Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

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.

New Releases:

Monster Hunter – Can somebody please take these Capcom properties away from Milla Jovovich and her writer, producer and director husband Paul W.S. Anderson? Really, just take all adaptations away because Anderson has tanked the Resident Evil franchise, made a mess out of the history of Pompeii and even Alexander Dumas has been slighted with his terrible Three Musketeers adaptation. This slogfest that has bright points of action jumps on a game franchise I’m unfamiliar with, following Marine lieutenant Artemis and her loyal soldiers who are transported to a new world and engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Co-starring Ong Bak action star Tony Jaa and featuring T.I., Megan Good and Diego Boneta for all of ten minutes, the film is haphazard in plotting and brainless in its script and that’s me going easy on it. Ugh, when will the torture end, Milla? I used to love you!

Fatale – Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy are trying to bring you some sexy thrills before Christmas with this new film that seems to borrow a lot of it’s plot from nineties thrillers, which would be fine if you had a competent filmmaker to bring that to the screen. Instead, you have Deon Taylor, a director who has brought out laughable films like the Dennis Quaid dumbness The Intruder, a film so unintentionally funny that I couldn’t take it seriously for a millisecond. Predictably, this film is about a successful married man who, after an adulterous one-night stand, finds himself entangled in a cunning police detective’s latest investigation. My request for a screening link for this was denied so you know this is going to be craptacular.

The Kid Detective – Usually a comedy favourite of mine, actor Adam Brody seriously brings it in a dramatic performance that hangs its 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.

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

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.

Modern Persuasion – Okay, this might be something more in the vein of holiday viewing as it takes one of the major works from renowned, revered and celebrated author Jane Austen and brings it up to modern times, well, hence the title. Featuring former Twin Peaks resident Alicia Witt and Frasier’s Lilith herself Bebe Neuwirth, this film is about a single woman focused on her career in New York who is forced to deal with the aftermath of a failed relationship when an ex-boyfriend hires her company. I feel like fans of Hallmark movies or more transparent romantic comedies will really dig on this one, but it left me totally out in the cold, pulling apart terrible dialogue and cringing at utterly predictable storytelling. I don’t even know if I can like this one on even a fluff level.

Beyond The Woods – You didn’t think we were going to make it out of the new releases with one horror movie did you? Well, here we go, and I exaggerate a bit with the genre but it’s a little low budgeter that takes you out into the wilderness to bring you its thrills. The feature film debut of Canadian writer and director Brayden DeMorest-Purdy, this is a psychological thriller which follows Detective Reeves’ investigation after Laura Bennett’s death and the disappearance of her brother Jack with the suspect at hand being Laura’s husband Andrew, who seems to be the only one to know where Jack really is. Detective Reeves must solve this never-ending puzzle, as Jack’s odds of survival are against him. Although on the outside, this may look like an under-produced Canadian film that will end up in a Wal-Mart bin, it really isn’t. Instead, it’s an emotionally taut ride that features some really solid performances in it as well.

Blu-Ray:

Tenet – This is the movie that it feels like the pandemic was robbing us of most as Christopher Nolan returns with another mind-bender of a film that looks very akin to one of his previous masterpieces, Inception. With Blackklansman star John David Washington leading a stellar cast including Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kenneth Brannagh and Michael Caine, not much about the central plot was given to the general public, just that it follows our protagonist who is armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world who journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real-time. This description is a whole thing to unlock on its own and if you’ve seen the trailer you know the intense intricacies that it only gives you a taste of. My belief is the best way to enter this movie is without really any knowledge at all and let the brilliance wash over you as I’ve watched it thoroughly and still want to give it another spin to unpack everything I’ve already experienced. I also want to relive it again and again because it is also pure Nolan masterwork and a level that not many filmmakers hit.

Infidel – Former Jesus Christ Jim Caviezel takes the role of the sole star of this new thriller from writer and director Cyrus Nowrasteh who garnered some solid acclaim with his film The Stoning of Soraya M. from over a decade ago. In this film, Caviezel plays an outspoken American journalist who is kidnapped by the Iranian regime while giving talks in Cairo, Egypt and taken to the Middle East and put on trial for erroneous charges. His wife, a State Department official, tries to use her influence to get the American government involved so that they get her husband back but she soon realizes that the American government will not get involved so she is forced to go to the Middle East to search for him by herself. With the “based on a true story” stamp appearing at the beginning, the ‘based’ part feels apropos as there are so many pieces that feel completely unreal. That said, this one really works as a traditionally straight forward thriller.

Chick Fight – On paper, this is a movie I really should have enjoyed. The cast is solid, featuring Malin Ackerman in the lead with Alec Baldwin, Fortune Feimster and Bella Thorne in a story of female empowerment that feels like it is really needed in this day and age. Ackerman plays Anna Wyncomb, a down on her luck woman who is introduced to an underground, all-female fight club to turn the mess of her life around and discovers she is much more personally connected to the history of the club than she could ever imagine. This movie fails almost right out of the gate with easy jokes, contrived and dated plotting and, immediately, I head to the notes to see that this movie was made by two dudes who obviously didn’t get a woman to give them notes because, although it doesn’t go sexually exploitative, it is really apparent that they just had the cliff notes on what it means to be a woman. They also saw way too many Michael Bay films because it comes through in the direction.

Echo Boomers – A really easy way for you to get my interest piqued in a movie is to tell me Michael Shannon is in it. “Hey Steve, there’s a new Smurfs movie but Michael Shannon is in it.” Sold, brother, say no more. Well, this new under-advertised crime story is a heist film with a Robin Hood edge and it brings Alex Pettyfer and Patrick Schwarzenegger along for the ride. Based on a true story, the film follows five college graduates who decide that the best way to get back at the unfair economy that keeps them down and live the life they’ve always wanted is to steal from Chicago’s richest and give to themselves. With nothing to lose, they leave behind a trail of destruction but with the cops closing in, tensions mount and the gang soon discovers they are in over their heads with no way out. I think the worst thing about this movie is how seriously it wants you to take it while it’s doing backflips of narrative goofiness that equate to novice filmmaking. If you want something vapid though with no resonance, then this is your flick right here.

The Beach House – Ah yes, some divisive psychopathic thriller-horror for us to dig into. This has been floating on Shudder for a couple of months now but for those who don’t have the privilege of logging into that library of awesomeness, it is available to you now on disc and VOD. Starring Liana Liberato, a great young actress, this film follows a young couple heading to a beach house to spend some quality time and find it immediately peaceful when they don’t encounter any neighbours around. Their quality time is interrupted by the arrival of unexpected guests and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a mysterious fog along with a mysterious infection is slowly spreading around. Intriguing, right? Well, the great news is all of this setup has so much delicious payoff to it as writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown crafts a brilliant mind twist with a small budget. This guy has a huge future ahead of him.

The Wolf Of Snow Hollow – Jim Cummings is a writer, director, producer and actor who has been carving out a small place of notoriety for himself with his comedy-drama Thunder Road a couple of years back but with his sophomore effort, he has landed with the grace of a horror-loving cat’s with a comedic edge. This film is set in a small mountain town in the grips of terror as mutilated bodies are discovered after each full moon without explanation. Losing sleep, raising a teenage daughter, and caring for his ailing father, officer Marshall, played by Cummins, struggles to remind himself there’s no such thing as werewolves as evidence increasingly indicates the opposite. This movie is quirky, unpredictable and devilishly fun throughout and features Riki Lindholme in a supporting role as well as the legendary Robert Forster in his final performance before passing away towards the end of last year. This is an absolute hit in every way.

The Opening Act – Although this one isn’t horror like the previous two on this list, it could be regarded as social horror because the idea of hitting the stage as a stand-up comedian is pretty scary to me. That’s kind of what is at the heart of this new comedy, following a struggling stand up who works a thankless day job until one of his idols asks him to be the emcee for one of his shows. He then must make a full push to go forth with his dream or let it go completely, something that is very true in that industry because I hear it all the time on podcasts. The cast is pretty solid with Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Wang and one of the original kings of comedy, Cedric The Entertainer but the emotional resonance is where the film starts to falter and it really never recovers from it. As a fluff piece, it entertains.

The Dark And The Wicked – Brian Bertino is here to mess us up again. If you don’t recognize the name then you haven’t been put through the home invasion nightmare of The Strangers movies or his lesser-seen creature feature The Monster. Let it be known here that Bertino is one of the best minds in horror and he does it again with his new flick. He gets real sinister with this film which follows two siblings who are summoned back to the family farm to await the inevitability of their father’s death but what initially appears to be a timeless ritual of loss and remembrance turns out to be something very different, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family. The cast is unfamiliar in this one unless you saw Michael Abbot Jr. in the phenomenal The Death Of Dick Long but know for a fact that this movie is incredible, chilling and will get under your skin in the best ways. I loved every second of it.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 2 – Let’s get back into the classic cartoon goodness after I most likely disturbed Shane with a bunch of horror, shall we? Warner Archive digs into the vault for the next volume of Tex Avery originals, an animator who was iconic and carved a side of Saturday morning cartoons out for himself as one of the masters of animation during Hollywood’s golden era. After helping develop Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros., Avery moved to MGM in 1941 to create a set of comedy masterpieces that defined a new slapstick style for animation which is illustrated in this collection here. For any classic cartoon fan out there, this remastered set is a definite must-have.

Steve’s Blu-Ray and DVD Geek-Outs:

Lake Michigan Monster – Nothing says Christmas time like a weirdo take on Moby Dick set on one of our Great Lakes in a black and white adventure film to the lowest of budget proportions, right? Well, that’s what we’re looking at here as the minds at Arrow Video have come together with this special edition of a 2018 film that became a festival hit at the high profile genre celebration of Fantasia and other subsequent movie fests. The story is pretty simple, writer and director Ryland Brickson Cole Tews plays an eccentric ship captain who forms a crew of specialists to plot revenge against what he believes to be the most mysterious creature of the deep, the Lake Michigan Monster. I feel like this film would be a great chaser for another black and white sea shanty, The Lighthouse, which would cleanse the palate of dark weirdness with a brush of inanity that feels fresh and original. This film was a great surprise, really.

Upside Down Magic – Some locally made Disney landed on my doorstep this week with this Disney Channel original that was filmed in Richmond and has some pretty slick CGI in it from a local effects studio that also did Arrow and is led by a friend of mine. The story follows thirteen-year-old Nory Boxwood Horace who discovers she can flux into animals and that her best friend Reina Carvajal can manipulate flames. Together, they enter the Sage Academy for Magical Studies and Reina’s expert ability to harness the power of fire lands her at the top of her class of “Flares,” but Nory’s wonky magic and proclivity for turning into a “Dritten” -a half-kitten, half-dragon-lands her in a class for those with Upside-Down Magic, otherwise known as UDM. This is a live-action romp that has almost no edge to it whatsoever so it really works for all ages. Don’t expect really any depth to this one but it does lend itself to a larger franchise in the end.

Seniors: A Dogumentary – Documentaries can be a hard sell for a lot of people but when you throw an animal movie at most people they are openly receptive. This is a very divisive film in the fact that it is really pursuing a word-of-mouth outcome after the viewing but it’s definitely one I can get behind. The film is a portrayal of the vitality of senior dogs and features Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, an award-winning forever-foster home-based sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee and their Border Collie, Chaser known as the smartest dog in the world, all shot through the lens of famed photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky. Yes, this is a totally roundabout way of saying” don’t shop at puppy farms and give an old guy a chance” which I totally agree with. How can you say that message is wrong? Plus, you get to live vicariously through this dog kennel for over an hour! Win!

Chernobyl – One of the most horrific global catastrophes in the last forty years, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion is still being felt but after the debut of this HBO produced series tourism actually increased there which is an exercise in idiocy in my opinion. That aside, this limited series is incredible, led by stars Stellan Skarsgard, Jared Harris and Jessie Buckley and written by Craig Mazin who will adapt the video game The Last Of Us next for HBO, a long-awaited series. The show is set in April of 1986 when a huge explosion erupted at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. Following the stories of the men and women who tried to contain the disaster, as well as those who gave their lives preventing a subsequent and worse one, this is a show that is deeply political but is charged by the emotional fallout and tragedy that still marks this Eastern European country. Now on the higher definition of 4K, this is must-see television.

