Brittany Runs A Marathon – Sometimes just looking at the lead actress of a movie will totally misrepresent what you think you are going to get with it. Starring comedic actress Jillian Bell, the scene-stealer from 22 Jump Street, Comedy Central’s Workaholics and Office Christmas Party, the immediate thinking is that this will be a romp of a movie, not the inspirational piece that it really is. This film has Bell as the title character, a woman living in New York who takes control of her life by taking control of her weight and her motivation, a beautiful character study that will resonate with many viewers and may push you in your own direction of self-realization. Jillian Bell is incredible in this movie, showing a range that totally surprised me. I really hope this movie catches on with audiences because it is a really special and also true story. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Tigers Are Not Afraid – This movie has a couple of things working against it coming out of the gate. Firstly, this is an independent film so if you want it to hit the big time it needs to have that word darling attached to it. That’s not going to happen because the second deterrent from that additive title is that this s a horror film as well. Hopefully, Guillermo del Toro calling this Issa Lopez written and directed movie one of his favorites of the last year can help because I found this movie to be incredibly special. The film is a dark tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels, led in a way by a girl who can see the ghosts created every day by the drug war, spirits looking for vengeance. Lopez’s style breathes right off of the screen and sort of reminds me of the earlier del Toro film The Devil’s Backbone, signifying that she has a huge future ahead of her. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
This Changes Everything – The equality gap across the world is a huge issue that only seems to get better in sputters and spurts but where it is the most evident is in show business. This documentary delves right into that battle with a lot of the heavyweights of Hollywood including Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep and Jessica Chastain, showrunners like Shondra Rhimes and Jill Soloway as well as those affected directly in recent scandals like Rose McGowan, in a collected group of interviews that illuminate women’s roles in film over the years, leading to now, and what the future of the gender in that medium could possibly be. With help from the Geena Davis Institute of Gender Studies, we get a fascinating look at just the numbers when it comes to equality o screen but the movie is a little awkward with driving its point home by relying on focused point moments at the end of each interview bit and the end is almost anthemic with the message which felt largely unnecessary. Otherwise, I think this movie is massively pivotal and a must-watch. (Only opening in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver)
Rocketman – After Bohemian Rhapsody’s success last year, this Elton John biopic had been hotly anticipated although it is less of a straightforward film than the Queen movie was, instead taking more of a musical route. Taron Egerton stars as Elton with Jamie Bell playing his co-writer Bernie Taupin in a film that has the definitely hugs the line of being fantastical and serious in the same beat. It’s interesting to note that Egerton did all of his own singing in the film and the sounds incredible in it, giving the music a whole new life in my opinion. This movie totally lives up to the hype and gives us a flamboyant but unflinching look at a legendary singer who has multitudes of demons and flaws and where Bohemian Rhapsody seemed to shy away from Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, only giving a sort of suggestion to it, Rocketman wears it out in the open and is unafraid which should always be the lead choice. Not only is Rocketman one of the best ways to approach a musical biopic, but it may also be one of the best films this year.
The Secret Life Of Pets 2 – Illumination Entertainment brings out this new sequel, one that isn’t connected to their Despicable Me franchise and all without the problematic Louis CK providing the lead voice, this time around being replaced by one of the good guys, Patton Oswalt. All the other favorites have returned including Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate and Kevin Hart along with newcomers Tiffany Haddish and Harrison Ford, so all the kids should be happy and I actually thought the first movie was pretty fun and this one maintains that feeling, even if it is a little bit of a diminished return. The animation is definitely continuing that cute style, the voices are well cast and if there was any real issue with the film it would be its tendency to meander a bit in the story, which is odd for a movie that clocks under an hour and a half.
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters – Five years ago Gareth Edwards rebooted the giant Japanese monster that has headed the longest-running franchise in history with Jordan Vogt-Roberts placing the next piece with Kong: Skull Island, a prequel. Now Krampus and Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty furthers the story with this highly anticipated rumble pitting Godzilla against the most devastating monster in existence King Ghidorah. A massive effects-driven film, this movie is going to blow everyone away with some really great massive battles between these iconic monsters but as far as the human element of the story goes, that’s where all of the brains drop out of the whole project. The dialogue and story for the main three characters played by Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobbie Brown and Kyle Chandler are so bad and nonsensical that it really almost cripples the film, it’s just a great thing that everything else works to save it.
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut – In my opinion, one of the greatest films ever made, Francis Ford Coppola has put the final touches on his Vietnam War masterpiece with this new director’s edition of the 1979 movie. Everyone knows the story here, Martin Sheen playing U.S. Army officer who is given the mission of navigating through the treacherous jungle in order to assassinate a renegade Special Forces Colonel named Kurtz who has gone rogue, insane and now sees himself as a god. This role is played brilliantly by Marlon Brando who was incredibly difficult to work with according to Coppola. A movie I have bought in various editions, it is fantastic to finally now own the definitive vision of a filmmaker who almost went crazy to make it.
Akio Jissoji – Another great release from Arrow Academy, this box sets features three films from Akio Jissoji, a Japanese television and film director best known outside Japan for the 1960s TV series Ultraman. In this collection known as The Buddhist Trilogy, his very Japanese famous erotic series is showcased, which consisted of This Transient Life, Mandala and Poem, each film focusing on taboo and disturbing subjects including incest and rape as an overhanging subject. Made from 1970 to 1972, these films came from a time where no creator was willing to put this sort of subject matter into their work out of fear of being blacklisted or exiled from their country and Jissoji spearheaded his own cause with unflinching attitude. I love that movie collectors can now dig into some of the forgotten film culture in Japan with this new set.
