Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Scream – Usually January is a dead in the water month for big releases but in 2022 we’re getting the horror year kicked off early because a slasher franchise heavyweight is coming back to theaters and fans, such as myself, are really excited about it. It should be noted right away that this is the first Scream film to not be directed by horror master Wes Craven who sadly passed away almost seven years ago but it is in safe hands with Ready Or Not filmmaking duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. The film picks up twenty-five years after the streak of brutal murders that shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, California in the original film and now a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past and to force Sydney Prescott to come back and deal with the terror for good. The film has Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox returning to the franchise with The Boys’ Jack Quaid, 13 Reasons Why’s Dylan Minnette, Yellowjackets’ Jasmin Savoy Brown and more joining the cast. The movie looks awesome, has a lot of great advance reviews and the marketing campaign is really great. I love the poster for this, it is brilliant.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth – Christmas was really good to us just a couple of weeks with the second year of weirdness due to the pandemic because not only did we get two Denzel Washington projects but this one is also the debut of the legendary Joel Coen as a solo director without the mainstay of his brother Ethan. This is also a Shakespearian film which brings Denzel all the way back to the nineties when he did Much Ado About Nothing for Kenneth Branaugh. Also starring Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson and Corey Hawkins, this is that age old story of a Scottish lord who becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power and murdering the current man in the seat which of course works out well for everyone involved. Yeah, no, there’s tragedy and I was very intrigued to see what the sole Coen brother had done with a story that we have seen so many times and, with the producing oomph of A24 as the studio, this film doesn’t disappoint. Shot in beautiful black and white in an aspect ratio that will remind many others of The Lighthouse, Denzel delivers with his incredible gravitas a character with such moral weakness that we haven’t seen from him since Training Day. Shot by Coen mainstay Bruno Debonel, the film is always fascinating to look at but may be more meant for the deeper cinephiles or Shakespearean fans out there.

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania – Another one of those pandemic hold overs, especially for the animated features, this third sequel I think has been held back for more than a couple years with the studio not really knowing exactly what to do with it and now it is here on Amazon Prime. Another excuse for Adam Sandler to get all of his buddies into the same project for an easy paycheck, none of these movies have been huge hits in my mind but I do know that the kids love them. This film has the cast dealing with Van Helsing’s mysterious invention, the “Monsterfication Ray” which goes haywire and Drac and his monster pals are all transformed into humans with his son-in-law Johnny becoming a monster. In their new mismatched bodies, Drac, now stripped of his powers, and an exuberant Johnny, who is loving life as a monster, must team up and race across the globe to find a cure before it’s too late and their transformations become permanent. I really don’t think there is much to expect from this movie, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, but it is notable that one of the greatest animators ever, Genndy Tartakovsky, helped create this whole franchise and wrote the screenplay for this one.

Ray Donovan: The Movie – It’s been almost two years to the day since we last saw Ray Donovan in the finale of season seven. Harsh familial truths were learned which put everything in a new perspective for our titular character, Mickey had a final showdown with The Sullivans driven by the greed that has propelled him the whole series but none of it had that air of finality that said it was the end. It’s a good thing Showtime agreed because now we get a feature film to continue this story which formulates a finish that culminates in a showdown decades in the making that brings the Donovan family legacy full circle as they find themselves drawn back to Boston. Violence is definitely in the cards and it is yet another showing of how damn cool Liev Schreiber is in every moment, the ultimate depiction of a suave alpha male in a progressive new world. I will even give a pass for the human garbage that is Jon Voight because he is also incredible in this series as Mickey Donovan.

Italian Studies – Ever since I first saw her in Hobbs And Shaw then saw her tragic portrayal of Princess Margaret in the the first two seasons of The Crown I’ve been drawn to actress Vanessa Kirby. Not just because she is gorgeous, and she very much is, but because there is so much soul and what almost seems like pain in her eyes which adds an allure to all of the roles she does. In this film she plays a transplanted writer from London to New York City who inexplicably loses her memory and suddenly becomes unmoored and adrift on the streets of Manhattan with no sense of time or place or even her own name. As her consciousness swings between imagined conversations, fragments of her own short stories and the bustling city around her, she finds an anchor in charismatic teenager who is drawn to her and introduces the lost writer to his free-spirited group of friends, and together they make their way through a disorienting cityscape full of life, beauty, and music. The film really failed to draw me in at all beyond Kirby’s performance and seems adrift in it’s own narrative, content just to get philosophical with creative minds before meandering to a close. I really failed to find the point in it at all.

See For Me – As far as thrillers go, it feels like the blind girl dealing with intruding assailants trope mostly belongs to the Terence Young film Wait Till Dark with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin but this Canadian film is making a run at being in that conversation. Starring the actually visually impaired Skyler Davenport in her feature film debut and directed by Randall Okita in the follow up to his first narrative film, the movie has flares of originality that caught me off guard. The story follows Davenport as Sophie, a blind former skier who is cat-sitting in a secluded mansion when three thieves invade for the hidden safe. Sophie’s only defense is army veteran Kelly, who is her remote visual aid consultant, who helps her defend against the invaders and survive until the police arrive. The film has it’s narrative gaffs here and there but still manages to make a compelling thriller that uses the character’s disability as a trapping that we can really get behind in a situation like this and root for her survival. Otika gives the film an excellent sound design and does some great camera angles that I found fascinating.

Blu-Ray:

Dune – It felt like I had been waiting forever for this Denis Villeneuve take on a Frank Herbert-written epic that I have read as well as all the sequel books that follow and now I can experience it again in my own home.. This means I’m fully in the know of a complex story that David Lynch had issues bringing to the screen in the mid-eighties, but did an interesting job, and a series of Sci-Fi Channel movies that were pretty solid but only really targeted at the fans. The gist of this movie’s synopsis is it tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence-a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential-only those who can conquer their fear will survive. The cast is big, with Timothee Chalamet leading the way with Zendaya playing his romantic lead and the surrounding cast of Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Fergusson, Jason Momoa, Dave Batista and Stellan Skarsgaard to fill out this science fiction epic. The film is immensely gorgeous to look at and the story may not flow exactly how audiences want it to but you have to keep in mind that this is just the first part of an epic story and a lot of this is just set up for something grander. I will be watching this one repeat until Part Two shows up.

Halloween Kills – After a long time wait of over a year, we finally got to see the next step in a revived horror franchise in October and now, almost like a late Christmas present, we can experience it again in our own home in glorious high definition. 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. The story dabbles in some real life mob mentality storytelling that would have seemed totally absurd years ago but in the post Trump presidency era borders on a satire feel that I think put this movie on the fence with a lot of people. I thought the movie was bigger and badder with crazy kills shot through an almost arthouse filter. I really liked this one but can totally understand why people didn’t.

Spencer – This is a movie I had been looking forward to ever since it was announced because I am a huge advocate for Kristen Stewart in movies as dunking on her for her performances in the Twilight movies is old and busted these days. Is she a good enough actress to take on a huge public figure that was beloved internationally? Yes, I think so. The film has KStew playing Princess Diana right at the time when she and Prince Charles were about to call it quits. During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, the holiday season will mean something a little bit different for the Windsors and nothing will be the same afterwards. I have to say that the film is director Pablo Larrain’s crowning achievement, pardon the pun, and that’s huge because the guy is no slouch in the biopic department, already giving us the stellar Jackie starring Natalie Portman. Stewart’s performance melts away anything you may think about her heading in as she perfectly embodies the Princess Of Wales at every turn in a story that I regarded as a gaslighting horror tale in many ways, an insight into a woman at the end of her rope and out of her element as the Royal Family’s stifling traditions and rigorous judgment has worn her down too much. Kristen Stewart deserves all the awards, as does the incredible cinematography and score that pulse like a main artery to the audience. One of the best of 2021, for sure.

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.

Heart Of Champions – Michael Shannon toplining a movie usually gets me on board to watch a solid drama but as soon as I saw this movie involved Ivy League university rowing, also known as “Crew” I felt my enthusiasm waning. Seriously, up until this point, the only movies that involved the sport that I liked at all were The Social Network and How High, which is kind of hilarious if you think about it. The film co-stars Heels actor Alexander Ludwig alongside Shannon and follows a college rowing team that descends into turmoil and constant infighting between team leaders after finishing last in the national championship. Shannon’s Coach Murphy arrives at the start of the new season to transform the status quo and unlock their true potential by using his experience and unconventional methods to help them overcome petty rivalries and personal challenges. At two hours long, this movie doesn’t have enough sports in it to be exciting or an uncliched script to provide engagement and no matter how much gravitas Shannon has, it is not enough to overcome the many shortcomings present here. He is literally the only thing worth paying attention to here.

Juice 4K – A cinematographer that got his start on films with Spike Lee like Do The Right Thing, School Daze and Jungle Fever, Ernest Dickerson made a hell of a directorial debut with this gangster story that starred a young Omar Epps, Jermaine Hopkins and the legendary Tupac Shaker. The film quickly became an audience favorite and should always be included when it comes to urban crime films as one of the originators and an innovator at the top of the genre. The story follows four Harlem teens named Q, Bishop, Raheem and Steel who are out skipping school one day when they find out an old friend was killed in a shootout at a bar. After this, Bishop tells his friends that they have no respect, or “juice” and, to get some, they rob a corner grocery store, but things take an unexpected turn but only the four friends know what happened and one of them is definitely out for himself. This is such a phenomenal film and the 4K transfer for this anniversary edition is astounding and really makes you marvel over the fact that Dickerson was able to construct this in the same year that he shot the film Malcolm X for Spike. This is one of those landmark trendsetting films of the nineties and this new edition is more than deserved.

Billions: Season 5 – The relationship between the two powerful New York figures, hedge fund genius Bobby Axelrod and US attorney Chuck Rhoades is vastly different this season as the benefits outweigh the detriments and there is so much money to be had. The battle of heavies played perfectly by Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti over four seasons to this point really showcases two of the best character actors working, continues in this new season, as the tables turn on some of our characters and new alliances are formed for financial survival. The uneasy alliance between Axe, Chuck and his lawyer wife Wendy is immediately put to the test as new enemies emerge and look to divide them into new partnerships including social impact pioneer Mike Prince, played by the fantastic Corey Stoll. As always, the stakes are definitely high in this season but at the end of it, the road for both characters seems so uncertain and I’m wondering if the endgame of it is going to be soon at hand.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

The People Vs. Larry Flynt – The story of renowned “smut peddler” and magazine tycoon Larry Flynt was put on display twenty five years ago by one of the most important filmmakers of all time, Milos Forman, and portrayed by one of the best character actors, Woody Harrelson, who did his most chameleon like work for the role. In a film that would go on to earn two Academy Award nominations, for Best Actor and Best Director, this is a movie that I really thought never got it’s fair share of love. The film was the straight forward and unflinching look at the early and to middle age life of Larry Flynt, the hedonistically obnoxious, but indomitable, publisher of Hustler magazine. The film recounts his struggle to make an honest living publishing his porn magazine and how it changes into a battle to protect the freedom of speech for all people, some of which almost killed him multiple times. Beyond Harrelson’s incredible performance are dutiful outings from Hole frontwoman Courtney Love and Oscar nominee Edward Norton. My step dad brought me to see this movie when I was sixteen years old and it stuck in my mind ever since.

Orange County – This is one of those guilty pleasure movies that served as almost a coming of age time that you go through pretty much at the same time as the character. That sounds really vague but it all makes sense in the end. The film had Colin Hanks and Jack Black and it served as the launching point for director Jake Kasdan who would go on to make the masterpiece known as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Hanks plays Shaun Brumder, a local surfer kid from Orange County who dreams of going to Stanford to become a writer and to get away from his dysfunctional family household except he runs into one complication after another starting when his application is rejected after his dim-witted guidance counselor sends the wrong application. So, Shaun goes to great lengths with a little help from his girlfriend Ashley and his drugged-out loser brother Lance to get into Stanford any way they see fit leading to more problems which also include arson. This film still makes me laugh and is something I quote a lot because all of Jack Black’s lines are total comedy gold. It was written by Mike White, who is enjoying a lot of success right now with The White Lotus, and he was Black’s neighbor at the time, writing this role specifically for him. The gift kept on giving too because School Of Rock came from the two neighborhood pals afterwards.

20th Century Women – With C’mon C’mon so recently in the rearview, I thought it would be a great time to bring one of my favorite coming of age dramas in the last ten years because it comes from writer and director Mike Mills who hasn’t failed me yet. This film features a performance from nnette Bening that may be one of the most special and dedicated roles I have ever seen and the fact it didn’t win any major awards is a travesty. The story is set in 1979 Santa Barbara, California and revolves around Dorothea Fields, a determined single mother in her mid-fifties who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie, at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women, Abbie, a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home and Julie, a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor, to help with Jamie’s upbringing which includes questions about his burgeoning sexuality and the meaning of existing. Not tough, right? Featuring Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and a breakout performance from young actor Lucas Jade Zumann, this is a movie that got unfairly shuffled away for no one to see and on it’s fifth anniversary I demand that people discover it!

Television:

Archive 81 (Netflix) – From executive producer James Wan, the mind behind the Conjuring series and expanded universe, this may be the low key start to Netflix original programming in 2022 that audiences are looking for. The series is the debut of writer Rebecca Sonnenshine as a showrunner, a creator who cut her teeth on shows like The Vampire Diaries and The Boys, and now gets her chance to shine with something wholly original and looking to totally get under your skin. The series is sort of split between two timelines and mainly follows Dan Turner, a video archivist who takes a mysterious job restoring a collection of damaged videotapes from 1994, reconstructing the work of documentary filmmaker Melody Pendras and her investigation into a dangerous cult. As Dan is drawn into Melody’s story, he becomes convinced he can save her from the terrifying end she met twenty five years ago. Crazy, right? The pilot episode delves you right into the mystery and features phenomenal sound design and gets the mysterious ball rolling with a hell of a reveal. Like I said, I think this could be a hit.

The Righteous Gemstones: Season 2 (Crave) – As a huge fan of Danny McBride’s work, crudeness being a main factor, I have always been massively supportive of his work. Starting with his insane character study Eastbound and Down, the ballad of burnt-out baseball player Kenny Powers, then his turn on Vice Principals about two men battling over a vacant principal position, I love all of his work so this one is sure to be great too. Co-starring his Vice Principals co-star Walton Goggins as well as John Goodman, Adam Devine and the hilarious Edi Patterson, this show follows a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed and charitable work which I love as a premise because someone has to take the piss out of a user like Joel Osteen and Danny McBride is the perfect person to do it I think. The first season got the ball rolling in a big way, establishing these characters in a brilliantly written and totally unpredictable run and now we can get each member of the Gemstones going down their own paths. I have to say, as much as I’ve praised McBride and his work in this, John Goodman continues to prove why he is one of the best character actors in Hollywood. He is so fantastic in this.

After Life: Season 3 (Netflix) – Whenever I hear the name Ricky Gervais I am automatically interested, especially in series form, as this is the man who brought us The Office, Extras and Derek, plus the countless other things he has been a part of. This series might be my favorite he has ever done as it comes from deep in the heart and soul but sheds away the humanity of saying whatever the hell you want to people and, although it looks like it will play on some heavier themes like his last one, I think it has broad appeal. The series follows a man that goes from Mr. Nice Guy to social terror with a don’t give a damn attitude when his wife dies. A good cast around Gervais with The Strain’s David Bradley playing his father, It’s All Gone Pete Tong’s Paul Kaye as his therapist who could really give a crap about him and his Extras co-star Ashley Jensen as his father’s caretaker, which is a reunion that completely warms my heart. As with the previous season, this could be the finale for Tony and his story but it has been a great run and any more is just gravy to me.

Peacemaker: Season 1 (Crave) – Following James Gunn’s revamping of The Suicide Squad this summer, he is taking one of the characters and the consequences of his specific actions to the small screen, directing a handful of the episodes himself. Yes, the douchebag and murderous version of Captain America, Peacemaker, played by John Cena, gets a chance at redemption and his mission extended. I won’t go into the spoilers of The Suicide Squad, which is available to stream on Crave now, this series delves into the things that make up this character, his intentions and his destructive past and familial relationships and how he can form himself and rebuild himself to be an actual hero. I really loved Cena in this role and am very excited to see what he and Gunn cooked up for this eight episode run. Also, my friend did the set decoration for his trailer so I’m looking forward to that too.

Euphoria: Season 2 (Crave) – Game Of Thrones, Chernobyl and The Outsider seem so long ago as the new hotness on HBO right now are the aforementioned Righteous Gemstones and this provocative teen drama that I saw described as the A24 studio mashing with Degrassi High. It’s funny to say but a little far from the truth. The show looks with an unflinching eye at a group of high school students as they grapple with issues of drugs, sex, and violence in a world that is fast becoming a desolate landscape of forgotten childhoods and ambivilant parents. Starring the mega star of Zendaya, Maude Apatow, which makes a lifelong Judd fan feel really old, and the newcomer Hunter Schafer this series feels like a show that would play like an insidious horror film to any parent of a teenager and the secret lives that each of them lead even lead me to hang my mouth open in disbelief from episode to episode. There’s also a crazy amount of nudity in this as well, so it gets a lot of attention for that. The time of Zendaya isn’t winding down anytime soon so just get on board now with one of the most charismatic young stars in recent memory.

New Releases:

The 355 – The beginning of January is usually the time where studios slot in the films that they are unsure of the market for and that feels very fitting for this new all ladies espionage action film that boasts a pretty good cast. Even with Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Bing Bing Fan and Penelope Cruz, everything about the trailer for this feels like a painful retread of tropes we’ve seen time and time again. The story follows a wild card CIA agent who joins forces with three international agents when a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands and sets out on a lethal mission to retrieve it while staying a step ahead of a mysterious woman who’s tracking their every move. The film comes from director Simon Kinberg whose only other feature film is the dreadfully awful X-Men: Dark Phoenix so my faith in this film is very low. Sometimes a low bar helps out a movie in the long run so fingers crossed on this action flick.

The Tender Bar – George Clooney is sneaking his brand new drama into this week’s releases and I’ve been seeing the set photos of Ben Affleck all done up in that seventies style and am really interested to check out what they’ve created together. I also like that the film was written by William Monaghan who has written many great films and it was adapted from a popular book by J.R. Moehringer who is the main character of the story as well. The plot follows Tye Sheridan as Jr., searching for a replacement for his father, who disappeared shortly after his birth and finds solace with his uncle Charlie and the patrons at a bar in Long Island. Uncle Charlie works as a bartender there and knows all of the staff and regular patrons, a charismatic individual who, along with all of his friends, are eager to initiate Jr. into their rituals. Jr. listens closely to the stories of these men and relies on these stories for guidance on how to live. The film, already released in the States, is getting fifty/fifty reviews with some saying it’s a little too sweetly sentimental but isn’t that something that we all need a little of right now. I’m also intrigued by the casting of Christopher Lloyd, who stole the show in Nobody earlier last year, a legend hopefully on the rise to another renaissance in his career.

June Again – Dementia is a subject that has been tackled a couple times in a first-person experience, starting with the Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman film The Father and now in this new Aussie drama that is definitely more heartwarming but the disease is still depicted in an impactful way. The film doesn’t feature any recognizable faces for me, aside from Nash Edgerton who plays a small role in it, but any Australian probably knows who all of these stars are. The film follows Noni Hazelhurst as June Wilton, a woman who feels a moment of lucidity in her crippling dementia and has precious little time to bring together her estranged children, save the family business and rekindle an old flame so she busts out of her care home to complete her final tasks. This film does such a stellar job in depicting the utter confusion of the brain disorder and, like The Father did, puts you in the driver seat of their memories being ripped away. The film doesn’t leave you with that darkness though and instead gives the hope of closure instead of a cure.