The Untold Story – This movie was a complete mystery to me when it arrived but judging it on its blood-spattered cover and inane looking lead character, I was more than intrigued. It is an Asian slapstick style telling of a Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer style story? Kind of. Released in 1993, this film is set in 1986 Hong Kong, eight years after a grisly murder rocks the city. On this day kids discover the severed hands of a fresh victim on a Macao beach and suspicion falls on Wong Chi Hang, the new owner of Eight Immortals Restaurant, which serves delicious pork bao. This is one of the most disturbing uncovered Chinese classics I have ever come across, a story that rivals something that would have come from the mind of auteur Takashi Miike but even more messed up is that this is based on a true story and you might be able to glean what depths of depravity and savagery that this film goes to. Definitely not for the weak of heart in any shape or form.

Television:

Song Exploder: Volume 2 (Netflix) – Have you ever wanted to go deep into the construction of one of your favourite songs? We all remember the VH1 series Behind The Music when we would get in-depth about classic bands, albums or moments in time but this one is even more focused as we get it straight from the artist what it took to put these iconic songs together. This second volume got me immediately as it features an episode about the haunting Nine Inch Nails track Hurt which largely, along with the rest of The Downward Spiral, got me through high school in some semblance of emotional intactness. It’s fascinating to watch Reznor explain exactly what went into creating this final track on that landmark album but shy away from what the song actually means to him. Trust me, that methodology is for the best.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) – Chadwick Boseman gets one more time to shine after tragically and suddenly passing away after a four year battle with cancer that none of us knew he had and the saddest thing about this one is it’s the performance that will most likely give him a posthumous Academy Award. Driven by another great performance from Viola Davis as well and based on an August Wilson play, the story is set in Chicago in 1927 at a recording session with tensions rising between the “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player with a new flair on how she should play her music and the white management looking to satisfy their shareholders and determined to control the uncontrollable and larger than life diva. Thunderous performances command a film that may turn viewers off with its straightforward adaptation of the stage play, but this is a film that hangs on its actors, not set pieces.

The Expanse: Season 5 (Amazon Prime) – Now this is a show that Drex actually got me into, really pushing me to watch the series that I think really reminiscent of a show like Battlestar Galactica where it is the human interaction that really drives the story and the politics of the immediate crisis at hand it keeps you fully engaged and on the edge of your seat. I was immediately so happy that we actually got a Season 4 out of this show as it was cancelled at their original Network, SyFy, which I believe they are already regretting because Amazon has now journeyed out with this new season. Just to give a vague synopsis, the series is set two hundred years in the future and initially follows the case of a missing young woman which brings a hardened detective, played by former Punisher Thomas Jane, and a rogue ship’s captain, played by former heartthrob Steven Strait, together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history. Believe me, if you get the pilot under your belt, you will be immediately hooked on the rest. It’s that simple.

The Stand (Crave) – I feel like I’ve been waiting since the mid-nineties for someone to tackle this epic Stephen King novel and now the timing is really weird for a story about an uncontrollable virus that decimates the earth’s population to be released but, mid pandemic, here we are. Let it be known that this is probably my favourite book of all time and under The Fault In Our Stars filmmaker Josh Green, the potential is huge. The story exists in the mass destruction caused by a manmade virus called “Captain Trips” with a false messiah emerging to gather his like-minded survivors, possessing incredible powers and hellbent to rule the remaining human society. It’s up to a group of people to journey the post-apocalyptic wasteland to stop him and his army or perish in the attempt. With a killer cast, including James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård and many more, the unrated platform of CBS All Access is the perfect way to present this as it can go way deeper than the ABC miniseries ever did. This one is going to be awesome.

A Creepshow Holiday Special (Shudder) – You all know how much I’ve loved everything the Greg Nicotero led reboot of this anthology horror has done and I will continue to sing its praises into the holiday season as Shudder has done it again with an all-new yuletide special to make us genre fans feel the warm and fuzzies. What kind of chills will come from this show that is non-weather related? Well, this holiday-themed, hour-long episode, “Shapeshifters Anonymous,” follows an anxious man who fears he is a murderer so he searches for answers for his “unique condition” from an unusual support group and, according to Nicotero himself, they are “reimagining how we look at the holidays and Santa Claus with an outrageous ensemble cast (featuring Adam Pally and Anna Camp), a myriad of creepy crawlies and a few thrills and chills shouldn’t be missed.” Yes, you’ve definitely got my ticket!

New Releases:

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

Songbird – Ugh, I’ve been cursing the day I would ever have to review this movie and the good news is, from all that I can tell from emailing studio reps, there will be now reviewing of this title, a, get this, pandemic themed thriller. With all the shared trauma that nests in all of our brains daily, do we need to have a film scaring us with the isolation we already feel anyways? Starring Riverdale’s KJ Apa, The Office’s Craig Robinson, The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and more, this film is set in 2024 as a pandemic ravages the world and its cities and centers on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society like disease, martial law, quarantine and vigilantes. The film comes from low budget horror guy Adam Mason, who I appreciate for all the Alice In Chains music videos he did recently, but, really, this all feels like the low hanging fruit that all filmmakers should avoid. I speak for myself but I don’t think we want COVID horror flicks.

Nadia, Butterfly – Retirement must be a hard transition to go through and must be even harder to do when you’re at a young age and still have so much future ahead of you. When you’re an athlete it must be doubly worse, a problem I will never know. French Canadian writer and director Pascal Plante delves into this notion in this new drama about a Canadian Olympic swimmer who finishes her final race, a relay in which her team wins the bronze medal, and then the real implications of her decision start to dawn on her, pushing her to some self-destructive actions with all start with her alienating her teammates during their celebration that night. Plante does a phenomenal job in illustrating our main character Nadia’s isolation that she feels deep inside and does a great job of keeping everything so internal with actress Katerine Savard giving a knockout performance in the process. The weird irony that struck me was that this takes place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an event that, due to COVID-19, hasn’t even taken place. Maybe this movie is set in the future.

Guitar Man – I feel like I’m a pretty knowledgeable guy when it comes to rock music, not as much as movies and television but comparably. That said, Joe Bonomassa completely slipped under the radar and this is a guy that sold out arenas overseas, headlined Jazz Festivals and played with legends like Eric Clapton and B.B King who called him the future of blues. How did I miss this? This documentary tells the comprehensive story of Bonamassa, a guitar virtuoso who single-handedly transformed Blues from a marginalized legacy genre to an arena-filling spectacle, told in interviews and concert footage to chronicle his extraordinary rise as a guitar wunderkind who was playing chords at five years old and melting faces with his skill by thirteen. The film is a bit underproduced, especially coming off films like Zappa and Crock Of Gold, and at almost two hours long it feels a bit bloated and uneven.

Giving Voice – After talking about the immense catalog and reach of Joe Bonamassa and his music we now change gears and hit the inspirational side of documentary filmmaking with this Netflix produced film that focuses on the legacy that one of the greatest American playwrights and a man regarded by many as “theater’s poet of black America”, August Wilson. The film follows the annual monologue competition created in his name immediately after his death in 2005 and the thousands of high schoolers who enter the competition for their golden opportunity to perform on Broadway. Featuring and produced by mega stars Viola Davis and Denzel Washington who had the privilege to perform Wilson’s work like Fences both on the stage and the screen, this is a unique film that celebrates what has come before, in the form of the renowned writer’s oeuvre, and the future with these gifted young performers. This is a touching and emotional movie that resonates, especially if you’re in the arts crowd.

Blu-Ray:

Possessor: Uncut – Let’s mess you up right quick as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin, is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.

Yes, God, Yes – Every now and then I come across a movie where I think “where the hell did this come from?”, something that completely flew under my radar. This is another one of those films, a comedy set in the early 2000s starring Stranger Things actress Natalie Dyer and is one of those rare coming of age films for a woman, following the star as a Catholic teenager who discovers masturbating after an innocent AOL chat turns racy and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of the indoctrinated punishment of possible eternal damnation. This movie really surprised me, especially based on its premise, for being so sex-positive in its message and Dyer is so fantastic in the film, giving such nuance to her character. The film is the debut behind the camera for Obvious Child writer Karen Maine who continues her knack for creating believable and endearingly fallible female characters. This is a must-see I think this week.

Smiley Face Killers – Bret Easton Ellis is a writer who I had a pretty extensive love for in the late nineties and early 2000s, a mind whose pure nihilism blended well with my addiction to Chuck Palahniuk books, especially after Fight Club. Those who have seen films like Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction know that Ellis likes to put beautiful people in a downward spiral and that’s the basis here, a story about handsome young soccer player Jake Graham who believes he is going insane and is unable to shake the feeling of being stalked by something or someone. His friends and everyone around him believe he’s just anxious and prone to paranoia and start questioning his mental state but Jake is actually being followed by a small group of serial killers that track, drug, torture and drown beautiful young men leaving only a graffitied Smiley Face as their signature. Really, this movie will only appeal to a niche audience and aside from former George McFly, Crispin Glover, there are no stars of note and everything gets crazily excessive. Watch at your own risk is what I’m saying.

The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone – I think we’re all in agreement that while we celebrate The Godfather and The Godfather Part II we still use Francis Ford Coppola’s third film in the Mario Puzo penned trilogy as pretty much a joke that contained too much of his daughter Sofia and was a total step down from the excellence exuded from everything before it. Now, like he has done multiple times with his masterpiece Apocalypse Now, Coppola has redone this film with new footage, re-edits and story swapping to make this into a real fitting end for this trilogy. The plot has an aging Don Michael Corleone seeking to legitimize his crime family’s interests and remove himself from the violent underworld but is kept back by the ambitions of the young. You know, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”, right? While he attempts to link Corleone’s finances with the Vatican, Michael must deal with the machinations of a hungrier gangster seeking to upset the existing Mafioso order and a young protege, played by a young and dashing Andy Garcia, who’s love affair with his daughter distracts him as well. This is an insane resurrection of seemingly dead material from a true legend.

She Dies Tomorrow – Actress Amy Seimetz has a lot of great things on her resume, dating back to 2006 when I first saw her in Wristcutters: A Love Story, then Upstream Color which is a story I would rather not get into and great television like The Killing and a small part in Stranger Things and, let’s face it, she’s one of the better things about Alien: Covenant. Well, she is behind the camera as writer and director in this new horror, her second feature, this film following a character named Amy, played by You’re Next actress Kate Lyn Sheil, who is ravaged by the notion that she is going to die tomorrow, which sends her down a dizzying emotional spiral. When her skeptical friend Jane discovers Amy’s feeling of imminent death to be contagious, they both begin bizarre journeys through what might be the last day of their lives and, I feel like this is needless to say, but the film is amazing and totally captivating from the start. I’m in total awe of this film and I feel like it was released in the perfect time as it works incredibly well into the pandemic psychological warfare. Be prepared for this one, it will bruise you.

Bobbleheads: The Movie – As a reviewer, when a distribution company emails me with new releases I adopt the rules of the Yes Man and give an umbrella answer of “send me everything” which sometimes leads to me receiving kids movies like this where I look at the cover of it and go “what the hell is this?” Yes, Bobbleheads in movie form and it features Cher. Complete weirdness. So, what is the story here, if there even is one? Loosely, it follows a group of toys who must defend their home from unexpected guests when their humans go missing with two of the uninvited intruders who hope to swap a new baseball player bobblehead for a valuable one. Yup, it’s the heist of the century am I right? Move on, Toy Story, get bent Ocean’s Eleven. Oh, man. How much more shade can I throw at this crap?

Collateral – I don’t think this is a controversial statement to make but I think that this is my favorite Tom Cruise performance to date in a Michael Mann film that is filled to the brim with tension and action thrills but it was Jamie Foxx that got the Oscar nomination for it. The story, for those who skipped by this one, has Foxx playing a cab driver who finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer, brilliantly portrayed by Cruise, as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in Los Angeles. Shot in that brilliant digital style that has been known to bring down some of Mann’s films, this one was shot by a duo of cinematographers, Dion Beebe, who won an Oscar two years later for Memoirs Of A Geisha, and Paul Cameron who did Tony Scott’s awesome Man On Fire the same year. Did I mention that all of this is on the glorious hi-def of 4K and should be on every movie lover’s Christmas list? Yes, I’m doing your cinephile shopping for you.

Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Series – All long-running series must come to an end and, as far as new series reboots of old classic shows go, I’d have to say that Steve McGarrett, Danno and company had a solid run as I’ve brought this show to the radio program a number of times and now is the final time I do that as this is the whole shebang in one set, all eleven seasons. Yes, it all is some of that same police procedural stuff you’re used to but in a tropical setting, like bombings, kidnappings, murder and such but it also brings things like pirates, race wars, deadly mercenaries and a joyful dude that has a shaved ice stand to spice it up. The show also features in some crossover with CBS’s other reboot series Magnum P.I., bringing Jay Hernandez into the mix because they’re both on the same island. Also, to keep with the theme, all of the episodes have names that are unpronounceable and I’m not even going to try it live on the air. Don’t test me.

Mouchette -Two new Criterion Collection titles arrive this week, both from the seemingly hidden niche corner of all of cinema. This first one already existed in the collection on DVD, numbered in the three hundreds of this prestigious list of titles. The story is about a young girl living in the country with a mother who is dying and a father who constantly neglects her. Mouchette remains silent in the face of the humiliations she undergoes but one night in the woods she meets Arsene, the village poacher, who thinks he has just killed the local law enforcement and tries to rope in the title character to build an alibi. In the eyes of acclaimed filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and modern auteur Kelly Reichardt, this is a masterpiece and now in a new higher definition we can see that too.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes By William Graves – We get even odder for the second Criterion entry this week with a film from the late sixties by African American documentary writer and director William Greaves who chose to approach his subject with two complete films. The first, known as Take One, Greaves auditioned acting students for a fictional drama, while simultaneously shooting the behind-the-scenes drama taking place which ends up becoming the real story and I think the goal behind the experiment. For the second part, Take Two and a Half it’s called, he headed to Central Park to shoot scenes of a young couple whose marriage was falling apart and now, thirty five years later, they are back in the landmark New York location as the director relentlessly pursues the ever-elusive symbiopsychotaxiplasmic moment. So, what is sybiopsychotaxiplasmic? Well, it’s a documentary inside a documentary inside a documentary is the best it can be described but it’s a damn fascinating experiment for sure.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Essential Fellini – Look, as much as a cinephile and a guy that tries to be in the know as much as I am, there are some of the classic filmmakers that are far before my time and definitely slip under my radar. Federico Fellini is one of those filmmakers, a creator known for creating bizarre and abstract plots peppered with risque humour and who loved to include dream-like imagery and nostalgia. Now, the greatest blu-ray maker on the planet and the definitive standard of film appreciation, the Criterion Collection has amassed this new set which features fourteen of his productions from the years 1950 to 1987, released in the year that would have been his one-hundredth birthday. It’s really cool now to go back and watch all of these movies that have influenced countless directors and see where the homages lie. It’s almost like a parlour game for movie nerds.

Daughters Of Darkness – Blue Underground seems to be this odd distribution company that gets these forgotten horror movie gems like old films from Lucio Fulci or William Lustig, for example and gives them an all-new hi-def life, whether it be on blu-ray or, in this movie’s case, on 4K in glorious fashion. This one takes us back to 1971 for a creepy but really well received little chiller from Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel following a newlywed couple passing through a vacation resort when their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory and her aide, who may be a serial-killer that drains the blood of the victims to use as an elixir of youth. Having seen a biopic about Báthory starring Julie Delpy, I was immediately fascinated with this very cult-like movie that is super sexual, almost as much as it is creepy.

Television:

I’m Your Woman (Amazon Prime) – Celebrated breakthrough actress and the lead of the critic and audience lauded The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan is getting her chance to spread her wings a bit more in this brand new drama but only moving up a couple of decades in the timeline she usually operates in. This film is a 1970s-set crime drama about a woman who is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey into an unknown future. The film is written and directed by Julia Hart who astounded me with the incredibly grounded superpowered drama Fast Color, a film I recommended to anyone who was listening and I feel like this one will land in the same boat as well with the lucky critics who already got to screen it calling it smart, sophisticated, and subversive. Amazon Prime has landed a lot of hits recently and this may be a slow boil one as well.

Let Them All Talk (Crave) – Meryl Streep makes her first of two entries this week but the good news is that this one is probably the one with the most substance to it and that’s because it reteams her with director Steven Soderburgh and it co-stars Candice Bergen, Diane Wiest and the actor with the greatest agent in the business, Lucas Hedges. The story follows Streep as a famous author who goes on a cruise trip with her friends and nephew in an effort to find fun and happiness while she comes to terms with her troubled past. The good news is that Soderbergh is working at his highest level for this movie and produces a film that has an air of mystery to it and utilizes the entire cast to their strong points meaning you don’t have to be a dedicated Streephead to enjoy this movie, it’s just plain good.

The Prom (Netflix) – Okay, let’s move on to more Streep but this is one that definitely doesn’t really have a hold on me like the last one but it is a part of the continued Netflix dominance from the one and only Ryan Murphy, the creator of a gazillion shows and movies. This film features a huge cast around your favorite Meryl with Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Kerry Washington, Keegan Michael Key and Tracey Ullman and is about a troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars who swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom but, of course, the basic townspeople are not exactly friendly to that union. Oh, should I mention that this is a musical? Yes, that is where this film has a whole bunch of obstacles to me because I have a deep dislike for this genre of movies. Well, unless they are good which this one just actually manages to be but by a small margin. Corden is still pretty unbearable though.

Your Honor (Crave) – When Bryan Cranston does a new series, you take notice, but when he does a new show for Showtime? Get every Breaking Bad fan you know on board because this might be the new binge. A new show from The Night Of creator Peter Moffat, the story has Cranston starring as a judge confronting his convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. Facing impossible choices, he quickly discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life and the boundaries he’ll not only cross but sprint through. Kind of Walter White sounding, right? Look, Cranston is great in this show, as to be expected, but the underlying thread of a father going to the nth degree to save his family is a long threaded trope for him, is it not? I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get past this but otherwise, it’s old hat.

Lennon’s Last Weekend (BritBox) – This week is a hard one for a Beatles fan like myself as this is the fortieth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon who would have been eighty years old if the cowardly and unstable Mark Paul Chapman hadn’t have shot him in cold blood. Ravenous for everything to do with the amazing singer, songwriter, musician and activist, I was so taken in by this new documentary from writer and director Brian Grant. It transports you back to that fateful December in 1980, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono had not spoken to the media for more than five years. With a new album to promote Lennon was prepared to speak in New York to Radio One D.J. Andy Peebles of the BBC. John surprised everyone by candidly discussing a variety of subjects he’d never spoken of before including The Beatles break-up, his relationship with Paul McCartney, his battles with addiction, political issues in the US and UK, his family and his homesickness for Liverpool. This is just the tip of the iceberg of things he talked about and Lennon’s heartfelt honesty and forthright revelations make this film all the more potent as he was brutally shot and murdered 48 hours later. Any fan like me will love this movie but others on the outside of it may find some poignancy to it as well.

New Releases:

Godmothered – Disney is dipping back into that fairytale meets real life style of storytelling that really worked out for them well with Enchanted, a film I still find funny. Well, hopefully Jillian Bell can bring some of that magic from her great performance in Brittany Runs A Marathon as she takes the lead in this one too. The film has Bell as a young and unskilled fairy godmother who ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored and is now a jaded adult with the issues of a disillusioned childhood. The trailer for this is hysterically funny with Isla Fisher taking the role as the fairy godmother’s mission as well as Jane Curtin, Mary Elizabeth Ellis and June Squibb. As a classic Saturday Night Live fan, I’m so excited to see Curtin make an appearance in this and it comes from director Sharon Maguire who did both Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bridget Jones’ Baby which were way better than they had any right to be. This has a lot of promise.

Black Bear – Back when I watched this one for the Vancouver International Film Festival as soon as the credits rolled I blinked a few times and went “huh?” in an utterly confused way. With all the different movies of the festival it was bound to happen but even though it looks like I’m throwing a bit of shade at this film I am really not as the direction is great, the cast delivers but I just don’t think that the dual complexity of it worked. So, now, as I have you all confused I’ll try to give you a little context. Directed and written by Lawrence Michael Levine, the film follows a filmmaker at a creative impasse, played by Aubrey Plaza who seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat with a married couple, played by Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways. This description is almost a red herring as this only sort of describes the first half of the movie before it shifts to a real film being made at the remote house, flipping the character motivations and dynamics completely. Again, I enjoyed it but am still, months later, trying to unpack it.

Luxor – Andrea Riseborough is a special kind of talent that can raise the bar of any production just by the subtlety of her performances. This is a film that is totally hinged on that quality from her because, honestly, nothing really happens in it so she has to fill in the blanks with nuance. In the film she plays a British aid worker named Hana who returns to the ancient city of Luxor and immediately runs into Sultan, a talented archaeologist as well as her former lover. As she wanders, haunted by the familiar place, she struggles to reconcile the choices of the past with the uncertainty of the present in a very broody and reflective turn. I really wanted to like this one as I love the lead and it is gorgeously shot in a way that almost feels like a tourism video but the story is almost non existent and we are given no real reason to get behind Hana as a character. Instead we get an example of making an hour and a half long movie feel like three hours.

All My Life – It is the tearjerker side of this week’s write up as this movie delves into the romantic drama side with a tragic twist. The film stars former Glee star Harry Shum Jr. and the glowing piece of both Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, Jessica Rothe and follows a couple whose wedding plans are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer. This movie looks pretty corny on the outside and, to be totally honest, it really is but the sugary sweetness that comes with it is kind of a breath of fresh air in the darkness of 2020 and hearing the COVID numbers everyday. This may ease your mind and give you a reprieve from all of that and not in that terrible Hallmark movie sort of way.

Rocks – Sometimes a small, contained indie story is enough to burst the floodgates of your emotions and it looks like that’s what it did to me on my watch through this film. There isn’t anyone you will recognise in the cast but the director, Sarah Gavron is no slouch, the woman behind the films Suffragette and Brick Lane but the caliber of this film may be her best yet. The story follows a young teenage girl, Shola or Rocks, as she’s known, finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother after being abandoned by their single mother with no choice but to live out on the streets, with a headlong stubbornness on not relying on her tight group of friends. This movie got me hooked early on the beautiful character study of this young girl who is guarded and reserved but slowly starts to crack under the pressure which leads to a scene to kick off the third act that I may never recover emotionally from. What a film!

Survival Skills – This is an utterly strange experiment in film and, being a bit of a weird cinema connoisseur myself I was definitely all about it. Coming from Seattle born filmmaker Quinn Armstrong, this is an odd little comedy drama that only has it’s wheels on the ground for just the introduction of the story then blasts off to Weirdsville. In short, this film seemingly is a lost training video from the 1980s with Jim, the perfect policeman, our subject who gets in over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case and takes outside the law as he starts to lose his grip with reality. Stacy Keach provides some serious gravitas as the video’s narrator who eventually gets himself into the mix in an odd and ethereal sort of way. Yes, this one is decidedly weird and if you’re into something off the beaten path, you may like what Armstrong does here.

Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan – Two weeks in a row now of great music biopic documentaries about brilliant songwriters and creators that I wasn’t super familiar with and, in the case of this one, my knowledge was even more fleeting. To be completely honest, the only thing I knew from The Pogues and frontman Shane MacGowan was the Christmas time song Fairytale In New York which is one of my favorites of the season. What I didn’t know was how haggard this dude looked and how much worse it is today as he is constantly strung out in appearance, appearing like he is a step away from death. That aside, this is very much a celebration of the Irish punk poet Shane MacGowan, composer and lead singer with The Pogues, which combines unpublished archive footage and family footage with animation for the more insane stories that he tells. The thing that hangs in the same area that Zappa did last week is the two artists uncompromising styles and their shrugging off of the status quo although I’d say that Shane is far angrier.

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 harbor 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.

Blu-Ray:

Buddy Games – Josh Duhamel dons the director’s hat for the first time with this comedy that is based on his friends and their exploits and it was really cool to get the behind the scenes thoughts from the man himself when he did an appearance of Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, especially since Dax is in this movie too. The film is about a group of friends who reunite to play The Buddy Games, a wild assortment of absurd physical and mental challenges. In the process, they try to heal old wounds, right past wrongs and figure out the true meaning of friendship and get beaten to hell in the process. Such a great cast with Duhamel and Shepard including Kevin Dillon, Olivia Munn, Nick Swardson and WWE superstar Sheamus, I feel like this movie has great pay off even if it lacks finesse in execution. Sometimes a dude comedy is exactly what is needed.

