Steve Stebbing

Breaking down all things pop culture

New Releases:

The Gentlemen – Writer and director Guy Ritchie is returning to the roots of cinema that got him popular, the gangster flicks like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. For this film, he grabs a huge cast with Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and more for the story of a drug lord looking to get out of the game and sell of his empire to the highest bidder which sets off a bloody war in the London underworld, a place that Ritchie knows as well as he knows himself. This movie probably won’t draw in a new audience but will satisfy the hordes of fans of this genre he made famous, all of us salivating for him to do another movie with great dialogue and loud gunfights. Bring it all the way on, Guy! (Not opening in Hamilton)

The Turning – Adapting the classic Henry James novel The Turning Of The Screw, this is a modern telling of the darkly gothic horror thriller about a young governess who is hired by a man who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the deaths of their parents. The film stars one of my favorite actresses, Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis and two young stars in Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and The Florida Project’s brilliant lead Brooklynn Prince, so it has a great backbone of acting that has me very interested in this. It is directed by Floria Sigismondi who follows up her only other feature film The Runaways with this one so I expect it to be stylish, like the many music videos she has directed for The White Stripes, David Bowie and more.

The Last Full Measure – Let’s head back to World War II for this new film from writer and director Todd Robinson, a filmmaker usually known for documentaries. Starring Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer and Peter Fonda in his final onscreen performance, this is the story of Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr., also known as “Pits”, a hero who is awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions on the battlefield thirty-four years afterwards. What has me really interested is the film was shot by cinematographer Byron Werner who shot an episode of Hulu’s Into The Dark called Culture Shock, a thought-provoking episode written and directed by local filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero. (Not opening in Hamilton, Kamloops or Oshawa)

Color Out Of Space – This movie is a sweet cinema story just in its mere existence as it is the return of director and screenwriter Richard Stanley in a narrative feature role since he was fired from The Island Of Doctor Moreau by Paramount in 1996. Even better, the movie is an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation led by a Nicolas Cage performance that is completely unhinged from the get-go. The movie follows a family whose world is thrown into chaos when a meteor crashes on their farm, emitting a sinister purple hue and changing the world around them. This movie is unsettling and awe-inspiring with its look and execution, Stanley getting right back into that unique style he exhibited with Hardware and Dust Devil. This movie is definitely not for everyone but if you loved Cage in Mandy as I did, you will love this movie. (Only opening in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver)

Cunningham – Usually documentaries are a great conduit to subjects, places and people we wouldn’t have learned about otherwise, exposing us to art and ideology that are completely new to us. That is definitely the case with this new film which gives the story of Merce Cunningham, an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of modern dance for seventy years creating over seven hundred unique productions. The film is told in the avante garde style that Cunningham emitted, although he even says that he never considered himself that at all, this was just the free flow of his mind. Maybe it’s my lack of foreknowledge of Cunningham’s work or the inaccessibility of the movie at times but I just couldn’t get into this movie and felt like it really did nothing for me outside of the interesting work he did with Andy Warhol, the highlight of the movie for me. Dance fans should pick up on this one. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)

Nomad: In The Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin – The great thing about Werner Herzog’s documentaries is that their infused with his peculiar and very original personality in so many ways that it gives the viewer a deeper understanding of the filmmaker’s journey and state of mind as he almost fuses himself with the project. This film is a very personal film for Herzog as he explores the life of a close friend of his, renowned travel journalist Bruce Chatwin, who passed away in 1990 from AIDS. Herzog takes his friend’s writings and goes place to place to get a sense of the emotion Chatwin was feeling at the time and it also works it’s way through the blueprint of Herzog’s filmography at the time as well. This film has an utter fascination to it that can only be heightened by the sheer scope of this great German director. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)

Blu-Ray:

Zombieland: Double Tap – Roughly ten years ago I remember sitting in the theater laughing my ass off at the debut of director Ruben Fleisher, Zombieland, a fresh and funny rejuvenation of the zombie genre the kickstarted the undead for another couple of years. Written by a then-unknown Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, seven years before Deadpool would catapult them to where they are now, they gave us the characters of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock who return to the screen after ten years of survival in the post-apocalypse, planning a more permanent move into America’s heartland while also dealing with a new threat of evolved zombies. More survivors join the pack, with new cast members Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch who damn near steals the movie. This movie is one of those rare sequels that manages to celebrate its predecessor but also gives us a reason to see these characters that is worth it plus these actors seem to have so much fun together which translates on screen.

The Addams Family – Its been around twenty-five years since Barry Sonnenfeld brought the classic television family of The Addams Family to the big screen so why not get a reboot but in animated form this time. The voice cast is pretty impressive for this film, featuring fan-favorite and requested Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloe Grace Moretz as Wednesday, a pivotal role, Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley and Nick Kroll as Uncle Fester, which is a hilarious connection to the directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan who made Sausage Party their last time out. I want to have faith in this movie because I really love The Addams Family but its pretty tough as it got slaughtered by critics.

Pain And Glory – One of the most consistent international filmmakers returns with his most grounded and personal film yet. Pedro Almodovar is a world-class storyteller who always comes through with vibrant tales of real human struggle and this film may be one of my favorites in his filmography. Antonio Banderas is stunning in this, one of his best performances in my opinion, as he plays a director who suffers from chronic headaches and pain from a spinal surgery coming to grips with a childhood and relationship with his mother that made him the man he is today, for better or worse, as well as the early films that made him and the working friendships he may have tarnished with his own opinions of his art. This film is stunning from the getgo and reminds you why Almodovar is one of the true masters.

Countdown – Decisive horror can sometimes be a huge problem as we’ve seen some real crap with Truth Or Dare and the first Happy Death Day but sometimes it works out, as some of the Final Destination movies are fun. This film has a nurse downloading an app that claims to predict the moment a person will die and tells her she only has three days to live. With the clock ticking and a figure haunting her, she must find a way to save her life before time runs out. The film is the directorial debut of Justin Dec, so there was some hope that with the vision of a new storyteller and utilizing a young cast including Anne Winters from 13 Reasons Why and Charlie McDermott from The Middle we might get something of substance. Nope. In a crushing defeat, this movie is full of cliches and nonsensical jump scares, some of them even repeated over and over. Utter trash.

Black And Blue – There really wasn’t any sort of ad campaign or push behind this movie but the cast seemed interesting enough to garner some clout as it stars the always phenomenal Naomie Harris who toplines this crime thriller. She plays a rookie police officer in New Orleans who has to balance her identity as a black woman with her role as a police officer when she witnesses other police officers committing murder. Unfortunately, the film comes from director Deon Taylor who’s last outing The Intruder almost felt like a parody with Dennis Quaid turning in a ridiculous performance that was supposed to be menacing.I just have zero faith in this filmmaker who can’t see the ridiculous stereotypes in his execution and it doesn’t look like he’s learning from his mistakes at all.

I See You – Wait, there’s a crime thriller starring Helen Hunt and I’m just hearing about it now? What the hell? The movie follows Jon Tenney’s character, a small town detective who is investigating the disappearance of a local boy which puts him in the crosshairs of expectation from the entire town at a time that he is experiencing major family problems. The film is the second feature from director Adam Randall who follows up his debut Netflix feature iBoy with this first script from actor Devon Graye. The reviews call this an effective blend of scares and suspense making it a slow-building mystery worth watching.

Summer Days With Coo – In my never-ending quest to get a foothold in anime as a genre, I may have found a film that connected with me a bit and its this little feature that was made in 2007 and not released on Blu-ray until now. The story follows a mythical water creature called a kappa which survives being buried for three hundred years and is unearthed by a boy who deals with daily bullying. His luck starts to change when he befriends this new creature named Coo until the townspeople and media get wind of the reemergence of this ancient being, raising concern and fear from its mere existence. First off, this is not a kid’s movie in any way as the film starts off with the brutal killing of Coo’s father at the hands of a samurai. It has some great themes to it but has moments of pure darkness that will be hard to explain to the kids. Secondly, Coo is pretty much naked for the whole movie with his dangle hanging out. A little unsettling but I still found myself the movie as a whole.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:

The Limits Of Control – Jim Jarmusch is a filmmaker that I will always hold a certain reverence in my cinema heart for, like Lynch, Cronenberg and Herzog, directors who are a genre all on their own. Each has their niche actors, cinematographers and trademarks and Jarmusch always has this somber and laid back vibe to all of his films and it usually includes Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray or Tom Waits and, a lot of the time, all three. This movie fits that mould perfectly, centred around a mysterious loner played by Ghost Dog’s Isaach De Bankole who is in the process of completing a criminal job. The job sends him to Madrid and into a world of confusion and a cast of strangers played by Paz de la Huerta, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal and, of course, Swinton and Murray, and to make matters worse. he doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. This is Jarmusch with the quirk turned way up so proceed with caution.

