Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – The end to the whole original saga, one that has almost formed a new religion since it’s inception in 1977, is finally upon us and has taken us on a total emotional journey as part of the fandom and the new movies have definitely divided us. Say what you want about Ria Johnson’s previous installment The Last Jedi, a movie I very much enjoyed, but now J.J Abrams and the cast are sort of throwing him under the bus a bit to appease the slighted fans and it really bothers me that the creator solidarity isn’t there. That said, and to avoid speculation of the plot and possible finale to this story, I will say that I am so excited for this movie, the last piece of my film year, blockbuster wise.
Cats – This terrifying-looking movie with its nightmarish debut trailer is now here to destroy sleep for me for the better part 0f 2020 in full feature-length as another Ander Lloyd Webber original musical gets the big-screen treatment. Yes, I get that we would have people skipping around in cat-like leotards if it weren’t for the CG look but oh man is the final result unsettling. The cast is something that has me intrigued though, as it is a huge ensemble that features Idris Elba, Dame Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson and, yes, the main attraction us probably Taylor Swift in her film debut. I really have issues with Tom Hooper’s direction, outside of The King’s Speech, so I have nothing but low bar expectations for this movie.
Bombshell – Charlize Theron is at the top of her game and almost completely unrecognizable in this new film that tells the story of the fall of
Roger Ailes from the mantle of Fox News for sexual harassment. Leading a stellar cast including Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow, Theron is an absolute powerhouse in her performance, punctuating a story that I think we all paid attention to pretty closely. The only issue I had with this movie is that it never went any deeper than information we already knew about this scandal, other than punching up some dialogue to pad out the plot. In the end, I didn’t feel like I learned anything, I just saw a glossy treatment of a scandal. (Not opening in Hamilton, Kamloops and Oshawa)
A Hidden Life – It’s been a long time since I loved a Terrence Malick film, the mid-nineties to be exact with his conscientious objector war film The Thin Red Line, and with his return to real narrative filmmaking with this film, I thought this would be the ticket back into his work and I’d be celebrating him as my friends do. Interestingly enough, this is another conscientious objector about Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian farmer who refuses to fight for the Nazis. I feel like I was lied to about the narrative thing because this is still all flighty shots of water, fields and staring people with voiceovers. This guy is a serious junkie for repose and I’m bored with it. (Only opening in Calgary and Vancouver)
63 Up – Within ten minutes of this documentary I was absolutely hooked on the humanity of this story. An ambitious project started in the mid-60s, this is director Michael Apted’s crowning achievement in my opinion. as he does a character study on fourteen students, starting at age seven and then visiting them every seven years after, chronicling it as the Up series. Now into their sixties, each person’s story proves the individuality in our world but also the similarity in a lot of our politics, daily life decisions as well as love and relationships. Luckily, this is a franchise where any of these films can be a jumping in point as the recap of everything Apted has recorded so far is reiterated in each movie. These documentaries may be the most important film about human life ever made. (Only opening in Toronto and Vancouver)
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 got to give back to their ravenous fans by giving them what they want 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. I feel like this movie can be likened to if you had never seen an episode of Entourage but then went and saw the movie. Some stuff is broad enough to connect with a new audience but a lot of it needs the context that the series history would give it. That said, this movie is shot beautifully and the sprawling opening of the film to its iconic and unshakably catchy theme song is just magnificent. That’s how you open a movie, folks!
Abominable – After Warner Bros. made some middling money for their animated yeti movie Smallfoot, Dreamworks threw their snow caked hat into the ring with this new adorable looking film featuring Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet. The story has her character Yi discovering a magic yeti that she needs to get to its home before a wealthy businessman with the voice of Eddie Izzard and his zoologist sidekick can get their way. It would seem that the push wasn’t very big behind this movie, one of the few big studio releases of September, but the end result was a cute film that explored the themes of loss and grieving as well as trying to find your place in the world, something the whole family will enjoy. The animation feels a bit subpar here and there, not quite to the caliber of a Pixar film or even Dreamworks previous release, the final How To Train Your Dragon movie, but the heart of this is enough to carry it through to the end.
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 was 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. This is one of my favorite films this year and the fact that it has been largely forgotten is a true travesty that makes me sad. I feel that in an already banner year for Brad Pitt this movie is another benchmark performance in his career, an emotional character journey that is fueled by a sense of duty, a familial connection and the need for answers. No hyperbole, this is one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made.
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.
