Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:
Tom And Jerry – For the kids of this generation and, well, those born in say the mid-nineties and beyond, this new animation and live-action hybrid may be new to them but as a child of the Saturday morning cartoon generation, I know Tom and Jerry quite well and really grew up on those shows along with my Hanna Barbera. Hopefully, this will work out for the current generation as the two iconic cartoon frenemies hit the big screen for the first time, starring with real human Chloe Grace Moretz in this adaptation that serves as more of an origin story, revealing how Tom and Jerry first meet and form their rivalry. From the outside, this is definitely a family geared story that looks to occupy its demographic of small children but I’m really hoping that it took some of the cues from last year’s Sonic The Hedgehog and gives it some substance to give the long-suffering parents something to cling to. 

Minari – For months I have been hearing the accolades and awards rumble for this new film following a Korean family on the search for the American dream as well as the praise for lead star and former Walking Dead actor Steven Yuen but as far as awards season goes, the Hollywood foreign press already dropped the ball by marginalizing it to just the foreign category. Now, having seen it, I can join the massive chorus celebrating this film because it is a perfect drama in every way. The story is about a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm to carve out their own piece of paradise. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother, which leads to a stand-off relationship with the family’s youngest, David. This movie is a little slice of real people that are constantly engaging and endearing as you become deeper and deeper with your emotional attachment to these characters. I adored this movie and could watch it over and over again.

Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry – Oh boy do I love myself a good music documentary and already being a fan of the young Billie Eilish, I was already so on board with this film. This well-crafted film tells the coming-of-age story of the multiple Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and her rise to global superstardom alongside her producer and bandmate brother Phinneas from award-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler, the guy behind the recent biographical documentaries Belushi and The World According to Dick Cheney. This documentary offers a deeply intimate look at the extraordinary teenager’s journey, at just 17 years old, navigating life on the road, on stage, and at home with her family, while writing, recording and releasing her debut album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? all from the point of view of home videos and behind the scenes tour footage. I was blown away by this film, watching her process, dealing with her mental quirks, darkness and even Tourettes and even reacting to a longtime crush she’s had on Justin Beiber. Seriously, their first meeting is worth watching the film by itself. I loved this movie.

Nose – Hear this in a Derek Zoolander voice: “what is this? A documentary for nasals?” Okay, maybe that sounded better in my head but this film is not a documentation of the nasal passage or that thing that occupies the space between your mouth and eyes but about some of the more pleasant aromas that permeate it, notably perfume. It’s actually a pretty special and groundbreaking film as, for the first time in a documentary feature, the prestigious House of Dior opened its doors to its perfume creation process and let some of its secrets out. Travellers at heart, filmmakers Arthur de Kersauson and Clément Beauvais followed François Demachy for two years and over fourteen countries, from Grasse to the other side of the world, in his search for inspiration and the most precious raw materials. It’s really fascinating how much this film pulls back the curtain on a very secretive process but, unless you have some interest invested in this industry, some of its components may feel a bit dry to you.

Blu-Ray:
The Croods: A New Age – Heading into this brand new Dreamworks sequel I was already at a huge disadvantage as I hadn’t and still haven’t seen the first movie of this caveman-centric animated franchise that has already spawned a Netflix television series. I knew I liked the cast though which has Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman and adds Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran to the mix for this continuing adventure. This film has the prehistoric family discovering a lush utopia that was formed by the more evolved family, the Bettermans, who invite the Croods to stay with them under the one rule, don’t pick the bananas. This movie surprised the hell out of me as I laughed from beginning to end with a big goofy smile on my face. Its great fun for the whole family and Cage goes insane in his vocal performance and it’s worth every second.

The Last Vermeer – I wonder if Claes Bang’s agent has him only auditioning for art-related projects because, besides his turn as the titular character in the miniseries Dracula, he’s done three films revolving around the subject with The Square, The Burnt Orange Heresy and now this. Bang stars here as Joseph Piller in this dramatic thriller set just after WWII about a soldier investigating renowned Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, played by Guy Pearce, the total reason to watch this film, who is accused of conspiring with the Nazis. Despite increasing evidence, Piller becomes increasingly convinced of Han’s innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save the life of the most beloved man in the country who has a very mysterious past. The film is a very dry and monotone film so the term “thriller” is very loose in my opinion but the film is gorgeously shot throughout by cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, who also shot both of Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth movies. History buffs will definitely dig into this one.

Redemption Day – Remember Gary Dourdan? He played the fan-favourite Warrick Brown on CSI and before that he was in Alien Resurrection but he screwed it all up by being a heavy drug addict and a brash loudmouth that got him canned from the popular series without the possibility of returning as they iced his character with finality. So, when I say he has a new movie the bar is ultra-low because who would employ him, right? In this aptly named film he plays war hero Brad Paxton, who is in a race against the clock to rescue the love of his life who is kidnapped and held for ransom by terrorists in a daring and deadly operation that pits him against the most powerful and shadowy forces. Co-starring veterans like Andy Garcia and Martin Donovan as well as Canadian actress Serinda Swan, the action to this movie is awkward and dumb constantly and every character is a generic template of a bland action flick character making the entire film feel like a waste of time.

Wrong Turn – As a big fan of the original 2003 film which featured awesome effects from the Stan Winston special effects department, I looked at this reboot or reimagining as total blasphemy and it made me clutch my DVD copy to my chest in anger. The film tries to play it more straight forward without weirdo mutants playing a factor at all and instead just go forward with a simpler backwoods terror about a group of friends who set out to hike the Appalachian Trail and, despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Under siege and fighting for survival, the group seems headed to the point of no return unless the main character’s father can reach them in time. This film tries so hard to carve out its own story while bastardizing another that it veers constantly into doing ridiculous things to set itself apart that usually doesn’t work out. It’s kind of a crapshoot of a movie.

Silk Road – Nothing sells me on a movie quicker than having Nick Robinson lead it. I loved Kings Of Summer, Love, Simon, and, hell, he was even fun in Jurassic World and this movie not only has him but stalwart actor Jason Clarke too. Starting awesome, I think. This film is inspired by a true story and has Robinson as Ross Ulbricht, a philosophical twenty-something driven to succeed who creates the internet’s first unregulated marketplace, Silk Road. Business hits a wall when it becomes a multimillion-dollar pipeline for illicit drugs, Ross is set on a collision course with Rick Bowden, played by Clarke, a disreputable and dangerously unpredictable DEA agent, who will use any means necessary to take him down. The film is interesting in its full story scope but all of the characters feel like paper-thin representatives of real people and it does nothing for the increased drama and thrills that are thrown at you with both the actors I named being kind of lost in the shuffle.

Last Call – Sometimes the timely manner of the release of a movie can totally seem like it’s capitalizing on tragedy but the awareness for suicide and dark thoughts isn’t a new one but it’s about time that a film focused on those who are literally there to talk people off of ledges. This new Canadian filmed production had the fortitude to do it, telling the tale of a bitterly alone man named Scott who thinks he is calling the Suicide prevention hotline but accidentally gets through to Beth, a janitor with nothing to do with the program who now has the task of saving someone’s life. This is an intensely personal feeling film from writer and director Gavin Michael Booth who co-writes this with his lead actor Daved Wilkins in an exercise that almost looks like catharsis. The film never feels like exploitation or a marginalizing of the suicide mentality as everyone’s struggle is vastly different and Booth and Wilkins know this implicitly. What it feels like in the end is a stand-up to take charge of these crippling thoughts, a cry to check on your friends and family no matter what their strength or fragility is and just to help take care of each other as a society. It’s a message that I will proudly wave a flag for.

Pump Up The Volume – One of the most iconic films of the 1980s and a brilliant time in lead actor Christian Slater’s career, my first question is why the hell did it take so long to get a good release of this movie on home release. A favourite with many friends of mine, this Allan Moyle-directed story of rebellion follows Mark, an intelligent but shy teenager who has just moved to Arizona from the East Coast. His parents give him a short-wave radio so he can talk to his pals, but instead, he sets up shop as pirate deejay Hard Harry, who quickly becomes a hero to his peers while inspiring the wrath of the local high school principal. His new path of bringing his message to the people is put to the test when one of Harry’s listeners commits suicide and chaos breaks out at the school and the authorities are called in to put a stop to Harry’s broadcasts. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing this forgotten gem, this Warner Archive edition is perfectly timed in a time where we largely feel silenced and ignored, bringing forward an absolutely timeless message.

Lady Sings The Blues – With a Billie Holiday biopic currently playing at festivals this year and, from what I hear, not getting great reviews this is the perfect time for Paramount to bring out this new reissue that puts a legend in the place of another legend with the great Diana Ross playing the iconic Lady.  Beginning with Holiday’s traumatic youth, the film depicts her early attempts at a singing career and her eventual rise to stardom, as well as her difficult relationship with Louis McKay, her boyfriend and manager played by one of the coolest men to ever grace the screen, Lando Calrissian. Sorry, I meant Billy Dee Williams and, to be fair, this was eight years before he would take that role. Continuing on the description of this one, the film depicts a shadow over Holiday’s brightest moments as the vocalist’s severe drug addiction deepened, which threatened to end both her career and her life and those in the know have the story of what the outcome was. The film would be nominated for five Oscars but was ultimately dominated by Cabaret which pulled in eight Academy Awards that year. 

On Moonlight Bay – And so begins Doris Day week or so Warner Archive has deemed it with not one but two new remasters of her classic films starting with this well-received musical that paired her with Backfire star Gordon MacRae. Coming from It Happened on Fifth Avenue director Roy Del Ruth, the story follows the Winfield family who moves into a new house in a small town in Indiana and quickly tomboy Marjorie Winfield begins a romance with William Sherman who lives across the street. Marjorie has to learn how to dance and act like a proper young lady but, unfortunately, William Sherman has unconventional ideas for the time, as the film is set in the era of World War I and his ideas include not believing in marriage or money, which causes friction with Marjorie’s father, who is the local bank vice president. This movie proved to be so popular that the studio immediately filmed By the Light of the Silvery Moon for release two years later, which is a direct sequel with all the actors playing the same characters, something that was very unusual at the time.

Show Boat – I was pretty excited to receive this new release from Warner Archive as it was a giant film for its time and features one of the most legendary actresses of that era, Ava Gardner. Helmed by Annie Get Your Gun director George Sidney, the film follows Julie LaVerne and her husband Steve Baker who is forced to leave the showboat Cotton Blossom after their marriage is declared illegal because of Julie’s mixed blood and their places are taken by Magnolia Hawks, the Captain’s daughter, and Gaylord Ravenal, a gambler. Magnolia and Ravenal fall in love, marry, leave the boat and move to Chicago, where they live off Ravenal’s earnings from gambling. After they go broke Gay feels guilty and leaves Magnolia, not knowing she is pregnant. Yes, it’s all a convoluted folly of relationship mishaps in musical fashion but it earned two Academy Award nominations but lost both awards to An American In Paris. Maybe if they nabbed the original star Judy Garland they would have curried some Oscar sympathy.

My Dream Is Yours – Let’s finish out these golden classics with the second Doris Day film, which was notable for having not just Casablanca’s Michael Curtiz behind the camera but legendary animator Friz Freleng in an uncredited directorial role as well. The story follows a radio agent named Doug Blake who decides to find a new personality to replace conceited singer Garry Mitchell when he refuses to renew his radio contract and, in New York, he finds Martha Gibson, a single mother with a great voice and the perfect candidate. He arranges for her to move to Hollywood, but then has a problem trying to sell her to the show’s sponsor and while trying every trick he can think of to make Martha a star and as the two work more closely, he falls in love with her. Martin Scorsese has cited this film as a primary influence on his own downbeat musical, New York, New York, which I didn’t know until after watching this one and it made me love it even more, a weird notion as I really hate musicals.

John Hughes 5-Movie Collection – The filmmaker that was instrumental in putting me on the path to adoring movies is finally getting the celebration he deserves as some of his greatest accomplishments have been loaded into this collection of films and it’s so satisfying to go through them. It starts with the Steve Martin and John Candy road tripper Planes, Trains and Automobiles, then the Matthew Broderick high school skipping Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, to the adorable Jersey Girl inspiration She’s Having A Baby before the Molly Ringwald led Pretty In Pink and then it all finishes off with the underrated Some Kind Of Wonderful. Honestly, this kind of sells itself so I’m really just bragging here that I got the early hold on a treasure chest full of gold in movie form. Be jealous, everybody but only until you buy your copy.

Scooby-Doo!: The Sword And The Scoob – It looks like I’m on the Fury Road of owning every piece of the Scooby-Doo library and thanks to my friends at Warner Bros. I get closer and closer every time something is released. Featuring my favourite voice cast for these characters, with Frank Welker, Grey Delisle, Kate Micucci and the best Shaggy of all time Matthew Lillard, we get a brand new adventure as, of course, Shaggy unwittingly pulls out Excalibur from a nearby stone to cut a block of cheese and now no one is sure who the rightful ruler is. The legendary wizard, Merlin, appears and explains that the throne of Camelot must be determined through “trial by combat” which must have made Rudy Guliani ecstatic. Our heroes pull out all the stops to try and win the tournament, break the witch’s hold on King Arthur, and find a way back to the present in this adaptation that puts Scooby Doo right in King Arthur’s Court.  What can I really say about this one, it’s Scooby-Doo! You kind of know what to expect from it in this format. Zoinks, “you meddling kids”, credits. Right?

Inside Amy Schumer: The Complete Series – I don’t need to go on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to know that Amy Schumer’s comedy is divisive and a lot of people do not like her brand of humour. It’s plain as day. I will tell you here that I’m not one of them and have really enjoyed her work ever since I saw Trainwreck and was absolutely delighted to have this complete box set show up on my doorstep with three hysterically funny seasons from the mind of one of the funniest women on the planet. Yes, she is. Deal with it. With memorable sketches like 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer with a jury of men debating if Amy is “fuckable”, her Friday Night Lights parody Football Town Nights or Last Fuckable Day which sees her meet up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette and Tina Fey to send off Fey on her last maiden voyage, it’s all so hilarious and, according to my wife, infinitely relatable. I’ll take her word for it but I enjoy the hell out of it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
The Parallax View – Hell yes, Criterion has brought some classic Warren Beatty this month and I had my heart set on grabbing a copy of it to review when it came out but now I’ve got it and it is every bit as great as I wanted it to be and pretty pivotal to filmmaking in general. Released in 1974, this thriller follows Joe Frady, a determined reporter who often needs to defend his work from colleagues prying from it but after the assassination of a prominent U.S. senator, he begins to notice that reporters present during the assassination are dying mysteriously. After getting more involved in the case, Frady begins to realize that the assassination was part of a conspiracy somehow involving the Parallax Corporation, an enigmatic training institute and then decides to enroll for the Parallax training himself to discover the truth. The film comes from masterful All The President’s Men filmmaker Alan J. Pakula two years before he did that one and is a forgotten piece of journalist intrigue that set the table for many great films in this vein to come. It was also shot by one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, Gordon Willis, which is even more of an incentive to go buy this.

Accepted – There was a period in time at the end of the nineties to the mid-2000s when the high school or college-age comedy was king and just a few were at the top of the pile, soaking up the love, while some languished in obscurity but still had a deeply loving fanbase and this one is a perfect example of that. Justin Long played the brilliantly named Bartleby Gaines, a high school slacker who’s been rejected by every school he applies to so he opts to create his own institution of higher learning, the South Harmon Institute of Technology (check that acronym), on a rundown piece of property near his hometown and, oh man, this movie is hilarious and was the jumping point for a few that are huge stars now like Blake Lively and Jonah Hill as well as some great veterans like Lewis Black who really steals the show in parts. I saw this film at Walmart on sale for the first time on Blu-ray and it was a no-brainer to pick it up.

Total Recall 4K – “Get your ass to Mars!”, “See you at the party, Richter!”, “Baby, you make me wish I had three hands.”. Just a few of the great lines that this Arnold Schwartzenegger action classic that comes from the mind of science fiction legend by way of the balls to the walls direction of the mad man Paul Verhoeven and I feel like a lot of my peers have this same love for the film that I do. For those who have never had the pleasure and are just crawling out from under a rock, the story follows Douglas Quaid who is haunted by a recurring dream about a journey to Mars. He hopes to find out more about this dream and buys a holiday at Rekall Inc. where they sell implanted memories but something goes wrong with the memory implantation and he remembers being a secret agent fighting against the evil Mars administrator Cohaagen. Now, this awesome ride has been updated to the pristine 4K and it looks better than ever and, to add even more to the pile of gold this is, the special features disc is crammed with great behind-the-scenes stuff and retrospectives. This movie influenced so many and I had so many epiphanies about it on my recent rewatch.

Death Of Me – I’m bringing the Hemsworth this week. Chris? No. Liam? No. Luke. You don’t know Luke? Alright, if you’re not watching Westworld or an Australian then I can understand that but he stars with the beautiful Maggie Q in this new horror mystery thriller from Darren Lynn Bousman, the bloodthirsty man behind a good majority of the Saw franchise. In a further bid to stop people from going on destination adventures forever I guess, the film is about a couple named Neil and Christine vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand who awake hungover and with no memory of the previous night. They find footage on Neil’s camera, and watch, horrified, as Neil appears to murder Christine. With twenty-four hours until the next ferry and a typhoon threatening the island, Christine and Neil attempt to reconstruct the night’s events and are snared in a web of mystery, black magic and murder. As intriguing as the premise is, the film never manages to take full advantage of its solid groundwork and instead dives into the seas of cliches that pepper horror mysteries and cool gore isn’t enough to keep it afloat.

The Swordsman – Thanks to Well Go USA I have a brand new martial arts action to spread my geek voice about as I really do love this genre of film. From one of my favourite foreign producers of film, South Korea, this is the debut feature from writer and director Jae-Hoon Choi and is a story about three different swordsmen,  a swordsman who is going blind, the best swordsman in Joseon Dynasty and the best swordsman in Qing Dynasty who aspires to be the best even in the Joseon Dynasty. Together, they must take on political forces that have kidnapped the blind man’s daughter and prove to the gods above that they are the most dangerous warriors in the world. The movie is filled with engrossing performances and pulse-pounding swordplay action sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat throughout and the cinematography behind it is absolutely mind-blowing. I love when a new South Korean discovery lands in my lap, like a gift from the big cinema man upstairs. You know, Stanley Kubrick… or Orson Welles.

Television:
Ginny & Georgia (Netflix) – I thought this show was going to be so terrible just based on the trailer and you can witness yourself below this blurb but by the end of episode one, this voice in my head spoke up and said” you should watch more” and, you know what? I did. The show follows angsty and awkward fifteen-year-old Ginny Miller who often feels more mature than her thirty-year-old mother, the irresistible and dynamic Georgia Miller. After years on the run, Georgia desperately wants to put down roots in picturesque New England and give her family something they’ve never had, which is a normal and relatable life but it’s not all suburban dreams and high school crushes as Georgia’s past threatens her and her family’s new way of life and Georgia will do anything to protect her family which becomes very evident in the final twist of episode one. The show comes under inexperienced showrunner Sarah Lampert and operates like a sort of ungrounded Gilmore Girls which is actually a real joke from the series. As I said, I was surprised by this one and you might be too. 

Superman & Lois: Season 1 (The CW) – With Arrow ending its run almost two years ago and Black Lightning and Supergirl both calling it quits this year, I was really surprised to see that we were getting a new Superman series which is actually a spin-off from his cousin Kara-El’s show. With Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch sticking to their titular DC universe roles, the world the mega-producer Greg Berlanti has crafted continues on its path with this show that follows the world’s most famous superhero and comic books’ most famous journalist as they deal with all the stress, pressures, and complexities that come with being working parents in today’s society. Oh, did I not mention that they had a super baby? Well, I guess you should have boned up on Supergirl before starting this one which is not me mocking you, just a real prerequisite to actually being able to enjoy this because following it would be pretty easy. I’m just happy for this to erase Dean Cain from my mind because that dude is a real waste of space these days.