Voice Of The Eagle: The Enigma Of Robbie Basho – The irony of receiving this movie is the real enigma of what it was all about as the cover simple just has this man Robbie Basho just sitting on a horse, nothing more than that. Upon deeper research, this is the story of an American guitarist, singer and self-proclaimed mystic who has a massive influence which laid the foundations for radical changes to the musical landscape of America during the 1960s and ’70s, paving a road to the success he never saw before his bizarre death from a chiropractor session. The film features a handful of interviews with a bunch of musicians that Basho’s style had an effect on like The Who’s Pete Townsend but also includes previously uncovered archive material and photography of the landscapes and natural phenomena that informed his life work.

Television:

Star Trek – Picard: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – Everyone has been waiting for this return series featuring one of the most popular Star Fleet captains ever and, in my opinion, the best captain as Sir Patrick Stewart slips back into the chair as Jean-Luc Picard for a brand new series. Set 18 years after his last appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis, the show finds him deeply affected by the death of Data from the events of that film as well as by the destruction of Romulus as referenced in the J.J. Abrams reboot which has me slightly confused. Wasn’t that storyline called the “Kelvin” line? Oh well, I’m still excited.

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina: Part 3 (Netflix) – The third piece of this story hits Netflix for all the rabid fans of this show and I think it’s deservedly so because honestly this show kind of rocks. 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 matches 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.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 10 (HBO) – Larry David returns for more cringe awkwardness as the heightened version of himself in one of the greatest comedy series ever made in my opinion. The new season has Larry offending everyone by wearing a MAGA hat as a people repellent and getting into some #MeToo trouble as well. The quirks are always so present in this series that has gotten it’s legs by how much Larry consistently puts his foot in his mouth or goes off on a viscous rant at the complete wrong time and it really seems to have endeared himself to us. Is Larry David a hero? Maybe in comedy, not with thus character though, not at all.

Project Blue Book: Season 2 (History) – We don’t have anything like The X-Files anymore but this is kind of keeping it close and, in my opinion, is keeping the History Channel from teetering off the cliff into really bad reality shows. The show features former Game Of Thrones bad guy Aidan Gillen as a skeptical scientist and a tough US Air Force officer who investigate UFO and alien conspiracies as the grip of Cold War paranoia starts to ramp up to a fever pitch. The show comes from a first time showrunner and the first season really surprised me with its mystery and detailed approach which I hope continues through its sophomore season.

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens: Season 1 (Much) – An actress on fire right now, except for the Oscars who clearly have their thumbs up their asses, Awkwafina is worth every moment you are going to give her. This show is very different than what she is being celebrated for right now, The Farewell, The show has her playing Nora, a Flushing, New York native who is trying to figure out her life as a young adult with the help of her dad and grandmother. Awkwafina created the show which starts its ten episode run this week and I predict big things for it, maybe hitting the heights that Broad City did, one of my favorite shows of the last ten years. Its a high bar to clear, that’s for sure.

New Releases:

Bad Boys For Life – It’s been seventeen years since we last saw Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s characters of Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett and after so much teasing and collapses of this third film it is now finally here without Michael Bay behind the camera and I’m actually really excited for it as I loved the two other movies. This film teases the two cops’ “last ride” as they confront their ageing into different roles of law enforcement and the creation of their own squad which gets put to the immediate test with the emergence of a new enemy, Armando Armas, the vicious leader of a Miami drug cartel. This is the big-budget debut of the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and I would have to say that all bets are off for this action flick. My aim is to just have fun.

Dolittle – Its been a long time coming for this brand new version of the Rex Harrison classic and unlike the Eddie Murphy version and its sequel the producers went with a more traditional route. Starring the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, the basic story is exactly the same as you remember it, a veterinarian discovers that he has the ability to speak to animals as well as hear their thoughts. The interesting aspect is the filmmakers behind this as Syriana writer and director Stephen Gaghan steps out of his gritty wheelhouse to do the same on this family film, shot by Pan’s Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro which adds a whole new level of interesting to this movie. Honestly, just based on Downey Jr.’s involvement alone I’m looking forward to this one.

Clemency – Just a week after the death row drama Just Mercy comes this film that features two blistering lead performances that will leave you breathless by the end credits. The story has Alfre Woodard as the warden of a prison that carries out death sentences for inmates, each one taking a little piece of her soul as she dutifully does her jobs. Still reeling from the last one, a procedure that went wrong causing the inmate to spasm brutally until his death, the lead up to her next execution causes her emotions to rise and her life to slowly deteriorate. On the other side of that is that inmate in question, played with incredible nuance by Aldis Hodge, a man who hasn’t let the imminence of his death hit him yet, still deep in a well of hope that his life will be spared. While it lacks some of the pomp that Just Mercy has, the movie’s stillness is its strength. This movie is worth checking out just for the powerhouse performances alone. (Only opening in Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver)

Uncut Gems – Adam Sandler is here to give a shot to the haters, including me, that says he is only out for the easy work and to simply hang out with his friends. This is such a gamechanger that the ground shakes with every scene. Following up on their incredible tour-de-force Good Time, the Safdie brothers return with this incredible character-driven story of Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweller who is more interested in making money hand over fist than he is with his personal wellbeing or that of his family and friends as well. In a pulsing mosaic of tension and anxiety, Howard finds himself in increasingly dangerous predicaments as he uses the high profile of NBA star Kevin Garnett to lift himself out of a preexisting debt by piquing his interest with something special he procured in Ethiopia. This is an incredible film, another masterpiece from two of the best storytellers working today and proof that Sandler is not to be ignored. (Only opening in Hamilton, London, Edmonton, Kamloops and Vancouver. On Netflix on January 31st)

Blu-Ray:

Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil – We are now at the point of these Disney live-action re-imaginings that we are headed in the sequels to these films as the one to kick it off, a version of Sleeping Beauty that focuses on the villain, now sees an expansion to their story. Angelina Jolie returns in the title role, now godmother to Aurora played again by Elle Fanning, Maleficent finds herself at odds with the family of Aurora’s soon to be husband. Feeling threatened, she starts to unleash her full powers again, wreaking havoc in another special effects extravaganza. The film is made by Joachim Ronning who made the astounding films Kon-Tiki and Max Manus: Man Of War but then proceeded to make the kind of ho-hum Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales but the great thing is he adds such a luscious life to the visuals of this movie. Unfortunately, on the other hand, he plunges many of the scenes into murky darkness that is hard to see and coupling it with a pretty predictable story it becomes a very forgettable film in the end.

The Lighthouse – Ever since I saw The Witch at a press screening in 2015 I have been waiting rabidly for the new Robert Eggers film and he did not disappoint. Shot in black and white and in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio (basically a square on the movie screen), this is the story of two lighthouse keepers who arrive to run the light on a New England island in 1890. In two incredible and award-worthy performances, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe descend into isolated madness before your eyes and I’ve never seen anything like it. The description I’m trying to push to describe this film is it’s like if David Lynch wrote a sea shanty and put it on the big screen and now you can own it for life just like a good cinephile.

Gemini Man – The premise of this movie is one of those great action foils that draw you in, Will Smith playing a hitman who keeps getting duped by a younger assassin who turns out to be a younger clone of himself in a twist that is unfortunately given away in the trailer. With the star power of Smith in a long gestated project from producer Jerry Bruckheimer that was at one time in the hands of Curtis Hanson and Tony Scott, this movie should have been something to get the star back on that box office winning track. Unfortunately, nothing in this movie works even with Ang Lee as the director on this, a filmmaker who is honestly pretty hit or miss with me, but usually not this badly as this film doesn’t feel like a Lee project in any way. Even worse, his faster frame rate of 120 frames per second makes the movie an overly glossy mess which, coupled with a bad script and some really glaring logic gaffs, make this one a total dud and I didn’t even mention the de-ageing on Will Smith that goes from great to slightly nightmarish.