Blu-Ray:

Antlers – Guillermo del Toro returned to creep us out this Halloween but only from the writer’s chair as Hostiles and Out Of The Furnace director Scott Cooper helms this monstrous tale that, just from the trailer, has me swiftly onboard. It feels like this film was announced so long ago and, with the pandemic being the time suck it has been, I had completely forgotten that it was coming but I love how much gothic substance it seems to ooze. The story is set in an isolated Oregon town and follows a middle-school teacher and her sheriff brother who become embroiled with her enigmatic student whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a legendary ancestral creature who came before them. The advance reviews are interesting for this, some calling it an arthouse monster movie which has me salivating for it because it reminds me of Brian Bertino’s The Monster, a film that didn’t get enough love. Maybe this will be the same and become a deep genre favourite.

The Djinn – With a small apartment set and a very contained amount of special effects, this low-budget horror film manages to bring in the chills by being incredibly effective on a shoestring budget. The drive of the thrills in this film plays all around a child’s intellect, things that go bump in the night and the tendency to dabble with forces that are completely misunderstood and it turns out so great. Young Ezra Dewey is predominantly the only star of this largely dialogue-less thriller which follows a mute boy who is trapped in his apartment with a sinister monster when he makes a wish to fulfill his heart’s greatest desire, to be able to speak. The film plays with great character themes that dig into the emotional issues that have formed this young boy’s current existence, anchored by the loss of his mother. There’s something simple and effective about “monster under the bed” horror with a kid in the crosshairs and some of them, like last year’s Come Play, just get it all wrong. The Djinn gets it right and leaves you with a little food for thought as well.

Zeros And Ones – Auteur visionary storyteller Abel Ferrara isn’t a man that lets anything slow him down. This is a guy who did Bad Lieutenant, Ms. 45 and Driller Killer in the rise of making his name and has made many films that cusp on biographical with Willem Dafoe in the most recent of his catalogue. At over seventy years old, he’s not going to let a pandemic slow him down either as he did this new terrorist thriller with Ethan Hawke that was created within the whole ongoing COVID disaster. The film has Hawke in dual roles, first off as an American soldier stationed in Rome who embarks on a hero’s journey to uncover and defend against an unknown enemy threatening the entire world when the Vatican is blown up, spurred on by ideas from his revolutionary brother. Ferrara’s style of lingering on almost still moments is definitely at play here but what is more fascinating is his use of the empty streets of Italy to illustrate the times and his leaning into using drone technology to get some gorgeous cinematography in from Good Time shooter Sean Price Williams. This is an odd one because I’ve never seen a film bookended by the real actor explaining the process and, in the end, almost evaluating it but Abel has done it and I thought it worked.

Black Friday – A couple of cult horror favourites anchor this new creature feature that I think missed the boat by a couple weeks, landing on DVD just after the Christmas season in which it takes place. That said, the immortal Bruce Campbell and Canadian nineties heartthrob Devon Sawa feature big in a film that also boasts the international cred of Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero, who I haven’t seen since that masterpiece. From the title, the film is pretty self-explanatory, following a toy department store and the employees who must work the overnight of Thanksgiving into Black Friday, dealing with the relentless customers. Even worse, a meteor crash-landed nearby and is turning the people into flesh-hungry parasitic monsters bent on the destruction of everything. I will say that the effects are pretty fun in a Troma sort of schlock sense and the gore is pretty cool but the story is formulaic and, despite all best efforts from the cast, it is utterly forgettable. Workplace and holiday horror will always have a place in my heart but there is a certain calibre that needs to be delivered to make the rewatch list and this one doesn’t have it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek-Outs:

Scream – With the newest installment just a week away and getting all the slasher fans into a fever pitch in anticipation, no better time to reminisce about how great the first film was and how it rejuvenated the genre on the big Hollywood scale. I also brought it this week because it turns twenty-five and makes me feel old just thinking about watching it on VHS for the first time back then. The Wes Craven classic follows teenage Sydney Prescott as she is being terrorized by a masked killer on the year anniversary of her mother’s murder by playing ingrained horror tropes against her. The cast is awesome with Canadian Neve Campbell leading and Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard rounding it out and I still think the film holds up till this day. You’ll see it too when you do your rewatch in preparation for the new one that comes from the duo behind Ready Or Not. I’m so excited about it.

Silence – Martin Scorsese’s passion project came and left, while astounding critical and cinephile audiences and flopping with the mainstream audience but a film about missionaries in Japan probably isn’t that commercially viable, right? Now celebrating its five-year anniversary, Scorsese had been developing this idea for well over two decades before it got to the screen and I thought it was well worth the wait. Starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, the story takes place in the seventeenth century and follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy and to propagate Catholicism. The fact that this film failed to earn any Oscar buzz beyond a Best Cinematography nomination for Rodrigo Prieto is astounding as it is brilliantly constructed with incredible performances from the leads as well as a solid supporting one from Liam Neeson as their mentor. Not being religious at all myself, I still found this a fascinating study on faith, the loss of it and think it’s one of the most important films on the subject.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer – With The Matrix Resurrections currently playing in theatres, I thought it would be cool to bring the film of one of the Wachowskis’ collaborators, German filmmaker Tom Tykwer who actually did the music for the latest reemergence back into the franchise. It has been fifteen years since this gorgeous adaptation of Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel which, at the time of its release, was the most expensive German production of all time. The film stars Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born with a superior sense of smell who creates the world’s finest perfume before his need for perfection drives him down a dark path of abducting women and “harvesting” their scent, something that always leads to their untimely deaths. This movie is magnificent but was massively panned by critics at the time, most stating that it was overindulgent. I feel like it’s a film that has aged into something more based on its artful scope and will be less chastised for its anti-hero lead character. I think we’ve learned by now that cinema is open to many different character paths. There is a whole Voir episode about it with critic Drew McWeeney, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Television:

Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts (Crave) – If the Friends reunion proved anything, it has to be that reunion shows are the new hotness and, especially on a streaming service where you can rewatch it time and time again, it does a lot of business. Well, HBO Max has cornered the market on it now and has both that fan-favourite sitcom love affair but all the muggles who adore the Harry Potterverse in addition to that but, you know, without the J.K. Rowling terf herder. Just as I’m sure many fans wanted, cast members from all the “Harry Potter” films reunite in a retrospective special to celebrate the anniversary of the first film, including interviews and cast conversations which include behind the scenes reveals and a look into the friendship between the three main characters. I also like that the unrequited love that Emma Watson had for Tom Felton was finally revealed. It’s so adorable.

Around The World In 80 Days (PBS) – I’m not usually a guy that watches shows from the same network that plays Masterpiece Theater, Poirot and the Antiques RoadShow but it is a classic remake, it stars David Tennant and when I thought deeper about it, I wouldn’t know about Black Adder if it wasn’t for PBS. I owe them but not a donation. This is an adaptation of the classic Jules Verne book that follows gentleman adventurer Phileas Fogg who, spurred on by a bet, sets out on a quest to travel around the world and back home in a period of eighty days. The show is co-run by Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes creator Ashely Pharoah, which are two of my favourite British shows of all time, so I got even more excited about seeing this thrilling adventure series and I think she pulled it off. Tennant gives this show an immediate charm, as does Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout and The Crown’s Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fix. This is a really great viewing that I feel can be done with the whole family to get your collective literature fill.

Search Party: Season 5 (Crave) – I’m going to be honest on this one, I had never heard of it at all and I’m kind of disappointed by that as I’ve been a fan of the lead, Alia Shawkat, ever since I saw Arrested Development over a decade and a half ago. Created by Fort Tilden’s Sarah-Violet Bliss and The State’s Michael Showalter, the series is a single-camera dark comedy about four self-absorbed twenty-somethings who become entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance suddenly disappears. Created for the HBO Max service, This show has yet to hit the mainstream in full but I love it as an alternative to Girls where it’s immediately acknowledged that the characters aren’t exactly good people and we can watch their ups and downs without feeling the blankets of a hot message coming with it.

New Releases:

Cyrano – The story of Cyrano De Bergerac has been told many times with many different actors taking the role like Gerard Depardieu and Jose Ferrer being the notables but when I saw Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage and Atonement filmmaker Joe Wright attached to this, I got immediately interested. What turns me off of it a little bit is that it is a musical but I’m willing to push that aside for a well-made movie. The story follows the title character, a man ahead of his time who impresses everyone with ferocious wordplay at a verbal joust or with brilliant swordplay in a duel but, convinced that his appearance renders him unworthy of the love of a devoted friend, the luminous Roxanne, Cyrano has yet to declare his feelings for her and Roxanne has fallen in love, at first sight, with Christian. The film is getting fantastic reviews and most of them praise Dinklage’s performance which this rests solely on in a lot of places but the help of supporting roles from Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn definitely elevate it as well. It was also shot by Seamus McGarvey who makes absolute gold with Wright time after time.

The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal returns to work but this time behind the camera with one of my favourite actresses today, Olivia Colman, and the advance reviews are really great for it, only ramping up my excitement more. It also features Jessie Buckley from I’m Thinking OF Ending Things as the younger version of Colman’s character and I love everything she has made to this point. The film follows Leda, a middle-aged divorcée who has devoted her life to her work as an English teacher and to her two children. When her daughters leave home to be with their father in Canada, Leda anticipates a period of loneliness and longing but instead, slightly embarrassed by the sensation, she feels liberated, as if her life has become lighter, easier. She decides to take a holiday by the sea, in a small coastal town in southern Italy but after a few days of calm and quiet, things take a menacing turn as Leda encounters a family whose brash presence proves unsettling, at times even threatening. When a small, seemingly meaningless event occurs, Leda is overwhelmed by memories of the difficult, unconventional choices she made as a mother and their consequences for herself and her family and the seemingly serene tale of a woman’s pleasant rediscovery of herself soon becomes the story of a ferocious confrontation with an unsettled past. Gyllenhaal lands with a film that would be a striking debut for any filmmaker with an actress who commands the screen at every moment. I feel like this one might be in the running for a lot of awards in 2022.

Death To 2021 – Following last year’s Netflix special “Death To 2020”, the streaming service is doubling down and making a second one because I believe it was one of the most-streamed things at the time of its release. The faithful booming voice of narrator Laurence Fishburne is back as is Hugh Grant, Joe Keery and Tracey Ullman but instead of the Queen, she is playing at Jeannie Pirro-style talking head. Once again, this is a sarcastic, biting and sardonic recap of the year that was in a scathing send-off where some comedic bits work better than others. It welcomes in Stockard Channing, William Jackson Harper, Lucy Liu and more who add some deep state characters and a possibly alien social media mogul and largely I thought it worked. The fact that Nate from Ted Lasso is the voice of the director may trigger some fans from the finale of that show’s latest season but I really hope they continue these because it’s a fun way to spend an hour.

Blu-Ray:

The French Dispatch – We have been waiting a long time for the next Wes Anderson film, due to the shutdown caused by the pandemic, and even more since the newest live-action story from the idiosyncratic filmmaker as his last feature in this regard was the Academy Award-winning Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014. Again boasting a huge cast that has Timothee Chalamet, Léa Seydoux, Christophe Waltz, Jeffrey Wright and Elisabeth Moss making their Anderson debut alongside staples like Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, this is another of the most anticipated for me. In a nutshell, the film is a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine”. The movie has been described as “quintessentially Anderson” which illustrates to me that I’m going to love it so if you’re a fan of this very original storyteller’s work then you will be into this one as well.

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.

Castle Falls – Always keep a lookout for the janitor, especially in a heist situation! It seems to become a cliche that the unassuming nobody of a character is always the downfall in any high stakes job crime film but we keep eating them up and I will say that Scott Adkins is the draw to this little direct to video film, much more than his counterpart, Dolph Lundgren who also directed it. The story follows Mike Wade, an over-the-hill MMA fighter who starts a new job as part of a demolition crew stripping Castle Heights hospital. During the demolition he finds three bags with cash and with the building due to be dynamited in 90 minutes, he returns solo for the money. However he is unaware that two other parties are also moving in to retrieve the cash, prison guard Richard Ericson, who needs to finance his daughter’s cancer treatment, and gang kingpin Deacon, out to secure the loot on behalf of his incarcerated brother. The film is a bit sluggish getting off the ground but Adkins and Lundgren have good enough on-screen chemistry to keep it all going. Some cool action and great execution from the massively talented lead star make the end result thrilling but not overly memorable.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Maniac Cop 2 & Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence – Got to bring the campiness to the last week of 2021 with two films from the early nineties that bring all of the ultra-violence with no substance to it at all. I’m not bringing the original film in this series so let’s proceed like you know of it already and, heck, this first sequel has Bruce Campbell in it. Following the events of the first movie, Officer Matt Cordell, the undead cop, returns from the grave again but this time he is after the criminals who murdered him in the prison, in a revenge plot that is sadistic and brutal, just like the filmmaking. The second sequel, subtitled Badge Of Silence, is Officer Matt Cordell’s third ride from beyond the grave and has him looking for a girlfriend. His ideal date should be nice, tender, and dead but as soon finds one in the person of a female officer she is brutally killed by shop robbers which sends him into that maniac stuff we’ve grown to love. These are fun movies to sit around and mock sort of mercilessly but I will say, with the second movie, director William Lustig does horror flourishes that are still admired to this day.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 4K – This is really cool to receive this new 4K edition of this early 2000s computer-animated sci-fi adventure even if it was supposed to be the Escape Room sequel that I still want to see. Funny enough, this was also one of the two of the first DVDs I ever purchased as well so it has added sentimental value. Produced by SquareEnix in their first film venture and loosely based in their video game world, the story is set in 2065 with the world as a barren wasteland invaded by alien life-forms known as Phantoms. Determined to stop them for good, a beautiful woman named Dr. Aki Ross must find the seven spirits to destroy the Phantoms once and for all as she is dying from a fatal Phantom-related sickness. Accompanied by the Deep Eyes Squadron and her mentor Dr. Sid, they make a last stand to save what’s left of humanity. I always thought this movie rocked but it ended up being a box office disaster and closing down Square’s film division which is so unfortunate. To think of the films that could have been done! Even so, this movie’s move to 4K is absolutely stunning and demands to be seen.

Television:

Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix) – For those looking for their serial killer documentary to ring in the new year with, Netflix once again has you covered with that true crime sickness in the form of this new series. It comes, once again from producer Joe Berlinger, who has already given the streaming service multiple projects including a documentary and biopic on Ted Bundy and a series on the Cecil Hotel incident from a few years back that had people on the fence for the most part. In a continuing piece of the Crime Scene series, this show brings us back to 1970s NYC, a time when the “Torso Killer” preyed on sex worker women to fulfill his grotesque fantasies while disposing of evidence with fire and eluding police at every turn. The show is a step up from the Cecil Hotel and really had me engaged for the whole duration. Maybe it’s not a “let’s watch this at midnight” thing but it’ll be great for the next day.

Cobra Kai: Season 4 (Netflix) – It’s so crazy to think that the bad guys from the Karate Kid movies have come full circle in the last few years and transitioned to fantastic new series with an all-new breath of life. After two seasons running as a YouTube original and a third season that saw the high profile and bigger budget release on Netflix to bump it up to the next level, the much anticipated fourth season is here. Featuring a lot of the original cast from the movies, including William Zabka, Martin Kove and even Daniel-san, Ralph Macchio, this Emmy nominated series takes place decades after our mains have had their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament bout, following a middle-aged Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence who again find themselves martial-arts rivals. It’s once again time to sweep the leg, never give up, never surrender and check out Zabka’s bitchin’ Firebird again in what I hope starts to be a New Year’s tradition.

Letterkenny: Season 10 (Crave) – The boys of Letterkenny are back in what is definitely now a holiday tradition of receiving a brand new season of this rural comedy and all of its hijinx. Lots of comparisons are made to Trailer Park Boys for this show but I firmly believe those comments are made by people who have never seen it. For those who are new to it, the series showcases the antics of the residents of Letterkenny, a small rural community in Canada. Siblings Wayne and Katy run a small farm and produce stand, with Wayne’s friends Daryl and “Squirrely” Dan helping out. Many of the town’s inhabitants fall into one of several groups, which include the farmers, or “hicks,” the out-of-towners on the local hockey team, the local drug addicts and the “natives,” who are members of the local First Nation. The sophistication in the writing of this series is on a whole other level and I always laugh until my sides hurt every episode. That’s a damn good track record.

The Book Of Boba Fett (Disney+) – It’s been a year since the Mandalorian, Grogu and his counterparts have left us in the season or maybe series finale of that show but we get to head back into the Star Wars universe with a familiar… um… helmet. Yes, after reintroducing Boba Fett back into the modern Star Wars pantheon, we get a focused series about him and his partner Fennec Shand played by the phenomenal Ming Na Wen. The seven-episode series will follow the legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett, played by Temuera Morrison, as he navigates the underworld of the galaxy with mercenary Fennec Shand when they return to the sands of Tattooine to stake their claim on the territory formerly ruled by the deceased crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The show has a killer lineup of directors like Robert Rodriguez, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni and Bryce Dallas Howard, who all delivered great episodes of The Mandalorian, plus it has What We Do In The Shadows Matt Berry as a droid. I don’t even need to say how excited I am for this, it should be obvious.

Jimmy Carr: His Dark Material (Netflix) – Jimmy Carr is a stand-up comedian that is mostly known in his hosting role on a lot of British programming and some American stuff here and there but the stage on in his own special is where he shines. Carr is one of the most ruthless but satisfyingly upper brow while toying with shit if that makes any sense. This special features Jimmy’s trademark dry, sardonic wit while plumbing the darkest of places and includes some jokes which Jimmy calls “career enders”. If you like a good stand-up special and want to try something new and aren’t easily offended, Jimmy Carr is your distinguished and dapper man masking some soul blackness that will curl your toes.

New Releases:

The Matrix Resurrections – Even though the last two movies in the original Matrix trilogy are not great, to say the least, the anticipation for his new restart to the franchise is at a fever pitch and the expectations, at least in my eyes, are kind of endless. Do we even know where this could lead or where the jumping point is? Do we know if this is setting up more to come? It’s all speculation until we get our eyeballs on this visual feast. Loosely speaking on its synopsis we return to a world of two realities, one which is everyday life and the other, the one that lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will once again have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. Keanu and Carrie Anne Moss look to be the only returning stars from the first film but it looks just as dazzling as we remember those films to be but it also has a bright and modern look to it that reminds me of the Wachowski’s work on Cloud Atlas and Sense8. With only Lana directing this film, I wonder how it will all turn out with the separation of that starship.

Don’t Look Up – Writer and director Adam Mackay is pissed off and it’s palpable and watching his new movie I feel all of his anger through all of the sordonic humor and nod my head in agreement. Yes, we are all screwed with no help in sight and we should all be furious. This is the focus here, a film that boasts a huge cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance and so many more. The story has DiCaprio and Lawrence as two low-level astronomers who must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth to equally flippant and dismissive results, especially with the current American administration more focused on their own media scandals. This movie is so well written and absolutely unpredictable while also seeming to land in a decisive arena of turning many critics off it seems. The reception has been lukewarm and maybe because Mackay is wading into a political arena, although it isn’t new to him after The Big Short and Vice. I think this film has multitudes to say and I’m still thinking about it days after watching it.

Sing 2 – It may be my lack of emotion for musicals or my need for a deeper story but neither of these Illumination Entertainment-produced music-driven animated features has done anything for me or remain memorable in my mind at all but I will say that my kid adores them. The voice cast should have roped me in, with Matthew McCoughnahey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and more but it just feels like a loose plot and popular music to sing along to. This sequel has Buster Moon and his theatre full of performers in financial trouble again, pushing them to persuade reclusive rock star Clay Calloway, voiced by a debuting Bono, to join them for the opening of a new show. It is all paint by numbers stuff and, I have to throw some shade here, but Bono is incredibly wooden in a speaking role and it feels so weirdly distracting. I also feel like him voicing a lion was a weird stretch that he did not fit at all. This movie is total kids fluff so it should be regarded as such.