The Broken Hearts Gallery – What if you saved a souvenir from every relationship you’ve ever been in?That’s what is at the forefront of this new and audience loved film that follows the always unique Lucy, played by Blockers’ Geraldine Viswanathan, a twenty-something art gallery assistant living in New York City, who also happens to be an emotional hoarder. After she gets dumped by her latest boyfriend, Lucy is inspired to create The Broken Heart Gallery, a pop-up space for the items love has left behind. Word of the gallery spreads, encouraging a movement and a fresh start for all the romantics out there, including Lucy herself. This film co-stars the breakout heartthrob of Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery and the two leads share so much good chemistry together which really drives the movie in my opinion and the charm of the script is always there as a safety net. This movie really won me over.

Made In Italy – Actor James D’Arcy, a face you may recognize from Cloud Atlas, Dunkirk, Master And Commander or Marvel’s Peggy Carter, makes his directorial debut with this new comedy that he wrote as well. Starring an interesting cast that includes Liam Neeson and Lindsey Duncan, the film follows a bohemian artist who travels from London to Italy with his estranged son to sell the house he inherited from his late wife. Given that this is D’Arcy’s debut, an actor I really enjoy, I wanted this to be a great landing but the script is clunky to a degree that no matter how veteran some of these stars are, it just doesn’t work. No matter how much I enjoyed seeing Liam act alongside his real life son Michael Richardson, I couldn’t shake the amateurish feeling.

The Rental – Okay, so there’s a multitude of things that had me on board with this movie. First off, it’s the feature directorial debut of Dave Franco who did some behind the scenes work for his brother James on The Disaster Art, which was great. Secondly, the cast rocks, featuring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie and Toby Huss and thirdly it was written by mumblecore co-creator Joe Swanberg. Oh and did I mention that it’s a horror film? The story follows two couples on an oceanside getaway who grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light. I can not say enough great things about this movie, a slow burn that kicks up huge embers of intensity throughout plus the cast is so damn good. This one is a word of mouth must see.

The Rising Hawk: Battle For The Carpathians – This is a weird one as it is an international medieval war epic but features some recognizable American talent like T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick, Sons Of Anarchy club president Tommy Flanagan and more. The story is set back in the Mongol Empire, which at that time had grown to be the largest the world had ever known. With the armies having laid siege to much of Eastern Europe, one small village fights for freedom in the frontier landscape of the Carpathian Mountains. At just over two hours long, you would expect this one to be pretty action packed but it is unfortunately largely a dull affair of history lessons.The low budget of the production is also clearly on display is some ways which makes me believe that the scope was larger at one point and they had to dial it back or run out of money. There are way better Mongol films out there, trust me.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K – Eddie Murphy’s comeback trail at the end of last year was absolutely robbed of an Academy Award nomination for Dolemite Is My Name but you can now get over those hurt feelings by getting the movie that introduced us to him on the big screen and a film that still kicks so much ass and makes you laugh while doing it. The 80s action fan in me is singing as I loved the exploits of Detroit transplant cop Axel Foley and having director Martin Brest oversee the restoration of this film into the high definition of 4K and provide a new commentary for it is such a sweet spot for a collector like me. The special features have all of that mid eighties nostalgia for you as the soundtrack mixtape is included with the film as well as all the press junket interviews of young Eddie in his prime, deleted scenes and a look at the whole Beverly Hills Cop fandom phenomenon is explored. Some sweet Eddie goodness to start off a big review week of his classics.

Coming To America 4K – Not only is this Eddie Murphy classic getting the full 4K restoration but it comes in an absolutely gorgeous steelbook edition which is a little piece of gold to a collector like me and one of two that are released this week. For those who are unfamiliar with this fish out of water comedy, it follows Eddie as the extremely pampered heir apparent to Africa’s prosperous kingdom of Zamunda, Prince Akeem, who travels to Queens, New York, and goes undercover to find a wife that he can respect for her intelligence and will. Featuring Arsenio Hall, John Amos, James Earl Jones and Garcelle Beauvais, great make-up effects by Rick Baker and a studious direction from John Landis, this is a hilarious comedy that still holds up and will be a perfect watch as we prepare for the sequel, Coming 2 America, set for an Amazon Prime release in March.

The Golden Child – This is undoubtedly one of my movie staples as a kid, an adventurous Eddie Murphy comedy action that I may have burnt out time and time again on our VCR. Remember those? Anyways, the synopsis has Eddie playing a detective with a speciality of finding lost children. He is told he is the ‘Chosen one’ who will find and protect the Golden Child, a Bhuddist mystic who was kidnapped by an evil sorcerer. At first, he outright disbelieves the mysticism of this new case but finds more and more evidence of demon worship as he investigates. Making its debut on the higher definition of blu-ray so I can’t overwatch it, this Michael Ritchie classic was a longtime coming to this format and I was so happy to throw it on again. Nothing too deep on the special features but the Making Of featurette is interesting.

Popeye – A celebrity death that always seems to be a fresh new wound everytime he is mentioned is Robin Williams. It’s always bittersweet to watch him onscreen now and even my wife hasn’t been able to watch a movie of his without tearing up. We both perked up when this one landed on my doorstep, a Williams collaboration with legendary filmmaker Robert Altman to bring a classic cartoon to life, the first film to actually do this sort of adaptation. Co-starring Shelley Duvall, who was brilliantly cast as Olive Oyl, this is the story of the iconic buff sailor man Popeye arriving in the awkward seaside town of Sweethaven. There he meets Wimpy, a hamburger-loving man, Olive Oyl, the soon-to-be love of his life, and Bluto, a huge, mean pirate who is out to make Sweethaven pay for no good reason. Also discovering his long-lost Pappy in the middle of it all, Popeye must regain control of this small town, put down the oppressor and restore the happiness of all the citizens. Besides the picture restoration, this edition is a bit bare bones but has a great featurette on the work between Williams and Altman.

Top Gun 4K – This has to be at the top of Tom Cruise’s greatest films of all time, right? I remember as a kid being totally obsessed with this movie, Tom as the bad boy fighter pilot Maverick always butting heads with his rival the Iceman all to the sun bleached beat of a Kenny Loggins soundtrack. Then, when it all gets sensual under a cool blue filter for some love with Kelly McGillis we get the iconic tones of Berlin and the track Take My Breath Away, oh man, the memories. Well, with the sequel Top Gun: Maverick in the chamber and ready to fire at some point when the pandemic conditions will allow it, it is the perfect time for this 4K version to hit shelves and it is truly beautiful and the film has never sounded or looked better. I also failed to include that this is the second steelbook I received this week and it has a gorgeous brand new artwork on it that needs to be seen to be believed.

Mission:ImpossibleThe Original Television Series: Complete Series – I boasted last year about owning every Mission:Impossible movie but I had no idea of the real bragging rights that came with this box set because with this complete series which has been beautifully updated to the high definition of blu-ray, I truly do own everything to do with this spy title. For those who don’t know what the original series is all about, it follows the I.M.F. or Impossible Missions Force, an elite force of Agents who are given orders by tape and are asked to do jobs that are considered impossible by any other known means. The art of the con is used time and time again, and the Agents use technology, drugs, and plain greed to achieve their goals in a series that featured Peter Graves, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. My daughter has been really wanting to watch the movies but at her young age it’s a great alternative to start her here now.

Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny: The 80th Anniversary Collection – The original Saturday morning cartoon bad boy is celebrating eighty years of entertaining us and getting hunters riled up during rabbit season. That’s right, Bugs Bunny is being celebrated here and long before he suited up for a Space Jam with Michael Jordan and company he had this collection to delight audiences. I really feel like I don’t have to give you a full rundown of the exploits and shenanigans of this dubious little rabbit but I will tell you that the limited edition blu-ray package does come with a sparkly little Bugs Bunny Funko Pop toy and it has kept me from opening it because it’s a total collector’s item. Yes, I am that nerdy.

Green Eggs And Ham: Season 1 – Ah yes, some Dr. Seuss to get our kid’s childhoods to meet up with our own because, really, who didn’t without reading him or having his words recited to you? It’s really a rite of passage I think. This one is easy to encapsulate in a nutshell as it’s an animated series based on the popular Dr. Seuss story “Green Eggs and Ham” and features a great voice cast including Michael Douglas, Adam Devine, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and so many more and by all accounts the kids should be very entertained by it. For adults, your pleasure will arrive in the form of guessing who the guest voices are and the calmness of a child transfixed by the television glow giving them something more wholesome and a break from Ryder and the Paw Patrol. I think all of us parents feel the fatigue on that one.

Perry Mason: Season 1 – As a kid, I used to sit with my grandparents and watch reruns of this classic lawyer show starring the legendary status Canadian Raymond Burr and was captivated time and time again. Well, now Robert Downey Jr. has made my dreams come true as he and the global force of HBO have collaborated to bring this new series set in the era that creator Erle Stanley Gardner intended it to be in and it stars The Americans’ Matthew Rhys in the title role. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series focuses on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason who is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage. A kidnapping gone very wrong leads to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovers the truth of the crime and uses it, sometimes lawlessly, to find some redemption. Needless to say, this show rocks in every way and Rhys is powerful, gripping and definitely in line for an Emmy for it.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:

Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai – This has to be one of my favorite Criterion releases of the year as a piece of Jim Jarmusch’s oeuvre and one of the most different films in his storied career gets the full special edition in this beautiful blu-ray edition. For those who haven’t been exposed to this brilliance, it features Forest Whitaker as a hitman who lives by the code of the samurai, works for the mafia and finds himself in their crosshairs when his recent job doesn’t go according to plan. Now he must find a way to defend himself and his honor while retaining the code he lives by. Gorgeously shot and featuring an incredible soundtrack spearheaded by producer The RZA, this is Jarmusch’s exercise in creating a badass anti-hero in a film that relies on what’s going on in the action and movement of the picture than any sort of dialogue exchange. It may be one of his most artful films in his filmography.

Moonstruck – Let it be known that I really can’t stand Cher, both in her music and in her acting styles, but that may come from the fact that I suffered through her last film, Burlesque, ten years ago. This, on the other hand, is the only passable thing on her resume in my opinion and it’s a shared one because she did win an Academy Award for it but it is also coupled with a fantastic Nicolas Cage performance. Directed by legendary Canadian director Norman Jewison, this is the story of Loretta Castorini, a bookkeeper from Brooklyn, New York, who finds herself in a difficult situation when she falls for Ronny, the brother of the man she has agreed to marry. She tries to resist, but Ronny lost his hand in an accident he blames on his brother, and has no problem with aggressively pursuing her while Johnny is out of the country. As Loretta falls deeper in love, she comes to learn that she’s not the only one in her family with a secret romance as her family one by one exposes their extra marital affairs. It was honestly just a matter of time before this landed on the greatest collection of all time, Criterion, and it really looks incredible.

Westworld: Season 3 – After a two year absence we finally get the next piece of this incredible mysterious show that emanated from a 70s Michael Crichton movie. The favorites are all back including Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard and Thandie Newton’s Maeve as well as newcomers Aaron Paul and Kid Cudi but what is this season about? Well, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are keeping everything secretive but what we do know is that Bernard and Dolores have been rebuilt outside of the facility so we get to see what this future looks like and I am damn excited for that.

Television:

Big Mouth: Season 4 (Netflix) – It’s time to get uncomfortable with our bodies all over again as this lewd, rude and massively crude animated comedy returns with all-new episodes. I adore anything that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney do and when you throw Maya Rudolph and Jason Mantzoukas into the mix than I am in love. For those who don’t know about this show, it is the awkward and sometimes brutal coming of age story of two best friends in the throes of puberty, this time sending the whole cast of characters to summer camp for more explorations of their sexuality and relationships. Watch it at your own risk but keep it in mind that it is totally my kind of messed up.

Mank (Netflix) – This new era picture from master director David Fincher is notable for a multitude of reasons, the small being that this production distracted him so much that it’s doubtful that we’ll get a third season of Mindhunter, which is heartbreaking for a lot of fans. The big thing is that with this movie he has hit the true god-like level in cinema, pushing him into the echelon of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and even the man he has as a character in this, Orson Welles. The story has Gary Oldman playing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he sequesters himself after a serious car accident to start his tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane which starts to rope in real people from his life like American businessman and newspaper publisher Charles Randolph Heart. This film is incredible, leaping off the screen with every shot filled with nostalgia for the era but themes that are still painfully relevant today. Honestly, you can give Oldman another Oscar after this one because he shakes the whole room with his performance, my favourite lead actor of this year I think.