The Peanut Butter Falcon – Shia Lebeouf is an actor that went through a lot of issues in his transition from child and teen star to the crush and expectations of adulthood. He was mocked mercilessly in the press but the whole time he was still giving knockout performance after performance, never slowing down but just doing movies you haven’t heard of. Now with this film, I really hope he gets the recognition he deserves. The film is about a man with down syndrome named Zak who escapes his care home in the hope of finding his wrestler idols school in the hopes of being trained. Along the way, he runs into Tyler, a troubled fisherman who is on the run from others on the same dock. Deeply grieving the loss of his brother, Tyler reluctantly forms a bond with Zak and the end result is a beautiful emotional journey filled with redemption for Lebeouf, both in this character and hopefully to the skeptical viewer. This movie is massively special and I loved it.

Code 8 – The Amell brothers, Robbie and Stephen, come together for this brand new sci-fi film that has been playing well with fans of the genre as well as Arrowverse fanboys. The film takes place in a world where people with “special” abilities are living in poverty and follows Robbie Amell’s character, a powerful young man who is struggling to pay for his ailing mother’s medical treatment. To earn money, he joins a possibly lucrative underworld of crime through Stephen Amell’s Garrett, the right hand of a major drug lord. This is the debut feature film from writer and director Jeff Chan who adapted this from his short film of the same name and the reaction on a studio level was so good for this that Quibi has now announced a spinoff series that will air later this year. It’s best to get in the know on this film as soon as possible.

Little Monsters – Zombie movies are once again in a dodgy time as with The Walking Dead and it’s spin-off series and another one on the horizon, we quickly hurtle towards burnout on these creatures again. One of the saving genre shifts is the zombie comedy or zombedy which is exactly what this movie is, following a kindergarten class and their sunshiny teacher who tries to protect them all during an outbreak, shielding all their young minds by telling them that it’s all a game. Lupita N’yongo plays the teacher, Mrs. Caroline, the ultimate bright point of a film that gets lost in terrible characters that we are unable to root for and general silliness that bogs the story down at every turn. I wanted to love this film but ended up pretty so-so on it.

Beverly Hills Cop: 3 Movie Collection – In a week where Eddie Murphy was absolutely robbed of an Academy Award nomination for Dolemite Is My Name you can now get over those hurt feelings by getting the movie that introduced us to him on the big screen and the subsequent sequel in this new hi-def box set. The 80s action fan in me is singing as I loved the exploits of Detroit transplant cop Axel Foley and, hell, I even enjoy the third movie which is, let’s face it, an absolute mess but it was made by the legendary John Landis so it kind of scores some points there. The features a bit bare bones for the sequels but the first film has all the goodies including commentary with director Martin Brest and a retrospective about the movie’s pop culture effect. This is a box set crammed with iconic Eddie Murphy stuff.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

Breaking Bad: The Complete Series – One of the greatest shows ever made is now available in an absolutely beautiful box set that features the “sketch artist” version of Heisenberg on the cover and, although it doesn’t have the new Netflix exclusive movie El Camino in the set, I’m pretty sure I’m in love with this Blu-ray collection and it sits pretty on the shelf with my Game Of Thrones complete series. This show is the definition of iconic with incredible characters, brilliant writing and an overarching endgame that no one saw coming except for creator Vince Gilligan himself. I think people will look back at this show as a benchmark in television for the time and a show that it seems no one has a bad thing to say about.

Television:

Sex Education: Season 2 (Netflix) – This British comedy series got a huge boost with geat numbers when the first season debuted that it was a no brainer for a pickup. The show stars Gillian Anderson and Asa Butterfield and is about the teenage son of a sex therapist who decides to use the smarts he’s learned from her to run his own “practice” in his high school with the help of the edgy girl in his class. The script for this series is so snappy and smart with both Butterfield and Andeson giving some of their best work and the best thing is how incredibly unpredictable the storyline is. Honestly, it is so good that I can’t get even a toe into spoiler territory because I would hate myself for it. Just watch it.

Grace And Frankie: Season 6 (Netflix) – The penultimate season of this massive Netflix hit is finally here and as a guy playing catch up with the show I definitely have my opinion about the show and it’s direction. For those who don’t know, the story follows two women who find out that their husbands are not just work partners but have also been romantically involved for the last twenty years. The two ladies already have a strained relationship but try to cope with the circumstances together and even go into business with each other over the five seasons. I watch the series definitely for lead stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin but mostly for June Diane Raphael who plays Grace’s daughter Brianna, the highlight of the show to me.

Tammy And The T-Rex: Gore Cut (Shudder) – Pulling out a B-movie classic from the 90s, this is the prime example of bringing a forgotten property back with some new goodies for a brand new introduction. Starring Denise Richards in the title role, this is the gonzo story of an evil scientist who implants the brain of a murdered high school student into a Tyrannosaurus which then escapes and wreaks vengeance on his high school bullies and is reunites with his sweetheart Tammy. Oh, and the difference is that there is now way more gore in this 1994 camp film and it is hilariously insane. This is kind of a deep dig for some people but it is things like this that make Shudder such a treat to have.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix) – I love myself some true-crime docuseries and this one is fantastic as it delves into the high profile murder trial putting former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez as the mastermind of the execution-style killing of one of his close friends. This three-episode is a fascinating watch as Hernandez goes from an unlikely suspect to a tragic figure to a cold-blooded monster battle with rage issues, concussions and a man dealing with sexuality issues. I was on the edge of my seat for this whole series and need more Killer Inside documentaries like this one. This is a case I thought I knew a lot about but as it turns out, I really knew just the surface information.

Leslie Jones: Time Machine (Netflix) – Rising above the hate she got for being in Ghostbusters: Answer The Call and now separating herself from Saturday Night Live, the very funny Leslie Jones gets her first Netflix special and it’s a stand-up set that I enjoyed for the most part but keep in mind that Leslie likes to scream a lot and it probably should have been a warning to a couple of people in the front row of her show because they definitely get the brunt of her exacerbated anger. No worries though, it wasn’t really anger, just for the show, friends. It’s also amazing to see the energy she can exude especially talking about ageing into her fifties.

New Releases:

1917 – Now a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture and Best Director, we finally get the chance to check out this World War I epic from director Sam Mendes, shot by one of the greatest cinematographers ever to get behind the camera, Roger Deakins. The story follows two young British soldiers who are given an impossible mission to deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, including one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a bloodbath. The film is comprised of two single-take shots, put together with invisible and seamless cuts much like Birdman was, and, although it is early in the year, this is one of my most anticipated films of 2020. This is most likely your Best Picture Oscar winner right here, mark my words.

Just Mercy – Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretin returns to form after The Glass Castle with this well-acted true story about civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard law school graduate who moved from Delaware to Alabama to give death row inmates proper legal representation, played in this film by Michael B. Jordan. Awards season will definitely contain talk of this movie now that it is finally getting its wide release and not just for Jordan who turns in another great performance but it’s more likely that Jamie Foxx will get the nomination as a wrongly convicted small-town Alabama man that was made a target by a brutal sheriff in his county.

Like A Boss – I really want to have good thoughts about this movie as it has Rose Byrne, one of my favorite comedic actresses, and Tiffany Haddish, someone who I think is funny in real life, taking on Salma Hayek, an actress that always brings it in comedy. My problem is that Haddish’s track record theatrically speaking is spotty at best and this storyline feels so lame. the film has Haddish and Byrne as joint owners of a beauty company but with massively different ideals in how they run the business. Their friendship is put to the test when they try to go into business with a successful businesswoman who decides that she would rather gut the company. The trailer for this movie is an absolute mess and it’s hard to glean any sort of comedic tone from it. Is it a slapstick? Is it a situational comedy or a girl power one? Obviously, the studio has no idea.

