The Goldfinch – Based on a bestselling novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt, the bidding war from studios for this adaptation was high but it ended up with Warner Bros. and most notably in the hands of gifted director John Crowley, following up his brilliant film Brooklyn. The film is about a boy in New York who is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The trailer plays everything pretty ambiguously but what is known is that the kid, who is played by Oakes Fegley from Pete’s Dragon as a child and Ansel Elgort as a teen and adult, harbours a deep secret which could blow up all his newly found relationships. I’m fascinated to see this film because the story sounds incredible. (Not opening in Hamilton)
Hustlers – Just looking at this movie it is pretty much completely unappealing to me. This film is toplined by Constance Wu, an actress I really enjoyed in Crazy Rich Asians but her real-life diva antics have really turned me off, and Jennifer Lopez who I’ve never really been a fan of so it has a bit working against it. That said it has Cardi B and Lizzo in supporting roles and is about a crew of former strippers who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients so I have a glimmer of hope for entertainment in this. The fact that, at the time of writing this, the movie has eleven positive reviews makes me a little bit intrigued.
Freaks – My first narrative film of last year’s VIFF, this hit me with all sorts of parental feelings like a loaded punch to the face. Freaks is a paranoid mystery that slowly blooms to its audience but, interestingly enough, shares a few different qualities from the Academy Award-winning hit Room. Just like young local actor Jacob Tremblay dazzled in that film, nine-year-old actress Lexy Kolker is the battery at the heart of this film as well, it’s driving force. From the directing and writing duo of Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, the story drops you into a rundown house with papered windows and padlocked doors with our main two characters, Chloe (Kolker) and her dad played with deep nuance by Emile Hirsch. With what appears to be an unhealthy amount of itching paranoia, he constantly quizzes his young daughter on how to act outside the walls, in the real world, something that is absolutely foreign to Chloe. It’s life and death to Dad though. Inside the house is where they are safe and outside everyone will try to kill them. It’s a bleak and horrifying message to instill in a child, raising the immediate question: Is he indoctrinating his child with his own psychosis or is he protecting her from the reality he already knows? This movie is a must-see tour de force of acting and will hopefully make some waves a full year after I discovered it. (Only opening in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver)
Riot Girls – If you’ve been reading my stuff since I’ve started publishing you would see a trend that odd movies are really my thing, especially in the horror, sci-fi and action genre so this new film from Canadian director Jovanka Vuckovic, her first feature, is a red alert on my radar. The movie takes place in an alternate 1995, as a mysterious disease has wiped out all of the adults. In the new forged age, two gangs are pitted against each other in a brutal war for territory, resources and survival. One thing that grabs me immediately, besides the post-fall dystopia, is that it’s led by two badass ladies with the names of Nat and Scratch and that it’s the first feature from Vuckovic who made her mark with me in the all-women anthology movie XX. This could be a great breakout film for her. (Only opening in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver)
Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! – Morgan Spurlock is back with a follow up twelve years after he almost killed himself, eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month, supersizing whenever it was offered. This time he takes on the task of opening up his own fast food restaurant with the focus being on the fastest rising piece of that menu right now, the almighty chicken sandwich. With his focus on being transparent with the public, fresh and healthy food and a sustainable business model, Spurlock gives us an in-depth crash course on how the big corporations handle their business, the costliness of organic food and how “big chicken” is constantly screwing over the little guy who’s product it miles better than what these evil bastards shop to us. As a huge chicken sandwich guy myself, I found myself laughing with the filmmaker’s charm but also horrified at the facts I was being given. A beautiful companion piece to Super Size Me, Holy Chicken is about to give you way more food for thought. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
One Cut Of The Dead – Enduring a week of horror films, this movie definitely did the trick of spinning my brain around in my skull. The movie starts out as this low budget behind the scenes of a Japanese zombie film that gets totally disrupted when real zombies attack them at their location, forcing the cast and crew to desperately escape as the eccentric filmmaker follows behind, trying to make his magnum opus. Then after thirty-seven minutes of a single shot take the story ends and credits roll and I’m confused but then we rewind to the beginning of this project to find out that the making of was the real movie and we get to see how this who one-shot madness came to be. This film is massively original, totally fun and playful and exuded that Japanese cinema charm. The only thing that didn’t hold me was the over the top sentimental silliness that ends the movie, otherwise, I think horror fans should check this out. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Aladdin – Yes, Disney has been making so many of these live-action updates but something about Aladdin feels so sacred, firstly the fact that we all have such reverence for Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie. That aside, I wanted to believe in this movie because it is directed by Guy Ritchie but his last film King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword was such a horrible mess. The good news is that the film is vibrant, gorgeous and always fun to watch and does try to forge a separate identity while still keeping all of the songs intact and also a lot of Genie’s lines are the same but done with the stylings of Big Willy himself, Will Smith. The movie isn’t bad, the attempt to keep true to the heart of the film is there but it just isn’t memorable.
