Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

Spiral – This week is going to be full of me reminiscing or saying “remember when?” so let’s kick it off right with a franchise that was supposed to end after the seventh film, which was a 3D extravaganza, then a soft reboot with the flick, Jigsaw. Now Chris Rock has stepped up as the executive producer and lead star, director Darren Lynn Bousman is back with writer Josh Stolberg and we get a whole new bag of nightmares to start fresh on. This new story focuses on brash detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks who always seems to be working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran played by Samuel L. Jackson. With his rookie partner in tow, he takes charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past, which we all knownow what’s alluded to there. Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game as more bodies begin to pile up. These movies all used to operate with a bit of torture porn horror wink but the good news is the reviews piling in right now are really good which has me absolutely pumped to check this out. If theatres ever open up here…

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

The Woman In The Window – With Hanna and The Soloist director Joe Wright at the helm and a massively stacked cast including Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell and more, this movie easily made its way onto my most anticipated of the week list. Adams plays Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who finds herself keeping tabs on the picture-perfect family across the street through the windows of her New York City brownstone. Her life is turned upside down when she inadvertently witnesses a brutal crime that puts her in the center of the mystery. I started to fall out of love with this movie when I started to see how structured like a play it was and the acting started to reflect that too, almost stilted in the delivery. I was also disappointed by the cinematography, which is done by the incredible Bruno Delbonel who’s done amazing work for Jean Pierre Jeunet and the Coens, but this one feels really bland in its scope. I’m sure it comes across in this write-up but I was really let down by this one.

Together Together – Give me more Ed Helms in sleepy little indie comedy-dramas because I loved every moment of this movie. Helms plays a single man who hires a younger woman to become the gestational surrogate for his child and the two come to realize an unexpected relationship develop that will challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love and give an almost immediate salve to their loneliness that they both experience. The film is a bold second project for writer and director Nikole Beckwith who makes quite the swerve after her drama thriller Stockholm, Pennsylvania by making such a sweetly told story that explores exactly what it means to be human without feeling contrived for a minute. It’s just what Helms needs to keep his star rising and is a catapult for the immense talent of his co-lead Patti Harrison who gets her first major role here.

The Killing Of Two Lovers – It’s a deep and sadly sombre indie drama that I think is the sleeper gem this week and it’s interesting as it features the lead actor of Clayne Crawford whose last big headline was getting fired from the Lethal Weapon television in an on set bullying scandal. The film follows Crawford as David, an emotionally troubled man who desperately tries to keep his family of six together during a separation from Nikki. Both agreeing to see other people during their break, David struggles to grapple with his wife’s new relationship, bringing him to dark points of obsession and contemplating murder. This film is incredibly well shot, opting to use a sort of 4:3 aspect ratio and with a beautiful blank space approach to the cinematography and a script that doesn’t waste words. As far as brooding character dramas go, this is how you excel at it.

Oxygen – One of my favourite horror filmmakers Alexandre Aja has returned to his home country of France to make his next project but this time he’s basing it more in science fiction but he’s still toying with fear in a big way. At its heart, the film is a survival thriller that tells the story of a young woman who wakes up in a cryogenic pod not knowing who she is or how she ended up there and, even worse, she’s running out of oxygen. In a race against a depleting lifeline, she must get her bearings on her surroundings, her identity and her manner of escape into a world beyond her high-tech cage and it is a harrowing and claustrophobic experience throughout. Those who are more used to Aja’s gory nature, like High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, may be taken aback by his singular storytelling approach in this but I took it as him expanding his vision and comfort zone and I really enjoyed it. The reveals are so well constructed in it too.

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

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

High Ground – I am and forever will be a sucker for Australian film. There’s something that just draws me in about them, the feeling of being a knowing guest into their style of cinema. This new adventure drama has all the great staples around it, starring Simon Baker using his native accent with veteran actor Jack Thompson in a supporting role in a story about a big part of Australia, the aboriginal population. Set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, the film chronicles the life of a young aboriginal man named Gutjuk, who in a bid to save the last of his family teams up with ex-soldier Travis to track down Baywara, the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, who is also his uncle. As Travis and Gutjuk journey through the outback, they begin to earn each other’s trust, but when the truths of Travis’s past actions are suddenly revealed, it is he who becomes the hunted. The film is a stunning narrative that pushes the emotion of the journey at all times and consistently packs the punch of the effect of colonialism on the aboriginal people. This one may not be for everyone but I totally loved it.

Blu-Ray:

The Mauritanian – I picked the perfect time to watch my screener for this drama thriller that is based on the novel from the author and the main focus of this film, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, as it picked up a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress Jodie Foster just before it’s release here in Canada on VOD initially. Coming from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald, this is the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the United States government for years. Alone, afraid and yearning to be reconnected with his family, Slahi finds allies in defence attorney Nancy Hollander, played by Foster and her associate Teri Duncan, played by Shailene Woodley who battles the government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a formidable military prosecutor, The Benedict Cumberbatch played Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, uncovers shocking truths and ultimately proves that the Americans have been so shady and callous in their reaction to 9/11, the catalyst for all their actions. The film is brilliantly acted but there is a dry dullness that snakes through it and kind of drags it down in parts.

The Marksman – Liam Neeson can’t escape the action films even though he says he’s retired from them after the Taken trilogy but maybe he just meant he was now shifting to reluctant heroes on their last legs who make their last stands for a multiple choice of reasons. Well, that’s what we’ve got here, as he plays Arizona rancher Jim Hanson, a recluse who simply wants to be left alone as he fends off eviction notices and tries to make a living on an isolated stretch of borderland. It all changes when he witnesses eleven-year-old migrant Miguel fleeing with his mother Rosa from drug cartel assassins led by the ruthless Mauricio. After being caught in a shoot-out, a dying Rosa begs Jim to take her son to safety to her family in Chicago and, defying his cop daughter Sarah, played by Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick, he sneaks Miguel out of the local U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station and together, they hit the road with the group of killers in pursuit. The film is a bland cat and mouse thriller that seems to hit all the cliches that you would expect with the gravelly loner, the defiant kid and the bloodthirsty killers chasing them while killing everyone in their path. Totally yawn-worthy.

Land – Veteran actress and former crush of mine back in the Princess Bride days Robin Wright makes her directorial debut with this emotional drama the puts a grieving woman in the middle of the wilderness in a story not just of personal survival but soul resurrection. Wright stars in the film and playing Edee, a woman living in the aftermath of an unfathomable event and finds herself unable to stay connected to the world she once knew. In the face of that uncertainty, she retreats to the magnificent, but unforgiving, wilds of the Rockies in Wyoming and, inexperienced in how to live off and protect herself from the land, she puts her life in extreme danger. After a local hunter, played beautifully by Demián Bichir, brings her back from the brink of death, she must find a way to live again and open herself up to the continuation of her being. The film starts off rocky in my opinion, giving so much emotion to a character that we haven’t even gotten to know yet and her survival naivete comes off as frustrating but the second and third act comes in to totally elevate that film and give us a really tender one-two dynamic with these characters. Wright sticks her landing as a filmmaker and I’m looking forward to what she has next.

Earwig And The Witch – We’re hitting up some brand new Studio Ghibli produced animation this week which always seems to bring a certain type of class to it and when it sees release in North America they always have a really great English voice cast to it. Featuring Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant, country singer Kacey Musgraves and Legion’s Dan Stevens, this film follows an orphan named Earwig who grew up in the English countryside unknowing of her mother’s magical powers. Her life changes dramatically when a strange couple takes her in and she is forced to live with a selfish witch. As the headstrong young girl sets out to uncover the secrets of her new guardians, she discovers a world of spells and potions and a mysterious song that may be the key to finding the family she has always wanted. This film is dazzling and sweet but it is very apparent that it is a far cry from the movies that established the world-renowned animation company as it lacks that certain polish and the world doesn’t have the same warmth. That said, it’s still very entertaining.

The Seventh Day – Did you think I was going to let Spiral be the sole horror movie I would bring this week? Heck no, especially not when I have Guy Pearce as a demon-fighting priest! He stars in this film as a renowned exorcist who teams up with a rookie priest for his first day of training and as they plunge deeper into hell on earth, the lines between good and evil blur, and their own demons emerge. Did that just sound like the Exorcist version of the movie Training Day? Kind of and, to be honest, that would have been amazing in my opinion. What is instead the result is a great performance from Pearce in a movie that is muddled in its plot and seems to constantly borrow from better films which, in turn, makes it look way worse. If I hadn’t seen any exorcism movie prior I may have been slightly impressed by this one but, alas, I’m well versed in the subgenre.

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

Senior Moment – William Shatner stars in a goofy and slapstick romantic comedy and even with his romantic lead being played by the amazing and hilarious Jean Smart, I couldn’t be less enthused about this wet fart of a movie. Shatner plays a retired NASA test pilot who, after drag racing his vintage convertible around Palm Springs, loses his license and is forced to take public transportation. This ends up working out for him as he meets Caroline and starts to learn to navigate a love life again in a movie that is so horribly “paint by numbers” I began to feel like I had forgotten if I had actually written this one myself. Not even a Christopher Lloyd supporting role as his doting best friend could keep me complacent as I kept checking the runtime like a detention student waiting for the teacher to let him go. There may be a market for this but it certainly isn’t me…

Justice Society: World War II – The DC animated universe gets another beautiful installment with this new “else universes” story that gives Wonder Woman a huge platform to show off the true capabilities of the character and, honestly, the sequences are breathtaking. The story follows The Flash as the Speed Force has him hurtling through time into an alternate timeline after attempting to save Superman from certain death in his own world. In a strange land, he finds himself aligned with the Justice Society, led by the tough-as-nails Princess Diana, in a fight against the powerful Nazi regime during the Second World War. As a comic fan, I loved everything about this movie, Castle’s Stana Katic makes a great Diana and White Collar star Matt Bomer is a fun Barry Allen Flash and the action is hard-hitting and furious. The animated division of DC Comics and Warner Bros. is really the best thing going on that side of the comic book movie wars and it’s awesome to see that tradition is continuing and possibly even getting better and better every time. I highly recommend this killer superhero flick.

Morgue – We’ve got some international horror this week all the way from Paraguay, which is just a little jump away from Uraguay which gave us Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez so I’m more than willing to give it a chance. A very self-contained little ghost story, the story is about perpetually down-on-his-luck Diego Martinez who, after a harrowing accident, accepts a gig as a security guard at the local morgue. At first, he thinks he’s landed himself a sweet and lazy gig but as the night wears on, eerie occurrences and the suddenly not-quite-lifeless bodies that inhabit the building leave him to wonder how much otherworldly energy does it take to wake the dead? This film was a gnarly surprise that slowly slid me over to the edge of my seat until I was perched on it for the entire finale. This is my introduction to writer and director Hugo Cardozo and oh boy am I ever interested in whatever he has coming next.

Merrily We Go To Hell – Criterion Collection hits again this week and I totally feel blessed cinematically with another classic film that is completely new to me and another piece of continued celluloid education. Made in 1932 by a woman director, which seems insanely progressive for the time, the film follows drunken newspaperman Jerry Corbett who finally meets and marries the right girl, Joan Prentiss. Unfortunately, their wedded bliss is interrupted when Jerry’s play, a passion project encouraged by Joan, becomes a hit and he hooks up with the wrong woman from his past. Joan decides that the affair is fair play to be devious herself and she picks another man to escort her around to various parties around New York which eventually causes Jerry to sober up and try to regain the love of his life. Very convoluted romantic affairs run through this film but it was only controversial at its time just due to the title being very taboo to put into advertisements and print. It also hindered its chances of being awards recognized. Still a fascinating piece of film history.

Giants And Toys – Arrow Video is digging into their vaults for a classic film release of their own this week as they have unearthed a weirdo Japanese comedy-drama from 1958 for a collector’s edition. The story follows Nishi, an advertising executive for a caramel company that is planning to launch a new product, in fierce competition with two other companies. His boss builds up Kyoko, a vivacious girl with bad teeth, as their mascot who becomes infatuated with Nishi when he is assigned to look after her. Meanwhile, Nishi is trying to extract information about his competitors’ advertising campaigns, from his girlfriend, who works for one rival, and his old college friend, who works for the other rival company. It’s all a convoluted whirl of relationships, corporate backstabbing and a bit of slapstick silliness in just the way that classic Japanese cinema can spin it and keep it on the rails. This will definitely not be for everyone as it for sure lost me here and there. Honestly, I’m still trying to process it a bit.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Irma Vep – This might be a bit too obscure and pretentious for a mainstream crowd to get behind but Criterion keeps hooking me up with these old masterpieces and I really can’t help bringing them here. This film is a fascinating trip to a sci-fi fantasy movie set in France for acclaimed writer and director Olivier Assayas’s very introspective look at the clash of egos on high-end feature film productions. The story follows washed-up French director René Vidal who hopes to turn his career around with an update of “Les Vampires,” a silent-era masterpiece about a notorious ring of thieves, led by crafty female crook Irma Vep. René brings in Chinese star Maggie Cheung, who plays herself in the film, to play Vep, but unexpected roadblocks arise on the set immediately when they find that she doesn’t know French and her character’s criminal ways are starting to rub off on her in a very real way. She is also veraciously being pursued by an obsessive lesbian crew member to make matters worse. Assayas is an absolute genius and this movie is another indication that he has been for over twenty-five years. This is a 1996 gem that demands to be rediscovered and inserted into the genre of on-set folly films.

Television:

Hacks (Crave) – I have been a fan of Iris Behr’s work ever since I discovered her show Svetlana almost by accident and ended up binging every episode of it I could find. For this new series, she teams with Broad City creator Lucia Aniello to tell the story of Deborah Vance, played by the great Jean Smart, a legendary Las Vegas comedian who enters into a very dark and sometimes totally inappropriate mentorship with Josefina, an entitled but totally socially outcast twenty-five-year-old. Josefina is played by actress Rose Abdoo, who was a small supporting player in the long-running Gilmore Girls, but really gets to shine here with some great chemistry with Smart who is truly hitting legendary status along with what her character is supposed to be. I don’t see HBO Max pushing this series greatly but I will say that it is worth checking out.

Castlevania: Season 4 (Netflix) – With one of my favourite comic book creators Warren Ellis as the showrunner behind this anime-style adaptation of an original Nintendo classic, so may early gamers share the deep stakes feeling with this series. The good news is we are four seasons deep in this now and things are going awesome and the horizon is beautiful. Those who have no idea what this show is about follow the aftermath of when Lisa Tepes, beloved wife of Vlad Tepes, or Dracula for the layman, is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake by an overzealous bishop. Dracula immediately declares war on the people of Wallachia and unleashes an army of murderous demonic creatures from hell. Luckily our main character, Trevor Belmont, last survivor of the Belmont clan, a disgraced family known for hunting all kinds of monsters, is still in town and agrees to take the fight to the lord of vampires. Featuring The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage, Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis and Preacher’s Graham McTavish, this show is all sorts of badass and has me consistently engaged each season which is crazy because anime is a tough sell usually for me.

Love, Death & Robots: Volume 2 (Netflix) – The first season of this gnarly show had me hook, line and sinker as I’m a sucker for a good anthology and this one goes for the jugular whenever it can and I expect more of that from the second volume. The biggest bummer is that instead of eighteen episodes we only get eight this time around but it is still executive produced by the great David Fincher and it is still so mesmerizing to take in. The trailer is frenetic, in your face and totally pulse-pounding, it has me so pumped up for the launch on Friday. This is definitely the binge-worthy gem you’ve been waiting for, stoners!

The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime) – Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is getting deeply historical with his follow up to his James Baldwin adaptation If Beale Street Could Talk and he’s going big by making it a limited miniseries. Starring Joel Edgerton, The Good Place’s William Jackson Harper and newcomers Thuso Mbedu and Chase Dillon, the show chronicles Cora Randall’s desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South after escaping a Georgia plantation for the rumoured Underground Railroad. She quickly discovers it’s no mere metaphor, but an actual railroad full of engineers and conductors, and a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Over the course of her journey, Cora is pursued by Ridgeway, a bounty hunter who is fixated on bringing her back to the plantation she escaped, especially since her mother Mabel is the only one he has never caught. I have such deep respect for Jenkins’s work and seeing that he directed every episode of this I’m really excited to check it out. This is also the last thing of his before he releases the live-action Lion King sequel. Actually, live-action is a relative term here.

Halston (Netflix) – Not too long ago I got to check out the full documentary on fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick and I was pretty fascinated by the story of this very forward thinker that seemed to have an uncanny ability to see trends before they were fully realized. Now Netflix has made a dramatized series with Ewan McGregor in the lead role as the legendary fashion designer as he leverages his single, invented name into a worldwide fashion empire that’s synonymous with luxury, sex, status and fame, literally defining the era he lives in, 1970’s and ’80’s New York. The real battle comes when a hostile takeover forces him to battle for control of his most precious asset, the name Halston itself and all the relationships he built under it. I love everything Ewan does but what really intrigues me is that Rory Culkin plays filmmaker Joel Schumacher in this which fascinates me to no end. I’m excited for this.

New Releases:

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

Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street – For all the kids that grew up under the tutelage of the Children’s Television Workshop, like me, get ready for a rollercoaster of nostalgia and sweet memories with this new documentary that takes us on the wild ride of our on-screen education. Coming from Mad Hot Ballroom director Marilyn Agrelo, this film takes the viewer inside the minds and hearts of the Sesame Street creators to help us understand not only how they produced this groundbreaking show, but also what it was like to be at the center of a cultural and social phenomenon. Street Gang concentrates on the most experimental and groundbreaking period of Sesame Street with the original surviving creators and archive interviews with those who have since passed to weave together personal narratives and with never before seen behind the scenes footage to reveal how they collaborated to push every boundary that confronted them, changing television and changing the world. Many times in this movie I felt tears of memory and joy rolling down my cheek as I saw the little sketches and vignettes that helped form my childhood brain and then the part dealing with Mr. Hooper came on and I lost it all emotionally. I can’t stress how much I recommend this wonderful movie.

Eat Wheaties! – You can sell me a movie easily by telling me that it features Arrested Development and Veep’s Tony Hale, which this movie does, but it also has Elisha Cuthbert, I, Tonya’s Paul Walter Hauser, Scrubs’ Sarah Chalke and the great Alan Tudyk, so, yeah, I’m all about this one head in. Hale plays Sid Straw, a dude who leads a dull life until he accidentally stalks his famous college friend, Elizabeth Banks, on social media. With each failed attempt to prove he knows her, he rediscovers more of himself and the true meaning of friendship begins to blossom in the strangest places. The strength of this movie resides totally in the players as they all bring the best of their abilities to a story that doesn’t really understand how creepy its premise is, especially in the current celebrity worship climate. Just ask Kylie Jenner, right? Still, I had enough of a fun time with the film to make it work for me.

The Outside Story – I started out my review week with this little film and I’m so happy I did because it is sweet-hearted, warm and thoughtful, putting me in a great mind frame on a Friday night. The film stars Atlanta’s breakout actor Brian Tyree Henry as an introverted editor living a reclusive life in his second-floor apartment, always on deadline and in a constant rut. When he accidentally locks himself out of his building, he’s forced to go into the wilds of the outside and confront the world he’s been avoiding in search of a way back inside. This film was absolutely delightful from beginning to end with a great script filled with awkwardness, anxiety and quirky situations while giving a great message of personal growth, relationship post-traumatic stress, no matter how minute it is, and healing our bonds with others. This was so great to see Henry on this leading level and he does it with such great command. I want to see more leading roles from him for sure.

A Bump Along The Way – I have such a sweet spot in my heart for Irish comedy dramas and with the last one, Dating Amber, still in my brainpan giving me the warm and fuzzies, it was the perfect time for this one to nudge its way in for some love. The film follows You, Me And The Apocalypse actress Bronagh Gallagher as a boozy forty-four-year-old single mother that becomes pregnant from a one-night-stand, much to the shame of her buttoned-up teen daughter, played by Lola Petticrew who starred in the aforementioned Dating Amber too, who is just trying to survive high school with as little trauma as possible. This film is a great story of a close-knit mother and daughter who drift apart due to this small-town scandal and are brought together by finding themselves, finding their voices and pushing back at those who oppress them. This is a beautiful little story about the unbreakable bonds of family with a little Irish seasoning. Loved it.