Selena: The Series (Netflix) – Remember when Jennifer Lopez burst onto the scene, not as an In Living Color Fly Girl or the mega pop star JLo, but in the tragic story or the murder of Latina American pop sensation Selena Quintanilla? Well, Selena’s family has spearheaded and produced this new limited series that retells that story but in a much more expanded telling. Rather than getting bogged down with the murder, this series opts to tell the story of the late Tejano singer’s burgeoning rise to success as her dreams come true, and her family makes life-changing choices on the singer’s journey to superstardom. The walking Dead former favorite Christian Serratos plays the title role with such charisma that becomes the real beacon of everything that works for the show as the acting around her is kind of dull and makes you yearn for performers like Edward James Olmos and Constance Marie from the original movie. That said, I know lots of people excited for this one.

Anything For Jackson (Shudder) – Just when you think that we’re done with horror for this year, Shudder brings another original to make us squirm into the holiday season. This one is a Canadian production, so it can go either way, that follows a bereaved Satanist couple after losing their only grandson in a car accident who kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning a malevolent demon bent on destroying everything in its path. This movie is clever in its delivery and has a great creepy atmosphere that blankets it in style, especially with the always great Julian Richings taking the lead, an actor that usually chews the scenery in a supporting role. Who says you can’t get scared at Christmas, right?

Sound Of Metal (Amazon Prime) – Riz Ahmed has astounded me with his talent twice now this year, first with his role as a British Pakistani rapper in the drama Mogul Mowgli just over a month ago at the virtual version of the Vancouver International Film Festival and now this one, another deep character piece. In this film, he plays a heavy-metal drummer and former heroin addict whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. Believing that there can be a solution, he fixates on an experimental but expensive procedure to “cure” his hearing loss in a sort of desperate hope. This is an impactful film about the state of denial and desperation a person must feel when they lose something that we take for granted, really. Director and writer Darius Marder beautifully creates an experience that seems to transcend the sensory experience and put you right into Ahmed’s character’s plight in such an incredible way. It’s truly stellar.

New Releases:

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.

Happiest Season – Christmas movies can usually be filed into a few different categories, the cheesy, almost Hallmark Channel variety, the classic family film fare and the surprise hits and I think that the last one is exactly where this one fits in and it is such a great thing in my opinion as it was written and directed by Clea Duvall, an actress I absolutely adore and one who appears in this as well. Featuring a huge cast with Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Stewart, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy and Mackenzie Davis, this is an ensemble comedy about the pitfalls of meeting your girlfriend’s family but the even stickier situation it becomes when they don’t know you’re gay. Planning to propose at her family’s annual Christmas dinner, Abby (Kristen Stewart) learns that Harper (Mackenzie Davis) has kept their relationship a secret from her family which causes her to begin questioning the girlfriend she thought she knew at the worst possible time, the holiday season. The reviews pouring in for this one are phenomenal, some saying that it exists within a well-worn framework of other dysfunctional family stories but it still feels like a fresh and substantial comedy that will be an immediate addition to the Christmas movie rotation for many.

Stardust – My initial reaction to seeing the trailer for this film started with excitement to finally get some sort of a David Bowie biopic aside from the “inspired by” film we got in 1998 with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing a character based on Bowie named Brian Slade. Imagine how my heart dropped when I read that Bowie’s family didn’t sign off on this one either. Even so, they went ahead with it without any Bowie music, chronicling a young David Bowie’s first visit to the US in 1971, a trip that inspired the invention of his iconic alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Sounds like a cool part of the iconic singer and songwriter’s career but really what is the point of doing it if you’re not allowed? What we get is a boring and plodding film that meanders so badly that you wish Bowie’s family had sued the production to put it out of its misery.

Girl – Besides the two very cool Babysitter movies that are now available on Netflix, I haven’t really gotten the hype around Bella Thorne as an actress and have a hard time separating her from any other middling actress that is plastered all over social media. She must have heard my thoughts on the matter because this film feels like a direct shot of vitriol and a performance that will make people stand back and pay attention. This new film is gritty, visceral and totally unflinching, following a young woman who returns to her small hometown with revenge on her mind, intent on killing her abusive father only to discover someone murdered him the day before. As the girl searches for answers, she uncovers a family legacy more dangerous than she’d imagined and finds herself fighting to get out of the town alive. This film is a badass exercise in destroying the stigma around Thorne and proving the haters like me totally wrong. I honestly loved every moment of this movie.

Zappa – Being a late arriver to the genius of Frank Zappa, an uncompromising artist who sought out the highest quality of work rather than the volume of being a desired artist, most of what I knew about this legend came from the previous documentary Eat That Question released four years ago but this new film, written and directed by Bill And Ted’s Alex Winter, feels totally definitive. Compiled from hours and hours of home videos, tour footage, backstage documentation and interviews over his career, this is the peering into the mind of a legendary musician almost directly from his point of view, a man who was known as difficult due to his perfectionism and an emboldened fighter in the war with the establishment, the government and that nasty word that we regard as censorship. I found myself constantly blown away by Zappa’s drive to create content over commercialism and his process to keep himself out of the mainstream medium. So many artists, not just in music, can look at Frank’s story as the utmost tale of fierce originality and a will unbreakable and unbendable by any of society’s constraints. This is an amazing film.

Collective – The hard-hitting documentaries never stop coming and with government obstruction and conspiracy always being at the forefront of our thoughts these days, this film is ready to share that real estate in your brain and catch a seat there. The film starts in 2015 with a fire at Bucharest’s Colectiv club that leaves 27 dead and 180 injured. Soon, more burn victims begin dying in hospitals from wounds that were not life-threatening causing a doctor to blow the whistle to a team of investigative journalists. One revelation leads to another as the journalists start to uncover vast health care fraud and when a new health minister is appointed, he offers unprecedented access to his efforts to reform the corrupt system but also to the obstacles he faces. This is an incredibly thorough political thriller about cover-ups and conspiracy that feels almost unrelenting in its revelations. This feels like a future narrative film in my opinion.

The Great Invisible – Originally made in 2014, this eco-documentary now gets its theatrical release and it’s a story that we already saw Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg take on a few years ago. This is a documentary on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion as seen through the eyes of oil executives, survivors and Gulf Coast residents who experienced it first-hand and then were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on because, as we know, once the glitz of scandal is gone so are the cameras. This is a deeply damning look at the causes and effects of American energy policy and offers it in such an empathetic, smartly crafted, and totally devastating way that it’s really hard to shake what you’ve seen for long after the end credits. It’s weird because Wahlberg’s movie didn’t really hang out in my mind for very long at all.

Crash – Getting the full revamp treatment is this thriller based around car crashes and sex, not the Best Picture Oscar-winning film from Canadian Paul Haggis but from the mind of body horror auteur and Canadian legend David Cronenberg. In case you never had the pleasure of seeing this madness on DVD or playing on Showcase, as I did, this is the perverse story of a TV director who discovers an underground sub-culture after getting into a serious car accident of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce and tries to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife with that new knowledge. There’s no better way to describe this one other than it is totally and utterly screwed up but quite the norm for a guy like Cronenberg and this one has been messing up audiences and been the “oh my god, have you seen this?” movie for almost twenty-five years. I find it fascinating that the studio is bringing it back for another run.

Blu-Ray:

The Irishman – Legendary director Martin Scorsese plays with the progression of the cinema medium with this movie directly made for Netflix and now it. Even better, Scorsese has rounded up some of his greatest collaborators because this film stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci who acts in his first movie since the 2010s The Love Ranch. The movie follows DeNiro’s character of Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman recalling his involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa, a long-unsolved murder so all of this can be listed under supposed. The film is another piece in a stellar career from Scorsese and it definitely deserving of a release as part of the most definitive film collections on the planet and I can’t wait to get immersed in the behind the scenes of a massive undertaking to de-age all of the stars involved in the picture and the huge CG and makeup process.

Friendsgiving – Also known as Dinner With Friends in North America, I’m not only completely surprised by the existence of this movie but totally upset with myself that I didn’t know it existed because, holy hell, this cast is great. Malin Ackerman, Kat Dennings, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Deon Cole, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster and Ryan Hansen star in this hilarious film that follows the main character of Abby who is looking forward to a laid-back Thanksgiving with her best friend Molly but their’ plans for a quiet turkey dinner go up in smoke when they’re joined by Molly’s new boyfriend and her flamboyant mother. After the arrival of some party crashers including Molly’s old flame, a wannabe shaman, and a trio of Fairy Gay Mothers, and it gets chaotic to the point of a complete farce in a film that is really just a big fluffy comedy of no substance but still felt totally enjoyable from beginning to end.

Train to Busan Presents Peninsula – After the South Korean zombie horror hit went overseas and became a must-see film for genre fans in North America the obvious questions came up which are “can we remake it?” and “where’s the sequel?”. Well, hopefully, the answer to that first question is never but the second question has been answered with this brand new follow up which takes place four years after the zombie outbreak in Train to Busan with the Korean peninsula in full devastation and follows Jung Seok, a former soldier who has managed to escape overseas, who is given a mission to go back and unexpectedly meets survivors. Now having said all of that, it’s really unfortunate that the audience demand rushed this movie to be made because, in all honesty, it really isn’t very good and kind of makes the problems from the first film more glaringly obvious. This one, by extension, feels clunky, cartoonish and at many times totally ridiculous. I know zombie films, in general, are ridiculous but this far exceeds the limit.

The Secrets We Keep – Nazis are evil no matter what and we should stomp them out whenever we come across them, no question, no if, and or buts. This is unwavering but what if you were unsure because your trauma may be clouding your judgement. This is the story at the heart of this new thriller starring former Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina and Joel Kinnaman, set in a post-WWII America following a woman rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband who kidnaps her neighbour, seeking vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her. The film is well-paced and Rapace is absolutely riveting, wearing every emotion on her sleeve, so palpable with each drag of her character’s cigarette. Pieces of this movie feel a bit far-fetched but it’s her conviction that keeps it all grounded.

Fatman – On paper this sounds like the stupidest possible thing to make a movie out of, and honestly, the jury is still out on that one, and, maybe, people might find this one Christmas blasphemy but I am not afraid to admit that I was crazily entertained the whole time and thought it was wildly imaginative and original. The film follows a rowdy, unorthodox Santa Claus played by Mel Gibson who is fighting to save his declining business in a brutal modern world. Meanwhile, Billy, a neglected and totally bratty twelve-year-old, hires a hitman played by the great Walton Goggins to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. This movie oozes tough-guy imagery against a snowy backdrop and delivers the violence in a bloody battling third act that keeps you hooting and hollering until the credits hit. So many times I marvelled at what I was seeing and knew deep down that it wasn’t going to be accessible to everyone but that sick action-loving side of me was thrilled.

Cold Light Of Day – Arrow Video coming through with this collector edition with this underseen and under-heard of fictionalized serial killer biopic from 1989, the only production from writer and director Fhiona-Louise who clearly made this on a shoestring budget. The story is about Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least 12 young men and boys in the two successive flats where he lived, storing their corpses for long periods of time before dismembering them and disposing of them in the drains. Fhiona-Louise crafts a character-heavy introspective piece with this film that is as fascinating as it is disturbing in a final result that will delight fans of films like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and Maniac. Definitely not for the weak of heart or those who are terrified of delving into a psychotic brain.

Sonic The Hedgehog – After a delay in release to repair a horrendous looking lead character with teeth and muscle structure that will give you nightmares, we finally get to see this video game adaptation that is hotly anticipated for a rabid fanbase. For those who have lived under a rock for decades, Sonic is a speedy blue hedgehog with a cocky attitude who, in this film, befriends a small-town police officer played by James Marsden to join him in a battle against an evil genius, the villainous Dr. Ivo Robotnik who wants to do experiments on it. My initial excitement came from the fact that the big bad is played by one of my favourites of all time, Jim Carrey, and he honestly does almost steal the entire show. I initially thought that this movie was going to be garbage but I had a hell of a lot of fun with it, the references to the classic pieces of the videogame are all there and the love for this character and the world it comes from is all there. I really hope that this leads to a full-on franchise because me and my family would definitely be interested in more, especially after that stinger at the end.

