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.
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!
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.