The King’s Man – Another pandemic hold out, we were supposed to get this Kingsman prequel last Christmas and we finally get to experience it now. I will say at the top of this that I love these movies so much, a brash emergence into a 007 dominated world that has bitting comedy and satire, great characters and phenomenal action. That said, with this being an origin story for the organization, we get a whole new group of characters introduced but with Matthew Vaughn leading the way again, it’s sure to be great. The story is set in the early years of the twentieth century, as the Kingsman agency is formed to stand against a cabal plotting a war to wipe out millions. The cast has Ralph Fiennes, George Mackay, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Arterton and Rhys Ifans and looks all kinds of awesome. I’m excited about it.

Being The Ricardos – When the casting was announced for this glimpse into one week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez I was massively skeptical as I thought that Nicole Kidman was a wrong choice and I feel like we already have a pretty solid statement on Javier Bardem and his nuances. What kept me on board was the fact that Aaron Sorkin was writing and directing the film and I am a huge fan of that man’s work. The film picks up with the comedy power couple as they are threatened by shocking personal accusations, a political smear and cultural taboos, first and foremost Lucille’s apparent allegiance to the Communist Party. In what becomes a revealing glimpse of the couple’s complex romantic and professional relationship, the film takes audiences into the writers’ room, onto the soundstage and behind closed doors with Ball and Arnaz during one critical production week of their groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy” and, sadly, that’s where the interest dies. Kidman’s make up is borderline monstrous, Bardem seems to be just being himself and there are so many of the cliched “Sorkin-iss” in this movie that they lose all meaning and many of them don’t even fit. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this but not the mess that it was.

Licorice Pizza – Well, this feels like a personal Christmas gift to me as Paul Thomas Anderson returns after Phantom Thread from four years ago and takes a little page out of Tarantino’s book with his own little trip down memory lane in Hollywood. One of the greatest filmmakers working now, and a personal favourite of mine ever since Boogie Nights, my cinema mind is drooling for this movie. The film is the coming of age story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine, two teens growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley of 1973. Musician Alana Haim and newcomer Cooper Hoffman take the leads in a film that has an incredible cast around them including Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bennie Safdie and an unhinged Bradley Cooper as real-life producer Jon Peters. Being in a small town in British Columbia, I’ll have to wait for this movie but all you lucky people can beat me to the punch. I envy all of you.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth – Christmas must being good to us this year with the second year of weirdness due to the pandemic because not only do we get two Denzel Washington projects this week but this is also the debut of the legendary Joel Coen as a solo director without the mainstay of his brother Ethan. This is also a Shakespearian film which brings Denzel all the way back to the nineties when he did Much Ado About Nothing for Kenneth Branaugh. Also starring Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson and Corey Hawkins, this is that age old story of a Scottish lord who becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power and murdering the current man in the seat which of course works out well for everyone involved. Yeah, no, there’s tragedy and I really am intrigued to see what the sole Coen brother has done with a story that we have seen so many times. The good news for those who have AppleTV+ is that the film will be streaming as of mid January.

A Journal For Jordan – Denzel Washington makes his second appearance on this list this week but this time it’s behind the camera for his fourth feature film and one that puts one of the hottest actors today, Michael B. Jordan, in the driver’s seat. What I’m most surprised to see is that this film is getting slaughtered by critics which is a definite first for any Denzel project, whether he starred in it or directed it. The story follows Jordan as First Seargent Charles Monroe King who authors a journal for his son, before he is killed in action in Baghdad, intending to tell him how to live a decent life despite growing up without a father. Back at home, senior New York Times editor Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams) revisits the story of her unlikely, life-altering relationship with King and his enduring devotion to her and their child. What I’m seeing online is that the melodrama in the film is so heavy that it almost feel like a made for TV drama and far less than the caliber of the star and it’s director would lend. This is so disappointing but at least we got Denzel and a Coen brother this week to dispel some of that downtrodden feeling.

Try Harder! – We definitely can’t go into the Christmas weekend or the end of the year without feeling a bit off parental guilt and we have a documentary this week to get it all done in a feature length time frame. Schooling is always the argument, worry and speculation in many families across the world and no matter what pressure we ourselves put on kids, it has to be immensely worse for them. This film puts you in that scenario, focusing on Lowell High School, the top public high school in San Francisco, where the seniors are stressed out as they prepare for the emotionally draining college application process, keenly aware of the intense competition for the few open spots in their dream colleges. The film, through director Debie Lum, captures this experience with a heartfelt eye, never ignoring the levity of the situation in order to soften some of the emotion. What results is an intimate little group character study and maybe a deeper implication on the cause and effect that this process brings to the forefront.

Margrete: Queen Of The North – With the unveiling of the new Robert Eggers film in the trailer for The Northman, the torch was lit for me to get some good old Scandanavian storytelling in my brain and I’m so happy this film landed in my lap. It’s interesting to note that the film was a period piece filmed during the pandemic, which it suffered a shooting delay from, and it had the notoriety of the Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, attending the Danish premiere of the film about her predecessor. The story is set in 1402 and follows Queen Margrete, the ruler of Sweden, Norway and Denmark through the eyes of her adopted son, Erik. But a conspiracy is in the making and Margrete finds herself in an impossible dilemma that could shatter her life’s work, the Kalmar Union. This film is absolutely gorgeous in it’s scope and the beautiful cinematography is just enough to get by some of the dry patches of the story as it is filled with a lot of politicking, some scenes more weighty than others. In A Better World’s Trine Dyrholm is powerful in her lead performance and it was so great to see her again, more than a decade after the Academy Award winning Susanne Bier film.

Blu-Ray:

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, after it’s long awaited theatrical run, it is here on 4K blu-ray 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. The film is a culmination of the entire duration of Craig’s Bond and ties up all loose ends while giving a finality to the character that feels fitting. Malek feels a little ineffectual in the grand scheme of things but I don’t think he was meant to be this version of Bond’s ultimate nemesis as I think it is more a reactive end to the waves that his 007 made. I really dug it a lot and I will say, no spoilers here, but Ana De Armas damn near steals this whole thing in a ten minute scene.

The Many Saints Of Newark – The anticipation of this new prequel story to possibly one of the greatest television shows ever made was pretty huge and the level of expectation was to a point that it was totally insurmountable to satisfy. Heading in, I find it fascinating that James Gandolfini’s son Michael is taking the young Tony role in this film and I was 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. This film shouldn’t have existed as a series and not a feature film as it seems to pull the story in so many different directions, trying to get in so much of the fan service and being displaced and disjointed by that as the viewer makes the two hour run time a bit like it was stretch and not enough at the same time. The fan service is pretty cool but that ending damn near ruined the whole thing.

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 so I’m certainly on board.

Fortress – Now for the peroidially fun portion of this blog sometimes maybe, it’s time to look at the latest direct to video entry from Bruce Willis and a glimpse of what he’s lazily lining his pockets with. This sounds very harsh but it is only because I’ve been driven to this point by again and again being subjected to his mediocrity. The film has Willis as Robert, an ex-CIA agent, who lives in a hidden woodland resort that serves as a retirement community for former spies. His estranged son Paul is a crypto currency entrepreneur who has run into trouble and needs to ask his old man for help but, unfortunately, Paul’s plans aren’t as secret as his father’s location which leads a group of criminals hellbent on revenge to Robert’s doorstep. The film co-stars Chad Michael Murray and Jesse Bradford, two actors who have worked with Willis on a direct to video film here and there and is directed by James Cullen Bressack, a super nice guy on Twitter but, woof, is this movie ever bad. I think the issue is Willis who seemingly couldn’t give an ounce of energy to any line reading to save his live or the plot’s integrity. Just ho hum level f=delivery on everything. He’s now pathetic.

The Birthday Cake – A gritty crime thriller with mid 2000s indie guy Shiloh Fernandez, Val Kilmer and Ewan McGregor? Allright, I’ll bite enough to get a taste. I’m trying out some noir styling here, is it working? I’m actually really underselling the cast here as it is deep with character performers and writer and director Jimmy Giannopoulos has debuted with a feature that definitely outdid the Sopranos prequel I watched here. The story follows Giovanni, the reluctant recipient of the task of bringing a cake to the home of his uncle, a mob boss, for a celebration on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death. Just two hours into the night, Giovanni’s life is forever changed and he’s forced to grow up after witnessing murder, violence, chaos and the truth about what happened to his father. Giannopoulos definitely is a bit rough around the edges in his execution from time to time but the cast is seasoned enough to keep everything afloat and Fernandez, who also co wrote the film, does a solid leading job. I thought the violence was handled exceptionally and, weirdly enough, might have been it’s strongest point.

Small Engine Repair – This is a total surprise of a drama and I never saw it’s elements coming until it was in my lap. The film features two stalwart character actors who chew the scenery commandingly and may distract a little from writer, director and lead star John Pollono’s definitely lesser turn in front of the camera. The story follows Frankie, Swaino and Packie, three lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and a hand in raising Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal. After a failing out between them, Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore which causes events spin wildly out of control and maybe too much for any of them to handle. This movie plays almost to cliche levels of brother brother comedy, like Edward Burns has done many times in the nineties and 2000s until the main problem hits and blows it all out of the water. It then moves into completely unpredictable territory and all bets are off. Keep in mind that the film very much plays like a stage production but that is what it is based on. I was leery at first but it definitely won me over.

Hell Hath No Fury – Every now and then you need a fluffy action slugfest set during World War II featuring a bad ass hero beating the hell out of a Nazi just as hard as this title would suggest. Well, that’s what this movie delivers through the conduit of lead star Nina Bergman in a great establishing performance. I want her and Alexis Louder in something right now. Bergman plays French national Marie DuJardin who is disgraced and branded a traitor by her countrymen. She is tentatively rescued by American soldiers but it comes with one condition attached to remain alive. She must lead them to a hidden cache of gold hunted by the Nazis, the French resistance, and the Americans alike. This movie was so much fun and definitely was on par with director Jesse V. Johnson’s previous work, Triple Threat. I’m loving that we got some really great. women action heroes in the later part of 2021. I’m always all for that.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Rick And Morty: Season 5 – It’s been a crash course in a cartoon that I was way late to the game for but I will say that I was on board so quickly because the writing is so good I get euphoric with it’s brilliant complexities. So, in that spirit, let’s renew a celebration of Rick And Morty Day, an acknowledgement of one of the more fucked up paternal relationships that probably changed young Morty for the worse and possibly made him a monster. Wait, is this the sentiment I’m going for? The show, now available in a season one to four box set as well as individually, is set to debut its fifth season tonight on Adult Swim and fans are drooling for it with creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon wringing their hands in excitement. The best news is that there are another fifty episodes commissioned beyond this and the show seems like it will continue indefinitely. Even better news, and don’t hate me for this, but I’m kind of new to the show and am still in season one so I am discovering all the “schwifty”, Szechuan sauce and Pickle Rick references beyond the times that they’ve become viral memes across the internet. Soon, I will be caught up and still kind of behind all the references. The point is, I’m receiving the Adult Swim education and goddamn is Chris Parnell great, right?

Television:

Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster (Netflix) – One of my favorite comedians of all time is rolling out his next Netflix special and it’s a long time coming as I enjoy a good stand up routine and I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of them this year. Gaffigan is a king of comedy and many of his specials still have me laughing like King Baby or Beyond The Pale, with bits that I think will live in infamy forever like the bacon one. This time he takes aim at billionaires, bikers and everything in between, proving, with hilarity, there is a reason he is a six time Grammy nominated stand up expert. The only tragedy here is that he has never won the award. It’s almost a crime in my opinion.

Emily In Paris: Season 2 (Netflix) – The Darren Star fans out there are getting their Christmas present a little bit early as his Netflix series is rolling out the sophomore season for more corny romance and international blunders. This show starring Lily Collins has been more in the news in the last awards season for bad reasons as it started getting some really unearned clout that snubbed more of the diverse shows that are infinitely better like I May Destroy You on HBO but I digress. The series follows the titular character, an ambitious twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago that unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company. Emily’s new life in Paris is filled with intoxicating adventures and surprising challenges as she juggles winning over her work colleagues, making friends, and navigating new romances. I hate to get gender-specific on the target market of this show but I definitely the way it was leaning pretty much immediately. it doesn’t feel very fresh or new but I think it found its audience seeing as there is more of it now. What to expect from this new season? I would assume more of the same and probably not any infusion of sophisticated smarts.

The Silent Sea (Netflix) – After the mega hit out of nowhere that Squid Game was, people may be looking to more South Korean properties to latch on to and Netflix once again has you covered. This one again plays in the science fiction sandbox but instead they are taking you off planet for a new mysterious series in the stars. The story is set during a perilous twenty four-hour mission on the moon, as space explorers try to retrieve samples from an abandoned research facility steeped in classified secrets. Being a huge fan of South Korean cinema, I have been elated to see the popularity of it rise between Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite ad the Netflix phenomena that has taken international pop culture by storm and am fascinated to see if this is the next favourite for everyone to champion.

1883 (Paramount+) – With the massive success that Yellowstone has gotten in the four season it has been on, it is only reasonable these days to think that Paramount+ would want to capitalize on that and make a spinoff project. Well, that is exactly what this is here but instead of spinning off to the side or ahead we are going back to some origins. Creator Taylor Sheridan is giving us the beginnings of the Duttons in the late nineteenth century as they flee poverty in Texas and embark on a journey through the Great Plains to seek a better future in Montana. The show features real life couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill in the leading roles and also has stalwart western legend Sam Elliott to lend all of his gravitas to this new show that is definitely going to land as a hit with it’s first episode. I’m surprise it hasn’t been renewed for a second season before the air date. It probably will by the time I publish this.

New Releases:

Spider-Man: No Way Home – It’s pretty cool to be heading into the end of the year with definitely the biggest Marvel movie of the year and a film that is going to change the landscape of that cinematic universe for the next phase. There is so much speculation heading into this film, one that brings the multiverse into the equation and we know that Alred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Jamie Foxx’s Electro appear but does Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spideys? The film takes up just after Spider-Man’s identity was revealed, forcing Peter to ask Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man. I have to keep the synopsis vague to avoid any spoilers but the good thing is that they’ve been keeping everything very guarded. What more can I say, the expectations are through the roof on this so hopefully, it delivers.

Nightmare Alley – It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a Guillermo del Toro film because it has been four years since his Best Picture-winning The Shape Of Water divided audiences. Full disclosure here, it’s a fantastic film. One of the greatest cinema masters today, he returns with a remake of a classic film noir and it looks incredible. The film stars Bradley Cooper as an ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words who hooks up with a female psychiatrist, played by Cate Blanchett, who is even more dangerous than he is. Featuring a supporting cast of Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe and Ron Perlman, this movie looks incredible and drips with that del Toro style that just leaps off the screen thanks to the work of his many time collaborator and stalwart cinematographer Dan Laustsen. This looks like a masterpiece.

Swan Song – Mahershela Ali is an actor of such gravitas that he already won two Academy Awards before he was a household name or anyone learned how to correctly pronounce his name. Well, for me he is an immediate draw if I see him leading a film and that’s exactly why my anticipation was high heading into this new Apple Original. The story is set in the near future and follows Ali as a terminally ill man who explores a heart-wrenching, emotionally complex solution to save his wife and son from grief by duplicating himself in robot form without them knowing. Constantly battling with himself morally and to the selfish nature of wanting to spend every last moment with them but sparing them his health decline into death, this film constantly pulls on your emotions with Mahershal playing the strings beautifully. Oscar-winning writer and director Benjamin Cleary makes an astounding feature-length debut here and I hope he rides this momentum as it is truly special.

Red Rocket – Sean Baker, a writer and director who frequents Vancouver and has met a bunch of my friends, is one of the most important filmmakers of our time to me, telling the stories of real people and microcosms in our would the predominantly make up the majority. With his films Tangerine and The Florida Project, he exuded this and it came to a point in the latter that it broke me down into tears in theatres. Now he teams with actor Simon Rexx for this Trump-era comedy-drama that follows Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown that has no interest in having him back. Rexx is reported to have given the performance of the year and I’m hoping that this is the year that Baker’s work elevates him to the top of the game as he has deserved for a long time. I dare say he’s one of my absolute favourites today and I still hope to meet him.

The Hand Of God – Ah, new Paolo Sorrentino is now upon us so we can head into the holidays season with lush sceneries and exquisite cinematography. With films like Il Divo, Youth, The Great Beauty and the HBO series The Young Pope in his resume, his work appeals to a niche audience and that includes me. This new film is the story of a boy growing up in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s, a very personal and almost autobiographical film for Sorrentino but yet is a new and original tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. Toni Servillo, the Italian director’s many time used lead actor, returns for this film that has been praised by critics worldwide and was a solid pick up for Netflix to showcase it internationally.

Rumble – I feel like this Dreamworks animated adventure comedy has been in the pipeline for almost two years as I’ve seen the same trailer for it play over and over again before any family film in theatres but now it looks like Paramount has decided to fast track it to Paramount+ instead. Everything about the trailer looks so generic and getting Will Arnett and Terry Crews to lead a WWE-produced story isn’t as big of a selling point to me as one might think. The story is set in a world where monster wrestling is a global sport and monsters are superstar athletes, following teenager Winnie who seeks to follow in her father’s footsteps by coaching a loveable underdog monster named Steve into a champion-level athlete. I don’t feel much of a push behind this movie that is seemingly being airdropped into this release format as an afterthought so I’d have to believe the studio doesn’t have any faith in it either. For kids, this movie will probably be fun but it could be a cliched and drony hard sell for the parents.

Flee – Some. of the most important filmmaking out there has to be the documentary, a style much maligned for being boring or dull but they continue to push the boundaries of exploration, information and ideas. The other interesting thing about them is how subversive they can be and how they can blend into almost every genre as this new critically-lauded film does. Animated beautifully, the film tells the extraordinary true story of a man named Amin who, on the verge of marriage, is compelled to reveal his hidden past for the first time. What results is the first-hand account of a refugee’s story with no flinches away from the darkness and harrowing experience contained within as well as the trauma that comes through later in life? This film is truly special and is reminiscent of a film like Waltz With Bashir, which I believe will experience the same trajectory right to an Oscar nomination.

The Scary Of Sixty-First – An addition to the weird movies I’ve watched in 2021, this is one I never saw coming and I don’t know how anyone could, Coming from writer and director Dasha Nekrasova, who also stars in a supporting role that shifts to the main one, this mumblecore horror with a slightly comedic edge definitely wouldn’t have worked too well in a conventional pitch room. The film follows friends Addie and Noelle who are doing something city dwellers know is truly horrifying, apartment hunting. Everything changes for both women when an unnamed stranger knocks on their door off their new sweet deal abode and tells Noelle that she believes they’re living in a place that has seen untold horrors as one of the apartments in which Jeffrey Epstein used to traffic and abuse girls. Before you know it, they have tumbled down the rabbit hole into a world of conspiracy theories about Epstein and his apartments while Addie starts to become possessed by… something. This is like a long Jeffrey Epstein joke without the benefit of a punchline and a third act that I’m still trying to unpack I honestly don’t know who the audience is for this.

Schemes In Antiques – Well Go USA has hooked me up with many great films over the time that I have been reviewing their films and it has been a plethora of different styles of the story from every country across Asia. This one comes from China and was adapted from a popular novel of the same name from an author who I’m just learning about now but am enamoured with their name, Marberionius. The film tells the story of a series of adventures that occurred when the descendants of the five veins made a wish to find out the truth about the Buddha head of Wu Zetian Mingtang in the Tang Dynasty. This movie feels like it should be right with ancient mystery and treasure but just comes off as extremely boring and a story that feels like it never starts. I can appreciate that the filmmakers didn’t kowtow to Hollywood style glossiness but I feel like. a little of it around the edges would have improved it greatly.