Son Of The South – We got a bit of true story drama this week and it probably will rope in some of the CBS primetime crowd as it features Lucas Till who plays Angus MacGyver in the rebooted series but it also has one of the final performances from the late and totally legendary Brian Dennehy, although in a pretty villainous role. The story is set during the sixties Civil Rights Movement, following a Klansman’s grandson who is forced to face the rampant racism of his own culture and, defying his family and white Southern norms, he embraces the fight against social injustice, repression and violence to change the world he was born into. This story is a really important one and should be told but the method of which it is done fails to steer it out of the quagmire of “white saviour” storytelling and even misses the mark on what the whole civil rights movement is all about. Till is really solid in the film but the narrative really doesn’t deliver anything fresh or lasting, only presenting a story that we’ve seen far more than once.

The Paper Tigers – Old dogs dusting off their skills to become heroes and champions and giving hope to all of us dudes who have felt like the years have passed us by. We too could be formidable again and be the “Best Of The Best”! Is that Eric Roberts movie reference too obscure? Well, anyway, the film follows three Kung Fu prodigies who have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men, now one kick away from pulling their hamstrings. When They discover their master has been murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties and old grudges to band together, retrain and avenge his death. The premise sounds totally 1980s and 90s cornball but everything manages to work really well character-wise and the action is actually really entertaining, even when it gets into a bit of silly territory. As a martial arts film fan, I really dug into this one but I also think a casual viewer could pull some enjoyment from it as well.

Fried Barry – The initial synopsis of this new bizarre sci-fi horror comedy seems straight out of the stratosphere of weirdo cinema so, of course, it’s a great fit for the catalogues of Shudder who constantly give their subscribers a special kind of love. The story follows Barry who is a drug-addled, abusive bastard that, after yet another bender, is abducted by aliens. Barry takes a backseat as an alien visitor assumes control of his body and takes it for a joyride through Cape Town and what follows is an onslaught of drugs, sex and violence as our out-of-this-world tourist enters the weird and wonderful world of humankind. The film is based upon the short film of the same name from writer and director Ryan Kruger, which earned fifty-seven official selections including twelve wins at festivals around the world. There aren’t any recognizable stars but everyone gives it their all in a film that tongue in cheek-ly kind of gives a nod to Fire In The Sky. Get into this one on the ground floor because people will be talking about it.

Monster – This was a late pick up for Netflix as this film has been circulating around on the festival circuit since 2018 but it finally gets the streaming clout now and it has to be because of the now high profile of star Kelvin Harrison Jr. from Luce and It Comes At Night and John David Washington from Tenet, BlackkKlansman and the hit Netflix movie Malcolm & Marie. The film tells the story of Steve Harmon, a seventeen-year-old honour student whose world comes crashing down around him when he is charged with felony murder. We then follow his dramatic journey from a smart, likeable film student from Harlem attending an elite high school through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison, a reality that is a split moment away for many young black Americans. The time is right for this movie to hit, which lands in strong and powerful brush strokes but is a little slim on the details of Steve’s character. That said, this movie nails every emotional beat and makes you feel its sting.

Blu-Ray:

Judas And The Black Messiah – With a cast boasting the fast-rising stars of Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stansfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback and Ashton Sanders, all performers on the road to future Academy Awards in their careers, Kaluuya and Stansfield now already nominated, I was already on board with this new historical drama but it’s the subject matter and importance of its timing that got it’s hooks into me most. The second feature film from writer and director Shaka King, most known for her work on Aidy Bryant’s show Shrill and Wyatt Cenac’s People Of Earth, she goes for the throat in this story that follows FBI informant William O’Neal as he infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton. A career thief, O’Neal gets lost in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell and, as Hampton’s political prowess grows, he also starts falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson. This film is being called electrifying and authentic with performances that leap off the screen. This is definitely one of my favorite films of the first quarter of this year and its urgency pounds like a sledgehammer throughout. I feel like this story is pivotal learning for everyone and an example of how our police forces are used to stifle political and sociological oppositions.

The Little Things – After testing out their new model of release in this pandemic era of big films, Warner Brothers rolled out their next film on their big slate for this year and it starred the money-making and reliable face of one of the greatest actors today, Denzel Washington but it kind of did absolutely nothing in anyone’s memory. . The film comes from director John Lee Hancock, known for the popular Sandra Bullock film The Blind Side and the Ray Kroc story The Founder, who gets dark and gritty here with this crime thriller about a burnt-out Californian deputy sheriff who teams up with a crack LASD detective, played by Oscar-winner Rami Malek, to nab a serial killer. The veteran law man’s nose for the “little things” proves eerily accurate, but his willingness to circumvent the rules embroils his young partner in an existential dilemma. As I said at the top, Denzel always delivers and Malek’s performances are so compelling every time but the feeling that Rami is out of his element as a brash detective is always felt down to the way he carries his gun. It just feels unnatural. The bonus is when Jared Leto comes into the film for his quick serial killer role but the resolution to the whole story is a little less than desired.

The Virtuoso – Hot off of his Best Actor Academy Award win, I popped on this new hitman thriller that features Anthony Hopkins in a supporting role and is led by Star Trek Discovery and Hell On Wheels star Anson Mount. Very brooding and dark in tone, the story follows a lonesome stranger with nerves of steel but recovering from a job gone wrong who must track down and kill a rogue hitman to satisfy an outstanding debt. The only information he’s been given is a time and location where to find his target, 5 pm at a rustic diner in a town on the verge of bankruptcy. When the assassin arrives there are several possible targets, including the county sheriff and he must do more dangerous legwork to find this hitman and accomplish his mission. The story sounds like a winner but the drive of the film only comes in here and there and seems to meander in its emotion and not in a good way but in a contrived and boring sort of way. With how great the cast is, rounding out with Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan and Richard Brake, it never feels as close to the calibre of the actors put in it.

Tu Me Manques – It’s not very often that I get to bring foreign indie films to this section of the blog but this week I saw that this Bolivian drama was getting a small release and thought I’d shine a little light on it. On the surface, the story is very simple, following Jorge, a Bolivian man dealing with the death of his son Gabriel, who packs up his life to travel from his ultra-conservative country to New York City in order to confront Gabriel’s boyfriend Sebastian. While the two battle over Jorge’s inability to accept his son, Sebastian channels his grief into a bold new play in honour of his lost love, in which Gabriel’s inner turmoil is transformed into an eye-popping gay fantasia. This film is beautifully done with a beautiful focus on acceptance, growth and renewal against the vibrant backdrop of the queer community. This is a pretty special film that probably won’t get a huge amount of focus until it possibly picks up a streaming service’s attention.

Painkiller – More revenge or vigilante action thriller stories are hitting your television screens this week but, being led by Eddie And The Cruisers star Michael Pare, this is decidedly far less enticing as a Jason Statham and Guy Ritchie action piece unless it’s, I don’t know, 1986? The film follows Pare as a man who begins a campaign to destroy the white-collar criminals behind the opioid epidemic after losing his child to an overdose. As he starts to inflict violence and pain, he realizes that it sort of gives him a soul rebirth and he really starts to relish his anti-hero status more and more. Is the film good though? Definitely and certainly it is not. It feels like a filmmaker wanting to make a Death Wish movie but trying to latch on to something relevant and in your face in the news. That makes it sound a bit exploitative, which it definitely is.

A Ghost Waits – Usually, when I’m talking about new Arrow Video collector’s editions it is about an older forgotten piece of cult cinema or a fabled classic but every now and then they give the initial release to a festival favourite, giving it a pedestal to shine on from a great distributor. This is one of those movies, a brilliantly unique and original combo of horror, humour and soul, this is a low-budget labour of love years in the making from first-time writer and director Adam Stovall and producer and leading star MacLeod Andrews. He plays handyman Jack who, given the job of renovating a neglected rental home, quickly finds out why the tenants keep leaving in droves and that’s because the house is totally haunted. The ghost in question is Muriel, she herself employed in sort of a contract job from beyond the grave to keep the home vacant and, against the odds, Jack and Muriel find they have a lot in common. Having found a kindred spirit in an otherwise lonely existence, they must fight for their newfound affection as pressure mounts for them each to fulfil their career obligations. This film contains a special sort of genius in its writing that is hard to impart here without giving spoilers but just know that you will think about it for weeks afterward once you see it.

Trances – This new Criterion Collection film literally just landed on my doorstep so I’m going above and beyond to bring it to you as quick as I can and, to be honest, I almost couldn’t read what it was called at first. The film is a documentary from Ahmed El Maanouni that puts a visual emphasis on the history and heritage of Moroccan and African music and, in a more focused sense, the soul band called Trances. The film portrays the band performing concerts in Morocco, interspersed with excerpts from interviews with band members about the meaning of each of their songs and music and is one of those gems in international cinema that kind of crosses over into the mainstream subtly. Released in 1981, this story of music and the love for the medium, its creation and the process of a songwriter still hits and resonates today.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

The Furies – A little late arrival in my inbox but a perfect thing to throw at the geek outs this week, Criterion Collection has put together this re-issue of a classic western drama that featured the red hot actress of the 1940s and 50s, Barbara Stanwyck. The film follows cattle baron T.C. Jeffords who rules his sprawling New Mexico ranch with an iron fist, but his authority doesn’t extend to his strong-willed daughter, Vance, who hates and loves her father with equal ferocity. Tensions rise when Vance falls for bad boy Rip Darrow whom T.C. buys off but the family conflict turns violent when T.C. decides to marry Flo Burnett and evict Vance’s childhood friend Juan from his land. Yes, this is a deep film about frontier relationships and the destruction of a powerful family from within that saw Academy Awards recognition for its beautiful cinematography in the days of black and white film. This one has its hold in film history and Criterion definitely knew that.

Godzilla 4K – Now that the whole MonsterVerse has seemingly come to a close with only small murmurs that it will continue in any form, Warner Bros. has put out this brand new 4K revamp of Garth Edwards’ 2014 reboot of the Toho giant lizard and, once again, all of that element is absolutely amazing and the human side is far less so. The film follows Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson, a Navy bomb expert who has just reunited with his family in San Francisco when he is forced to go to Japan to help his estranged father, Joe, played by Bryan Cranston in the quickest of roles. Soon, both men are swept up in an escalating crisis when Godzilla, King of the Monsters, arises from the sea to combat malevolent adversaries that threaten the survival of humanity. The creatures leave colossal destruction in their wake, as they make their way toward their final battleground, the streets and cityscapes of San Francisco. Experiencing this movie in theatres was incredible and constantly caused the hairs to raise on the back of my neck and that feeling does transfer over to this 4K version as well. Definitely worth it for fans to check out.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice 4K – Let’s get this out of the way once again but in a 4K way because I’m. glutton for punishment. I saw this movie at an IMAX press screening and totally hated it, so much so that I was seething as I came out of the theatre doors and couldn’t even talk to the Warner Bros. rep to give my opinion. That said, in a self-deprecating need to own everything Batman, I somewhat gladly accepted this film into my collection and gave it a rewatch and, yes, it’s still awful but has some really iconic picturesque moments that make you feel like a fan in between all the terrible writing, nonsensical plot, horrible filmmaking and complete character misreads. Of course, there’s the defining horrendous “Martha” moment that should be ridiculed until the end of time but at the end of the day and the end of the rant, this is an impressive watch to behold on a great home entertainment system, especially now in the best way you can possibly watch it that’s not on the big screen. Never take this as praise for Zack Snyder. I would never do that, especially after the bloated Justice League cut of his. He already had enough fanboys worshipping him.

Television:

Mythic Quest: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Any fans of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia out there are probably already wise to this new series that launched with the AppleTV+ service but I was definitely late to the game and after a full binge of both seasons I am here to tell you it is must-see stuff. Starring Rob McElhenney and created alongside Charlie Day and gifted writer Megan Ganz, the show follows a team of video game developers as they navigate the challenges of running a popular video game. This show is hysterically funny and devolves into a chaos of tech jargon, clashing egos, insane ideas and more with a great recurring cast including Community’s Danny Pudi and an Academy Award-winning heavyweight in F. Murray Abraham and also has guest stars like Jake Johnson, Palm Springs star Cristin Milioti and even recent Best Actor Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. This is some can’t miss comedy right here for everyone to jump into.

The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (Netflix) – What? You haven’t had enough serial killer-centric documentary series yet? Or are you just blowing through them at a record rate? Well, this week I’ve got what you need to get through the weekend, satisfy your blood lust and maybe give you some takeaway facts too. Coming from Joshua Zeman, the brilliant mind behind the creepy as hell documentary Cropsey, this four-episode series brings you into the hunt for the “Son of Sam” which captivated the world in the late 1970s but this one goes far deeper because, while the arrest and conviction of David Berkowitz brought the nightmare to an end for many New Yorkers, for journalist and author Maury Terry, the real mystery was just beginning. Convinced Berkowitz had not acted alone, he would go on to spend decades attempting to prove that the web of darkness behind the murders went deeper than anyone imagined and his pursuit of that elusive truth would eventually cost him everything. Zeman draws on archival news footage, conversations with the people closest to the investigation and Terry’s own words and case files to tell a cautionary tale of a man who went down a rabbit hole and never came out and it’s utterly fascinating in all the darkest ways. I know what’s going to be widely debated everywhere come Saturday, so you better binge fast!

Jupiter’s Legacy (Netflix) – Being a huge fan of comic book writer Mark Millar, I was following this original comic that this series is based on issue to issue so when it was announced that this was going to be made in an episodic format for Netflix I lost my mind with excitement. Coming from the man who brought us Kick-Ass, The Kingsmen and much more, this series follows the world’s first generation of superheroes who, after nearly a century of keeping mankind safe, must look to their children to continue the legacy. Of course, tensions rise as the young superheroes, hungry to prove their worth, struggle to live up to their parents’ legendary public reputations and exacting personal standards driving some of them to tragic depths that may challenge their bonds and allegiances. I’ve been chewing through this show ever since I got access to it and I’m loving it. Josh Duhamel is so well at as the patriarch or Superman of the group and Leslie Bibb and Ben Daniels deliver some veteran supporting work. I hope this catches on because, with the success of the first season of Invincible, I want as many adult superhero properties as I can get.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch (Disney+) – Rabid fans of Star Wars cartoons The Clone Wars and Rebels have been rigidly awaiting the launch of this new continuing series from mastermind Dave Filoni, the guy who also helped Jon Favreau with The Mandolorian, and it’s here now and everyone should be happy because it is gloriously awesome after the first two awesome episodes I saw. The series follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch, who were first introduced in The Clone Wars, as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the war. Members of Bad Batch, a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army, each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew that must forge their path alone as the Empire rises and the Republic is forced underground, forming the new Rebel Alliance. This show pulls deep into the geekiness of Star Wars in all the best ways and will immediately become my anticipated shows of the week with the void that Invincible and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier’s finales have left.

The Cafe (BritBox) – Everyone has a justified love affair with actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her series Fleabag, which she wrote completely herself and if you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s simply a must. That said, many people, including myself, had never heard of the ensemble comedy The Cafe that she starred in a decade ago and now the lovely BritBox people have made it available here. The story is simple, a sitcom that follows three young and hip generationals who run a coffee shop together. Simple, simple, easy peasy. The script is what makes this show and the gifted cast that delivers it, pretty much unknown except for Waller-Bridge, makes it all shine. This is going to be a blind watch for a lot of people but it may gain it popularity and as of what I see on IMDB, it hasn’t been officially cancelled yet.

Starting things a little bit different and Vancouver focused this week, as the Crazy8s Film Gala returns, an eight-day filmmaking challenge created in 1999 that provides funding and support to emerging filmmakers to help them produce a short film. So far, one hundred and twenty-seven films have been produced by the not-for-profit the runs the gala, the Crazy8s Film Society, including many by close friends and acquaintances of mine.

I’ve had the opportunity to check out a few of this year’s entries and there are some tasty little genre pieces that I think could blow a few people’s hairs back. Crumbs follows a kid dealing with his father’s death who starts to manifest a dark clown when his oppressors become too much, Mom Vs. Machine follows the mother of a rabid and obsessed gamer who must band together to take over a monster of his own 3D creation and iDorothy follows a widower who implants his dead wife’s consciousness to a new synthetic form but also her deepest secrets as well.

Tickets are $15 each and include both the screening and afterparty events which all kick off on Saturday, May 1st at crazy8s.film/.

New Releases:

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse – Amazon Prime is drawing on some of its pre-existing subscribers with this new action thriller as it will automatically nab the fans of their Tom Clancy series Jack Ryan which has people thirsty for more after the second season and it will rope in those who love Michael B. Jordan from his villain performance in Black Panther, his starring role in the Creed movies or all of those women and men who are just plain thirsty for him and his body. Written by Sicario and Yellowstone’s Taylor Sheridan, this film is about an elite Navy SEAL who uncovers an international conspiracy when a squad of Russian soldiers kills his family in retaliation for his role in a top-secret operation. Pursuing the assassins at all costs and joining forces with a fellow SEAL and a shadowy CIA agent (Jamie Bell), his actions unwittingly expose a covert plot that threatens to engulf the U.S. and Russia in an all-out war and torn between personal honour and loyalty to his country, he must fight his enemies ‘without remorse’ if he hopes to avert disaster and reveal the powerful figures behind the conspiracy. The action is awesome, the performances are solid and I really hope this is just the beginning of the adaptations of this Clancy character.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines – It’s been a rough theatrical ride for this new 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 now we get it and it was totally 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.

Here Are The Young Men – As a teen and into my early twenties, stories about people living their lives to excess were really my jam. I was fully into nihilistic authors like Bret Easton Ellis for Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction, loved Chuck Pahlaniuk for Fight Club and Survivor and ate everything Irvine Welsh like Trainspotting or The Acid House. This new film might have me changing my tune because for all of its substance< I should love it, but it felt like it tread too much unoriginal ground. Based on the acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, the film catalogues the last hurrah of three high school graduates intent on celebrating their newfound freedom with an epic, debaucherous bender but when they witness a horrible accident, it sends them spiralling badly and the trio must grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives which is largely facing their own inner demons and, in some cases, their true nature. My screener for this film was grainy, stuttery and awful which may have led to some of my dislikes but the cast features Anya Taylor Joy, Finn Cole and Dean-Charles Chapman and utterly wastes them with a predictable story full of dumb character decisions and paint by numbers descent into chaos. This should have been way better.

Things Heard & Seen – As far as director and genre pairings go, this is easily one of the odder projects I’ve seen lately as filmmaker duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are known for quirky comedy-dramas like American Splendor and The Nanny Diaries but now head in for some ghostly horror. Starring Amanda Seyfried and James Norton, the story follows Catherine Clare, an artist who reluctantly trades life in 1980s Manhattan for a remote home in the tiny hamlet of Chosen, New York, after her husband George (James Norton) lands a job teaching art history at a small Hudson Valley college. Even as she does her best to transform the old dairy farm into a place where young daughter Franny will be happy, she increasingly finds herself isolated and alone. She soon comes to sense sinister darkness lurking both in the walls of the ramshackle property and in her marriage to George as his true nature begins to rear its head and his past quickly catches up with him. This film has a great look to start and plays all the ghostly happenings with a great subtlety that is reminiscent of The Conjuring movies but by the time it gets to the third at reveals it throws it out the window in favour of complete camp and ruins everything in the process. I’m so disappointed because I was totally on board with this for the majority.

The Virtuoso – Hot off of his Best Actor Academy Award win, I popped on this new hitman thriller that features Anthony Hopkins in a supporting role and is led by Star Trek Discovery and Hell On Wheels star Anson Mount. Very brooding and dark in tone, the story follows a lonesome stranger with nerves of steel but recovering from a job gone wrong who must track down and kill a rogue hitman to satisfy an outstanding debt. The only information he’s been given is a time and location where to find his target, 5 pm at a rustic diner in a town on the verge of bankruptcy. When the assassin arrives there are several possible targets, including the county sheriff and he must do more dangerous legwork to find this hitman and accomplish his mission. The story sounds like a winner but the drive of the film only comes in here and there and seems to meander in its emotion and not in a good way but in a contrived and boring sort of way. With how great the cast is, rounding out with Abbie Cornish, Eddie Marsan and Richard Brake, it never feels as close to the calibre of the actors put in it.

