Playmobil: The Movie – When Lego came together (get it?) to create a massive blockbuster film and multiple spin-offs it seemed to have shot a flare into the studio sky saying that all of the toy properties were now possibly lucrative for big-screen adventures. That said, I’m really unsure about this one as it takes a toy meant for a much younger audience and crafts a story that may go over the target market’s head. The plot that they’ve made is basically a James Bond-esque spy actioner that has a cocky secret agent, voiced by Daniel Radcliffe, who takes it upon himself to rescue two kids from the multiple dimensions of Playmobil’s world. Lots of supporting cast in here including Anya Taylor-Joy, Jim Gaffigan, Meghan Trainor and Adam Lambert but the trailer leaves me with little interest. (Not opening in Hamilton, Kamloops or Oshawa)
Varda By Agnes – A legendary filmmaker who passed away near the beginning of this year, Agnes Varda was a pioneer of French New Wave cinema and carved her own niche with deeply complex human stories told in the most avant-garde ways. Know largely for the incredible landmark films Cleo 7 To 9 and Vagabond, the last two movies in her life, Faces Places and this one, are so personal to a cellular level and also lovingly retrospective. In this film, Varda herself leads a masterclass of her own work, both in film and physical art using those films and the result is something that feels entirely soul-enriching. Varda, with her ninety years on this planet, knew human life like no other and really tried to impart that on us and this documentary is a testament to that. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Antigone – A film that is getting some really stellar reviews so far, this is an ambitious story that adapts the classic Greek tragedy and all of it’s allegory into a modern tale that falls within the social realism of the world we live in. The film is from Canadian writer and director Sophie Deraspe and is our official submission to the Oscars for next year’s Academy Awards but hopefully the performance of lead actress Nahéma Ricci who, from what I read, is absolutely astounding in this breakout role. This movie will only get a very limited release but hopefully, it will expand as I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since Deraspe’s The Amina Profile from a few years back. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Frankie – Writer and director Ira Sachs is known for making very human dramas about very real feeling relationships and while his latest work feels much more slight than his previous efforts, the realness is there and, to add a little more spice, Isabelle Huppert is in the lead to deliver another knockout performance full of nuance. The film is a day in the life sort of story about an actress and her family during a trip to the picturesque Sintra in Portugal but the matriarch, a famous actress, is harbouring a secret that will dramatically change the vacation. The film features a brilliant cast around Huppert, including Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei and Greg Kinnear, but it’s The Girl With All The Gifts star Sennia Nanua who is the stand out along with the French legend. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
Game Of Thrones: The Complete Series – Ever since HBO sent me the email saying that this release was coming before Christmas I have been salivating, just waiting for this box set to arrive and it is finally here. A set with the entire eight seasons of this fan lauded show which was, let’s face it, largely hated in its final season, everyone can now go through this show again in its entirety in the beautiful and clear quality of Blu-ray. This arrived to me in a box with a journal, a diorama of the Winterfell tree, an ugly Christmas sweater (my first I’ve owned as an adult) and a new stocking. Yes, this is a collector’s set made for the uber-fans like I am, although I haven’t read the books. To be honest, I kind of feel I don’t need to anymore and I doubt they will ever be finished at this point. Really, what’s the point?
Ready Or Not – Horror can be a dime a dozen bunch of releases that all look like one another, a random ghost story or slasher film or maybe even a reboot of a horror franchise that didn’t really need it. This is the appearance to none fans and mainstream film watchers. Then a movie like this comes along from two unproven writers and a couple of indie guys to bring something that feels fresh, funny and with an acerbic wit that makes it all come together. Samara Weaving plays a bride who’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game where they play hide and seek in their giant mansion but the only catch is that when they find her, they kill her. Weaving delivers a star-making performance that also features killer (no pun intended) outings from veterans like Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell. The best way to go into this movie is with as little knowledge possible and enjoy the ride. Thank me later.
The Goldfinch – Based on a massive hit novel by Donna Tartt, this book was optioned by Warner Bros. in a huge bidding war and the development of the movie had potential coursing out of it, starting with Brooklyn director John Crowley tapped to direct and the legendary Roger Deakins as the cinematographer. Then there’s the stellar cast including Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright and Sarah Paulson to tell the story of 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 film sounds interesting, as it moves through the main characters tumultuous childhood through to his teenage years and then his twenties as an antique salesman but the movie seems massively unfocused to a point where you wonder if it was rushed or had pieces omitted to cram all they wanted to into the two and a half-hour run time that feels already pretty egregious. I’m let down by how big of a bummer this film is.