Underwater – Being buried in the first month of the year, any horror or action movie is usually something the studios want to bury as they’re generally not very good. I want to think that this movie could be really great because the trailer looks awesome and, yes, it’s got Kristen Stewart in it and I’m a big fan, hate me for it if you want. The story is about a crew of aquatic researchers who have a desperate struggle to get to safety after an earthquake devastates their subterranean laboratory but, worse than that, something has been released from the cracks underwater that starts to pick them off one by one and the creature design looks really cool. The movie was directed by William Eubanks who made the awesome sci-fi thriller The Signal, a film I stumbled upon and absolutely fell in love with. I really want this movie to be a sleeper hit.

Les Miserables – Taking the broader strokes of the famous book by Victor Hugo and omitting all of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical numbers, this is a stark look at one of the rougher areas of Paris following a new officer in the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil. In a very Training Day-esque ride-along, he finds that his new partners act with a brash above the law attitude and a public that is on the cusp of an irredeemable boiling point. This movie is an incredible film from writer and director Ladj Ly in his feature debut and left me in stunned silence for a while afterwards. The final moments of this movie will live in my mind, probably until I put it down on my year-end list in December, it is that powerful. This is some real must-see cinema and a film that just lost out on Best Foreign at the Golden Globes to Parasite.

Invisible Life – This is a film that kind of got dumped into this early January release week and I wasn’t too familiar with it. It comes from Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz and follows two sisters living in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, who separated to make their individual ways through life, each mistakenly believing the other is living out her dreams half a world away. The movie is very rich with emotion and is totally heartbreaking in its scope and, although I wasn’t feeling this movie in its first act and it made some acting choices that were confusing, the second act comes in like a sledgehammer and I was gripped for the remainder of the movie. This film was submitted as Brazil’s official selection for next year’s Academy Awards so it may be a film the cinephiles will want to take note of.

And The Birds Rained Down – A French Canadian film about three elderly men living in isolation in the forests of Quebec, this story was poignant and thoughtful with beautiful scenery. The draw for me immediately was Remy Girard who brings a fantastic sour edge to his weathered alcoholic character but it’s the ideology of the movie that keeps you around, pushing a deeply ecological message but also a heartbreaking tale of three men who headed into the forest when they were handed a death sentence from regular society and ended up finding a sort of rebirth in nature, the conduit being Andree Lachapelle’s character, a woman deteriorating in-home care brought into the forest as almost a refugee. Not everyone will pick up on this movie but it was effective with me.

Blu-Ray:

Joker – After a release that had many people divided over its merit, the overall message and what effects this could have on weaker-minded viewers, this Todd Phillips directed film has arrived on Blu-ray and it really can’t be contested, Joaquin Phoenix should be praised for his performance in it, an undeniable fact. With zero connection to any pre-existing comic story or film, this is the story of how struggling comedian Arthur Fleck became the Joker, a criminal mastermind that terrorizes Gotham City. This movie comes across as a gritty version of Martin Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy blended with a Taxi Driver quality if it was driven by a violent and clown-themed twist. this movie left me slack-jawed at times with its astounding bleakness and the finale is a ramping tension and intensity that makes you squirm in your seat. This film also has one of the funniest dark comedy beats of the year as well and it comes out of nowhere.

Judy – Ever since Rene Zellweger returned to the spotlight for her third Bridget Jones movie, I have been waiting for her to nab a juicy role that would put her back into the position of being an award hopeful like when she won an Oscar for Cold Mountain. Yes, I root for Rene and now she has just won Best Actress at the Golden Globes so I think I’ve been vindicated here. She plays the legendary Judy Garland in this biopic about the troubled and tragic actress from True Story director Rupert Goold, focusing on her series of sold-out concerts in London during the winter of 1968. Although this movie and Rene were publicly denounced by Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli, the performance from Zellweger is a showstopper and the film received a huge standing ovation at TIFF. I think this will be the one to look out for in the Best Actress at the Oscars now as its next conquest so make note of it now.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

The Cider House Rules – Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this week, it’s the perfect time to pick up this Blu-ray and relive this beautiful Maine story from director Lasse Hallstrom, possibly the best film of his career. Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine and Charlize Theron star in this film set in an orphanage in the remote town of St. Cloud following a never adopted orphan who spends his time helping the director as a medical assistant of sorts. The movie earned two Academy Awards including Supporting Actor for Caine and is one of the best films of that year that still resonates every time I watch it.

Born On The Fourth Of July – One of the best Oliver Stone movies ever made, this is your first bulletin here that a new Blu-ray version will be in stores next week just in time to celebrate thirty years of release. For those who don’t know, Tom Cruise gives a fantastic performance as Ron Kovics, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran, traumatized by his experiences there and is determined to prevent that happening to anyone else. He then turns his attention to being an anti-war activist, a life-changing decision that puts him in many different crosshairs in a totally different war of freedoms. The film earned Stone his third Oscar which was his second statue for Best Director in a total masterclass of a movie.

Daybreakers – This is definitely a genre pick here but as it is turning ten this week I had to bring it for a little geek out. Coming from the Aussie writer and director duo the Spierig Brothers, this film is about a vampire run future where humans are the animals just meant to be fed on but unfortunately that fresh meat source is running out causing the population to start to mutate into something a lot worse. The movie has such a great cast with Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe and, one of my favorite things, the story is set in 2019. I guess they definitely got that one wrong but there are certainly some vampires running the world or should I say RUINING. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Television:

AJ And The Queen: Season 1 (Netflix) – This is a show that will capture a large audience already dedicated to RuPaul’s Drag Race as the creator of that show now gets their own series and it is a little unorthodox, just like they are. The show centers around RuPaul as a drag queen named Ruby Red, a bigger than life character that is in need of a serious luck boost as she makes her way across the country. Along the way, she befriends a tough-talking ten-year-old named AJ who stowed away in her vehicle. The show was co-created by Sex And The City showrunner Michael Patrick King and with RuPaul’s charisma, I really think this is going to be a big hit.

Medical Police: Season 1 (Netflix) – From the creators of the hilarious series Children’s Hospital comes this brand new spin-off starring Rob Huebel and Erinn Hayes’ characters of Owen Maestro and Lola Spratt. On a brand new adventure, the two physicians discover a civilization-threatening virus on an expedition to São Paulo, Brazil and are recruited as government agents in a race against time and around the world to find a cure and uncover a dark conspiracy at the head of it all. Yes, they’re doctors with guns and I’m totally here for it as many of the favorites from the original series pop in and it comes from the genius minds of David Wain and Rob Corddry so, without any boundaries, this could be amazing.

Dracula: Season 1 (Netflix) – How many times have we seen the Dracula story done and redone? So many times, right? Well, get ready for another one comes from the brilliant minds behind the latest Sherlock Holmes series Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat and I have to say that I’m really enjoying what I’ve seen so far. The show brings it all back to the Bram Stoker roots set in 1897 Transylvania with the blood-drinking Count forming his plans to take over Victorian-era London and with The Square star Claes Bang in the title role I am totally hooked on it. Really though, it should be way longer than just three episodes.

Schitt’s Creek: Season 7 (CBC) – One of the greatest Canadian television shows of all time starts its swan song as Johnny Rose and his family’s story ends. The draw is immediate, a show following a rich family led by legendary comedians Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara who are forced to move to a small town they bought years ago. With their two spoiled children in tow, played by Dan Levy and Annie Murphy, they try to make their best of the situation while scheming to figure out a way to get it all back. I thoroughly love this show so much and it introduced me to the younger Levy and his own sense of comedic genius that is very different than his father’s. This is a bittersweet ending but I’m going to enjoy it.

Treadstone: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – Now that we’ve had a spin-off film starring Jeremy Renner that failed to gain traction, although I enjoyed it, and another installment of the Matt Damon led series that was lackluster and unnecessary we get a show revolving around the program that created these operatives. The series actually looks really solid and coming from the streaming service that has already given up two fantastic seasons of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan I have nothing but good thoughts about this show. Besides Michelle Forbes and Patrick Fugit, there probably aren’t going to be a lot of recognizable stars but the show is run by Tim Kring who created the NBC series Heroes, which contributes more to my excitement.