The Walking Dead: Season 10 (AMC) – Time to pick up where we left off with the survivors in a world that has moved on and left the dead to roam the earth. Really, I’m eloquent when I need to be but this show is now firmly in the double digits of seasons as I believe we travel on to the end I see coming in season eleven but not until these last six episodes see off series regular Danai Gurira and her fan favourite, both in the series and in the comic, the samurai sword-wielding Michonne. Where zombies feel like sort of a hard horror trope to get over originally these days, I’m surprised the steam for this series has remained at this much of a fever pitch but I know that the wheels are starting to fall off and the writing is beginning to present itself on the wall that it’s time to call it quits. I’m alright with that but only if Darryl and Carol walk off into the sunset together. Those are my non-negotiable terms.

New Releases:

Synchronic – Writing and directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are back with their new highly anticipated sci-fi mindbender, providing their fans such as myself with what they are supremely gifted at, something I call the equivalent of cinematic salvia. It’s an intense term that I feel means that the reality is warping into something else continuously but for this film, they play it a bit more linear and a bit closer to the true reality. The film stars the Falcon himself, Anthony Mackie, and the Fifty Shades trilogy main man Jamie Dornan and follows them as two New Orleans paramedics whose lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects. The look of this film is constantly intriguing and the performances from these two actors drive the emotion that anchors this story that’s main root is the friendship between the two. I loved every second of this one and the horror elements are very small so it’s open to a broader audience.

Supernova – Break out the tissues because Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are here to steal all of your tears and these guys aren’t messing around either. Coming from acclaimed writer and director Harry Macqueen, this is the story of Sam and Tusker, partners of over twenty years, who are travelling across England in their old RV visiting friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have as the two try to come to grips with his declining health and Sam readies himself to transition their relationship into that of a caregiver which may not be in Tusker’s plans. This film shows just how masterful both Firth and Tucci are at their craft as both men have such textured history as a couple on the screen that leaps out at you within minutes into the film. There’s such a soft touch of emotional beats that send this story cascading into your heart and, honestly, my heart was heavy by the end. This is a beautiful film filled with truth and light and I really loved it deeply.

Flora & Ulysses – Maybe it’s the age gap or maybe it’s that the film wasn’t made for me as the target audience but there’s something drastically off about this new Disney Plus film and it’s not just that the movie is a totally mess. The film is based on the novel by Because Of Winn-Dixie and The Tale Of Despereaux author Kate DiCamillo and follows an imaginative and creative ten year old cynic and comic book superfan named Flora who never could have predicted that the little squirrel she found in her yard would be born anew as a superhero after getting sucked up in the vacuum and have the uncanny knack for helping her and the lovable but broken people in her life realize their full potential as a family. Co-starring How I Met Your Mother’s Alyson Hannigan, the voice of Sonic The Hedgehog and Community’s loveable Abed, Danny Pudi, the movie has a sweetheart at its core but is pepper with a mean spirit, especially directed towards Flora’s blind neighbor who honestly gets the crap kicked out of him for almost the entire duration. I’m totally confused by this and, really, it took me out of it more than once.

Some Kind Of Heaven – With the title being like it is you expect something sunny upfront and debuting director Lance Oppenheimer gives you just that to open his documentary on a little slice of paradise on earth, The Village, a retirement town located in Florida. With amenities, golf courses, tennis courts, pools, community activities and social events, the place is just as the identity card suggests, “some kind of heaven”. Oppenheimer immediately swerves you by then focusing on four individuals not enjoying themselves, one couple heading into a deep divide in their marriage, one woman widowed as soon as she reluctantly moved to The Village and another man living in his van, hoping to woo a single woman living there to punch his ticket to luxury. The film becomes a quietly reflecting mosaic of characters against the backdrop of the Panhandle sun and it is absolutely captivating from the get-go. Engrossing in its reality and a very exposing look at the actions of either gender when they get to retirement age, this movie is human nature at its very core.

The Sinners – When we were growing up, namely in our high school years, we all secretly believed that our mean girls clic was part of an overarching hierarchy of a cult, right? Or was that just me? Either way, this is the basis of this new Canadian-made drama thriller which follows an A-List Girl clique that starts a secret cult where each of them must embody one of the seven deadly sins. They soon realize there’s more to their small religious town and their reactions to their new project as they start to go missing one by one. The main cast is a group of unknown actresses save for the daughter of former Sons Of Anarchy star Kim Coates Brenna but features a couple of Canadian treasures like Aleks Paunovic, Lochlyn Munro and Letterkenny star Dylan Playfair in a story that debuting writer and director Courtney Paige manages to navigate a series of narrative cliches while stepping wholeheartedly into others. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, really.

Animals On The Loose: A You vs. Wild Movie – I really don’t know what can be said about this movie as far as a review can go because it’s unconventional and I’ve never really gone in-depth with one and it’s not the first that Netflix has done with their interactive entertainment, following installments of Black Mirror with Bandersnatch and even a Kimmy Schmidt one that was a lot of fun. I will forgo a review portion, as I find it impossible and will instead inform you that this is a bigger and more expanded version of the survivalist Bear Grylls show You vs Wild and has him calling to you for help when the protective fence surrounding a wildlife sanctuary suffers a breach and he is called in to help rescue a mischievous baboon, track down a hungry lion, and fix the fence before any more animals get out. Some of the setups are ridiculous and you put Bear through hell, including making him eat a leech, which disturbed my wife to no end. All in all, I got him through it in about forty-five minutes. Go me!

Blu-Ray:

Fear Of Rain – Now going on week three, I am again talking about former Grey’s Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl and again it’s a role that she isn’t usually playing, which tells me that she’s really trying to go against her image type, a refreshing idea. She hits up the horror-thriller genre for a definite change in a story she plays the parent of a teenager named Rain, living with schizophrenia and struggling with terrifying hallucinations that are heightened as she begins to suspect her neighbour has kidnapped a child. When Rain insists against her parents’ advice that the shadows and cries from her neighbour’s attic aren’t real, she enlists help from Caleb, the charmingly awkward new kid at school who himself may not be real. The film is not just a genre shift for Heigl but for writer and director Castille London who usually makes family movies and takes a hard turn for this one. Looks promising.

A Call To Spy – Spy films can come from everywhere but some of the best ones are rooted in reality and come from historical settings and I personally really dig the embedded World War II stories and that is exactly what we get with this new drama from director Lydia Dean Pilcher which marks her first solo outing behind the camera. The film is set in a desperate Britain at the beginning of the war as Prime Minister Winston Churchill orders his new spy agency, the Special Operations Executive, to recruit and train women as spies with their mission being to conduct sabotage and build a resistance. The agency’s “spymistress,” Vera Atkins, played by Absentia’s Stana Katic, recruits two unusual candidates, Virginia Hall, an ambitious American with a wooden leg and Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim pacifist. Together, these women help to undermine the Nazi regime in France, leaving an unmistakable legacy in their wake. This film is a super effective spy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat and builds characters that you actually feel like you have a stake in. Katic is really great in her performance and it feels like a far cry from the years of police procedural she did with Nathan Fillion in Castle.

Archenemy – As soon as I see the identity card of production company SpectreVision I know I’m about to see something special, especially within a genre of bright and vibrant sci-fi, action and horror and this one satisfies those cravings but with a bit less of that third option. Another bold feature from writer and director Adam Egypt Mortimer, coming off his sleeper hit Daniel Isn’t Real, this one features Joe Manganiello as Max Fist, a homeless man who claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to earth, where he has no powers and no one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster looking to make a mark for himself as an urban journalist. This movie is dripping with badass style throughout and Manganiello is playing it so nuanced that you continually ask yourself if he’s crazy or is he really an interdimensional hero. Rounding out the cast around him and really getting into the stylish and almost cartoony characters is Glenn Howerton playing the villainous “Manager”, Paul Scheer for a short, drug-fueled but memorable scene and the great Amy Siemetz who plays a massively pivotal role. Just by looking at the trailer, you will know immediately if this movie is for you and it seemed to be a love letter to my brain so take that as you will.

Horizon Line – I know we are all keeping inside, cancelling vacations and staying away from destination vacations but that isn’t stopping filmmakers from giving you extra incentive to keep your butt parked on the sofa. This one goes the distance, pun intended, as it follows Girls and Get Out star Allison Williams as one half of a couple flying on a small plane to attend a tropical island wedding who must fight for their lives after their pilot suffers a heart attack, putting the plane solely in their control. For me, that’s pretty much a nightmare scenario and the worst possible thought to have during any flight but even with that brilliant set up the film fails to capture any sense of suspense or intrigue because the characters are so underwritten that we don’t care about them whatsoever. It seems that all the imagination put into this just pertained to the premise and that’s it.

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee – Being a kid from the eighties that was raised on movies of that era and the nineties when you hang the name Dundee and Paul Hogan’s picture in front of me I get all nostalgic because, oh man, did I ever love the first two films! I don’t dare talk about the film where he went to Hollywood because even as a kid I thought that was a stinker but seeing that we sort of getting a new adventure here, I was excited. It’s not exactly a sequel though as Paul Hogan plays himself in this and is reluctantly thrust back into the spotlight as he desperately attempts to restore his sullied reputation on the eve of being knighted. Unfortunately, self satire doesn’t work in this limp comedy and it gets so bad in parts that I almost wish I hadn’t had my initial burst of nostalgia that pused me to watch it in the first place. No matter if you put John Cleese, Chevy Chase or anyone else in comedy I loved, this just isn’t it. Learn from this but no reboots either, please. We can’t bear the thought of it.

San Francisco – Getting some of that A-list mid thirties Hollywood this week from Warner Archive as this musical romance is led by the top star of the time, Clark Gable, alongside Jeanette MacDonald, the star of the hit The Merry Widow, and another giant of the era, Spencer Tracy. The story follows a Barbary Coast saloonkeeper and a Nob Hill impresario who vie for the affections of a beautiful singer, both personally and professionally in 1906 San Francisco and the film already had MacDonald in place, going on her third lead film straight, riding on hits with both of them, and she insisted that it had to star Gable as well. On the other side of that, Clark Gable did not want to make the film but was at the mercy of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, who had just paid off one of Gable’s numerous lovers who was trying to make some money from his name. As you can see, it all worked out although the stars did not get along at all during filming and avoided each other completely off the set. Ah, classic Hollywood.

Baby Doll – This one intrigued me as soon as I received it and looked it up because it is one of the first restricted films ever made, a total game changer in mainstream film from master filmmaker Elia Kazan and it is the debut films for Eli Wallach and Rip Torn. The story comes from the mind of acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams, following Archie Lee Meighan, a middle-aged cotton gin owner who can hardly wait for the twentieth birthday of his childish bride Baby Doll so he’ll be finally allowed to consummate the marriage or so he thinks. Rival owner Silva Vaccaro has suspected Archie of burning his gin down and has taken it upon himself to create a long con in an erotic form of Sicilian vengeance. Starring Karl Malden and Carol Baker, who earned an Academy Award nomination for this, the film was a racy product of its time and definitely would not see a greenlight today. This movie still holds up as being integral cinema that pushed boundaries and paved the way for more bold films to come.

Mandabi – Criterion Collection hit my doorstep with another film I had not heard of before but one that is, again, very important to the grand umbrella that is cinema in its own unique way. Made in 1968 in France by way of Senegal, the film is about a money order sent from a relative in Paris that throws the life of a Senegalese family man out of order. Dealing with and distancing himself from the corruption and greed within his own problematic family members as well the locals around him, he begins to undergo a change from his traditional way of living to a more modern one. This is an interesting class system film in a time before we really started taking note of this microcosm of storytelling plus it’s a bold movie from the black community and shines the spotlight on a gifted filmmaker named Usman Semben who followed up his impressive debut Black Girl, also a Criterion title. I love this film education that I’ve been receiving through these and Warner’s titles. Absolutely incredible stuff.

Lovecraft Country: Season 1 – This was definitely one of the most anticipated new HBO shows of last year and it did its duty in delivering a product that is on par with the excitement we television fans had for the Watchmen limited series. Created by Jordan Peele and Underground creator Misha Green, the series follows a young African-American man who travels across the U.S. in the 1950s with his uncle and a close friend, who just might become something more, in search of his missing father but it’s definitely going to get way deeper and far sinister given that Lovecraft is in the title which usually means that it will be a continuing spiral of despair and suffering that leads to doom and death. So, yeah, not going to be bright and sunny but it has Birds Of Prey’s Jurnee Smollett Bell and The Last Black Man In San Francisco’s Jonathan Majors in it and episode one is a total doozy of a springboard into it as it gives the layout of America it resides in then throws monsters and blood and gore at you in copious buckets  Get on the train now for this because you will love it but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Harley Quinn: Season 1 & 2 – Kaley Cuoco is looking to shed that image of her as the blonde and sweet Penny that lived across the hall from the boys of Big Bang Theory and she’s doing it hugely as the bad insane villain sidekick turned good insane hero who really seems like the DC Comics version of Deadpool. Coming from the now recalibrated and shifted to HBO Max DC Universe streaming service, this comedic gem follows a newly single Harley Quinn who casts off the shackles of a toxic relationship with the Joker and joins her new best friend and fellow former Arkham Asylum inmate Poison Ivy as she sets off to make it on her own and create her own legacy in Gotham City. This show is hysterically funny with a punchy script that’s crass and biting, gratuitously violent action and voice performances from Cuoco, Alan Tudyk, Lake Bell and more that will have you on the floor laughing. This is a true gem of a show and I can’t wait for season three.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

The Silence Of The Lambs – One of the greatest thrillers of all time hits its thirtieth birthday this week and it is a great time to revel in how much of a masterpiece this film is and how it helped elevate talent that was already thriving for years and had the hottest lamps of stardom on it as it would later win five Academy Awards. For those living under a rock, the film is about a young F.B.I. cadet who must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims. Of course, those two main roles were played by odie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins who would win an Oscar for his portrayal of the now infamous Hannibal Lecter but it’s director Jonathan Demme who is the real star of this one, crafting a brilliantly deceptive film filled with chills, incredible and unforgettable shots and establishing one of the greatest characters of all time and setting an archetype for villains to come. This movie is still one of the best

Cache – Michael Hanake is a filmmaker who’s been acclaimed in the international cinema community for years but it was this film, celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this week, that put him on the map for me. A subtle and chilling Hitchcockian thriller, the film is set in France and follows Georges, a TV literary reviewer who lives in a small yet modern townhouse with his wife Ann, a publisher and his young son Pierrot. They begin to receive video tapes through the mailbox of their house and family, alongside obscure child-like drawings. They visit the police with the hope of aid to find the stalker, but as there is no direct threat, they refuse to help and, as the tapes become more personal, Georges takes it upon himself to figure out who is putting his family through such horror. Brilliantly filmed and fantastically acted by veteran French actors Daniel Autiel and Juliette Binoche, this movie floored me when I was back in my movie clerk days in the mid-2000s. This is must-see French cinema and there’s no better time than now.

The Witch – A press screening that left my jaw on the floor when the credits hit, this masterpiece and the debut film from writer and director Robert Eggers turns five this week and it remains one of the most audacious, chilling and gothic horror films in recent memory. The story follows a family, newly banished from their righteous pilgrim community, with the troubled patriarch, William, and his Puritan family setting out to make their new lives in a humble farmhouse on the outskirts of a thick and dark forest in mid-seventeenth-century New England. As the struggling family tries to settle in their new isolated homestead tragedy strikes when their infant child vanishes into thin air, and, shortly after, other unforeseen and disasters smite the God-fearing farmers. However, is this situation the result of a family on the brink of psychological breakdown, or is William’s first-born daughter, Thomasin, the root of all of their problems? Anya Taylor-Joy made her astounding lead role debut in this film with an incredible performance that has now led her to the limelight of audience favorite shows like The Queen’s Gambit but I implore people to check out where it all started. You won’t be disappointed.

Television:

The Crew (Netflix) – Well, Netflix did it. They commissioned Kevin James and his return to sitcom series making and maybe it was paired with the huge Adam Sandler deal that could be the reason we’ve seen more of him and David Spade on the streaming service but not being a fan of King Of Queens and Kevin Can Wait, I’m a bit leery of this one. The show follows the life in the garage of a NASCAR crew chief and his tight-knit racing team who’s usually lackadaisical way of life is thrown into upheaval when a new boss steps in and shakes things up. Besides James, the cast features the reliable veteran skills of Boston Legal actor Gary Anthony Williams and Freddie Stroma, who is hot off of the blindingly quick Netflix hit Bridgerton and I’d love to be proven wrong on this but the pairing of Kevin and NASCAR is a bit of a turn off for me.  

How To Catch A Serial Killer (Britbox) – Oh, yes. More creepy goodness for all of those true crime fans that savoured the Richard Ramirez Netflix docuseries were let down by the Cecil Hotel series and in desperate need of something all new. Well, this is your saviour from across the pond and it has two full seasons already in its rearview but keep in mind that the shows run for shorter seasons over there. This show, which ran as To Catch a Serial Killer with Trevor McDonald on British television, follows the knighted McDonald as he explores the extraordinary pursuit of serial killer Christopher Halliwell by detective Steve Fulcher complete with interviews, eye witness account and investigation documentation to back up the facts. Because only a small niche group of people have bought into the great streaming service of Britbox, not many people are going to know about this one but you can be ahead of the curve when it becomes massively popular and say stuff like “meh, I already saw that.” How cool would you be?

Behind Her Eyes (Netflix) – Looking for some of that melodramatic thriller to get you through the weekend? Well, this transplant from the United Kingdom should do the trick to distract and it has the beautiful Eve Hewson to lead it, who also happens to be the daughter of U2 frontman and humanitarian, Bono. Hewson stars as Louise, a single mom with a son and a part-time job in a psychiatrist’s office who begins a sleazy affair with her boss and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his wife which may or may not be part of her grand plan. The show may not look like much but it is the return of showrunner Steve Lightfoot who may have Netflix Marvel fans salivating because he was the guy that helmed the Jon Bernthal-led Punisher series which was a massive hit and one that I know a lot of people want back. Well, it’s not exactly Frank Castle dispatching bad guys but the writing might be on par here.

Amend: The Fight For America (Netflix) – With the need for a bigger spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement att a fever pitch because, let’s face it, people aren’t getting it, this is a really important docuseries aimed at, above everything, educating audiences in simple constitutional things that should be common knowledge. Presented by host Will Smith, this six episode series explores American history through a lens that will have its viewers questioning what an idea of a United States really means, how the history has shaped where we presently are and where we really need to be as a society but, of course, through a purely American filter. As a Canadian looking from the outside, there are definitely things that can be learned on this side of the border and this that definitely apply to us and for sure our indigenous population. This is a series of progression that needs to be looked at as a template for change rather than just some nice idea that the Netflix producers put out.

For All Mankind: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – We’re now continuing into the second year of the streaming service that Apple has created to compete with the big boys so in the sophomore roll out comes this second season of the NASA centric show that has actually gotten very good reviews and, a little caveat from me, I’m predestined to enjoy this show because it features a friend of mine, Nate Corddry. starring The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman and created by Battlestar Galactica’s reboot showrunner Ronald Moore, the series is set in an alternative 1969, as the world, and especially the United States, watch in shock as the Soviet Union successfully manages to land men on the Moon before the USA does. With that defeat, NASA is presented with a renewed challenge in the space race that they never expected to face and the cold war rivalry takes on a new intensity and grander ambition to reach far further than ever dreamed and with more diverse resources than ever before. I’m a real sucker for elseworlds or alternate history plots so this show really gripped me early on and the production and performance level is great, almost on par with big productions like HBO or BBC puts out. Now with two seasons available to check out, the time has never been better to grab this service and get going on the binge.