Rogue Warfare – I feel incredibly duped because I popped this one in my Blu-ray player just based on the name Stephen Lang but the crushing reality of this direct to home release war movie becomes evident in the first twenty minutes, he is nothing more than a glorified cameo. The plot is simple, a group of the military elite who represent the best of the best from the U.S., Russia, UK, China and France join forces to fight an elite underground terrorist network led by a black-clad Muslim stereotype who represents the worst of western culture’s nightmares. The action is really the best thing about this movie because when it comes to anything dialogue-driven this film feels flimsy and paper-thin, the equivalent of a Steven Seagal production. I seriously suffered through this movie so you don’t have to.
Buttons: A Christmas Tale – I received this new film that has been “Dove approved” as recommended family Christmas viewing this holiday season and I was intrigued by this unheard-of movie. I looked at the cast which includes Jane Seymour, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury and thought it all looked promising until I saw Roma Downey’s name. Yes, Touched By An Angel Roma Downey. The Christian undertones aside, the movie will definitely appeal to the audience it seeks, about two orphan girls whose only wish is to find a home for Christmas so with the help of their guardian angels (Van Dyke and Lansbury) they head on a miraculous journey to make their dreams come true. Is there anything deeper to this movie other than an uplifting fluff story at Christmastime? No, but Roma needs to stop lumping herself in the angel category.
Funan – This heartbreaking film caught me totally off guard as when I receive these films from Shout Factory and G Kids I tend to lump them in a category of anime, one that I don’t understand fully. This is definitely not one of those movies. Coming from writer and director Dennis Do, this is the story of survival and struggle following a young mother during the Khmer Rouge revolution, to find her 4-year-old son who torn from her arms by the regime in the midst of a mass eviction from their home. The panic rises as separately they make their way to the free lands of Thailand for refuge. This movie s gorgeous to look at but it isn’t for the faint of heart as the violence is always present even if it isn’t shown on screen. Definitely not a film for the whole family.
Candy – This is a massively underrated film and a showcase of the immense talent that Heath Ledger was, a movie that came a year after his Academy Award nomination for Brokeback Mountain. Co-starring Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush, this is the tragic story of a poet who falls in love with an art student that then gravitates to his bohemian lifestyle and his debilitating love of heroin. Addicted to one another just as they are on the drug, their relationship alternates between states of oblivion, self-destruction, and despair. A thoroughly Australian film directed by Neil Armfield and based on the novel by Luke Davies, this is a movie that astounded me in my movie store days and became one of my most recommended films of that year. I’m so happy that Shout Factory had a love for this movie enough to make this beautiful collector’s edition.
City On A Hill: Season 1 – Kevin Bacon is absolutely fascinating in this new Boston law enforcement series from the same guys who put the spotlight on Baltimore in Homicide: Life On The Street. Bacon plays Jackie Rohr, a sleazy and corrupt FBI agent who reminisces about the more abusive times in policing when you could knock around perps and witnesses. He latches on to the new assistant D.A. with an axe to grind, the two looking to make a difference in a city they both want to see excel. The show suffers here and there with some of the tough-guy bravado writing that harkens back to a different era of television but when this show hits its stride it is a totally effective and engaging show. I’m really enjoying it so far.
World Series 2019 – Honestly, I really don’t know what to say about this one other than it is the chronicling of the Washington Nationals’ World Series win this year, gathering all the footage the MLB had to give. I’m just wondering if the booing of President Donald Trump is included with this because that would make this Blu-ray a must won in my opinion. I watched the video many times already. It’s also a good way to catch up with the playoffs I missed this year due to the film festival so thanks Shout Factory!
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Apprentice To Murder – This is a really cool genre movie from the late eighties that Arrow Video has brought out a new edition for, crammed with special features. The film stars the legendary Donald Sutherland as a doomsaying preacher who sees the devil’s work in everything around him. To satisfy his delusions, he trains his young protege played by Chad Lowe to aide him in committing a series of murders in the name of Jesus and the craziest thing is this is all based on a true story. The movie was directed by Ralph L. Thomas, who’s name is kind of seared into my head as a Canadian due to the fact that he directed The Terry Fox Story which was shown to us in elementary school. It should also be noted that Mia Sara co-stars in this, a dream girl of the decade and a definite crush of mine.