It’s now 2020, a year that a lot of people in my generation and those before me usually referred to in a science fiction-like tone, usually reserved for futuristic utopias or post-apocalyptic wastelands but hooray we made it and the world is still teetering towards madness. So, how can we make this a better place? Well, for a guy like myself who has a platform to review movies to a wide audience I know of one way that I can try and make my own mark and I feel like a good amount of my colleagues would do the same.

Look, I’m guilty of this as much as the next guy, spending energy year after year figuring out lists of movies for each year, breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly, inevitably taking aim at the films we deemed to have “suffered through” to give it an extra kick in the belly as the year comes to a close. Take that, time waster! It’s a time honored tradition for us it seems and it’s something that publications like Variety, NPR and The Hollywood Reporter seem to still take a little glee in producing. This year though, with all of the negativity that flows through social media in all of its various forms making this type of list this year has really weighed on me. Are there bad movies this year? Yes, of course, but forcing me to relive these and then walking it out to the stocks to have rotten fruit and vegetables thrown at it seems repulsive to me this year.

This year is a first for me as I’ve opted not to make a “worst of the year” or “disappointment of the year” list as more division in our opinions, especially when it comes to something as subjective as art, feels limiting to what could be created in the future. This feels ironic in the face of my incessant anger over It Chapter Two just a few months ago but what have I personally taken away from someone who possibly had an excited feeling toward seeing this movie and perhaps would have enjoyed said movie if I hadn’t seeded their minds with my negative thoughts before they had a chance to form their own idea. I know this seems to negate what a critic’s purpose is but I feel like there has to be a better way in which we impart our criticisms.

We are all human and we are all fallible. We can write stories that don’t translate, make movies that fail to connect with an audience but what we shouldn’t do anymore is belittle things that people have put their blood and sweat, hearts and souls and their mental wellbeing on the line for. As a critic, I feel like we need to strive for the positives in our initial outlooks on these films especially in their debuts while being less jaded on what didn’t work in our minds. This type of thinking could help repair the bridge that has been severely damaged between entertainment media and the artists that create it.

Making lists that focus on the great things in cinema could actually be a fantastic weight off of our shoulders as the world around us mental health-wise as we don’t need to dwell on what makes us unhappy and impart that knowledge to affect other’s moods. What if one of my readers really loved It Chapter Two and now because of my rants I have soured that person’s view of my work going forward? This is always bound to happen but I’d rather it be over something I’m proud to put out into the ether rather than me throwing mud because I’m having a cinematic temper tantrum. I saw a quick tweet the other day and it sums it up eloquently, stating “Dear Film Twitter, Cinema owes you nothing.” I have to say this is true and one of the biggest catalysts of my entry here. Let’s be better for each other in 2020 when it comes it cinema because we all love it, we just need to remember that.

New Releases:

The Grudge – We are now in the cycle of horror where we try out the Japanese waif ghosts again and if you remember, this didn’t work out too well when Paramount tried to reboot The Ring with Rings, a limp and frightening nudge to a story audiences had largely forgotten about. This movie does have so bright points to it as director Nicolas Pesce is behind this as well as the screenwriter and with original films like The Eyes Of My Mother and Piercing on his belt, this would be the first movie of his to fail the genre if it’s bad. I love the cast in this, which includes John Cho, Lin Shaye, Demien Bichir and Andrea Riseborough but being the only movie dumped on the first release date of 2020 feels suspect.

Steve’ Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

Jake Speed – Thanks to Arrow Video we head back to the mid-eighties for one of those bigger than life action heroes, this one in the form of this pulp fiction hero satire character played by producer and writer Wayne Crawford. The film has him assisting a desperate woman in saving her sister from sadistic white slaver operating out of Africa. The movie has a little star power as it features Dennis Christopher as Speed’s sidekick Desmond Floyd and the villain is played by the late and truly great John Hurt which you know means a lot of scenery-chewing by an absolute legend complete with a dirty bad-guy moustache. The Blu-ray also has a feature on the transition from pulp novels to the big screen that’s pretty fascinating on its own.

Slaughterhouse-Five – Another classic getting the full special edition treatment thanks to Arrow Video, this is a movie that I saw at way too young of an age and didn’t fully appreciate until I received this new Blu-ray edition. Based on the famous novel from Kurt Vonnegut, this is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a POW in World War II who finds himself “unstuck in time” when he is abducted by aliens, slitting his narrative into three different stories or lifetimes. Confused yet? Yes, maybe this is why I didn’t like it as a kid as this 1972 movie definitely is heady. The film really is groundbreaking for cinema that took wide chances, even if all of them don’t land. Slaughterhouse-Five still is a landmark book and the fact that the movie, which was largely thought to be unfilmable, manages to grasp the themes without muddying them is astounding.

Great Day In The Morning – We’re digging into the decades this week with my geek outs as I’ve already covered the seventies and eighties and now we head to the mid fifties for this rustic action adventure from a French director named Jacques Tourneur who built himself a career as a real genre filmmaker in a time where it wasn’t the popular film path. The story follows a Confederate drifter who wins a hotel-saloon at a poker game in Denver but two rival female admirers, local Union sympathizers, Southern gold miners and an orphaned boy make this wagered acquisition way more than he bargained for. Two old favorites of mine, Robert Stack and Raymond Burr, both star in this film, which was my immediate draw to it and they are both fantastic in it but I think this one belongs to lead star Virginia Mayo who just epitomizes the star power of the time.

The Nude Bomb – I was raised on the comedy stylings of Mel Brooks, Police Squad and Get Smart so you can imagine my elation when this special edition joined my collection as, honestly, I had never heard of it before. Don Adams steps back into his role as secret agent Maxwell Smart, being brought out of retirement to to help fight a villian who threatens to detonate a weapon that destroys clothing. The movie is a bit of a departure from the show as Barbara Feldon doesn’t appear as Agent 99 and kind of failed as the only Get Smart movie to be made but didn’t capitalize on using a name more directly relatable to the hit show so no one really watched it. It’s a bummer because the film is actually really funny especially if you’re already a fan of this style of comedy.

Where’s My Roy Cohn? – This documentary is absolutely chilling to it’s core, an engrossing look at attorney Roy Cohn, a man that got his first notorious start as part of the council employed by Joseph McCarthy to blackball supposed communists in America. A flamboyant individual who guarded his not too secret sexuality until the end of his life when he died of AIDS, something documented in Tony Kushner’s Broadway play Angels In America. Even more interesting, this film shows how much of Cohn’s personality was a blueprint for the tyrant in chief the States has currently in power, using moves that are all too familiar to us now.

Television:

Pavarotti (Showtime) – I’m really hit or miss with the narrative films of Ron Howard but as a documentarian, more importantly, a music documentarian he is making some seriously great movies. After his last one, Eight Days A Week, he focuses on the life and work of opera legend Luciano Pavarotti and I have to admit that my knowledge of and even appreciation for opera is quite low but the passion and joy that flows through the man in archival and rehearsal footage and home movies is almost infectious. Howard also uses Pavarotti’s concert footage in a way that helps tell the story of his work, his creative mind and his personal relationships. This is a great watch for any music lover with a broader mind in their tastes.

Messiah: Season 1 (Netflix) – This is a brand new CIA thriller that doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention but it may appear on people’s “most talked about” list to start off 2020. Michelle Monahan and A Most Wanted Man’s Mehdi Dehbi star in the ten-episode series about a CIA officer who must investigate a man attracting international attention and followers through acts of public disruption, sending her on a global, high-stakes mission to uncover whether he is the real deal or a deceptive con artist. The first episode is a great establishment of this series, throwing doubt and belief into the same arena by providing clues to each outcome of who this character known as Al-Masih really is. The show was created by Michael Petroni, who created the religious horror serirs Miracles with Skeet Ulrich, a show that failed to grab an audience. Hopefully, this one will get some legs.

Luz (Shudder) – This ethereal little indie horror film is definitely for the genre films but I feel like fans of early David Cronenberg and all of David Lynch’s work will have an appreciation for this one. The film opens with the title character, a young cabdriver stumbling into a police station. Close behind her is the demonic force that is chasing her, passing from the body of the last fare that put her in the danger she is in and a psychiatric doctor employed to get her story. The movie is disorienting and always ominous in its tone and the score driving some atmospheric tension. It’s interesting to note that the film was made by German writer and director Tilman Singer as his thesis project so it will be very intriguing to see what his next project will be like now that he’s laid down a pretty impressive debut.