Meeting The Beatles In India – It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of music documentaries and general discussion around one of the greatest groups to ever bring magic to our ears, The Beatles. This is why I threw on this film without a single thought of what it would be, just because my love of John, Paul, George and Ringo knows no limits. The film is the story of a more personal journey,  following writer and director Paul Saltzman as he returns to India to reminiscence about his life-changing and affirming time with the Beatles while they were on a spiritual retreat under the mentorship of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968. There he would gain the knowledge of transcendental meditation which immediately brings David Lynch into the mix, a very big figure in the movement for decades now and another conduit to my heart. The film is very low pro and “do it yourself” which gave me more problems watching it on to of not connecting with Paul’s story for my journey through life. I can appreciate it but I never found it very interesting at all.

The Boathouse – This is an odd little independent thriller that caught my attention just purely on it being written and directed by Hannah Cheesman, an actress I know as the android character Lieutenant Commander Airiam on Star Trek Discovery. I also have an affinity for remote location set mysteries which have satisfied me a bunch this year with The Beach House, The Rental and Caveat. I’m sensing a theme here. The story follows an emotionally-fragile young woman who takes a job as nanny to two troubled children at a remote summer cottage and falls in love with the children’s father, while becoming enmeshed in the mystery of their estranged mother, with whom, it turns out, the young woman has her fraught history. As the summer progresses, she begins to suspect that the family has a dark history that they are desperate to keep secret. The film runs slow and quiet, almost molasses-like, ramping up to an unexpected finish that I thought wrapped it up in a way that was both shocking and still fitting to the drama that gets us there. The film is also beautifully shot and keeps you concealed in its vision as it reveals the mystery to you. Very cool stuff.

Blu-Ray:

Venom: Let There Be Carnage – After many delays and release date shifts we finally got 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 campiness of the storytelling took an uptick in this follow-up and still manages to work despite its very noticeable flaws. Hardy is again having the time of his life and the buddy comedy romanticism between him and Venom is so great when it’s pushed to its limits. Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast as Cletus Kassidy and Carnage, chewing every moment he has, but I thought, as a fan of the comic character, they did him a little dirty in the end. That said, this movie is still a thoroughly wild ride.

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.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines – It was a rough theatrical ride for the latest animated film produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who brought us such gems like Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The LEGO Movie and so much more. Bouncing around release dates and being retitled from Connected to this a couple of times over, the pandemic made a release pretty much impossible but then we got it on Netflix and it was worth it. The film is an action-comedy about an ordinary family who finds themselves in the middle of their biggest family challenge yet, saving the world from the robot apocalypse. It all starts when creative outsider Katie Mitchell is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people,” when her nature-loving dad insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising. Everything from smartphones to Roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity in one of the consistently funny and delightful family films I have watched this year. This would have played so well on the big screen and the message is so universal and heartful that I came so close to rolling a tear over it. Maybe I should stop playing Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle on repeat.

Dangerous – Just last week I was talking about the new Clint Eastwood film hitting blu-ray and now this week I get to talk about his son Scott’s new action thriller which is a lesser film than his father’s Cry Macho. This is mostly out of disappointment I say this as it has such a great cast around the leading man with Kevin Durand, Famke Janssen, Tyrese and even Mel Gibson. The plot follows a newly reformed sociopath who journeys to a remote island to investigate the mystery behind his brother’s demise but soon ends up facing off with more than he bargained for. The film has its minimal twists and turns as well as some bloody violence but it feels completely devoid of any substance and I struggled to find one scene I enjoyed in it. It also relegates Gibson to being in a room by himself and interacting with almost no one in the principal cast which I think was a massive under sight. This could have been passable but the final product was anything but.

South Of Heaven – I feel like watching two seasons of Ted Lasso has ruined me in some regard as now every time I see Jason Sudekis in something I just relegate it to a facet in Lasso’s personality. Like this film, just judging from the cover, I said it was Ted looking for revenge on those who shaved off his moustache. Not true. He plays convicted felon Jimmy who is granted early parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery. Upon his release, he vows to give Annie, his childhood love that is now dying from cancer, the best last year of her life but unfortunately it’s not that simple and his former crew is looking for some reparations in the form of another job. Co-starring Evangeline Lilly and Shea Whigham, this is a neat little western noir in a dusty Texas setting and, for me, it’s all about Whigham chewing the scenery while relishing his bad guy role. He makes every line sound brilliant but how brightly he shines kind of dulls the performances of everyone else by contrast. This could have been a home run but it is just missing a little something. 

Holler – A sombre little drama that killed at film festivals like South By Southwest and Palm Springs, this movie wouldn’t get much exposure elsewhere as it is a real feeling character story with no big names to boast. Pretty much death in the modern theatrical landscape. I immediately felt the appeal of writer and director Nicole Riegel’s feature film debut, an expiration on her short from five years back. Actress Jessica Barden gives a hell of a performance as Ruth Avery, a determined young woman in a forgotten pocket of Southern Ohio who finds her ticket out of a place where American manufacturing and opportunity are dying up when she is accepted to college. Also working alongside her older brother in a dangerous scrap metal crew to pay her way to go, she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind. This is some gritty drama that doesn’t spoon-feed any drama and pushes its compelling storytelling straight on the actor’s sleeves. This was a well-done film that doesn’t have the platform it deserves in the awards climate.

Vengeance Is Mine – With a title like this, you would expect whatever feature that proceeds to be wild, frenetic and bloody as all hell, right? The title sets up the expectations but the film has no notable actors and comes from the mind of Hadi Hajaig, a creator who has struggled to make a hit so far unless you include the Sean Bean thriller Cleanskin which has its moments. This film follows the main character Harry, a broken man struggling to come to terms with the murder of his wife and daughter and is living a hallucinatory life in the aftermath. When he discovers the whereabouts of the killers he awakens from his grief to destroy those who destroyed his life in a blind rage with so much collateral damage left strewn about. Surprisingly, the cheesy ultra-violence actually elevates the movie beyond being a flash in the pan and I ended up enjoying it for the most part. I have a hard time calling it recommendable for any viewer. It might be a “stumbled upon” one at best.

American Sicario – Sometimes I think these small independent little action thrillers are just using the word sicario to piggyback on the incredible Denis Villeneuve film and its sequel so that people will be duped into watching it. I love Danny Trejo but seeing him and Philippe A. Haddad, a complete unknown to me, headline this movie just lends more to my belief that this would be bad. The story has Haddad as American gangster Erik Vasquez, a ruthless man who is scheming to become the top dog in the Mexican underworld, only to find himself making enemies out of both the powerful cartels and his allies. This is paint by numbers cartel-style action without the brains or intrigue. It’s hilarious to me that director Raja Collins’s next movie is called Don’t Suck because he should have applied that sentiment to this movie that did the deed for an hour and forty minutes. It is poorly executed in every day and painfully dull at every turn. If you’re going to punctuate your action film with lengthy monologues then you need to give them the purpose behind just being failed gravitas. This movie is a real bummer.

The Waltons: Homecoming – What can you say about this new revival of the American sweetheart family with good ol’ Christian values, the Waltons. Heck, at this point I think Richard Thomas is the only one still alive so they keep trotting him out for more, though I doubt he minds. This mercifully short little holiday film has the newest patriarch John Boy and his family preparing for John Sr.’s homecoming to spend Christmas together, but after a storm comes in the way, he has to find his father and the journey through it will change his life forever. This film is corny like a Hallmark movie but I’m inclined to believe that the Waltons were the art of the formula that eventually created those types of television programming so it’s kind of centrifical at this point. The audience who likes this knows who they are and know where to get it.

My Stepmother Is An Alien – At a young age I fell totally in love with this movie and it has to be based around my love for both Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger more than the sci-fi tale at its heart. I like that Arrow Video has taken on this Richard Benjiman directed romantic comedy with aliens as it still to this day has a sweetheart to it. The film follows an alien sent on a secret mission to Earth where she appears as a gorgeous, attractive, and single lady. Her mission is to make contact with a rather nerdy young scientist, who’s quite overwhelmed by her attentions and isn’t aware of the connection between her arrival and his work. All the charm which I remember is still present and Aykroyd is in that dad phase of his career that included the great addition of My Girl and I always hold this film in the same regard. I also love that the daughter is played by a young Alyson Hanigan, way before she was in Buffy, American Pie or How I Met Your Mother.

Manifest: Season 3 – If you are looking for your new Lost like series, this family NBC sci-fi mystery might be up your alley and, while it doesn’t feature any huge stars unless you were a fan of Josh Dallas on Once Upon A Time, it comes from creator Jeff Rake who created some vastly underrated comedy with the Wall Street series The $treets and the Alicia Silverstone and now does a sizeable genre shift. The series follows the passengers onboard Flight 828 who, after being presumed dead, return and discover the world has aged five years. As they reintegrate into society, they begin to experience guiding voices and visions, and soon a deeper mystery unfolds. The show reminds me of the Syfy original series The 4400 quite a bit, a show that was cut down far too early and left too much of a tantalizing mystery. Now, unfortunately, the series has been cancelled just as all popular network shows are at the top of their popularity but hopefully the rabid fan base and dutiful showrunners, producers and stars can get someone like Netflix, who it currently streams with, to pick it up and create a conclusive fourth season.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

A Night At The Opera – This is kind of a special one for me this week as it is, yet again, another kick-off of the geek outs with a Warner Archive title but it is also my first Marx Brothers movie to add to my collection with my Abbot and Costello movies and my Laurel And Hardy collection. Just need the Charlie Chaplin filmography to round that classics out. This film, loosely plotted, follows a sly business manager and the wacky friends of two opera singers in Italy who collaborate to achieve success in America while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies. This was the favourite film of Groucho’s career but oddly is the first film to not feature brother Zeppo who, as I’m writing this, seems to be the expendable part of the group. He’s like the Chris Kirkpatrick of N Sync or the Howie D of the Backstreet Boys. Yeah, I said it.

The Chinese Boxer – Weeks ago I was sent this new blu-ray special edition for this martial arts flick which was also known by the original title of Hammer Of God, a film that was a pivotal installation in the genre and almost a building block for it. The star, Jimmy Wang Yu, actually predates the debut of Bruce Lee and was kind of the original face of kung fu films which floored me to read. He was not only the leading man but also wrote and directed this story of a noble young martial arts student who won’t give up in the face of all the blood-thirsty Japanese killers that come his way. This isn’t exactly a classic that will weather the storms of time but a film that shows the foundation of a genre that would start to snowball throughout the decade that it kicked off, the seventies. Jimmy Wang Yu was a man of ideas ahead of his time but it took other masters to expand on it and continue up the staircase to when it is today, a global phenomenon.

Middle Earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K – For any Tolkien fan, this is the be-all ultimate edition of a whole franchise that I believe we all know about no so I won’t spend too much time trying to explain films that made billions of dollars. These Peter Jackson adaptations are now all in glorious 4K and it features both the extended editions and theatrical cuts of each film in a gorgeous fold-out book that needs to be beheld and sung a little Hobbit ditty to. Even for how little I cared for the three Hobbit movies, I would feel like this set was amiss if it didn’t include them. Hell, I might even give them another chance. I don’t have much to say beyond that, we already have our thoughts and opinions about these films anyways.

The Hills Have Eyes 4K – Wes Craven’s original chiller about freaks in the mountains that crave blood and violence gets its time to shine now in a 4K collector’s edition from Arrow Video and it puts it on the platform it deserves. So many filmmakers and horror stories were inspired, affected and spurned on by this movie and to experience it in the second-best way than seeing it in theatres in the late seventies is so cool. The film follows a family amid a road trip to California who has the misfortune to have their car break down in an area closed to the public and inhabited by violent savages ready to attack. This movie is iconic in its scope and features the odd looking but genre darling of Michael Berryman who is memorable for anyone who has seen him. To re-experience this film, which also has an awesome remake, is really cool, especially in a time where Wes, one of the masters of horror, can speak to us for the beyond as we lost him way too soon.

The Gestapo’s Last Orgy – This is probably one of the most messed up films I have ever received while covering new blu-ray releases and I can’t even say I was prepared for it. Seriously, how do you prepare for this? The film is also known as The Last Orgy of the Third Reich and something like Hitler’s Caligula and became a source of regret for actress Daniella Poggi saying “I was twenty years old then and I was a model, my agency pushed me. Unfortunately, they added unexpected scenes and a monstrous title. I was born with a beautiful body, and not being an actress out of academia, it was normal to be chosen for my good looks ” Wow. That’s rough. The film is about a Jewish WWII survivor who revisits the ruins of a hellish concentration camp, and the memories rush back vividly and play for the audience. This movie is rife with insane nudity and sex, brutal violence within the sex and so much monstrous Nazism that I’m really surprised I haven’t read about it being banned before. I like to bring the wholesome stuff to this section of the blog so I don’t know how I’ll top this one.

Television:

The Witcher: Season 2 (Netflix) – I feel like I’ve been waiting for this second season forever and the animated film that came out at the end of the summer only kept me satiated for a little bit. I need my Geralt Of Rivia, damn it! Henry Cavill takes the lead in this Netflix original, the adaptation to a widely popular video game series, one that I’m kind of familiar with but in comic form. Geralt is a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts, so a Game Of Thrones-style action series with crazy monsters and beasts, so expect some great gore. The show was brought to the screen by former Daredevil producer Lauren Schmidt who was also behind the hit show The Umbrella Academy which was based on a comic as well. I don’t want to walk down any spoiler paths with this as I think it is one of the best current shows but season one’s cliffhanger will leave you drooling and an actor from Game Of Thrones shows up in a pivotal role in episode one of season two. That’s all I’m giving you

Aggretsuko: Season 4 (Netflix) – I never thought that I would relate so much to an animated red panda but here we are. Yes, Retsuko was a graduate who had everything going for her coming out of university but a mere five years later she sees herself in a thankless job, overworking herself for a sexist boss who minimizes all of her accomplishments causing her to bottle her red hot rage to unleash it every day at the karaoke bar, screaming out death metal songs. Yeah, this show was made for my consumption and with the third season landing, it’s their perfect time to pull more of you onto the bandwagon of underappreciated Japanese transplants. Each episode is short, sweet and weirdly intuitive, especially if you’re in the nine to five work grind that makes you feel a little off-kilter. I highly recommend this show, it’s so ingenious.

New Releases:

West Side Story – Steven Spielberg’s long gestated passion project has finally made its way to the big screen and, impressively, during one of the toughest times to make a huge film, a global pandemic. While Scorsese’s passion project was a brutal film about missionaries bringing the word of God to Japan in Silence, Spielberg wanted to do the big musical with Maria, the Jets, back alley finger-snapping brawls and a very Romeo and Juliet plotline. For those who don’t know, this is an adaptation of the 1957 musical which explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The reviews that have been pouring in are glowing but this isn’t a huge surprise when it comes to one of the best filmmakers in the game ever since he debuted. Spielberg got me into film, like many of us, and even though I don’t like musicals, I’m fascinated by his take on them.

The Unforgivable – As much as I like Sandra Bullock as a human being, I’ve never found her that strong as an actress and I think her Oscar win for The Blind Side is kind of undeserving and a little bit of a celebration of the “white saviour” trope in Hollywood film. Now that I’ve got some shade out of the way, I was willing to put all of my baggage aside for her new drama as it looked very compelling. The film has Sandy playing Ruth Slater, an ex-con released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent crime and re-entering a society that refuses to forgive her past. Facing severe judgment from the place she once called home, her only hope for redemption is finding the estranged younger sister she was forced to leave behind. She has a pretty decent supporting cast around her, with Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofio and Jon Bernthal and Bullock breaking through with a role that is so far removed from the type of characters we usually see her play. Unfortunately, her efforts are wasted on a drama that feels predictable from the start and is bloated in its run time. This is a notable step in a good direction though.

Encounter – Riz Ahmed is the leading man in this new Amazon Prime-produced sci-fi thriller so I am immediately on board as everything the man does is compelling. The critics are celebrating this one too, the latest from Beast writer and director Michael Pearce, a film that hit the festival circuit like wildfire and became buzzworthy even though the release in Canada was a bit subdued. The story has Ahmed as a decorated Marine who goes on a rescue mission to save his two young sons from a mysterious alien threat. As their journey takes them in increasingly dangerous directions, the boys will need to leave their childhoods behind and start getting into the mindset of survival against all elements. At the top of this genre experience, Ahmed towers again with his charismatic presence that exudes through his eyes every time he’s on-screen. It should also be noted that it was shot by Pearce’s Beast director of photography Benjamin Kracun who also did the beautifully done Promising Young Woman as well.

Back To The Outback – An Aussie animated kid flick with a very Australian cast, I’m only finding out about this movie this week so the ad campaign must not be huge in North America but maybe it’s a big thing in its native country. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be because it has the veteran cast of Jacki Weaver andGuy Pearce, the lovely Isla Fisher, the always welcome Eric Bana and some outside choices including comedian Tim Minchin and country singer Keith Urban. The adventure follows a group of Australia’s deadliest creatures who tire of being locked in a reptile house where humans gawk at them like they’re monsters and plot a daring escape from their zoo to the Outback. Seeing that the film wasn’t really pushed for an international ad campaign release, the quality of this one may not rub elbows with some of the Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks releases but it looks pretty cute nonetheless.

Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something – It has been a huge couple of weeks for music in some documentary form or another. First off, we got the landmark fly on the wall making of music history, The Beatles: Get Back, then we received the retrospective trip down memory lane with Brian Wilson in Long Promised Road. Next up, remember Cats In The Cradle? This documentary isn’t fully music-driven, although that’s its foundation, but tells the story of singer, songwriter and activist Harry Chapin and his dedication to trying to end world hunger before his tragic passing in a car accident in 1981. This film didn’t land with me at all close to Get Back or Brian Wilson’s stories, probably because Chapin’s music and stylings never resonated with me beyond Cats In The Cradle and its inclusion in pop culture. His activist work and use of his platform are more notable to me than his musical contributions but how this film was put together didn’t feel inherently interesting to me.

Mr. Saturday Night – I’m a total sucker for era-specific documentaries but this one may be one to put me on the fence as, when it comes to music, I feel like disco is an abomination that still hasn’t been atoned for. The film comes from director John Maggio who has been busy for the documentary division of HBO, already producing A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks for them just a few weeks back. The film is the untold story of Robert Stigwood, an Australian-born British-resident music entrepreneur, film producer and impresario, best known for managing Cream and the Bee Gees, theatrical productions like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and film productions including the successful Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He was also the amplifier to the disco era and pushed it to its great heights before it deservedly fell off a cliff. The film features so much archival footage, a lot of it including John Travolta, who was pretty much the face of the times. Fascinating and well told, this is another winning HBO documentary.

This Game’s Called Murder – The star power of Ron Perlman is the first thing I noticed about this new comedy-drama but I take it with a bit of a caveat as the Hellboy actor has done his fair share of dogs over the years. That being said, this is the type of movie I kind of get into, a multi charactered crime story filled with double-crosses, subterfuge and more. A modern, dark-humoured tale of greed, romance, and lost innocence, the film functions as a harsh critique of society today in a consumer-crazed, alienated society without taking itself too seriously. The film is colourful and weird with interesting originality that writer and director Adam Sherman corals nicely into his best feature since his debut horror film, Dead Doll. It also helps that Perlman chews the scenery every time he’s onscreen.