Willy’s Wonderland – Nicolas Cage has always wanted to give a completely silent horror movie performance but who knew that it would come to fruition in a film that pits him against a squad of Chuck E. Cheese like mascots? Featuring veteran actress Beth Grant in a supporting role, the film has Cage as a nameless drifter who finds himself stranded in a remote town when his car breaks down. Unable to pay for the repairs he needs, he agrees to spend the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, an abandoned family fun center but this place of wonder has a dark secret that he is about to discover. He soon finds himself trapped inside Willy’s and locked in an epic battle with the possessed animatronic mascots that roam the halls and to survive, he must fight his way through each of them but unknown to his adversaries, he isn’t locked in there with them, they’re locked in there with him! This movie is purely insane d-grade campiness but I really had fun with every second of it and Nic goes for the throat in his performance which features a crazy scene of him doing a pinball dance scene before his showdown. Yeah, it’s hard to recommend it but I loved it. Take that as you will.

Golden Arm – Betsy Sordaro is probably not a name you know but she has appeared in pretty much every beloved show you have watched in the last decade and always makes a memorable mark and delivers a hilarious line that will have you rolling on the floor. Having been in shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore and Another Period recently, she gets her own film to shine in this new comedy about a tough lady trucker who ropes her nice girl baker but wimpy best friend into taking her spot at the Women’s Arm Wrestling Championship, she must trade whisks for barbells as she trains to face off with the reigning champ for a chance at newfound badassery and the grand prize. The dialogue is brash and rough but absolutely hilarious as Sordaro and co-star Mary Holland, who just appeared in Amazon Prime’s Happiest Season, have incredible onscreen chemistry together. The story structure isn’t anything that will come off immediately as original but this training montage of a film still has charm working very well for it.

SpiderMable – We’re hitting up the department of inspirational and sweet-hearted documentaries this week with this adorable little film that is sure to delight the whole family. This is the real-life journey of a selfless six-year-old cancer patient named Mable and her desire to help others even while she is in the battle of her life. Being a true-to-life superhero, the documentary follows this cancer-fighter who lives out her dream of fighting crime with her hero Spider-Man and is then thrust into the realm of celebrity after her wish day becomes a viral sensation, much like the Batkid in San Francisco years before. Mable must learn to manage her newfound popularity and harness her power in an attempt to give back to the community that is helping her survive. This movie is a total tearjerker that doesn’t play around with your emotions for a second but also opens the doorway to discussions about child sickness, mortality but also perseverance which really is a good thing in the end.

Blu-Ray:

Quick Change – It may seem weird but I feel I’ve been waiting for a home release version of this forgotten Bill Murray comedy that he had so much invested in as the only film he ever produced and one that he was a co-director on. Murray plays Grimm, a burnt-out New Yorker that has devised an ingenious plan to escape the city he hates so much by dressing as a clown, robbing a Manhattan bank and cleverly escapes disguised as a hostage along with his accomplices, girlfriend Phyllis, played by Geena Davis, and best friend Loomis, in a career-best performance from Randy Quaid. However, whilst robbing the bank was comparatively straight-forward and easy, the getaway quickly turns into a nightmare, as the relatively simple act of getting to the airport to catch a flight becomes a tangled ordeal of obstructions, including confused road workers, conmen, mobsters, bureaucratic bus-drivers and a cabbie who doesn’t speak a word of English, all the while Rotzinger, the equally world-weary but relentless Chief of Police, is doggedly on their tail, played brilliantly by the legendary Jason Robards. I could wax poetically for days about this absolute treasure of 1990 film but I implore you to go out and grab it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Another Thin Man – It’s odd to look at the era of the late 1930s and think that they were just as sequel crazy as we are now but this Thin Man franchise was one that audiences frothed at the mouth for and begged for more, detective mysteries with a comedic edge led by the on-screen power couple of William Powell and Myrna Loy. In this follow-up, the Charles are back in New York with Asta and a new arrival in their family, the little Nicky Jr. They are invited by Colonel MacFey to spend the weekend at his house in Long Island as he desperately wants Charles to help him out as it seems he has been receiving threats from Phil Church, a very shady character. When McFey is shockingly killed, Church seems to be the obvious suspect but Nick suspects there is something far more complicated going on with McFey’s housekeeper, daughter and various hangers-on all having an interest in seeking the old man’s demise. The eighth of fourteen films pairing William Powell and Myrna Loy, Powell persevered through multiple personal tragedies to make this movie, including the unexpected death of his fiancée, Jean Harlow difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. That’s powerful stuff there.

Donnie Darko 4K – One of my favourite movies of all time gets the full 4K treatment this week as Arrow has taken a great interest in the debut work from the fantastic Richard Kelly and a film that definitely captured the imagination of my generation, really put Jake Gyllenhaal on the map and still is discovered by more and more people every day. The film follows troubled teenager Donnie Darko who escapes death when a jet engine crashes in his bedroom for those who are new to this title, only because he follows a giant bunny leading him outside. The bunny, called Frank, tells him that the world will end in twenty-eight days and as the final date comes closer and closer, Donnie is drawn into an alarming series of events that may or may not be a product of growing insanity. This movie hits incredible themes and also revels in its 1980s setting and surrealism with a great cast around Gyllenhaal including his sister Maggie, Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore whose production company also produced it. This is an absolute masterpiece in every way.

Masculin Feminin – I have to give it to the Criterion Collection releases for giving me an education in some of the greatest filmmakers ever with each new release they send me and one storyteller that I’m woefully uneducated in is French new wave director Jean Luc Goddard. Yes, I had seen Breathless and Alphaville but I had recently discovered Pierrot Le Fou at its Criterion release a few months back and I get a crash course with this film now. The film follows Paul, a young idealist trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life who takes a job interviewing people for a marketing research firm. He moves in with aspiring pop singer, Madeleine, and their affair often involves her two sexy roommates but wedges drive into their relationships through their psyches and obsessions. Through a series of fifteen unrelated vignettes we see Paul is disillusioned by the growing commercialism in society, while Madeleine just wants to be successful in a Godard film that is consistently included on best of all time lists and is even part of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” book.

Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geekouts:

Goodfellas – Coming off of Academy Award weekend, it’s a great time to relive this film that itself got six Oscar nominations, including one for the legendary Martin Scorsese in a notch in his career that many fans believe to be his best. Adapted from the book by Nicholas Pileggi, the film is the story of Irish-Italian American, Henry Hill, and how he lives day-to-day life as a member of the Mafia. Based on a true story, the plot revolves around Henry and his two unstable friends Jimmy and Tommy as they gradually climb the ladder from petty crime to violent murders which include some of the most iconic scenes of all time and most, still, quotable dialogue ever that still gets used and netted Joe Pesci the Oscar. Funny, even with all of his amazing lines and running his mouth in this movie, and many others, he had the shortest Academy Award acceptance speech, only saying “My privilege, thank you.” What a guy, to keep the broadcast on the tracks like that!

History Is Made At Night – Throwing some new Criterion into my Geek Outs this week as this title was a bit of a late arrival but it is such a pivotal part of the evolution of romantic dramas. In this film from two-time Academy Award-winning director Frank Borzage, the story follows a wealthy American woman who meets a charming Parisian head waiter and they quickly fall in love. However, the woman’s estranged husband blackmails her into returning to America with him and her new beau follows her trail to New York, where, after months of searching, he finds her again and they reaffirm their love. They board a ship headed back to France, but her insanely jealous husband compels the captain to steer the ship into dangerous waters, where it will almost certainly collide with icebergs and be destroyed which is, you guessed it, the Titanic. It’s interesting because this film also mentions the Hindenburg and its successful voyage as this film actually predates the catastrophic accident that the blimp would be known for. Fascinating cinema that moves in tandem with history.

Super Mario Bros. – As a kid, I awaited a big-screen version of one of my favourite video games of all time Super Mario Brothers and Touchstone, one of the studios under the umbrella of Disney, had obtained the rights to make it and my excitement couldn’t be contained. What came out, though, was one of the weirdest bastardizations of an original property in the 90s and a film that obviously reeked of producers screaming at each other and a ramshackle vision that prompted its stars to drink. That said, it’s an odd sort of classical lovable failure. Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo and a maniacal Dennis Hopper, the story follows Mario and Luigi, two wacky plumbers who undertake a daring quest to save a princess in Dinohattan, a hidden world where the inhabitants evolved from dinosaurs. The pipe fitting brothers face deadly challenges from a diabolical lizard king and must battle giant reptilian goombas, outwit misfit thugs, and undermine a sinister scheme to take over the world in a movie that I’ve crash coursed my young daughter through as a big Mario fan and she was like what the heck was this? Yes, it doesn’t hold up at all but it’s a great nostalgia trip through a weird time in our lives.

Uncertainty – I bought this DVD on a whim of picking up all of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s works and, sadly, this film isn’t streaming anywhere. Co-starring Lynn Collins and Olivia Thirlby, this is a young couple’s race against existence as they flip a coin on the Brooklyn bridge to determine the paths their lives take that day, which just happens to be the Fourth of July. The green path takes them to Brooklyn where they spend a quiet day with Kate’s family, coming to a better understanding of their status as a couple and the yellow path takes them to Manhattan where they are being chased by a gunman and are in the center of a dangerous crime ring involving large amounts of money. What does the future hold for Kate and Bobby and what is the right path for them to continue? The story is really inventive and pushes itself to unpredictable places, really showing the strength of filmmaking duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s imagination. These two have been quietly making stellar films and still have not yet risen to notoriety. Hopefully soon.

Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This – This one was a total stoner impulse buy as I own everything that Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong have produced together as the cannabis smoking duo Cheech and Chong except this compilation documentary that followed along with their reunion, highlighting the stand-up and music on their “Light Up America” tour. This one is really simple as it shows the two comedy legends reunite and rehearse some of their classic bits which hadn’t been performed in decades as well as the opening act, Tommy’s wife Shelby who is extremely funny herself. As a guy that spent the money to go see the live show when it hit the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, this is like the tour program in a video visual form and I kind of love it just the same. This is for the deep Cheech and Chong fans only, I think.

Television:

Headspace Guide To Sleep (Netflix) – From Headspace, the same guys that gave you a guide to meditation comes this new series of eighteen-minute episodes to help you get the sleep your body, mind and spirit needs. Not only is this just about obtaining your sleep but learning how to sleep better with their methodology and each episode unpacks misconceptions, offers friendly tips and concludes with a guided wind-down that is designed to get you down for a good night’s sleep. That’s the simple cut and dry of these shows and, honestly, Netflix is destined to make a killing by employing all of these Headspace properties to the streaming service because they are all helpful and totally money. They help me out in my day to day and can help you too. I’m not a paid Netflix spokesperson, I feel the need to tell you that now.

Yasuke (Netflix) – I’m not usually an anime guy as I’ve pointed out numerous times before in this blog but the fact that Academy Award nominee Lakeith Stansfield, who appears for his second time on this list, is the lead voice in this new Netflix produced series makes my will and resolve all rubber and I’m bought in before the first episode. The series is set in a war-torn feudal Japan filled with mechs and magic, with Lakeith playing the greatest ronin ever known, Yasuke, who struggles to maintain a peaceful existence after a past life of violence. His wishes are shattered when a local village becomes the center of social upheaval between warring daimyo and he must take up his sword again and transport a mysterious child who is the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords. The animation of the show is absolutely breathtaking, created by Lesean Thomas who previously brought the blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite, to the animated screen. So far, so good in this new action-driven and decidedly bloody series and I’m eating it all up like a delicious four-course meal.

In Search of Darkness: Part II (Shudder) – Two of my favourite genres are getting mashed together again with this continuation of an amazing horror documentary that we got last year and by now as a regular reader you have to know my love of film docs at this point. To give a rehashing of the last film, this is definitely a more focused approach as the film is an exploration of ’80s horror movies through the perspective of the actors, directors, producers and SFX craftspeople who made them and their impact on contemporary cinema. The who’s who of interview subjects for this movie is absolutely insane, featuring master directors like John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Sean S. Cunningham and Joe Dante, stars like Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton and cult goddesses like Diana Prince all sharing their unique horror stories. By the time that you’ve ingested all four hours of the first film and, yes, another four hours for this one, well, you should be an expert, right?

Grace (BritBox) – I have an unrequited love for British television but, even more so, I have crazy love for their procedurals more than I do for the American counterpart as they seem to do something a bit different as their characters are more dynamic in how they are affected from case to case and the stakes feel far bigger. This one has a favourite of mine in the lead role with former Life On Mars star and Doctor Who ultimate villain John Simm playing Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a hard-working police officer who has given his life to the job. This mini-series, Dead Simple, opens with Grace running inquiries into long-forgotten cold cases with little or no prospect of success. Fixated by the disappearance of his wife, Sandy, which haunts his thoughts, his unorthodox police methods have come under scrutiny once again, and Grace is walking a career tightrope, risking being moved from the job he loves most. With so much at stake, his colleague Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson knows he has more to give and asks him for help with a case to hopefully get Grace on the right path again. The show comes from Russell Lewis who has had huge success in the United Kingdom with shows like Endeavor and Murphy’s Law so I think it is all in good hands.

The Mosquito Coast (AppleTV+) – Remember the Harrison Ford film of the same name from Aussie master filmmaker Peter Weir with Helen Mirren about a guy trying to pursue the nature dream with his family? Well, much like Amazon Prime did with Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock, AppleTV+ has adapted this movie into series form with Justin Theroux in the lead, Melissa George co-starring and a plethora of directors helming episodes like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Rupert Wyatt and Game Of Thrones guy Jeremy Podeswa. The series is a gripping adventure and layered character drama following the dangerous journey of a radical idealist and brilliant inventor, Allie Fox, who uproots his family for Mexico when they suddenly find themselves on the run from the US government. The tension of the show is constantly on its sleeve and Theroux brings that same great energy he had with HBO’s The Leftovers to this, which isn’t the same calibre but is still damn good.

New Releases:

Mortal Kombat – Oh man, we are starting with one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Why? Well, it may have something to do with how ravenous I was about the original movie, which I saw in theatres multiple times. It may be my disappointment in the sequel to said movie, my insane love for the video game franchise or my whetted appetite that the Legacy YouTube series gave me but, you get the point, I’m into this. The film follows MMA fighter Cole Young, a warrior accustomed to taking a beating for money who is unaware of his heritage and why the mythic Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, played by The Raid’s Joe Taslim, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. This movie looks so much fun and I feel like I’m destined to love it in a Godzilla vs. Kong way where I can just appreciate it for what it is and be dazzled by it. Sub Zero stabs a dude with a sword made from frozen blood! How awesome is that?

Stowaway – This one was a late addition to my timeline and I started kicking myself immediately because it has the incredible Toni Collette in space with Anna Kendrick. How could I not know about this? The film comes from writer and director Joe Penna, who astounded with his last feature Arctic with Mads Mikkelsen, the story follows a three-person crew on a mission to Mars who faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger jeopardizes the lives of everyone on board. Penna has such great and subtle ways of expressing terror and despair through cinematic tone so I am really excited to see what he can do with a slick budget and a deep space thriller. It should also be noted that Penna shoots all of the films himself, without a director of photography and his writing partner, Ryan Morrison, actually edits the films as well so the attention to detail in the storytelling is top to bottom impeccable.

Tiny Tim: King For A Day – With the first haunting trills of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” you are reintroduced to the falsetto sounds of the legendary Tiny Tim, a guy who could be played by a de-aged Tim Burton in a biopic, surely. Where is this story going to lead you? Into completely unexpected and damaged places in my opinion. This documentary is the story of the outcast Herbert Khaury’s rise to stardom as Tiny Tim in the ultimate fairytale but so seemingly is his downfall. Either considered a freak or a genius, Tiny Tim left no one unaffected as over forty-five million Americans tuned in to watch his first wedding on the Carson Show and his queer personality has been celebrated by the likes of Bob Dylan and later Johnny Depp. There were plans and hopes that Tiny Tim would be a lasting star, not only a novelty act but one man acted to sabotage these plans and that was Tiny Tim himself. A haunting human portrait, this movie felt like an introduction of a character to me in many ways but with each diary entry, red by Weird Al Yankovic, the curtain pulled to reveal some disturbing things crawling behind it.

Brothers By Blood – With the two toplined stars of this gritty crime drama being The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman and The Drop’s Matthias Schoenaerts, I was definitely hooked into this just based on them alone. The film follows Schoenaerts’ character who is tormented by the memory of helplessly watching as his little sister is killed by a neighbor’s reckless driving when he was eight years old. Now, thirty years later, he still wrestles with the guilt he feels over his sister’s death and his father’s vengeance that came after. As he tries to distance himself from the criminal family business, his cousin, Michael, played by Kinnaman, becomes more powerful in the hierarchy. Bonded by blood, neither man can escape violence as they are dragged further into a chilling cycle of betrayal and retribution in a film that sounds like a great set up but has no emotion behind it’s bludgeoning violence, no message to be told or no moral to glean. People the may like a straight forward crime story may dig this but I wanted substance.

The Marijuana Conspiracy – A Canadian made film dealing with cannabis released during the week of our celebration of this wonderful plant. Honestly, you almost caught me singing “Oh Canada” there but the celebration and de-stigmafication of the plant by putting it in more mediums is definitely helpful to me. This drama features great Canadian actress Julia Sarah Stone and is set in 1972 following five young women who become part of a radical experiment that studies the effects of marijuana on females. Despite the agendas of the government, they use their unique strengths and friendship to overcome adversity and to glean some truth out of the very devicive test they’ve been brought in for. The final result is sort of a middling mishmash of not fully realized ideas but the cast is so phenomenal and the bond between the crew shines on the screen. This was an enjoyable film to get into while ignoring the lopsidedness of the bigger story arcs.

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

Blu-Ray:

Crisis – It was only a matter of time before the opioid crisis was tackled in some shape or form, making Steven Soderbergh seem that much more prolific when you realize that he adapted the miniseries Traffik in 2000. Hell, he did Contagion ten years ago. Man, maybe we should be listening to him exclusively! This story is broken down into three stories about the world of opioids which collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market. The cast is eclectic, featuring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, the Wasp herself Evangeline Lilly and the possible cannibal Armie Hammer but as interesting as the story starts it completely falls apart in the end and becomes predictable and formulaic. This movie could have been special but will ultimately get lost in the shuffle.

The Mortuary Collection – This movie is the ultimate hidden treat for any horror fan as it totally snuck up on me as an ignored Shudder original film but, once I got slipped the blu-ray here by RJL Entertainment, I was pretty much onboard from the reveal of star Clancy Brown as the creepy mortician. Coming from writer and director Ryan Spindell in, insanely, just his first film, this is an anthology movie, my favorite kind of horror, set in the town of Raven’s End following a troubled teen girl who decides to hideout in a decrepit old mortuary where the definitely murderous undertaker chronicles the strange history of the town through a series of twisted tales, each more twisted and disturbing than the previous, all leading up to her own story in the record books. This movie is so brilliantly written with incredible gore effects and an insane imagination that seems to have no ceiling. I loved this movie.

Memories Of Murder – The second feature film by Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho finally makes its North American debut just a mere seventeen years after its release in South Korea, but no big deal, it’s not like I’ve been obsessed with his work since 2006’s The Host. Oh wait, I totally have been! This film, a very personal story, is set in 1986 in the province of Gyunggi, South Korea, following two brutal and stupid local detectives without any technique who are investigating the murder of a young and beautiful woman, the second found dead, raped and tied and gagged with her underwear. Using brutality and torturing the suspects, without any practical results, the investigation picks up steam when a detective from Seoul comes to the country to help and is convinced that a serial killer is killing the women, proven when a third woman is found dead in the same “modus-operandi”. This movie is intense, so incredibly well-plotted and lays the incredible groundwork of the intricacies of why we love Bong’s work. It also has Parasite star Kang-ho Song in a lead role, who is riveting as usual. This is a highly recommended one and now that it is a treasured Criterion release, it makes it all that much better.

