Knives Out (Opened Wednesday) – This is one of my most anticipated movies of the year as it comes from a director that makes the most original films when he’s making his own films. Yes, I’m talking about Rian Johnson who’s last outing, The Last Jedi, has fanboys in a decisive tizzy, some people condemning him as the worst filmmaker ever and others who know his merits and appreciate the film for what it is. To me, his other three films Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper are damn near perfect films and this new mystery, that looks like it takes inspiration from classics like Murder By Death, is most likely another home run from one of my favorite directors currently. The cast isn’t too shabby either, featuring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette and way more, this could be a Steve approved best of 2019.
Queen & Slim (Opened Wednesday) – This is a film that has seemed to come out of nowhere and gathering some great buzz along the way. Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith lead this drama about a black man and woman who find themselves on the run together after a deadly incident when they are pulled over by the police. The director of Beyonce’s Lemonade video Melina Matsoukas makes her feature debut with this movie and it’s shot by Tat Radcliffe who did Yann Demange’s ’71 as well as Pride the same year. I’d say there’s a good possibility this ends up on a few top ten lists at the end of the year. (Not opening in Kamloops or Oshawa)
Dark Waters – Mark Ruffalo has a knack for picking the hard-hitting movies about important stories and acts of horrendous injustices, especially being somewhat of an activist himself, and this film plays right into the same things that he stands up against. The masterful director of Carol and Far From Heaven Todd Haynes helms this story of a corporate defense attorney who takes on an environmental lawsuit against a chemical company that in turn exposes a lengthy history of pollution. An interesting connection with Ruffalo’s involvement is that along with being another kick at an Oscar this is the second film he has been in that relates to the DuPont family after Foxcatcher which got him nominated for Best Supporting Actor. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Waves – Director and writer Trey Edward Shults has made an incredible film about the bonds of family across terrible decisions and seemingly monstrous actions and how far the notion of “unconditional love” extends. The film follows the story of a suburban African-American family, led by a well-intentioned but domineering father played by This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown, as they are thrown through the loop by the domino effect their son goes through when his college wrestling career is brought to an abrupt end. This is a movie that will stun you with its incredible realism and the performances throughout are dominated by these fantastic actors. This is a movie that has little clout right now but could be on Oscar ballots come next year. Take note of this one. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Honey Boy – Mark my words, Shia Lebeouf is going to go on such a comeback tear that his talent will be undeniable to all of those who considered his career over. He started this positive momentum with the beautifully crafted outsider story The Peanut Butter Falcon and now continues with this film he wrote which is the real tale of the damaged relationship between him and his father. An incredible young actor himself, Lucas Hedges takes on the older role in Lebeouf’s life story, chronicling his stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father and deal with his mental health. My hope is that this movie is a source of catharsis and he keeps creating amazing art because I love everything I’ve seen so far. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Stand! – As a film critic I really try hard to not continue or contribute to the stigma and stereotypes of movies in any way and the ones I most vehemently back in this regard is Canadian movies because, let’s face it, we hate on our own homegrown productions unless you are Kim’s Convenience or Schitt’s Creek. That said, this movie damn near broke me and now with how good it was. The movie is basically a Romeo and Juliet like story set 100 years ago against a backdrop of civil upheaval and a violent general strike that changed Canada’s history following a Ukrainian immigrant who falls for his neighbor, a Jewish suffragette. The film is a collection of bad direction, editing, script and music that it’s hard to take the film in for its entire duration and I haven’t even gotten to the fact that it’s a musical too and a bad one at that. Honestly, this movie lost me hard and fast within the first twenty minutes and never won me back. (Not opening in Kamloops or Oshawa)
Angel Has Fallen – Sometimes I am completely baffled to what gets the green light in Hollywood and what gets sequels and for how much I enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, which was a bit above middling, London Has Fallen was complete garbage so why do we have this movie? The film has Gerard Butler returning again as the head of the Secret Service, this time he is framed for the attempted assassination of the new president, the former vice played by Morgan Freeman. Not much to say about this one other than Butler is dispatching bad guys left and right which spitting out one-liners and it has Danny Huston playing a smirking villain chewing the scenery while looking creepy. It’s your basic eighties and nineties action film fodder without a lick of brains behind it or anything worth remembering, just two hours of your life you will never get back.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve seen a Richard Linklater film and I have been going through with drawls without his cinema sensibilities on the big screen. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true but it has been two years since Last Flag Flying and the simple fact that this pairs him up with Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett had me salivating for this movie as soon as it was announced. The film has her as a mom who becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. This takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery with her family chasing along behind her. Co-starring Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer and the great new star Troian Bellisario, this movie showcases what Linklater does best, deeply human stories in a contemporary setting.
