New On VOD:
Vivarium – This movie is totally something geared to my twisted likes as it feels like one of those nightmare Twilight Zone episodes and I ate up every second of it. Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star as Gemma and Tom, a sweetheart couple looking to purchase their first home together. Stepping into a condo sales store, they have a very unsettling meeting with a salesman who implores them to get in their car to follow him to the neighborhood itself. Guided into a disturbingly uniform community that looks like it was designed on a computer, the salesman disappears, abandoning them in a maze of condos they can’t leave and that’s just the setup. Poots’ performance in this film is astounding as she starts to crumble with the reality around her and the direction from Lorcan Finnegan is fantastically striking all the way up until the end. This may be a total niche movie but I thoroughly loved it.
1917 – A Golden Globe winner for Best Picture and Best Director, we finally get the chance to check out this World War I epic from director Sam Mendes in the comfort of our own homes, shot by one of the greatest cinematographers ever to get behind the camera, Roger Deakins. The story follows two young British soldiers who are given an impossible mission to deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, including one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a bloodbath. The film is comprised of two single-take shots, put together with invisible and seamless cuts much like Birdman was, and, although it is early in the year, this is one of my favorite films of 2020 and one of the greatest war films of all time. This was totally warranted for it’s Best Picture Oscar nomination, although I’m convinced that the right film won.
The Song Of Names – With two names like Tim Roth and Clive Owen leading the film, this melodrama should be an absolute home run and pairing with The Red Violin filmmaker Francois Gerard and Game Of Thrones cinematographer David Franco just makes that pot sweeter. The film is about an Englishman who finds himself obsessed with finding the whereabouts of a violin virtuoso that was adopted into his family at a young age. Based on a novel by Norman Lebrecht, the story starts out very interesting, following the two boys in World War II London during the blitzkriegs of Nazi Germany but the interest seems to falter as the film continues to a lackluster ending. As much as I love both of these actors, the performances were so understated that it left nothing for me to actually care about.
The Grudge – We are now in the cycle of horror where we try out the Japanese waif ghosts again and if you remember, this didn’t work out too well when Paramount tried to reboot The Ring with Rings, a limp and frightening nudge to a story audiences had largely forgotten about. This movie does have so bright points to it as director Nicolas Pesce is behind this as well as the screenwriter and with original films like The Eyes Of My Mother and Piercing on his belt, this would be the first movie of his to fail the genre if it’s bad. I love the cast in this, which includes John Cho, Lin Shaye, Demien Bichir and Andrea Riseborough but being the only movie dumped on the first release date of 2020 feels suspect.
Clemency – Coming out in theaters just a week after the death row drama Just Mercy, this film featured two blistering lead performances that will leave you breathless by the end credits. The story has Alfre Woodard as the warden of a prison that carries out death sentences for inmates, each one taking a little piece of her soul as she dutifully does her jobs. Still reeling from the last one, a procedure that went wrong causing the inmate to spasm brutally until his death, the lead up to her next execution causes her emotions to rise and her life to slowly deteriorate. On the other side of that is that inmate in question, played with incredible nuance by Aldis Hodge, a man who hasn’t let the imminence of his death hit him yet, still deep in a well of hope that his life will be spared. While it lacks some of the pomp that Just Mercy has, the movie’s stillness is its strength. This movie is worth checking out just for the powerhouse performances alone.
The Wizard – One of the absolute childhood staples, this is a movie that is very special to me and, judging by the massive volume of likes and comments that my post got when I received it, a lot more people feel the same way. Fred Savage stars as the older brother of an autistic savant with the knack for video games who run away from home and hitchhike across America with the help of a girl they meet to compete in the ultimate video game championship. Co-starring Beau Bridges and Christian Slater as their father and older brother hot on their heels, this movie is iconic and not just because it was the first place we ever saw Super Mario 3 and the Power Glove. This movie holds up to multiple viewings and is perfect to watch with the family.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
The Climbers – Some more exhilarating adventure and action from Well Go USA is on my geek outs this week with this brand new film that features House Of Flying Daggers star Ziyi Zhang. The film follows four members of an expedition to the summit of Mount Everest as a part of the China Everest Climbing Commando unit. As the climb becomes more and more difficult, the four must contend with deadly force winds, plummeting temperatures and the depletion of physical energy as they struggle to survive. The film comes from filmmaker Daniel Li, directing this film under his Chinese name Rengang Li, who has great movies like Black Mask and Three Kingdoms, which are both highly recommended martial arts movies.
Ozark: Season 3 (Netflix) – This is definitely a hugely anticipated new season, especially now during the lockdown, and it returns with one of the most explosive and fast-paced episodes yet. In case you haven’t dug into the show yet, Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a financial advisor in Chicago who is unknowingly been fudging numbers for the cartel, something his business partner hasn’t clued him in on until the finality of being murdered in from of him by the leader of this deadly group. A quick thinker under pressure Marty is able to convince him to spare his life by moving to the remote Ozarks to clean millions for his new boss, presenting an all-new set of problems for him, his wife who is played by the great Laura Linney and his two kids. The show is so phenomenally well done and Bateman himself directs a handful of episodes. Highly recommended if you have immersed yourself in it yet.
Unorthodox (Netflix) – Between last week’s release of Feel Good and this it seems like I keep picking up on Netflix’s lesbian programming as this is another story of a young gay woman but if a far different context and genre. Shira Haas plays Esther Shapiro, a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life abroad in the United States. Little does she know that her estranged fiance and a gruff investigator from the Hasidic leaders are hot on her tail to drag her back to be wed. This show tells Esther’s story in two parts, the introduction and courtship of her arranged husband as well as her current awakening to the new feelings she can freely explore and it is so fascinating. Haas has an ability to be wanton, yearning and reserved all in the same breath and it is a sheer joy to watch. She is worth checking it out for alone.
Daniel Isn’t Real (Shudder) – Coming from director Adam Egypt Mortimer, the filmmaker who did the highly entertaining “New Year’s Eve” segment of the anthology film Holidays, this movie is one I’m hearing some great buzz about. Based on a novel of the same name, this film is about a troubled college freshman who suffers a violent family trauma and brings back his childhood imaginary friend Daniel as a coping mechanism. The film stars Halloween and Blockers actor Miles Robbins as the lead character, Patrick Schwarzenegger as the title character and the great Sasha Lane in a supporting role and is just the kind of genre film that intrigues me greatly. The movie is described as a slick mind twist of a thriller that is well pieced together and totally stylish.
Dark Side Of The Ring: Season 2 (Vice/YouTube) – Vice continues their look into an industry that I have a deep love for, and always have, professional wrestling. Beyond that, this season focuses on a log misunderstood and tragic happening in the mid 2000s, the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family. Narrated by close friend Chris Jericho, widely regarded as the greatest of all time, this series will dispel the rumors and myths that have been attributed to this case as well as shine a light on the possible causes of Benoit’s psychosis that leg to this horrifying act. I’m so happy to see this available on YouTube and am deep in the binge already myself. Totally recommended even if you aren’t a wrestling fan.
Devs (FX) – Coming from the mind of one of the greatest science fiction writers via grounded and real science, Alex Garland running a limited series is really going to turn some heads and from what I’ve seen so far this could be one of the best shows we get this year. The series centers around Lily, a computer engineer who starts an investigation into the secretive development department within her employer when her boyfriend, a fellow employee, disappears. The lead star, Sonoya Mizuno, isn’t exactly a household name, aside from some great work on Cary Fukanaga’s Netflix show Maniac but the mystery of Nick Offerman’s character as the CEO Forest should have everyone watching this.