week which always seems to bring a certain type of class to it and when it sees release in North America they always have a really great English voice cast to it. Featuring Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant, country singer Kacey Musgraves and Legion’s Dan Stevens, this film follows an orphan named Earwig who grew up in the English countryside unknowing of her mother’s magical powers. Her life changes dramatically when a strange couple takes her in and she is forced to live with a selfish witch. As the headstrong young girl sets out to uncover the secrets of her new guardians, she discovers a world of spells and potions and a mysterious song that may be the key to finding the family she has always wanted. This film is dazzling and sweet but it is very apparent that it is a far cry from the movies that established the world-renowned animation company as it lacks that certain polish and the world doesn’t have the same warmth. That said, it’s still very entertaining.
The Seventh Day – Did you think I was going to let Spiral be the sole horror movie I would bring this week? Heck no, especially not when I have Guy Pearce as a demon-fighting priest! He stars in this film as a renowned exorcist who teams up with a rookie priest for his first day of training and as they plunge deeper into hell on earth, the lines between good and evil blur, and their own demons emerge. Did that just sound like the Exorcist version of the movie Training Day? Kind of and, to be honest, that would have been amazing in my opinion. What is instead the result is a great performance from Pearce in a movie that is muddled in its plot and seems to constantly borrow from better films which, in turn, makes it look way worse. If I hadn’t seen any exorcism movie prior I may have been slightly impressed by this one but, alas, I’m well versed in the subgenre.
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.
Senior Moment – William Shatner stars in a goofy and slapstick romantic comedy and even with his romantic lead being played by the amazing and hilarious Jean Smart, I couldn’t be less enthused about this wet fart of a movie. Shatner plays a retired NASA test pilot who, after drag racing his vintage convertible around Palm Springs, loses his license and is forced to take public transportation. This ends up working out for him as he meets Caroline and starts to learn to navigate a love life again in a movie that is so horribly “paint by numbers” I began to feel like I had forgotten if I had actually written this one myself. Not even a Christopher Lloyd supporting role as his doting best friend could keep me complacent as I kept checking the runtime like a detention student waiting for the teacher to let him go. There may be a market for this but it certainly isn’t me…
Justice Society: World War II – The DC animated universe gets another beautiful installment with this new “else universes” story that gives Wonder Woman a huge platform to show off the true capabilities of the character and, honestly, the sequences are breathtaking. The story follows The Flash as the Speed Force has him hurtling through time into an alternate timeline after attempting to save Superman from certain death in his own world. In a strange land, he finds himself aligned with the Justice Society, led by the tough-as-nails Princess Diana, in a fight against the powerful Nazi regime during the Second World War. As a comic fan, I loved everything about this movie, Castle’s Stana Katic makes a great Diana and White Collar star Matt Bomer is a fun Barry Allen Flash and the action is hard-hitting and furious. The animated division of DC Comics and Warner Bros. is really the best thing going on that side of the comic book movie wars and it’s awesome to see that tradition is continuing and possibly even getting better and better every time. I highly recommend this killer superhero flick.
Morgue – We’ve got some international horror this week all the way from Paraguay, which is just a little jump away from Uraguay which gave us Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez so I’m more than willing to give it a chance. A very self-contained little ghost story, the story is about perpetually down-on-his-luck Diego Martinez who, after a harrowing accident, accepts a gig as a security guard at the local morgue. At first, he thinks he’s landed himself a sweet and lazy gig but as the night wears on, eerie occurrences and the suddenly not-quite-lifeless bodies that inhabit the building leave him to wonder how much otherworldly energy does it take to wake the dead? This film was a gnarly surprise that slowly slid me over to the edge of my seat until I was perched on it for the entire finale. This is my introduction to writer and director Hugo Cardozo and oh boy am I ever interested in whatever he has coming next.
Merrily We Go To Hell – Criterion Collection hits again this week and I totally feel blessed cinematically with another classic film that is completely new to me and another piece of continued celluloid education. Made in 1932 by a woman director, which seems insanely progressive for the time, the film follows drunken newspaperman Jerry Corbett who finally meets and marries the right girl, Joan Prentiss. Unfortunately, their wedded bliss is interrupted when Jerry’s play, a passion project encouraged by Joan, becomes a hit and he hooks up with the wrong woman from his past. Joan decides that the affair is fair play to be devious herself and she picks another man to escort her around to various parties around New York which eventually causes Jerry to sober up and try to regain the love of his life. Very convoluted romantic affairs run through this film but it was only controversial at its time just due to the title being very taboo to put into advertisements and print. It also hindered its chances of being awards recognized. Still a fascinating piece of film history.