New Releases:

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, 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 most anticipated films of the first quarter of this year.

Barb & 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.

Fear Of Rain – For the second week in a row I’m talking about former Grey’s Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl and again it’s a role that she isn’t usually playing, which tells me that she’s really trying to go against her image type, a refreshing idea. She hits up the horror-thriller genre for a definite change in a story she plays the parent of a teenager named Rain, living with schizophrenia and struggling with terrifying hallucinations that are heightened as she begins to suspect her neighbour has kidnapped a child. When Rain insists against her parents’ advice that the shadows and cries from her neighbour’s attic aren’t real, she enlists help from Caleb, the charmingly awkward new kid at school who himself may not be real. The film is not just a genre shift for Heigl but for writer and director Castille London who usually makes family movies and takes a hard turn for this one. Looks promising.

The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things – It appears that actress Kathryn Newton really likes the stories with a crazy twist as just months after the Freaky Friday body swap fun that was the gory and awesome Freaky, she’s back in this new fantasy that has her doing the Groundhog Day thing. It all worked out great for Andy Samberg who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his day resetting comedy Palm Springs, and on Amazon Prime just like this one, so maybe lightning can strike twice. Newton stars opposite Kyle Allen, the lead in the upcoming Spielberg directed West Side Story in a film that tells the story of quick-witted teen Mark, contentedly living the same day in an endless loop whose world is turned upside-down when he meets mysterious Margaret also stuck in the time loop. They form a quick partnership and set out to find all the tiny things that make that one day perfect, hence, the title of the movie. The film comes from director Ian Samuels whose last film, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser starring tragically former Stranger Things star Shannon Purser, which is an underrated gem on Netflix. Hopefully, he continues the streak with this debut on Amazon Prime.

Saint Maud – Weeks after I got the pleasure to check it out, one of the boldest filmmaker debuts I have seen in horror in the last year lands and both writer and director Rose Glass and her lead star Morfydd Clark will be household names in the years to come. The film is an unsettling story that boils to bone-chilling fever pitches following Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse who becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul but sinister forces from within her, as well as her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy mission. This film is gorgeously shot by The End of the F***ing World cinematographer Ben Fordesman who seems to lead you down the path of Maud’s descent into the darkness of her own fevered devouring, catching you off guard many times. To describe this film is to ultimately experience it and I do believe that a film like this will eventually earn its place alongside classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Cowboys – I have a real soft spot for when comedic actors start to take on dramatic roles and while this is certainly not the first time that lead actor Steve Zahn has done this, his co-star in this new film Jillian Bell is just on the beginner’s path of it, doing the hybrid comedy-drama thing with one of her more recent films, Brittany Runs a Marathon. This film, the debut of a filmmaker with a bright future, writer and director Anna Kerrigan, follows Troy, a troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife Sally. Stunned by Sally’s refusal to let their trans son Joe live as his authentic self, Troy runs off with Joe into the Montana wilderness with a police detective hot on their trail but her resolve about the case is tested the more she learns about and sympathizes with Joe’s family. This film is incredibly shot by John Wakayama Carey, who previously shot the indie horror masterpiece Porno, and gives the film such a rich background for the phenomenal performances given by Zahn and Bell, as well as young actor Sasha Knight and veteran character actress Ann Dowd. This is another solid drama that people will slowly discover and love.

Skyfire – Ever been on a tropical vacation on a destination island in Asia when a volcano pops off and kills a bunch of people? Me neither but this new disaster action film puts you right in the crosshairs of Mother Nature’s rage and it is super entertaining if you can get past the bad dubbing, terrible script and cheezy melodrama. Produced by an all Chinese production company, crew and cast besides former Harry Potter series actor Jason Isaacs and Con Air director Simon West, the film follows Wentao Li, a geologist who vowed he would never return to Tianhuo Island after a catastrophic volcano eruption tragically killed his wife. But twenty years later, his daughter Meng continues his research work on the island that took her mother’s life, developing a brilliant eruption forecasting system that could save countless lives. The island has now been transformed into a thrill-seeking theme park by greedy businessman Jack Harris, played by Isaacs, despite Meng’s warnings and, unfortunately for our characters but awesomely fortunate for the viewer, she was right. Distraught over his daughter’s safety, Wentao lands on the island as the volcano begins to erupt and it’s a race against the clock to save his daughter and the tourists and villagers from the apocalyptic chaos. Look, this is a lot of dumb action and vapid characters getting picked off but I had so much fun in the ridiculousness that I can’t help but have a little soft spot for this movie.

Blu-Ray:

Freaky – When Christopher Landon hit his stride with audiences in the horror-comedy Happy Death Day I have to admit I was really not on board and, to be totally honest, I outright despised the film. Well, the sequel Happy Death Day 2U turned it around for me and now with this new film I see that those movies had to walk so Freaky could sprint because he has made a genre masterpiece here. In a Freaky Friday and horror mash-up, a teen girl finds herself body swapped with a vicious serial killer after he attempts to murder her with a cursed dagger and discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent. This is lead actress Kathrine Newton’s real coming-out party as an absolute star and Vince Vaughn, playing the unstoppable killer, has such an adorable nature to him when he’s portraying a teen girl. I absolutely adored this film from start to finish and know that it’s going to become a massive hit.

Greenland – It’s a double hit of frontier films this week and it is also a twofer of disaster movies but this one plays it a bit more earnestly, which was a complete shock for me as it is a reteaming of Gerard Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh whose last outing was the vapid action sequel Angel Has Fallen, a terrible movie in every sense so I really wasn’t expecting anything even passable as good. The story follows Butler as John Garrity who, with his estranged wife, played by Deadpool’s Morena Baccarin, and their young son, embarks on a perilous journey to find sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth. With terrifying accounts of cities getting levelled playing everywhere on the radio and televisions, the Garrity’s experience the best and worst in humanity as the countdown to the global apocalypse approaches zero. This movie definitely hits some dark and desperate places that given our present perceptions of how people behave during a global event like a pandemic, seems totally plausible making the film even more of a total downer, not that that’s a bad thing. The film is effective, engaging and puts you on the edge of your seat more than once.

Lost Girls And Love Hotels – Alexandra Daddario is either one of the hardest working actresses right now or she has a really diligent agent because she has been starring in multiple titles a year going back to 2013. She leads this new sexually charged and emotional drama, playing an American ex-pat named Margaret who finds herself in the glittering labyrinth of Tokyo by night and as a respected English teacher of a Japanese flight attendant academy by day. With little life direction, she searches for meaning with fellow ex-pat Ines, played by Game Of Thrones actress Carice Van Houten, in a Japanese dive bar, drinking to remember to forget and losing herself in love hotel encounters with men who satisfy a fleeting craving. When she crosses paths with Kazu, a dashing yakuza, she falls in love with him despite the danger and tradition that hinders their chances of being together. Daddario gives a stunner of a performance in this but the story is so slow and plodding that it feels painfully dull, even when there are large bursts of sexual energy this feeling is lost as is the sympathy for the main focus herself.

Sputnik – Usually when you get into a Russian genre film, whether it be a horror, sci-fi or action, they’re generally fast-paced with an “in your face” hyperactive presence to it but this new film gets broody, methodical and plays with a dark repose that’s really refreshing. Best of all, it’s a delicious little creature feature. The film is set at the height of the Cold War, after a Soviet spacecraft crash lands after a mission gone awry, leaving the commander as its only survivor. After a renowned Russian psychologist is brought in to evaluate the commander’s mental state, it becomes clear that something dangerous may have come back to Earth with him and is hell-bent on escaping the government facility and getting into the outside world. This movie is smart and cerebral and has a great effects team behind it with some killer and, in parts, unforgettable sequences of gore, a worthy addition to the space monster sub-genre. I loved this movie.

Wander Darkly – Having no knowledge of the plot of this movie, I really wasn’t expecting it to knock me on my ass as it did, nor did I expect to be so crazily engaged by it immediately. In a sort of dark and depressing version of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, the film follows a new mother played by Sienna Miller who is sent on a disorienting search through her memories after a horrific car accident with her husband, played by Diego Luna, at the wheel. Unknown if she survived the car wreck or is on her journey to the next plane of existence, she makes acknowledgements and emotional fixes in her psyche along the way. A bold and ambitious switch of filmmaking style from writer and director Tara Miele, I wasn’t prepared for how hard this film would hit and how dazzling its exposition was until the credits hit and I deemed this one of the best films that most people will sleep on. Don’t let this happen, watch it now.

The Right One – Well, there’s been a whole lot of darkness on this list so far this week so I think it’s about time that I brought in some more levity as it’s been a slog of emotional downers this week, not that I’m ragging on those because some of these titles are must-see. This one is a vapid little rom-com for you to rest your brain with and follows Sara, a novelist struggling with writer’s block and in desperate need of inspiration who finds it when she serendipitously meets Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck oddball that constantly changes personas and alter egos to cope with his past and avoid reality. Just as Godfrey begins to open up to Sara, he discovers that she’s been using him as inspiration for her next novel and he vanishes from her life leaving Sara to wonder if she just lost the man of her dreams or will she be able to find him and make things right. Starring The Last Man On Earth actress Cleopatra Coleman and comedian Nick Thune, the strengths are in veteran co-star David Koechner and stand-up comedian Iliza Schlesinger but the film rarely feels like its standing on its own and feels horribly contrived at times.

Jiang Ziya – Also known as Legend of Deification, this film is the new dazzling piece of animation from the international distributor Well Go USA and really is just for a niche audience, mostly the anime crowd and those who love stories entrenched in Chinese folklore. The plot follows the title character and top commander Jiang Ziya who is given the task to banish the Nine-tailed Fox Demon who threatens all mortals’ very existence right after he vanquished a huge foe in war. When he discovers the Nine-tailed Fox’s life linked to the soul of an innocent girl, he is faced with a challenging decision, if he should follow the will of heaven or find his own path to righteousness. The great thing about this movie is that I didn’t feel like I needed to be so fluent in Chinese history or the storytelling style as a large piece of it seemed to be easier to digest to bring it to a larger audience but the marketing isn’t geared to doing that. For many, this may be a Saturday afternoon discovery that you will feel the sole responsibility for because it seems no one is talking about it which is a shame as it is gorgeous as well.

A Tale Of Two Cities – Let’s get some of that classic film history into your bellies this week, thanks to the good people at Warner Archive, and this one has some deep gravitas to it as well as it comes from the works of Charles Dickens in one of his most iconic stories, aside from the two heavyweights like A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. The film adaptation follows a downtrodden lawyer named Sydney Carton who defends a French dissident, Charles Darnay, from charges of spying against England. Becoming enamoured of Darnay’s fiancée, Lucie Manette, he agrees to help her save Darnay from the guillotine when he is captured by Revolutionaries in Paris. Made in 1935, incredibly, this was the fourth film version of the novel, previously made in 1911, 1917 and 1922 but it was the most successful to that point as it was producer David O. Selznick’s last film for MGM because he was able to fund his own studio afterwards largely on the strength of this film’s box office receipts.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Ingagi – Watching the Shudder original documentary Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror last week actually gave me a good piece of insight into this movie, a new piece of Kino Lorber’s continued blu-ray series Forbidden Fruits. The story follows an expedition that enters an area of the Congo jungle to investigate reports of a gorilla-worshipping tribe and after many dangerous adventures, they come upon the tribe they sought, only to watch as a virgin is sacrificed to a huge gorilla, who takes her away. The expedition follows the gorilla in an attempt to save the woman in a movie that spawned a handful of other “gorilla-and-the-maiden films,” including possibly King Kong and perpetuated racist and colonialist notions of Africa. It wasn’t until the trope was taken back by a black filmmaker with the aptly named Son Of Ingagi in 1940, a decade after this film, that this movie was put through a new lens and cast the original one into obscurity until now.

Vigilante 4K – Nothing is more badass than a film led by the late and very great Robert Forster and very tough and very big man Fred Williamson, especially in 1982 when this film grace multiplexes everywhere. Being totally new to its gritty and violent charms, I immediately fell in love with this brand new 4K, directed by the legendary William Lustig, the mind behind two of the most iconic horrors of all time, Maniac and Maniac Cop. Really Death Wish like, the film follows a New York City factory worker who turns to the brutality of vigilantism to find some measure of bloody justice after his wife and son are beaten by thugs and a corrupt criminal justice system puts the perpetrators back on the street. This film is super grindhouse and really relies on Forster doing the heavy lifting but I found it super entertaining just for that reason. I like to imagine that this is one of the early paths of Jackie Brown’s Max Cherry but I’m a geek like that.

Tremors 4K – One of my childhood favourites of all time and something that traumatized me a little bit back in the day, this gloriously great underground sandworm thriller gets the hi-definition treatment thanks to those madmen at Arrow Video and I couldn’t be happier. Starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as, in my mind, the iconic duo of Valentine McKee and Earl Bass, the film follows citizens of a small isolated town defending themselves against strange underground creatures which are killing them one by one and it all leads to a fantastic scene with Family Ties’ Michael Gross and country star Reba McIntyre obliterating a worm with their huge arsenal in their basement which includes a frickin’ elephant gun. Oh man, this movie is so damn cool. I still love it with all my heart.

Red Cliff – The last amazing thing that legendary action director John Woo has done, this film brought the Boiling Point and Hard Target filmmaker home to China for a taste of Chinese history and epic storytelling. Told over two films, the story is set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, with shrewd Prime Minister Cao Cao convincing the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, himself and left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance. Numerous battles of strength and wit ensued, both on land and on water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff where, during the battle, two thousand ships were burned and the course of Chinese history was changed forever. The film is mesmerizing, with incredible cinematography from dual directors of photography Yue Lü and Yue Lü and breathtaking action choreography, there isn’t a single dull moment to be had, stretching across both parts. I’m such a fan of this one that I went and purchased it myself. It’s like my own version of the “Hair Club For Men”, I guess.

Television:

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Netflix) – Oh yes, there is more true crime documentary coming to Netflix in series form and it’s sure to bring them another hit show that will captivate subscribers without a doubt. Even better, this show also features a Vancouver local connection and one that I didn’t even remember until halfway through the first episode. A four-episode series, the focus is on Elisa Lam, a 21- Canadian tourist who stayed at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles in February 2013. Weeks later, after disappearing, her body was discovered in the hotel’s rooftop water tank but how the hell did it get there? Executive producer and director Joe Berlinger, the guy behind Netflix’s earlier chiller Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and the movie that followed with Zac Efron, we go piece by piece through the investigation that all started with a creepy elevator video that seems to have many clues hidden within its subtext and is the last known footage of Lam. I was captivated by the first episode which led to a quick binge of all four and I think many will do the same.

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

Clarice (CBS) – As I’m writing this, today marks the twentieth anniversary of when Ridley Scott made Hannibal and a day after this is posted it will be the thirtieth anniversary of The Silence Of The Lambs so I guess it’s the perfect time for a new Thomas Harris influenced project to get going, especially if we’re not getting more Hannibal the series, which is a damn shame. Pretty Little Liars actress Rebecca Breeds takes the title role in this new show which is a deep dive into the untold personal story of brilliant and vulnerable FBI Agent Clarice Starling as she returns to the field in 1993, one year after the events of “The Silence of the Lambs” and the closing of the Buffalo Bill serial murder case. The show comes from showrunners Alex Kurtzman, following up Picard, and Jenny Lumet, who actually wrote Silence director Jonathan Demme’s dram Rachel Gets Married, but the show is a bit of a misfire so far, even if the dark tone and esthetic is correct. I hope it improves as the ten-episode series progresses.

Diana: The Interview That Shocked the World (BritBox) – Now that we’ve all been sensationalized by the Diana Spencer season of The Crown on Netflix, we can now dig into the real woman and this interview that, as the title suggests, shook the world. Taken from a 1995 BBC Panorama sit down, Princess Diana got candid about her marriage to Prince Charles and life as a royal but now, twenty-five years later, this documentary looks at how this broadcasting event was orchestrated, what the interview revealed about modern society and new insights into the psychological portrait of Diana herself. As a person that’s interests got reinvigorated by Netflix, I found this film pretty fascinating and it’s totally understandable how some never lost their fever pitch for the Royals.

Helter Skelter: An American Myth (Hollywood Suite) – Let’s get serial killer creepy now, especially if you haven’t had enough while continuing on about the Cecil Hotel and we’re going to look at the ultimate murder influencer but not anyone that actually killed people themselves and, no, it’s not Donald Trump. Sad trombone. No, this brutal series is about Charles Manson and his horrific followers and how fifty years have passed since they committed their crimes and yet, the public remains truly in the dark about The Manson Family and their journey into the abyss. This docuseries features never-before-accessed interviews from former family members and journalists first on the scene and in the courtroom, weaving these original narratives with archival footage and newly-unearthed images and it is engrossing and brutally chilling the whole time. If you’ve read all the books and seen all the other documentaries, this show will still manage to shock and surprise you. Its such a well put together show.

New Releases:

Falling – Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut with this drama that he wrote and starred in as well, and I know awards season is going to be weird this year, but if both he and his other star Lance Henriksen aren’t even mentioned during it, well, that’s going to be a serious indictment on the industry. Henriksen plays Willis, a gruff and brutal father rapidly descending into dementia who moves from his rural farm to live with his gay son and his family in Los Angeles very much against his own wishes. From the get-go, nothing but hazy bile, vitriol and resentment come out of Willis’ mouth and it all takes out characters downhill as they just try to do what’s right for him as they put their lives on hold to figure out his situation, The film explores the deep commitment to family, for better and in this case for worse in an experience that largely feels stressful and uncomfortable but is some of the best character work I’ve seen this year. Bravo to Viggo in his first film and it was a nice touch to see a David Cronenberg cameo in this.

Malcolm & Marie – After seeing his film Assassination Nation and the incredible debut season of Euphoria on HBO I was really excited to see writer and director Sam Levinson’s new film come down the release schedule, a drama shot in black and white with the next serious A-list star, Tenet’s John David Washington, and the filmmaker’s television lead star Zendaya. Being the only two to appear on screen, the story follows a filmmaker who returns home with his girlfriend following a celebratory movie premiere and awaits what he hopes to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening immediately takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface and the subject matter of his film and it’s inspiration are at the forefront of he argument. Beautifully shot and exquisitely acted, the ultimate goal of the film felt missing to me as I got to the credits. Essentially, the film is two people gaslighting each other for over ninety minutes and the goal is pretty much unknown by the end which, to me, felt like it negated the reason the watch it. Ultimately, I walked away disappointed.

Rams – When I saw this movie pop up on my list of new releases, well, no easy way to say this but, I was pissed. The film is based on a really great Norweigan film and it always seems that American companies grab something great like say Force Majeure and turn it into easily digestible crap like the Will Ferrell comedy Downhill. Luckily, my fears were for naught and Australians remade this movie and put the very likeable Sam Neill and Aussie veteran Micahel Caton in the lead roles. The story follows two sheep farming brothers in the midst of a decades-long feud that comes to a head when disaster strikes their flocks. I will say that the original, Hrutar, is a much better film just because it struck while the iron was hot and this film feels like a straight rehash of that but if you haven’t seen this particular story yet then it all works in this rougher Australian sense. Neill and Caton carry this film on their shoulders and there is no limping on this, they are both so stellar in it.

