Anna And The Apocalypse – It’s like this movie was made to get me immediately into the theater for both a musical and a Christmas movie, two genres that don’t have a high success rate with me. How do they do this? A zombie Christmas movie. Absolutely brilliant. Basically, a group of friends living in a small town in England have to survive a zombie outbreak during the holiday season and I feel like instant classic ensues. You see more of this genre-bending could go a long way to grabbing yourself some new fans against their will. (Only opening in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver)
Border – This Swedish thriller is both wholly disturbing and totally engrossing at the same time. It follows a woman born with a condition that makes her look almost like a caveperson but gives her the ability to sniff out fear on people, a skill that makes her customs job a very easy one. When she comes face to face with a man the same as her she is thrown into a fast education of what she really is. Coming from the mind that created Let The Right One in, remade as Let Me In, this movie is dark in its nature but is mainly a story about self-discovery and realization. That said, this one is going to be a really tough sell for a casual viewer. (Only opening in Vancouver)
Hospitality – Emmanuelle Chiriqui stars in this very straightforward character-driven film about a bed and breakfast owner whose latest guest is a blast from the past that throws her quiet life with her mentally challenged son into upheaval. The cast is just five people including Chiriqui but the movie is simple and entertaining enough and it was a nerd moment for me to see Entourage’s Sloane with True Blood’s Sam Merlotte. (Only opening in Toronto)
Love Jacked – In a story that feels like a tedious retread of a bad sitcom, our main character gets engaged against her overbearing father’s wishes then said fiance cheats on her so she’s forced to bring the man she meets at a diner to pose as the groom to be. Did this get spiced up with any fresh dialogue or any sort of originality? Nope, just a waste of your hour and a half. (Only opening in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver)
Nothing Like A Dame – Dames Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins have been tea friends decades upon decades but it took Notting Hill director Roger Michell to say “hey, can we come and film your conversation?” for me to become re-enamored with these four legendary actresses. Some may find this one a bit dry, the film just being exactly what it sells itself as, an afternoon of prompted stories, but to hear the shared insight and connections with these ladies careers was so fascinating. (Only opening in Vancouver)
Finding Big Country – Made right here in Vancouver by Grizzlies super fan Kathleen Jayme, this is a beautiful little tribute documentary short is about her search for her idol Bryant “Big Country” Reeves who pretty much just disappeared once he retired due to injury. The film starts by showing something pretty disturbing as a twenty plus year lower mainland resident; the city has forgotten about their former NBA team the Vancouver Grizzlies. Heck, they don’t even exist in the B.C. hall of fame! This is where Jayme comes in to save the day and it’s sweet and inspiring to investigate this person that had such influence on her life. Definitely a feel-good movie. (Only opening in Vancouver)
Mission Impossible: Fallout – When Tom Cruise steps out to make a Mission Impossible film you know that it’s going to be full force, mind-blowing and one of the most exciting cinematic experiences that you will come across. This is certainly true of this movie, the second film in the series for Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie, and when Cruise teams with this guy they are absolutely unstoppable. Henry Cavill and his problematic moustache are new to the franchise and I have to say that the bathroom fight scene pitting Cruise and Cavill against an enemy operative is definitely the cinematic fight of the year and maybe the decade.
The Nun – It seems that the only thing Warner Bros can make work when it comes to cinematic universes is The Conjuring one headed by James Wan. This, the fifth of the connected films goes back the furthest to 1952 and the events around a Romanian monastery that brought us this demonic nu that first terrorized audiences in The Conjuring 2. The performances are solid in this film, Demian Bechir the biggest draw as the priest haunted by a failed exorcism and the cinematography is gorgeous, done by Alejandre Aja’s usual guy Maxime Alexandre. The story is where this lets you down, predictable and pretty paint by numbers, although director Corin Hardy has piqued my interest with his style.
The Happytime Murders – It’s about damn time we got something a bit more adult involving Muppets and by “bit more” I mean let’s get R-rated with them. It was a bumpy ride for the Brian Henson film, getting sued by Sesame Street along the way, but the film looks funny, following a murder mystery from the point of view of two cops, one puppet and one a human with a transplanted puppet organ, Together they are trying to stop a serial puppet killer before the body count rises too much. The reviews are atrocious, unfortunately, saying that the originality is there but they fail to fully go for it, always content with the easy jokes. For me, this looks like a Melissa McCarty movie I can fully get behind.
Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word – This documentary is proof to not judge a film by its cover as, on the outside, this looks like a faith-based doc about the Pope Francis and his journey to the Vatican. On one hand is sort of is but German new wave legend Wim Wenders and Pope Francis himself instead use this platform as a plea for world unification for a purpose; the protection and preservation of the earth, the protection and safe harbour of those displaced and war-stricken immigrants and to disarm those who would chose to use these mass weapons to crush the weak for personal or monetary gain. By the end of this film, I have to say that I was won over and I am by no means a religious person.