Aladdin: Signature Edition – It’s probably easy to say that a lot of people hold this movie high up as their favorite Disney animated film and who could blame them? It’s an absolute classic and makes us all feel warm and cozy with the voice of Robin Williams to guide us. Now, coinciding with the release of Guy Ritchie’s live-action remake, we get the Signature edition which has a sing-along track which is fun for the whole family, commentaries with the directors and animators, new featurettes, a brand new alternate ending and outtakes from Robin that will bring a tear to your eye. This may not be my favorite of the bunch but it is definitely in the top three.
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum – Definitely one of my most anticipated films released this year, both movies leading up to this one have been like a gift from the action film gods, bestowing on us the perfect anti-hero story all birthed from the death of his dog. Now in this next piece, the whole world is after John Wick due to his decisions in the second movie and he has to bring in an old friend, Halle Berry’s character, to make it out alive. This movie burns all action movies to the ground and shows them how it’s really done, a story that would work as a Kurosawa samurai movie or a Sergio Leone spaghetti western told through Keanu Reeves dispatching assassins in a heightened world of secret organizations, blood oaths and neutral ground hotel establishments. It is awesome and if you aren’t on board with it by now I don’t think you ever will.
The Dead Don’t Die – Jim Jarmusch takes his hilariously deadpan style and applies it to a genre that always needs a bit of fresh breath, zombie horror. Bringing some of his staple stars including Bill Murray from his film Coffee And Cigarettes, Adam Driver from his last effort Patterson and, of course, Tilda Swinton, Jarmusch crafts a small-town story of a zombie outbreak where the weirdo citizens have to band together to survive. This movie is definitely not going to rope in everyone as horror fans will be possibly put off by the dialogue style and, well, all of this great filmmaker’s movies have a less than mainstream appeal but I found myself really enjoying it despite some of the parts of the film that sort of drag. I was definitely not ready for the movie to go full meta in the end which had me laughing hysterically. Again, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it got me and oh man is the ending bleak.
SEAL Team: Season 2 – Even though the series ended fifteen years ago I will always see David Boreanaz as the brooding vampire with a soul Angel from the Joss Whedon created Buffy spinoff and that’s even after twelve seasons as Seeley Booth on Bones. His new series is going very well though, a series that follows the lives of an elite Navy S.E.A.L. team as they train, plan and execute the most dangerous, high-stakes missions for the American government. Created by first-time showrunner Benjamin Cavell, this series has compelling characters and has the potential to get better in this vein if they can steer away from being a mission by mission procedural. I have enjoyed both seasons that Paramount sent me though.
Hawaii Five-O: Season 9 – As far as new series reboots of old classic shows go, I’d have to say that Dan-O and company are doing pretty well heading into season ten, especially after two cast members left the show due to pay inequality. Well, season eight and nine went off fine without them, adding The Event and Salvation’s Ian Anthony Dale and Michelle Borth, who was last seen in the big DC Comics blockbuster Shazam, and this season has some solid guest stars with John Wick 3’s Mark Dacascos returning to terrorize the Five-O, Andrew Lawrence in addition to his brothers bad guy role from the previous season and even Dog The Bounty Hunter as himself. Also, to keep with the theme, all of the episodes have names that are unpronounceable.
Curious George: Royal Monkey – An easy go-to for any kid is the Curious George stories and in theatrical form only one of them has made it to the big screen, featuring voices by Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore. The film did very well for itself, opening the door for a bunch of direct to video releases as well as a television series. Now with this new one, the adventure continues as George goes on a journey with his pal Princess Isabel to deal with all matters of the grown-up world. Not only is this a weird one to bring to my regular feature but my own daughter told me halfway through watching this that this was too baby like for her to enjoy so now I’ve got emotions about the passage of time and I was left to watch the rest of it by myself. Thanks, Paramount!
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Charlie Says – This seems to be the year of Charles Manson in movie form as we got a quick glimpse of him in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and here we get former Doctor Who Matt Smith shedding some of that timey wimey stuff to influence some easily led sheep to do some horrific slaughter. Smith has quite a few recognizable stars around him for this one as Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Weaver and Game Of Thrones’ Hannah Murray co-star in this film that is directed by American Psycho’s Mary Harron who continues to lead a great number of women in the horror director’s chair. Some very cool character work for Matt Smith in this one.