Spinning Out: Season 1 (Netflix) – A new sports-driven series featuring rising star Kaya Scodelario, this is another show that Netflix doesn’t seem to be pushing at all. It follows a figure skating Olympic hopeful who is struggling to balance love, family and her fragile mental health as her dream of winning starts to spin out of control. I think Scodelario is one of the actresses to keep an eye on in the next couple of years, with Alexandre Aja’s Crawl being a great notch on her belt this past year and this show might get her on the radar a bit more. The show was created by writer Samantha Stratton who has been doing great work on the Stephen King series Mr. Mercedes so this might be a really great breakout project for her as long as it steers away from being The Cutting Edge or Ice Castles.

Doctor Who: Season 12 (BBC America) – We now head into the second season of Jodie Whittaker’s version of the famous time lord, a casting that has seriously pissed off a huge number of the faithful fandom of Doctor Who and you know what? They can totally suck it because the show is doing great and Whittaker is fantastic in the role. I think the comfortability between her and showrunner and lead writer Chris Chibnall is a big part of it, as they have a lot of experience together after his series Broadchurch and the freshening of this series through a female hero is so refreshing, especially with the Doctor getting used to her new form. I love it and I hope Whittaker remains in the roles for a few years to come.

New Releases:

Little Women (Opened on Christmas Day) – Greta Gerwig cements herself as one of the finest contemporary filmmakers working today, adapting Louise May Alcott’s cherished novel and really creating a relatable story for women about women and the struggles of ambition with a societal limit, love with a societal scrutiny and existence under the watchful eye of “what’s proper for a lady”. The cast is absolutely perfect with Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Sharp Objects actress Eliza Scanlen rounding out our immediate cast of the Marsh sisters. These ladies all play like they really have been raised together and their bond is immediately felt. Gerwig crafts their individual stories so beautifully as the film moves in non linear arcs to paint the full story of each of these women’s battle to raise their own voices. This film is special in every way and breathtaking with every frame this amazing filmmaker and Personal Shopper cinematographer Yorick Le Saux shows you. (Not opening in Hamilton)

Spies In Disguise (Opened on Christmas Day) – Getting that coveted Christmas release day, this animated film from the fledgling Fox property of Blue Sky Studio gets to impress your kids this holiday weekend featuring the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland. The movie has Smith as a secret agent who’s skills are put to the ultimate test when he is transformed into a pigeon and has to rely on his young tech officer to navigate through his new existence. This is the debut film from a couple of animators who had worked on The Peanuts Movie previously for Blue Sky and the reviews so far are praising the voice work as the reason to go see this. It looks fun to me.

The Song Of Names (Opened on Christmas Day) – With stellar actors toplining this film, Tim Roth and Clive Owen, I was really looking forward to this sweeping drama that spanned these two characters from childhood until far into their adult years. The film is about an Englishman named Martin who journey’s through Europe to find his childhood friend, a virtuoso genius violin player who had abandoned everything thirty-five years earlier, failing to appear at a prestigious performance, a decision that left Martin’s family in ruins. The story would be far more compelling if the pacing of this film didn’t seem to drag in so many places and the acting feels so understated. That said, the young boy who plays Clive Owen’s childhood version, Luke Doyle, is phenomenal. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver. Expands on January 10th)

Blu-Ray:

Adopt A Highway – Actor Logan Marshall-Green makes his directorial debut with a film that he wrote as well. Ethan Hawe gives a soulful performance as a man just recently granted parole when he discovers a baby in a dumpster outside of the fast-food restaurant he works at. Looking to do something with his life that has meaning, he decides to try and keep the baby to raise his own as a sort of redemption in his mind. this movie is so well done with an outing from Hake that resonates afterwards and there is such a moment of triumph at the end of the movie that you will be left with a smile when the credits roll. I really loved this movie and look forward to the next offering Marshall-Green has as a filmmaker.

The Kill Team – Writer and director Dan Krauss makes his narrative feature debut with this true story based on a previous documentary that he had made. The story follows a young American soldier in Afghanistan who finds his safety in jeopardy in his tour when his new commanding officer starts killing Afghani civilians and planting weapons on their bodies afterwards. When his fellow squad members start doing the same, he finds himself increasingly paranoid as to who he can trust and what information he can send back home. This movie is an exercise in intense filmmaking and features fantastic performances from lead stars Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgard. I’m surprised there isn’t more buzz around this movie, it’s really good.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:

American Made – Tom Cruise is usually known for playing the all American homegrown good guy which is why this movie works so well and is a big departure for him because the true story character he plays in this film, Barry Seal, is definitely not a good dude. A pilot who was looking for a better way to earn money, Seal took an opportunity to work for the CIA running drugs undercover for the cartel. Getting in way over his head, the danger starts to landslide out of control even if the money he’s earning is overflowing, landing him in the middle of an international incident. Teaming up again after the massive success of Edge Of Tomorrow, Cruise and writer and director Doug Liman make another great film that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Aya Of Yop City – Kino Lorber usually does a pretty deep dig with their original releases and it definitely is the case with this animated feature from France. Set in the seventies, the story takes place in Ivory Coast’s working-class district of Abidjan, otherwise known as Yop City, following a nineteen-year-old girl with the hopes of being a doctor against her father’s wishes as this didn’t gel with the gender norms of women marrying and starting a family immediately. The film was created by the original writer of the graphic novel this was based on, Clément Oubrerie, and it really is a pretty astounding feature to look at and an interesting look into the class system of a foreign country.

Robocop – One of my favorite movies of all time gets a glorious revamp in this new limited collector’s edition from Arrow Video. A brilliant commentary on the future of our society that feels super relevant now, director Paul Verhoeven was kind of ahead of his time as he usually is in this Peter Weller led sci-fi film. This set has so many cool extras like the full director’s cut of the film which was only previously available on the X-rated Criterion edition that is out of print a new interview featurette with a new conversation between co-writer Ed Neumeier and filmmakers David Birke and Nicholas McCarthy, behind the scenes documentaries and a Q&A from 2012 featuring Verhoeven himself. This is a must-own for any fan of this movie and I’d definitely buy that for a dollar!

The Bad And The Beautiful – Coming from the Warner Archives, it’s crazy to think that the star of this 1952 drama is still with us as the legendary Kirk Douglas just turned 103 the other day. The winner of five Academy Awards, this film tells the story of a movie producer who uses his relationships to elevate him to the right lucrative project, stepping on the backs of an actress, a director and a writer to get there. The movie comes from a famed director named Vincente Minnelli, the husband of Judy Garland and the father of Liza, and feels like such an insider piece of art that really pulls back the curtain on the first golden age of Hollywood. A perfect movie for deep cinema buffs.

Lucky Day – It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a Roger Avary movie and for those of you who are scratching your head going “who?” he is the guy who wrote Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino and made the bank heist film Killing Zoe and the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation Rules Of Attraction. In his return, he gathers a sizable cast including Nina Dobrev, Crispin Glover and Clifton Collins Jr. for this crime story about Red, a safe cracker who has just been released from prison and is trying to keep his family away from his past. It all catches up with him in the form of Luc, a psychopathic contract killer who’s seeking revenge for the death of his brother. Avary works in a very niche genre that won’t be for everyone but if you like fast-talking and sardonic bad guys and violent shoot outs, well this is his forte. I dug this movie but it really doesn’t hold any deep substance at all.

Television:

Kevin Hart: Don’t F This Up (Netflix) – Kevin Hart not only has a big hit movie in theaters right now with Jumanji: The Next Level but he’s back on your favorite streaming service with a brand new special to giggle your way through the holidays. While I’m not a big fan of his movies without The Rock in tow, I am partial to his stand up which really lands with me a lot of the time. This one plays it a little differently though as it is presented in a six-part docuseries, chronicling a bit of a controversial year for the comedian as he was picked by the Academy Awards producers to host then had to step down in light of some past social media posts. It should be a very introspective look at one of the biggest acts in the world.