Two Of Us – Some international flavour lands this week in the form of this romantic drama from France which also is the narrative feature debut of filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti who also co-wrote it as well. The film stars Rainer Werner Fassbinder protege Barbara Sukowa, Tell No One actress Martine Chevallier and absolute stunner Léa Drucker in a story about pensioners Nina and Madeleine who have hidden their deep and passionate love for many decades but their bond is put to the test when they are suddenly unable to move freely between each other’s apartments when Madeleine’s daughter moves in. The film has such a building resonance that feels incredibly tangible as the decade-old love story between these two women and the frustration of hiding their secret is apparent at every second. Intimately shot and beautifully acted, this movie was an absolute surprise to me this week.

A Glitch In The Matrix – Oh boy, time to terrify you with the underlying knowledge that it is possible that the reality you live in may not be real and that you might have the ability to be Neo and take on all of the Agent Smiths around. Sorry, just seeing if you were paying attention but this one does delve into the thoughts I’m sure we all have in that capacity. Coming from documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher, who already brought us the conspiracy film Room 237 about the supposed secrets contained in The Shining, this film tackles this question “are we living in a simulation?” with testimony, philosophical evidence and scientific explanation to make up his hypothesis. Ever since I saw The Matrix, ideas like this have been floating in my head so it’s so cool to see that Ascher really tackled it head-on and the results are very interesting. I know a lot of people will latch onto this one.

Blu-Ray:

Princess Of The Row – This is a film that really came out of nowhere and goes directly for the feelings right away and I definitely walked away with the name Van Maximilian Carlson in my mind as he makes his feature filmmaking debut here with a heartfelt coming-of-age drama amidst some very dark themes. The film is an inspiring tale of a runaway foster child who will stop at nothing to live with the only family she knows which is her homeless, mentally-ill veteran father who lives on the streets of LA’s skid row, played brilliantly by X-Men: First Class actor Edi Gathegi in a performance that needs to be seen to be believed. This is one of those indie films that will probably slide to the wayside until it is discovered in years on Netflix but I’m telling you now that this is a can’t miss film and the word of mouth will travel.

Let Him Go – Years after playing Ma and Pa Kent for Zack Snyder in his Superman film Man Of Steel, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane reteam for this noir feeling thriller that is a bit above the calibre of film that the trailer would lead you to believe it is. The film has them playing a retired sheriff and his wife who, following the loss of their son, leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living off the grid in the Dakotas. Both Lane and Costner give formidable performances but it is the small part that accomplished character actress Leslie Manville gives as the matriarch of the family in question that bolts you to the floor for her absolutely intense scenes. This is a taut and emotional slow bubbling thriller that keeps you engaged from start to finish.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run – Once again I get to talk about the famous sponge who lives under the sea as I really love to do and, hell, it isn’t even my birthday. Seriously, I absolutely adore this Nickelodeon creation of madness and am totally excited for the arrival of the third movie. The new film had Spongebob on the search for his pet snail Gary who has been kidnapped or, as he puts it, “snail napped”. Spongebob grabs his best friend Patrick and embarks on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home and eventually encounter a helping hand along the way in the form of a “sage” played by Keanu Reeves. This is definitely a movie that will appeal to a certain audience but for a parent like me, I buy it all, hook, line and sinker, but this is the first time I felt any sort of fatigue or diminishing returns from a SpongeBob movie. I definitely didn’t dislike it but my love for this one only hit a middle ground and I felt myself wanting more from it. They got three movie and over ten seasons in so I’d say that’s still a damn good run.

Wild Mountain Thyme – For all of those who loved movies like Circle Of Friends or, more recently but not recently, P.S. I Love You, they may take a look at this movie, see it’s an Irish romantic comedy and plunk in their dollars to VOD for a new Emily Blunt movie with the guy from the Fifty Shades trilogy. Well, the rude awakening comes when you hear Christopher Walken’s narration to open the film, in the worst faltering Irish accent you’ve ever heard. Seriously, coming from the writer of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley, I was expecting so much more from a film that follows headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon who has her heart set on winning her neighbour Anthony Reilly’s love. The problem is Anthony seems to have inherited a family curse and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer. Stung by his father Tony’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams in this film that feels ridiculous, contrived and totally offensive to anyone living in Ireland. Really, everyone should skip this one as a Christmas present to themselves.

The 2nd – This movie starts with the tickle and the slap as it stars Ryan Phillippe, an actor I generally enjoy and one who is currently enjoying a run on television in the network series Big Sky. The bad part comes when you see that his co-star is direct to video actor Casper Van Dien who hasn’t been the feature star of a good movie since Sleepy Hollow over twenty years ago and, yes, I’m skipping Alita: Battle Angel and Mortal Kombat: Legacy for effect. This film has Phillippe playing an Army Delta Force officer who is late picking up his son at college. Meanwhile, his son and a Supreme Court Justice’s daughter are the last there, as is a gang of terrorists who are there to abduct her and force her dad’s hand on a Second Amendment vote. All that said, go with your instinct that this movie is terrible because it really is. A lame attempt at trying to make a John McClane type ripoff, the film has zero originality and is boneheaded and hamfisted at the same time.

Breach – I always take a deep breath when it comes to reviewing Bruce Willis movies these days and definitely when it comes to direct to video titles he does because, unfortunately, he doesn’t really put that star quality into the ones he does for the big screen. Hell, he phones in those ones sometimes too. This story shoots John McClane into space, and follows a junior mechanic on the cusp of fatherhood aboard an interstellar ark to New Earth who must outwit a malevolent cosmic terror intent on using the spaceship as a weapon and slaughtering what’s left of humanity. Co-starring The Expanse’s Thomas Jane and G.I. Joe: TheRise Of Cobra’s Rachel Nichols, I feel like you know where I’m going to say in this review. Yes, I can not lie to you, the film is cheesy, unoriginal all looks like a bunch of people taking paycheque amongst unknown actors looking to make a mark in a production that will definitely not do that for them. I don’t understand why studios keep letting Willis fleece them. His agent must be really good.

Host – Months into the pandemic I said that I definitely did not want to see any COVID driven horror on my screen, a notion that just felt way too tacky to get behind but this film, released only a couple of months into it, gave me a bit of a pause because it takes something that is now very commonplace and used it so brilliantly in its divisiveness. Filmed over Zoom, the story follows six friends who hire a medium to hold a seance using the networking app during a lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong and things spiral out of control in a deadly way. I won’t get into the details but this film is effective in its scares, completely unpredictable in its plot and maybe enough to get your hair to stand on end. At just under an hour-long, this is that movie you use to actually freak out horror fans and a very smart way to take out the terrible situations and make something immensely cool out of it. Bravo to writer and director Rob Savage, you rocked this one.

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters – With a cast headlined by Diane Keaton, Jeremy Irons and former Lost star Maggie Grace, you would think a romantic comedy set at a wedding would be a slam dunk but adding in that this film was written and directed by Adam Sandler dude Dennis Dugan whose last four movies include both Grown Ups movies and Jack And Jill, well, the expectations lower. The film is a multi-story romantic comedy about the people who work on weddings to create the perfect day for a loving couple with their own lives and relationships being outlandish, odd, crazy and far from perfect. This film is a totally sloppy mess of bad writing, haphazard plotting and, well, other disasters making this a total slog to get through and even at only an hour and a half long my urge to yell at Diane Keaton until I’m hoarse came on very quickly into it. Also, she’s given up on having the costuming department dress her at this point, right?

Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror – I’m a real sucker for film documentaries and let’s get so specific about this, I’m talking documentaries about film and its cultural, pop culture and world issues that they touch on. This movie checks all of those boxes while adding an attuned perspective and comes at the most pivotal time with the Black Lives Matter movement making such a mark in 2020 and hopefully from here on out. In a nutshell, the documentary is a look at the history of black horror films and the role of African Americans in the film genre from the very beginning, highlighting the horrific star with Birth Of A Nation and digging through the pivotal films in that lineage like Night Of The Living Dead, Blackula, Candyman and Tales From The Hood, all the way up to modern masterpieces like Get Out and The Girl With All The Gifts. I was captivated throughout and could have sat through another hour of it, easily. It is that damn good.

The Casagrandes: Season 1 – Oh, Nickelodeon. Such a bottomless barrel of new ideas to beam into your kids minds and this new show landed last year to some solid reviews, on kids sites of course, ad has some great BIPOC representation as it is a Latino based story. The show is a spin-off of  the wildly successful animated show The Loud House and features Ronnie Anne Santiago, a girl who moves to the big city alongside her mother and older brother Bobby, where she meets her extended Hispanic family. The show features great voice actors like Carlos Alazraqui, Dee Bradley Baker and Alexa PenaVega and was created with Chris Savino, the guy behind Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Labratory, so he practically build the Cartoon Network himself, so it’s in good hands and, at the end of it all, it’s pretty well written and may actually get a chuckle out of you. The easy bar to clear is it being better than Paw Patrol and I can happily say that it is. Way better.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Epicentro – Yes, I’m starting the geek outs with an impactful documentary because what’s geekier than getting informed while you put something enjoyable in your eyeballs, right? Written and directed by Darwin’s Nightmare filmmaker Hubert Sauper, this film is an immersive and metaphorical portrait of post-colonial, “utopian” Cuba, where the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine still resonates. The incident that rocked the country really ended Spanish colonial dominance in the Americas and ushered in the era of the American Empire and at the same time and place, a powerful tool of conquest was born being cinema as propaganda. Narrated by young actress Oona Laurence, the film is fascinating as it rolls out the political myth-making that has been developed for years and kept the people oppressed by fear. This film is eye-opening and may give that frequent travellers on Cuban vacations some repose.

The Harvey Girls – Seven years after the iconic hot of The Wizard OF Oz, a film that still transcends the decades and is still a must-see piece of family-friendly cinema, Dorothy and the Scarecrow reunited for this western comedy musical headlined with the names Judy Garland and Ray Bolger. The story follows Susan Bradley, played by Garland, a mail-order bride on a trip west to unite with her suitor who meets a cheery crew of young women travelling out to open a “Harvey House” which is a restaurant at a remote whistle-stop. This was during the rough decline of Garland’s career as missed eleven days of shooting and was late forty times when she actually did show up and wasn’t keen on the western setting saying “This is a fine picture for me. I hate guns, and I’m scared to death of horses. When I even come near a bunch of horses, they nudge each other and say, ‘This is going to be fun.'”. Heck, even when she was declining into her worst behaviours she was still wildly entertaining as a human being.

Holiday Affair – Two of the greatest stars of the late forties Hollywood era, Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, came together for this Christmas time romantic comedy, a modest film that was not a success at the time, but due to the annual showings on Turner Classic Movies in recent years it has become something of a minor holiday classic now. Set just before Christmas, the story follows a department store clerk named Steve Mason who meets a big-spending customer named Connie Ennis who is really a commercial spy. He unmasks her but decides to let her go which gets him fired. They end up on a date, which doesn’t sit well with Connie’s steady suitor, Carl, but delights her son Timmy, who doesn’t want Carl for a step-dad and, of course, romantic complications follow. Tragically, the film did not do well at the box office, resulting in a loss of $300,000, which would be roughly over $3 million in today’s numbers, which probably led to a handful of bad Christmases that year.

Versus – Being a favourite in the genre of weird Japanese movies, I feel like the good people of Arrow Video have been dipping into reading excerpts from my dream journal because this two-disc collector’s edition is everything I could have contained in there and more. I’ll try to nutshell this synopsis but the film is set in the present day where a group of ruthless gangsters, an unknown woman and an escaped convict have met, unwittingly, in The Forest of Resurrection, the 444th portal to the other side. Their troubles start when those once killed and buried in the forest come back from the dead, with the assistance of the evil spirit that has also come back from ages past to claim his prize. What results is the final standoff between Light and Dark, where old Japanese Samurai mysticism meets the new world of the gangster and the gun in a gruesome, bloody and unforgettable fashion. This movie is a total experience and kind of feels like live-action anime in a way but one that I can get a toehold in and enjoy. This is deep genre stuff so proceed with caution.

Survivor Ballads: Three Films by Shohei Imamura – Speaking of not really accessible cinema, let us delve into this boxed set from acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura, a director whose oeuvre spanned almost four and a half decades with films that often dug beneath the surface of Japanese society to reveal a hidden cache of sensual and often irrational energy that lies beneath. This set showcases three of those films, The Ballad of Narayama from 1983, about an older woman who is getting close to the age of 70, a cut-off age where you have to climb a nearby mountain to die in a poor 19th-century rural Japanese village, Zegen from 1987, about a Japanese immigrant in 1901 Hong Kong wishes to become a simple shopkeeper, but fate intervenes send him on an adventure that brings fervent patriotism with greed and, finally, Black Rain from 1989, his most straight forward in the set, which is the story of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. There’s definitely some deep cinephile stuff here but those who love some complex Japanese films will love this one.

Television:

Firefly Lane (Netflix) – For many television viewers, this one is a double-edged sword as it features the incredibly likeable and Canadian former Scrubs star Sarah Chalke but also has former Grey’s Anatomy pariah and generally one-note actress Katherine Heigl in the opposite role. The great news is Heigl plays against type in this very friendship-centric new series and the two also share some great chemistry. The series is the story of Tully and Kate, two unlikely friends from their meeting as tweens in 1974 to the present. Kate, the introvert, and Tully, the coolest girl in school, form a bond that weathers every milestone in their lives, leading up to a tragedy in the present andwhen we start out with the characters Kate is going through a separation leading to a divorce and Tully is an Oprah like figure with a show rapidly descending into cheesy nothingness. The show is really intriguing but you have to get past the first episode which feels like it’s completely uneventful until the last scene.

The Pembrokeshire Murders (BritBox) – There’s honestly nothing better in the police procedurals than when the Brits get a hold of a juicy story for a little miniseries and this one checks all the right boxes and it is a breeze to watch through, only being three episodes long. The show stars the always great Luke Evans and follows him as newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins who decides to reopen two unsolved double murders from the 1980s that have cast a shadow over the work of his department’s work for a quarter of a century. The show was done under the eye of filmmaker Marc Evans who has a knack for really good drama, as evident in his Canadian production Snow Cake, he did in 2006 with Sigourney Weaver and the late great favourite Alan Rickman. This is a solidly made series that doesn’t skimp on the twists.

The Investigation (Crave) – HBO Max is going international with this brand new series that features a face familiar to those Game Of Thrones fans out there as Euron Greyjoy himself, Pilou Asbæk, leads this new six-episode show. A co-production between Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the show is based on a true story and follows Copenhagen Police’s Homicide unit, headed by the Head of Homicide, Jens Møller, as they try to solve the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. With the hope of being able to provide the prosecutor, played by Asbæk, some solid evidence to create a convincing case and give the relatives the certainty they deserve. While the show doesn’t get into the gory details of the real case, it decides to instead go into the details of the actual investigation without sensation, which plays exactly into the title and it is a very solid watch.

The Snoopy Show (AppleTV+) – There is a bittersweet notion to this all-new series being made as Peanuts creator Charles Schultz had stated that he didn’t want any more Peanuts cartoons being made after his death, but the Schultz family has now sold the rights to Apple for a newly commissioned series and technically it’s not Peanuts as the title just focuses on the beagle Snoopy himself, which I’m sure is to avoid legal litigation. The good news is that the six-episode series is really great, containing the same sweetheart that made these characters a hit that transcends generations. My little girl was completely new to these characters and burned through all the episodes in one sitting and was begging for more which made my heart absolutely sing. Consider the new generation onboard for more Peanuts and thank you Charles Schultz for this magic.

New Releases:

The Little Things – After testing out their new model of release in this pandemic era of big films, Warner Brothers rolls out the next film on their big slate for this year and it stars the money make and reliable face of one of the greatest actors today, Denzel Washington. 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, and this should tide us over from not seeing him take on James Bond in the now delayed again No Time To Die.

Palmer – Justin Timberlake makes his return to acting four years after his last time out for Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel and he brings the big emotion in a beautifully understated performance in this character-driven film. Directed by actor turned director Fisher Stevens in just his third narrative feature, the film has the mega popstar playing former high-school football star Eddie Palmer who went from hometown hero to convicted felon, earning himself twelve years in a state penitentiary. He returns home to Louisiana, where he moves back in with his grandmother who raised him, trying to keep his head down and rebuild a quiet life for himself but haunted by memories of his glory days and the suspicious eyes of his small-town community. Things become more complicated when she passes away and her hard-living neighbour disappears on a prolonged bender, leaving her precocious and unique 7-year-old son behind, often the target of bullying for his gender issues, and in Palmer’s reluctant care. This is a beautiful story of redemption and life rebirth that really puts Timberlake back on the map with a strong performance to start the year.

Penguin Bloom – Going into this based on a true story drama, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder because the premise felt really reminiscent of a mid-nineties family film like the Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin one Fly Away Home. I now will say that I was wrong and thoroughly enjoyed this film that stars Naomi Watts in her native Australia alongside former Walking Dead leading man Andrew Lincoln. The film tells the story of Sam Bloom, a mother whose world is turned upside down after a shocking, near-fatal accident leaves her paralyzed. She, her husband and their three young boys and her mother struggle to adjust to their new situation when an unlikely ally enters their world in the form of an injured baby magpie they name Penguin. The bird’s arrival is a welcome distraction for the Bloom family, eventually making a profound difference in Sam’s life, teaching her how to live again. The performances from Watts and Lincoln are fantastic but it’s this bird that makes the film absolutely must see and completely captivating. Is it weird that I want to nominate the bird for acting awards?

The Dig – Within minutes of this new British melodrama and I was totally hooked, a film that boasts fantastic performances from Carey Mulligan, to continue her roll off of Promising Young Woman, the always great Ralph Fiennes and the lovely Lily James. The cinematography is the second star of this movie, with its breathtaking scope, continuous movement and sun-streaked beauty, an accomplishment that I will probably bring up again and again throughout 2021. The underlying story is fascinating, based on a true story, about an English landowner in 1938 who hires an excavator and his team who discover a wooden ship from the Anglo Saxon era while digging up a burial ground on her estate. This is easily my number one movie this year and, yes, I’m aware of the hype I’m setting.

Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story – We’ve got a pretty comprehensive documentary about boxing great  Mike Tyson but, for the life of me, I can’t really think about any other high profile ones until this new film rolled around, outlining the life and career of Canadian and English legend Lennox Lewis, a three-time world heavyweight champion, a two-time lineal champion, and a total machine that remains the last heavyweight to hold the undisputed championship. Coming from the rookie directing duo of G.S. Koch and Rick Lazes, this is an inside look at the career of Lennox Lewis from his rough upbringing to the Olympics and the professional ranks where he established himself as one of the greats in the history of the sport. This film plumbs the depths of Lewis in both his professional life and personal life, a lot of which felt so unexpectedly intimate. This is really how you do a good portrait piece in documentary form.

Phobic – Everything you have irrational fears about is at the heart of this new indie mystery that completely caught me off guard and totally transfixed me for its entire eighty minute duration. Featuring a cast of actors that you won’t recognize and created by writer and director Bryce Clark, a filmmaker just landing now in his first feature film after making a cheesy romantic film with Mischa Barton nine years ago, everything about this was a surprise. The film follows Riley Sanders, a second-generation Salt Lake PD Homicide detective who strives to live up to her father’s reputation. A chance encounter with a masked man who uses a strobe light effect on her renders her catatonic and when she is revived, she is immediately put on leave but when she returns to work she starts to have a deep connection to the victims of a serial killer who is killing clinical phobics by restraining them and exposing them to their fears. As I said, this one was a surprise, very idiosyncratic in its approach and it does huge swerves to avoid the police procedural cliches. This one may fast rise as one of the top indie films of the first quarter of 2021.