The Violent Heart – There’s a lot of secrets contained in this high school mystery thriller with some Shakespearian tropes to it but it attaches itself interestingly to many current thematic issues even if it does get a bit grandiose in it’s scope. The film stars Jovan Adepo from HBO’s Watchman limited series and has him playing twenty four year old Daniel, a man trying to recover emotionally from the murder of his siter fifteen years earlier and finds himself falling for Cassie, an outgoing high school senior which starts to increase the darkness he’s been trying to keep contained. This film is ambitious in it’s scope but the paper thin characters and development always serve to bog it down as you really don’t have any investment in them so why would you care what happens to them? I felt the need to know what was going to happen next but it was more of a completionist thing for me rather than a finality to the story.

Switchblade Sisters – Arrow Video reaches back into the history of grindhouse movies for their new collector’s edition of a film that inspired many current filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino most famously who pulled elements of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Death Proof from this. The film plays on the themes of exploitation films, following the “Dagger Debs”, a gang of snarling girls, with Maggie being their newest member. Lace, the ever tooth-gritting leader, befriends her but soon has doubts as it seems Lace’s man, Dominic, head of the “Silver Daggers” has intentions for the recruit. Lace struggles to keep control of the Debs, and a handle on Dominic, as they face off against the rival gang of pushers lead by Crabs. Yes, this is like The Warriors but with women and still holds up as a classic action film that screams with the era’s flavour. Arrow does their magic again with the picture restoration and retrospective featurettes, churning out another absolute gem of a blu-ray.

Each Dawn I Die – This week Warner Archive is doing a pretty awesome reissue of an old James Cagney classic crime noir story from the late thirties and what was allegedly the favourite film of former Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. Weird, right? The story follows investigative reporter Frank Ross who finds evidence of corruption against a powerful politician, Jesse Hanley, who is a candidate for Governor in the elections. Hanley sends his gangsters to catch Frank and frame him by knocking him out, soaking him with whiskey and then putting him in a car on a collision course with another car, subsequently killing the driver and two passengers. Frank can not prove that he is innocent and is sentenced to twenty years of hard labour in Rocky Point Prison. His only hope is the newspaper that tries to find evidence of Frank’s innocence while he befriends the gangster Stacey that was sentenced to 199 years for protection. A lot of convoluted and nefarious deals are made as Frank gets deeper into a quagmire of trouble, even while incarcerated. This is some classic noir with Cagney showing what he was best at.

Annie Get Your Gun – This is one of those classic titles that you’ve always heard the title of but was unsure of what it exactly was besides being a western or maybe that was just me. This biographical comedy musical was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Score, and, despite its popularity, it was unavailable in any form from 1973 until 2000 due to legal tangling between Irving Berlin, the music’s writer and composer and MGM, which later became Turner Entertainment and then Warner Bros. It was finally re-released on DVD in 2000 after the 1998 Broadway revival of the stage show with Bernadette Peters renewed interest in seeing this film again and now lands on a pristine blu-ray. The film is a story very loosely based on the love story of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler who meet at a shooting match. Annie then joins him in Colonel Cody’s Wild West Show and they tour the world together, performing before Royalty as well as the public at large. It’s a classic that definitely has its mark on the genre for years to follow.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Dark Web Cicada 3301 – With the amount of hold that computers, technology and the internet have on us, it’s surprising that there aren’t more techno-thrillers out there to scare us silly and make us uber cautious next time we log in to any of our social media apps. This film has the idea and it comes from former Aquaman on Smallville and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Alan Ritchson who makes his debut writing and directing this cautionary tale and I was pretty surprised by it. It follows hacker Connor, his best friend Avi and a cunning librarian who find themselves over their heads when they are forced to compete in a sophisticated dark web secret society’s global recruitment game. Is it a murder club, a fight club or the Illuminati that has capture all the kid’s imaginations? The film does a solid job of being a techno-thriller but like others that have come before it, once the tech is outdated, so are the thrills.

The Toll – “He has a horror film in his Geek-Outs this week!” exclaims Shane Hewitt. Yes, Shane, apologies but I got this new C-grade thriller and I felt the need to bring it to the masses. This is a little Canadian-made chiller that follows a woman named Cami who orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home. Hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride everything gets imploded when a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road and after several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, they both realize they are being watched by an unseen presence, one that sees them as trespassers and is ready to take it out on them in blood. The film comes from writer and director Michael Nader who makes his feature debut here after the great HeadCount a couple of years ago and manages to make a tight eighty-minute horror story that doesn’t mess around with its pacing at all. As a genre fan, I felt engaged with the twists and turns at all times but it didn’t make me feel safe about ride-sharing at all. There has to be a downfall.

Death Has Blue Eyes – Those guys at Arrow Video always make interesting choices when it comes to their deep dive collector’s editions and a lot of the times, for me, they are of movies that are brand new discoveries to me, just like this one. Made in 1976, this is a Greek made action thriller with a hidden sci-fi edge, following a Greek gigolo, Ches, and his American friend, Bob, who are commended to protect a mysterious girl, Christina, and her mother, Geraldine, from a gang of killers. When they get abducted by the gangsters, they found out they have been fighting on the wrong side and that Geraldine is not the mother of Christina, but an East-German agent and medium. The young girl has very strong telepathic powers that her abductor planned to use for the assassination of very important Soviet diplomat. Sounds wild right? Well. it definitely is and was the debut of filmmaker Nico Mastorakis who became an international icon in his own way, showcasing outlaw and outcast action stories. He’s a guy who’s work I’d love to take a deeper look at.

Television:

Life In Color With David Attenborough (Netflix) – Who doesn’t love a good David Attenborough narrated nature series, right? If you said “not me” then I’m ignoring you because this space is only for nature lovers right now and I don’t want that sort of negativity. Anyways, with his new show, David travels the world from the rainforests of Costa Rica to the snowy Scottish Highlands to reveal the extraordinary and never-before-seen ways animals use color. Using revolutionary camera technology created specifically for this series, viewers will experience how colors invisible to the human eye play a vital role in animal interactions. From the seemingly magical ultraviolet signals on a butterfly’s wings to the surprising yet crucial purpose behind a Bengal tiger’s stripes, a hidden world of color is waiting to be discovered and each episode is a glorious treasure trove of new imagery which is crazy if you’ve been following all of his works for decades. One thing that it also made very apparent is how much older David is getting. I don’t think I could bear nature shows without his sultry tones.

Shadow And Bone (Netflix) – Let’s head into a new world of fantasy, one that may catch the attention of Game Of Thrones fans and the like but in a less bloody and violent sort of way. Adapted from the Leigh Bardugo written book of the same name, the first of the Grisha trilogy, the series drops you in a war-torn world where lowly soldier and orphan Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive. The show has a really great look to it and some solid production value that keeps the fantastical story driven and not waiting on how cheesy it looks. I’m unsure if it will command a broad audience but so far so good and I hope to see the other books adapted too.

Secrets Of The Whales (Disney+) – I must be spoiling all of you nature lovers out there because now I have a new National Geographic docuseries here to gush about and it is a deeply majestic journey into the world of the deep. Too grandiose? Narrated by Sigourney Weaver and filmed over three years in 24 locations, this new series plunges viewers within the epicenter of whale culture to experience the extraordinary communication skills and intricate social structures of five different whale species: orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales in what results as a revealing of life and love from their perspective. This show was absolutely captivating in every way and totally engaged me ad my family for each fascinating episode, a definite must see for any family.

Confronting A Serial Killer (Crave) – Hell yes, more serial killer documentary shows for your crime depraved heart sitting at home on the couch bored. This series tells the story of the unprecedented relationship between acclaimed author and journalist Jillian Lauren and the most prolific serial killer in American history, Sam Little, and her race against time to identify his victims before it’s too late. In some of the deepest investigative journaling that the geniuses at HBO could muster, the great Joe Berlinger, who has already given us documentaries of Ted Bundy, the Cecil Hotel and Murder Among The Mormons recently, does it again with another engrossing and astonishing examination into a grizzly path of slayings by Sam Little. Man, that filmmaker’s mind must be so messed up from looking at all of this.

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

New Releases:

Boss Level – From the outside this movie looks like unoriginal crap, again recycling the “Groundhog Day” style time parabol tropes that have appeared a lot in the last decade and, yes, I can’t fault anyone for feeling that but with the combination of these elements, lead star Frank Grillo, director Joe Carnahan and the no holds barred action style, I kind of loved it. Grillo plays former special forces agent Roy Pulver who is trapped in a time loop that constantly repeats the day of his murder, each day uncovering more and more clues about a secret government project that could unlock the mystery behind his untimely death. In a race against the clock, Pulver must hunt down Colonel Ventor, played with a subtle wink by Mel Gibson, the powerful head of the government program, while outrunning skilled ruthless assassins determined to keep him from the truth in order to break out of the loop, save his family and live once again for tomorrow. This movie is violent and excessive but manages to deliver as a fun and wild ride if you don’t try to over analyse the science behind it.

The Seventh Day – This week has a bit of an exorcism theme with this movie and the blu-ray released retrospective of The Exorcist but this movie has Guy Pearce as a demon fighting priest so that’s cool, right? He stars as a renowned exorcist who teams up with a rookie priest for his first day of training and as they plunge deeper into hell on earth, the lines between good and evil blur, and their own demons emerge. Did that just sound like the Exorcist version of the movie Training Day? Kind of and, to be honest, that would have been amazing in my opinion. What is instead the result is a great performance from Pearce in a movie that is muddled in it’s plot and seems to constantly borrow from better films which, in turn, makes it look way worse. If I hadn’t seen any exorcism movie prior I may have been slightly impressed by this one but, alas, I’m well versed in the subgenre.

In The Earth – Writer and director Ben Wheatley is on fire as he has been since he debuted but more recently he had a remake of a Hitchcock film, Rebecca, for Netflix and now he has this small, self contained little pandemic made thriller and the psychedelia of the whole thing may turn people off but I thought it was brilliant. This mysterious film hits really close to home, taking place in a world that desperately searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, following a scientist and park scout who venture deep in the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them and a stranger they come across who may be more dangerous than he is helpful. The film stars usual British comedy guys Joel Fry and Reece Shearsmith and is an incredible meditation on both paranoia and blind hopefulness and the emotional horror that can result from it. The score is also done by the genius composer, Clint Mansell, and adds a thick level of atmosphere that helps drive the dread. I really loved this one but I adore the weird stuff, so take that as it is.

The Good Traitor – This week we get some pre World War II drama in a freedom fighter story about rebellion and the cost of standing up against a rising evil regime. Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman and Ross McCall, the film is set in 1940 when Denmark is invaded by Nazi Germany with demands for immediate and unconditional surrender. The government quickly surrenders after a few hours and begins cooperating with the Nazis but on the other side of the Atlantic is Denmark’s ambassador to the United States of America, a daredevil and a man of the world, Henrik Kauffmann, who is willing to put everything on the line. Refusing to follow the German directives, he engineers a rebellious plan to defeat Hitler and give the Danish people their freedom back. The reality of this story is absolutely fascinating and even when the narrative style dries out the intrigue contained within, the consistent reminder that this is a true story keeps everything mostly afloat. That said, Thomsen absolutely owns his performance as Kauffmann, the main reason to check this out.

The Violent Heart – There’s a lot of secrets contained in this high school mystery thriller with some Shakespearian tropes to it but it attaches itself interestingly to many current thematic issues even if it does get a bit grandiose in it’s scope. The film stars Jovan Adepo from HBO’s Watchman limited series and has him playing twenty four year old Daniel, a man trying to recover emotionally from the murder of his siter fifteen years earlier and finds himself falling for Cassie, an outgoing high school senior which starts to increase the darkness he’s been trying to keep contained. This film is ambitious in it’s scope but the paper thin characters and development always serve to bog it down as you really don’t have any investment in them so why would you care what happens to them? I felt the need to know what was going to happen next but it was more of a completionist thing for me rather than a finality to the story.

Arlo The Alligator Boy – Just before I put this new animated Netflix produced movie on for my kid I thought, “oh man, this better not be dreadful. I can’t take an awful kid’s movie right now” and I thought my fears were coming true when my daughter said “it’s a musical, I think”. She then informed me that it was good so far and, really, I kind of started enjoying it myself. The story is so cute and precocious and follows a young humanoid alligator who travels to the big city in hopes of reuniting with his estranged father while meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way, building up friendships with all of them. The film features a pretty good supporting cast of voices around the debuting Michael J. Woodard like Brett Gelman, Tony Hale, Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea, Jennifer Coolidge, Annie Potts and Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness and is a solid family outing with a good message and songs that won’t make you want to tear your ears off. That’s a win.

The Banishing – Shane is going to be glad that he’s off this week as I have a new Shudder original horror to talk about this week and it has early festival buzz and now some of my go to genre critics are praising it as well so I feel like we’re in good hands here. Starring Jessica Brown Finlay and Sean Harris and directed by Black Death’s Christopher Smith, The Banishing tells the story of the most haunted house in England. Set in 1930s England, the film follows Linus, his wife Marianne and their daughter Adelaide move into town, where the patriarch has been posted as the new reverend. Tasked by the Church to renew the villagers’ faith which has been lost after the disappearance of the previous reverend’s family who lived in the very same mysterious manor where Linus and his family have settled into, he too starts to experience strange events like ghostly voices, dark figures dressed as monks, mysterious totems and his daughter’s behaviour starts becoming stranger by the day. It soon becomes clear that a malicious entity seeks to possess Adelaide and that the Church is hiding a terrible secret and may be even forcing it to happen. This movie gets under your skin and uses the very atmosphere around it to fuel the horror. Be warned, this film may stick with you for days and may make you avoid mirrors for a bit.

Blu-Ray:

Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist – One of the greatest horror films of all time and a movie that always appears at number one on the list of things that have scared people for life, The Exorcist, gets a full on retrospective from the only one who can give the full details about the story’s move from a book to screenplay and the construction and philosophy of the actual film, director William Friedkin. This may come across a bit dry to a casual viewer but, as a guy who just loves documentaries on film, I ate every second of this movie up. Having previously stepped into the shower for his exhaustive study of Psycho’s famous shower scene with 78/52 and boarded the Nostromo for the far reaches of space in Memory: The Origins of Alien, acclaimed documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe turns his attention to another landmark of genre cinema, framed around an epic six-day interview with the legendary director. The assembled analysis is not just an in-depth musing on one of the most influential and widely acclaimed horror movies of all time but also an enlightening and intimate portrait of Friedkin’s creative process as he passionately discusses his influences, from his religious upbringing to Caravaggio and interrogating the obsessions he has returned to throughout his filmmaking career. This film is always insightful, awe inspiring at times and often disarmingly candid, such a great companion piece to a true masterpiece.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Defending Your Life – Albert Brooks has a long line of genius both in from of and behind the camera that I feel has been forgotten in a large way as he hasn’t done a film himself since that sort of forgotten about Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World was released sixteen years ago but it’s a good thing that Criterion is her to celebrate his greatness. In one of my favourite of his ventures, he stars alongside Meryl Streep as Daniel Miller, a man who finds himself in Judgment City after being killed in a car crash in a waiting area for the newly deceased. While there, one must prove in a courtroom-style process that he successfully overcame his fears but in the process Daniel meets Julia in an afterlife comedy club and falls in love with her. Julia seems to have what it takes to move to the ‘next stage’ of existence, but Daniel’s worried he’ll be sent back and, in turn, lose the one person he loves so much. This is thoroughly a great film that plays on the afterlife with such wit and charm that you keep a smile on your face for the entire duration. I’m a big fan of this movie.

Cosmoball – I guess the Russians must have seen James Caan’s Rollerball or something because they have dipped into the sci-fi future sports field with this new fantasy action film. Featuring some dazzling special effects but a pretty muddled storyline, the film depicts a life on earth that is desolate and in despair after a brutal intergalactic war decimates most of our world which is then brightened only by the dangerous, high-flying sport Cosmoball, the lifeblood of the new way but no one knows that at each match the four gifted humans are really fighting furiously to ensure the survival of humankind. Honestly, beyond it’s gaffes, which are definitely present, I found myself really enjoying this film and got into the action on an almost Tron Legacy like level but the frenetic pace of Russian films does sort of make that stakes feel not as urgent and it does get in the way of good character development.

Television:

Wahl Street (Crave) – How did Mark Whalberg rise so quickly as a star? It really is colossal how he moved from Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch and a Calvin Klein model to the villain in the Reese Witherspoon thriller Fear and that opened the floodgates as he was a top billed blockbuster star by 2000. This new documentary series explores what Wahlberg has done with that massive rise in fortune in his modern life as the show’s focus is a candid look at the business pursuits of the mega star and his personal life in the midst of the global pandemic as he manages his growing business ventures against his rigorous film schedule. I know we all feel a COVID-19 pandemic fatigue but things like this really fascinate me and it’s so interesting to see the on the fly adjustments that the industry I love have had to make. I’m really intrigued to see where the series goes after episode one which starts as the pandemic is a looming threat and hasn’t yet hit the United States in the brutal way that we all lived through.

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

The Circle: Season 2 (Netflix) – A total Netflix reality show addiction is returning to rope people in and, I can’t lie, I was totally hooked by the original series. Now, I know nothing about any new changes or anything about the new contestants but I do know what the first season was all about as I watched every single episode. In a nutshell, the contestants live in an apartment building showcasing the infamous circle on the outside. They are literal neighbours but never meet face to face and only communicate through a social media app called “The Circle.” They can create a profile as themselves or make up a fake persona to play as and they regularly rank the other players based on their impressions through social media interactions with the top rated players becoming influencers who get to block, or eliminate a player, until ultimately a winner is crowned. Written out like that, it all seems so hopelessly dumb, which it is, but holy hell is it an addicting watch. I hate reality shows until you plunk this in front of me. I’m angering the television gods right now, I know it.

Big Shot (Disney+) – Disney+ and their original shows must have a real love for sports because, besides the revival of The Mighty Ducks and the new High School Musical series, they have put the Full House heartthrob John Stamos in the lead of this new series that has me comparing it to the subplot of the show Episodes. Those who know that great show get the reference. Stamos stars as a hothead men’s basketball coach who gets ousted from the NCAA and must take a job at an all-girls high school. He soon learns that teenage girls are more than just wins and losses and, shockingly, they require empathy and vulnerability, something our main coach has no training for. By learning how to connect with his players, predictably, he starts to grow into the person he’s always hoped to be and the girls learn to take themselves more seriously, finding their footing both on and off the court, surging to become a winning squad. Like The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, this really wasn’t made for adults and plays into the family programming that the Disney Channel is known for. Take the knowledge when getting into this but also know that Stamos is still as dreamy as he always was.

Kate & Koji (BritBox) – This is going to tap a bit into my love for British television, which is deep and varied as I was raised on it but it has to seep into my weekly reviews at some point. This one has big British acting credibility as Brenda Blethyn leads the show, a two time Academy Award nominated actress, playing a working-class woman who runs an old-fashioned café in a neglected British seaside town who develops a strong and sometimes volatile friendship with an asylum-seeking African doctor played by the great Jimmy Akingbola who Arrowverse fans may know as Baron Reiter. Personally, I just enjoyed the hell out of his work on the Brit series In The Long Run which he featured in alongside Bill Bailey and Idris Elba, who actually created that show. He’s not only dreamy and a special effect looking human specimen but he’s a gifted creator too! Some people have all the luck. Or talent.

New Releases:

Nomadland – For months I have been sitting on this review and the hype is evident as this film has already picked up Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director for Chloe Zhao and has six Academy Award nominations and is a heavy favorite to win all of those categories. Starring the incredible Frances McDormand, the film follows Fern, a woman dealing with the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, who packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. This film is a fascinating look at a real society of people who now find themselves disenfranchised to the American dream or even an affordable home and Zhao uses some real nomads peppered into this story for a hard hitting effect. The stories told in this movie were enlightening and a bit of stark modern reality contained in one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema this year.