God Bless The Broken Road – Oh boy, there’s something about these faith-based films that feel so manipulative to an outside audience and this one fits that mould to a tee. The film follows a military wife who falls on hard times after her husband is killed in combat and must rely on her faith to get her through. Honestly, if you are a believer of the themes in this one it will hit with you but as a majority audience, I feel these films have no real tethering point.
What Keeps You Alive – A film that will fly completely under the radar, this looks like one of those can’t miss sleeper hits. Jackie and Jules are heading up into the mountains to celebrate their one year wedding anniversary. Once there, Jackie turns on Jules and proceeds to hunt her down in the backwoods, turning their secluded romantic getaway into a brutal fight against each other for survival. The trailer for this will knock you on your ass, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
Operation Finale – A group of agents led by Oscar Isaac take down a high ranking SS official Adolf Eichmann, plated by Sir Ben Kingsley. Sounds solid, right? This movie was slated for a North America wide release until it was pulled for some reason in August and landed on Netflix a couple months back. The special features are a little non-existant so besides the Blu-ray disc hi-def you might as well go the Netflix route.
Elliot The Littlest Reindeer – Of course with the holiday season now in full swing we get a rush of Christmas animated films ad this one is Canada’s entry. Usual documentarian Jennifer Westcott wrote and directed this film that pushes away any limits of the Santa Claus mythos to forge something new as a miniature horse competes in a sort of Olympiad to secure himself on Santa’s reindeer team. This is where I feel that the big Hollywood and the international studio made animated films have made it hard for the little guy to get traction as this movie feels second best in every way and is kind of a slog to get through. The kids may certainly enjoy it but the adults will be missing the opportunity to start scrolling through anything on their phones to avoid it.
McQueen – The tragic story of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen, this is a documentary of a powerful creative life that was cut way too short. I’ve taken in fashion documentaries before which don’t really engage me at all but the beauty of this film had me absolutely fascinated and wishing I had seen it on a screen at least bigger than my laptop. The work McQueen was creating was on an astonishing level of artistry that becomes the measuring point of what’s to follow.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
The Crown: Season 2 – I know. The subject matter of the Queen and the words geek out seem like oil and water but you’ll have to hear me out on this one because the “geekery” arises from the Blu-ray itself. Now, this, as many people know, is available on Netflix but what you don’t get is a thorough look at the scandals of the time in the Royal Family as well as a watch along “tea time” trivia track that plays with each episode. I think stuff like this is so cool.
Dances With Wolves – Shout Factory gave me a beautiful gift this week with the three-disc steelbook of possibly the greatest western of modern cinema, one that just recently had its twenty-eighth anniversary. Complete with a theatrical cut and an extended cut with commentary from director and star Kevin Costner, you can go deep into the story of Lieutenant John Dunbar, a movie that won seven Academy Awards. I’m also convinced that James Cameron borrowed some of this for Avatar.
Single White Female – This Barbet Schroeder thriller is a benchmark classic and one that will always be referenced by people who are using classified ads to find a roommate. It’s a terrifying story of obsession that I’m so surprised no studio has optioned it for a remake yet. Bridget Fonda faces off with a psycho Jennifer Jason Leigh in a role that may be one of the high points for both actresses twenty six years ago and that stiletto to the eye is still a total cringe moment.
Dogs of Berlin – An new cop drama from Germany, this series looks stylish and, from the trailer, is infused with some dark humor as well. The story has two detectives at the precipice of a race war after the murder of a top football star falls on their doorstep. Again Netflix brings more international viewing that will hopefully garner some interest in North America.
Dumplin’ – This one stars Jenifer Aniston and the star of the fantastic indie comedy Patti Cakes, Danielle Macdonald, this is a film about the daughter of a former beauty queen and the face of the towns local beauty pageant who is affectionately called Dumplin’ by her distracted mother. In order to get some attention from her mom, she enters the yearly contest in a story that may play out exactly as you think but with some charm as both these women are very funny. Directed by The Proposal’s Anne Fletcher, the movie features a lot of Dolly Parton songs as well as a new single.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle – Another adaptation of the Jungle Book is here but you’re not going to hear the Bare Necessities with this considerably darker adaptation from director Rudyard Kipling. A solid voice cast is featured in this, with Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch and more, but the CGI in this trailer just was not working for me. I really want to love Serkis as a director but between Breathe and what I’m seeing with this one he has a way to go yet.
Pine Gap – A counter-terrorism drama from Australia? Yeah, I’m a little skeptical of this one as the trailer is just horrendous for it but what if this is one of the next pickups for American television and you’re just getting on the ground floor for it right here? It may be a hard sell but this series comes from the people behind the Aussie crime series Underbelly which is a really great discovery I made a few years back.
ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay? – A member of possibly the greatest rap group of all time and one that seemed to transcend the genre into its own legacy category, why was it all marred by such tragedy? This continuing docuseries breaks down the evidence around the murder of Jam Master Jay and explore the conspiracy around a botched police investigation, the tampering and removal of evidence and the blind eye turned on the man who helped bring Run DMC to the masses.