Giants And Toys – Arrow Video is digging into their vaults for a classic film release of their own this week as they have unearthed a weirdo Japanese comedy-drama from 1958 for a collector’s edition. The story follows Nishi, an advertising executive for a caramel company that is planning to launch a new product, in fierce competition with two other companies. His boss builds up Kyoko, a vivacious girl with bad teeth, as their mascot who becomes infatuated with Nishi when he is assigned to look after her. Meanwhile, Nishi is trying to extract information about his competitors’ advertising campaigns, from his girlfriend, who works for one rival, and his old college friend, who works for the other rival company. It’s all a convoluted whirl of relationships, corporate backstabbing and a bit of slapstick silliness in just the way that classic Japanese cinema can spin it and keep it on the rails. This will definitely not be for everyone as it for sure lost me here and there. Honestly, I’m still trying to process it a bit.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Irma Vep – This might be a bit too obscure and pretentious for a mainstream crowd to get behind but Criterion keeps hooking me up with these old masterpieces and I really can’t help bringing them here. This film is a fascinating trip to a sci-fi fantasy movie set in France for acclaimed writer and director Olivier Assayas’s very introspective look at the clash of egos on high-end feature film productions. The story follows washed-up French director René Vidal who hopes to turn his career around with an update of “Les Vampires,” a silent-era masterpiece about a notorious ring of thieves, led by crafty female crook Irma Vep. René brings in Chinese star Maggie Cheung, who plays herself in the film, to play Vep, but unexpected roadblocks arise on the set immediately when they find that she doesn’t know French and her character’s criminal ways are starting to rub off on her in a very real way. She is also veraciously being pursued by an obsessive lesbian crew member to make matters worse. Assayas is an absolute genius and this movie is another indication that he has been for over twenty-five years. This is a 1996 gem that demands to be rediscovered and inserted into the genre of on-set folly films.
Hacks (Crave) – I have been a fan of Iris Behr’s work ever since I discovered her show Svetlana almost by accident and ended up binging every episode of it I could find. For this new series, she teams with Broad City creator Lucia Aniello to tell the story of Deborah Vance, played by the great Jean Smart, a legendary Las Vegas comedian who enters into a very dark and sometimes totally inappropriate mentorship with Josefina, an entitled but totally socially outcast twenty-five-year-old. Josefina is played by actress Rose Abdoo, who was a small supporting player in the long-running Gilmore Girls, but really gets to shine here with some great chemistry with Smart who is truly hitting legendary status along with what her character is supposed to be. I don’t see HBO Max pushing this series greatly but I will say that it is worth checking out.
Castlevania: Season 4 (Netflix) – With one of my favourite comic book creators Warren Ellis as the showrunner behind this anime-style adaptation of an original Nintendo classic, so may early gamers share the deep stakes feeling with this series. The good news is we are four seasons deep in this now and things are going awesome and the horizon is beautiful. Those who have no idea what this show is about follow the aftermath of when Lisa Tepes, beloved wife of Vlad Tepes, or Dracula for the layman, is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake by an overzealous bishop. Dracula immediately declares war on the people of Wallachia and unleashes an army of murderous demonic creatures from hell. Luckily our main character, Trevor Belmont, last survivor of the Belmont clan, a disgraced family known for hunting all kinds of monsters, is still in town and agrees to take the fight to the lord of vampires. Featuring The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage, Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis and Preacher’s Graham McTavish, this show is all sorts of badass and has me consistently engaged each season which is crazy because anime is a tough sell usually for me.
Love, Death & Robots: Volume 2 (Netflix) – The first season of this gnarly show had me hook, line and sinker as I’m a sucker for a good anthology and this one goes for the jugular whenever it can and I expect more of that from the second volume. The biggest bummer is that instead of eighteen episodes we only get eight this time around but it is still executive produced by the great David Fincher and it is still so mesmerizing to take in. The trailer is frenetic, in your face and totally pulse-pounding, it has me so pumped up for the launch on Friday. This is definitely the binge-worthy gem you’ve been waiting for, stoners!
The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime) – Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is getting deeply historical with his follow up to his James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk and he’s going big by making it a limited miniseries. Starring Joel Edgerton, The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper and newcomers Thuso Mbedu and Chase Dillon, the show chronicles Cora Randall’s desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South after escaping a Georgia plantation for the rumoured Underground Railroad. She quickly discovers it’s no mere metaphor, but an actual railroad full of engineers and conductors, and a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Over the course of her journey, Cora is pursued by Ridgeway, a bounty hunter who is fixated on bringing her back to the plantation she escaped, especially since her mother Mabel is the only one he has never caught. I have such deep respect for Jenkins’s work and seeing that he directed every episode of this I’m really excited to check it out. This is also the last thing of his before he releases the live-action Lion King sequel. Actually, live-action is a relative term here.
Halston (Netflix) – Not too long ago I got to check out the full documentary on fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick and I was pretty fascinated by the story of this very forward thinker that seemed to have an uncanny ability to see trends before they were fully realized. Now Netflix has made a dramatized series with Ewan McGregor in the lead role as the legendary fashion designer as he leverages his single, invented name into a worldwide fashion empire that’s synonymous with luxury, sex, status and fame, literally defining the era he lives in, 1970’s and ’80’s New York. The real battle comes when a hostile takeover forces him to battle for control of his most precious asset, the name Halston itself and all the relationships he built under it. I love everything Ewan does but what really intrigues me is that Rory Culkin plays filmmaker Joel Schumacher in this which fascinates me to no end. I’m excited for this.