The Queen of Black Magic – Shudder is bringing the newest of the streaming horror this week which must be a bummer for Shane. Sorry, my friend, with me in this seat we’ll always have a film of this genre to discuss. This film comes from Indonesia, an unexpected little hub of thrills and chills and seriously effective horror, this one delving into voodoo, witchcraft and the dark arts. This film is set at an orphanage and follows a series of different families who are tormented and tortured by an entity that has a grudge and was also born because of the sins of the orphans, known only as the Queen Of Black Magic. Her goal is their immediate demise in a film that is a plethora of stylish blood and gore with some well crafted moments of true chilling supernatural horror. This one might catch on, much like Host and Daniel Isn’t Real did for Shudder last year.

Blu-Ray:

Come Play – On the outside of this movie it may look like another creepy kid horror film but this one only features a kid as the main character but is more about a malevolent creature looking to steal said kid. The story follows Oliver, a lonely young boy who feels different from everyone else who’s only way to speak is through his smartphone. Desperate for a friend, he seeks solace and refuge in his ever-present cell phone and tablet but when a mysterious creature uses Oliver’s devices against him to break into our world, Oliver’s parents must fight to save their son from the monster beyond the screen. The story seems a bit hokey, based on a short film for the director Jacob Chase, but had the potential to be a really great thriller and makes pretty effective use of its material early on but a terrible script and, therefore, really bad acting constantly serve to take you completely out of the movie time and time again. I love both Gillian Jacobs and John Gallagher Jr. but can’t muster up a good thing to say about either of them in this, they’re just terrible.

Jiu-Jitsu – I can’t lie about this one because when I saw Nicolas Cage’s name attached to this, I got pretty excited in an ashamedly nerdy sort of way and it also has Ong Bak’s Tony Jaa, Frank Grillo in it. The secondary thing that got me is that Cage is a trained fighter who really doesn’t show off his moves too often unless it’s pacifying Vince Neil on the Vegas strip. The story sets up the cheese right away, following an ancient order of jiu-jitsu fighters who join forces to battle a vicious race of alien invaders against all the odds when their celebrated war hero goes down in defeat causing the fate of the planet and mankind to hang in the balance. That’s as far as my excitement went as this movie is purely just awful in every regard. The action is hokey, the story is horrendous and Cage plays a weird blend of the sage wisdom of Yoda and Dennis Hopper’s photographer character in Apocalypse Now. I couldn’t wait to shut off this movie but, for the good of you, my faithful viewer, I persevered until the end credits. My brain probably bled.

Batman: Soul Of The Dragon – For a few movies now the DC animated universe has matured into the R-rated landscape and has been telling stories for a more mature crowd, which makes sense because, well, we all grew up with the comics and need something a little more. This one is cool because it brings the character we know and love, the Caped Crusader and the world’s greatest detective and kind of throws him into some familiar tropes, especially if you love seventies kung fu movies. The story follows Batman, Bronze Tiger, Lady Shiva, and Richard Dragon as they are forced to join forces when they come to realize that they share a common acquaintance, a martial arts master that trained them who has been missing for many years and under mysterious circumstances. When a cursed relic resurfaces, the mystery of their presumed dead master re-opens and Batman and his former classmates must face-off in the ultimate test of their martial arts skills to gain control of this dangerous relic in a very Enter The Dragon sort of way. As a total nerd, I loved this. It’s Batman, there’s a crazy tournament and it has a classic style all over it. Enough said.

Born A Champion – Let’s get some action into this list for the week as this film throws away the guns and explosives of the genre and goes into the vein of mixed martial arts competition-style story which plays into my childhood of dedicating my eyes to the Best Of The Best movies. Starring former Young Indiana Jones and Boondock Saint Sean Patrick Flannery and Dennis Quaid, the story follows Mickey Kelley, a former Marine and one of the first American black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu who gets pulled away from everything he loves and into an unsanctioned mixed martial arts tournament. This movie has Bloodsport written all over it but nixes the corny nature that that movie is famous for an earnest underdog movie that does not skimp on the violence for a second. The battle damage of this movie is felt with every bruise, lump and laceration in a final result that won’t wow you but will entertain you.

The Ascent – Are you ready for me to geek out on my new Criterion Collection edition? Sorry, I’m not giving you a chance to answer because I just assume you said yes and this one is another intriguing selection that I had never heard of before. The film is Russian, made in 1977 by writer and director Larisa Shepitko in what would tragically be her final film and follows two Soviet partisans on a mission to gather food while contending with the winter cold, the occupying Germans, and their own psyches driving them mad. This film, with its harrowing nature, would pair brilliantly with the Russian war stunner Come And See which was just released on Criterion just a handful of months ago. This is another astounding film that this wonderful distributor has introduced me to and now I want to see all of Sheptiko’s other works.

The Pajama Game – Let’s go from the desolation of the war-stricken Russian landscape of film seen above and get into the light and fun titles of Warner Archive which, this week, has a bunch of new ones to share, starting with this sweetheart collaboration between star Doris Day and celebrated director Stanley Donen. The story follows an Iowa pajama factory worker who falls in love with an affable superintendent that had been hired by the factory’s boss to help oppose the workers’ demand for a pay raise which was a whole whopping seven and a half cents. Those were the days, right? The film was made in 1957 which was just three years after the main Broadway show debuted starring Carol Haney who featured in the adaptation as well, the only film where she actually spoke in it and didn’t just dance. It was also reported that Marlon Brando was wanted for this one but declined because, well, he was Brando. It was also the year he did Sayonara, which won four Oscars but not one for him.

Room For One More – Now let’s dial the clock back five years and throw the incredibly likeable star Cary Grant into a classic comedy, a genre that he excelled at. The film came from Academy Award-winning Skippy director Norman Taurog and has Grant and co-star Betty Drake as New Jersey couple Anna and Poppy Rose who adopt several kids born into less fortunate circumstances, including a desperately unhappy 13-year-old girl and a physically handicapped boy with a penchant for getting into serious trouble. Grant and Drake were married to each other when they made this film and their chemistry really shows through in this and really made me think about the recent Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne comedy Instant Family which seemed like a modern version of it.

After The Thin Man – New on Blu-ray this week for Warner Archive is this kicking off of a franchise way back in the mid-thirties as William Powell and Myrna Loy returned for the first of five follow-ups to the massively popular murder caper comedy The Thin Man. The film has the duo heading back to their San Francisco home after the events of the first film only to have themselves thrown right back into business with Nick investigating the case of a missing man and later a murder that is connected to Nora’s family. This is widely regarded to be the best film of all of the Thin Man follow-ups and is pretty slickly written and was nominated for an Academy Award, ultimately losing to The Story of Louis Pasteur which took three Oscars that year.

Good News – Let’s speed a decade later for this blu-ray update of a romantic comedy musical classic starring June Allyson, an American leading lady whose sweet smile and sunny disposition made her the prototypical girl-next-door of American movies of the 1940s. This one plays into her strengths as she steps into the role of co-ed and school librarian Connie Lane who falls for football hero Tommy Marlowe but, unfortunately, he has his eye on a gold-digging vamp named Pat McClellan. Tommy’s grades then start to slip, which keeps him from playing in the big game, and Connie eventually finds out Tommy really loves her and devises a plan to win him back and to get him back on the field. Lots of spoiler territory there, which is weird for me to divulge, but I feel like the statute of limitations is up on this one and you need all of that preamble for the setup. It should be noted that Allyson had always considered this film one of her three favourites in her career and it was a sizable box office hit at the time too.

Southland Tales – I feel like I’ve been waiting since the mid-2000s for a definitive version of this Richard Kelly science fiction mind twister that I absolutely consider a total masterpiece and now Arrow Video has completely answered my dreams. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble which included Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake, Jon Lovitz and a small but pivotal cameo from Kevin Smith, this movie was everything to me when it came out. In as compact a nutshell as I can get it, the film is set during a three-day heatwave just before a huge Fourth of July celebration and follows an action star stricken with amnesia who meets up with a porn star who is developing her own reality TV project, and a policeman who holds the key to a vast conspiracy and complete world-ending chaos ensues with doppelgangers, gratuitous murder and more insanity than you knew was possible. This edition features multiple cuts of the film and behind the scenes of a film that never got it’s due with the man himself to explain his vision. This blu-ray is amazing.

You: Season 2 – This creeper thriller gets a new entry as Penn Badgley reprises his role as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who you hate but can’t keep your eye off of. Now the question of season two is “How much further can Joe go for his version of love?” and according to the star, this season was tough to pull off without repeating themselves, and it’s a character he really has a hard time playing as he is so massively unlikeable. Who knows? Maybe this is the season that fails to connect with the massive audience the first pulled in. I love that they added a new foil to offset Joe’s proclivities and challenge him at every step and she’s played brilliantly by Victoria Pedretti who totally broke my heart in The Haunting Of Hill House. How and why? Those are spoilers, my friend!

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:

Black Gravel – Thanks to great people at Kino Lorber, I was introduced to this German drama from the early sixties that delved into a horrible history the country has to live with and most notably in the time after the war that they lost. In this gripping Cold War noir, tensions boil over between residents of a small German village and the soldiers of a U.S. military base as postwar economic hardship has turned the town of Sohnen into a vice district where the women serve as entertainment for the GIs and the men struggle for survival in the black market, a complete turning of the tide from when Germany thought the had the upper hand in the war. The film is deeply engrossing and equally affecting which begs the question of why it was so buried and only getting a release now. It’s such a dark depiction of the US soldiers, largely thought of as heroes when the war was won to become monsters themselves in their victory. Some very interesting history on film here.

Mister Roberts – A late arrival on my doorstep from last month, I knew this would be perfect for my geek outs because it features four golden era film actors who had a command of the era and were names that drew box office no matter what the genre was and those heavyweights were Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell and Jack Lemmon. Made in 1955, the story is set in the waning days of World War II and follows the United States Navy cargo ship Reluctant and her crew who are stationed in the “backwater” areas of the Pacific Ocean and trouble and complete hijinks ensue when the crew members are granted liberty in what is kind of considered a screwball comedy, which is tonally weird given that its kind of a war story. The film was a huge hit and even earned an Academy Award for Best Actor Jack Lemmon but lost out on Best Picture. It should also be noted that three different directors worked on this, the legendary John Ford after The Long Gray Line, Mervyn LeRoy after Strange Lady in Town and an uncredited Joshua Logan after his debut I Met My Love Again. To me, that’s almost an embarrassment of riches.

The Curse Of Frankenstein – I absolutely love original monster horror and this one checks all the right boxes, starting with Peter Cushing absolutely delivering as the infamous Victor Frankenstein and a cinema god among men, Christopher Lee as his monster, which adds another notch of status because he played Dracula as well. The film has Baron Victor Frankenstein awaiting his appointment with the executioner and, to pass the time, spinning the yarn of a creature he built and brought to life, only for it to behave not as he intended, a story we know all too well. The friendship that was formed between Cushing and Lee is my favourite thing to come from this because, although they had appeared in Hamlet in 1948  and Moulin Rouge in 1952, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing met on the set of this film for the very first time. They would pass the time between shots by exchanging Looney Tunes phrases and quickly developed a fast friendship, which lasted until Cushing died in 1994. I adore the stories of old Hollywood horror and this one hits that spot beautifully.

Cinema Paradiso 4K – Largely regarded as one of the best pieces of international cinema in the last thirty-five years, it has been a long time coming for this late eighties Italian film to get a high def update and Arrow Academy is giving it the best treatment possible with a 4K edition. A very autobiographical story from writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the film centers around a story from a filmmaker who recalls his childhood when falling in love with the pictures at the cinema of his home village, forming a deep friendship with the cinema’s projectionist. I didn’t really discover this one for myself until I started working at a video store and started going through all the films in the foreign section and found myself renting and watching this movie over and over again, pulling something new from it every time and with this brand new 4K transition and all-new special features, Arrow has given a new treasure trove for cinephiles to paw through.

Television:

Snowpiercer: Season 2 (Netflix) – Adapted from Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho’s mind-boggling sci-fi thriller, his English language debut, I would usually start my write up on this by saying how disappointing it is that Americans have to pounce on popular foreign properties but this one is different and the first season immediately put my foot in my mouth where it belonged. With Bong on board as executive producer along with fellow Korean film master Park Chan Wook and horror director Scott Derrickson, this show has the immediate source material love and care I wanted for it and it shines, especially with Blindspotting’s Daveed Diggs as the lead, one of the best actors working today. For those who don’t know, the show is a post-fall of humanity story about a divided remainder of people, either the poor or the elite, that live on a train that constantly zooms around the frozen landscape of Earth. With Jennifer Connolly playing the opposition in this show, it can only get better. Like last season, the show will be updated weekly by Netflix every week much as they did with The 100 and currently do with Riverdale.

Red Dwarf (BritBox) – Being a kid that was raised on British comedies, the fact that it has taken this long for one of the funniest science fiction series ever made to make it to a streaming service for the binge is flabbergasting but Lister, Rimmer, Kryton, Cat and Holly are available thanks to the niche service of BritBox. If you know about this series, you are a fan but for those who don’t, it follows an unambitious slob from Liverpool who has been awakened from a high-tech stasis chamber three million years in the future to find he may be one of the last humans alive. Hopelessly lost in space, this crew of mostly sad-act bachelors kill time and share adventure aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf and it is glorious every episode and, yes, I have my favourite episodes that we can trade lines from to an annoying degree on Twitter.

Resident Alien (CTV Sci-Fi) – Being a big comic nerd, I’ve been following this Dark Horse comic book ever since it started in April of 2012 from creators Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, the writer and artist respectively. The story follows a crash-landed alien named Harry who takes on the identity of a small-town Colorado doctor and slowly begins to wrestle with the moral dilemma of his secret mission on Earth, a delightful and quirky tale that hinges on the perfect person to play the lead role and they found it with former Firefly star and hysterically funny actor Alan Tudyk, which immediately makes this comedy a must-see endeavour. There is so much source material to pull from and I hope that Syfy has managed to net itself another hit series on par with Eureka, Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse. My fingers are crossed for season two and I haven’t even seen episode one yet.

New Releases:

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.

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.

Cactus Jack – With Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration being this week and white nationalism being so prevalent and blatantly in front of us right now, it feels like this film may be very on the nose right now, which could be a bad thing or a good thing. The film follows an amateur documentarian who sets out to make a film about a man who hasn’t left his mother’s basement in six months when he discovers the recluse is in fact a vile doomsday hatemonger. The tables are turned when the maniac snaps, imprisons him and takes control of the cameras to start a vitriolic, venomous podcast, making enemies far and wide and promising violent retribution. This all feels dangerously familiar right now and the chilling nature of the film is gripping and totally unrelenting. It doesn’t feature any actors you know or a director of note but it definitely will make some waves so get on it now.

Make Up – This sleeper indie film has been slated three different times for release in the fourth quarter of last year and now arrives in it’s VOD release which is pretty disappointing that it doesn’t have more fanfare because it is really good and a strong female led story. Starring Molly Windsor from the BBC miniseries Three Girls, Game Of Thrones actor Joseph Quinn and newcomer Stefanie Martini, the film follows a young woman on holiday at a remote park in Cornwal who is drawn into a mysterious obsession that spirals out of control when she suspects her boyfriend has cheated on her. This movie wears it’s paranoia on it’s sleeve and draws you into it with it’s relentless eeriness and its all in the perfect storm of Windsor’s performance and the brilliant story command from writer and director Claire Oaley who makes her astounding debut here into feature film. This is a movie to take note of and be ahead of the mainstream curve.

Blu-Ray:

Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslett and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and I was just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. Francis Lee, the acclaimed writer and director of a total festival favourite God’s Own Country from a few years back, returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to recover from her “slight bit of melancholia” by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favourite films of last year and , while it doesn’t quite hit that level of amazing, it is a beautifully shot film, done by Jackie and Captain Fantastic cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, and Winslet and Ronan are incredible in their very subdued performances.

The Climb – There’s no better way to enter this movie than to have no idea at all about the premise but it just might be the funniest movie of the year in my mind. Written by, directed by and starring Michael Angelo Covino, the simplest way I can safely describe this movie is that it is a look at the friendship between two guys that spans over many years. Over that time span the ups and downs between an emotional screwed up and self-destructive douchebag and the most continually accepting human beings on film. This movie caught me completely off guard and sucked me in from the get-go and it’s technical prowess immediately becomes another one of its strengths as the use of one take elaborate doll shots to make it a goldmine for cinematography fans. A film that has no huge stars or clout, this one will most likely slip under the radar but do not let it, you will thank me later.

Come Away – Peter Pan seems to be the story that Hollywood loves to pull from where it be the iconic tale you know, a prequel, reimagining or even a story about author J.M. Barrie himself. This version follows eight-year-old Alice, her mischievous brother Peter and their smart older sibling David who let their imaginations run wild during a summer in the English countryside. Encouraged by their parents the kids’ make-believe tea parties, sword fights and pirate ship adventures come to an abrupt end when tragedy strikes, forcing the kids deeper into their imaginary worlds. The cast is solid with the parents played by David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie in a rare acting performance but it feels like a bit of a half baked idea that can get a bit convoluted.

Miss Juneteenth – A highly touted film in black cinema right now, I was really excited to get my hands on this movie with lead actress Nicole Beharie making some serious waves in the indie film world and already a fan favourite in the television world with the series Sleepy Hollow. This film takes a deep dive into generational expectation as it follows a former beauty queen and single mom who obsessively prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant, an accomplishment that would validate her own life. The plight and story are very interesting but I feel like the dialogue and terrible music choices hamper this film at every turn and even make the editing feel confusing and stilting the whole approach. Maybe I over-thought this one but it just didn’t meet the expectations I had for it.

The Kid Detective – Usually a comedy favourite of mine, actor Adam Brody seriously brings it in a dramatic performance that hangs it’s hat on the detective noir style storytelling and does it so well in the feature debut of writer and director Evan Morgan, known for co-writing the sleeper comedy The Dirties. Brody plays Abe Applebaum, a once-celebrated kid detective, now 32 years old and continuing to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. His world may turn around when a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend which may end up tying in with a kidnapping case that has dogged him since he was a kid. The movie is so impeccably shot and the noir nature of the film is brilliantly executed with Brody giving the performance of a lifetime. The final shot of this film is a brilliant mix of triumph and sorrow that will stick with me for weeks.

Max Cloud – Eighties homages are my total bread and butter, as I adore Stranger Things and Turbo Kid has its own bean bag chair to rest on comfortably in my heart, so this is why I was really gung-ho about this new sci-fi homage that combines the synthy style that many from that generation would love to forget and props it up on classic video gaming too. Also known as The Intergalactic Adventures Of Max Cloud, this follows a video game enthusiast named Sarah who is transported into her favourite game and finds herself in an intergalactic prison, home to the most dangerous villains in the galaxy. The only way to escape the game is to complete it by teaming up with space hero and intergalactic misogynist Max Cloud with Sarah battling the terrifying planet while her best friend, Cowboy, controls the game from her bedroom in Brooklyn. I wanted to love this movie so much and it is admirably made on a micro-budget but it has so much dumb stuff that constantly drags it down and makes it too goofy to even get behind. Maybe I hyped it up too much.

Spiral – Alright all of you sensitive types out there, time to head back to the mystery horror bucket for this new release so maybe shield your eyes for it. The film follows a same-sex couple who move to a small town to enjoy a better quality of life and raise their daughter with strong social values but when the neighbors throw a very strange party, nothing is as it seems in their picturesque neighborhood as the reality of their new surroundings start to come to light. The film doesn’t come from a known filmmaker or feature any well known stars, unless you enjoy spotting Canadian actors like Lochlyn Munro, but the story is pretty gripping and reminded me a bit of the thriller The Invitation, which can be found on Netflix. Spiral manages to keep a good edge of tension running the whole time which make the reveals of the mystery that much more hard hitting. You won’t find a huge buzz about this film anywhere but I definitely was pleasantly surprised.