Voyagers – With a hot esthetic, the sleek blackness of space and a neon glow, Limitless and The Illusionist filmmaker Neil Burger returns with a great cast and a creepy sci-fi mystery to baffle everyone with again. Starring Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead and Game Of Thrones alum Isaac Hempstead Wright, the film is set in the near future and chronicles the odyssey of thirty young men and women who are sent deep into space on a multi-generational mission in search of a new home. The mission descends into madness, as the crew reverts to its most primal state, not knowing if the real threat they face is what’s outside the ship or who they’re becoming inside it and it hits all the right buttons for me. The creeping paranoia of this film is so deliciously infective that I must have had a weird grin on my face the whole time. The Neil Burger I enjoy has fully returned in this movie, a huge improvement from The Upside. And Allegiant for that matter.

Thunder Force – With an exasperated groan and much against my will I clicked watch on the newest offering from Melissa McCarthy and her writer and director husband Ben Falcone who have gifted us the cinematic presents of Tammy, The Boss, Life Of The Party and Super Intelligence. Spoiler alert, all of those were terrible and the bar was low going into this one. Co-starring Octavia Spencer and Bobby Cannavale, the story follows scientist Emily Stanton who accidentally imbues her estranged best-friend with incredible abilities in an experiment meant to give superpowers to regular people in a world terrorized by super-villains. The two women must become the first superhero team, naming themselves Thunder Force, to battle the super-powered Miscreants and save Chicago from the clutches of The King. With a couple jokes here and there that land, I call this movie spaghetti funny as it takes five pieces and throws them against the wall to see what sticks and, usually, one of them does. This movie will make you facepalm on a level of “okay, the joke is over and didn’t land” and has painful levels of bad CGI but isn’t an overall waste of an hour and forty minutes.

Moffie – This movie out of South Africa is getting a huge amount of buzz from both the festival circuit as well as the LGBTQ+ community and, I will warn you now, it’s not for the faint of heart and hits levels of real brutality that I wasn’t ready for. The film follows the story of Nicholas van der Swart who, from a very young age, realized he is different but, try as he may, he cannot live up to the macho image expected of him by his family, by his heritage. So, at the age of 19 he is conscripted into the South African army and finds his every sensibility offended by a system close to its demise, and yet still in full force. Set during the South African border war against communism, this is a harsh tale about the emotional and physical suffering endured by countless young men, brilliantly put together by writer and director Oliver Hermanus who adapted this from André Carl van der Merwe’s book of the same name which actually is a derogatory Afrikaans term for a gay man. This movie is like a cold slap to the face and never relents until the credits hit.

Held – We’ve now been in some form of lockdown isolation for more than a year now and it makes horror based in isolated areas so much more chilling at the present time and this new horror thriller hopes to prey on that weakness. The story follows a couple whose marriage is losing its spark and, in an effort to reconnect, they vacation to a remote high-end rental, complete with automated smart house features and integrated security. However, after suspecting a nighttime intruder they decide to flee, only to become forcibly trapped inside by the automated security system. Emitting from the house, an unknown voice watches their every move through an array of hidden cameras, revealing an intimate and unsettling knowledge of their relationship. While the situation grows increasingly brutal, the couple must work together to uncover the truth and find a way out before it’s too late. This movie was a hidden surprise that has great twists throughout and a crazy ending that I can’t even begin to describe, nor would I want to because it is incredibly satisfying on a storytelling level. This is truly a special film.

Quo Vadis, Aida? – Well, if you want to know how my weekend was, it will definitely contain the anecdote about how this movie kicked my ass emotionally on a Saturday night. Nothing will prepare you for the sorrow of this now Academy Award nominated film from Serbia, set in a time of horrible atrocities in the mid nineties. The story follows Aida, a translator for the United Nations in the small town of Srebrenica which has just been taken over by the Serbian army. Her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp and, as an insider to the negotiations, Aida has access to crucial information that she needs to interpret that she can hopefully maneuver into being a bargaining chip to help protect her loved ones. This movie is powerful, constantly moving and always embedded with an urgency that’s quick to follow with despair. As it is every year, it’s a tight race in the Oscars foreign category but this one deserves eyes on it.

Night In Paradise – Hell yes, some new South Korean cinema is hitting Netflix this week and, better than that, it is written and directed by Park Hoon-jung who started his career out writing the cat and mouse serial killer thriller I Saw The Devil, a movie I consider one of the greatest of all time. The story follows a wronged mobster with a target on his back hiding out in Jeju Island following a brutal tragedy who connects with a woman who has her own demons. This film is beautifully shot and moves at such a great pace that it keeps you engaged with these characters throughout. This movie plays with a blend of emotion and old school gangster noir that operates brilliantly and never lets the story get muddled. I loved this movie but I am, as you know, totally biased.

Felix And The Treasure Of Morgaa – Family animated releases have been few and far between during the pandemic rocked time we have been going through for over a year now and besides Trolls, The Croods and Disney releases, it’s been tumbleweeds in this department. We look to the French Canadian sector of our country for something this week, an animated adventure that follows twelve-year-old Félix who, taking advantage of his mother’s absence as she departs on a cruise ship for some rest and relaxation, sets out to find his father, a fisherman who disappeared at sea two years earlier. With no voices that are recognizable and an animation style that isn’t that fresh or new, all that Felix’s adventure will do is hold the kids attention for ninety minutes while you give yourself a respite to plan the next thing to occupy them because you sure as shit won’t want to watch this one, trust me. This is another example of me going above and beyond for you, my faithful reader and listener.

Pandemic – Oh great, just what we need. A pandemic themed thriller that definitely cashed in on the opportunity to change its name from the originally titled Alone to something with a current hotness. Starring Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey and Canadian legend Donald Sutherland, the story follows Aiden who barricades himself inside his apartment when an outbreak hits and starts rationing food in his complex which is overrun by the infected, known as “Screamers”, and with the world rapidly falling apart into chaos, he is left completely alone fighting for his life. We could relate, right? Unfortunately, everything about this movie screams mediocre. Posey is half assed in this one, the effects are borderline terrible and, for a story that could play up the urgency and isolation that we all feel, it’s more content on going down a long beaten path in a tired genre. It’s pretty sad and a complete waste of time, even for a horror guy like myself.

Underplayed – Bud Light produced a film? And it’s about the party scene of DJs? Yes, but it’s not as vapid as you would be led to believe as this documentary goes straight for the issues and takes a direct route to get under your skin and drive home the message of inequality and inequity in the constant fight to get women an equal share in, heck, any industry. Featuring an artist I absolutely adore, Australian’s entrancing Alison Wonderland, this documentary was filmed over the summer festival season and presents a portrait of the current status of the gender, ethnic, and sexuality equality issues in dance music. The story and issues are through the lens of the female pioneers, next-generation artists and industry leaders who are championing the change and inspiring a more diverse pool of role models for future generations. This film has a big message to it, the pulse pounding reflection of the festival scene to power it and some really great music to keep your head in the game. I really dug this movie a lot.

Sugar Daddy – This week seems to be filled with little films that are far off the beaten path and this is another one of those but it benefits from having the great gravitas of distinguished Canadian actor Colm Feore to give it some immediate weight. The film stars Letterkenny’s Kelly McCormack, who also wrote it as well, and has her playing Darren, a young talented musician who dreams of making music like nobody has before but she’s hopelessly broke. Desperate for cash, she signs up to a paid-dating website, throwing herself down a dark path that shapes her music with it and adds some serious substance to her experience whether she wants it or not. McCormack delivers such a special performance in this film that I think will catch on with word of mouth, a story that navigates the hopeful dreamer and plunges it into the reality of gender politics and harsh life lessons. It doesn’t always play to it’s strengths but when the iron is hot it strikes with a blinding fire.

Amundsen: The Great Explorer – Straight out of Norway comes this explorer story based on the life and facts of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to arrive on the South Pole. With the only recognizable actress being The World To Come’s Katherine Waterston who is pretty fleeting in it, the draw to the film is the expansive beauty and haunting quality of the Arctic through methodical pacing and panoramic shots that punctuate it throughout. Is it enough to keep the whole thing afloat, so to speak? Yes and no, because, as the expedition progresses, the actual historical action is very interesting but the execution of it in a filmmaking setting is poorly done and suffers from some amateurish post production. I feel like people who are able to look through these gaffs will be rewarded with a story that is not well known but it was hard for me to get beyond these issues.

Senior Moment – William Shatner stars in a goofy and slapstick romantic comedy and even with his romantic lead being played by the amazing and hilarious Jean Smart, I couldn’t be less enthused about this wet fart of a movie. Shatner plays a retired NASA test pilot who, after drag racing his vintage convertible around Palm Springs, loses his license and is forced to take public transportation. This ends up working out for him as he meets Caroline and starts to learn to navigate a love life again in a movie that is so horribly “paint by numbers” I began to feel like I had forgotten if I had actually written this one myself. Not even a Christopher Lloyd supporting role as his doting best friend could keep me complacent as I kept checking the runtime like a detention student waiting for the teacher to let him go. There may be a market for this but it certainly isn’t me.

Blu-Ray:

Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar – Comedy audiences have been demanding a sequel to the massive hit Bridesmaids ever since it was released ten years ago this year and it’s probably what was expected when it was announced that writers and star Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumelo had a new project together. Heck, maybe they intended for it to be a follow-up, but it isn’t and instead Wiig teams with Mumelo on screen as two very different characters. This is the story of best friends Barb and Star, who leave their small Midwestern town for the first time to go on vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida, where they soon find themselves tangled up in adventure, love, and a villain’s evil plot to kill everyone in town. This duo both on and off-screen work absolute magic as they once again create hilarious and memorable characters, this time wackier than those of Bridesmaids, but still grounded with a sense of being real people.

Shadow In The Cloud – I thought this one would be a movie with the utmost potential but all of that was quickly erased when I saw that it was partially written by the bottom-feeding troll that is Max Landis, for me one of the worst interview subjects I have ever had. Not to go into detail but the dude is awful. The movie does sound pretty cool, as it stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a female pilot with top-secret cargo talks her way on board a bomber plane about to take-off on a stormy night during World War II. The crass all-male crew reluctantly agrees, but their suspicions about her identity and the mysterious cargo quickly grow. Then a shadow appears in the clouds that may be the incoming Japanese fleet or it could be caused by some other sinister stowaway on the plane. The end result isn’t something I disliked but instead was a pulpy little horror film that would fit in an elseworlds World War, like the actioner Overlord. It feels like two separate movies thrown together at times but the unevenness of that is handled deftly by Moretz who is bringing her A-game here. It’s worth your time on a slow New Year’s Day, for sure.

The Reckoning – Neil Marshall is a horror filmmaker that I have enjoyed for years now. Starting with Dog Soldiers and moving to The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion, he had a killer four movie start and did stellar episodes of both Game Of Thrones and Westworld but then helmed the horribly realised remake of Hellboy that I would love to expunge from my memory forever. Now he follows that up with this witchcraft film that masquerades as horror but is an action film under that. The film follows Grace Haverstock, a woman who, after losing her husband during the Great Plague, is unjustly accused of being a witch and placed in the custody of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft. Forced to endure physical and emotional torture while steadfastly maintaining her innocence, Grace faces her own inner demons as the devil himself starts to work his way into her mind and turning her into the very thing that she is accused of being. This movie is horribly crafted, terribly edited and features effects that feel almost unfinished in many instances. I don’t want to have such a negative feeling about Neil’s future projects but ouch.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

The World of Wong Kar Wai – Criterion Collection is giving an incredible gift of cinema here with a boxed set of all of the incredible works of writer and director Wong Kar Wai. So what’s in here? There’s seven movies so let’s go through it. As Tears Go By, a mid-level gangster named Wah who falls in love with his beautiful cousin, but must also continue to protect his volatile partner-in-crime and friend, Fly. Days of Being Wild, about Yuddy, a handsome Hong Kong lothario, who seduces and dumps women without compunction but when he charms and then abandons a shy shop girl named Su Li-zhen, he sets in motion a chain of events that climax in unforeseen self-discovery and shocking violence. Chungking Express, following two melancholy Hong Kong policemen that fall in love, one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal server at a late-night restaurant he frequents. Fallen Angels, a Hong Kong-set crime drama that follows the lives of a hitman, hoping to get out of the business, and his elusive female partner. Happy Together, about a couple who take a trip to Argentina but both men find their lives drifting apart in opposite directions. In the Mood for Love, about two neighbors, a woman and a man, who form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses but agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs. Lastly, there’s 2046, about several women who enter a science fiction author’s life over the course of a few years, after the author has lost the woman he considers his one true love. The set also includes The Hand, a short that appeared in the erotic compelation Eros with Steven Soderbergh. This is another awesome set from Criterion.

The Ten Commandments 4K – We’re getting biblical this week, just after the Easter weekend so it’s kind of fitting, as classic Hollywood is showcased in this new box set that has both the original film made in 1923 and the more popular remake starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price made in 1956, put into the glorious format of 4K. I feel like most people have seen some iteration of this movie, maybe on television, but this film has been completely restored to high definition levels and the remake features commentary by a biographer of the film, Katherine Orrison. A showcasing of the golden age of Hollywood, this was definitely a cool movie to receive.

Television:

Them (Amazon Prime) – I only caught the trailer for this new limited series just a few weeks ago but it quickly catapulted to the top of the most anticipated list just with the words “produced by Lena Waithe” who brought us The Chi, wrote Queen & Slim and now gets some horror under her nails. Simply put, this is a limited anthology series that explores terror in America. The first season is the 1950s-set “Covenant” which centers around a black family who move from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood during the period known as The Great Migration. The family’s idyllic home becomes ground zero where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them. I highly recommend getting the trailer into your brain which features some increasingly unsettling imagery that gives it all an American Horror Story edge with an even darker epicenter. That last shot of it still haunts me and is my driving force in seeing this show as soon as possible.

Genndy Tartokovksy’s Primal (Crave) – One of the greatest creators in the game, Genndy Tartokovsky has returned with another incredible epic that he can put alongside Samurai Jack and beam with pride. A decidedly violent tale, this series follows a caveman at the dawn of evolution as he forms an unlikely friendship with an almost extinct dinosaur. Again, without a single word of dialogue, the series is a painting come to life, relying solely on music and graphic imagery to tell the story of two unlikely allies as they navigate through a treacherous world and, after bonding over unfortunate tragedies, they seem to become each other’s only hope of survival against a common enemy. The show is mind meltingly beautiful in a way that Tartokovsky has the utmost command over and I think he has released yet another masterpiece that will be celebrated for years to come.

This Is A Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (Netflix) – It’s time again for some more true crime to hit Netflix and satiate those who love a crazy story involing high crimes, betrayels and maybe even murder. You are all a sick bunch but I find myself part of that crew as well and we seem to be keeping this side of the streaming service pumping. This limited series follows the events around March 18, 1990 when thirteen works of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Guards admitted two men posing as police officers responding to a disturbance call who then tied the guards up and looted the museum. Legendary works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others worth over half a billion dollars today were stolen and this show chronicles the leads, dead ends, lucky breaks and speculations that characterized the investigation of this still unsolved mystery and it’s pretty well done and fascinating. This one will probably capture a lot of imaginations.

Kung Fu (The CW) – It’s been a long time since David Carradine roamed the streets of Western America as Shaolin Monk Kwai Chang Caine in the original series Kung Fu, which ran from 1972 to 1975, a movie in 1986, then rebooted in 1993 to run for another four seasons. Well, The CW, who are no strangers to rebooting popular shows, have put this classic martial arts serial in the crosshairs for a gender swapped update. Starring Legacies actress Olivia Liang, she plays a young Chinese-American woman named Nicky Chen who, after a quarter-life crisis, decides to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. She returns home to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption and vows to use her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and is now targeting her. Much like the Walker, Texas Ranger reboot, this show plays in the corny sandbox but it still has all of those nods to the original that will make you smile and remember Caine and how he was here to help us.

Birdgirl (Adult Swim) – Speaking of reboots and updated sequel series, Adult Swim is jumping into the game with a follow up to one of my favorite cartoon shows of all time, Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, a series I still quote daily to a frustrating degree for my wife, I’m sure. This new show follows our titular character Judy Ken Sebben, also known as the great Birdgirl, who has to find a way to maintain her work and superhero life balance after being named CEO of the world’s largest and most nonsensical corporation, Sebben & Sebben. The hysterically funny Paget Brewster voices our hero and I expect many of the former cast members to make an appearance and I hope it catches on as we got four glorious seasons of the original show and a Harvey Birdman: Attorney General special. There is a market and total thirst for it!

New Releases:

Godzilla vs. Kong – The behemoths are finally going to battle it out for the first time in the modern age after a build that started with 2014’s Godzilla. I have my qualms about the human element of both Godzilla movies to this point but the epic that was Kong: Skull Island, one of my favourite IMAX experiences ever, is too awesome to take a step down from. This film brings King Kong from the 70s into the present-day and “legends collide” as these mythic adversaries meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, and with them is Jia, a young orphaned girl with whom he has formed a unique and powerful bond. They quickly and unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe for an unknown reason as he’s turned from the planet’s protector that took down King Ghidorah and now becomes their terrorizer. I have my reservations about this movie, given my thoughts on the Godzilla movies, but I am still so very excited.

French Exit – Writer and director Azazel Jacobs has been on a roll with me lately and only because I just discovered his work through the Kino Lorber releases of Momma’s Man and The Good Times Kid which then led me to Terri and The Lovers, quickly cementing him as an indie favourite, in the same vein of a Noah Baumbach style filmmaker. With this new movie, I got even more excited as it features the lovely Michelle Pfieffer and one of the best young actors today, Lucas Hedges. Pfeiffer plays an ageing Manhattan socialite living on what’s barely left of her inheritance, moving to a small apartment in Paris with her son and a cat that may be the conduit to contacting her dead husband. Yes, it’s a bit weird but if it leaned harder into that weirdness the final product wouldn’t feel this uneven. Is this an absurd comedy or a down drama? I never could glean exactly what it was going for but it has great emotional beats but also many hilarious moments. I’m really on the fence with this one.

The Unholy – With the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan leading it and horror legend Sam Raimi producing with his Ghosthouse and Evil Dead counterpart Rob Tappert, I felt like this might be an enjoyable little popcorn supernatural horror flick. Oh boy, was I ever wrong. The film follows Alice, a young hearing-impaired girl who, after a supposed visitation from the Virgin Mary, is inexplicably able to hear, speak and heal the sick. As word spreads and people from near and far flock to witness her miracles, a disgraced journalist, played by Morgan, who, hoping to revive his career, visits the small New England town to investigate. When terrifying events begin to happen all around, he starts to question if these phenomena are the works of the Virgin Mary or something much more sinister and, obvious spoilers, it is. This movie is haphazardly plotted, filled with dumb reveals, cheesy and seemingly unfinished special effects and, worst of all, it isn’t scary for even a second and relies on jump scares to get you. This movie was a complete waste of time and a total bummer.

Tina – Honestly, these days, if any music documentary comes out I’m basically on to it right away and that was definitely the case with this film that showcases one of the greatest singers and performers on the planet and someone that I quipped to my wife is the original Beyonce, a talent worthy of the Goddess title. With a huge treasure trove of never-before-seen footage, audiotapes, personal photos, and new interviews, including with the singer herself from her home in Switzerland, the film presents an unvarnished and dynamic account of the life and career of music icon Tina Turner. Everything changed when Tina began telling her story, a story of trauma and survival, that gave way to a rebirth as the record-breaking queen of rock ‘n’ roll but, behind closed doors, the singer struggled with the survivor narrative that meant her past was never fully behind her as her abuser is constantly chained to everything she does and she can’t seem to escape the shadow of Ike Turner. This movie was incredible but it made it very apparent to the constant gaslighting she has faced at every turn with Ike being brought up and even with her induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, of course, it’s with Ike. So upsetting but this is a must-see triumph.

Shiva Baby – I received the screener for this new American and Canadian co-production from my PR rep and, honestly, shelved it with the thought that if I had time, I’d get to it eventually for review. Not a priority. Then I saw a little buzz on Twitter about it. Then it got louder. And louder. And louder to the point that I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I had to see if it holds up to the hype and, you know what? It does. A comedy of a downhill slide into a bed of errors that resembles a pile of cactuses, the story follows a college student who, while at a Jewish funeral service with her parents, has an awkward encounter with her sugar daddy, who is attending with his wife and baby daughter, and her ex-girlfriend, all unknown to the rest of her family. Writer and director Emma Seligman arrives with such a well-constructed and deeply funny debut, based on her short film, and really sets herself up nicely as a filmmaker to take note of, as is her lead star Rachel Sennott whose delivery on each line is absolute gold. This movie for sure lives up to the great things said about it.