Official Secrets – Although she hasn’t appeared in any massive tent pole movies since the last Pirates Of The Caribbean movie in 2017, ignoring the horrendous mess of The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, Kiera Knightley has been making some interesting films in a lower key market and now she teams with Eye In The Sky director Gavin Hood for this new thriller. She plays a British whistleblower who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq in this true story that co-stars Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith. The film is concise and clinical, just like Hood’s last film dealing with government bureaucracy and I think it largely works because of this. We don’t need to delve into the deep melodrama of anything because what is important is on the surface, cutting corners for the profit of war, a truly chilling reality we live in.
Don’t Let Go – For a long while it seemed that David Oyelowo was destined for the A-list with his lead performances in Selma and Queen Of Katwe but now it seems you have to dig to find him in movies. This is one that definitely flew under the radar, about a man dealing with the death of his family when he receives a phone call from his dead niece. Unsure if he’s being deceived or going insane, he looks for affirmation that his family may be miraculously alive. The film is written and directed by Jacob Estes who the brilliant teen drama Mean Creek in 2004 and it is well told with a great cast around Oyelowo including Alfred Molina and Atlanta’s Bryan Tyree Henry but it kind feels like it runs out of steam in the third act.
Dracula – More Hammer era classic horror from Shout Factory this week as character actor Frank Langella dons the title role in a movie from Saturday Night Fever director John Badham and written by W.D. Richter who would go on the write Big Trouble In Little China so you know this one fits me like a glove. The story, set in 1913, has Dracula leaving his ancestral home for England to procure himself a bride, so standard stuff for the biggest and baddest vampire of them all. To add more great things to this list, Sir Laurence Olivier plays his nemesis Van Helsing and the film features Donald Pleasance around the first time he played Dr. Loomis for John Carpenter in Halloween. This is some classic movie monster filmmaking restored to its original glory.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet – As soon as I received this from Shout Factory I was immediately really happy as I’ve never owned a Mystery Science Theater box set before and this new installment, listed as season 12, was made for binge-watching. For those uninitiated, this series, housed on Netflix, is about Jonah and his two robot friends who are forced to ingest terrible movie after movie and now the evil powers that be are out for blood as they put their victims through six of their worst including the McDonald’s sponsored rip off of E.T., Mac & Me and the blatant Pacific Rim copy, Atlantic Rim. This box set is hours of hilarity, my stomach still hurts from it.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:
Man Of A Thousand Faces – Arrow Video digs back into the vault of classics for this showcasing of James Cagney’s immense talent in a film that celebrates the beginnings of Hollywood with the biopic of the legendary Lon Chaney. Cagney stars as this incredible pioneer of film who started his career in the roar of vaudeville but soon found himself hitting a sort of stardom as a horror actor in the burgeoning silent film era. Cagney, who had previously acted alongside Lon Chaney’s son Lon Chaney Jr in A Lion Is In The Streets, channels his performance in such a great way despite looking absolutely nothing like him and this restored film looks so gorgeous in its Blu-ray pressing. It was very cool to discover this movie.
V: The Original Miniseries – This show both intrigued me and terrified me as a child and I even reenacted the plot points of the pilot episode in a grade school show and tell. Needless to say, the moment left me embarrassed and mortified to this day making this show a bit of a trigger but hopefully with the restored beauty of the picture this television event series can have new life and new context going forward. For those who don’t know, this series is about humans making first contact with aliens who are reaching out for help and, as the relationship deepens, certain outsiders start to notice that the helplessness is just a diversion for a global takeover. Don’t ask me to recreate the whole plot, it may give me a nervous breakdown.