Wander – I didn’t notice this until someone pointed it out on my Instagram but with the main billed actors being Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones it actually makes this the first film to feature two Two-Faces. Pivoting off my Batman geeking, this is a pretty compelling mystery filled with paranoia as it has Eckhart playing a mentally unstable private investigator who gets hired to probe a suspicious death in the small town of Wander and becomes convinced the case is linked to the same ‘conspiracy cover up’ that caused the death of his daughter. Eckhart is relishing this role and delivers it with such great power but the sound mix was so bad that it felt like dialogue was being consistently drowned out and muffled, a totally frustrating experience. The mystery is there and the film is shot with a horror film like franticness but it kind of shot itself in the foot.

Dreamland – Margot Robbie is really on track to win herself an Oscar pretty soon. Yes, she still affords herself time to get silly and step back into the role of Harley Quinn continually, something she was destined to do, but her dramatic work is so good and, with this film, it’s the thing that holds it together. This film is a love story set amidst America’s struggle during the Great Depression following Eugene, a teen who dreams of escaping his small Texas town when he discovers a wounded, fugitive bank robber, played by Margot Robbie. Torn between claiming the bounty for her capture and his growing attraction to the seductive criminal, Eugene must make a decision that will forever affect the lives of everyone he’s ever loved and also forge his own path away from dust storms, a domineering stepfather and general hopelessness. Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders plays the male lead opposite Robbie and does a fine job in a film that only seems to aim for the middle ground, beautifully shot but dragged down by one of the worst scores I’ve heard in a while.

Hearts And Bones – Hugo Weaving is one of those actors who people know well, sometimes solely for his performance as Agent Smith from The Matrix and Elrond from Lord Of The Rings, but cinephiles know the great body of work this Australian character actor commands. This film was made in his native Australia and plays a war photographer preparing an exhibition of his work from the world’s war zones who is approached by a man asking him to exclude the photos of a massacre in his village. Weaving delivers as expected in this film but it’s South Sudanese actor Andrew Luri who is the standout, giving Sebastian such a rich performance full of nuance that is the heart beat against this impactful story. Great direction from British director Ben Lawrence in his narrative debut.

Always And Forever – We get a double dose of black cinema this week, although this one plays more into the genre side of filmmaking and it is a definite shift for director Chris Stokes who previously did, well, mostly dance movies like You Got Served. The film follows a group of friends reunited by a tragedy who each find themselves in danger, targeted by a deranged stalker. With a terrible secret that they hold together threatened to be exposed, each of these players have more at stake than just death at the hands of blah, blah, I got seriously bored reading that and seeing the movie because it all feels done before. The acting is mediocre, aside from The Wire alumni Wood Harris showing up to make everyone look bad and I wish there had been more follow through and less predictability. Don’t be afraid of bloody kills in movie like this too, spice it up, people!

Toys Of Terror – You know, I should have known this movie was going to be a total crapfest as soon as I opened the package that was sent to me and saw this goofy looking cover that was reminiscent of the Tales Of Terror cover from the seventies with the creepy tribal doll on the poster but I noticed that Dana Gould wrote it and he is a brilliant stand up comedian who also created the great horror comedy series Stan Versus Evil with John C. McGinley. For this film he gets Christmassy with his scares, the film follows young Zoe, her brother Franklin and their family who move into a secluded mansion with a dark past. With the adults preoccupied with renovating the place, the bored kids find a toy chest hidden in the attic, and are delighted when the toys inside magically come to life but bizarre events soon begin to take place and events happen that increasingly threaten the family’s lives, exposing the toys as the evil creatures they are. I gave a way bigger synopsis than this movie deserves as it was compete garbage and a waste of time that has special effects that would have been embarrassing even if they were used in Jason And The Argonauts in the early eighties. I was disappointed that this isn’t even a fun kind of campy.

Martin Eden – It was kind of a solid year for Italian actor Luca Marinelli as he got some mainstream exposure playing on of the main heroes in the Charlize Theron action flick The Old Guard on Netfllx and this politically charged drama based on the work of legendary author Jack London and is getting rave reviews for it. The film has him in the titular role, a man who struggles to rise above his destitute, proletarian circumstances through an intense and passionate pursuit of self-education as he hopes to achieve a place among the literary elite. This is the film that heavily being touted as the next winner of the Best Foreign Academy Award, a complex film that delivers on great performances and a definitive piece of international cinema to start off the year.

Joint Security Area – I was just asking for some of South Korean director Park Chan Wook’s fims to be made into a blu-ray special edition or a Criterion Collection entry and Arrow has seemed to have heard my call through the ether as they have picked this film out of his filmography and it is definitely one of the more straight forward ones he did. The film is set in the DMZ separating North and South Korea just after two North Korean soldiers have been killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. The mounting evidence compiled by the investigating Swiss and Swedish team from the neutral countries overseeing the DMZ suspects that another, unknown party was involved, pointing to some sort of cover up meant to ignite a possible war. The film is slick and stylish and shows off that Park’s style can fit many different genre shifts. It also looks gorgeous in the hi-definition.

Scooby-Doo! And Guess Who?: Season 1 – Scooby-Doo gets some reinvention in this brand new series but with some of the tested and true pieces sticking around with Matthew Lillard continuing to be the best Shaggy ever since Casey Kasem retired, and Grey Griffin and Frank Welker keeping up their duties as Fred and Daphne and a perfectly cast Kate Miccucci voicing Velma. The show has a different guest star every week which ranges from Batman himself, voiced by the best Batman Kevin Conroy, Sia, Weird Al Yankovic and even the late Alex Trebek. This is a great new revival of classic characters and the love for the source material shows.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Three Films by Luis Buñuel – Let’s get artsy this week in this section, shall we? I have to admit, the works of Luis Buñuel have been a cinema blindspot to me but now that Criterion has released this beautiful new collection I feel totally enlightened. Featuring three of his most iconic works, this is a treasure trove of great content starting with The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, a surreal, virtually plotless series of dreams centred around six middle-class people and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together. Then you move on to The Phantom Of Liberty, another series of surreal sequences that critique morality and society in a stream of consciousness style moving into the finale, That Obscure Object of Desire which follows the romantic perils of Mathieu recounted in flashback, a middle-aged French sophisticate who falls for his nineteen-year-old former chambermaid Conchita. This set won’t be for everyone but the film nerd in me was captivated and then kicked myself for not getting into this sooner.

He Came From The Swamp: The William Grefe Collection – It’s all about film collections this week for active geeking as this new set hit my doorstep and contains a campy madman with a love for killer sharks, human jellyfish and living mummies, the one and only William Grefe. This collection features seven films with Sting of Death about a deformed man working for a marine biologist who takes revenge on the people that mock him by experimenting with a deadly jellyfish, Death Curse of Tartu about a group of student archaeologists who venture into the Florida Everglades to look for fossils but come across an area cursed by a Native American witch doctor, The Hooked Generation about a gang of dope peddlers who sail out to meet a Cuban boat and are forced to throw their narcotics overboard and are seen by a young couple, The Psychedelic Priest, filmed in 1971 but not released until 2001, about a priest who sheds his habit and heads on a road trip that will change his life, The Naked Zoo about a frustrated and seductive matron who lives in Miami with her wheelchair-bound, wealthy husband who is discovered to be having an affair with a young author and murder ensues, Mako: Jaws of Death about a man who meets a Filipino shaman who gives him a medallion that helps him develop a telepathic rapport with Mako sharks and finally Whiskey Mountain about four motorcyclists who arrived at the titular place for a treasure hunt but are then terrorized in the woods by a gang of murderous hillbilly drug dealers. It’s all great campy fun that is great for insane genre fans like myself.

The 100: The Final Season – Shot in the beautiful forests of British Columbia for seven fantastic seasons, this post-apocalyptic and completely unpredictable adventure action series draws to a close and I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed its run ever since that explosive first season. There is already a prequel series planned to go ahead next year but this has definitely been a rise in notoriety for showrunner and creator Jason Rothenberg who is undoubtedly on The CW’s fast track to make any series he wants along with the Arrowverse’s Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim. I feel like The CW doesn’t get a lot of the praise it should as more of the successful shows are seen on this network and the burnt-out procedurals that seem like a carbon copy of all those that have come before it air on networks like CBS and ABC. Is the CW the only one taking chances besides cable and streaming services?

Young Man With A Horn – With Kirk Douglas only passing away just over a year ago and at the age of over a century, I always feel like I’m getting a piece of Hollywood classic gold everytime I get one of his movies and this one is one of those memorable gems in a long career and features a great group of performances around him. In the film he plays a young trumpet player who is torn between an honest singer and a manipulative heiress as he rises to stardom. The film, made in 1950, also plays at musicians delving into controversial subject matter in their work and was definitely forward thinking for it’s time.It also should be noted that this film was directed by Oscar winner Michael Curtiz who did Casablanca and would go on to do White Christmas a few years after this one. 

The Craft: Legacy – Sequels or reboots two decades or more after the originals, it’s a very touch and go thing. It can either work or make you wonder why they even tried in the first place and the latter is what you may be thinking about this one but the easy answer is that it wasn’t made for the original fans or that age demographic but instead made for a younger audience to latch onto it and make witch covens of their own. Yes, it’s 1996 all over again. For this film debuting director Zoe Lister-Jones creates a very familiar but updated story following an eclectic foursome of aspiring teenage witches who get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers and everything is going pretty well for the most part until a mess that is the third act comes along to fudge everything that preceded it. This film feels like a hurricane of studio notes and edits and a rushed post-production and it really robs the viewer of a film that had potential. I can’t believe I’m half praising this but here we are.

Television:

Fate: The Winx Saga (Netflix) – This is such a weird one because this new series is based on a Nickoldeon show Winx Club that is geared for kids but this series is meant for a mature audience. I don’t know who the series is made for if no adult really is in the original demographic of this so I guess you could call it a Netflix risk. The story follows Bloom, a fairy who is adjusting to life attending Alfea, a magical boarding school in the Otherworld, where she must learn to control her dangerous magical powers and defend from the monsters that threaten their very existence. The show comes from one of the showrunners behind The Vampire Diaries so expect that CW like storytelling form this one but with a bit more room for the story to breathe due to the freedom that being on Netflix allows.

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

Losing Alice (AppleTV+) – Of the dog crap that was the evolving piece of the Justice League that we saw on the big screen known as Zack Snyder’sMan Of Steel, one of the glowing strands of gold within it was the Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer who showed up again in Marvel’s Netflix series Daredevil playing the formidable villain Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk’s wife Vanessa. Now AppleTV+ has nabbed her for this new episodic thriller and it just sounds awesome. In it she plays Alice, an ambitious film director in her late forties who becomes dangerously obsessed with Sophie, a mid twenties femme fatale style screenwriter and things start to spiral out of control in a total Faustian sort of way, as this is where the original story comes from. Series creator Sigal Avin creates a complex and very cinematic approach to this steamy thriller and it’s pretty impressive given that this is basically their proving ground.

New Releases:

One Night In Miami – On an incredibly hot streak already after an Academy Award win for If Beale Street Could Talk and her incredible performance in the HBO limited series Watchman, I’ll watch anything that Regina King does and it just happens that her directorial debut here arrives this week. The film features real life people but is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. In these pivotal roles are a handful of up and coming actors with Canadian actor Eli Goree playing Ali, Peaky Blinders star Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke and Straight Outta Compton’s Aldos Hodge and knowing that King has Tami Reiker shooting it, the visionary behind HBO’s Carnivale, oh boy, I’m geeking on a whole other level.

Outside The Wire – Getting some of that alternate future sci-fi this week, helmed by the very capable Mikael Hafstrom, the filmmaker behind the Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen thriller Derailed and the Stephen King horror 1408 and led by Anthony Mackie, kicking off the year of when his new Marvel series arrives. The film is set in the near future and follows a drone pilot who is sent into the war zone of a conflicted Europe that has been taken over by radicals and occupied by the United States on a peacekeeping mission. Looking for redemption after a mission his miscalculated a strike on, he finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack that threatens the whole world. The action really delivers in a film that is so much better if you can ignore all of the logic going into Mackie’s cyborg character as it may get bogged down with the simplicity of it. Otherwise, this film is a shallow fast paced action that comes and goes without any real resonance.

Climate Of The Hunter – Yes, much to Shane’s chagrin, I’m bringing more horror this week as I seem to always do and this one is decidedly quirky and weird which really lends to its appeal. Coming from critically acclaimed indie director Mickey Reece, this is an oddball story about two sisters who are competing for the affections of a man who may or may not be a vampire and while none of these actors are on the mainstream radar, they all deliver performances perfect for the genre in a result that sticks to you bones in multiple capacities. I am totally new to Reece’s work and he really sold me with this one, although it is his first in the horror vein.

Love Sarah – Okay, I will admit that I have a weakness for British, Irish and Scottish romantic comedies but I have been burnt before by them and very recently too with that Shanley abomination Wild Mountain Thyme. The thing that this movie has immediately going for it beyond that is that it involves cooking and, most notably baking and I’m all about a Great British Bake Off. The feature film debut of writer and director Eliza Schroeder, the story follows a young woman who wishes to fulfill her mother’s dream of opening her own bakery in Notting Hill, London but to do this she needs some serious help and she enlists an old friend and her grandma for the job. Quirky and light, this is a great movie to watch with the parents or grandma herself if she’s within your bubble but it does nothing to leave a lasting impression and honestly has the weight of an eclair. It’s enjoyable chewing it but it really does nothing good for you.

Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets – This is a weird little film that I was sent an email about from a small studio called Create Films. The film is led by a young cast with 20th Century Women’s breakout star Lucas Jade Zumann, We Can Be Heroes featured actress Yaya Gosselin and Waves’ Taylor Russell, who also features in another favorite this week, Words On Bathroom Walls, but they have a great supporting cast including the always great Jason Isaacs, David Arquette and Tom Wilkinson. The film follows sixteen year old James Whitman, a teen who lives in an emotionally charged, wild and humorous world of his own design. In his struggle to overcome anxiety and depression, he begins seeking advice from Dr. Bird, an imaginary pigeon therapist, who helps him cope in the wake of his sister’s disappearance. Yes, this is a weird one but it’s shot beautifully and constantly intrigues with its ability to keep you on your toes with its unpredictable plot and stellar script. Just the second film from writer and director Yaniv Raz, which was released ten years ago, I hope it doesn’t take another decade for his next feature.

Bright Hill Road – What’s that? More horror? I thought you’d never ask and this one is Canadian to boot! This one is the new film from indie genre filmmaker Robert Cuffley and he’s trading in wrestling, which featured in his last film Chokeslam, for some decidedly cerebral horror. The film follows an alcoholic named Marcy who is on leave from her job after a workplace shooting and decides to head out to see her sister in California. Halfway there, she stops for a couple of days at the Bright Hill Road Boarding House and with alcohol withdrawal making the walls close in on her, the deeply troubled Marcy starts to lose touch with reality and comes face to face with the misdeeds of her sordid past. I have to say that Deadly Class actress Siobhan Williams knocks this film out of the park with a performance that is so nuanced and damaged that it emits her troubled past from the get go. She left me transfixed by the end. This would be a great pairing with the horror film Beach House from a few months ago which is available on Shudder now.

Blu-Ray:

Words On Bathroom Walls – Moody teen dramas seem to be my bread and butter these days and for as many of them, as they are, some of them don’t even deserve to be any good. This one falls into the total surprise category and only because I had never heard of it before and it has such a phenomenal cast with Spontaneous’ Charlie Plummer, Soul Surfer’s Anna Sophia Robb, the great Walton Goggins and former Ocean’s Eleven adversary Andy Garcia. The film follows Plummer as a witty and introspective teen diagnosed with a mental illness halfway through his senior year of high school who struggles to keep it a secret while falling in love with a brilliant classmate who inspires him to not be defined by his condition. The film comes from director Thor Freudenthal who goes low-key for this small production after doing the Percy Jackson sequel and other family fare and it works out beautifully. This is a little gem of a film that tackles the subject matter of schizophrenia so well and Charlie Plummer delivers yet another noteworthy performance. I definitely recommended this one.

Jungleland – Top lined by stars Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell, I was immediately drawn to this film right away simply by their talent and the fact that this is the third feature film from director Max Winkler, a really compelling young filmmaker. This film follows two brothers who try to escape their circumstances of poverty by travelling across the country for a no holds barred boxing match that may net them a hundred grand. Hunnam plays the scheming and boastful older brother of O’Connell’s character nicknamed Lion, a bare-knuckle brawler with some emotional and development issues and both actors are absolutely astounding in their performances. Also notable is Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors who plays a supporting role as the drug lord that sends them on their journey. This is an actor who will take the movie screens by storm, mark my words.

Lupin III: The First – It feels really weird to be covering another adaptation of this classic French thief story but the Japanese animation division looks like they wanted a crack at it so I’m kind of talking about the same thing two weeks in a row but it’s a different feather off the same bird. For this go around the third in the thief’s lineage, aptly named Lupin III, goes on a grand adventure to uncover the secrets of the Bresson Diary, which is tied to the legacy of his famous grandfather. Although it doesn’t feature any hugely known actors or even voice over artists for the English dubbing of it, the animation is absolutely gorgeous and completely flawless making it a really fun treat to watch with the whole family.

Skylines – I had to do some serious research for this one because it is the third in a series of films that kicked off in 2010 with Skyline then took a long break until 2017 with Beyond Skyline. The first film followed an alien invasion that had an extraterrestrial force swallowing up the entire human population off the face of the Earth by sucking them up into their ships and using their brains to power their soldiers and the second film was that story from a different angle of survivors and got into some killer action with Frank Grillo and The Raid star Iko Uwais. That second movie is totally awesome by the way and I was expecting more of the same from this one but was let down. It fast forwards over a decade after the events of the last movie and follows Captain Rose Corley, a toddler in the last installment, who must lead a team of elite mercenaries on a mission to the alien world in order to save what’s left of humanity. You can almost literally feel the wind come out of the sails of this one as it progresses. If the long arc of this story is being fully realized here then it is getting decidedly lacklustre.

Spell – With the heavyweight of the horror classic The Serpent And The Rainbow behind it in a big bad way, I’m always excited to check out voodoo and hoodoo centric genre films and this one definitely piqued my interest as it not only has all of the boxes checked on these tropes but it also has character actress Loretta Deine doing some villain work. The story follows a man who crash lands in rural Appalachia with his family on the way to his father’s funeral and awakens in the attic of a traditional Hoodoo practitioner named Ms. Eloise who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. He desperately tries to break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon in a film that has its really creepy moments but feels a bit less than effective. The thing that bothered me most about this lower grade but bloody thriller-horror was the score which felt like a placeholder rather than anything composed with what was going on in the movie.

Monsoon – One of the breakthrough stars in the last few years after Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding takes the lead in this new film dealing with culture, race and self discovery and it’s really sad that no one seems to be talking about it. He plays Kit, a British Vietnamese man, who returns to Saigon for the first time in over thirty years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War when he was 6 years old. There he meets Lee, an estranged second cousin, Linh, a Vietnamese student, and Lewis, an American clothing designer and even arranges an online date, something very new for him and it turns into something more. Struggling to rediscover the country he never knew, he is able to discover friendship, love and happiness on his journey in a film that feels uplifting and another stellar piece of writer and director Hong Khaou’s resume.