Off The Rails – This is kind of a tragic film to bring this week as one of the stars of this ensemble, Kelly Preston, passed away from her battle with breast cancer last summer. The film was dedicated to her and features a stellar cast around her including Dame Judi Dench, The Guardian actress Jenny Seagrove, Bridget Jones alumni Sally Phillips and even Andrea Corr from the infamous Irish band. The film follows three fifty-something women who set out to repeat the European inter-railing adventures of their youth, after their close friend passes away and leaves them rail tickets and one final request, to take her teenage daughter with them for a worldly experience. The teen is played by Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips who makes a great debut in this movie but, sadly, everything else is pretty flat and generic, betraying the talent of all of these actresses. Preston wasn’t an A list or B list actress, someone that appeared in a cameo in her husband John’s Battlefield Earth, but she certainly deserved a better exit than this one.

The Forever Prisoner – An acclaimed documentary filmmaker and a personal favourite of mine, Alex Gibney, returns with his follow up to the COVID-19 centric timeline Totally Under Control and this one packs his usual punch. Lessening the North American wide-scale he exhibited in his last film, he gives a singular focus in this latest project and the Middle East again, which has won him Oscar gold before. This film follows the story of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee subjected to the CIA’s program, who was later identified as being tortured by those outside the agency. This film is shocking and brutal, with Gibney never flinching or shying away from anything to get his story across. Getting some pre-knowledge, like his Academy Award winner Taxi To The Darkside or the other films Camp X-Ray or The Road To Guantanamo, to lay the foundation but this is yet another story of brutality and violence in the false name of justice.

Agnes – Possession horror featuring nuns, just put it in my coffee and stir it up! The bar has been set earlier this year with writer and director Corinna Faith’s stunning blitzkrieg set film The Power, so it may have soured my opinion on this a little but I still ate it all up with love. The film is set at a convent that is under scrutiny due to some rumours of demonic possession within its walls, prompting a church investigation into the strange goings-on among its nuns. A disaffected priest and his neophyte are confronted with temptation, bloodshed and a crisis of faith as they fight to correct this evil and send it away for good. While The Power used sound and lighting to deliver its scares, Agnes feels a bit devoid of conventional thrills and chills in this sense but still manages to earn its intrigue through human connection and the previously mentioned crises of faith. As a non-believer, this fascinated me the most and I thought it was handled so well.

Are You Happy Now – Josh Ruben makes his first of two appearances on this list but this one is as an actor and a comedic one at that, his strong suit besides horror but we’ll talk about that later. Other than Ruben being in this, I didn’t know much beyond that nor had I seen his co-star Ismenia Mendes. The film is the story of Adam, a guy who can’t live without his girlfriend Gina, so when he finally gets the nerve up to ask her to marry him he’s devastated by her immediate refusal based because she sees it as a form of ownership and also has some damage from her own broken home. Relentlessly, Adam pushes and eventually convinces Gina to shackle herself to him forever but now he has reservations about it. As much as I adore Ruben, this movie never seemed to gel for me at all and felt like a mish-mash of comedic ideas without a fully put together with purpose. David Beinstein is, granted, making his debut here but it’s just a little undercooked and leaves you with nothing in the end.

Asakusa Kid – Takeshi Kitano or Beat Takeshi as he’s known in North America mostly, is a Japanese filmmaking and starring legend who always gets my attention. Now, produced by Netflix internationally, we see how Takeshi got his start in the industry and his from a promising young star to a giant in Japanese film, all adapted from his autobiographical novel. The film is the story of how Kitano got his start apprenticing with comedy legend Fukami of Asakusa before he hit it big. Ironically, as Kitano’s star rose on television, Asakusa started to become a relic of a bygone era with theatre becoming less and less popular. I’m a huge fan of star biopics and Kitano is one of those actors who would be on the Mount Rushmore of Japanese cinema making this film a very important watch if that style of foreign film appeals to you.

Letters To Satan Claus – This title has to grab you right away, right? What kind of nabs me is that this film looks like a Hallmark Christmas movie full of cheese and ridiculousness but involving the dark lord in a fun horror twist. The film follows Holly who returns to her hometown to make a Christmas special before her promotion to a television anchorwoman but first she must face Satan Claus and horrible childhood memories of him. I like how already it acts like you should know that Satan Claus is a real thing and I think that’s as far as the cleverness goes. Syfy plays in the realm of fun comedy horror but at times it feels so stretched thin just to make a feature-length and no one exudes enough star power to make it a worthwhile endeavour. I see a lot of reviews saying it was so bad it was good but I just didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel it about the Sharknado movies either though.

Writing With Fire – Sometimes a true story is a brilliant catalyst to some kind of change, maybe not within the actual area that needs change but to get the signal out to the masses for the public to amplify. This is an utterly fascinating subject to take on in documentary form as it is a cry from the women of an oppressed country and the avenue to get their voices heard in some fashion. This film takes you into the cluttered landscape of a male-dominated news industry in India, following the only newspaper run by Dalit women. Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions, redefining what it means to be powerful and stir up some “good trouble”, as James Baldwin would have said, in the process. This film is a magnifying glass on the sheer power of journalism and the nudging of ideas until they snowball towards some semblance of change, again, maybe not within the country but within the culture and its future. It felt a little dry in patches but the message still resonates true.

Blu-Ray:

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.

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, you know this new flick 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. This movie rocks immediately with great scumbag characters that love to chew the scenery and action that is bombastic, over the top and almost reminiscent of a western standoff style set piece. The cast is having so much fun with Gerard Butler doing his best work in years, Frank Grillo always knowing the assignment and Toby Huss damn near stealing the whole movie. I also must heap praise on Louder who makes a fantastically heavy debut that cements her, hopefully, as a future action star for years to come.

Cry Macho – Clint Eastwood returns to not only direct another film but star in it as well but I have to admit that I dislike the title. It’s smash 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. Now, it looks like I’m going to crap all over this film but I was honestly surprised by this wistful and sweet drama that had some chuckles to it and a charming outing from Clint himself. Maybe keeping the low bar going into this movie helped it but, honestly, I haven’t been a huge fan of his filmmaking in about twenty years.

One Night In Miami – On an incredibly hot streak already after an Academy Award win for If Beale Street Could Talk and her incredible performance in the HBO limited series Watchman, I’ll watch anything that Regina King does and it just happens that her directorial debut here which debuted on Amazon Prime and now lands, rightly, in-home release in a coveted Criterion Collection edition. The film features real-life people but is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. In these pivotal roles are a handful of up and coming actors with Canadian actor Eli Goree playing Ali, Peaky Blinders star Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke and Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge and knowing that King has Tami Reiker shooting it, the visionary behind HBO’s Carnivale, oh boy, it looks so polished and smooth in its vision. Even though it is a fictionalized account, there is still a very real thread that runs through this movie, reducing these bigger-than-life seeming men to things that connect us all. Self-doubt is something we can all relate to a lot and Cooke, Ali, Brown and Malcolm all have their deep moments of it. Just a thoroughly fantastic movie.

13 Minutes – I can’t lie, when I saw country music star Trace Adkins name top lining this new film I almost panned it as completely uninteresting as I hate country music that much. Sorry, it may be a possible character flaw but I’ve made peace with that. The fact that Thora Birch, Amy Smart, Anne Heche Peter Facinelli and Paz Vega brought me back into it as all these actors were enjoyable for me but have largely disappeared, save for the rare film like this. The film focuses on a very real and concerning thing for everyone in the world and distills it into the story about four families in a Heartland town who are tested in a single day when a tornado hits, forcing paths to cross and redefining the meaning of survival. As interesting as this story could be, the production value fails it out the gate because everything looks cheap and therefore corny which is a dagger of death in any disaster movie. It’s not even cheesy in a fun Sharknado way either and everyone in this movie is dreadful and I’m not sure that it could just be blamed on the writing. Nothing is redeeming about this one.

Werewolves Within – Josh Ruben should be included in the same conversation as Jordan Peele in that they both come from a comedy background but have landed beautifully in horror and have carved out an identifiable avenue for themselves. Ruen’s debut was the writer’s retreat thriller Scare Me that revelled in being driven by a creative exercise narrative that ramps up to a beautiful third act crescendo delivered by great performances from Ruben himself, The Boys’ Aya Cash and Saturday Night Live’s Chris Redd. Now, adapting a UbiSoft game, he is playing in the twists and turns again, following Sam Richardson as Finn Wheeler, a considerate US Forest Ranger, who is sent to the snow-covered town of Beaverfield which, unbeknownst to him, has a divided small community due to the proposed construction of a gas pipeline. As a severe blizzard traps the dysfunctional inhabitants in the local lodge, festering resentment ratchets up the hysteria and the word lycanthrope starts to pop up to make things more paranoid. Now, it falls to kind Finn to prevent everyone from killing each other, as someone, or better yet, something, is hunting them down, one by one. This movie is hilariously written and features an ensemble cast around Richardson that plays so well off of his fantastic timing like Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus and Cheyenne Jackson. Josh Rubin has been campaigning to make a Darkman remake, reboot or sequel and I just hope that this gets him a bit closer.

Ron’s Gone Wrong – Disney brings their next computer-animated feature film to the home theatre after it sadly bombed and I have to say that the effectiveness of the non-Pixar works that they have released, which include Wreck-It Ralph, Moana and Raya And The Last Dragon, I’m still very excited for this one despite the outcome it had. The voice cast, which includes Luca’s Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Olivia Colman, have me looking forward to a fun and funny film and the premise just seems like something that will deliver. It is the story of Barney, a socially awkward middle-schooler and Ron, his new walking, talking, digitally connected device, which is supposed to be his ‘Best Friend out of the Box’ but unfortunately, he came out of his packaging defective. The trailer is adorable and hilarious so I’m hoping all of the good parts weren’t crammed into the ads for it and it pans out as a feature idea.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion – I love a good creepy mystery in which our main character is slowly being driven mad by conspiracy and I have to think it harkens back to some classic stuff like Jacob’s Ladder or Naked Lunch and, to a lesser degree, The Ninth Gate, so this is probably why writer and director Jacob Gentry’s new thriller nabbed me right away. It stars Harry Shum Jr. who, for me, is always the Glee dancing guy or a romantic comedy lead but he changes gears completely for this movie and I was intrigued immediately. The story is set in the late 90s and follows a video archivist who unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the dark conspiracy behind them. With tapes missing out of the story, he goes on a frantic search to complete the whole tale and, in the process, keeps making strides to his possible doom. This film is insidiously creepy and keeps you on the edge of your seat with each reveal and the disturbing imagery the is found on each tape. The ending may leave you with some questions but I think that is its appeal for fans of the genre.

Last Shoot Out – I began getting excited seeing a new western on the horizon this week but much like some shots in classic films of the same ilk, as it got closer and closer, the excitement began to fade like some weathered old chaps. The fact that the film features Bruce Dern gives it some cowboy credit but the man is in his mid-eighties so you have to think most of his onscreen time in this is sitting down like in The Hateful Eight from Quentin Tarantino. The film is about newlywed Jocelyn who is forced to flee when she discovers that her new husband Jody had her father shot down. She is then rescued by gunman Billy Tyson, who safeguards her at a remote outpost as he staves off Jody’s attempts to reclaim his bride. This movie is a low budget, uninspired and badly acted, giving you zero foothold into getting behind any of the characters. You can see that the money was only enough to keep some of the experienced actors on screen for mere moments and the inexperienced getting the majority of face time and it reflects in the final product. It feels like passable westerns are few and far between in the modern era but I guess kind of cheap to make.

The Monkey King Reborn – Well Go USA sent me this animated adventure and it hits me on two levels as I love a good martial arts movie but it’s subtitled so my daughter has almost no interest in it. The Monkey King myth has always interested me ever since I saw a dumb mini-series in the early 2000s than the Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up, The Forbidden Kingdom. With a live-action adaptation on the way, this feature is a bit of a tide over, the story follows the short-tempered trickster Monkey King who destroys a magical tree and accidentally releases the ancient King of Demons after he is insulted while visiting a temple with his master Tang Monk. Enraged, the ancient enemy kidnaps Tang Monk as revenge for his long imprisonment and the Monkey King and his fellow disciples must rescue their master within three days, before the Demon King regains his full power and unleashes his armies to destroy the earth. This movie is an exhilarating adventure with great action and dazzling animation throughout. It’s a loose adaptation to Journey To The West, which was done best by Stephen Chow, but this is a great way to get the kids into it. You know, if they’ll watch it with you.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

The Naked Spur – Alright, readers, time for some geek-outs provided by Warner Archive and for this one we’re heading 1953 for a western drama thriller featuring the heavyweights of James Stewart and Robert Ryan. The screenplay for this was nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to the Barbra Stanwick Titanic, and, surprisingly director Anthony Mann was never nominated despite having an incredible resume with El Cid and The Glenn Miller Story, both coming afterwards. The story has Stewart as Howard Kemp, a bounty hunter who’s been after killer Ben Vandergroat, played by Ryan, for a long time. Along the way, Kemp is forced to take on a couple of partners, an old prospector named Jesse Tate and a dishonourably discharged Union soldier, Roy Anderson. When they learn that Vandergroat has a $5000 reward on his head, greed starts to take the better of them with Vandergroat taking every advantage of the situation, sowing doubt between the two men at every opportunity and finally convincing one of them to help him escape. This film is great and plays on that 3:10 To Yuma feeling in a little way. Stewart is an incredible leading man and Ryan does such a great job at being the foil to every situation. This is an era where the performances led and this one is indicative of that.

RWBY: Volume 8 – I have said time and time again that I have to have some sort of mental block between my film and television sensibilities ad the format of anime because I largely don’t get it. This was my initial thinking when I picked up this box set but I had no idea that Monty Oum, Rooster Teeth contributor and Red vs. Blue writer, had my back and had crafted a show that felt like it was skewed to exactly that kind of viewer. The story takes place in the world of Remnant, which is filled with supernatural forces and shadowy creatures known as the Grimm. Before the events of the series, mankind waged a battle of survival against the Grimm before discovering the power of a mysterious element called Dust, which allowed them to fight back against the monsters. In the present day, Dust is used to power magical abilities and weapons whereas those who use these abilities to battle the Grimm are known as Huntsmen and Huntresses, focusing on four girls who form a team at Beacon Academy, training for that battle role. Cool animation drives this action-packed series that gets better with each passing volume. I’m digging all of it.

I Spit On Your Grave & I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu – I do a podcast on the Three Angry Nerd network called Tremble and we had the distinct pleasure of covering this late seventies exploitation vengeance horror from writer and director Meir Zarchi but not it’s follow up, so these were very cool movies to get on blu-ray. The original film is about an aspiring writer who is repeatedly gang-raped, humiliated, and left for dead by four men that then systematically hunts down each of them to seek out brutal and harrowing revenge. Forty years later, Zarchi returned to follow it up with Deja Vu, which had original actress Camille Keaton come back as well after being acquitted for the results of the first film. She is later kidnapped with her daughter, sparking a whole new game of cat and mouse with new oppressors. These are grindhouse-style features that will appeal to a certain audience but I applaud their mark on cinema, especially genre filmmaking, and the precedence it set. These films are special in their regard.

The Outsiders: The Complete Novel 4K – When I was in elementary school I fell in love with the works of S.E. Hinton, all starting with us reading this novel in class. Quickly after finishing it, I got to see this classic Francis Ford Coppola with an incredible cast and I was hooked on everything the author would write as well as all the movies to come from them. For those under a rock for close to forty years, the story follows a teen gang in rural Oklahoma known as the Greasers who are perpetually at odds with the Socials, a rival group. When Greasers Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Ralph Macchio) get into a brawl that ends in the death of a Social member, the boys are forced to go into hiding. Soon Ponyboy and Johnny, along with the intense Dallas (Matt Dillon) and their other Greaser buddies, must contend with the consequences of their violent lives and while some Greasers try to achieve redemption, others meet tragic ends. This version of it, on glorious 4K, has both the theatrical version of the film as well as Coppola’s definitive director’s cut of the movie, which he called the Complete Novel version. This movie is a total masterpiece and only gets better with age.

Television:

Nicole Byer: Big Beautiful Weirdo (Netflix) – After multiple seasons of her hilarious showcase of epic baking fails in Nailed It, a favourite in my household courtesy of my daughter, and fantastic guest spots on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place and more, Nicole Byer is finally getting her own stand up special and she’s making the most of it. She experiences some catharsis and healing by aiming for something that affected us all, this damn pandemic and the year it shaved off of our lives in any productive sense. Byer has her brand of humour which is on display in her Netflix series as well as when she is alongside John Cena on Wipeout but this is a hyper-focused version of it. If you want some new stand-up to digest this holiday season, Netflix has finally rewarded you with the hilarious Nicole Byer.

Saturday Morning All-Star Hits! (Netflix) – Saturday Night Live writer and cast member Kyle Mooney is tapping into my generation’s childhood with this new animated and live-action hybrid that lives through VHS static and bad tracking. Much like the MTV2 mind trip Wonder Showzen and with the flavour of Mooney’s feature film Brigsby Bear, this series takes the childhood tropes of classic shows and turns it on its head with a spice of nihilism. The show plays like you’re watching a Saturday morning marathon of cartoons on Nickelodeon or YTV and follows twin hosts Skip and Treybor, both played by Mooney, and as they celebrate all that is the 80s and 90s television with parodies of Care Bears, He-Man, Thundercats and so much more. I enjoyed the first episode a lot but it is an acquired taste and not many people will see its appeal. I thought it was darkly funny and messed up and I’m intrigued to see what its endgame is.

The Expanse: Season 6 (Amazon Prime) – Now this is a show that Drex got me into, really pushing me to watch the series that I think reminiscent of a show like Battlestar Galactica where it is the human interaction that drives the story and the politics of the immediate crisis at hand it keeps you fully engaged and on the edge of your seat. I was immediately so happy that we got a Season 4 out of this show as it was cancelled at their original Network, SyFy, which I believe they are already regretting because Amazon has now journeyed out with two new seasons beyond that network’s limited scope. Just to give a vague synopsis, the series is set two hundred years in the future and initially follows the case of a missing young woman which brings a hardened detective, played by former Punisher Thomas Jane, and a rogue ship’s captain, played by former heartthrob Steven Strait, together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history. Believe me, if you get the pilot under your belt you will be immediately hooked on the rest. It’s that simple.

Voir (Netflix) – This is a series made for the ultimate film nerd, like me exactly, as it is produced by this generation’s Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and delves into cinema as we’ve never experienced before. Curated by producer, editor and writer Tony Zhou, this series is six episodes of in-depth and fascinating film essays in visual form. Film lovers examine the cinematic moments that thrilled, perplexed, challenged and forever changed them in this collection and I feel like I related to so much of it as I cruised through each episode easily. The first episode, focusing on the relationship between movies and television over the years, blew my mind entirely, something I could write an essay on myself. This one is special, friends, and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

And Just Like That (Crave) – After the 1998 series that ended in 2003 and six seasons and two films that went from passable to a complete waste of time, Carrie Bradshaw and her girls minus one are back to be glamorous on the streets of New York City for our return to the world of Sex And The City. Is this necessary? No, it seems like a cash grab but as a guy who enjoyed the series in its entirety, I’m a bit curious to see how it turns out. The series will follow Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte as they navigate the journey from the complicated reality of life and friendship in their 30s to the even more complicated reality of life and friendship in their 50s. And just like that, the target audience feels seen and old, right? I hope this one turns out well because it’s rumoured that the hatchet could be buried between Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Catrall and we could get the best thing about this story back, the lovely Samantha Jones.

New Releases:

The Power Of The Dog – When acclaimed writer and director Jane Campion returns to film after an over ten-year hiatus, you stop and take notice as a film fan. Granted, she made the excellent murder mystery series Top Of The Lake with Elisabeth Moss for BBC but there is something special with the cinematic scope of this Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Her new film is a western drama that follows Benedict Cumberbatch as charismatic rancher Phil Burbank, a severe man who inspires fear and awe in those around him. He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife and swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud off his own land, a cowboy as raw as the hides he produces because all of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and the dirt he stands on. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them incessantly until he finds himself exposed to the possibility that his heart may not be as dead and buried as he thought. The film co-stars Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons and has a really rich character feel that is driven home by some stellar direction from a true master.