Ambition – Shout Factory’s genre offshoot Scream Factory released this new indie thriller that is one of those little brain twister movies. The story follows a young aspiring musician preparing for an audition show that she feels confident about when her life starts to spin out of control. She is betrayed by her boyfriend, her friends are less inclined to give her sympathy and she begins to fall into a paranoid state. A Nightmare On Elm Street producer and New Line executive Robert Shaye steps behind the camera for a film that doesn’t feel anywhere near the calibre of the suspense great but is still a compelling watch.
Ophelia – A tried and tested story, we’ve all seen the story of Hamlet told many times, whether traditionally by Kenneth Brannagh, in a Wall Street setting like that Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan version or in allegory like the entire series of Sons Of Anarchy. It’s a familiar story but this film switches it up by changing the point of view to the tragic character of Ophelia, played in this film by Star Wars’ main heroine at the moment, Daisy Ridley. Filling out the rest of the cast as the king and queen respectively ins Clive Owen and Naomi Watts and I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, even if it feels flawed in places.
The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show (Amazon Prime) – I have to preface this part by explaining that I am not a fan at all of modern country music but that being said I very much enjoy Kacey Musgraves, mostly because I don’t find her new album to be of that genre. One thing I didn’t know about her is that she is a huge Christmas lover and had releases an album of holiday tunes A Very Kacey Christmas from 2016 that featured Leon Bridges as well as a song with Willie Nelson called “A Willie Nice Christmas”. That said, I’m excited in the yuletide sense to see what she’ll bring to an Amazon Prime special with guests Dan Levy, James Corden, Fred Armisen and Zooey Deschanel just to name a few of my favorites on the list.
The Report (Amazon Prime) – This big cast movie seems like it is one of those Oscar hopeful movies so it’s pretty great to see that we get to check it out right away on one of my new favorite streaming platforms. Adam Driver, Annette Bening and Jon Hamm star in this true story about a Senate staffer named Daniel Jones who is tapped to lead an investigation into the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program and uncovers some heinous crimes as the probe deepens. What intrigues me about this film other than its cast is that it is the feature debut of screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who penned many films for Steven Soderbergh like Contagion, the recent Laundromat and one of my favorites, The Informant with Matt Damon. This week is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to streamable cinema.
The Irishman (Netflix) – Legendary director Martin Scorsese plays with the progression of the cinema medium with this movie directly made for Netflix, so I think we can relax a bit on his sort of bad take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even better, Scorsese has rounded up some of his greatest collaborators because this film stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci who acts in his first movie since 2010’s The Love Ranch. The movie follows DeNiro’s character of Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman recalling his involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa, a long-unsolved murder so all of this can be listed under supposed. The film has been getting rave reviews and may earn some top nominations at next year’s Oscars which will definitely put Netflix in the most comfortable driver’s seat they’ve ever been in.
Servant: Season 1 (Apple+) – So far the rollout of this new streaming service has been a little lackluster as we’ve only gotten three shows as of launch time at the beginning of the month and the Jennifer Aniston led one is a bit of a disappointment. This show I am excited for though as it comes from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan who, with me, has been on a little bit of a roll even if Glass wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. Definitely containing some sort of massive twist in there, this series follows a young and troubled couple who replace their newborn baby with a lifelike doll after their child dies from sudden infant death syndrome. This show looks creepy as hell and it has a personal favorite actress in the lead, Lauren Ambrose who played Claire Fisher in the HBO series Six Feet Under. Not saying this is worth the price of Apple+ but I’m intrigued.
Merry Happy Whatever: Season 1 (Netflix) – Get in the Christmas spirit before December 1st with this new comedy series starring Dennis Quaid, Bridgit Meddler, the brilliant closer to all of the seasons of Inside Amy Schumer, and the scene-stealer from Chris Delia’s sitcom Undateable, stand up comic Brett Morin. The holiday show is about an overbearing dad who must balance the demands of his complicated family with the stress of the Christmas season when his youngest daughter comes home for the holidays with a new boyfriend. The show is another kick at the can for creator Tucker Cawley, who was responsible for the awful Kelsey Grammer series Hank, but with the untethered freedom of Netflix, this might be a good show. Hopefully, it doesn’t have a laugh track.