Babylon – This movie has a very interesting story as it was originally intended for release in late 1980 and appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1981 but then didn’t get its American theatrical release until this year. Why? Because the powers that be deemed it as “being too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension”. The movie centers around Brindsley Forde’s character Blue, frontman for a reggae band based in west London and captures the trials and tribulations of young black youths in troubled London in the early eighties. The film is a fascinating character study against a socio-political landscape and it’s a cinema crime that we’re only seeing this film now.
Mountain Rest – Now that Stranger Things has made her a star on the rise, Natalia Dyer’s indie career is getting a bit of a focus including this moody emotional drama led by Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy. She plays an ageing actress who sequestered herself to a small mountain town years earlier and is now calling her estranged daughter and granddaughter home for reconciliation and one final celebration before she passes away. The film is the debut of writer and director Alex O. Eaton and is a great film about the erosion of family relationships over time against a gorgeously shot canvas of cinematography.
Cruising – When this film was made in 1980 the backlash against director William Friedkin was huge because he put one of the hottest stars working at the time, Al Pacino, in a controversial role that was getting nothing but hate. Fresh off of Norman Jewison’s And Justice For All, Pacino played an undercover detective who entered the world of the underground S&M gay subculture in New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men and the public and critics alike were perturbed, with the ratings board saying “there aren’t enough XXXs in the alphabet to rate this movie”. Heck, Friedkin was even nominated for a Razzie that year, the first year they existed. Is the movie that bad? No. It’s progressive for its time and showed an abandonment of safe mainstream filmmaking but it would be a trend that would have a hard time catching on. Beyond that, it is a fantastic Al Pacino performance.
Unbelievable: Season 1 (Netflix) – Look, it is just a given with me that if you cast Toni Collette in the lead of something then you have me as a fan immediately and not only does this new original series have her but it has Merritt Weaver who has already made an appearance on my list this week as well as Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever. The show is the true story of Marie, a teenager who was charged with lying about having been raped, and the two female detectives who followed a twisting path to arrive at the truth. In a time where the #MeToo movement has helped so many women come forward with painful truths, this series digs into what all of these victims face, the ability to undoubtedly prove their story and the burden of truth. Created by Ern Brockovich writer Susannah Grant, Wonder Boys writer Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, this could be the must-see Netflix series to start the month.
Mr. Inbetween: Season 2 (FX) – A breakout hit from Australia, this show is another great film about a brutal anti-hero that I loved with the very first episode, a show I was turned on to by Drex. Created by the show’s star Scott Ryan and directed by Nash Edgerton, the series is a black comedy-drama about Ray, a guy who has to juggle being a father, ex-husband, boyfriend and confidant as well as maintain his employment as an enforcer for hire, dishing out violence to whomever his clients want him to. Scott Ryan is a fascinating actor to watch onscreen in a series that hugs the line between wholly grim and hilarious, sometimes in the same moment. I really think that this show needs to catch on in a Breaking Bad sort of way.
Mr. Mercedes: Season 3 (Crave) – As a Stephen King fan I feel massively late to the party with this show based on a later novel in his writing career and this one stars a favorite of mine, actor Brendan Gleeson as well as the always incredible Holland Taylor. The show tells the story of a psychopathic killer who drives a stolen Mercedes into a crowd and a recently retired detective who tries desperately and a little outside the bounds of the law to bring him down. Brought to television by one of the greatest showrunners ever, David E. Kelley, through that shepherding this show has great dialogue, nuanced character work and a creepy and intense plotline that keeps you on the edge of your seat. This is a solid binge for anyone looking for something to occupy the void that Castle Rock left.
Undone: Season 1 (Amazon Prime) – Coming off her guest spot on Parenthood and this year’s underrated sci-fi adaptation Alita: Battle Angel, I’m a pretty big fan of actress Rosa Salazar which has me looking forward to this new Amazon original which again sees the streaming service spread their wings into different things you wouldn’t see on conventional television. She plays a woman who discovers she has physical control over time after surviving a car accident and the really weird thing is this is the brand new show from BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and writer and producer Kate Purdy. Just the trailer alone is enough to convince people who love shows like Lost to jump on board.
The I-Land: Season 1 (Netflix) – Netflix again reaches out for something a little fresher for their new series that has an interesting cast featuring Kate Bosworth, Alex Pettyfer and Canadian actor Kyle Schmid. The show is a twisted mystery about ten people who wake up on a treacherous island with no memory of who they are and how they got there and set off on a trek to try to get back home only to discover the world is changed for the worst. I love weird shows like this as they remind me of the unpredictable nature of a show like Lost. Yes, I’m kind of fixated on that show this week which means I might be a bit nostalgic for it.