Wolf – It’s insane to think that actor George MacKay isn’t already a huge megastar like Timothee Chalamet or Tom Holland because the guy knocks it out of the park every time, like his performances in the Viggo Mortensen drama Captain Fantastic or the one-shot World War I epic 1917 but this arthouse film likely won’t get his name at the poster just due to its niche quality. That said, writer and director Nathalie Biancheri’s sophomore feature gives MacKay a new complexity to work with and he totally runs with it. He plays Jacob, a young man who fully believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body and eats, sleeps, and lives like one, much to the shock of his family. When he’s sent to an experimental clinic, Jacob and his animal-bound peers are forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of ‘curative’ therapies. However once he meets the mysterious Wildcat, played by Lily-Rose Depp, their friendship blossoms into an undeniable infatuation and he is faced with the decision to renounce his true self for love or to give himself fully over to his baser nature. This movie is beautifully shot but all hinges on the performances of MacKay and Depp as well as their oppressor, the cold and surgical Zookeeper played by Paddy Considine. I was absolutely astounded by this film.

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid – Over a decade after this popular book series from kid’s novelist Jeff Kinney got the live-action big-screen adaptations, Disney Plus has netted them for an animated reboot and, showing how timeless these stories are, my youngest daughter is as excited for this as my oldest daughter was in 2010. The story follows Greg Heffley, an ambitious kid with a healthy active imagination with big plans to be rich and famous if he can survive middle school first. In contrast to Greg, his best friend Rowley just breezes through life without any hardship and just seems to be successful without too much effort and in time, our little protagonist learns the patience to wait for the good things in life as well as appreciate his real friends and the satisfaction of doing what is right. The kids eat these stories up ravenously in print so I feel like this will be possibly the biggest streaming film this weekend.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road – Fresh off taking in all eight hours of The Beatles: Get Back, this new documentary landed on my pile for the week and I thought it would be a really stellar companion piece. The Beach Boys have always been the American counterpart to the Fab Four with Pet Sounds being a knee-jerk reaction to Rubber Soul and Brian Wilson’s drive to outdo them, a competitive nature that created some of the best music ever. This film is a cool trip through a legend’s memories as Brian Wilson goes on an intimate journey through his legendary career, reminiscing with Rolling Stone editor and longtime friend, Jason Fine. Featuring a new song written and performed by Wilson and interviews with Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Jonas, Linda Perry, Jim James, Gustavo Dudamel and Al Jardine, this was a fascinating film about an artist who fought through his personal and mental demons, learned to live with them and learned to create and continue to break boundaries in spite of them. It wasn’t quite the fly-on-the-wall spirit of Get Back but it felt special all the same.

Julia – CNN Films has a knack for making great biopics and true stories like the Ruth Bader Ginsberg movie RBG or the real-life mystery of genealogy, Three Identical Strangers, and now they turn their attention to one of the giants at the forefront of chef-inspired television, Julia Child. I don’t know a huge amount about Child, other than seeing Meryl Streep play her in that Amy Adams movie, so I was an open book and ready to learn. Simply put, the film tells the story of the legendary cookbook author and television superstar who changed the way Americans think about food, television, and even about women. Using never-before-seen archival footage, personal photos, first-person narratives, and cutting-edge, mouth-watering food cinematography, the film traces Julia Child’s surprising path, from her struggles to create and publish the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961, which has sold more than 2.5 million copies to date, to her empowering story of a woman who found fame in her 50s, and her calling as an unlikely television sensation. The film is a bit paint by numbers as a biographical documentary goes but it is studious in its delivery even without giving those in the know much more information than they already have.

Betrayed – Let’s get some foreign cinema into this week’s features and this is a sweeping historical drama as well, based on a true story from World War II. The film comes from Norweigan filmmaker Eirik Svensson who is still formulating his style over five different films but this is the first I’ve seen to get a full international release. The story follows the Jewish Braude family’s experiences when the Jews are arrested and deported from the camp Berg, on the ship Donau and down to the extermination in the concentration camp in Auschwitz. I thought it was odd that a director from Norway was taking this story on but this story actually focuses on the citizens of Norway that were taken, a side of the Nazi occupation I didn’t know. Svensson nails the tone and message of this story through so really exquisite filmmaking that may cement him as a true international auteur or at least get him a cushy next project to earn him bigger clout.

Love It Was Not – We’re doubling down of the Aushwicz related films this week but this one plays in the realm of being informative as it is a straightforward documentary from writer and director Maya Sarfaty who makes her feature debut in the format. The film is about the tragic love story of Helena Citron, a young Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, and Austrian SS officer Franz Wunsch, who were caught in a forbidden relationship that destroyed both of them. Thirty years later, a letter arrives from Wunsch’s wife asking Helena to testify on Wunsch’s behalf. Faced with an impossible decision, Helena must choose to help or ignore the man who brutalized so many lives but saved hers. This movie is compelling from the start and keeps you on the edge of your seat with each new development, bordering on total suspense which is fascinating in the documentary world. Sarfaty lands with incredible filmmaking prowess and I’m excited for whatever comes next.

It Takes A Christmas Village – Sometimes, when a movie gets a theatrical release, it really baffles me entirely. This is one of those such movies because, for all express purposes that I can see, this movie looks like it’s a Hallmark holiday film or worse with the emphasis on the latter. The cast even lends more credence to that belief as it stars Brooke Nevin, of the Hallmark movies Crashing Through The Snow and Jingle Around The Clock, and Corey Sevier from Heart Of The Holidays and Northern Lights Of Christmas who also directs this as well. The story follows a mayor who deals with a road closure that threatens to close the town’s shops and offers a Christmas market to boost sales but she’ll have to convince the town recluse to host it at his family’s mill which reigniting old feuds and obviously sparking romance. This movie was a complete waste of time and I hated every second that I endured. I honestly could have made something up or scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a root canal instead of enduring it but, I don’t know, glutton for punishment or something.

Blu-Ray:

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 before this one which featured the first Asian superhero in his own film after a delay of about six months and Widow’s own delay of almost two years. 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. Again, with the Marvel films pulling on strings of other genre movies, this one occupies the space of being a martial arts style story and takes that ball running for a beautiful slam dunk. The fight scenes are incredible, I really enjoyed all of the characters and there’s a scene of discovery in this film that has all the magical prowess of the Alan Grant seeing Jurassic Park for the first time moment in the first Jurassic Park. This is special Marvel right here and more people should have been talking about it.

Malignant – James Wan declined to direct the latest Conjuring flick because he wanted to do something a little bit different and he really has here, for better in my opinion but for worse in others’ minds for sure. My favourite thing is that he dipped into the Giallo pool for some fun which added a little more resurgence into that horror trope, something I really love. The film has Annabelle Wallis as a woman paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders which she soon discovers are not just dreams but are in fact terrifying realities. This movie goes all out in its insane script that doesn’t let up on the throttle for a mere second, art direction that was made by a deliciously grandiose but impractical vision and a twist and a third act that no one could see coming. This is one of my favourite movies this year but I’m understanding about people’s hate for it.

The Eight Hundred – I’m all about epic Chinese cinema and this film fits the criteria big time. It also helps that it was made by the director of Mr. Six, Hu Guan, a little film that I discovered almost by accident and it knocked me on my ass. For this feature, he has delivered a riveting war epic set in 1937 following eight hundred Chinese soldiers tirelessly fighting under siege from a warehouse in the middle of the Shanghai battlefield, completely surrounded by the Japanese army. The scope of the film is huge and looks insurmountable but Guan handles it all with such flair and point and constantly keeps you engaged with the characters, something hard to pull off in war epics. The film definitely dabbles in symbolism and metaphors that reflects our current struggles but does it in a way that doesn’t cheapen what the true story was. This is some fantastic Asian moviemaking here.

The Show – Watchmen, V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen creator Alan Moore has written a new film and I’m just finding out about it as it lands o Blu-ray this week? I’m astounded and agast as he is one of my favourite comic writers and rumoured warlocks and this new film looks pretty damn cool and skewed to his sensibilities deep down. The story joins a man’s search for a stolen artifact which leads him to the haunted town filled with Voodoo gangsters, masked adventurers, Depression-era private eyes and violent chiaroscuro women. The reviews for it are really positive which leans me to thinking that they may have finally done a Moore project that was worthy of his own legendary status. The film has a solid British cast with Mank’s Tom Burke, Nocturnal Animals’ Ellie Bamber and character actor Christopher Fairbanks and was made by director Mitch Jenkins who had a previous feature film Show Pieces that was from… checking the notes… Alan Moore. What the hell how did I not know about THIS now?

Mill Of The Stone Women – Some classic film through the prism of an Arrow Video Collector’s Edition hits shelves this week and it will pique some of the international film fans interests as it is an early sixties horror story from Italy, meaning that it will contain some elements of Giallo to it. It won’t be bat shit crazy like Malignant so you don’t need to brace for that. The story is set in nineteenth-century Holland following a professor of fine arts and an unlicensed surgeon who run a secret lab where the professor’s ill daughter receives blood transfusions from kidnapped female victims who posthumously become macabre art. The film comes from the perspective of Hans, a journalist who comes to write a story on the professor and soon becomes embroiled in the murderous affairs when he falls for the daughter in question. The film has a certain appeal as being a creepy body horror film with murder mystery undertones but you definitely feel the time period in which it’s being made but see the influence in the films to come afterwards of this genre. These collector’s editions feel like a cinema history but continue to flesh out that we’ve been too harsh on horror for too long. Yes, this is a protest.

Heaven Can Wait – Paramount hooks me up with some classics all the time but this one rings special to me, especially as an adult, as it is a comedy from the trifecta of lead star, writer and director Warren Beatty, co-writer Elaine May and co-director Buck Henry. It was also an Academy Award winner out of nine nominations but it didn’t win for one of the big categories but art direction. Even still, solid stuff. The film has Beatty starring as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback, you know, the first time around, who is accidentally taken away from his body by an overanxious angel before he was meant to die, and returns to life in the body of a recently murdered millionaire. This is definitely a beloved film for many and was named one of the fifty greatest comedies of all time by Premiere Magazine. Just to show how ballsy Beatty was with this movie, he turned down an original Paul McCartney song for this and it’s still a good film. Crazy.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:

Straight Time – We’re getting the ball rolling this week with a given Warner Archive pick but it also has the legendary Dustin Hoffman in the lead role of a film that doesn’t get a lot of recognition anymore. To add even more clout to this one, Hoffman actually co-directed the film in an uncredited visit behind the camera with Belgian filmmaker Ulu Grosbard taking the full title. The film was actually a pet project that Hoffman was supposed to make solo in his debut but he was denied final cut by the studio and ended up suing Warner Brothers over their treatment of it. In it, Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a career criminal who is released on parole after six years in prison. Max wants to go straight but doesn’t like the restrictions of parole, much to the dismay of his parole officer, and the conditions, like living in a halfway house, not associating with past friends and associates, no driving, and no drugs, all may be more difficult than he imagines especially as his encounters with the guy in charge of his release become increasingly tense. I had never had the chance to see this film until now and was really impressed with it and Hoffman’s performance. It also features a young Theresa Russell, who looks phenomenal, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmett Walsh and a really youthful Jake Busey in his debut movie. This is one that should be remembered more than a project that caused a rift between Dustin and the studio.

The Window – More Warner Archive to give you some time to revel in the classics but this one is a far older one than the previously mentioned late seventies character flick. We head back to the post-war times of the late forties for this noir drama thriller that was Oscar-nominated but for editing which is much more important than casual viewers will know. The story follows a nine-year-old boy named Tommy who has a knack for telling lies but when he witnesses a murder on a hot summer day the “boy who cried wolf” lesson catches up to him big time. He even sneaks out of the house and goes down to the police station but they don’t take him seriously leading Tommy to worry that the murderer may come for him to keep him silent. The film was made around young star Bobby Driscoll who was a loan from Disney and the most celebrated child actor at the time, fresh off of a juvenile Oscar win, something that hasn’t been awarded now for a very long time. It’s a beautifully pieced-together noir that plays with a great old adage.

Younger: The Complete Series – Darren Star is a guy known for producing huge hits like Beverly Hills 90210, Sex And The City and Melrose Place but with a long and storied career like his, many o his shows just sort of slip under the radar. I think that was the case with this one, an original series that played on the Paramount+ streaming service and I’m really just figuring it out myself. The show plays into his ensemble wheelhouse, following the main character, Liza, a suddenly single forty-year-old mother who tries to get back into the working world, only to find out it’s nearly impossible to start at the bottom at her age. When a chance encounter with a twenty-something guy at a bar convinces her she looks younger than she is, she tries to pass herself off as in her mid-twenties and, with the help of a makeover courtesy of her best friend Maggie she is now armed with new confidence which lands her a job as an assistant to the temperamental Diana. With life dominance on her mind, she teams up with her new co-worker and fellow twenty-something Kelsey (Duff) to make it in the career of her dreams. Led by relative unknown Sutton Foster, the co-starring Hilary Duff, Miriam Shor, Nico Tortorella and Debbie Mazar are definitely the draw to the show but beware, it is a Darren Star show so it has its vapidness.

Emily In Paris: Season 1 – Speaking of Darren Star, he has a hit show currently running on Netflix and, before the release of the second season later this month, you can get into the first season which was released on DVD through Paramount. This show starring Lily Collins has been more in the news this year for bad reasons as it started getting some really unearned awards clout that snubbed more of the diverse shows that are infinitely better like I May Destroy You on HBO but I digress. The series follows the titular character, an ambitious twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago that unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company. Emily’s new life in Paris is filled with intoxicating adventures and surprising challenges as she juggles winning over her work colleagues, making friends, and navigating new romances. I hate to get gender-specific on the target market of this show but I definitely the way it was leaning pretty much immediately. it doesn’t feel very fresh or new but I think it found its audience seeing as there is more of it now.

Kevin Can Fuck Himself: Season 1 – After the monster hit that brought a little bit of Canadiana to the masses of the world, how do you follow up the darling that is Schitt’s Creek? Well, in the case of Annie Murphy, she moved on to the big television studio of AMC for a new original series that has a name unpronounceable on network television as well as, you know, radio. The series follows the story of Allison McRoberts, played by Murphy, a woman we all grew up believing we knew, the prototypical “Sitcom Wife”. She’s beautiful, can take a joke, usually being the butt of them, and she’s married to a guy who must’ve won some sort of marriage lottery because she looks the way she does and he’s funny, I guess, but what happens when we follow Allison out of her husband’s domain? When she finally wakes up and revolts against the injustices in her life? This show is darkly hilarious and really different from Alexis Rose and lets the audience see Murphy in a brand new light. I really love it and can’t wait for season 2.

Television:

Lost In Space: Season 3 (Netflix) – This remake of a classic sci-fi series and a forgotten box office failure enters its final season and actually has a pretty solid following behind it. I think it’s cool that the series is locally shot here in British Columbia and definitely makes use of the scenery where it can with the help of a little CGI to make it otherworldly. In this update the Robinson family fight against all odds to survive and escape the hidden dangers and elements of an alien planet after crash landing. The series is anchored by beloved Canadian actress Molly Parker and former Bond bad guy Toby Stephens but it’s the gender swap of Dr. Smith that nabbed me because she is played by Park Posey, a personal favourite. Although I am sad to see this series go out with only three seasons, I do like that they are ending it on their own accord.

Money Heist: Part 5 (Netflix) – This Spanish crime drama series became a massive international hit almost out of nowhere and it wasn’t until about part three that I started paying attention to it but two installments later and now they have closed shop on it. Yes, this is the final season as creator Alex Pina has written it all to have this definitive closing and hopefully no fans with nudging him to renege on that commitment. The story follows a mysterious man called The Professor who aims to carry out the biggest heist in history and recruits a band of eight robbers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Five months of seclusion memorizing every step, every detail, every probability culminate in eleven days locked up in the National Coinage and Stamp Factory of Spain, surrounded by police forces and with dozens of hostages in their power, to find out whether their suicide wager will lead to everything or nothing. This show is action-packed, filled with intrigue and really solid character development that keeps you engaged with the whole standoff. It’s never too late to get into a good binge and if you can take the subtitles this is a great one to do.

New Releases:

House Of Gucci – There’s something about this movie that looking at good reviews for it just doesn’t ring true in my mind and it might be all stemming from a poster that looks like a Saturday Night Live sketch. It may also be my wavering belief in Ridley Scott’s films these days that put the bar very low but the film has been praised for Jared Leto and Lady Gaga’s performances in this scandalous fashion biopic. The film follows “The Gaga” as Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings that marries into the Gucci family and her unbridled ambition begins to unravel their legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge, and ultimately murder. The cast features Adam Driver, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons in supporting roles and it is interesting to note that Martin Scorsese was originally lined up to direct with Robert De Niro possibly involved. Maybe this film will blow me away if I maintain the low expectations.

Encanto – Disney is back with another original animated feature film and I’m sure they’re looking to make up for the box office disaster that was Ron’s Gone Wrong late last month, which I think is a total bummer because it looks so cute. To be honest, though, this movie looks like an easy way to break that negativity as it is vibrant and magical just in the trailer alone. The film tells the tale of an extraordinary family, the Madrigals, who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia, in a magical house in a wondrous place called an Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift from super strength to the power to heal every child except one, Mirabel. When Mirabel discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is in danger, she decides that she, the only ordinary Madrigal, might just be her family’s saviour. The voice cast is a great line-up of Latino stars including Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, the veteran and always welcome John Leguizamo and many more and the reviews that have been pouring in have been glowing. Looks like Disney may have another hit on their hands and it has some cultural fair and relevance to it as well which is refreshing to see.

C’mon C’mon – Writer and director Mike Mills is a filmmaker with an impeccable record to me and it isn’t just because he has only made a small handful of movies in his career because this is an exercise in quality over quantity. He has brought such storytelling brilliance in his films Thumbsucker, Beginners and 20th Century Women with Christopher Plummer winning an Oscar for that middle one and now for his next outing he has the always magnetic performance of Joaquin Phoenix to lead it. He plays Johnny, a radio journalist who forms a tenuous but transformational relationship with his young nephew, played by newcomer Woody Norman when they are unexpectedly thrown together on a cross-country trip. Of course, that Oscar talk is bubbling up again for Joaquin as he proves again that he is one of the best on-screen right now but what should really be the story of this black and white shot comedy-drama is that Mike Mills is one of the best storytellers that you don’t remember the name of.

The Humans – With the buzz from film festivals and critics who got an early look at the film starting at the Toronto International Film Festival, I knew that this movie would be one of note but I didn’t want to know anything beyond that it was a Tony Award-winning play. This cast had me immediately on board, with Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb, Steven Yuen and Amy Schumer, but the substance behind it is where it excels and I won’t tip the hat at all to what it contains. The film is set inside a pre-war duplex in downtown Manhattan and follows the course of an evening in which the Blake family gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving but, as darkness falls outside the crumbling building, mysterious things start to go bump in the night and buried family tensions begin to reach a boiling point. This movie goes from conventional drama to veiled horror in unpredictable moments and it is so crazily unexpected that I slowly felt myself falling in love with it. The acting hits a crescendo that solidifies it as one of the strongest of the year but it’s the puppeteering of writer and director Stephen Karam that brings it there. This may not be for everyone but I’m saying this is one of the year’s best.

Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City – When the first adaptation of Resident Evil hit theatres in 2002 I have to admit I was definitely a fan but I did feel like it wasn’t a close enough realization to the video game which is something I would love to see. I do see that it was more made as a vehicle for Milla Jovovich to have her own action franchise but I wanted something more faithful and we now have it with a film that explores not just the first game but the second as well. This one is set in 1998 and explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City which was once the booming home of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation. Now a dying Midwestern town, the company’s exodus left the city a wasteland with great evil brewing below the surface and when that evil is unleashed, the townspeople are forever changed into bloodthirsty creatures and a small group of survivors must work together to uncover the truth behind Umbrella and make it through the night. The film features Crawl’s Kaya Scodelaerio, Code 9’s Robbie Amell and Ant-Man And The Wasp’s Hannah John-Kamen as franchise favorite players and the mood, aesthetic and set pieces that look pitch-perfect but as a horror movie, it all falls flat. Nothing is scary, everything feels telegraphed and before you know it you’re in a rushed third act and a lacklustre finish. I feel so conflicted on this one and am still waiting for it to be done properly I guess.

Bruised – Let’s get this out of the way first. I really wanted to like this movie. It’s Halle Berry’s directorial debut, an Oscar-winning actress who I’ve always liked and even had the chance to meet when she was making the third X-Men film and was such a darling. This movie has her training in mixed martial arts, has a killer soundtrack featuring Saweetie, Cardi B and more and looks to be a kick-ass, lady-led sports flick. The story has her as a disgraced MMA fighter who finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life as well as an opportunity to re-enter the octagon emerges. Now comes the bad news because this film is truly awful. It hammers down every cliche it can, tries to revel in emotional manipulation that is completely unearned and features the most frustratingly hamfisted script I have seen this year. I was so ready to love this movie but it doesn’t want it, just ridicule, so here you go.

The Last Rite – More horror? You’re damn right and I don’t use that epithet lightly as we got ourselves a good old-fashioned possession movie here which isn’t ever easy to pull off. The story follows Lucy, a study from home medical student and sleep paralysis victim who moves in with her boyfriend and finds out all is not as it seems when she falls prey to a demonic force hell-bent on ripping her apart from within. Torn between sanity and the unknown, Lucy is left with no alternative but to contact a local priest, Father Roberts for help and with time running out and the dark force consuming her from inside, he is forced to make a choice to do the right thing and get the church involved or help Lucy by conducting his own exorcism against the will of the church. Writer and director Leroy Kincaide does his film the ultimate justice by developing Lucy well as a character, which is rare in horror, and making her a fully rounded person that you feel the stakes in as her soul descends into hell. It makes the story more and more intriguing and gives a big message to other creators looking to do the same.

Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn – It’s undeniable to say that if this movie wasn’t an indie flick or from Romania as it is, with this title it would probably be one of the most talked-about films of the year but it very much is foreign and low budget so no one knows anything about it. The storyline should be buzzworthy too in this social climate as it follows Emi, a school teacher, who finds her career and reputation under threat after a personal sex tape is leaked on the Internet. Forced to meet the parents demanding her dismissal, Emi refuses to surrender to their pressure, culminating in a confrontation on both sides of the issue. The film is absolutely phenomenal and is totally unpredictable in not just its developments but the tone in which it’s told. I’m not a huge connoisseur of Romanian films but the few I have seen have blown me away and I still never think of them for compelling cinema.

Blu-Ray:

American Night – Seeing the name Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the top-billed star in a film these days is a bit of a mixed bag. He’s not really A-list or B-list so it might be awful from the get-go or middling like Yakuza Princess which is really depressing because I really enjoyed the hell out of The Tudors. This film is a neo-noir crime thriller set in New York City’s corrupt contemporary art world where Meyers plays art dealer John Kaplan who goes head to head with the ruthless head of New York’s mafia, Michael Rubino in a fight for money, art, power and love. I really dig the cast around Meyers which includes Emile Hirsch, Jeremy Piven, Paz Vega and Michael Madsen but that’s as far as my adoration goes as the final product is a lacklustre ride that cuts corners, fails in its script and can insert even a little bit of cleverness into it’s plotting. Such a waste of actors that I assume came at a bargain.

Raging Fire – If it’s a martial arts film and it has Donnie Yen in it, well, it’s a pretty self-explanatory and easy sell. This one has the pre-excitement and added oomph of being called Raging Fire as well which may make the bar a little higher for it to clear. Yen plays an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who has worked in the front line and given his all for many years. His protege, a talented former officer who made a grave mistake while holding the badge, ended up serving time in prison and now leads a mysterious group of criminals, has now turned for a once-rising star into a furious man with a grudge, and the will to destroy everyone who had wronged him, including his former mentor. This movie absolutely rocks, pushing aside character development to go all-in on the action and it is worth every second. It is a single trope of good cop versus bad cop but you quickly forget about that with the ferociousness of the storytelling. I’ll be honest, the level of this movie was totally surprising.

Clerk – I am a Kevin Smith guy, through and through. I have loved everything from the man, seen him multiple times live and wouldn’t be a podcaster if it weren’t for the effect that he had on my life. One of my most anticipated upcoming films is his follow up to Clerks II more than fifteen years afterwards and while we’ll be waiting a little bit longer for that to hit theatres, his friend, director of Drawing Flies and Small Town Gay Bar and Canadian Malcolm Ingram, has something to tide us fans over. Simply put, this is a retrospective documentary that outlines the life and career of the indie filmmaking icon like only a close friend could and features interviews with friends, family, filmmaking peers, and fellow icons of the film, comedy and comic worlds while teasing the forthcoming movie. Kev screened this in Vancouver at the Rio, following it with a Q & A that I sadly missed but this is the next best thing and thanks to my pal Mark, I got it!

Phantom Of The Mall: Eric’s Revenge – When I was a kid, perusing the aisles of the video store as I always loved to do, the horror films were the titles and posters that leapt out at me, demanding my attention. One such poster was the one for this movie that fascinated me with the modernization of the Phantom Of The Opera story but in a mall. The story follows a guy called Eric who owns a huge house which becomes the target of some greedy investors who want to build a mall over it. So, obviously, they get someone to burn down his house in which Eric is badly burned but not dead, a nasty loose end for them, and a year later the mall opens. What they don’t realize is that Eric is living underneath the mall and he’s very angry and looking for some payback. This movie is pretty wild, even for a late eighties chiller, and has some horror royalty in Dawn Of The Dead’s Ken Foree, time-era bombshell Morgan Fairchild and is an early role for the Weasel, Pauly Shore. Is it good? Hell no! Is it entertaining in the campiest ways with an Arrow Video Collector’s Edition blu-ray crammed full of crazy features? Oh hell yes it is.

The Addams Family 4K – This is an early nineties classic that I have seen more than ten times within that decade and to get a brand new edition on hi-def 4K brought a big smile to my face. I honestly don’t think casting got much better than Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia Addams because it makes any other one, like the voice casting of the two animated films recently, look like dog shit. For those who never got the pleasure of this Barry Sonnenfeld gem, the film has the eccentric family dealing with a pair of con artists looking to fleece them for their fortune by having one of them pose as the long-estranged Uncle Fester. This movie has a great script, brilliant camera work and a style that oozes so well off of it that you would have thought Tim Burton directed it. I think there are probably people out there that actually think that to be honest.

Planes Trains And Automobiles – John Hughes has made so many movies that connect us through the ages whether it is Home Alone for the kids or Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science for the teens. One that connects us all as fans, which I learned very quickly after posting the cover of this beautiful edition, is this phenomenal Steve Martin and John Candy comedy that makes us laugh till our bellies hurt and also hits us like an arrow straight to the heart. For those who need to get a Hughes education immediately, it follows a Chicago advertising man who must struggle to travel home from New York for Thanksgiving with a lovable oaf of a shower curtain ring salesman as his only companion. This may be the best role from John Candy in his tragically shortened career and his chemistry with Martin was absolutely undeniable. The film is infinitely quotable and doesn’t pale at all on multiple rewatches. Heck, it should be a Criterion Collection film.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Santa Fe Trail – Do I kick off the geekouts with Warner Archive stuff a lot? It feels like I do. Anyways, here we go again with a total genre classic from 1940 featuring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland in a film that goes for as much historical accuracy as the studio would allow. The film, set in 1854, follows Jeb Stuart, George Custer and other graduates from West Point who are posted to Kansas to help pacify the territory before railroad construction to Santa Fe can resume. The movie would be the seventh of nine movies made together by Warner Brothers’ romantic couple de Havilland and Flynn but there was a rift between the two as the actor was completely snubbing his co-star due to her romance with James Stewart. Man, there was so much rampant jealousy and unprofessionalism then it’s a marvel that any filmmaking actually happened.

Star Trek II The Wrath Of Khan: Director’s Cut – This film is largely regarded as the greatest Star Trek movie ever made and it’s really hard to argue that because it is a personal favourite as well. I know I already cover the full set of films in the original cast box set of films but this film is a director’s cut and I had to give it some love. For those who are still under a rock, the story follows Admiral Kirk and his Enterprise crew who must contend with an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, that is threatening the universe with the ultimate weapon, the life-generating Genesis Device. Ricardo Montalban is so awesome in this movie as Khan, probably one of the greatest sci-fi villains of all time and I have to say that this film still satisfies every time you watch it and the extra scenes just add to how fantastic it is. For anyone that still thinks that Star Trek is too science-based and fails to excite the viewer, this movie is exhibit A that it is not.

Sailor Suit And The Machine Gun – Let’s finish out this week’s geekouts with some weirdo Japanese cinema from Arrow Video, shall we? This one is decidedly apropos for the country as our main character is a schoolgirl, complete with the outfit, a very dirty little fantasy of Japanese businessmen everywhere. The film follows this teen from the wrong side of the tracks as she assumes control of her father’s arm of the yakuza and we all rejoice as we’ve landed another Japanese gangland story on this blog which is starting to become as regular as the horror films. Well, maybe not but it is a pretty consistent theme. This movie may just be for the hardcores as it was made in 1981 and definitely has its certain cheesiness to it. Enjoy at your own risk but Arrow picked it as a collector’s edition for a reason.

Television:

Masters Of The Universe Revelation: Part 2 (Netflix) – A man I consider my personal Gretzky, Kevin Smith, a driving force to me pursuing podcasting, then radio and movie critiquing, anything he puts his name on becomes very special to me and when it was announced that he would be executive producing this new He-Man series I was automatically intrigued. As a fan of the show and toys himself, Smith has the perfect reverence for the source material and he brings all of that with a great voice cast to this show that feels like it picks up where the original series left off with a tone that suits the time that has passed. The story pits our heroic warriors, He-Man, Orko, Cringer, and Man-At-Arms and guardians of Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, Evil-Lyn, Beast Man and the vile legions of Snake Mountain but after a ferocious final battle forever fractures Eternia, it’s up to Teela to solve the mystery of the missing Sword of Power in a race against time to prevent the end of the Universe. This show already hooked us in with an incredible first five episodes that made sure you knew that no character was safe from death and that the evolution of the rules has forever changed the landscape of Eternia. Just know that these next five episodes ups the ante even more and now I’m left waiting for another installment of five episodes so, Kev, hook a dude up!

True Story (Netflix) – Kevin Hart is really trying to bring the serious side of himself in 2021, especially on Netflix, as we already got the really great comedy-drama Fatherhood that had him struggling as a single father but this one is all serious but comes from a reality within him. The show follows him as a famous comic on a tour stop in his hometown of Philadelphia that becomes a matter of life and death when his older brother coaxes him into a wild night full of next-day consequences. The best thing about this show is that his brother is played by the great Wesley Snipes but at the end of the first episode I just felt that the show was careening towards predictability. Hart is solid and Snipes is charismatic as ever but it feels like we’ve been fed this story of an old life and attitude temptation and it feels less and less fresh every time it’s trotted out. At only seven episodes in this limited series, it has little time to course-correct but I’m still hopeful.

F Is For Family: Season 5 (Netflix) – Bill Burr is a fantastic stand-up comedian that pulls no punches, gives no apologies and is always on fire and, for me, his recent visit to The Mandalorian really opened up more of this man to me. That aside, at the end of the day, this animated series might be one of my favourite of his pop culture contributions. For those who don’t know about this Netflix original, Burr voices Frank Murphy, the patriarch of your quintessential family living in the seventies when kids played in the streets, dads always had a beer in hand and nothing came between a man and his TV. Yes, we’re getting a bit of an Archie Bunker vibe here but it’s played mostly as satire rather than celebrating the more insensitive and politically incorrect opinions of the time from white America. This show really hooked me during the third season and I absolutely love the cast around Burr which includes Academy Award winners Laura Dern and Sam Rockwell, Justin Long and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks. This may turn off a lot of people but it found a soft spot in my love for things like King Of The Hill.

Hawkeye (Disney+) – It’s been a pretty awesome 2021 for Marvel-created television on Disney+ as we’ve gotten WandaVision, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki and What If as well as the Hulu contributions of M.O.D.O.K. and Hit-Monkey. It’s an embarrassment of riches really but the MCU train isn’t slowing down as we get to end the year off with the return of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton and the introduction of the comic fan favourite protege Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld in a perfectly cast role. The two are forced to work together when a presence from Barton’s past threatens to derail not just his family time with his wife and kids at Christmas time but may end both of their lives in the process. The first two episodes are a little vague on what the big bad of the series is but Renner and Steinfeld have really great chemistry and, let’s face it, these characters are cool as hell. I’m on board totally but I probably am an easy target for all of it.

The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+) – Master filmmaker Peter Jackson is known for a plethora of reasons in the film world. At first, he was an originator in schlock horror, making splatter films in New Zealand for years. Then he was the Tolkein guy, adapting both the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit and also did a great job of King Kong in my opinion. Finally, he pivoted to documentary filmmaking with a hell of a World War I film called They Shall Not Grow Old. Now he’s made a Beatles fan like me overjoyed with this three-part docu-series that follows the Fab Four as they regroup to record and rehearse fourteen new songs that would become the album Let It Be and prepare for their unforgettable rooftop concert at London’s Savile Row, their first live performance in two years. As a person that holds this group so close to his heart, as does the rest of my family, this series is so special and it’s jaw-dropping to see this footage restored to look like it was recorded yesterday. I’m grateful to Jackson and his team and I feel like other Beatles fans will be as well.

New Releases:

Ghostbusters: Afterlife – The Ghostbusters have had a dicey ride through the reboot or continuation prism as the film from 2016 wasn’t well received at all, with many fans deriding it as destroying their childhoods and other such lame opinions. Now, the son of original director Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman has continued the family legacy by making a film that looks like it continues and celebrates the franchise in all the best ways. This film follows a single mom and her two kids who arrive in a small town and begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind as a Doomsday level paranormal event starts to form under their feet. The film has an interesting cast to it that features the ever loveable and Sexiest Man Alive, Paul Rudd, The Nest’s phenomenal lead Carrie Coon and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and I feel that judging from the trailers, they have managed to give the same feel as the original films but in an updated way. I am beyond excited for this movie and am so happy it is finally here.

King Richard – Will Smith might be coming to join the Oscar race this year just judging by the trailer and it has been a long time since we have even considered this notion, which I gauge to be 2006’s The Pursuit Of Happyness. He has the Academy on his side as this is a biopic of Richard Williams, the father of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams and the voting board eats those up. The film follows Richard as he nurtures his young daughters’ burgeoning talent, taking unconventional avenues to bring them to superstardom and against all the adversity they face for being young poor black Americans. The film has a great line in the trailer where Richard says he has not one but two of the next Michael Jordans. It makes me chuckle every time. I’m looking forward to this one.

tick, tick… Boom! – I’m going to put everything out on Front Street here with my latest Lin-Manuel Miranda opinion and that is that I wasn’t over the moon about In The Heights like everyone else was. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, the Miranda songs are catchy and Anthony Ramos is a total star but I thought it was a bit bloated and dragged here and there. That said, with his directorial debut here, he knocks a home run and Andrew Garfield is the MVP. The film follows Jon, played by Garfield, a young theatre composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American rock opera. Days before he’s due to showcase his work in a make-or-break performance, Jon is feeling the pressure from everywhere, like his girlfriend Susan who dreams of an artistic life beyond New York City and his friend Michael who has moved on from his dream to a life of financial security all amidst an artistic community being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. Garfield is incredible in this movie and his performance will be remembered for years to come, possibly his crowning achievement. There’s also a show-stopping number in the middle that had even a musical cynic like me in absolute delight. That’s a winner to me.

Blu-Ray:

Jungle Cruise – The Rock is getting his Johnny Depp style franchise film with Disney as he too is now part of the theme park-inspired movie with this new adventure that was supposed to come out last fall but because of the pandemic it all got delayed. Proving that he has such good chemistry with everyone they pair him with, he stars in this film alongside the loveable Emily Blunt who is on a continuous roll after the phenomenal A Quiet Place Part II which I’ll speak about later on. Playing wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton respectively, the story follows Lily as she travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila, his dilapidated but dependable boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities–possessing the power to change the future of medicine and, thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate and mankind hang in the balance. This movie is so much fun with exhilarating action and great chemistry between The Rock and Blunt and Jack Whitehall is so great as the comedic foil brother. This one is well worth seeing.

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 sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence. I loved this film a lot which not only presented itself with such reverence for the original film but also built on it while creating new lore within that served its rebirth. The film acts quite a bit like an art-house film within the horror genre which may turn many casual viewers off but it hooked me in, pun intended. That final shot may also be my favourite this year.

The Protege – When I initially saw this trailer on the big screen before F9 I have to admit that it 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 following 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 ruined everything about a film that, besides that, doesn’t have an ounce of originality and a dumb script to match it.

The Eyes Of Tammy Faye – With a tale as wild as televangelist couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, I’m really surprised that it took this long to get a biopic of 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 couldn’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 film largely skates by on a fantastic performance from Chastain who carries the film on her back, which may earn her some awards praise. The issue is, much like Renee Zellweger’s turn in Judy that won her a few golden statues, the rest of the film isn’t that great. To be honest, it’s a bit bloated and could have tightened up a bit more as it drags in many spots.

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 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.

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 Nicolas 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 is 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 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.

Caveat – There is something about subdued and creepy little stories out of the United Kingdom that grab me and this year has had some beauties like Corinna Faith’s The Power and Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor to chill you to the bone and just before we close out 2021 writer and director Damian McCarthy wants to have his say as well. His film follows a lone drifter suffering from partial memory loss who accepts a job to look after a psychologically troubled woman in an abandoned house on an isolated island. The catch to his new babysitting job? He must be secured into a security vest fixed with a chain to limit where he can go in the house and he can’t leave unless it’s unlocked. This film is freshly original, makes incredibly atmospheric uses of darkness and keeps you on the edge of your seat with fantastic sound design. McCarthy makes a riveting debut and I’m interested to see what his next project is.

Yakuza Princess – On the outside of this new action flick and comic book adaptation, it should 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 lifelong bad life 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.

Our Ladies – This new comedy-drama out of the United Kingdom has proven to be elusive because, as of the writing date right now, I have been unable to track it down for review which is frustrating as it looks like my kind of movie. Beyond that, it may have legs with a lot of North American viewers as it reminds me a bit of the Netflix show Derry Girls which has become a little bit of a hit here. Like that series, this film is set in the nineties but in Scotland and follows a group of Catholic school girls who get an opportunity to go into Edinburgh for a choir competition but they’re more interested in drinking, partying and hooking up than winning the competition. The film is said to be a bit misconstrued when it comes to its approach to sexuality but the casting is great, the script is punchy and fun and the friendships within are endearing and soulfully warm. I love British films and I don’t feel like I’d be misled for checking this one out if I ever can.

Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geekouts:

Mad Love – My geekouts are a bit focused this week and they kick off with a classic from the vaults of the Warner Archive that has some star power to it with the leading man, Peter Lorre. The film is also cinematically notable as it comes from Austrian director Karl Freund who directed the original The Mummy starring Boris Karloff and was the cinematographer on the legendary Metropolis from Fritz Lang. This film is set in Paris and follows surgeon Dr. Gogol who falls madly in love with stage actress Yvonne Orlac and his forwardness about that disturbs her quite a bit when he discovers that she is married to a concert pianist, Stephen Orlac. Shortly thereafter, Stephen’s hands are badly crushed in a train accident and rendered beyond the power of standard medicine. Knowing that his hands are his life, Yvonne overcomes her fear and goes to Dr. Gogol to beg him to help. Gogol decides to surgically graft the hands of executed murderer Rollo onto Stephen Orlac, the surgery is successful but has terrible side effects and murderous consequences. It’s interesting to note that Charlie Chaplin called Lorre the best film actor after seeing this movie, which was his first performance in an American production. Peter Lorre was under contract to Columbia Pictures in the United Kingdom but agreed to be loaned out to MGM for this film if Columbia would do a film version of Crime and Punishment next with him in the role of Raskolnikov. This was fascinating trading from the early heavyweight studios.

The Loud House: Season 3 Volume 2 – Some crazy Nickelodeon cartoons for your children to feast their eyes on that also might drive you nuts as a parent has made its way down to the geekouts this week as we’re stretching here a bit. Well, let’s look at the voices and creators so we can have some sort of latching on point for the adults that suffer along in this show about Lincoln Loud, an eleven-year-old boy who lives with ten sisters and with the help of his friend Clyde to find 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, John 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.

Television:

Cowboy Bebop (Netflix) – Not being a major anime fan, there are still some titles that break into the mainstream pop culture like Akira, Ninja Scroll, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and this stylish little series. The casting couldn’t be any better too as the main character of Spike is portrayed by the deceptively young-looking John Cho and newcomers Mustafa Shakir and Daniella Pineda as Jet Black and Faye Valentine. The series is a space Western story that follows Spike Spiegel and his rag-tag crew of bounty hunters, or Cowboys, as they try to capture the galaxy’s worst criminals and survive the unexpected dangers they encounter throughout space, sometimes saving the world in the process but always leaving millions in damages. With a simmering jazz beat and stylish direction that is always giving nods to its source material, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this show, against my usual distaste for anime. In my eyes, this one is a winner.

Star Trek Discovery: Season 4 (Crave) – Look, I’m not fully caught up on everything in this series yet so for my research I just went as spoiler-free and vague just so I wouldn’t spoil everything for myself but I will say that fans of Star Trek aren’t too happy with the series. I’m enjoying it so far as I’m not as invested in it as everyone else but I can get people’s issues with it. The show is set ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, as the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms with one main Starfleet officer learning to understand all things alien both about herself and those around her starting at the disadvantage of being an accused mutineer for her brash actions. Great casting, exciting adventures and inner politics and an infinite ceiling due to being on the CBS All Access streaming service, I like what they’re doing with this show and the possibilities are endless to where they can go. To gauge where I’m at for those who care, I’m just rounding the bend to the finish of season two.

The Great: Season 2 (Amazon Prime) – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and The Favourite writer Tony McNamara are back for the follow-up season of this great series that is filled from top to bottom with fantastic character work, beautiful set pieces and brilliantly dark humour that will 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 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 sardonic. My question is how quickly will this earn the pick-up for a third season. Maybe it has already been greenlit and at this present writing time, I have no idea about it. That’s entirely possible.

The Wheel Of Time (Amazon Prime) – So many shows claim to be the next Game Of Thrones and it really almost feels exhausting at this point to even try and continually make these comparisons but here we go again because this new series is based on a beloved series of books from late author Robert Jordan, some of which I have read. The show is set in a high fantasy world where magic exists, but only some can access it, following a woman named Moiraine, played by Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, who crosses paths with five young men and women that, together, sparks a dangerous, world-spanning journey. The series is the debut of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Chuck writer Rafe Judkins as showrunner and it has that Amazon Prime money backing it so this might be very cool and a good tide over until the Lord Of The Rings series makes its debut.

Tiger King 2 (Netflix) – Remember when Tiger King became our must binge garbage television during the beginning of the pandemic? I certainly do and it feels like a lifetime ago that it happened but here we are at the start of another season of it. I remember thinking after I had completed the original series that there was nothing more to say but I was wrong. Within the first episode of this five-part follow up the wild real characters of the show are now dealing with the fallout, whether it’s the villainization of Carol Baskins, the newly created stardom of Joe Exotic or the questions regarding Jeff Lowe’s business operations, this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new scandals being revealed in the community of big cat owners. Trash television is back again to fill the internet and workplaces with nonsensical banter and Joe Exotic will again be the redneck and flamboyant poster child for it. Save our souls.

New Releases:

Red Notice – I will admit that there is really nothing super original about this art stealing action flick that is full of cliches and predictable exposition dialogue but that’s not the point. What is the point is the fantastic chemistry between the three stars of this film, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, because they really have it and you could tell they had so much fun making it. The film follows The Great One as the FBI’s top profiler John Hartley who is on the case to capture the world’s most wanted when an Interpol-issued Red Notice, the highest level warrant to hunt, goes out. His global pursuit finds him smack dab in the middle of a daring heist where he’s forced to partner with the world’s greatest art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) in order to catch the world’s most wanted art thief, “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot). This movie is without a lull point and is action-packed from beginning to end with exhilarating sequences and really funny and playful banter between all of the characters. The reviews are terrible for it but the audience score is high so take that as it is. I loved it.

Belfast – Kenneth Branaugh returns to work behind the camera with what looks like one of the most heartwarming masterpieces in years and, judging by my friend’s glowing reaction to it, my anticipation for it is at an all-time high. Filmed beautifully in black and white, the cast really has me too as it has Dame Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds just to name a few, stars who, in their native British Isles, always deliver in one way or another. The story is semi-autobiographical and chronicles the life of a working-class family and their young son’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital. Everything about the trailer for this cries winner and future Best Picture winner, something totally off my radar when it came to my most looked forward to films of this year. It will be nice to get another special film this week to continue the streak from October.

Clifford The Big Red Dog – A film that has been, to be totally pun-filled, dogged by the pandemic, this adaptation of a beloved kid’s book has been constantly rescheduled, shelved and moved into what the studio thought would be a more profitable position. The fact that Paramount Pictures thought that this was going to be a runaway hit is a little telling in the smarts department, because I don’t think it will be, but they are protecting themselves a bit as it debuts on Paramount+ as well. The film is exactly as you know it if you got to read these books in school, following a girl and her family that adopt a little red dog who doesn’t stay little for long and grows to an enormous size and hijinx definitely ensue. The expectations are that the kids will love it and the parents will have a break for an hour and a half. I do like that British comedian Jack Whitehall is getting more work after Jungle Cruise, play the dad here, but director Walt Becker has made nothing but crap since his debut with Van Wilder.

Passing – Two powerful actresses come together from the debut of another fantastic actress’s writing and directing debut and it is a more perfect union than you can possibly imagine and it’s all done in black and white. Rebecca Hall takes her turn behind the camera in hopefully the first of many times with Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga giving two of my favourite performances of the year. Adapted from the novel by Nella Larsen, the story follows two mixed-race childhood friends who reunite in middle-class adulthood and become increasingly involved in each other’s lives and insecurities. While Irene identifies as African-American and is married to a Black doctor, Clare “passes” as white and has married a prejudiced, wealthy white man, a secret worn on the outside that is destined to destroy everything. This movie is incredible and beautifully shot but may alienate some viewers who want a more direct approach to the narrative. The film wears everything on its sleeve and relies on giving exposition just through the motions and emotions of the characters. I loved this movie so much.

Home Sweet Home Alone – If any film pissed me off to the point that it ruined my day then it has to be this tinsel-covered turd that had the audacity to piggyback off of one of the greatest holiday comedies of all time and a beloved John Hughes classic. It had everything going for it too with the casting of Jojo Rabbit’s Archie Yates and a solid comedy cast of Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Pete Holmes and more but it takes a huge dump almost immediately. Yates plays Max Mercer, a mischievous and resourceful young boy who has been left behind while his family is in Japan for the holidays. When a married couple attempts to retrieve a priceless heirloom that was accidentally sent to the Mercer family’s home, it is up to Max to protect it from the trespassers, and he will do whatever it takes to keep them out. which I guess includes attempted murder because they basically made Saw for kids here. I hated every moment of this vile little exercise in forgetting what the original film was all about. I really feel like I should have known how bad it would get when I saw it was from the director of Dirty Grandpa.

Blu-Ray:

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.

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. When you look at the trailer for this movie it 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 but the movie comes through like a two-hour boredom fest where I couldn’t get engaged with any of the pretty cliche characters and I didn’t care about the mystery contained within. It feels like anytime there is an offshoot of Christopher Nolan in feature film form it turns out to be a disappointment. I’m looking directly at you, Wally Pfister’s Transcendence.

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

Four Good Days – This movie surprised the heck out of me, mostly because I was led by very low reviews and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes but it might have worked out in its favour. The work of reliable and legendary actress Glenn Close was never in question because even in a dog crap movie like Hillbilly Elegy she becomes the most interesting thing in it but her co-lead in this film, Mila Kunis, keeps up with her role in a big way. She plays Molly, a heroin-addicted mother who begs her own estranged mother Deb for help fighting a fierce battle against the demons that have derailed her life. Despite all she has learned over a decade of disappointment, grief and rage, Deb throws herself into one last attempt to save her beloved daughter from the deadly and merciless grip of addiction while conflicted by her own mistrust, hurt and guilt. The end result was poignant with a realistic optimism to it that didn’t feel Hollywood glossy. I really liked this one.

Coming Home In The Dark – This New Zealand-made horror-thriller came out of nowhere and completely knocked me through a loop, just proving a constant in cinema and that lesson is if it’s from the down under or the surrounding areas, you need to give it a chance. The film is the feature debut of writer and director James Ashcroft who has a road future ahead of him as he created a story that is harrowing and hits on all cylinders with acting, script, cinematography and production levels. The story follows a family’s idyllic outing at an isolated coastline that descends into terror when high school teacher Alan ‘Hoaggie’ Hoaganraad, his wife Jill, and stepsons Maika and Jordon unexpectedly come across a pair of murderous drifters, the enigmatic psychopath Mandrake and his hulking man-child accomplice Tubs, who thrust them into a nightmare road trip. At first, the family’s terror seems to be born of a random encounter with two sociopaths, but as the night drags on, Hoaggie and Jill realize that this nightmare was set in motion twenty years earlier. The best thing to do is not give any more of this film away and just say that it was one of the most edge-of-your-seat thrillers I have seen this year. People need to seek this one out, it is special.

Witch Hunt – We’ve got a what-if Elseworlds horror-thriller this week and you faithful readers know how much I love those! Not only that but it was a film that I headed into watching that had favourable reviews which is pretty rare in some regards. The film takes place in a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, following a sheltered teenager who must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico. The premise is cool and the execution worked really well for me with Lost actress Elizabeth Mitchell turning in a strong supporting performance. I will say that the overarching horror element of the story involving witches is about as genre-driven as it gets because the film isn’t scary or suspenseful so don’t be seeking it out for a chiller night.

The Emperor’s Sword – Well Go USA hasn’t sent me anything in a little bit so I was pretty happy to see this film arrive in my mailbox as I was looking for a solid actioner. This one goes deeper into the martial arts lore too as it is a period piece as well that harkens back to Jet Li’s Once Upon A Time In China series. The film focuses on the titular weapon, a sword that bestows power upon its wielder which was divided and hidden from those who chose to use it for personal gain. A rebel seizes power and stages a massacre, leaving only one survivor leaving the daughter of a great general to be all that stands between a tyrant and his domination. This isn’t a groundbreaking film by any means but it is one that I thought was very entertaining with great action sequences and sweeping cinematography to it. The movie is the debut of filmmaker Zhang Yingli who approaches this story definitely from the inspiration of filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and John Woo and it definitely shows.

Batman: Year One 4K – A part of my Batman purchase spree from last summer, it really is that I’m given the opportunity to talk about one of the better pieces of the DC Comics animated universe. that is now getting a hi-def treatment in a commemorative edition. Again based on a graphic novel from the legendary ad and revered comic writer Frank Miller, this is the story of Batman’s emergence in Gotham City to rise and become the figure that the criminal element fears, all from the point of view of Commissioner Gorden, voiced in this animated feature by Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston. With beautiful animation, headed up by the director of a lot of these DC animated features, Sam Liu, I really liked this adaptation and thought it did a faithful job of bringing the darkness of Batman’s beginnings and Gotham star Ben McKenzie, who played a young James Gordon in that series, ironically voices the world’s greatest detective and Bruce Wayne in this one, a movie that was birthed from Darren Aronovsky’s failed live-action adaptation. I’m glad we got some semblance of this story.

DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow: Season 6 – Another piece of the still ever-growing Arrowverse within the DC Comics television universe that still continues on even though the flagship show has ended, I regard this series as the goofy and fantastical heart contained within. The series is a great ensemble that features some of my favourite characters both in the comics and the series depiction of them like The Atom, Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and even Constantine who was rescued from the cancellation of his own series. Loosely, from the beginning, the show had Doctor Who’s Arthur Darville as time-travelling rogue Rip Hunter who is tasked to recruit a rag-tag team of heroes and villains to help prevent an apocalypse that could impact not only Earth but all of time. Of course, the kicker is that he has grabbed the supes that would cause less than minor time ripples with their absence which adds a fun underdog quality to the show that I still think remains in place. This show is so much fun and a nice breather from the darkness of a couple of the included shows in this universe.

Snowpiercer: Season 2 – Adapted from Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho’s mind-boggling sci-fi thriller, his English language debut, I would usually start my write up on this by saying how disappointing it is that Americans have to pounce on popular foreign properties but this one is different and the first season immediately put my foot in my mouth where it belonged. With Bong on board as executive producer along with fellow Korean film master Park Chan Wook and horror director Scott Derrickson, this show has the immediate source material love and care I wanted for it and it shines, especially with Blindspotting’s Daveed Diggs as the lead, one of the best actors working today. For those who don’t know, the show is a post-fall of humanity story about a divided remainder of people, either the poor or the elite, that live on a train that constantly zooms around the frozen landscape of Earth. With Jennifer Connolly playing the opposition in this show, it can only get better. This show definitely already pulled in the views like crazy on Netflix but now you can watch it properly on a high-definition disc with optimum picture and sound.

Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:

The Ghost Ship/Bedlam – It’s a bit past Halloween, I know, but the time is always good to check out a classic and especially one that stars Bela Lugosi. Well, Warner Archive has hooked us up with this great release that has not just one of these horror stories from the vault but two. The first film isn’t the one that the Dark Castle film of the mid-2000s was based on and follows Tom Merriam, a naval officer who signs on the ship Altair as third officer under Captain Stone. At first, things look good, Stone sees Merriam as a younger version of himself and Merriam sees Stone as the first adult to ever treat him as a friend but after a couple of strange deaths of crew members, Merriam begins to think Stone is a psychopathic madman obsessed with authority. He tries to tell others, but no one believes him, and it only makes Stone angry and more driven. Bedlam follows Nell Bowen, the protégé of Lord Mortimer, who wants to help change the conditions of notorious St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum. Though she tries to reform Bedlam, the cruel Master Sims who runs it, played by Legosi, has her committed there, though ultimately, it’s the lunatics who’ve taken over the asylum. These are some building blocks for mystery thrillers and it’s cool to see them showcased on blu-ray now.

Walker: Season 1 – I find it so weird that Jared Padelecki has moved from something so beloved to a huge fan base like Supernatural to a series that comes from a fan base that is so right-wing and so fixed in its own zeitgeist, the lovers of Chuck Norris. Granted, I used to be a fan of the action hero but that was in the eighties when I was a kid not as a part of this horribly campy procedural. This is more a modern remake than a reboot that would see Norris return and follow the former Winchester brother as a widowed father who returns to Austin after one year, attempting to reconnect with his children, navigate clashes with his family, and find common ground with his new partner, while growing increasingly suspicious of his wife’s death. The show comes from creator Anna Fricke who isn’t new to rebooting or resetting shows as she already did with the Syfy remake of the BBC series Being Human which I enjoyed quite a bit. So far, so good on this one and Jared handles the lead role quite well.

Television:

Gentefied: Season 2 (Netflix) – A half-hour comedy-drama that I thought would do way better than it did, this series comes from showrunner Marvin Lemus and is based on his internet series of the same name about three cousins who band together to keep their Grandfather’s popular Boyle Heights taco shop in business as the neighbourhood becomes more gentrified. The cast is all unknown to me other than the grandfather who is played by Joaquín Cosio from the Del Toro FX series The Strain and Wilmer Valderrama who plays the building owner and it is well written and original and it looks like Lemus capitalized on the much higher budget from Netflix because this show looks great but I’m surprised about the second season renewal because I thought it flopped. Now that it’s here, I’m very interested to see how it progresses.

The Shrink Next Door (AppleTV+) – The People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive for this year, Paul Rudd, and one of the funniest men on the planet, Will Ferrell, had reunited after their Anchorman movies for a new AppleTV+ comedy-drama series that is based on a podcast. Being a long-time podcaster myself, I love to see that the medium is getting more legs in other media so this concept was pretty exciting to me. The show is the story of Marty and the therapist who turned his life around then subsequently took it over. When he meets Dr. Ike, Marty just wants to get better at boundaries but over 30 years, he’ll learn all about them and what happens when they get crossed. Is this button pushing to make Marty a better person or just a sick social experiment from a mad man? I love that these are the actors that are paired together for these very different roles and I can’t wait to see them traverse the decades as the show progresses. This might be the low-key hit of the week.

Dopesick (Disney+) – From executive producer and director Barry Levinson and writer and creator Danny Strong, this new limited series takes a deep look at the opioid crisis and how we got there through the epidemic that was caused by the miracle drug, Oxycontin. The series takes viewers to the epicentre of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, from the boardrooms of Purdue Pharma where salesmen are encouraged to use dubious methods to convince doctors to push a drug mislabeled as non-addictive, to a distressed Virginia mining community experiencing tragedy after tragedy, to the hallways of the DEA where the FDA’s blind push through of the drug finally hits a breaking point. The series has an incredible cast with Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson, Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlin Dever and more but each episode hits you like a ton of bricks and may cause a need for a breather after each one.

Dexter: New Blood (Crave) – The Sopranos used their chance to satisfy their fans who were let down by the infamous fade to black that angered many but I really loved with a prequel movie that kind of disappointed more people. Dexter gets to do the same thing now by kind of retconning the last terrible season of the acclaimed series or, who knows, maybe they keep it in place as a “screw you, we did it” sort of thing. The series is set ten years after Dexter Morgan went missing in the eye of Hurricane Laura at the end of the final season and he is now living under an assumed name in Upstate New York, Iron Lake, far from his original home in Miami. We definitely should assume his “dark passenger” is still along for the ride but what is his son Harrison like now and does he have his own darkness to satiate? Also, Jennifer Carpenter, who played his sister Deb, is in this revival as well and, given her fate in the series, what role does she play now? There are so many questions swirling around this new revisit to an old friend and I’m definitely excited to check it out.

Snoopy In Space: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – The bringing back of Snoopy has done some good for AppleTV+ who really needed something to give the parents and kids as a selling tool and it has to be both the pushing of beloved characters and putting it in the hands of people who exhibit a reverence for the Peanuts history. Having gone through all of the episodes with my daughter, there isn’t a single moment that feels false. The story follows Snoopy as his vision of becoming an astronaut turns into reality and he and Woodstock tag along with the Peanuts gang on a trip to NASA. Of course, they are chosen for an important mission to space and the chance to become heroes… in their own head. What can I say except if you have anything against Snoopy and the gang you are pretty much a monster and should be locked up.