The Empty Man – Based on the graphic novel from writer Cullen Bunn, this is an adaptation I was looking forward to without even knowing it as I love the book but didn’t know it had been greenlit to be made. Starring James Badge Dale from The Departed and Stephen Root from Newsradio, this is the story of an ex-cop on the trail of a missing girl who comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity. The book is incredibly stylish and absolutely chilling so I was very excited to see if the debuting director and screenwriter David Prior has done justice to the source material but it all felt like something we may have enjoyed in the time of The Ring or The Grudge but with all of that time passed, it feels like none of this is really that scary anymore. This shows some of the staunch unevolved nature of studio horror films and it really bums me out as a fan of the genre.

Minding The Gap – Twenty years after the affecting documentary of future skateboarding legends in Dogtown And Z-Boys we get this new but very different story of three American youths, tied to each other through their love of riding that board and it makes its debut on home release through a deserved Criterion Collection edition. The film is resonant as the story of these three boys who escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown, as it brings a plight that can be recognized in so many people’s tales. As this documentary progresses, they face adult responsibilities and unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship as each of them seek their own escape from their harsh realities. I was captivated by this movie and saw quickly why it had been chosen to go into the collection. An amazing movie that was only just on the festival rotation in 2018.

Spongebob Squarepants: Season 12 – I’ve definitely said this before on the show but I don’t need my kids to be around to watch my favorite underwater seas sponge because I will watch this insane show at any time because I believe the show is funny no matter if you’re a kid or an adult and it is especially funny if you are a stoner like I am. This is another season beyond the passing of creator Steven Hillenberg in 2018, but the love and reverence for these characters is still felt as it is in the hands of writers who still truly know this zany bunch as well as the man who thought them up. This season also brought back David Hasselhoff as himself again in real life, just like the first feature movie, as well as guest stars like Maria Bamford, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Gilbert Gottfried and Nickelodeon original star Kel Mitchell. This is definitely a box set I can get lost in.

The Twilight Zone: Season 2 – It seems like everything that Jordan Peele has touched in genre storytelling has turned to gold so why not take the iconic Rod Serling serial series that creeped out the generations before and give it a bold kick in the ass on CBS’s All Access streaming services and now for you to watch at home on DVD. I’m unsure if original series classics like “Terror At 30,000 Feet” like the first season but I know that it will include filmmakers like The Endless directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Gretel & Hansel’s Osgood Perkins and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour so you know the atmosphere will be incredible and the star line up includes Joel McHale, Topher Grace, Christopher Meloni and Damon Wayans Jr. If you’re hoping for a solid sophomore season from this one, you definitely have it here.

Manifest: Season 2 – If you are looking for your new Lost like series, this NBC sci-fi mystery might be up your alley and, while it doesn’t feature any huge stars unless you were a fan of Josh Dallas on Once Upon A Time, it comes from creator Jeff Rake who created some vastly underrated comedy with the Wall Street series The $treets and the Alicia Silverstone and now does a sizeable genre shift. The series follows the passengers onboard Flight 828 who, after being presumed dead, return and discover the world has aged five years. As they reintegrate into society, they begin to experience guiding voices and visions, and soon a deeper mystery unfolds. The show reminds me of the Syfy original series The 4400 quite a bit, a show that was cut down far too early and left too much of a tantalizing mystery. Now seeing that this one was preserved for a third season, maybe we’ll get to see this one until it’s conclusion. Fingers crossed.

Legacies: Season 2 – The CW added to their ranks of teen targeted hit shows that aren’t related to DC Comics with this thriller mystery that had a built in fan base already as it is the second spinoff from The Vampire Diaries after The Originals with the Matthew Davis played vampire hunter Alaric Saltzman taking the central role with his family at the head of a this new continuing story. this series is the tale of the next generation of supernatural beings at The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted with former vampire baddie Klaus Mikaelson’s daughter, the 17-year-old Hope Mikaelson, Saltzman’s twins Lizzie and Josie and a plethora of other attractive teens coming of age in the most unconventional way possible, nurtured to be their best selves in spite of their worst impulses which include the unbridled maiming and murder of everyday people without powers. It’s slickly shot, maybe a little bit cliched on the script but still very entertaining for those that love the original series.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Mustang – One of the greatest international films from the last decade, this is a movie that is begging to be seen and heard. Guaranteed to drain every tear out of your body, as it did a friend of mine who I brought to the original screening, this is the story of five orphaned Turkish girls who are sold off in marriage by their guardians. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking film of sisterhood and the destruction of innocence, a movie that will leave its mark on you like a belt lashing. This movie was nominated for an Oscar but ultimately lost to Son Of Saul in a year of incredibly tough competition. The release was bobbled badly here in Canada so this is a great opportunity to check it out.

Awakenings – A loss I felt heavily when it happened, as a film fan, is that of actress, writer and director Penny Marshall and aside from Big and A League Of Their Own, is this institution set drama that features incredible performances from Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. Celebrating it’s thirtieth anniversary this week, the story follows a new doctor who finds himself with a ward full of catatonic patients and, disturbed by the fact that they have been catatonic for decades with no hope of any cure, he develops a possible chemical cure with the hope he gets permission to try it on one of them. When the first patient awakes with his new prescription, the star patient, played by De Niro, is now well into his 50s having gone into a catatonic state at 20 years of age and finds delights in the new awareness of the patients and then on the reactions of their relatives to the changes in the newly awakened. The film was a critically lauded hit and earned three Academy Awards that year but ultimately lost out to a dominant Dance With Wolves.

Television:

Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer (Netflix) – Hell yes! A brand new crime docu series to binge through and it’s about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time and, trust me, by all the witness accounts of people that came across him and lived to tell about it, he may be one of the scariest people of the last century. Yes, he’s a far cry from the dashing good looks of Ted Bundy. Be consoled by the fact that this series leads up to and includes his apprehension and conviction but the details lining his gruesome spree across California is gruesome and monstrous and probably will haunt your nightmare but just know that he can’t hurt you anymore. He was real but he’s gone. I’m actually talking to myself here and not you, bear with me.

Disenchantment: Part 3 (Netflix) – Matt Groening’s third original series and his first with Netflix enters into its the third piece of its story, following Princess Tiabeanie or ‘Bean’, voiced by Broad City’s Abby Jacobsen, a royal in a world of fantasy that wants desperately to shed the shackles of what a princess is supposed to be, yearning for action and adventure. After meeting Luci, a demon, and Elfo, an elf, she gets more than she wished for in a series that is honestly a bit hard to get into through the first four episodes. Towards the end of the first season the show kind of finds its footing so I really hope that this new season builds on that from the get-go because, honestly, it feels slow and we are talking about an animated series here. That said, the supporting voices of Eric Andre and Matt Berry are what keep me coming back to this one for more.

WandaVision (Disney+) – We are finally at the point where Disney+ means more than having The Mandolorian, every episode of The Simpsons and Hamilton as the first all new Marvel Universe live action series hits the streaming service and, from all of the reviews I’ve already seen, it’s going to be amazing. For those who are new to this one, this eight episode series blends the style of classic sitcoms with the MCU characters in which Wanda Maximoff and the Vision, two super-powered beings living their ideal suburban lives, begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems as well as their nosy neighbor, played to perfecting by the always scene stealing Katheryn Hahn. After having weeks of nothing after the finale to the second season of Mando, I’m all excited about this show. It will most likely be amazing and they’re already comparing it to a “David Lynch-like production. Don’t threaten me with a good time!

Tiger (Crave) – No matter what scandals came into his life, and from my count that’s only really one, I think it’s safe to say that Tiger Woods will go down as the greatest golfer of all time and a name that is synonymous with the sport. I mean, let’s face it. If you bring up golf, his name is surely to follow. For all of those who want to get deeper in their knowledge or viewers who love biographical documentaries, this new HBO docu series will give you everything you need and its put together by the best of the genre with the greatest himself, Alex Gibney, overseeing in a producer capacity and the guys behind Cartel Land directing it. With this being HBO’s big release this week, I can see it becoming a huge hit, another victory for Woods to notch on his resume.

Servant: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – So, after the rollout of this new streaming that had seemed a little lackluster at launch time, we’re now heading into a time of the AppleTV+ where we aren’t up with the big boys yet but there is a lot of great watches in both original series and films This show is one of them, another freaky tale from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan who, with me, has been on a little bit of a roll even if Glass wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. Definitely containing some sort of massive twist in there, this series follows a young and troubled couple who replace their newborn baby with a lifelike doll after their child dies from sudden infant death syndrome. This show is creepy as hell and it has a personal favorite actress in the lead, Lauren Ambrose who played Claire Fisher in the HBO series Six Feet Under. I’m not to the full way point of giving this streaming platform all of my love but it’s getting there.

New Releases:

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 in 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.

Pieces Of A Woman – Starting your 2021 out with some real tragedy here, which extends in two very different ways with this new film that got snapped up by Netflix from the festival circuit. Starring the new queen of existential sorrow, Vanessa Kirby, and arguably the best actor of his generation but totally mental case human being Shia LeBeouf, this film starts with a long thirty-minute opening scene that culminates in a soul-crushing home birth death, this film hits the emotional high on the intro but that is just the beginning. The story continues with Kirby’s character beginning a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with her husband and domineering mother as she learns to live alongside her loss. The film is a guttural blow to the emotions until the third act comes and tries to sprint to the finish line with grandiose moments and unsatisfying quick wrap-ups of the storyline. It all feels completely unearned and does nothing but knee cap the whole movie. I was so on board for most of this movie but it lost me.

The Dissident – The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a shocking and blatant act of cold, brutal and calculated violence that in the large scheme of fast digested news has seemed to be almost swept under the rug in every facet. Will Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man largely believed to be the one to give the kill order ever see punishment for this. I guarantee he won’t but filmmaker Bryan Fogel makes sure all of the evidence is presented in this gripping and riveting documentary. This film follows Khasshogi’s fiancée and dissidents from around the world as they piece together the clues to murder and expose a global cover-up when he disappears and in the aftermath of his murder. This film left me slack-jawed in shock many times and for spoiler reasons, I won’t get into that. This is a must-watch, trust me.

Herself – This week’s underlying theme seems to be about women, adversity and the strength of their character as this new film hits Amazon Prime on Friday and embodies all of these qualities. The movie follows the story of a young mother named Sandra who escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She then sets out to build her own home while rebuilding her life and discovering her new sense of self that emerges. The film doesn’t feature any big-name actors but it comes from the capable hands of director Phyllida Lloyd who directed the fan-favourite Mamma Mia and the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady and it was shot by cinematographer Tom Comerford who previously did the horror film The Hole In The Ground, which was gorgeous. This one has definite potential.

Stars Fell On Alabama – Alright, so let’s look at a quick synopsis of this one, which as a successful Hollywood agent named Bryce who is returning to Alabama for the first time in 15 years for his high school reunion and when he learns he’s the only one of his friends who isn’t married with children, he convinces his client, a country starlet, to pretend to be his girlfriend. Of course, things aren’t what they seem and he is drawn into his scheme more than he thought and starts to fall in love with his fake wife because this is a predictable rom-com that falls way short on comedy. No known stars grace this movie that feels like it was grafted straight from a Lifetime original and blown up to feature size without any touch-ups. I can honestly say that I hated every second of this one.

Knuckledust – Apparently underground fighting is the new hotness in film again, two decades after Fincher brought the cerebral nature of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but just in the last few months alone we got the great Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell flick Jungleland and the dismal Malin Ackerman comedy Chick Fight. This one kind of fits in between in calibre, following Chief Inspector Katherine Keaton and her team who have ninety minutes to interrogate Hard Eight, a man found beaten to a pulp and barely breathing in an elite underground fight den called Club Knuckledust. With a shady Government official en route to take him away, Keaton has ninety minutes to interrogate Hard Eight to find out if is the lone survivor or a multiple murderer responsible for the seven levels of hell they found him in, filled with the dead bodies of countless fighters, assassins and goons. The film is brash and rough, with The VVitch actress Kate Dickie being the big draw but don’t expect a whole lot of originality to it.

Emperor – With The Good Lord Bird so recently in our television rearview mirror, it’s really hard to see anyone do that story better and, to this movie’s detriment, it had an uphill battle to even hit a level of adequacy for me. The story is a massively important one to this time, following an escaped slave who travels north and has chance encounters with American abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown and right away the level of acting feels drastically different from the powerhouses of Ethan Hawke, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. This film feels like a starter film from director and writer Mark Amin, who really does make his directorial debut here, and the amateur mistakes show through very largely. At the end of it, I think a watch through of all of the Showtime original would be better suited to satisfy the urge for this historical story.

Blu-Ray:

Love And Monsters – These days, if a film is attached to the name of Brian Duffield I am pretty much on board immediately with his last works being the Babysitter movies and his directorial debut Spontaneous which was just fantastic. This new film has Five Fingers for Marseilles director Michael Matthews behind the camera for his second feature and star Dylan O’Brien in front of it to hopefully show off how great he was in Teen Wolf and not the failings that were the Maze Runner series and the action flick American Assassin. The story is set seven years after the Monsterpocalypse, following Joel, who, along with the rest of humanity, has been living underground ever since giant creatures took control of the land. After reconnecting over the radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee, who is now 80 miles away at a coastal colony, Joel begins to fall for her again and as he realizes that there’s nothing left for him underground, he decides against all logic to venture out to Aimee, despite all the dangerous monsters that stand in his way. The supporting cast also has Michael Rooker, which is an instant sell in my opinion.

Yellow Rose – This film was a total surprise, one that I had heard no buzz about or one that had any real ad campaign behind it which is kind of a shame because it is an incredible movie. Written and directed by Diane Paragas in her feature narrative debut, this is the story of Rose, an undocumented 17-year-old Filipina, who dreams of one day leaving her small Texas town to pursue her country music dreams. Her world is shattered when her mom suddenly gets picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, facing this new reality, Rose is forced to flee the scene, leaving behind the only life she knows and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for a new home in the honky-tonk world of Austin, Texas. This film is beautifully shot and gives each character on screen such a rounded reality that we feel the weight of the situation at all times, most heavily felt with any of the dealings with the Gestapo nature of ICE. This movie has a soul and will infuriate you with the immigration practices in today’s America. Highly recommended.

12 Hour Shift – If you’re a horror fan like I am then the name Brea Grant is one that you know or you know her face when you see it. An actress that has appeared in genre favourites like Beyond The Gates and Halloween II as well as a small run on Dexter, she now gets behind the camera for her second directed feature and it’s in her genre of comfort this time. Starring horror favourite Angela Bettis from Lucky McKee’s May, David Arquette and WWE Hall Of Famer Mick Foley, this story leans hard on the comedy following a junkie nurse, her scheming cousin and a group of black market organ-trading criminals over the course of one twelve-hour shift at an Arkansas hospital who start a heist that could and definitely will lead to their imminent demises. This movie completely blew me away and I was expecting something fun but, honestly, it surpassed expectations. Unrelentingly brutal, twisted and darkly funny, this is a wild ride from the start.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Doom Patrol: Season 1 – With everything good that has appeared in the CW aired DC Universe shows like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends Of Tomorrow and Black Lightning there is inevitably some clash of writing that brings it down to the level of your normal network television. This is certainly not the case when it comes to this brilliant series, made exclusively for the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service. For a quick catch up, the series follows a group of five seemingly unrelated and dissimilar individuals who find themselves drawn together, assembled by the mysterious The Chief. They all suffered traumatic, near-fatal accidents but now have superhuman abilities and The Chief has something in mind for each of them. The cast is phenomenal, including Brendan Fraser, Matt Bomer and Timothy Dalton and it is the series every comic fan needs to be watching.

Television:

History Of Swear Words (Netflix) – Netflix is kicking off their year with another hard-hitting docuseries and one that hits you in the knee and makes you scream “fuck!” Just kidding, this one isn’t hard-hitting at all but it is fun and delves into that expletive and all of the other swear words, their origins and their evolution all narrated and hosted by the man who uses each of these words so beautifully in many films, the legendary Nicolas Cage. Yes, he is a legend, deal with it. With help from some of the best “swear artists” in the game, like Sarah Silverman, Jim Jefferies, Nikki Glaser and Nick Offerman, we get an education in expletives, the history lesson you didn’t know you needed but oh is it fun! A loud and proudly profane series that explores the origins, pop culture-usage, science and cultural impact of curse words, I had such a great time with this entire series.

Dickinson: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – One of my favourite young actresses today and the future Kate Bishop in the upcoming Hawkeye series, Hailee Steinfeld has been on my radar since her breakout performance in True Grit. AppleTV+ knows her star power as well as they cast her in this great new series which delighted viewers when it debuted with the streaming service and quickly renewed it for this second season. Steinfeld takes the lead role in a highly fictionalized and stylized version of the real-life aspiring writer Emily Dickinson who is refreshingly brought to life with modern sense and sensibility. Embarrassed by her own parents and shunned from society, she stops at nothing to rebel against her strict background and makes her voice heard through the magic of poetry and, honestly, the series really works well. It’s an ambitious project but former head writer for The Affair, Alena Smith can channel all of it into a culturally relevant story without dampening the time period or real-life character. I was surprised by it.

Marvel Studios: Legends (Disney+) – This month is about to be a great kickoff to Disney+’s year as they are gearing up to release their first Marvel Cinematic Universe tie in series with Wandavision next Friday but to get the jump on that, they are rolling out this new documentary series that pays homage to the greats within the comic world. This series showcases individual characters from the MCU viewers have come to know and love over the years and revisit some of their most iconic moments, with the first two episodes of it directly tying into Wandavision with extended looks at Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, and her love, The Vision. As a comic book nerd myself, I am so damn excited for Wandavision and will definitely be watching every episode of this one as well.

Lupin (Netflix) – We’re going to France for this new series that takes Transporter helmer Louis Letterier and places him in the showrunner position of the story of a master thief, embodied by the phenomenal Omar Cy in the title role. The show is inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief that appears in literary form and is the assumed identity that Senegal immigrant Assane Diop takes to set out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by a wealthy family. The show is all about the long con and pulls each one off beautifully in a series that will delight international viewers and draw in those fans that latch onto mystery serials. It really just took me one episode to get on board with this and now I sit here having finished my binge and waiting for the arrival of the second part.

Pretend It’s A City (Netflix) – New York City is a legendary place that really grows beyond being a mere city into being a state of mind, a feeling or a way of life that extends beyond its own microcosm. So who would you pick to give it a thorough and wittily hilarious exposition? Well, Netflix has decided that legendary director Martin Scorsese is the perfect person to spearhead this project, which, given films like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The King Of Comedy and more, make him the perfect candidate but his interview subject, writer, humorist and raconteur Fran Leibowitz, makes it that much better. Many may be turned off by the style in which this show is done, a straight talk in a darkened New York City restaurant and other landmarks including the replica of the famed metropolis in a warehouse, but I was totally captivated. I feel like this show will definitely find it’s embedded with audiences looking for something a little different.

New Releases:

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.

We Can Be Heroes – One thing we can say about writer, director and producer Robert Rodriguez and that is he has fun making his projects. We’ve already seen it this year with his episode of The Mandalorian where he brought back Boba Fett in a spectacular style that made us all feel like glee filled children again. Well, that feeling will continue with your kids as he brings this sequel to his 2005 family fantasy actioner The Adventures Of Shark Boy And Lava Girl, this time without the 3D but with a pretty sizable cast behind it, except for original star Taylor Lautner for some reason. The film has all of the children of superheroes banding together when alien invaders kidnap their parents, and by using their individual powers, from elasticity to time control to predicting the future, they form an out-of-this-world team to bring the fight to these villains and save the planet. Simple, bombastic filmmaking with Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the lava hot Pedro Pascal, Boyd Holbrook, Christian Slater and more showing up to add some star power cred, this is one entertaining adventure.