New Order: Decades (Showtime) – One of the greatest groups of the 1980s, and a band that persevered through the death of their charismatic original lead singer as Joy Division, New Order finally get their due with this new Showtime special. Part concert, part documentary, this film follows the band getting ready for the re-staging of their acclaimed collaboration, So It Goes, with the artist Liam Gillick and the 12-piece synthesizer orchestra that was an acclaimed hit during Manchester International Festival 2017. As a huge fan of their catalogue and the mark on music they left, I’m very excited about this one.

John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch (Netflix) – One of my favorite stand up comedians working today, John Mulaney, returns with this new special and it looks hilarious just looking at the trailer. Mulaney and his kid pals tackle existential topics for all ages with catchy songs, comedy sketches and special guests like Jake Gyllenhaal, Natasha Lyonne and the legendary David Byrne join in a very nostalgic variety special. It’s really neat to see Mulaney lean back into the wholesome qualities that make up a bit of his stand up routine, especially after how uncomfortable his animated show Big Mouth makes people feel.

You: Season 2 (Netflix) – This creeper thriller gets a new entry as Penn Badgley reprises his role as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who you hate but can’t keep your eye off of. Now the question of season two is “How much further can Joe go for his version of love?” and according to the star, this season was really hard to pull off without repeating themselves and it’s a character he really has a hard time playing as he is so massively unlikeable. Who knows? Maybe this is the season that fails to connect with the massive audience the first pulled in.

Lost In Space: Season 2 (Netflix) – Honestly, when I heard that Netflix had picked this property up to make a brand new series from I wasn’t sure that it could work, possibly because the troupe of a space travelling scientific family seemed out of date or the fact that the feature film, no matter what it had that worked for it, didn’t have what it takes to be a hit. This show has proved me wrong as it earned a second season pick up shortly after it’s premiere and, truth be told, it’s actually pretty good. The showrunners were the writers on Dracula Untold and the latest Power Rangers reboot which may not seem like the greatest pedigree but the lead stars of Canadian actress Molly Parker and former Bond villain Toby Stephens are really great on this show too alongside the new Dr. Smith who has been gender-swapped for Parker Posey, another favorite of mine.

New Releases:

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – The end to the whole original saga, one that has almost formed a new religion since it’s inception in 1977, is finally upon us and has taken us on a total emotional journey as part of the fandom and the new movies have definitely divided us. Say what you want about Ria Johnson’s previous installment The Last Jedi, a movie I very much enjoyed, but now J.J Abrams and the cast are sort of throwing him under the bus a bit to appease the slighted fans and it really bothers me that the creator solidarity isn’t there. That said, and to avoid speculation of the plot and possible finale to this story, I will say that I am so excited for this movie, the last piece of my film year, blockbuster wise.

Cats – This terrifying-looking movie with its nightmarish debut trailer is now here to destroy sleep for me for the better part 0f 2020 in full feature-length as another Ander Lloyd Webber original musical gets the big-screen treatment. Yes, I get that we would have people skipping around in cat-like leotards if it weren’t for the CG look but oh man is the final result unsettling. The cast is something that has me intrigued though, as it is a huge ensemble that features Idris Elba, Dame Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson and, yes, the main attraction us probably Taylor Swift in her film debut. I really have issues with Tom Hooper’s direction, outside of The King’s Speech, so I have nothing but low bar expectations for this movie.

Bombshell – Charlize Theron is at the top of her game and almost completely unrecognizable in this new film that tells the story of the fall of
Roger Ailes from the mantle of Fox News for sexual harassment. Leading a stellar cast including Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow, Theron is an absolute powerhouse in her performance, punctuating a story that I think we all paid attention to pretty closely. The only issue I had with this movie is that it never went any deeper than information we already knew about this scandal, other than punching up some dialogue to pad out the plot. In the end, I didn’t feel like I learned anything, I just saw a glossy treatment of a scandal. (Not opening in Hamilton, Kamloops and Oshawa)

A Hidden Life – It’s been a long time since I loved a Terrence Malick film, the mid-nineties to be exact with his conscientious objector war film The Thin Red Line, and with his return to real narrative filmmaking with this film, I thought this would be the ticket back into his work and I’d be celebrating him as my friends do. Interestingly enough, this is another conscientious objector about Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian farmer who refuses to fight for the Nazis. I feel like I was lied to about the narrative thing because this is still all flighty shots of water, fields and staring people with voiceovers. This guy is a serious junkie for repose and I’m bored with it. (Only opening in Calgary and Vancouver)

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

Blu-Ray:

Downton Abbey – Four years after the hit BBC series that captivated audiences all over the world finished its run, the residents and servants of Downton Abbey got to give back to their ravenous fans by giving them what they want in this brand new and heavily anticipated feature film. The story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside in the early 20th century, continues in 1927 as the household prepares for the imminent arrival of the Royal family to visit. The entire cast is present for this one, including patriarch Hugh Bonneville as well as Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern and Penelope Wilton and also features the return of audience favorite Maggie Smith. I feel like this movie can be likened to if you had never seen an episode of Entourage but then went and saw the movie. Some stuff is broad enough to connect with a new audience but a lot of it needs the context that the series history would give it. That said, this movie is shot beautifully and the sprawling opening of the film to its iconic and unshakably catchy theme song is just magnificent. That’s how you open a movie, folks!

Abominable – After Warner Bros. made some middling money for their animated yeti movie Smallfoot, Dreamworks threw their snow caked hat into the ring with this new adorable looking film featuring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet. The story has her character Yi discovering a magic yeti that she needs to get to its home before a wealthy businessman with the voice of Eddie Izzard and his zoologist sidekick can get their way. It would seem that the push wasn’t very big behind this movie, one of the few big studio releases of September, but the end result was a cute film that explored the themes of loss and grieving as well as trying to find your place in the world, something the whole family will enjoy. The animation feels a bit subpar here and there, not quite to the caliber of a Pixar film or even Dreamworks previous release, the final How To Train Your Dragon movie, but the heart of this is enough to carry it through to the end.

Ad Astra – If you are an A-list star and haven’t been to space yet in one of your films are you really an A-list star? It’s a weird question but f you think of all the space films we’ve had over the last forty years it kind of makes sense. That said, this one is a movie that was on my most anticipated list since it was announced, all because it teams Brad Pitt with acclaimed filmmaker James Gray. Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride who undertakes a mission to journey across the solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe. This is one of my favorite films this year and the fact that it has been largely forgotten is a true travesty that makes me sad. I feel that in an already banner year for Brad Pitt this movie is another benchmark performance in his career, an emotional character journey that is fueled by a sense of duty, a familial connection and the need for answers. No hyperbole, this is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made.

Rambo: Last Blood – It’s Sylvester Stallone’s reportedly last time of stepping into the role of the bigger than life John Rambo, which is indicated by the movie’s title, and I have to say that this is kind of a nostalgic moment for me as these films were everything to me as a kid. Hell, even the last movie, released in 2008, was a kick-ass action piece that satisfied the audience’s bloodlust and gave a great reason for the hero to return to the screen. This film is a little more self-contained as it has Rambo making a last stand on his country farm against a threat from his past looking to snuff out his legacy. With a hard R rating once again, expect this movie to go balls to the wall in violence and to end this story, that started in Hope, B.C., with a deafening bang. I’m so excited.

Overcomer – Oh fantastic, another faith-based film. This movie comes from a couple of the heavyweights in this genre of films, the Kendrik brothers who are responsible for movies like War Room, Fireproof and Facing The Giants, which were all successful within that audience. This film has one of the brothers Alex taking a front and center role, playing a high school basketball coach who has to use his faith to uplift his team when the local plant closes, losing most of their parents their jobs in the process. Expect a lot of religious pandering and terrible acting and direction as none of these films seem to rise to the level of any mainstream movies, content to give the lowest form of talent just to drive home their message.

The Wedding Year – With movies like 21, Red and Legally Blonde under his belt I’m really surprised that this new Robert Luketic film slipped completely under the radar but, honestly, the cast isn’t comprised of huge stars and the story sounds pretty so-so. Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland and The Walking Dead alum Tyler James Christopher star in this rom-com about a commitment-phobic 27-year old whose relationship is put to the test when she and her new boyfriend go to 7 weddings in the same year and while I want to believe in former Community writer Donald Diego’s script, the trailer looks so bland. Heck, even the critics are kind of split on this one.

