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 hit the big screen 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. Full disclosure, I have not finished the entire series yet so going any deeper on this movie would put myself in the realm of spoiler territory.
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.
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 has been 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. The reviews have been absolutely stellar, skirting the line of being a compelling science fiction story with the emotional human drama of the connection between an estranged father and son. I knew this was going to be a solid film and the trailer really backs me up on that.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band – 2019 has been such an incredible year for music documentaries and retrospectives and it continues here with this look at the legendary Robbie Robertson and the group he led, The Band. Yes, if you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz you are very familiar with their work but instead of a focused concert, this tells the story of a group that went from backing up Bob Dylan to become one of the most influential groups of its era with a catalog of songs that are so beautifully written by a group of songwriters with unfathomable cohesion. With both me and my wife being huge fans of The Band, this movie was incredibly special to us. (Opens in Toronto and Vancouver. Opens in Calgary and Hamilton on Sept 27 and Edmonton on Oct 3)
Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool – To quote a line from Billy Madison “if peeing your pants is cool you can consider me Miles Davis”. I really don’t know why I placed that line in here, it just felt right, but this is a pretty definitive documentary about the gifted musician’s life and legacy. As a horn player, bandleader and an innovator, Davis was an absolute force of nature and the very embodiment of cool, something I’ve known for years thanks to my very music smart mother. The film explores archival photos and home movies shot by Miles and his colleagues, his manuscripts and original paintings all to give a glimpse into the man behind the music featuring interviews with Carlos Santana, The Roots, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock and more. (Opens in Toronto and Vancouver)
Dark Phoenix – I haven’t had any faith in an X-Men movie since Bryan Singer ripped the reigns of the franchise back from director Matthew Vaughn after First Class, which was phenomenal, to make Days Of Future Past which was a film that crumbled under the weight of simply deconstructing it after my viewing. Then came Apocalypse, which was a dismal piece of convenient plot piece garbage and now we have this movie, the end story to this long-running Marvel created story but produced by Fox franchise, directed by usual EP Simon Kinberg, who I think is the reason, along with Singer, that this series took such a nosedive. So, where does this one lie in the pile of X-Men crap movies? I’d say it lands with a dull thump alongside Apocalypse but still being a bit better than it. The acting and story are incredibly awkward and the main adversary for the film is so lackluster that no matter how cool the final X-Men battle is, and it does look great, it’s hard to really care about anything going on. It’s fitting that this who Fox battle with Marvel went out with such a whimper of a movie.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am – Heading into this documentary, my knowledge of Toni Morrison’s work was slightly limited. I was a huge fan of the Jonathan Demme directed film Beloved, based on her novel and knew she was the frequent author of choice for Oprah’s famous book club. This film gave me a crash course in this gifted and important literary voice and Nobel Prize winner and, most importantly, it all comes from Morrison herself who tells her story to the camera, leaving no stone unturned. Including interviews with friends like Black Power activist Angela Davis, writer Fran Lebowitz and Oprah Winfrey herself, we get a full portrait of how pivotal she is to black literature, the preservation of it and the need to keep it on the forefront of history. As far as biographical documentaries go, this one is top notch.
Above The Shadows – Two of the three bigger Blu-ray releases this week have zero clout or push behind them and, when it comes to the previous movie Dead Water, that’s probably for the best but with this film I think it could command a bigger audience but, besides me talking about it here, it will go unnoticed. Juno actress Olivia Thirlby stars as a young woman who has faded to the point of becoming invisible and must find her way back to society with the help of the one man who can see her, a former MMA champion, played by Alan Ritchson, who has fallen on hard times. I really enjoyed this one, an engaging fantasy romance film that capitalized on good chemistry between Ritchson and Thirlby which manages to shine through even if some of the thematic elements are a little muddled. I’m interested to see what writer and director Claudia Byers does next as both her other films Fort Bliss and Kettle Of Fish aren’t bad either.