The Conductor – This is a story of inspiration, following a Dutch-born woman who dreams of becoming a conductor of an orchestra in the 1920s but a huge obstacle stands in her way as there have never been any women to ever do this. The film has the lead actress Christianne de Bruijn, who looks strikingly like a cross between Phoebe Cates and Drew Barrymore, facing down sexism and gender norms to achieve her dreams and is consistently the best thing about this movie, everyone else seeming wooden in their delivery. Honestly, that takes the most out of it as the story is pretty intriguing.

Witness Infection – Oh zombie films, how you never cease to pop up in the new releases. This one has a little fun streak to it as it takes actors and actresses like Tara Strong, Carlos Alazraqui and Maurice LaMarche out of the voice-over booth where we are used to hearing them voice shows like Powerpuff Girls, Batman The Animated Series and Rocko’s Modern Life and puts them front and center in a live-action horror movie. The film is the story of two rival mob families who are transferred from the Witness Protection Program to the same city by mistake, centred around Carlo Serrelli. His father has kept him out of the deadly mob business by giving him a job at the family dog groomers, while his younger brother, Dominic, has always done the dirty work but all that comes to an end as Daddy has to force him into an arranged marriage with the daughter of the rival Miola family boss. Carlo’s two best friends, Gina and Vince, vow to help him get out of this predicament, but they all get in way over their heads when a serious zombie infection starts eating the town. The film is goofy and low budget but that is no excuse for having such a meandering storyline that feels like too many pokers in the fire to give enough focus to one singular element. In the end, it kind of falls on its face.

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

Blu-Ray:

Wonder Woman 1984 – Finally, after waiting since June after delay after delay due to the pandemic we got to see the next piece in the theatrical story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, also known as Wonder Woman. It would have been way better to see this on the big screen obviously but, at first, we were happy with what we got as both Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins had returned for this sequel that looked to be bigger and better than the first film. What we ended up receiving was a garish and poorly written ramshackle sequel which again throws Diana into a puppy dog love story that renders her useless, a haphazardly put together villain build for Kristen Wiig’s character and a seriously problematic storyline that puts an unconscious man in the center of a sexual relationship. It may feel like I’m reading way too far into this superhero film but it is a real mess and anyone can see that.

Our Friend – Coming from the director of the wildly popular documentary Blackfish, I put a lot of stock in this new drama from filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, her second narrative feature after the critically acclaimed Megan Leavey, and she has a great trio to lead this one with Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segal. The story follows a couple who find unexpected support from their best friend, who puts his own life on hold after they receive life-altering news and moves into their family home to help raise their two girls. Segal’s performance may go down as one of his best but the film refuses to let you resonate in its emotional beats and always tries to up the ante in an obvious manipulative way that pulls you out of the drama far more than the scattered timeline of the storytelling which may frustrate other viewers. Everyone is so good in this and the cinematography is exquisite but it feels like it fails in the end.

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

55 Steps – This movie has something going for it for me with the inclusion of actress Helena Bonham Carter but also has a Hilary Swank in the lead role which is a bit of a negative for me. A movie that was made and shelved in 2017, it gets its debut now and follows a workaholic lawyer who helps a psychiatric patient sue a psychiatric unit of a San Francisco hospital for mistreating its patients. The movie comes from acclaimed filmmaker Bille August, the man behind Smilla’s Sense of Snow, the 1998 Les Misérables and The House Of Spirits but lacks the polish that his films usually have and kind of pushes both actresses into a frustrating sort of a character build that seems unearned, frantic and, honestly, a bit annoying. It definitely didn’t do anything for my opinion of Swank’s work because this is for sure one of her lower works.

The Bermuda Depths – When this sci-fi fantasy adventure landed on my doorstep from Warner Archive, I really had no clue about its existence or the seemingly vocal fans that still champion it to this day. It follows Leigh McCloskey as a traumatized and orphaned college dropout named Magnus Dens who returns to Bermuda to find the cause of his father’s mysterious death years before. At the Bermuda Biological Station, he finds friends and colleagues of his late father and joins them on a quest for gigantic sea creatures where he also meets Jennie Haniver, a mysterious young woman who was once his only childhood friend. An island local warns Magnus that Jennie is dangerous and the beautiful but vain young woman had sold her soul with the Devil centuries before and lives forever young deep in the waters of the Devil’s Triangle or the Bermuda Triangle. Of course, nobody heeds the folklore and the researchers end up trapping a giant sea turtle, setting the stage for a deadly confrontation with both minions of the Devil. This movie is pretty fun and I see why, before its initial DVD release in 2009, there was an online petition for Warner Bros. to release this movie in home format. It kind of lives up to that hype.

Isle Of The Dead – Boris Karloff and Jason Robards Sr. in a classic horror film together? Yes, I’m so sold and, to make everything more genre-specific, it’s an “Of The Dead” title too which always makes it that more delicious. The story is set on a Greek island during the 1912 war with several people trapped by quarantine for the plague, which feels hugely relatable today. If that isn’t enough worry, one of the people, a superstitious old peasant woman, suspects one young girl of being a vampiric kind of demon called a vorvolaka which translates as a harmful and undead creature in Greek folklore and Salento culture. This film is so classic and yet really original as it uses fear and paranoia to power its horror to an effective crescendo and Karloff is just there to add to its credibility. I’m surprised by how much I dug this movie.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Everybody Wants Some!! – Richard Linklater returned with one of his most anticipated films of five years ago for me, a “spiritual sequel” to his first major hit, Dazed and Confused. Again taking place in Texas but in the fall of 1980, the story follows college freshman Jake Bradford, a hotshot pitcher in high school, who moves into an off-campus house with other college baseball team members. He meets several teammates, including his roommate Billy, who has been nicknamed “Beuter” because of his deep Southern accent. He joins Finnegan, Roper, Dale, and Plummer in cruising the campus by car, looking for women and, oh man, do I ever love this movie. A killer soundtrack, infinitely quotable moments and the Linklater charm permeate this movie that exists in a blender that brings the microcosm of that time and the fun of a party weekend.

Slither – This was my real official introduction to the filmmaking genius of James Gunn before I knew of his beginnings with Lloyd Kaufman at Troma Entertainment, but because of this movie I was on the path of him becoming one of my favourite writer and directors. The film harkens back to those alien invasion-type stories from the fifties and sixties with a modern twist, following the happenings after a flaming meteorite crashes into the dark woods of the sleepy town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. The meteor contains a baneful parasitic organism and a subtle alien invasion commences with the war’s unlucky first victim being the town’s local businessman, Grant. Little by little, as an internal change transforms Grant into an utterly hideous monstrosity, his new alien malevolence takes over and he begins to turn his focus on the town. This movie is a plethora of things, all great, as it’s gory, filled with action and gross gore and a hilarious script delivered by an uber-talented cast, many of them before they hit their big break like Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Jenna Fischer, who was married to Gunn at the time. I love this movie.

Midnight Special – Jeff Nichols is a filmmaker I have enjoyed more and more with every viewing, a storyteller with an incredible penchant for great deep south tales and it always involved Michael Shannon in some capacity. For this film he heads down a bit of a science-fiction-based story, something that I called, at the time of its review, “Southern Fried Spielberg” and I still hold fast to that description. It follows Alton Meyer, a boy unlike any other in the world with bizarrely powerful abilities and strange weaknesses. In the middle of the night, his father, Roy, spirits him away from the isolated cult that practically worships him and is determined to regain him at all costs but, at the same time, Alton’s abilities have been noticed by the US government as well and they are equally insistent on getting to the bottom of this mystery with Paul Sevier of the National Security Agency, played by Adam Driver, leading the Federal pursuit with his own questions. The film is largely a chase as Alton is drawn to an epicentre that may mean new planes of existence for the human race and the big ideas that Nichols is dealing with in this movie come to fruition in the most spectacular ways. Believe the title, this one is truly special.

Television:

The Moodys: Season 2 (Fox) – Yes, I’m definitely bringing the new season of this comedy series because it features a friend of mine, Jay Baruchel, but the cast around him is nothing to balk at with Denis Leary, Weed’s alumni Elizabeth Perkins and French Canadian The Borgias star François Arnaud. Loosely, the first season followed a tight-knit, but slightly dysfunctional family of five who gather in their hometown of Chicago for the “perfect” Christmas holiday. The second season starts with Sean Sr. contemplating retirement and taking road trips across the country in an RV with Ann with the hopes that Sean Jr. takes over the family HVAC business. Of course, hilarity ensues and this talented group always brings the funny, all from a good foundation as the show was created by We’re The Millers’ Bob Fisher, How I Met Your Mother producer Rob Greenberg and Scrubs producer Tad Quill.

Creepshow: Season 2 (Shudder) – With my love of anthology horror being large as well as my adoration of the first season of this brand new Shudder series, you best believe I have more than a little excited for a brand new season of disturbing horror stories led by The Walking Dead showrunner and gore specialist Greg Nicotero because that Christmas special was only just enough to keep me going for another couple months. First off, the list of directors on this new bunch is being kept very secretive but Nicotero will be helming some and Mayhem and Everly director and podcaster Joe Lynch is shooting one too which makes me excited. Because of the wild speculation going on with the cast and crew, it’s up in the air as to what stories we’ll see or if any of Stephen King’s stories will be touched but, gauging how great the first season was, we are almost guaranteed a hell of a ride.

City On A Hill: Season 2 (Crave) – Kevin Bacon is absolutely fascinating in this Boston law enforcement series with a dirty cop edge from the same guys who put the spotlight on Baltimore in Homicide: Life On The Street. Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, a sleazy and corrupt FBI agent who reminisces about the more abusive times in policing when you could knock around perps and witnesses. He latches on to the new assistant D.A. with an axe to grind, the two looking to make a difference in a city they both want to see excel. The show suffers here and there with some of the tough-guy bravado writing that harkens back to a different era of television but when this show hits its stride it is a totally effective and engaging show. The first season is such a great establishing point and I’ve been waiting not too patiently for this follow up but, you know, Showtime loves to make us simmer and squirm. Catch up with all of it beforehand on Crave and thank me for it later. You will.

This Time With Alan Partridge (BritBox) – Steve Coogan is one of my favourite comedians working today and has been for a long time, largely thanks to the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People but a good portion of it comes from his bigger than life talk show host character Alan Partridge, first seen in the British television series The Day Today. Well, he has resurrected the character again for this show in which Alan’s career is handed a lifeline as he is given the chance to stand in as the temporary co-host on This Time, a weekday magazine show, an opportunity that he’s a free thought or bad interview away from squandering. Like all of the other Alan Partridge projects, this one is hysterically funny and has Coogan operating once again at the top of his game, making you wonder why he takes breaks from this character.

New Releases:

The Courier – I feel like I’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch pretty often in the last few weeks with The Mauritanian a few weeks ago and this one now and both stories are centred around real events which makes it that much more compelling. Cumberbatch absolutely shines in this new tense drama, playing an unassuming British businessman named Greville Wynne who is recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history, the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative, played by Marvelous Ms. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan, he forms a covert and dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the international conflict before it hits disastrous consequences. This film is a treasure trove of white knuckle nervousness and near misses as both men, sweating profusely, elude authorities who will certainly execute them if caught. Fans of historical spy films will dig into this one quite well.

Bad Trip – If you have never had the chance to check out any of Eric Andre’s work, whether it be his series The Eric Andre Show, his scripted series work on Man Seeking Woman or his stand up special Legalize Everything, I don’t think this new film is a great jumping-off point because, well, it’s complete insanity. Much in the way the Jackass guys did the Johnny Knoxville comedy Bad Grandpa, this is a film with a scripted story but besides Andre and his co-stars Ll Rey Howard. Michaela Conlin and Tiffany Haddish, everyone else isn’t in on the joke. The film is a mix of a scripted buddy comedy road movie and a real hidden camera prank show which follows the outrageous misadventures of two buds stuck in a rut who embark on a cross-country road trip to NYC and the storyline sets up shocking real pranks that will seriously knock you on your ass. The planning that must have gone into the construction of this film is immense and seems like an incredible accomplishment but as much as I want to call this one a must-see I have to caution you with many trigger warnings.

Breaking News In Yuba County – The cast is the immediate draw to this new dark comedy is definitely the cast as the poster boasts a great ensemble with Alison Janney leading Mila Kunis, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Clifton Collins Jr., Regina Hall and more and it’s directed by Get On Up’s Tate Taylor in a bid to wash the disappointment of Ma off his resume. The film has Janney as Sue Buttons, an under-appreciated suburban wife, gets a taste of being a local celebrity after her husband goes missing as she embarks on a city-wide search in Yuba County to find him. To prolong her newfound fame, she stumbles into hilarious hijinks as her world turns upside down, dodging a wanna-be mobster, a relentless local policewoman, her half-sister who is a local news reporter desperate for a story and her husband’s dead-beat brother who all set out to uncover the truth behind the disappearance. Unfortunately, with all of that great setup, this film is never as good as the sum of its parts and is another sad entry onto the list of movies that started so promisingly as the darling who made the Oscar praised The Help. For the record, I didn’t like that movie either.

Nobody – I have been waiting patiently for the return of writer and director Ilya Naishuller, the pun rock pirate Russian filmmaker who was responsible for the first-ever first-person action adrenaline ride Hardcore Henry starring Sharlto Copley. Why is he a pirate? Because he has a rough and gritty style of innovation and will accomplish it by any means necessary. He gets a big-budget Hollywood boost this time and a fan favourite star of Mr. Show creator and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk and it is another piece of action cinema that will be remembered as a can’t miss John Wick style pulse pounder. He plays Hutch Mansell, an underestimated and mild-mannered family man, increasingly unaffected by his life’s hardships and mundanities. One night, when two thieves break into his suburban home, he declines to defend himself or his family, hoping to prevent any serious complications. His son, Blake, and his wife, Becca disappointed in Hutch’s inaction, start to drift further away from him than before but the incident has actually ignited his resentment towards being an unsubstantial father and husband and awakening his suppressed skills and illuminating his dark secrets to cause some brutal violence. Buckle up for a full ninety-minute ride that takes no prisoners and still, although being a distinctly American feeling story has a Russian dressing to it.

Six Minutes To Midnight – Benedict isn’t the only one who’s bringing the historical dramas this week as Dame Judi Dench and the great Eddie Izzard have a little piece of World War II-centric story to tell you. Set in the summer of 1939, the story follows the influential families in Nazi Germany who have sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town to learn the language and be ambassadors for a future looking National Socialist. A teacher there sees what is coming and is trying to raise the alarm, predicting the horrifying future, but the authorities believe he is the problem. This movie plays out interestingly at first but then the story starts to slide in an unbelievable direction, causing me to frantically look up the real story to fact check and, lo and behold, this is a completely fabricated plot. That kind of thing really bothers me as there are so many real tales in this time and made-up ones feel unnecessary in my opinion. It is great to see Izzard and Dench on screen together though.

Doors – Ambitious and eye-catching, this little anthology science fiction thriller really had me going early on and I thought it’d be one of those little sleeper indie films that I could praise, much akin to a now cult classic like 2007’s The Signal. The film follows multiple stories reacting to a shared human experience when, without warning, millions of mysterious alien “doors” suddenly appear around the globe. In a rush to determine the reason for their arrival, mankind must work together to understand the purpose of these cosmic anomalies. Bizarre incidents occurring around the sentient doors leads humanity to question their own existence and an altered reality as they attempt to enter them and, honestly, none of them are super unsettling until the final story which presents itself as a podcast style Zoom meeting until you realize that it is more of an unwilling ascension to a new state of being than it is an interview. I feel like these filmmakers will hit an incredible stride once they have a studio backing them and the groundwork they have here is so impressive even if some of it leaves me scratching my head in confusion.

Violation – A huge hit at festivals last year, it’s about time that this new horror drama made its way to us as I’ve been reading reviews of it for months leading up to my viewing of it. The plot follows Miriam, a troubled woman with her marriage about to implode, who returns to her hometown to seek solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. One evening a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, which leaves Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious and believing her only recourse is to exact revenge, she takes extreme action but the price of retribution is high and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically fall apart. Lead actress Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who co-directed and co-wrote the film as well, is astounding and totally gut-wrenching in her performance, a total starmaker of an outing. This movie will absolutely rock you with its unflinching story of a woman’s deep trauma.

I Am Lisa – Is it time for some horror yet? Okay, let’s go! Coming from American director Patrick Rea, the film follows a sadistic, small-town sheriff and her underlings who brutalize a woman named Lisa and leave her for dead in the woods. Unfortunately for them, she is subsequently bitten by a werewolf and is bestowed with supernatural abilities that put her on a bloodthirsty tour of revenge that takes absolutely no prisoners. This movie is a mashing of two very popular themes in horror and thrillers and does it in such a great way that it elevates both of those story elements. The cast is made up of, to this point, unknowns but they all work so well together and also serve the story well in presenting it as a badass lady led horror both in the protagonist and antagonist sense. This film exists on what looks to be a shoestring budget but with all of it being played so well you never really notice.

Blu-Ray:

Soul – I have to be honest here when Inside Out came out both my wife and I enjoyed the film but it never hit us on that deeply emotional level that it resonated with everyone else on. That said, when I watched this new film from Pete Doctor, the director of that one and Up, it hit me like a ton of bricks and easily fit into my list of the best of the year. Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz and he’s good, able to get in the zone and float away on his own tangents and it ends up earning him his big break and then he falls into a sewer drain right after. Now he must team up with an earth-defiant little soul, voiced by Tina Fey, and travel to another realm to help her find her passion, he soon discovers what it means to have a soul. This is such a beautiful film about purpose and Doctor nails it in every respect. It feels like the Pixar of old was missing for a few years but they came back big time for this one.

News Of The World – It’s hard to believe that in Tom Hanks’ long and storied career he has never tackled a western before, although he has played a cowboy before but his Toy Story adventures don’t really count in this regard. Reteaming with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, he finally corrects this wrong, playing a Civil War veteran who now goes across the country reading the news who agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, although against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either of them can call home and create a bond together that may be stronger than they have ever experienced. This movie is sombre and methodical with Greengrass shelving his usual shaky handheld style for something more poignant and it works so beautifully. I was gripped by Hanks’s performance and the character development holds fast to you until the very end.

The Undoing – A brand new HBO drama lands this week and it should be a more noteworthy premiere as it is the first series on the cable network for a mega television producer and creator David E. Kelley, known for making Ally McBeal, The Practice and, my personal favourite, Boston Legal. This show has some big names to it as it stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and follows Grace Sachs, a successful therapist who has a devoted husband, a young son who attends an elite private school in New York City and is living the only life she ever wanted for herself. Overnight a chasm opens in her life as a violent death disrupts her perfect life structure, her husband goes missing and the investigation only yields a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster and horrified by how she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself. The entire series was directed by acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier which is the biggest reason I want to take in all six episodes of this show which is very different from Kelley’s previous work.

Iron Mask – Okay, let me set this one up for you. This is a Chinese-made fantasy action epic that features a wise, old and long-bearded Jackie Chan and a curly wigged and moustachioed Arnold Schwarzenegger. Are you intrigued? The story follows English traveller Jonathan Green, played by Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels actor Jason Flemyng, who receives from Peter the Great an order to map the Russian Far East. He sets out for a long journey full of incredible adventures that will eventually lead him to China but along the way, he unexpectedly faces a lot of breathtaking discoveries, encounters bizarre creatures, meets with Chinese Princesses and confronts deadly martial arts masters, and even the King of all dragons, the Dragon King. This movie, for lack of a better term, is just plain bad. No matter how good the CGI looks, and it really is impressive at times, and how well thought out the fight scenes are, this film can not escape its bad plotting and horrendous script that make it consistently bizarre and, I assume, unintentionally hilarious.