Libeled Lady – For the first of this week’s Warner Archive releases we head to the mid-thirties for an Academy Award-nominated romantic comedy that features starlet Jean Harlow in a role so important to her that she would be buried in the gown she wore in this film just a year later. The film follows the editor of a popular New York newspaper who calls in the help of his ignored fiancée and a former employee when a socialite sues him for libel. Together, they concoct a scheme to frame her in a scandalous situation and do everything in their power to make the false story seem true. Harlow really shows her star power in this film and it makes the tragedy of her passing away at the young age of twenty-six hit harder. She has a huge career ahead of her.

The Pirate – For the second classic film out of the vaults of the Warner Archive is this adventure musical that features the music of the legendary Cole Porter in a film that has the leading lady of Judy Garland and her husband Vincente Minnelli, the father of Liza, behind the camera. The film follows a girl who is engaged to the local rich man in her town but dreams about the legendary pirate Macoco. A travelling singer gets wind of this desire as he falls in love with her and to impress her he poses as the pirate to win her heart. This was a later film in the career of Garland as she was in declining health, only able to film for thirty-six of the one hundred and thirty-five shooting days, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day and the studio ended up hiring an on set psychiatrist for her. Even worse, the film was a box office failure and lost the studio over two million dollars.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Batman: Death In The Family – I have been waiting for the geniuses behind the DC animated films to finally get to this pivotal story in the tales of the Caped Crusader and especially his line of Robins that he’s had and the tragic end to this one. Bruce Greenwood reprises his role as both Batman and Bruce Wayne this telling of the ending of the second Robin, Jason Todd’s tenure in his sidekick role but it is a different styling as this is one of those choose your own adventure style blu-rays where you’re job is to interactively steer Todd from his comics inevitable fate at the hands of the maniac Joker. I really didn’t think I would enjoy this as I was hoping for a more straight-forward film but as a fan of the comic story, I thought going through it this way was fresh, original and added a whole new unpredictability that made everything feel brand new. For Batman fans, this one is a true gift.

RWBY: Season 7 – I have said time and time again that I have to have some sort of mental block between my film and television sensibilities ad the format of anime because I largely don’t get it. This was my initial thinking when I picked up this box set but I had no idea that Monty Oum, Rooster Teeth contributor and Red vs. Blue writer, had my back and had crafted a show that felt like it was skewed to exactly that kind of viewer. The story takes place in the world of Remnant, which is filled with supernatural forces and shadowy creatures known as the Grimm. Before the events of the series, mankind waged a battle of survival against the Grimm before discovering the power of a mysterious element called Dust, which allowed them to fight back against the monsters. In the present day, Dust is used to power magical abilities and weapons where those who use these abilities to battle the Grimm are known as Huntsmen and Huntresses, focusing on four girls who form a team at Beacon Academy, training for that battle role. Really cool animation drives this action-packed series that really gets better with each passing volume. I’m digging all of it.

Television:

The Flight Attendant (Crave) – I have to admit that whenever I see anything with Kaley Cuoco in it for over a decade I automatically think of her character Penny from the long-running series The Big Bang Theory because that’s just the stigma that these sitcom stars are saddled with but hopefully this new limited series will shift the focus. She plays flight attendant Cassandra Bowden who wakes in her hotel room in Dubai, hungover from the night before and with a dead body lying next to her. Afraid to call the police, she continues her morning as if nothing happened, joining the other flight attendants and pilots travelling to the airport but in New York, she is met by FBI agents who question her about her recent layover in Dubai. Still unable to piece the night together, she begins to wonder if she could be the killer. I love the mystery drive of this series and it was created by writer Steve Yockey, who wrote for years on the recently ended Supernatural and more so I have some high hopes for this.

Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix) – Based on the best selling book from J.D. Vance, who is the subject of the book as well, even the trailers set this film up to be total Oscar bait with Glenn Close and Amy Adams under some heavy makeup to play their roles and stalwart filmmaker Ron Howard at the helm to pull the strings. The film is a modern exploration of the American Dream through three generations of an Appalachian family as told by its youngest member, a Yale Law student forced to return to his hometown when his mother overdoses, forcing him to confront his upbringing, his pursuit of his career and the familiar relationships he still has. This movie is frustrating in that every advance it makes to being stellar is immediately cut down by a totally glossy and contrived scene. At the end of the day, when Howard, Brian Grazer and the rest of Imagine Entertainment are gunning for Oscar, it all comes up way too short in the end.

Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime) – Let’s be honest here, if you mention the name Alan Ball to me I am going to corner you into an hour-long discussion about how amazing and life-changing Six Feet Under was, a show that he created and one that still sits atop my list with Twin Peaks and a couple of others. That said, this new project has him tackling a medium that he usually doesn’t do, a feature film. Starring a deep cast including Paul Bettany, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn and Sophia Lillis, this film is set in 1973 and follows Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth as they take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina for the family patriarch’s funeral and unexpectedly joined by Frank’s gay lover Walid. The film has a textured retro look and Bettany is at the top of his game once again for this performance.

Black Narcissus (FX) – This is a really ballsy move for FX to take on as a network but after other cinematic masterpieces like Picnic At Hanging Rock have already been tackled, and done successfully might I add, well, I’m not giving everything carte blanche but I’m open-minded. This miniseries is the adaptation of a groundbreaking Deborah Kerr film from 1947 and features Gemma Arterton, a favourite of mine, in a story about a group of nuns who face challenges in the hostile environment of a remote old Himalayan palace that they wish to convert into a convent. This series is a bit bittersweet as it features the last performance from Dame Diana Rigg who passed away earlier this year and features in three of the episodes in a pivotal role. I’m really looking forward to this one as A Quiet Place cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen makes her directorial debut on this.

Belushi (Crave) – I really love all of these comprehensive documentaries on actors, actresses and comedians and I have been waiting for this one to get released as soon as I heard about it. Using previously unheard audiotapes recorded shortly after John Belushi’s death, director R.J. Cutler, who has previously brought us films like The September Issue and The World According to Dick Cheney, brings us this documentary that examines the too-short life of a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny bones of devoted audiences for the time and the generations that follow. The film features interviews with Belushi’s friends like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Candice Bergen as well as those who have already left us like Carrie Fisher and Harold Ramis. Get ready for an emotional rollercoaster with this one.

New Releases:

Mank – This new era picture from master director David Fincher is notable for a multitude of reasons, the small being that this production distracted him so much that it’s doubtful that we’ll get a third season of Mindhunter, which is heartbreaking for a lot of fans. The big thing is that with this movie he has hit the true god-like level in cinema, pushing him into the echelon of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and even the man he has as a character in this, Orson Welles. The story has Gary Oldman playing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he sequesters himself after a serious car accident to start his tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane which starts to rope in real people from his life like American businessman and newspaper publisher Charles Randolph Heart. This film is incredible, leaping off the screen with every shot filled with nostalgia for the era but themes that are still painfully relevant today. Honestly, you can give Oldman another Oscar after this one because he shakes the whole room with his performance, my favourite lead actor of this year I think.

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.

The Witches – This one definitely surprised me with its existence, and not just because it’s a remake of a beloved 1990s classic film because that just seems to be part of the norm now whether it’s a reimagining, a sequel or a reboot. What shocked me is that this Roald Dahl classic is still keeping it’s absolutely creepy tone that shook me a little bit as a kid and is running with it again and I have to say that it is probably because Robert Zemeckis directed with Guillermo Del Toro as the co-writer. Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci and more, this tells Dahl’s beloved story for a modern audience, a darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of a young orphaned boy who, in late 1967, goes to live with his loving Grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely takes him away to a seaside resort but, unfortunately, they arrive at the same time as the world’s Grand High Witch has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe-undercover-to carry out her evil plans. The creepiest thing about Nicholas Roeg’s original film was the transformation of the Witches from their disguises to their true form and they did the same thing with this, making it a film I would never show a kid in a million years. It’s also absolutely terrible with Hathaway giving a gonzo performance that may go down as the worst in her career. Damn my eyes, I hated this remake, a slap in the face to the original.

Sound Of Metal – Riz Ahmed has astounded me with his talent twice now this year, first with his role as a British Pakistani rapper in the drama Mogul Mowgli just over a month ago at the virtual version of the Vancouver International Film Festival and now this one, another deep character piece. In this film, he plays a heavy-metal drummer and former heroin addict whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. Believing that there can be a solution, he fixates on an experimental but expensive procedure to “cure” his hearing loss in a sort of desperate hope. This is an impactful film about the state of denial and desperation a person must feel when they lose something that we take for granted, really. Director and writer Darius Marder beautifully creates an experience that seems to transcend the sensory experience and put you right into Ahmed’s character’s plight in such an incredible way. It’s truly stellar.

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.

Team Marco – Kids these days, always with their faces glued to an iPad or a tablet or a Nintendo Switch and so on. I know, I have one and she’s obsessed. How do we get them off that and out into the world to do something physical? That’s what’s at the heart of this new family comedy following twelve-year-old Marco who is obsessed with his own iPad and hardly leaves the house. but when his grandmother dies and his grandfather moves in, Marco’s life is turned upside-down and he is forced to go play in the dreaded outside. Grandpa introduces him to the fun of bocce ball and to the neighbourhood crew of old Italian men who play daily at the local court and it turns Marco’s attitude around, giving him something to focus on as he finds a connection to other people and rounds up a team of neighbourhood kids to take on Marco’s grandfather and his pals. This movie is a sweetheart little piece of fluff that is enjoyable but fleeting, like the melt away of cotton candy.

The Donut King – Just watching this movie made me have a real sweet tooth craving for some REAL donuts and not that Tim Horton’s recreated and reheated crap so this is your warning now not to go in with an empty stomach. This is a great documentary that feels personal and loving, telling the story of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian American entrepreneur who purchased his first doughnut shop, Christy’s Doughnuts in 1977 which was the first step to him becoming “The Donut King” becoming an example to other Cambodian immigrants, who began to follow his business model for their own entrepreneurial endeavours. He later went into politics as a Republican, so let’s avoid that part, but this is a really cool story about the “American Dream” in a time that we really need to hear about it.

Crazy, Not Insane – Just a month after he brought us the complete pandemic timeline from the American point of view under the blundering Trump administration, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney returns with another hard-hitting film, this one produced by HBO, just like a lot of his others. Narrated by Academy Award winner Laura Dern, this film is an examination of the research by forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis who investigated the psychology of murderers to get in their head t see what makes them tick and why they do the things they do. Gibney always has a deep talent for getting to the absolute heart of every subject he focuses on and the same applies to this film as it paints Lewis’s work with intricate detail rather than broad strokes, truly a fascinating film.

Blu-Ray:

The New Mutants – I was starting to get to the point that I thought this movie was a big deep state lie or something that I had made up in my mind as it was supposed to come out years ago and now finally its on blu-ray after hitting theatres at the end of August. A spin-off of the X-Men, the film follows five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, who fight to escape their past sins and save themselves and features a great cast of then-rising stars who are now very established with Game Of Thrones actress Maisie Williams, Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton and The Witch’s Anya Taylor Joy. My excitement left my face within the first fifteen minutes as I started to realize why it had been shelved for so long. The film is completely disjointed in its storytelling, its tone and its character development to the point that it outright starts abandoning plot points and character arches to fit in a cool looking but totally nonsensical final battle in the third act. This one isn’t Fantastic Four levels of bad but it is still a massive disappointment that seems to be cut to shreds by producers. These X-Men movies continue to break my heart like a horrible ex-girlfriend.

Unhinged – On paper, this movie sounds absolutely insane and with the rising tempers in citizens around the world during this pandemic maybe it’s a little ill-timed but what really surprised me is how entertaining this movie was and how absolutely gonzo Russell Crowe is in it, playing the ultimate villain role. This one is super simple, a woman and her son become the target of an unstable man’s rage after a confrontation at an intersection and the proverbial shit hits the fan as he pulls out all the stops to try and force an apology out of her. The film comes from German director Derrick Borte who just released the very dark thriller American Dreamer with Jim Gaffigan on Blu-ray earlier this year and this movie is just far-fetched enough to be a total popcorn flick and not as societally damning as the premise would initially suggest. This is a totally pulpy film and kind of grindhouse at its core and I totally enjoyed it for that reason.