Death To 2020 – Let’s kill this year. Shoot it, stab it, throw it off a building and just to make sure it’s not going to rise up like Jason Voorhees in the third act of a Friday The 13th film, set it on fire. Okay, so we can’t do that but Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker has provided us with a pretty solid consolation prize with a brand new bout of satire that features a huge cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Kumail Nanjiani, Tracey Ullman, Leslie Jones and many more. They all come together, in separate COVID safe recordings to take a look back at the mad glory of the year 2020 in this comedic retrospective and it all works greatly to laugh away our sorrows. Seriously, I can’t stress the catharsis of this one enough.

Sing Me A Song – Let’s hit the door on this horrible year that we will forever be running from with a little bit of inspiration, shall we? This film takes us out of the comfort zone of our living rooms into the Kingdom of Bhutan, a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas that has just gotten internet service for the first time ten years ago and filmmaker Thomas Balmes was there for it. He focuses on a seven-year-old Buddhist named Peyangki who lived in a monastery set against a stunning mountainous backdrop. Peyangki confides to the camera his hopes and fears about the arrival of electricity. Fast forward to now and Peyangki is a seventeen-year-old monk, still at the monastery, but now awaking to the alarm of the smartphone that is his constant tool for every minute of the day, even during prayers. The film follows Peyangki in his rural monastery as he forms, via WeChat, a virtual relationship with a barroom singer named Ugyen who lives in the capital, Thimphu. She sings him love songs while he saves money from collecting medicinal mushrooms to go visit her. We watch their long-distance relationship evolve from both sides and, oh man, is it ever hopeful in this dark Zoom age we’ve plunged into this year. Human connection is something we all still strive for and this is a beautiful illustration of it.

Blu-Ray:

Honest Thief – It’s really kind of funny now that after the Taken trilogy had wrapped up, Liam Neeson stated that he was done with the action genre, retired I think was the term he used. Since then, he has made six more of them, including this film here, and five more on the horizon so, contrary to this movie’s title, he isn’t very honest at all. Coming from Ozark producer Mark Williams, this new movie has him playing Tom Carter, nicknamed the In and Out Bandit because of how meticulous of a thief he is, stealing $9 million from small-town banks while managing to keep his identity a secret. After he falls in love with the bubbly Annie, played by Private Practice’s Kate Walsh, Tom decides to make a fresh start by coming clean about his criminal past, only to be double-crossed by two ruthless FBI agents. Neeson action films seem a dime a dozen in the last twenty years with glimmering hopeful spots here and there but I can’t say that this is one of them. The film is formulaic, corny at times and massively bland, to the point that you will forget about it immediately after viewing it and the ending has this “all’s well that ends well” cheese ball quality that was almost laughable. Avoid this.

The Last Shift – Richard Jenkins is one of those character actors who has been busting his ass for years and movie fans adore him and casual viewers know his face for sure. In this film, he plays Stanley, a long time employee on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish who is calling it quits after 38 years and must train his young replacement, a talented but stalled young writer who was recently paroled and his provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. Jenkins gives another fantastic performance as he’s done throughout his career but like The Visitor, a film that got him nominated for an Oscar, this is another benchmark in his great career. This is a strong narrative debut for writer and director Andrew Cohn and a really solid supporting role from Shane Paul McGhie as well as former Modern Family star Ed O’Neill.

Triggered – Hell yes, some diabolical survival horror comes your way to finish off the new releases for this week and, really, this one is just a shut off your brain sort of movie because if you try to look for deeper meaning within the characters you will give yourself a migraine. The film follows nine friends, who all harbour a dark secret, that go camping in the woods. After a wild night of partying, they wake up with explosive vests strapped to their chests, all with varying times on their countdown clocks. They decide to work out how to disarm the bombs or find help until they discover they can ‘take’ one another’s time by killing each other. The concept is really cool and the need to understand each character’s plight is minimal but the endgame to the movie feels flimsy and almost makes everything you’ve seen pretty superfluous. That said, the violence in it is neat and stylish making it an entertaining but hollow and weightless thriller. 

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:

Silent Running – One of the classic science fiction stories from the 1970s, this film is fast becoming a forgotten gem that had such a massive influence on so many filmmakers but Arrow Video isn’t going to let it fade away without a fight. In this new collector’s edition, you can be introduced or re-introduced to Freeman Lowell, a man who looks after plants in giant space greenhouses. Back on Earth, all the trees have long vanished, so Lowell puts a lot of heart into his work but when orders from Earth are received to destroy the greenhouses, Lowell can’t go through with it, and cannot persuade his three colleagues to help him save the plants, so he makes other “arrangements”. This is the nudging piece to many end of the world films, like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine or Claire Denis’ recent space film High Life, and is part of the great career from director Douglas Trumbull, in his debut film, and writer Michael Cimino made his debut writing this as well. Well worth the time. 

The Hobbit Trilogy & The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy 4K – Much like a part of the generation before me got to experience the beginning of Star Wars in their teens and early twenties when the first film hit theatres in 1977, I consider the Lord Of The Rings to be my version of that, a phenomenon in film that is the trendsetter of the time. Then came the prequel trilogy, The Hobbit, which didn’t have as much appeal. See the connection? Well, now both trilogies on 4K, and the Rings including the extended versions, I can introduce my kid, the new generation, to the stories that Tolkien has lovingly crafted and director, writer and produced Peter Jackson has brought to the screen and watching them in the order of the story might give me a better insight to how they are received now, much like when I went through the Star Wars Saga. Spoilers, she really enjoyed the prequels of that so maybe we were a little hard on them as jaded adults?

Television:

Yearly Departed (Amazon Prime) – It’s really about time we got out of this wretched year so why not do it in style with a whole bunch of comedians roasting it like it sorely deserves? This comedy special features eulogies for the year 2020 with a line-up of all-women comedians, featuring Rachel Brosnahan, Sarah Silverman, Tiffany Haddish, Natasha Leggero and more, discussing everything from casual sex to beige Band-Aids and everything in between that we’ve “lost” in 2020. I think this is another great indicator of how we must enter 2021, either laughing our asses off or quietly and disturbing nothing so it doesn’t notice that we are here. I think both are solid bets, don’t you?

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: Part 4 (Netflix) – The final piece of this story hits Netflix for all the rabid fans of this show and I’m excited about the conclusion but we may be the only ones as Sabrina isn’t closing out because they want to, instead they are being rushed off of Netflix in a sweep of cancellations. Former Mad Men star Kiernan Shipka is perfectly cast as the title star, a girl that is half human and half witch and constantly finds herself torn between those worlds, trying to keep evil at bay while still maintaining the life of a normal teenager. The show plays the gothic themes so well and the direction and cinematography match it with so many great nods to classic horror tropes and the supporting cast of Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto as Aunt Hilda and Zelda will always keep me watching and makes me a bit misty that it’s going out like this. It’s much better than Riverdale, I think.

Letterkenny: Season 9 (Crave) – I don’t think it is at all outlandish to call this how one of or possibly THE greatest comedy series on television today. On the outside, it looks like rural Trailer Park Boys with a crude sense of humour but looking at it on a deeper level, it is an insanely well-written show that takes its jokes to intricate levels that I had no idea existed in a show like this. You know what? Strike that. There is no show like this one. For those who have never had the pleasure of this homegrown gem, it is a quick-witted, fast-paced snappy comedy about rural folk getting by in the small town of Letterkenny, filled with hicks, muscleheads, meth heads and hockey playing morons. It is a pure piece of brilliance that truly shows that the laughs can come from weird places.

Cobra Kai: Season 3 (Netflix) – Remember that school of bad guys from the Karate Kid movies? Well, they’ve had their own series running for two seasons as a YouTube original and now with this third season, they get the high profile and bigger budget release on Netflix to bump it up to the next level. Featuring a lot of the original cast from the movies, including William Zabka, Martin Kove and even Daniel-san, Ralph Macchio, this Emmy nominated series takes place decades after our mains have had their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament bout, following a middle-aged Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence who again find themselves martial-arts rivals. This is your chance to get fully acquainted with this critic and audience lauded series all at once and hopefully secure it another season and it’s damn worthy of that.

The Watch (AMC) – In the literary world, author and creator Terry Pratchett was almost godlike, a man who had and still has a pantheon of fans that revere everything he has written and the biggest tentpole in that has to be the Discworld series, a connective tissue for a lot of his writings. There are so many cogs that make up this world and AMC has decided to latch onto one in their latest series. Based on the characters from those novels, this show follows a group of misfit cops who rise up from decades of helplessness to save their corrupt city from catastrophe. The show was brought to the screen by showrunner Simon Allen, a writer on BBC shows like The Musketeers, and doesn’t feature a notable cast outside of The Wire’s Wendell Pierce and What We Do In The Shadows Matt Berry, but the story is where this series excels and if it’s given the chance, it can just get better and more intricate into a world that really deserves this sort of treatment. I’m excited about it.

New Releases:

Wonder Woman 1984 – Finally, after waiting since June after delay after delay due to the pandemic we get 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 don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and be happy with what you get as both Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins has returned for this sequel that is bigger and better than the first film, corrects the mistakes made with the character in Justice League and even resurrects Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor character. How is this? I’m not going to give all that info to you but it definitely involves Diana’s new foes in this film, Max Lord and The Cheetah, played by The Mandoloarian Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig respectively. Sit back, relax and have this film dazzle you. After the year we’ve had, we deserve to go out like this.

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 somber and methodical with Greengrass shelving his usual shaky hand held style for something more poignant and it works so beautifully. I was gripped by Hanks performance and the character development holds fast to you until the very end.

Wild Mountain Thyme – For all of those who loved movies like Circle Of Friends or, more recently but not recently, P.S. I Love You, they may take a look at this movie, see it’s an Irish romantic comedy and plunk in their dollars to VOD for a new Emily Blunt movie with the guy from the Fifty Shades trilogy. Well, the rude awakening comes when you hear Christopher Walken’s narration to open the film, in the worst faltering Irish accent you’ve ever heard. Seriously, coming from the writer of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley, I was expecting so much more from a film that follows headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon who has her heart set on winning her neighbor Anthony Reilly’s love. The problem is Anthony seems to have inherited a family curse, and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer. Stung by his father Tony’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams in this film that feels ridiculous, contrived and totally offensive to anyone living in Ireland. Really, everyone should skip this one as a Christmas present to themselves.

Sylvie’s Love -At first glance, many may pass this one by as just a flighty romantic drama but a guy like me looks at it and goes “oh man, Tessa Thompson is in this? I’m sold.” It’s just that simple for me but let’s get deeper on this one. The second narrative feature film from writer and director Eugene Ashe, this film follows a woman working at her father’s record store in Harlem in the late 1950s who meets an aspiring saxophone player and begins a whirlwind romance that will change her life. The movie has so much going for it, featuring a killer cast around Thompson including Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi McClendon-Covey and Jemima Kirke, which is really just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s shot by Declan Quinn who did A Master Builder, Rachel Getting Married and Breakfast On Pluto just to name a few, and incredibly vibrant cinematographer. Critics are falling in love with this one so there’s a good chance you will too.

Chicago 10 – It’s so odd to watch this film a mere few months after Aaron Sorkin’s big cast adaptation of this story hit Netflix but with it being so fresh in my mind, I enjoyed it all that much more because of it. In a half-real footage and half animated film, documentarian Brett Morgan looks back at the eight anti-war protesters, including Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and other activists/dirty goddamn hippies (depending on which side of the argument you were on), who were put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention. This is a fascinating look at the trial which I already was able to pull where Sorkin pulled his scenes from but the most interesting thing is that this film was made in 2007 and is only getting a sort of theatrical release now. The voice cast from the animated bits is sort of a who’s who of popular stars, including Roy Schieder who passed away a year later. I also have to say that the soundtrack is full of great tunes, although they definitely aren’t era-specific as it all kicks off with Rage Against The Machine’s Freedom.

Blu-Ray:

The War With Grandpa – As a general rule now, I don’t get into any movie involving Robert De Niro and the word grandpa because I’m still in a state of trauma from having to go to the press screening for his raunchy comedy Dirty Grandpa which made me severely question his financial state as well. This one will definitely go in a different route than that, a family film that follows a boy thrilled that Grandpa is coming to live with his family until he finds out that Grandpa is moving into his room, forcing him upstairs into the creepy attic. Though he loves his grandpa, he wants his room back and has no choice but to declare war, so, with the help of his friends, he devises outrageous plans to make Grandpa surrender the room but Grandpa is tougher than he looks and rather than give in, Grandpa plans to get even. Oh man, now reading that back, this movie may be no better than the previous movie I mentioned and seeing that it comes from the director of Alvin And The Chipmunks, well, the positivity meter is shrinking.

Kajillionaire – One of my favourite filmmakers in the last twenty years and a storyteller who is very idiosyncratic in her own right, like Nicholas Winding Refn or Yorgos Lanthimos, I have always been excited about Miranda July’s new projects and this film didn’t disappoint. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez, the story follows two con artists who have spent twenty-six years training their only daughter to swindle, scam and steal at every turn to get them by. During a desperate and hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down as she upsets the dynamic that had been working so well for them and starts to show Old Dolio (yes, that’s really what they named her) the real way of the world and the goodness in people. Wood is absolutely incredible in this movie, playing a morose feeling monotone character that reflects so well in every nuanced reaction. Just another phenomenal performance in 2020 that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Craft: Legacy – Sequels or reboots two decades or more after the originals, it’s a very touch and go thing. It can either work or make you wonder why they even tried in the first place and the latter is what you may be thinking about this one but the easy answer is that it wasn’t made for the original fans or that age demographic but instead made for a younger audience to latch onto it and make witch covens of their own. Yes, it’s 1996 all over again. For this film debuting director Zoe Lister Jones creates a very familiar but updated story following an eclectic foursome of aspiring teenage witches who get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers and everything is going pretty well for the most part until a mess that is the third act comes along to fudge everything that preceded it. This film feels like a hurricane of studio notes and edits and a rushed post production and it really robs the viewer of a film that had potential. I can’t believe I’m half praising this but here we are.

The Place Of No Words – The four year old son of writer, director and actor Mark Webber and actress Teresa Palmer asked them a serious question that set this whole film production in motion, the simple query of “what happens to us when we die?” What results is this inventive and boisterous adventure that has Webber acting with his own son as they cross an existential plain looking for answers to life’s mysteries and, honestly, it reminded me a lot of Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. At the sea time, this movie feels very personal as well, lie we’re peering behind the curtain of a family home as they educate their child. You may have qualms with the information they are imparting but it’s not your place to say differently or criticize. This is what makes this an incredibly hard film to review and I’m certainly not the only person to say so.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Burst City – How about I throw some weirdness into this holiday season by way of Japan because what would one of my geekouts be without an oddball pick? This one ticks all the boxes of genre insanity with a film that has punk rock gangs and music groups clashing with one another as well as the brutal police force in a futuristic Tokyo setting. Coming from gonzo filmmaker Sogo Ishii, this is an action packed and frenetic two hour romp of nuclear power plant protests, armor clad bikers and so much more, giving it a cult status that should have raised it in popularity. Hopefully this new blu-ray edition from Arrow Video will give it a boost to new audiences as it also has an in-depth interview with Ishii so you can get in the head of the madness that created it.

Avenue 5: Season 1 – Veep creator Armando Iannucci left his series early but I like to think it was so he could go and develop this new sci-fi comedy and I think we are all better off for it. The series follows the troubled crew of Avenue 5, a space cruise ship filled with spoiled, rich, snotty space tourists, who must try and keep everyone calm after their ship gets thrown off course into space and ends up needing three years to return to Earth. The cast is so phenomenal, featuring Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Jessica St. Clair and so many more in a show that has all of that great snark that Iannucci has in abundance and creates characters that are so massively unique. I can’t wait for the next installment of this fantastic series.

The Slammin’ Salmon – Finally, the last piece of my Broken Lizard comes together with this purchase I made of a massively underrated comedy in their filmography as well as a great performance from the gargantuan actor and sorely missed talent Michael Clarke Duncan. He’s the title character of this restaurant set film, the brutal former heavyweight boxing champion Cleon “Slammin'” Salmon, who is now owner of a Miami restaurant, that institutes a competition to see which waiter can earn the most money in one night. The winner stands to gain $10,000, while the loser will endure a beating at the hands of the champ. This movie is so funny, a total tribute to how great this troupe is at writing for each other and the additional cast members of Burnaby’s own Cobie Smulders and Will Forte just sweeten the deal that much more. If you haven’t found this one but love all the other films you need to rectify that problem immediately.

Blade 4K – How freaking awesome was this movie when it came out? An early Marvel adaptation that worked on every level, this film kicked off a franchise that is so massively entertaining, featuring Wesley Snipes in a role we never knew he was born to play. For those who forget, the film is about a half-vampire, half-mortal man who, along with his life-long friend Whistler, battle vampires. Born of a mother bitten by a vampire, he possesses all their strengths and none of their weaknesses and is known as the day walker because sunlight does not affect him. With the addition of a new ally, Dr. Karen Jenson, Blade endeavors to prevent the evil Frost from unleashing the blood god upon the world. Now in a 4K update, this movie looks better than ever and will hopefully bring new fans to the character as Mahershala Ali is now stepping into the role for what looks to be a new slate of films.

Television:

The Midnight Sky (Netflix) – George Clooney gets in front of the camera as well as behind it with his first onscreen movie role in four years after Money Monster and, yes, I know he was in the Hulu series Catch 22 and some Nespresso commercials but we aren’t counting those. For this film he heads into the end of the world as Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic dying of cancer, who must take care of a little girl who stowed away at the Nunavut outpost he’s living in and also race to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe that has made the planet untenable. Clooney delivers the powerhouse, especially with his bond with his new dependant, almost reminiscent of the Tom Hanks film opening this week as well. The problem comes with the separation of the two stories, Clooney’s on Earth and Sully and her crew, led by Academy Award winner Felicity Jones. Every time we get some good character development we seem to be whipped back to the other storyline and it feels a bit jarring. Otherwise, it’s a solid emotional drama that is nicely shot,

Soul (Disney+) – 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.

ariana grande: excuse me, i love you (Netflix). – It’s a rough time to release a music driven documentary after Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, the recent Dolly Parton film Here I Am and then Taylor did it again with the Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, so I think people were expecting the same sort of introspective look at one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Ariana Grande, but this isn’t that. Instead what the “Thank You, Next” singer delivers is a very intimate look at her concert tour by giving you a front row seat for it. That’s it. No more, no less but you know that the Grandes or whatever her fan base is called is already over the moon and Google searching anyone’s review of it so, in that case, oh boy did I love it. Thumbs up!

City Hall (PBS) – This is an interesting one as it is a huge undertaking for a documentary, clocking in at over four and a half hours long, but it’s a film that is already getting a lot of critical love, which is great for original PBS programming. The film is an in-depth look at Boston’s city government, covering racial justice, housing, climate action, and more from the point of view of both the bureaucrats in the system as well as the citizens it governs. The film is incredibly studious in it’s approach and is massively insightful into the roadblocks on all sides and that has to be due to the wide net that director Frederick Wiseman casts, no stranger to this long form storytelling with three Primetime Emmys already on his awards mantle. I think you can expect a few more when the television awards ceremony rolls around next year.

Bridgerton (Netflix) – Shondaland must be really horny because the famed production company has landed on Netflix with their first original series and it is a randy little bodice ripper that can’t wait to show partial nudity and get swearing immediately. Created by one of Shonda Rhimes main dudes Chris Van Dusen, this series is set in the backdrop of Regency era England as seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family in their follies of wealth, lust, and, of course, betrayal. The young cast is young, attractive and relatively unknown, aside from Jonathan Bailey from Broadchurch, Nicola Coughlan from Derry Girls and Freddie Stroma from the Harry Potter films but it’s veteran inclusions like Rome’s Polly Walker and the legendary actress Julie Andrews that gives this one any weight. You’ll know quickly if this show is for you.