American Woman – Some performances are so good that one face value they appear to be better than the film around them and this is kind of the case with this new Sienna Miller movie. She plays a young grandmother who is forced to care for her young grandson when her daughter goes out one night and never returns. As the years pass, she goes from an ageing party girl to a woman driven to get her life together and ride herself of toxic partners as her devotion to her grandson takes center stage in her life. Miller is surrounded by a great cast including Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul and Will Sasso but she is consistently the brightest part of this movie.

Danger Close – We’re heading back into the jungle for more of the Vietnam War but this film is from the point of view of young, brash and totally inexperienced soldiers from Australia and New Zealand as they try to take control of a Vietnamese rubber plantation called Long Tan in August of 1966. Featuring the star of the recent Point Break remake Luke Bracey and Vikings’ Travis Fimmel, the movie really digs into how cocky but green these soldiers were, 108 pieces of fresh meat who had no idea of the carnage the Vietcong had in store. The movie is a little underproduced but the actors make the story compelling and the script comes from Stuart Beattie who penned Collateral for Michael Mann.

I’ll Never Forget You: The Last 72 Hours Of Lynyrd Skynyrd – I love that I’ve been getting all of these cool music documentaries from Shout Factory, Kino Lorber and MVD Entertainment, giving a very cool background to a lot of classic artists. This one though left me frustrated and annoyed as it is so under-produced and the interviews feel almost completely incoherent at times. The film is about the last moments of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd before the plane crash in 1977 that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt and others, the story told by Gene Odom, a childhood friend and survivor of the crash. Odom’s emotion is very present in this but his ability to string a sentence together definitely is not and it makes this hour-long documentary feel like three hours. Not recommended.

Bonanza: Season 10 Volume 1 & 2 – To add to my burgeoning collection of classic western television series I am pretty happy to cover this family show that my dad introduced me to as a kid. A season that is almost three quarters through the show’s entire fourteen-year run, this is the iconic story of the Cartwright family and their Nevada ranch featuring the bigger than life stars Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, these episodes focusing on a battle with the government over deforestation, a wrongful accusation of murder against Hoss and much more drama in this frontier family’s life. The classic television fans are going to be all over these two box sets.

Universal Horror Collection: Volume 3 – Another round of classic Universal horror has made it’s way to Blu-ray thanks to those great people at Shout Factory and its a mixed bag of a foursome. Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff star in the first movie, Tower Of London, a film that would be remade later by Roger Corman and Vincent Price. The second film, Man-Made Monster, is a creature feature that has the great Lon Chaney Jr. in it and Horror Island, an old-style slasher movie from the same director is the third movie. Finally, rounding out the set is The Black Cat, an adaptation of the iconic Edgar Allan Poe story with both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Again, Shout is delivering the goods with their box set.

Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:

Lethal Weapon: Season 3 – Talk about a series in turmoil, this now-cancelled show had a real PR problem on its hands with Clayne Crawford who played Martin Riggs, the role originated by Mel Gibson. He was given the boot and Seann William Scott stepped into the vacant spot next to Damon Wayans’ Roger Murtaugh as Wesley Cole, a former CIA agent, and you know what? It still worked for me. The banter between the partners will always sell me and maybe it’s just how great Wayans is but he has great chemistry with both of his leads. The fact that this was brought to television by Matthew Miller, the guy behind the woefully underrated series Forever is an added bonus.

Popeye The Sailor – The 1940s: Volume 3 – We’re going back to the original golden oldies of animation this week with the third collection of the ultimate hero when it comes to putting down muscular bullies, Popeye The Sailor Man. It is really fun getting hooked up with all of these classics as my daughter had never even heard of Popeye and now she sees this funny old looking dude throwing spinach back and defending the defenseless. It’s like a moral message from another era that still holds weight, how crazy is that?

Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford made a gutsy film choice for his second feature film that starts off with one of the more interesting opening shots in modern film history. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a stacked cast that tells two very different stories, one side being Adams character, an art dealer who is reading through the new book from her novelist ex-husband and the other side is that book itself. While the culmination of these stories is a little less than desired, this film is a tension-filled thriller that keeps you engaged in it’s almost Bret Easton Ellis style nihilism. A sight to behold on the big screen, this Blu-ray is still totally gorgeous.

Humble Pie: Life & Times Of Steve Marriott + 1973 Complete Winterland Show -I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I received this movie in the mail I had no clue who Steve Marriott was. Now that I’m a bit more educated on this new set, I can tell you that Marriott was a storied musician, the driving force behind the bands Small Faces and Humble Pie, getting a posthumous Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2012. This documentary gives the ins and outs of his career, with in-depth interviews with his bandmates like Peter Frampton, Jerry Shirley, and Greg Ridley as well as Black Crowe’s Chris Robinson, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, John Waite, Bad Company/Free drummer Simon Kirke and more. This is a pretty cool way to discover a new band with some classic tunes as it also comes with a full concert and an audio CD.

The Far Country – A brand new special edition from the wonderful folks at Arrow Video, this is a totally classic western starring the iconic James Stewart in a film directed by Anthony Mann who had previously made The Glenn Miller Story with his lead star. The film has Stewart as an adventurer who finds himself in a battle with the local law when he tries to drive his cattle across the land of Dawson. According to historians, this film was one of the most cherished in James Stewart’s career as he loved the central story and it was the film that introduced him to his horse, Pie, a sorrel stallion whom Stewart called, “One of the best co-stars I ever had.” This is a perfect example of classic cinema in a time that western films ruled the movie theaters.

Television:

The Two Popes (Netflix) – Continuing the great last few weeks we have gotten with award caliber movies on Netflix, we now get this new film, a biopic about the meeting between the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis who must band together to find common ground in order to forge a new path for the Catholic Church. Some serious heavyweights have been brought in to play the roles of Benedict and Francis with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce and City Of God director Fernando Meirelles is behind the camera for it and I think this one will play out beautifully with these capable artists and the fact that it is subcategorized as a comedy only adds to my excitement. It could be like Curb Your Enthusiasm with Popes!

The Witcher: Season 1 (Netflix) – Henry Cavill takes the lead in this new Netflix original, the adaptation to a widely popular video game series, one that I’m kind of familiar with but in comic form. Cavill is Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts, so basically a Game Of Thrones-style action series with crazy monsters and beasts, so expect some great gore. The show was brought to the screen by former Daredevil producer Lauren Schmidt who was also behind this year’s hit show The Umbrella Academy which was based on a comic as well. I’m feeling good things about this show.

The Aeronauts (Amazon Prime) – I have to say this new film is definitely on my list for most anticipated to round out the end of the years as it is the reunion of Academy Award-winners Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones after The Theory Of Everything, this time with The Danish Girl filmmaker Tom Hooper, who previously worked with Redmayne on that film too plus he has Cats opening this week too. Busy guy. This movie is the true story of pilot Amelia Rennes and scientist James Glaisher who find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a gas balloon voyage. This was shot by George Steel who also did episodes of Peaky Blinders and Honorable Woman so I’m excited for the look of this film.

Togo (Disney+) – A brand new original film for this new streaming service, this true story was shot in Alberta recently and has a great star to lead it in Willem Dafoe. This is the story of a sled dog named Togo who led the 1925 serum run but was considered by most to be too small and weak to lead such an intense race, thus considered the underdog, a plot element that Disney eats up. The movie comes from director Ericson Core who’s last movie was the incredibly bland Point Break remake so I hold this film in a bit of a trepidatious spot but one this is for sure, it will look gorgeous.

A Christmas Carol (FX) – How many times can this story be told before we get sick of the whole Dickensian holiday tale? Well, I guess we’ll give it one more chance because this is a three-episode miniseries version of it and it’s under the eye of BAFTA-winning director Nick Murphy and one of the creators of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight. There’s also a great cast present as Guy Pearce steps into the storied role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, an automatic selling point for me as he is a personal favorite of mine. Bob Cratchit is played by Mr. Taylor Swift, Joe Alwyn and Boardwalk Empire alum Stephen Graham plays Scrooge’s long-dead former business partner Jacob Marley and really, this could either rejuvenate this story or kill it for any future productions, who knows?