Summerland – Consistently, British actress Gemma Arterton has been the main selling point for me to watch pretty much anything, a versatile performer who has done great genre films, comedies, historical dramas and romances and for this new film she combines those last two. Writer and director Jessica Swale makes her feature-length theatrical debut with this story, set during World War II, following an Englishwoman who opens her heart to an evacuee after initially resolving to be rid of him when the two realize they have more in common in their pasts than she had once assumed. Arterton is without a doubt the best reason to watch this movie, delivering another stellar performance, further proof that she is one of the most underrated leading actresses today. For another example of this in the same sort of setting, the film Their Finest, released four years ago.

Relic – Something in the subgenre of horror that deals with psychological warfare seems to really speak to me, like Ari Aster’s films Hereditary and Midsommar and immediately grabs me, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s straight-up relating to the character’s plight, I’m not sure. This one had e quickly, following a daughter, mother and grandmother who are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home. Starring Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote from The Neon Demon, this is an amazing film that probably no one will hear of or see but is the incredible debut of filmmaker Natalie Erika James who makes it look like a veteran put this movie together. As a new female voice in horror, I sincerely can not wait to see what’s next for her.

2067 – Self-contained sci-fi and lower budget sci-fi, it can either be great and captivating or it can leak air for ninety minutes and make you wonder why you got into it in the first place. This film hits somewhere in the middle, starring former X-Men’s Nightcrawler Kodi Smit McPhee and former True Blood star Ryan Kwanten and is set, obviously from the title, over forty years into the future following a man sent on a dangerous mission to an unknown world to save the human race when Earth’s air becomes unbreathable, only on the prodding of a mysterious message that was sent out. The film has a detailed plot with several intriguing mysteries at its core but that may be the biggest issue being that it has so many strands going outward that it can’t resolve or make sense of most of them besides our main character’s increasing existential quandaries. It’s still a bold film for former VFX artist turned director Seth Larney to take on.

Paydirt – If you’re looking for dumb guy bravado with guns and terrible one-liners then this is the movie for you as direct to video tough dude and former Guillermo del Toro villain (note to self, watch Hellboy II: The Golden Army again) Luke Goss leads this heist action thriller that was just tedious to get through. Written and directed by Vigilante Diaries filmmaker Christian Sesma, this film follows a parolee who teams up with his old crew and is determined to find a buried bag of cash stolen five years ago from a DEA bust gone bad while being tracked by a retired Sheriff. The only real big star to grace the screen in this film is Val Kilmer, who features with his daughter Mercedes, and, oh man, he looks so awful that I felt like he died multiple times on camera. This movie is supremely awful, just avoid it.

Monstrum – I love a good South Korean movie but a South Korean horror movie definitely gets me salivating a bit and a South Korean monster horror movie is something I’ll bust through walls for like the Kool-Aid Man. This is exactly that last one and it is all the awesomeness that it sounds like. The story follows a loyal subject of King Jung Jong of Joseon who struggles to fight against a monster that looks like a sort of reptilian balrog from Lord Of The Rings that threatens King Jung Jong’s life and a group of people trying to depose King Jung Jong. This movie is big and fun with some killer action sequences and a feel that will remind people of Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, another fantastic monster flick. This one is definitely recommended and crank the sound when you’re watching it.

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’s 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, definitely recommended.

The Personal History Of David Copperfield – Things that are fleeting until the real weight of the knowledge hits you but when Armando Iannucci makes a film, you stop, take notice and salivate for it until it arrives. Now, after a brief “blink and you miss it” theatrical run, the creator of Veep, The Thick Of It and The Death Of Stalin returns with his send-up of Charles Dickens featuring a killer cast including Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Tilda Swinton and Ben Whishaw. The film is a fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical masterpiece, set in the 1840s, which chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it. From his unhappy childhood to the discovery of his gift as a storyteller and writer, David’s journey is by turns hilarious and tragic, but always full of life, colour and humanity done with a sardonic and acerbic bite that only Iannucci can give it. Trust me, you will throw this on and laugh yourself silly, in the most proper and dignified way, of course.

It’s A Wonderful Life – One of the most iconic Christmas films of all time gets the full 4K restoration special edition treatment as you can now show your entire family this classic Jimmy Stewart movie. For those who don’t know this story, the film centers around a stressed-out and overworked businessman who is shown what the world would be like without him in it. The film is one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time and even earned five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director for Frank Capra, one of the greats of the time. I honestly don’t need to prattle on any more about this one as we’ve all seen it or know about it or watched the Nicolas Cage sort of remake of it, The Family Man. Am I alone on that last one?

Vikings: Season 6 Volume 1 – The theme of this week with the television new releases it seems is “shows that are coming to a close” and we start with this show and the first half of its finale and a popular one that was the kick-off to History Channels scripted original productions. For those who don’t know, this is the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok, the greatest hero of his age, following the saga of Ragnar’s band of Viking brothers and his family as he rises to become King of the Viking tribes. In the “Sons Of Anarchy” styling of history, Ragnar embodies the Norse traditions of devotion to the gods and, of course, legend has it that he was a direct descendant of Odin, the god of war and warriors. To get any deeper into describing the plot I would run into spoiler territory, especially with the synopsis of this final season, but I’ve fallen headlong into binging it and I love it.

Blindspot: Season 5 – Another finale to a pretty solid series run in this day and age, I was on board with this Jaime Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton mystery action series from its first season premiere as I enjoyed both stars from previous roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Cinemax’s Strike Back respectively. This show was awesome and follows a mysterious woman who is found zipped up alive in a duffel bag, in Times Square. With no memory of who she is or how she arrived there, the only clue to the mystery is that she is nearly completely covered in cryptic tattoos. The FBI is called in to investigate, and the tattoos are revealed one by one to be a mysterious ‘treasure map’ to prevent crime. I was such a fan of mystery shows like Lost, Prison Break and others that were frustratingly cancelled before their time that the fact that we got to see this one to its finish almost feels like an unheard-of treat on television.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Let’s Scare Julie – More horror? Still? Yes, it never ends for me and the great people at Shout Factory hooked me up with this brand new feature and, although it features no huge stars or a writer and director of note, it delves into a side of the horror fandom that is large and vocal but still only gets cosplay respect, the female fan of this genre. The story follows a group of teen girls who set out to scare their reclusive new neighbour, but the prank turns to terror when some of them don’t come back, sparking them to think that they have unwittingly stumbled across a serial killer. Although this movie is rough around the edges, I still thought it had effective scares and really pulled at the strings of grounded chills that feel like it could happen to anybody. Not a lot of push is behind this one, so it really relies on word of mouth to get the recommendations so consider this exactly that.

Television:

The Crown: Season 4 (Netflix) – One season after the next evolution of this story of the Royal Family arrived with Oscar-winner Olivia Colman taking the reins of the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy, this new season gets into scandals and adversities that I think are still fresh in people’s minds This new season forges ahead with my one time crush Gillian Anderson joining the cast as the formidable Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher for the Queen to butt heads with as well as the introduction of Princess Diana and the politics involved with that as well as the rebellion she made to the conventional rules of the Royal Family put in place for generations. I know I said it last season but this may be the top season of this Peter Morgan created show but, let’s face it, this whole series is incredible and so freaking addictive.

The Reagans (Crave) – There is nothing better and more informative than an HBO made documentary and it gets even better when they stretch it out to be a series, which is the case with this four-part show that chronicles the lives of the Republican golden boy President Ronald Reagan and his first lady Nancy Reagan. The series is a reexamining one of the most powerful and polarizing political couples of our time by award-winning documentarian and journalist Matt Tyrnauer who combines archival footage, exhaustive research and first-person accounts from the couple’s inner circle to craft a revealing portrait of their unlikely rise from Hollywood to the presidency as well as Nancy Reagan’s powerful position at the helm of their unprecedented partnership. This is a series that may distract from the buffoonery that is currently going on in the White House and remind you of a time when this party acted with even a little bit of class. Imagine that.

LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (Disney+) – No, this isn’t a LEGO remake of that horrible holiday special that had Luke ice skating, dancing and singing, Chewbacca going back to his family for the holidays and even Bea Arthur for some confusing reason. No, there’s an obvious reason that George Lucas wants all copies of that abomination destroyed. This, instead, is a fun little short film that has Rey and the gang readying for Light Day, their version of Christmas, which sends her on a quest to find a Jedi artifact that will give the true meaning of the day. It also has the power to travel her through time, meaning we drop into every iteration of Star Wars for a bunch of chaotic but fun character cameos. This was an enjoyable and funny movie for all of those deeply immersed in everything Star Wars and, yes, the kids will love it too.

Marvel 616 (Disney+) – Even since the launch of Disney+, Marvel fans have been chomping at the bit for any new Marvel-related content and with the recent announcement of a mid-January premiere of Wandavision, its new documentary series might be just what we need to stave off that nagging craving until then. This brand new show, led by comedic star and Marvel writer Paul Scheer along with other Marvel top creators G. Willow Willow and Sana Amanat, is an anthology documentary series that explores the historical, cultural and societal impacts of the Marvel Comics Universe and its intersection with the world. The show will delve into the creation of heroes of colour like Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales’ Spider-man and much more, so I’m really excited to see this show educate those who don’t know the origin of these fantastic characters.

His Dark Materials: Season 2 (Crave) – I’m going to say something controversial here and reveal that I really like the Chris Weitz made Golden Compass film from 2007 which was the first kick at the Phillip Pullman written series of books and I really wanted to see more. It’s a damn great thing that HBO and BBC joined forces to do a faithful adaptation of these books and cast Dafne Keen, who astounded audiences alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan, as the lead character of Lyra. The potential of this series is unlimited and while being compared to Game Of Thrones is becoming a bit tiresome, the comparison feels a little more real with this one as the book series is popular and perfect for this style of adaptation. The first season set such a great tone for it that separates it from the previous version, immersing it in a great world realism that is dying to be explored in this new season. I am excited about it.

New Releases:

Hillbilly Elegy – Based on the best selling book from J.D. Vance, who is the subject of the book as well, even the trailers set this film up to be total Oscar bait with Glenn Close and Amy Adams under some heavy makeup to play their roles and stalwart filmmaker Ron Howard at the helm to pull the strings. The film is a modern exploration of the American Dream through three generations of an Appalachian family as told by its youngest member, a Yale Law student forced to return to his hometown when his mother overdoses, forcing him to confront his upbringing, his pursuit of his career and the familiar relationships he still has. This movie is frustrating in that every advance it makes to being stellar it is immediately cut down by a totally glossy and contrived scene. At the end of the day, when Howard, Brian Grazer and the rest of Imagine Entertainment are gunning for Oscar, it all comes up way too short in the end.

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.

Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslet 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 favorite 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 favorite 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.

Chick Fight – On paper, this is a movie I really should have enjoyed. The cast is solid, featuring Malin Ackerman in the lead with Alec Baldwin, Fortune Feimster and Bella Thorne in a story of female empowerment that feels like it is really needed in this day and age. Ackerman plays Anna Wyncomb, a down on her luck woman who is introduced to an underground, all-female fight club to turn the mess of her life around and discovers she is much more personally connected to the history of the club than she could ever imagine. This movie fails almost right out of the gate with easy jokes, contrived and dated plotting and, immediately, I head to the notes to see that this movie was made by two dudes who obviously didn’t get a woman to give them notes because, although it doesn’t go sexually exploitative, it is really apparent that they just had the cliff notes on what it means to be a woman. They also saw way too many Michael Bay films because it comes through in the direction.

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel – Remember The Corporation, a Canadian made documentary from 2003 that looked at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance and even put it through the psychopath test? Well, director Jennifer Abbott and new co-director Joel Bakan are back for this very and, yes, unfortunately, necessary follow up that exposes how companies are desperately rebranding as socially responsible and how that threatens democratic freedoms. It is infuriating to watch in detail how these tactics had blurred political lines between massive conglomerates and dirty politicians and have effectively choked the life out of democracy to the point that it is almost completely unrecognizable. It’s also really interesting to see how close this has all gotten in the timeline as the filmmakers have been able to include the happenings of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies’ reactions and ad campaigns around it, exploiting the public needs and even the exploitation of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a great movie but, be warned, it will piss you off.

Dating Amber – A totally quirkly little teen comedy, this Irish film brings the awkward in yet another great LGBTQ+ story and, with limited ways to advertise in this current pandemic climate, caught me totally offguard again. The film follows a closeted gay teen and his lesbian counterpart who pretend to be a couple to avoid suspicion and skirt through the next years of high school until they can reveal their true sexualities unencumbered by the bullying of other students and the condemnation of their lives. The film stars the very likeable duo of Fionn O’Shea from the Netflix series The Letter For The King and Lola Petticrew who is totally new to me but their chemistry in this is unmistakable. This is a great movie, well worth checking out.