Overcomer – Oh fantastic, another faith-based film. This movie comes from a couple of the heavyweights in this genre of films, the Kendrik brothers who are responsible for movies like War Room, Fireproof and Facing The Giants, which were all successful within that audience. This film has one of the brothers Alex taking a front and center role, playing a high school basketball coach who has to use his faith to uplift his team when the local plant closes, losing most of their parents their jobs in the process. Expect a lot of religious pandering and terrible acting and direction as none of these films seem to rise to the level of any mainstream movies, content to give the lowest form of talent just to drive home their message.
The Wedding Year – With movies like 21, Red and Legally Blonde under his belt I’m really surprised that this new Robert Luketic film slipped completely under the radar but, honestly, the cast isn’t comprised of huge stars and the story sounds pretty so-so. Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland and The Walking Dead alum Tyler James Christopher star in this rom-com about a commitment-phobic 27-year old whose relationship is put to the test when she and her new boyfriend go to 7 weddings in the same year and while I want to believe in former Community writer Donald Diego’s script, the trailer looks so bland. Heck, even the critics are kind of split on this one.
American Woman – Some performances are so good that one face value they appear to be better than the film around them and this is kind of the case with this new Sienna Miller movie. She plays a young grandmother who is forced to care for her young grandson when her daughter goes out one night and never returns. As the years pass, she goes from an ageing party girl to a woman driven to get her life together and ride herself of toxic partners as her devotion to her grandson takes center stage in her life. Miller is surrounded by a great cast including Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul and Will Sasso but she is consistently the brightest part of this movie.
Danger Close – We’re heading back into the jungle for more of the Vietnam War but this film is from the point of view of young, brash and totally inexperienced soldiers from Australia and New Zealand as they try to take control of a Vietnamese rubber plantation called Long Tan in August of 1966. Featuring the star of the recent Point Break remake Luke Bracey and Vikings’ Travis Fimmel, the movie really digs into how cocky but green these soldiers were, 108 pieces of fresh meat who had no idea of the carnage the Vietcong had in store. The movie is a little underproduced but the actors make the story compelling and the script comes from Stuart Beattie who penned Collateral for Michael Mann.
I’ll Never Forget You: The Last 72 Hours Of Lynyrd Skynyrd – I love that I’ve been getting all of these cool music documentaries from Shout Factory, Kino Lorber and MVD Entertainment, giving a very cool background to a lot of classic artists. This one though left me frustrated and annoyed as it is so under-produced and the interviews feel almost completely incoherent at times. The film is about the last moments of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd before the plane crash in 1977 that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt and others, the story told by Gene Odom, a childhood friend and survivor of the crash. Odom’s emotion is very present in this but his ability to string a sentence together definitely is not and it makes this hour-long documentary feel like three hours. Not recommended.
Bonanza: Season 10 Volume 1 & 2 – To add to my burgeoning collection of classic western television series I am pretty happy to cover this family show that my dad introduced me to as a kid. A season that is almost three quarters through the show’s entire fourteen-year run, this is the iconic story of the Cartwright family and their Nevada ranch featuring the bigger than life stars Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, these episodes focusing on a battle with the government over deforestation, a wrongful accusation of murder against Hoss and much more drama in this frontier family’s life. The classic television fans are going to be all over these two box sets.
Universal Horror Collection: Volume 3 – Another round of classic Universal horror has made it’s way to Blu-ray thanks to those great people at Shout Factory and its a mixed bag of a foursome. Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff star in the first movie, Tower Of London, a film that would be remade later by Roger Corman and Vincent Price. The second film, Man-Made Monster, is a creature feature that has the great Lon Chaney Jr. in it and Horror Island, an old-style slasher movie from the same director is the third movie. Finally, rounding out the set is The Black Cat, an adaptation of the iconic Edgar Allan Poe story with both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Again, Shout is delivering the goods with their box set.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekout:
Lethal Weapon: Season 3 – Talk about a series in turmoil, this now-cancelled show had a real PR problem on its hands with Clayne Crawford who played Martin Riggs, the role originated by Mel Gibson. He was given the boot and Seann William Scott stepped into the vacant spot next to Damon Wayans’ Roger Murtaugh as Wesley Cole, a former CIA agent, and you know what? It still worked for me. The banter between the partners will always sell me and maybe it’s just how great Wayans is but he has great chemistry with both of his leads. The fact that this was brought to television by Matthew Miller, the guy behind the woefully underrated series Forever is an added bonus.
Popeye The Sailor – The 1940s: Volume 3 – We’re going back to the original golden oldies of animation this week with the third collection of the ultimate hero when it comes to putting down muscular bullies, Popeye The Sailor Man. It is really fun getting hooked up with all of these classics as my daughter had never even heard of Popeye and now she sees this funny old looking dude throwing spinach back and defending the defenseless. It’s like a moral message from another era that still holds weight, how crazy is that?
Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford made a gutsy film choice for his second feature film that starts off with one of the more interesting opening shots in modern film history. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a stacked cast that tells two very different stories, one side being Adams character, an art dealer who is reading through the new book from her novelist ex-husband and the other side is that book itself. While the culmination of these stories is a little less than desired, this film is a tension-filled thriller that keeps you engaged in it’s almost Bret Easton Ellis style nihilism. A sight to behold on the big screen, this Blu-ray is still totally gorgeous.
Humble Pie: Life & Times Of Steve Marriott + 1973 Complete Winterland Show -I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I received this movie in the mail I had no clue who Steve Marriott was. Now that I’m a bit more educated on this new set, I can tell you that Marriott was a storied musician, the driving force behind the bands Small Faces and Humble Pie, getting a posthumous Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2012. This documentary gives the ins and outs of his career, with in-depth interviews with his bandmates like Peter Frampton, Jerry Shirley, and Greg Ridley as well as Black Crowe’s Chris Robinson, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, John Waite, Bad Company/Free drummer Simon Kirke and more. This is a pretty cool way to discover a new band with some classic tunes as it also comes with a full concert and an audio CD.
The Far Country – A brand new special edition from the wonderful folks at Arrow Video, this is a totally classic western starring the iconic James Stewart in a film directed by Anthony Mann who had previously made The Glenn Miller Story with his lead star. The film has Stewart as an adventurer who finds himself in a battle with the local law when he tries to drive his cattle across the land of Dawson. According to historians, this film was one of the most cherished in James Stewart’s career as he loved the central story and it was the film that introduced him to his horse, Pie, a sorrel stallion whom Stewart called, “One of the best co-stars I ever had.” This is a perfect example of classic cinema in a time that western films ruled the movie theaters.
The Two Popes (Netflix) – Continuing the great last few weeks we have gotten with award caliber movies on Netflix, we now get this new film, a biopic about the meeting between the conservative Pope Benedict and the liberal future Pope Francis who must band together to find common ground in order to forge a new path for the Catholic Church. Some serious heavyweights have been brought in to play the roles of Benedict and Francis with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce and City Of God director Fernando Meirelles is behind the camera for it and I think this one will play out beautifully with these capable artists and the fact that it is subcategorized as a comedy only adds to my excitement. It could be like Curb Your Enthusiasm with Popes!
The Witcher: Season 1 (Netflix) – Henry Cavill takes the lead in this new Netflix original, the adaptation to a widely popular video game series, one that I’m kind of familiar with but in comic form. Cavill is Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts, so basically a Game Of Thrones-style action series with crazy monsters and beasts, so expect some great gore. The show was brought to the screen by former Daredevil producer Lauren Schmidt who was also behind this year’s hit show The Umbrella Academy which was based on a comic as well. I’m feeling good things about this show.
The Aeronauts (Amazon Prime) – I have to say this new film is definitely on my list for most anticipated to round out the end of the years as it is the reunion of Academy Award-winners Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones after The Theory Of Everything, this time with The Danish Girl filmmaker Tom Hooper, who previously worked with Redmayne on that film too plus he has Cats opening this week too. Busy guy. This movie is the true story of pilot Amelia Rennes and scientist James Glaisher who find themselves in an epic fight for survival while attempting to make discoveries in a gas balloon voyage. This was shot by George Steel who also did episodes of Peaky Blinders and Honorable Woman so I’m excited for the look of this film.
Togo (Disney+) – A brand new original film for this new streaming service, this true story was shot in Alberta recently and has a great star to lead it in Willem Dafoe. This is the story of a sled dog named Togo who led the 1925 serum run but was considered by most to be too small and weak to lead such an intense race, thus considered the underdog, a plot element that Disney eats up. The movie comes from director Ericson Core who’s last movie was the incredibly bland Point Break remake so I hold this film in a bit of a trepidatious spot but one this is for sure, it will look gorgeous.
A Christmas Carol (FX) – How many times can this story be told before we get sick of the whole Dickensian holiday tale? Well, I guess we’ll give it one more chance because this is a three-episode miniseries version of it and it’s under the eye of BAFTA-winning director Nick Murphy and one of the creators of Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight. There’s also a great cast present as Guy Pearce steps into the storied role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, an automatic selling point for me as he is a personal favorite of mine. Bob Cratchit is played by Mr. Taylor Swift, Joe Alwyn and Boardwalk Empire alum Stephen Graham plays Scrooge’s long-dead former business partner Jacob Marley and really, this could either rejuvenate this story or kill it for any future productions, who knows?