The Bloodhound – Arrow Video is usually known for doing incredible collector’s editions of fan favourites like the recent Southland Tales or Weird Science and the 4K updates on Tremors and Cinema Paradiso but they also have a great platform of movies that wouldn’t get this sort of international treatment. This film fits that mould big time, the simple synopsis is following the strange events that plague a young man when he’s summoned to the secluded home of a wealthy childhood friend and his twin sister. The vibes feel akin to a horror mystery like the Karyn Kusama mindbender The Invitation as they are both films that live and breathe with their reveals and the less explained about it, the better. The film also features a great young cast including Captain Fantastic’s stand out Annalise Basso, former Stepmom child star Liam Aiken and former Damnation and Grey’s Anatomy actor Joe Adler and is a sleek, stylish and underhandedly chilling film that will resonate in your mind for a little bit after watching. This was a nice little surprise this week.

Gattaca 4K – Remember this stylish and impeccably dressed science fiction story that took the not quite hot button topic of cloning on in the late nineties? Well, the Andrew Niccol written and directed mystery starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman has gotten the full 4K treatment now and looks and sounds better than ever and presents the perfect opportunity to rewatch it or discover it for the first time. The film was Oscar-nominated for Best Art Direction in the Set Decoration category and is set in a future society in the era of indefinite eugenics where humans are set on a life course depending on their DNA. Young Vincent Freeman is born with a condition that would prevent him from space travel, yet is determined to infiltrate the Gattaca Corp, an aerospace firm. I wasn’t a fan of this film when I initially saw it but the reconnection I just did with it shows that the film has aged beautifully and definitely hit me differently and landed as a heady mystery with big background ideas.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Man Push Cart/Chop Shop – American-born and of Iranian descent, director Ramin Bahrani finally gets the respect of some of his films getting the prestige of Criterion Collection editions showcasing two of his establishing pieces that highlight the immigrant’s plight in the sprawling metropolis of The Big Apple. Man Push Cart tells the story of Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant who struggles to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in Midtown Manhattan every night while the city sleeps, and every morning, from inside his cart he sells coffee and donuts to a city he cannot call his own. He is the everyman worker found on every street corner in every city as he is also every man who wonders if he will ever escape his fate. Chop Shop follows Alejandro, a resourceful street orphan on the verge of adolescence, who lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. Existing in this chaotic world of adults, Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister. Breaths of reality punctuate Bahrani’s work and I feel they are most on display in these two unforgettable films that are so beautiful on blu-ray. Must-see stuff here.

The Great Caruso – What would this whole weekly blog be without highlighting something totally classic that I had just discovered myself and wanted to share with the world? Nowhere, that’s where! Thanks to Warner Archive, we are heading back to the beginning of the fifties for a film that traces the life of tenor Enrico Caruso. A meandering lover, he loves Musetta, a girl in his hometown of Naples but then Dorothy, the daughter of one of the Metropolitan Opera’s patrons but Caruso is unacceptable to both women’s fathers. To one, because he sings and to Dorothy’s, because he is a peasant but even beyond his muddled love life to his New York patricians he is thought of as short, barrel-chested, loud, emotional and unrefined. Their appreciation comes slowly as the film depicts Caruso’s lament that “the man does not have the voice, the voice has the man” and he cannot be places he wants to be, because he must be elsewhere singing, including the day his mother dies. The film would go on to earn three Academy Award nominations, all in technical categories, and it was a passion project for many of the crew members involved as they all had known or had worked with the real Enrico Caruso. Fascinating stuff.

Hansel And Gretel – You know my love for South Korean movies and, to be honest, this movie sat on my list for years, unpurchased and unknowing of my love for it. Well, I finally made it my own and cradled it like a baby as soon as it arrived because it is that special. A Grimm fairy tales adaptation from writer and director Pil-Sung Yim, the story is a hybrid of the one you are familiar with, following a young salesman who is invited to a beautiful house with bizarre secrets and no way to escape after meeting a mysterious girl on a dark stretch of road. The film is genuinely macabre, more so than the history of this story will prepare you for but also shows that its trappings lend deliciously to the South Korean style of filmmaking. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more work from Pil-Sung Yim as this film is absolutely astounding and with a third act that is damn near unforgettable.

Television:

Q: Into The Storm (Crave) – HBO Max documentaries are never anything to fly under or over your radar but this one should definitely land squarely in front of everyone as it shines a spotlight on all the stupidity that had been glorified and emboldened over the last half of a decade. A six-part documentary series, this show charts a labyrinthine journey to unmask the mastermind behind QAnon while revealing how the anonymous character known only as “Q” uses conspiracy theories and information warfare to rile the internet up into a fever pitch, hijack politics and manipulate people’s thinking. Yes, this is a series to show any Q-cumber troll that exists in your family, your friends list or your workplace and say “hey stupid, you know you’re being played by the very thing you think you’re so ‘woke’ to, right?” Seriously, the followers of the “Mighty Q” may be some of the dumbest people I’ve ever come across but, remember, they think that YOU are the sheep. Huge eye roll.

The Irregulars (Netflix) – From the writer of the recent BBC adaptation of the classic book Watership Down, Tom Bidwell, comes this new mystery fantasy that is putting a dark twist on the story of one of the greatest literary detectives that is NOT Batman and a character that has been television chic in the last decade, Sherlock Holmes. Set in Victorian London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Holmes himself. The trailer is hugely misleading as it plays more on the strings of fantasy than it does with a “mystery of the week” style, more like Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row than it is like the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch-led show. Aimed at a teen to mid-twenties crowd definitely.

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney+) – So many people are looking forward to this continuation of a story we all adore and most of the fans drooling for it are my age and, yes, I can definitely be included in the ravenous waiters. Before heading full-on into this description I will say that the show was sadly not made for us at all. The show follows twelve-year-old Evan who, after failing to make the cut to join the now powerhouse Mighty Ducks junior hockey team, is encouraged by his mother to form a new team of underdogs with help from Gordon Bombay, the Ducks’ original coach who is now operating a rundown ice rink and, for some reason, hates hockey entirely. Yeah, this show is a bit of a headscratcher motivation wise and the push to re-establish Bombay as an anti-hero is just plain weird but, as I said, this show isn’t for us. Everything about it just reeks of the Disney Channel originals and I tried to push my way through the first three episodes and seriously struggled with it. This show kind of bums me out but maybe I’ve outgrown the Mighty Ducks. The original films though? Never.

Invincible (Amazon Prime) – One of my favourite comics in the last ten years and one that has since ended its run, Amazon Prime can seriously start calling itself the heavyweight of adult comic adaptations with this and The Boys under its belt. Coming from the mind of The Walking Dead’s creator Robert Kirkman, this show is animated exactly in the style of the comic, this is a superhero show that revolves around seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson, voiced by Oscar nominee Steven Yeun, who’s just like every other guy his age except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). Mark soon realizes that he is developing powers of his own but as these new abilities grow he discovers that his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems. The template of this story and the groundwork of the comics is so brilliantly thought out that it would be a serious misstep for any of this to fail so, without hyperbole, I will say that this might be one of the best R-rated superhero cartoon shows ever. You know, alongside Harley Quinn and Drawn Together.

New Releases:

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Finally the hashtagging of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has paid off for all the nerds looking for the “real” version of the Justice League and thus proving that if you bitch long enough you will get handed something you don’t really deserve. Yes, it irks me obviously but I will say that the Joss Whedon version was a terrible mess of a movie but Snyder’s establishing pieces of Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice was certainly not better but, even though this version clocks in at a grossly bloated four hours, it is an improvement. The story follows Bruce Wayne, determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice in the last film was not in vain, aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions. The movie is crammed with slow-motion hero shots, action moments and grim dialogue proving that, once again, in Snyder’s eyes there should be no levity whatsoever. Are we now saved in the DC cinematic universe now that this definitive vision is out? Not really, I could take it or leave it.

The Father – Two of the best performances that you will see this year or in the last decade are right here in this new drama that has Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as a father and daughter who must cope with the new living arrangement changes coming as he slips further into Alzheimer’s. Refusing all assistance from his daughter as he ages, he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances and starts to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality in a film that puts you into almost a side seat position in the illness as the disorientation washes over you. Having just lost my grandfather, this film hit me so hard emotionally and the final scene, which is one of the most heartbreakingly poignant I have ever seen, totally shattered me. Give this movie all the awards, it deserves it.

Crisis – It was only a matter of time before the opioid crisis was tackled in some shape or form which makes Steven Soderbergh seem that much more prolific when you realize that he adapted the miniseries Traffik in 2000. Hell, he did Contagion ten years ago. Man, maybe we should be listening to him exclusively! This story is broken down into three stories about the world of opioids which collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market. The cast is eclectic, featuring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, the Wasp herself Evangeline Lilly and the possible cannibal Armie Hammer but as interesting as the story starts out it completely falls apart in the end and becomes predictable and formulaic. This movie could have been special but will ultimately get lost in the shuffle.

Above Suspicion – With a notable young cast and an experienced director, this new based on a true story action thriller should be an easy hit and the man behind it, Philip Noyce, has a great track record with the spy film Salt, the Michael Caine led The Quiet American and even a Tom Clancy Jack Ryan adaptation under his belt, Clear And Present Danger. This film features Jack Huston and Emilia Clarke and is a chilling true story of a newly married F.B.I. poster boy assigned to an Appalachian mountain town in Kentucky where he is drawn into an illicit affair with an impoverished local woman who becomes his star informant. She sees in him her means of escape but, instead, it’s a ticket to disaster for both of them. This scandal shook the foundations of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, ending in the first-ever conviction of an F.B.I. Agent for murder and I wish I could say that it all works out theatrically but it is filled with so many logic missteps that it starts to drain away from the reality of which we’re seeing a blur into a makeshift crime thriller with loose plotting peppered throughout.

Enforcement – I know we’re all just about ready to come out of isolation and rejoin our already in progress lives but come take a trip with me to Denmark in the meantime to get embroiled in one of the most inventive and engrossing international crime thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface, the film is about two police officers on routine patrol who find themselves trapped in a maze of buildings when a riot spreads. It all starts with the arrest of a suspected terrorist who is just a nineteen-year-old kid and the exact details of what took place while Talib Ben Hassi was in police custody remain unclear but he died in the process. Police officers, Jens and Mike, are on routine patrol in Svalegården’s ghetto when news of Talib’s death comes in over the radio, igniting uncontrollable, pent-up rage in the ghetto’s youth, who lust for revenge. and suddenly, the two officers find themselves fair game and must fight tooth and claw to find a way out. I was completely blown away by this film, gritty and tense with a palpable rage that runs through it constantly. Like Les Miserable did last year, this movie strikes like a firebrand and doesn’t relent.

Food Club – Let’s head back to Denmark for some of that feel-good and light-hearted comedy romp that is so needed to wash the dull greys of the dower world off you. The new film from director Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg follows three longtime girlfriends from elementary school who are coming into their prime and finding a new lease on life after participating in a cooking course in Italy. Each woman is going through catastrophic changes in their life, from a husband abandoning their marriage, a daughter’s complicated relationship and the end of a long grieving process. This film comes through as some great catharsis for an older generation as this story’s general mission is to illustrate that there is much more life to be lived in the latter part of your years and reinvention is attainable any time. The premise may be contrived and seen before but the characters are new and fresh, keeping you engaged for the duration.

Blu-Ray:

Promising Young Woman – Just when you think your best of the year list is all completed, the last week of releases comes through and throws a couple more at you to think about including this film that has a Carey Mulligan performance that demands to be seen. The feature debut of Killing Eve creator Emerald Fennell, this film is a gutshot to every toxic dude on this planet and it may be uncomfortable at times, but it is all necessary. Mulligan plays Cassie, a young woman who is traumatized by a tragic event in her past that happened to her childhood best friend and seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path as well as men who prey on drunk women at clubs. This film’s narrative is caustic, searing and totally unrelenting but has an ability to be sardonically funny and then slap you hard with its seriousness. Very quickly into this movie, I knew I was watching the year’s best and it kept getting better.

Songbird – Everyone ready for a pandemic-themed thriller? Goodie!! Yeah, my sarcasm bleeds through because, honestly, with all the shared trauma that nests in all of our brains daily over the last year, do we need to have a film scaring us with the isolation we already feel anyways? Starring Riverdale’s KJ Apa, The Office’s Craig Robinson, The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and more, this film is set in 2024 as a pandemic ravages the world and its cities and centers on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society like disease, martial law, quarantine and vigilantes. The film comes from low-budget horror guy Adam Mason, who I appreciate for all the Alice In Chains music videos he did recently, but, really, this all feels like the low-hanging fruit that all filmmakers should avoid. I speak for myself but I don’t think we want COVID horror flicks.

Psycho Goreman – I had a small inkling that I would love this movie just based on the description and the fact that it’s the brand new film from The Void writer and director Steven Kostanski really just added to the hype for me. So, are you ready for the low down? Well, friends, this film follows siblings Mimi and Luke who unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord bent on the destruction of all worlds and the flaying of all life within them. Fortunately for them, they are also in possession of a magical amulet connected to his powers and they force the monster to obey their childish whims, accidentally attracting a rogues’ gallery of intergalactic assassins to small-town suburbia. This movie is absolutely insane, full of dark humour, gore and incredible creature effects from the great Masters’ FX who put on a clinic of wonder throughout. I didn’t know that I’d be looking at one of my favourite films of 2021 but here we are.

Don’t Tell A Soul – This movie is so well put together that I have to just hit you with the synopsis immediately to get your appetite going. The story follows a security officer who falls down a hidden well while chasing two teenage brothers who stole more than $12,000. Desperate to get out, he soon tries to convince one of the siblings to set him free and save his life and the tension in this movie is off the charts and totally delicious. The cast features the always great Rainn Wilson, Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer and Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead and is one of the most brilliant small scope thrillers I have seen in a while. The film comes across a bit mean-spirited at times and definitely bleak for the whole time but it all settles so beautifully and I found myself hooked immediately. This one was great.

Sacrilege – Beware, everyone, because I’m starting the horror picks this week now and this is a great little niche within the genre, the isolated cabin set scary movie and this one definitely starts well. The story follows four young women who, after accepting an invitation to join in with local celebrations for the Summer solstice, find themselves in the grips of a mysterious pagan cult. They are offered up as a sacrifice to the cult’s mysterious ancient goddess, who has the ability to sense their greatest fears and, using this power against them, she turns their nightmares into a horrifying reality. A film out of the United Kingdom under the eye of writer and director David Creed, it all starts well and he astounds with his ability to chill you to the bone in only his first feature. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses through its second act to the third you can literally feel the wind coming out of its sails as it falls into unoriginal trappings and a script that could have used another once over. I’m disappointed because it was going so well.

Adverse – I feel like someone, namely writer and director Brian A. Metcalf, must have seen Michael Mann’s thriller Collateral and was like “I can do that but modern and different!” Notice I didn’t say better? Anyways, this film features Thomas Nicholas and Mickey Rourke in a story about one man’s quest for revenge, following a rideshare driver named Ethan, struggling to make ends meet, who learns his sister Mia is deep in debt to a sleazy drug dealer. When Mia goes missing, Ethan discovers that crime boss Kaden is behind the act, and to get close to him Ethan takes a job as Kaden’s driver. One by one Ethan hunts down members of Kaden’s crew to wreak bloody vengeance as he prepares to confront Kaden himself. Just looking at this trailer and synopsis you would be led to believe that the film is formulaic garbage but I was surprised by how much the movie actually works and it is all due to Rourke’s menacing performance which really drives the emotional beats of it. As I said, it’s no Collateral but it is pretty damn entertaining.

Celine And Julie Go Boating – Ready for the warm cinematic light of some classic international cinema through the lens of the adored Criterion Collection? Well, this film made its way over from France in 1974 from writer and director Jacques Rivette and follows a mysteriously linked pair of young women who find their daily lives preempted by a strange boudoir melodrama that plays itself out in a hallucinatory parallel reality. What the hell is that, am I right? Still, this is some of that great French new wave experimental filmmaking that dazzled those in the know at the time but didn’t really make it to the big time because, let’s face it, the mainstream appeal is limited. Now, over forty-five years after its release, the film is largely regarded as one of the top one hundred french movies of all time and a must-see for any cinephile.

The Invisible Man Appears/The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly – Arrow Video is digging deep into the classic for their impression of a Warner Archive release but with a sci-fi horror twist to it with this two-pack of films that takes us back to 1949 Japan for some weirdness. The first film, The Invisible Man Appears, follows a group of jewel thieves who become interested in an invisibility formula invented by Professor Nakazato and want to use his invention to acquire a diamond necklace called the “Tears of Amour”. The second one puts our new invisible character in a battle, with a ruthless serial killer with a peculiar method of stalking and killing his victims coming face to face with a police officer turned see-thru by a scientific experiment. It’s a weird and kooky Japanese mystery that spanned a decade and, crazy enough, it still works in a fun way.

Damn Yankees – A couple of Warner Archive classics are landing in stores this week, starting with this classic musical romantic comedy from one of the biggest directors of the era, Stanley Donen, in 1958, the same year he would release the very popular Indiscreet with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. The film stars Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston and is an adaptation of the George Abbott written Broadway musical, who also co-directed this with Donen, and is about a Washington Senators fan who makes a pact with the Devil to help his baseball team win the league pennant. A deal with the devil movie, would that fly in this day and age? As much as I dislike musicals, this film is quite enjoyable and would be a great one to watch with the grandparents in the eventuality that we can be in the same room as them. It should also be known that the legendary Bob Fosse choreographed this film, a really special talent that shines in this.

Crossfire – Oh yes, my friends, we get some classic film noir this week from Warner Archive and I’m just salivating thinking about it because it really is the good stuff and it features a killer leading line up for its time in 1947 with Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan who, if you do your research, was the best of the best. The story follows Homicide Captain Finlay who finds evidence that one or more of a group of demobilized soldiers is involved in the death of a man named Joseph Samuels. In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints as army Sgt. Keeley investigates on his own, trying to clear the lead suspect Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real, ugly motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley and the conspiracy grows infinitely darker. This film is great and was a huge hit for its time, earning five Academy Award nominations, but the lead star Mitchum hated it. He later claimed that any American actor could have played Keeley which, having just watched it, I disagree with. He kind of makes that character work with his incredible nuance. This is an absolute golden classic to discover in my opinion.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Smooth Talk – I’m not done with the Criterion Collection movies yet as they hooked me up with this new reissue just a few weeks after its release and it showcases a young Laura Dern far before she won an Academy Award but it’s a great indicator of the talent she would become impeccable at harnessing. Co-starring Treat Williams in a menacing and creepy performance, Dern plays free-spirited fifteen-year-old Connie Wyatt who is a bombshell that is already driving the boys crazy but is anxious to escape the boredom of family farm life. Her suspicious mother wants to keep her safely at home but Connie would rather spend the languid summer days hanging out with her friends and flirting with boys at the local burger stand. Connie’s natural curiosities start to go down a dark path when she flirts with a handsome and mysterious stranger named Arnold Friend, played by Williams, and she finds herself in dangerous waters and must prepare herself for the frightening and traumatic consequences. This film is such a great hidden gem, directed by Joyce Chopra who had a brilliant feature film career starting with this one and The Lemon Sisters four years later who then pivoted to television in episode and movie of the week formats. She is a truly nuanced filmmaker who wasn’t appreciated at the time.

The Goonies 4K – Easily one of my childhood favorite films of all time, it’s hard to find a kid of the 80s who wasn’t deeply affected by this Steven Spielberg produced and Richard Donner directed adventure that had us all digging for an escapade in our own backyards, hoping for pirate treasure. For those who haven’t had the absolute privilege of this movie, it’s about a kid named Mikey and his friends who have always wanted to go on an adventure. One night they are all in Mikey’s attic when he stumbles across an old map and, always wanting to know if the local myth of One-eyed Willy ever was a real person and with this indicating he might, they set off for the treasure. To enter the underground caves that the map illustrates, they have to go through the evil Mama Fratelli’s restaurant to get to a secret passage to the caves which ends up setting some more adult dangers in motion and, oh man, is this movie ever fun. Now restored to 4K, this adventure just shines on the screen and hopefully, it can rope in a new generation of fans because I still believe this film is that damn good. Pure Spielberg blockbuster filmmaking here.