Young Sheldon: Season 1 – With the main series of The Big Bang Theory coming to a close with the twelve season this past season we still have a piece of the Chuck Lorre created series with this spin-off about the childhood years of Sheldon Cooper, a show that Jim Parsons narrates naturally. This show could have been a real bust but a weird thing happened after I watched a few episodes and that was a simple notion that I was enjoying it and Annie Potts plays his “MeeMaw”! Sold! The second season proves that this show is beyond a flash in the pan sophomore hit as it takes that groundwork laid out by the original series and puts it in an almost Wonder Years like filter. That and it doesn’t have a laugh track, an instant killer with me.
Snow Falling On Cedars – Now that Ethan Hawke has entered a new renaissance in his career, starring in the astounding Paul Schrader film First Reformed and directing the country biopic Blaze, it’s a great time to go back to some underappreciated classics like the romance mystery. From Scott Hicks, the director of Shine, this film has Hawke as a small-town reporter who takes an interest in the case of a Japanese-American fisherman who is accused of killing his neighbor at sea. This movie is beautifully shot by one of the best cinematographers there is Robert Richardson who shot The Hateful Eight and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood among others and has a really great cast including Max Von Sydow and Richard Jenkins. This Shout Factory Collector’s Edition is highly recommended if you’ve never seen it.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 3 (Amazon Prime) – This hit series has been in the spotlight ever since it launched on Amazon Prime, earning critical acclaim and award nominations for actresses Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein as well as show creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino. For those who don’t know what it’s all about, Brosnahan plays the title character, Midge Maisel, a 1950s housewife who tires of her mundane life and strives to be a stand-up comedian, something that women definitely weren’t welcomed in doing. The show is great showcasing of Palladino’s infinite ability to make snappy dialogue and great characters and is really putting the lead star on the map because she is worth watching it for alone.
Reprisal: Season 1 (Hulu) – This show looks like a stylish update of the revenge horror flick I Spit On Your Grave although I doubt it will go to the extremes that movie does. The show stars Rectify actress Abigail Spencer as a femme fatale who organizes a diabolical plan to ensnare the gang of men who assaulted her and left her for dead. Co-starring 300’s Rodrigo Santoro, Aladdin’s Mena Masoud and Ant-Man’s David Dastmalchian, the series was created by Jonathan van Tulleken who directed many episodes of the killer British series Misfits so I am more than willing to give it a chance because I adore that show.
Marriage Story (Netflix) – One of my favorite filmmakers ever, writer and director Noah Baumbach is here to break your heart this time rather than make you laugh awkwardly. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star in this film that puts you inside of a marriage that is slowly breaking and heading towards divorce and all of the tragic pitfalls in between. Both Johansson and Driver are being lauded for their performances, lending more belief to the very real notion that Netflix may have a real hit awards season on its hands with this and The Irishman, Steven Spielberg must be so upset right now.
Truth Be Told: Season 1 (Apple+) – Apple+ continues its slow rollout which seems to have lost the new streaming service a lot of clout but this show may continue the upswing that started with last week’s Servant. This show stars Octavia Spencer as a true-crime podcaster who attempts to solve the mystery surrounding a family patriarch’s death. Featuring a great cast around her, including Aaron Paul, Lizzy Caplan and Mekhi Phifer, this show might just be the thing we want to satiate out mystery cravings after taking in Knives Out this past weekend. The fact that this comes from Justified and The Good Wife writer Nichelle D. Tramble is a total added bonus.
V Wars: Season 1 (Netflix) – It looks like The Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder has traded one bloodsucker television series for another as he leads this new series based on a comic book series. He plays Dr. Luther Swann, a scientist who is exposed to a new world of horror when a virus is released in ice melting due to climate change so it’s going to lose an entire audience of climate change deniers just based on the premise alone. I really like the comic book so I’m hoping that the final Netflix result. isn’t a cheesy slog that will remind me of terribly Syfy originals. My fingers are crossed and the fact that Somerhalder has doubled down as producer and even a director for an episode gives me a bit of hope.