NCIS Los Angeles: Season 10 – What’s that? More NCIS you say? Well, yes, but this is the cool one because if features former Robin Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J and that guy has the word cool in his name. They play key agents in the Office of Special Projects branch of the organization which puts them undercover to crack cases, utilizing their backgrounds as street kids. I’m fully aware of the dime a dozen nature of crime procedurals but I will admit something about this particular one and that is that I kind of like it and, really, at the end of the day it needs to be somewhat good to make it to season ten and now eleven, right?
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
The Reptile – Bring out some more classic horror, and some of the best of that genre with the “accidental experiment/incantation gone wrong” kind, this special edition revitalizes a film from 1966. The movie takes place in a Cornish village where various locals are dying from mysterious snake bites but the city officials rule the deaths as heart attacks until a family of newcomers starts an investigation. The film was made by the historic Hammer films and was filmed back to back with the infamous Plague Of The Zombies, reusing a lot of the sets, the village being the most obvious. This collector’s edition features the film in two separate aspect ratios, commentary with film historians, a new interview with the first assistant director and an all-new documentary on the making of it. Shout Factory has again released a golden oldie.
Quatermass II & Quatermass And The Pit – A very cool thing about a cinephile like me getting sent all of these old classics is I get to see some of the films ad stories that paved the way for every original story we see today and the films of Quatermass was a springboard point for a lot of the sci-fi genre. I received two of these movies this week as the second Quatermass movie, probably the most famous one, has our titular professor trying to gather support for his moon colonization project and discovers that there might be some sinister inhabitants that could spell doom for the move of humanity. The second of the new Shout Factory releases made ten years later and with a different lead actor, has a mysterious artifact unearthed in London, causing Quatermass to be called to investigate its origins and explain its strange effects on people. Both movies have a brand new 2K scan for the Blu-ray as well as commentaries by film historians and even, in some cases, limited commentary with the actual filmmakers.
The Dark Crystal – Age of Resistance: Season 1 (Netflix) – As a kid from the eighties, I found myself obsessed with the Dark Crystal world, created in the mind of the great Jim Henson, Frank Oz and David Odell, and brought to life in a film that I still feel like I’m unpacking to this day. Dealing with alien philosophies, gods and a quest to find the missing shard of a magical crystal, the tale of the Gelflings is massively complex and one I’m surprised we got to see on such a massive level. Well, friends, Netflix has given us more of what we crave as we get not just a movie but a ten-episode series that returns to the world of Thra, where three Gelfling discover the horrifying secret behind the Skeksis’ power and set out to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world. Ever since this show was announced my childhood has been singing in my soul and I can not wait to binge it all.
Carnival Row: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – Amazon Prime seems to take a lot of chances with their original series and this one is no exception and it comes from the mind of the Pacific Rim creator Travis Beacham and features episodes directed by Lucky Number Slevin’s Paul McGuigan, Entrapment’s Jon Amiel and two veteran television stalwarts Anne Foerster and Andy Goddard. The show stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevigne as a human detective and a fairy respectively who rekindle a dangerous affair in a Victorian fantasy world, where the city’s uneasy peace collapses when a string of murders reveals an unimaginable monster. I really enjoy world-building things like this and seeing Foerster’s background on Outlander has me even more intrigued because she shoulders the most amount of work in this at four episodes. This may be your sleeper hit here.
Ballers: Season 5 (HBO) – Closing out with its final season, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returns to his role as Spencer Strasmore, former football star and now the financial manager to the best of the best in the NFL. Coming from the producers of Entourage, this show fills the niche of big muscles, fast cars and scantily clad women but also is a massively entertining series with great supporting turns from Rob Corddry and the breakout star of Blackkklansman John David Washington. My favorite part of this show is seeing Johnson flex a different muscle in his repertoire which is his dramatic range that I think the average viewer forgets he has. Spencer is the moral center of the series, just as he is the visual one, and The Rock never lets you forget that.
The Affair: Season 5 (Showtime) – It seems like this is a year of endings for not just big shows like Game Of Thrones but smaller critically acclaimed shows like this show, one I was very late to discovering and wish I had been up on it earlier. For those who haven’t had a chance to see it, the show is a multi-faceted story about a struggling novelist and a young waitress who strike up an extramarital relationship that promises to forever change the course of their lives as well as their spouses and the people around them. Over its run, the series has picked up three Golden Globes, for best series as well as actresses Maura Tierney and Ruth Wilson, and nominations for Primetime Emmys and Writer’s Guild awards and I think this final season will give it more accolades on the way out.
Workin’ Moms: Season 3 (Netflix) – Originally broadcast on our very own CBC, this show got the boost from Netflix but still needs a little push I think for people to really dig into it. I think what I’m saying is after you’ve finished Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience, check this one out before you make the mistake of watching Mr. D for your Canadian content. Starring the creator of the show, the very funny Catherine Reitman, this is the story of four very different thirty-something working moms and friends as they try to balance their jobs, family life and love life in the reported center of the universe, Toronto, Canada. This may have the stigma of Canadian broadcasting all over it but Reitman comes from the writing staff of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia so have some faith.