Dead Water – Sometimes you just know a movie is going to be bad just by looking at the cover and this tells that warning pretty quickly. The movie has Banshee’s Griff Furst as a former soldier returning home after a tour in the Middle East and suffering from PTSD who is taken on a sailing expedition with his wife by a family friend played by Casper Van Dien. As soon as the trio get into open waters and out of cellphone reception things begin to get weird and their host starts to act out of character but unfortunately for the audience all of the acting, production level and directing is so awful it will put you off even before the dumb reveal of Van Dien’s intentions. Of course, all of this also happens before Judd Nelson, the reason I wanted to see this, appears on screen and, for the record, he’s terrible too. This movie is a waste of time.
Kung Fu League – Receiving all of these Asian releases from Well Go USA has been an absolute privilege as it gives me access to martial arts films that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise and the movies I have been getting have ranged from good to great and I feel like I’ve been very lucky. Well, my luck ran out on this movie, a truly awful abomination of a film that felt like utter nonsense throughout. The story follows a nerdy comic book artist who yearns for his dream girl but is constantly blocked by the bullying CEO of the company he works for causing him to use some magic to summon four martial arts masters to aid him. This film is hokey, badly put together with shoddy special effects and confusingly haphazard story and script and some of the worst music and songs I have ever heard. If the only thing I do today is deter you from watching this garbage, I’ll be happy. What a waste of time.
The Good Fight: Season 3 – I definitely consider myself a fan of the CBS series The Good Wife, a show that got me from the get-go with great characters and compelling storylines so when it was announced that a spin-off would be made with big wig partner Diane Lockhart leading the way I was excited and I think this show has satisfied in every way. The show picked up where the other series left off, Diane readying for retirement when her investment banker is arrested for fraud and she is left penniless. Now years in at her new firm, she is just as ruthless as you remember but the supporting cast of Delroy Lindo, Audra MacDonald and Game Of Thrones alum Rose Leslie this show is stellar with that same character work as well as making good use of the no rules CBS All Access platform. It may go heavy on the anti-Trump message, which may turn other viewers off with its heavy hand, but I totally love it.
Elementary: The Final Season – This modern take on the cases of Sherlock Holmes came to a close this past television year and now it is on DVD for everyone to check out, as well as in a complete series box set. I initially saw a lot of hate about this series and it’s approach when it came out and I finally checked it out with the release of the last season, the sixth one, and, truth be told, I kind of dug it. I’ve always enjoyed Jonny Lee Miller ever since I saw him in Hackers and his cocky attitude works brilliantly as Holmes, especially incorporating the former addict angle as well, and Lucy Liu is the perfect foil I never would have saw as Watson. There really is a reason this show lasted seven years and got to go out on its own terms.
The Case Of Hana & Alice – More anime, Steve? Yes, I guess so but this one has all sorts of acclaim behind it so I’m predisposed to enjoy it, right? This one is kind of weird as I feel like even the title was toned down from it’s original Japanese title of “The Murder Case of Hana & Alice” to the current and more innocuous one we have now but the movie does revolve around an unsolved murder case as it follows a new girl who starts at a new school and is mercilessly bullied after being assigned the “Judas” seat who’s previous occupant was killed. Weird storyline and that is how these movies operate but this movie actually is fascinating in its plot reveals and would transition to an interesting live-action piece.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:
Vice Squad – The cool thing about being hooked up with Shout Factory is getting these weirdo 80s tough-guy movies that I have never heard of and I definitely had no clue what this film was when I received it. Actress Season Huxley plays a prostitute named Princess who is forced by a Los Angeles detective to take down a brutal pimp named Ramrod, played with an edge by Cole Hauser’s dad, Wings, who has been killing other ladies of the night. The movie was made by Gary Sherman just after he directed to killer horror film Dead & Buried and, interestingly enough, the guy now makes true crime documentary series for A&E like The First 48. This movie had a lot of backlash behind it with people denouncing its violence, especially against women, but it did have an advocate in its favor with Martin Scorsese defending it, he himself going through the same thing with Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.