Beetlejuice 4K – One of my favorite films of my childhood and one that definitely messed me up quite a bit with its themes, this new reissue was a totally welcome addition to my collection, replacing me earlier anniversary DVD edition with a gorgeous 4K remaster. For those unfamiliar with one of Tim Burton’s greatest works and a classic Michael Keaton character, the story follows Adam and Barbara, a normal couple who happen to be recently dead. They have given their precious time to decorate their house and make it their own but, unfortunately, a family is moving in and not quietly. Adam and Barbara try to scare them out, but end up becoming the main attraction to the money-making family and, unknowing of the consequences, they call upon Beetlejuice to help. Their new hire has way more in mind than just helping and sees this as an opportunity for escape. This cast is phenomenal around Keaton, with Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara all doing incredible comedic work and the special effects boggled my mind then and are just as fun now. This classic totally holds up so it’s time to traumatize a new generation with it.

Shogun’s Joy Of Torture – A latecomer in the new releases this year from Arrow Video, I couldn’t let this one just slip into my collection without saying anything about it. The film comes from Japan, made in 1968, and comes from the mind of the insane writer and director Teruo Ishii who was known as “The King of Cult” in Japan but largely unknown in the West. Well, he gets his due with this one, an anthology that is made up of three separate stories that all intersect. The first segment is about Shinza who was hurt while working when a log hit him on the head and now sister Mitsu is forced to give herself to her brother’s boss Mr. Mino to help pay for Shinza’s doctor bills. The second segment is about the arrival of mother Reiho and her servant Rintoku at the Jukuin monastery. The monastery is located near a temple inhabited by priests and one day when one of them named Shunkei runs by Reiho he arouses something inside of her. The final segment is about a tattoo artist named Horicho who has just given Kimicho his greatest tattoo to date. While showing his work off to a group of people, a man named Lord Nambera walks by mocking the tattoo and its lack of realism. This is really niche filmmaking here and I notice I’ve gone off the beaten path with a lot of the titles here but where else but me and The Shift are you going to get this?

Television:

Mayans M.C.: Season 3 (FX) – Sons Of Anarchy fans, myself included, still have something to cling to as this series has broken through its uncertain period and now Kurt Sutter has exited as showrunner and it’s fully on co-creator Elgin James plate. The show is thriving with its new sort of Jax, EZ, played by JD Pardo, a character that starts his journey from the bottom as a prospect which adds to a different dynamic in the show. I love the supporting cast like Edward James Almos and Tudors star Sarah Bolger and the returning actors Ray McKinnon and Emilio Rivera in their Sons of Anarchy roles, this all taking place in a post-Jax Teller world. As a merchandise-owning fan of the original series, I will ride with this show until the wheels fall off. Blood feuds have come and gone, new feuds have started and the show is more engaging than ever. Just hook it to my veins!

Slaxx (Shudder) – I’m bringing a movie this week about a killer pair of jeans! I don’t know how I can ever possibly top this but Shudder is giving me some really b-movie gold here and I can’t deprive you of it. Well, I already buried the lede on this but this film is about a possessed pair of jeans that is brought to life exclusively to punish the unscrupulous practices of a trendy clothing company. Shipped to the company’s flagship store, Slaxx proceeds to wreak carnage on staff locked in overnight to set up the new collection and it is hilariously bloody and completely tongue in cheek. The lo-fi style of this movie works completely in its favor and it really bums me out that I didn’t get to experience this in theaters or on the festival circuit because it really would have been a fun time and I would’ve had someone to say “did you see that?!?” to.

Koko-di Koko-da (Shudder) – Let’s head back to Denmark for some more cinema but, given that this is a Shudder original, it is covered in weirdness, some blood and all under the great umbrella of horror. The set up for this film is deliciously insane as it follows a couple who go on a trip to find a way to reconnect with each other when a sideshow artist and his shady entourage emerge from the woods to terrorize them and lure them deeper into a maelstrom of psychological terror and humiliating slapstick. Yeah, this movie is crazy and picks up deeply human threads of grief and loss and weaves it into a story that is comedic even in its darkness and the visuals head down the path of being completely mind-bending in parts. This is one of those word-of-mouth foreign films that is going to be talked up by subscriber after subscriber to Shudder. Get on the ground level now.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (Disney+) – Been missing your weekly dose of the MCU through the eight episodes of WandaVision? Well, it’s time to get back on track as we get a brand new six-episode limited series but definitely, a different one than its predecessor in its tone and scope. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, and Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier, team up in a global adventure that tests their abilities and their patience for each other’s company. The first episode is such a great establishment for where we are in this universe, the consequences of the ending of the last phase and, of course, the fallout from “the snap”. I’m absolutely ravenous for the next episode but now I have to wait longer than you guys. Such a bummer.

Calls (AppleTV+) – You know I love a good anthology horror series and this one doubles down on being awesome by including one of my favorite new directors in the last decade, Fede Alvarez who helmed the remake of the Evil Dead. Featuring a cast that includes Succession’s Nicholas Braun, Emily In Paris star Lily Collins and Avengers: Endgame’s Karen Gillan, this series is told through a series of interconnected phone conversations chronicling the mysterious story of a group of strangers whose lives are thrown into disarray in the lead-up to an apocalyptic event. I’m just one episode into it so far and I’m totally hooked as I’ve never seen anything like it before and all the twists to this point have been completely original and absolutely mindblowing. There are little gems to be seen on AppleTV+ and this is definitely one of them.

New Releases:

Yes Day – Miguel Arteta is a fascinating filmmaker as he seems to bounce around in television, comedy movies, indie flicks and family films at a crazy rate but he returns to the kids genre for the first time after 2014’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and doing the stellar Beatriz At Dinner in between. The film stars the incredibly likeable Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez as Allison and Carlos, a couple of parents who decide to give their three kids a “yes day”, where for twenty four hours the kids make the rules, sending them on a whirlwind adventure around Los Angeles that will bring the family closer to each other than ever before. This is definitely a return in the inoffensive fluff that has permeated Arteta’s career and while gems like Youth In Revolt get unjustly forgotten, this one deserves to be lost in the shuffle as, if you’re not a kid, this movie makes no mark in your memory whatsoever.

Cherry – Tom Holland and the Russo brothers reteam for this one after the massive successes of Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, three films that their individual box office and critical praise certainly didn’t hinge on their involvement but were helped by them nonetheless. This one is definitely far outside of the realm of those Marvel stories as this one has Holland as a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging life circumstances. What results is an unhinged character who drifts from dropping out of college to serving in Iraq as an Army medic, only anchored by his one true love, Emily, played by Ciara Bravo. When he returns home a war hero, he battles the demons of undiagnosed PTSD and spirals into drug addiction, surrounding himself with a menagerie of depraved misfits and after draining his finances, he turns to bank robbing to fund his addiction, shattering his relationship with Emily along the way. Stylishly shot, this story felt like a mix between a junkie’s story like the Heath Ledger film Cherry and the adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead but without the resonance that both of the stories carried. We aren’t onboard with Holland’s title character once and it’s really hard to care about his plight just missing that simple connection.

Death Of A Ladies Man – I feel like it’s been forever since we’ve seen Gabriel Byrne on screen in a leading role or maybe the pandemic has just made time stretch out forever because he was in the Amy Ryan Netflix movie Lost Girls last year but that’s inconsequential as he is back in this new drama from writer and director Matt Bissonnette, the first film in over a decade from the Canadian filmmaker. The film follows a carousing college professor’s life as it takes a series of unimaginable turns, and all the old stories are given a new twist, when he begins to have surreal hallucinations and learns he may not be long for this world. I really had a good time with this movie and I have to say the stand out for me was Montreal actress and former Don Draper arm candy Jessica Pare who shines on screen every moment she appears. I also really enjoyed the work from cinematographer Jonathon Cliff who did Brian De Palma’s Redacted and Wyatt Cenac’s People Of Earth previously.

Jump, Darling – One of the funniest people of all time, Cloris Leachman left the planet earlier this year and, at the time, I thought her last performance was the voice work she did on the Croods sequel until the email about this movie hit my inbox. She takes second billing in this LGBTQ driven drama made right here in our own glorious backyard following a rookie drag queen still reeling from a bad break-up who escapes to the countryside where he finds his grandmother in steep mental decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home. Leachman is so perfectly captivating in this movie, giving us a performance to leave her brilliant body of work behind and also make us miss her all that much more. This is a special film that won’t get the love it deserves but I am doing my part in getting it to the eyes of you, my faithful reader.

Night Of The Kings – This is a film that has been getting a lot of buzz on the international independent scene, winning an award at the Toronto International Film Festival and getting an Independent Spirit Award nomination as it’s highlights. A co-production between France, the Ivory Coast, Canada and Senegal, the story is about a young man who is sent to “La Maca”, a prison of Ivory Coast in the middle of the forest ruled by its prisoners. The wild ‘auto-gestioned- prison of Abidjan becomes the theater of a fight for power, as the old ‘chief’ of the prison must submit his power, due to illness. This last night of the blood full moon a newcomer assumes the role of the storyteller, not knowing that this will end with his own death. To stay alive, he begins to tell the story of a fellow criminal in the slum of Abidjan, and how he was driven to his death. This film, for lack of a better descriptor, is absolutely stunning. Writer and director Philippe Lacôte operates like a seasoned veteran in just his third narrative film and has me absolutely salivating for his next offering. This is also a piece of new black cinema that the masses need to get behind immediately.

Come True – Is it time for some horror? Oh yes, it is kiddies but remember, in my world it’s always time for horror! The theme of new releases this week is movies from the Great White North and, you guessed it, this one is Canadian as well, the sophomore film from filmmaker Anthony Scott Burns who made a pretty solid debut with Our House starring Thomas Mann. This film features the always great Julia Sarah Stone as eighteen year old Sarah who, looking for an escape from her recurring nightmares, submits to a university sleep study, but soon realizes she’s become the conduit to a frightening new discovery. I really liked this movie on a surface level but the more I started to break it down after viewing it the more that I felt the hollowness of its attempts to be clever as plot holes and missteps start to rend the experience apart. The film is by no means bad, just under developed and a bit underwhelming in it’s final delivery.

Own The Room – When I saw the National Geographic produced Science Fair a couple of years ago at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I was totally blown away by its approach to showing a competition of the brightest young minds all vying for a sizable research grant to hopefully one day change the world. Now those producers and the directing duo of Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster are back for another story of brilliant young minds yearning for more, as this film chronicles five students from disparate corners of the planet as they take their budding business ventures to Macau, China, to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Santosh is from a small farming town in Nepal, Alondra works the register at her family’s bakery in Puerto Rico, Henry is a programming wiz from Nairobi, Jason is a marketing machine from Greece and Daniela, an immigrant fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, is taking on the chemical industry from her lab at NYU. Each of the business hopefuls has overcome immense obstacles in pursuing their dreams, from hurricanes to poverty to civil unrest. As they represent their countries as the top student entrepreneurs, the high-stakes global finals are their opportunity to win worldwide attention and the coveted $100,000 grand prize to make their life-changing business ideas a reality and transform the world. This is another inspirational story that will give you a sweet message that the “kids are alright” and their working hard to save our asses, collectively.

Underplayed – Bud Light produced a film? And it’s about the party scene of DJs? Yes, but it’s not as vapid as you would be led to believe as this documentary goes straight for the issues and takes a direct route to get under your skin and drive home the message of inequality and inequity in the constant fight to get women an equal share in, heck, any industry. Featuring an artist I absolutely adore, Australian’s entrancing Alison Wonderland, this documentary was filmed over the summer festival season and presents a portrait of the current status of the gender, ethnic, and sexuality equality issues in dance music. The story and issues are through the lens of the female pioneers, next-generation artists and industry leaders who are championing the change and inspiring a more diverse pool of role models for future generations. This film has a big message to it, the pulse pounding reflection of the festival scene to power it and some really great music to keep your head in the game. I really dug this movie a lot.

Blu-Ray:

Vanguard – Yes, I will watch any martial arts movie if it has Jackie Chan’s name attached to it and that goes doubly if it was made in China because, undoubtedly, that’s where his best films came from. Right back in the genre that he does best and, let’s face it, he made famous, this is the story or a covert security company called Vanguard that is the last hope of survival for an accountant after he is targeted by the world’s deadliest mercenary organization. Now that I’ve started getting you all hyped for the return of Jackie to Hong Kong cinema, here’s where the other shoe comes down to tell you that this movie is bland to the point of being devoid of all character and, in parts, it almost feels like a retread of things he’s done in his career before but it comes off like a tribute band that isn’t very good at cover songs. What a total waste but I hope he does try to make more before his wheels fall off.

Ip Man: Kung Fu Master – It’s no secret that on this weekly blog posting and my spots on The Shift that I’m a fan of these films about the legend of Master Ip and his teachings that were made international by his most famous student, Bruce Lee, but, admittedly, the ones without establishing star Donnie Yen come across a little flat and charisma light. That goes for this one, which follows the title character during his time as a police captain in Foshan, Ip Man is targeted by a vengeful gangster just as the Japanese army invades the region, the common enemy that the master finds himself tangling with. I haven’t been given the review opportunity to see this one but it does feel like another cash in on the name but from what I read it’s just a great excuse to watch over eighty minutes of kick ass fighting.

Rent-A-Pal – Looking for some creepy voyeur style horror thriller to creep you out and infect your psyche so that it’s hard to sleep at night? Awesome, I’ll help you out with that by pumping up this new film that features former Star Trek: The Next Generation and king of the nerds Wil Wheaton and no, he’s not Wesley. The film is set in 1990 and follows a lonely bachelor named David who searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother. While seeking a partner through a video dating service, he discovers a strange VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy, played by Wheaton, and the tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. Andy’s friendship unfortunately comes at a sinister cost and David desperately struggles to afford the price of admission in a movie that surprised the hell out of me with it’s originality and ingenious twists that will earn it some solid word of mouth from everyone who sees it. This is the real deal here for crazy thrillers plus VHS! we have a relevant reason to discuss it!

ON-GAKU: Our Sound – It’s been awhile since I’ve jumped into the pool of anime but this one had me a bit intrigued off the bat because it had a little rebellion to it, a little bit of punk attitude and just enough nihilism to keep it all afloat. The basis of the story is a trio of delinquent school kids who form a music band but, more to the point, it’s about being a bored teenager looking for thrills, having no skill, money, or , heck, even a full set of drums. I was actually really surprised with how much I dug this movie which presents a highly original take on the beloved slacker comedy with pitch-perfect deadpan humor, kind of a lo-fi buddy film. The film honestly has the potential to rope in viewers from outside the fan base because I enjoyed this one with ease and usually it’s a bit of a muscle flex for me to get on board.

Touki Bouki – Another installation of classic groundbreaking international cinema arrives this week as the new entry into the hi-definition side of the Criterion Collection. This film comes from Senegal in 1973, released in North America under the title Journey of the Hyena and follows Mory, a cowherd, who rides a motorcycle mounted with a cow’s skull, and Anta, a university student, that have met in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Alienated and disaffected with Senegal and Africa, they dream of going to Paris and work up different con schemes to raise the money and when Mory steals clothing and money from a wealthy gay man who had brought him home, he and Anta book passage on a ship to France to finally realize their life plan. This film is believed to be Africa’s first avant-garde film and is ranked very highly on many best of all time lists and evokes even some French new wave filmmaking like that which Goddard would have made at the time. Fascinating and thoughtful cinema which was incredible for me to discover.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows 4K – Leave it to a couple of 4K special editions for me to fall in love with Guy Ritchie’s retelling of possibly the greatest fictional detectives ever created, along with Batman probably. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s fantastic chemistry along with Ritchie’s frenetic and flashy action style make both of these movies infinitely rewatchable and Warner Bros. retouching and updating to the 4K level are absolutely glorious. If you’ve never had the chance to check them out, the first film has Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engaging in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis, played by Mark Strong, whose plot is a threat to all of England and the second movie goes a bit more traditional and has him on the trail of criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, who is carrying out a string of random crimes across Europe. These movies are awesome, exhilarating and just plain fun, totally worth picking up.

Crazy Heart – Is it weird to say that the film that Jeff Bridges won a Best Actor Academy Award for is an underrated gem? In my mind, it totally is and it feels like this fantastic character drama with a foothold in traditional country music has been largely forgotten about which is really sad. Bridges stars as Bad Blake, a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who’s had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times and yet, he can’t help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean, a journalist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal who discovers the real man behind the musician. The Dude does all of his own singing in this, as well as co-star Colin Farrell, in the debut film from writer and director Scott Cooper that immediately put him on the map as a filmmaker of note. This blu-ray was dirt cheap to pick up too which feels like I got away with a robbery given the caliber of the film.

Mean Man: The Story Of Chris Holmes – I’m slightly music themed this week with my Geek-Outs but this one is a straight up documentary and we’re shedding the frontier vista of country from the electric shredding of eighties hair metal to change it up that much more. This is the story of Chris Holmes, an iconic guitar player who has lived a life of extreme highs and lows and, after losing the publishing rights of his own songs and combatting dangerous addictions, the legendary W.A.S.P. guitarist is shown starting over from scratch while living at his mother-in-law’s in Cannes, France. Now ready to take on Europe with his new band, we follow him along as he meets many fans and proves that he still is the showman he was as a young and famous rockstar. This Film is fascinating in his musical journey as it draws parallel stories of the rise, fall and rebirth of Chris Holmes with archives, live performances, interviews and behind-the-scene footage but the underproduction of some of this, including some amateurish feeling editing, kind of drags it a bit but it’s kind of what I expect from some of these MVD Visual films. Still a really cool story in rock.

The El Duce Tapes – Let’s finish off this week’s geek-outs with another documentary but a decidedly weirder one, lovingly put together in a special edition from Arrow Video. Made in 2019, the story follows Ryan Sexton, who, between appearing in supporting roles in General Hospital and local TV commercials, spent the early 90s documenting the life and art of El Duce, lead singer of the notorious shock rock band The Mentors. Famous for taking the stage in black executioner hoods, the band spent a few moments in the national spotlight after some of their most offensive lyrics were denounced on the floor of the US Senate. Now, twenty five years later, filmmakers David Lawrence and Rodney Ascher dive into the long unseen VHS footage searching for clues about who El Duce really was, how much of his disturbing persona was for real, and what an act built around a cartoonish sense of violent misogyny can tell us about our own time and place. As far as stories of human oddities go, this movie is fascinatingly weird and sent me on a deep Google dive for anything more I could find out about El Duce. This is some must see documentary stuff that may lead you to Reddit message boards of discussion.

Television:

Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell (Netflix) – Netflix back with another hard hitting documentary? Oh yes, and if you’ve already done all the music series they have to offer, definitely including the Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine series The Defiant Ones, then you should move on over to this one. Coming from acclaimed music filmmaker Emmett Malloy, this documentary features rare footage filmed by Christopher Wallace’s best friend, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, and interviews with his closest friends and family, revealing a side of Biggie Smalls that the world never knew. As a fan of his music, albeit retroactively, I was totally into this story about a prolific and gifted rapper and producer who was taken from this earth far too early, robbing us all of so much more possibly landscape changing music. A good one two punch would be watching this film then following it up with the biopic Notorious which is streaming on Disney+, Crave and Amazon Prime.

63 Up (BritBox) – This is definitely a repost but given that filmmaker Michael Apted recently passed away and Britbox has put up this last film on their service, I must address it. Honestly, within ten minutes of this documentary I was absolutely hooked on the humanity of this story. An ambitious project started in the mid-60s, this is Apted’s crowning achievement in my opinion. as he does a character study on fourteen students, starting at age seven and then visiting them every seven years after, chronicling it as the Up series. Now into their sixties, each person’s story proves the individuality in our world but also the similarity in a lot of our politics, daily life decisions as well as love and relationships. Luckily, this is a franchise where any of these films can be a jumping in point as the recap of everything Apted has recorded so far is reiterated in each movie. These documentaries may be the most important film about human life ever made and, in my opinion, the greatest franchise ever constructed.