The Life Ahead – Screen legend and Academy Award winner Sophia Loren returns to film over a decade after her last big-screen role with this new heartfelt drama playing an aging Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a young immigrant from Senegal who recently robbed her. The film comes from Swiss filmmaker Edoardo Ponti in his third feature film in twenty years of directing but it reteams him with Loren, his mother who he made his debut film Between Strangers with, a movie with a deeply veteran cast besides her. This time the biggest star on screen is Sophia and she shines like the incredible beacon she is, turning in a fantastic performance alongside young Ibrahima Gueye, who will be a star on the rise if he continues down this path.

Blu-Ray:

Mulan – With every new Disney animated classic adaptation, I feel a little more trepidation and not because the movies are bad but because they seem to lack the heart and soul of the original films. The pandemic has robbed us of getting the chance to see this new version of Mulan on the big screen and it really is a robbery because this is an incredible film to behold and it’s a total gamechanger for these movies. Directed by Whale Rider filmmaker Niki Caro and shot by the eye behind Baz Luhrman’s Australian, cinematographer Mandy Walker, this movie is vibrant and leaps off the screen at you, a breathtaking experience at all times. The casting is impeccable, featuring an amazing cast including Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei Pei Cheung, Jason Scott Lee and Jet Li, gathered around an incredible lead in Yifei Liu who shoulders the load of this lead character amazingly, this may be one of the best films of the year. I adored it thoroughly.

Bill & Ted Face The Music – Being a pretty much lifelong fan of the two Bill and Ted movies we’ve received so far I am more than overjoyed that we finally get a full trilogy of the continued time travel stories Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan, Esquire, though it is with a twinge of sadness that George Carlin is no longer here to play their guide, Rufus. Now, over thirty years after the original movie, the two would-be rockers from San Dimas, California find themselves as middle-aged dads still trying to crank out a hit song and fulfill their destiny, once told they’d save the universe. This movie seems like a pass off for the daughters played by Ready Or Not’s Samara Weaving and Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine to take over the franchise and I’m totally on board for that because they’re both really great in this and their new guide Kristen Schaal is fantastic as always. No matter how this movie turned out I was going to love it unconditionally, like my own child, and to see that it is truly “excellent” makes me feel the warmth of a nostalgic hug.

Spontaneous – Coming of age is hard as I remember it. Budding sexuality, hormones, high school cliques, exploding bodies… wait, exploding bodies? Yes, this is the direction that this teen horror from com goes in The Babysitter writer Brian Duffield’s directorial debut and although the story seems insane he makes it work for the entire duration. Starring the “it” girl of right now, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford alongside Charlie Plummer, they play seniors Mara and Dylan two newly found lovebirds who struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last as students in their school begin exploding like balloons full of blood. The dynamic of the film is so interesting as the explosions at first come off as comical but when you start putting faces behind the victims the seriousness arises along with the stakes to keep everyone alive. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this film and the script and lead stars are definitely what keep it afloat.

A Rainy Day In New York – Woody Allen, in an era where his schtick is faltering more and more every time out due to his very in the open antics, falls flat on his face in this new offering and, even worse, he takes down the incredibly likeable and, until this point do no wrong star Timothee Chalamet. Co-starring the also incredibly likeable Elle Fanning, this story follows a young couple who arrive in New York for a weekend where they are met with bad weather and a series of misadventures, kind of a standard fare for Allen but it all starts to feel so wildly out of touch almost immediately and that has to start with the disconnect he has for modern society. Hearing his words through young Timothee feels unnatural, almost like his character had been mothballed with other ideals and then brought back to life like a cro magnon man. I feel like we’re coming to the end of an era with Woody Allen films and after this one, it really couldn’t come fast enough.

Guest House – Pauly Shore is back everybody so we can now break out everything nineties and rejoice! As a guy that was definitely the target market for the zany comedian’s antics in his heyday, I would be totally lying if I said that this one didn’t excite me as soon as I saw the cast list but it totally did. The story follows a newly engaged couple who find the home of their dreams but it quickly becomes a nightmare when the previous owner’s friend, played by Shore, continues squatting in their guest house leading to a turf war that ultimately ruins their house, their marriage and their lives. Sure Billy Zane and Jackass alumni Steve-O appear in this as well but, who cares? It’s all about Pauly getting his time in the spotlight again. For non-fans, is it any good? Hell no, did you expect it to be?

Book Of Monsters – Anytime a horror film reaches back into the eighties styling I jump immediately on board because I really love the aesthetic. The hair, the atmosphere and, most of all, the pure bliss of a synthesiser score.This new film, that definitely slipped way under my radar, has everything going for it and follows Sophie, a teen celebrating her 18th birthday which quickly becomes a bloodbath when monsters descend upon her house and start to devour the party guests. This forces Sophie and her friends to rally together to send their party crashers back to hell and what a fantastically fun ride this movie is, filled with gore, practical creature effects and some kick-ass girl power to drive it all along. For genre fans, you really might discover that this is your sleeper hit of the year because damn did I love this movie.

Tennessee Johnson – For the installment of Warner Archive releases of the week, as it seems to be the case the last few, we’re going pre-World War II for this drama, a biography of Andrew Johnson, who followed Abraham Lincoln into office and became the first President of the United States ever to be impeached. The classic Hollywood that lies within this movie is Lionel Barrymore, one of the most famous actors of the era who played American Representative Thaddeus Stevens in what some critics thought was a distorted and derogatory way. It’s interesting to note that this very American history driven film was directed by German filmmaker William Dieterle which is a fascinating lens to put it through.

Girlfriends – The excitement of a brand new Criterion Collection entry is here and, something that happens now and then, I haven’t heard of this movie before but that is usually. a good thing. Released in 1978 his comedy-drama comes from writer and director Claudia Weill in her first of the only two feature films in her career, following a New York City photographer who feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness when her best friend gets married and moves out. Reading into this movie, I nerd out about it because my favourite filmmaker of all-time Stanley Kubrick raved about the film and called it the best of 1978. That is high praise in my mind.

The Last Starfighter – This is a very cool release to bring this week as it is, without a doubt, one of my favorite childhood movies of all time. It is really the damn coolest, about video game expert Alex Rogan who finds himself transported to another planet after beating the arcade game The Last Starfighter finding out it was a test and he was recruited to join the team of best starfighters to defend their world from the attack. It’s every kid’s dream scenario put on film and we ate it up and, honestly, still really go as it may have paled in the way old sci-fi productions do, but the feeling is all there as is the nostalgia, restored brilliantly by Arrow Video. I’m so pumped to have this new edition in my library, a very special one for me.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

Claudine – A huge film for black cinema in the mid-seventies that wasn’t categorized as blaxploitation or anything campy, this movie featured the high profile star of Diahann Carroll, who just passed away last year, and James Earl Jones and was a relatable romantic drama with its sights set on the working class of America. The plot follows the titular character Claudine, a single mother who tries to provide for her six children in Harlem while on welfare who finds herself in a whirlwind romance with Roop, a cheerful garbage man she meets while working on the side as a maid. The chemistry between Carroll and Jones is so huge and drives this classic film as soon as they share the screen and it’s really incredible how charismatic young James looks, just a few years away from voicing one of the most iconic villains of all time.It should also be noted that Carroll was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars that year, ultimately losing to Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Superman: Man Of Tomorrow – I’m bringing more DC Animated again this week as they are just too good not to geek out on. This new release follows the big blue boy scout himself but in a younger time as Daily Planet intern Clark Kent takes more than his newspaper’s workload when Lobo and Parasite set their sights on Metropolis to lay their path of destruction. The film is missing that greatness that Tim Daly brings to Superman but being the younger version, I obviously get it, and Darren Criss does a solid job in his at-bat with the role. What I really enjoyed was Ryan Murphy productions’ buddy Zachary Quinto as Lex Luthor which brings the Heroes vibes all over again. This is a fun movie for sure.

Warning From Space – A Japanese space invader movie made by the minds at Toho, the creators of Godzilla just two years earlier, this is what we’re finishing this week off with and it honestly is really crazy how influential this movie was. Just to give you the story, it’s about a group of starfish-like aliens from the planet Pyra who come to Earth to warn mankind about a runaway planetoid known as Planet R that is on a collision course with Earth because they fear that when Earth is destroyed that their planet will be destroyed as well. Their form, unfortunately, causes people to panic, so they chose a female member of their race to take human form to spread their message and then decide to contact a prominent scientist who has invented a new source of energy that can also be made into the most destructive bomb the world has known to destroy the planetoid. The scientist is subsequently kidnapped by enemy agents who want to use the bomb for their own purposes and it becomes a race against time to find the scientist so he can complete his formula and save mankind. Whew, a lot going on there but it influenced many other Japanese science fiction films, such as Gorath in 1962, which, along with other 1950s science fiction films, influenced director Stanley Kubrick especially when he would later direct 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cinema owed to this movie is insane.

Television:

Moonbase 8 (Crave) – Space seems to be the new hotness in series form with Space Force, Away and the Challenger docuseries just released in the last few weeks and The Expanse, although more sci-fi that straight forward space exploration is still widely streamed. Now Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly have joined forces with Portlandia co-creator Jonathan Krissel to create this brand new show they all-star in, minus Krissel, and it is already brilliant after just one episode. The show follows them as three astronauts stationed at NASA’s Moon Base Simulator in a remote part of the Arizona desert who are working vigorously to qualify for their first lunar mission, encountering many obstacles including loneliness, self-doubt and their own gross incompetence. Despite it all, they remain determined to prove they have the right stuff to reach the moon. The combination of each of their comedic geniuses makes this a must-see series and maybe the sleeper hit as this year draws to a close.

The Liberator (Netflix) – Netflix is transporting us back to World War II with this brand new original series that is led by Merlin’s Bradley James and Wind River’s Martin Sensmeier. The show follows a unit from Oklahoma known as the Thunderbirds, composed of Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Dust Bowl cowboys, most of whom couldn’t drink together in the same bars back home, who land in Sicily and endured a brutal 500-day trek through Nazi-occupied Europe. Honestly, if this is anything like the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced HBO series Band Of Brothers or The Pacific, I am on board until they literally can’t pump any new stories out about this squad. I know that World War II stories are a dime a dozen but when you find a good one you latch on to it as hard as you can.

Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House Of Fun (Netflix) – Holy buckets of crazy for you to ingest this week on Netflix as this madness lands, a transplant from Australia brought to you by Ed Helms and Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman. A new sketch series that can be likened to the big hit of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, this show takes viewers along for an absurdist adventure through the everyday lives of three roommates and best friends as they travel the mad landscapes of their own madcap nature. It was immediate love for me with the stars Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane right at the beginning of episode one that starts with the musical number “Everything’s A Drum” before they start holding auditions for their new roommate, replacing their dishwasher who has just become sentient and with the voice of Kristen Schaal. If any of that seems intriguing or must-see than this show was certainly meant for you, just as it’s meant for me.

Trial 4 (Netflix) – Itching for a new crime-based docuseries and have blown through everything on the streaming service including the latest volume of Unsolved Mysteries for shits and giggles? Well, this new show is coming through and it may leave you with that simmering rage you get when you witness an absolute injustice. The show follows Sean K. Ellis, a man charged as a teen in the 1993 killing of a Boston cop who fights to prove his innocence while exposing police corruption and systemic racism, the perfect story to tell in a time where it’s getting increasingly harder for authorities to hide these occurrences. I will get the ball rolling here and say that episode one of this show is absolutely riveting from start to finish and I recommend everyone check it out.

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (AppleTV+) – There’s something so great about Werner Herzog’s brilliant narration that, honestly, I could watch anything he made into a documentary, including watching paint dry, a total cliche, I know, but it is so damn true. This new film from the informative and almost alien-like German New Wave master is about meteors and comets and their influence on ancient religions and other cultural and physical impacts they’ve had on Earth and it’s perfect that it was made by someone who always seems to be a strange observer. It should also be noted that this will mark the third collaboration between Werner Herzog and co-director Clive Oppenheimer after Into the Inferno and Encounters at the End of the World, which are both phenomenal must-see documentaries.