Endless Love – Let’s dig into a bit of controversy from the 1980s this week with this film that definitely pushed the boundaries but this was something director Franco Zeffirelli was not new to. The now infamous film starred Martin Hewitt and a very young Brooke Shields as a teen girl who falls for an older high school boy despite the protests of her parents, so essentially this is a Romeo and Juliet story. The film featured on-screen sex between the two teens and was initially awarded an X rating before being given an R after being resubmitted five times. Interestingly enough, this film was remade just five years ago and no one cared at all. The shock of having such a torrid romance film with this young of a focus has worn off.
Wildland – This is a weird one so I had to bring it right away to this section. This film, also titled Young Men And Fire, is available in the States on Blu-ray, is also screening at this years Vancouver International Film Festival, so in a rare occasion, you can get up on this movie in advance of that. The movie brings you closer than ever to the wildfires that ravage the western side of North America every year, following the fire crews in a sweeping yet deeply personal account of as they struggle with fear, loyalty, dreams, and demons within themselves. The movie is a true testament to the very real threat of climate change and is a slap in the face to any deniers, especially in the face of all the adversity these crews face doing their very deadly job. This is a massively important documentary.
Disenchantment: Season 2 (Netflix) – Matt Groening’s third original series and his first with Netflix enters into its sophomore season, following Princess Tiabeanie or ‘Bean’, voiced by Broad City’s Abby Jacobsen, a royal in a world of fantasy that wants desperately to shed the shackles of what a princess is supposed to be, yearning for action ad adventure. After meeting Luci, a demon, and Elfo, an elf, she gets more than she wished for in a series that is honestly a bit hard to get into through the first four episodes. Towards the end of the first season the show kind of finds its footing so I really hope that this new season builds on that from the get-go because, honestly, it feels slow and we are talking about an animated series here.
Between Two Ferns: The Movie (Netflix) – Who would have thought that the insane little interview sketch show that Zach Galifianakis created for Funny Or Die would see its own feature film but here it is and I’ve been ready for it ever since its announcement. The story sees Zach trying to make amends with his public access network after killing Matthew McConaughey (and reviving him), so he sets out on a road trip to try and gather a catalogue of episodes to satisfy his bosses. The trailer for this movie is straight insanity and the hilarious burns on his guests, mispronouncing of names and the ignorant insults are so funny. This is going to be the most streamed thing this weekend I think.
Criminal UK-France-Spain-Germany: Season 1 (Netflix) – This new series is massively ambitious and maybe can lead to some more very open platform series to be created as this thriller is made up of twelve stories set in four different countries, each takes place within the confines of a police interview suite and each countries series sitting as a stand-alone season on Netflix. A focus on the intense mental conflict between detectives and suspects, the show’s UK counterparts features David Tennant and Hayley Atwell, the German one has Phoenix actress Nina Hoss and honestly, cast aside. the approach to this show has me interested.
A Little Late With Lilly Singh: Season 1 (NBC) – As a Canadian I was overjoyed when I read on Twitter that homegrown YouTube star Lilly Singh was getting the spotlight of taking over the secondary late-night talk show on NBC from Carson Daly who seemed to have had that show for over a decade and a half and no one seemed to care about it. I’m really looking forward to what Lilly has planned for the show as the week’s go on but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen after the first night. I do feel she relies a bit on the fact that she is both a woman and a person of color in this position and so she should, it’s very progressive of NBC and I hope they are protective of that. The only thing I can see working against this is she is slightly unknown to the larger audience.
American Horror Story: 1984 (FX) – I’m kind of hit and miss with the American Horror Story series but I feel like this season was tailor-made for me to fall in love with and get over my edgy feelings about creator Ryan Murphy. Taking his cue from his two-season series Scream Queens, this season delves into that whole slasher genre like Friday The 13th and Halloween by bringing the homage to us in bright technicolor and it even takes place at a summer camp! Oh man, does that ever excite me as a huge horror fan and while the show doesn’t have such AHS staples as Jessica Lange and Evan Peters, it still has Emma Roberts from the before mentioned Scream Queens as well as Billie Lourd, Glee’s Matthew Morrison and Twisty the Clown himself, John Carroll Lynch who now plays Mr. Jingles, the killer for this series. I am so psyched for this season!