New On VOD:
Run This Town – When the walking disaster known as Rob Ford was in his position of mayor, his story, especially that of his arrest and then basic dismissal of his crimes so he can keep running the city was a major story internationally we knew this would be made into a movie. Guess what? It’s here and Homeland star Damian Lewis plays the juicy role in a large fleshy fat suit that kind of makes him look like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers and he is just really the subject that all the characters revolve around as this is mostly seen through the eyes of young staffers at city hall and a new idealistic young reporter at The Recorder looking to make his big break on the ground floor of this 2013 political scandal emerging. The film features The Politician’s Ben Platt, Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev and veteran actor Scott Speedman in the debut film from writer and director Ricky Tollman who’s inexperience kind of shows through as this movie seems to be more filler than it is substantial. I felt frustrated with the film’s continued focus on superfluous banter to make characters painted in black and white strokes than to the furthering of any journalistic intrigue. Very disappointed.
Bad Boys For Life – It’s been seventeen years since we last saw Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s characters of Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett and after so much teasing and collapses of this third film it is now finally here without Michael Bay behind the camera and even though this is pretty much the only franchise I have love for some “Beyhem” in, this movie still worked the same with fresh blood behind the camera. This film teases the two cops’ “last ride” as they confront their ageing into different roles of law enforcement and the creation of their own squad which gets put to the immediate test with the emergence of a new enemy, Armando Armas, the vicious leader of a Miami drug cartel. This is the big-budget debut of the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and they bring that same frenetic action bombastic craziness we have come to expect every time Lowrey and Burnett take on a case. If you liked the previous movies you will definitely like this one.
Like A Boss – I really wanted to have good thoughts heading into this movie as it has Rose Byrne, one of my favorite comedic actresses, and Tiffany Haddish, someone who I think is funny in real life, taking on Salma Hayek, an actress that always brings it in comedy. The problem is that Haddish’s track record theatrically speaking is spotty at best and this storyline is so lame with Haddish and Byrne as joint owners of a beauty company but with massively different ideals in how they run the business. Their friendship is put to the test when they try to go into business with a successful businesswoman who decides that she would rather gut the company. The story is so minimal in this and it’s really all about the dialogue and delivery by the cast that keeps the laughs coming, especially with the supporting cast of Billy Porter and Jennifer Coolidge. That said, Salma feels like the lady version of Willy Wonka as so many weird choices are made with her character. If you seriously want to shut the brain down for some laughs, this is a good bet.
The Gentlemen – Writer and director Guy Ritchie has returned to the roots of the type of cinema that got him popular, the gangster flicks like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. For this film, he grabs a huge cast with Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and more for the story of a drug lord looking to get out of the game and sell of his empire to the highest bidder which sets off a bloody war in the London underworld, a place that Ritchie knows as well as he knows himself. This movie probably won’t draw in a new audience but will satisfy the hordes of fans of this genre he made famous, all of us salivating for him to do another movie with great dialogue and loud gunfights, all of which he brings for this. Got to hand it to him that he can make all of these already cool actors to an even higher level of coolness. That is some serious talent there.
The Turning – Adapting the classic Henry James novel The Turning Of The Screw, this is a modern telling of the darkly gothic horror thriller about a young nanny who is hired by a rich estate who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the deaths of their parents. The film stars one of my favorite actresses, Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis and two young stars in Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and The Florida Project’s brilliant lead Brooklynn Prince, but as stylish as the movie looks it seems to constantly get lost in leaving misconstrued clues, plot threads that go nowhere and setting up jump scares that constantly muddy the waters of a very cliched horror film. It is directed by Floria Sigismondi who follows up her only other feature film The Runaways with this one, which lends to the stylish nature of the movie, but the whole thing feels very undercooked and served to us in a sheepish” here you go, I guess” way.
The Last Full Measure – Let’s head back to the Vietnam War for this new film from writer and director Todd Robinson, a filmmaker usually known for documentaries. Starring Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer and Peter Fonda in his final onscreen performance, this is the story of a Clinton era Department of Defense intern on the rise who, on the way out the door to bigger and better things, is given the file of Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr., also known as “Pits”, who left his ship and gave his life to aid the ground platoons in a failed attack but was not awarded the Medal Of Honor the nation’s highest military accolade. As he investigates the file, he develops a deeper connection to the case through the people he meets until the culmination which I felt came off a bit overdone and sappy. I felt the script was a bit weak in places and it showed when some of the members of the cast when aren’t veterans delivered it.
Ip Man 4: The Finale – Donnie Yen closes out his martial arts franchise as Master Ip, the teacher of the legendary Bruce Lee and founder of the Wing Chun style. This film brings him right back into the story of his most famous pupil as Bruce’s publishing of the ways of martial arts has ruffled the feathers of the entire community in America forcing the master to make a trip to a very new and foreign land, the United States in the 1960s. After a really lackluster third installment, it’s really great to see this series close out with some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen Donnie Yen do. At fifty-seven years old, Yen is still absolutely flawless in his execution and his climactic battle with Scott Adkins at the end of the film is awesome. The acting around our star is on par of what you remember about this genre but the story is Master Ip is fascinating.
Party Hard, Die Young – A film that has been streaming for a bit on the horror service Shudder as one of their originals, this movie comes from Croatia, a first for me with this country’s cinema, and takes place during a rave at sea. Freshly graduated and looking for a week of alcohol-infused debauchery, a group of friends find themselves at the mercy of a smiley face masked killer who is picking them off one by one. There isn’t a lot of new ground being broken in the slasher genre with this movie and there isn’t a lot of on-screen kills or very memorable gore but the frenetic style keeps the movie afloat. If you’re looking for a quick horror film to pass the time there are worse movies out there than this.
Why Don’t You Just Die! – In my experience with modern Russian cinema a lot of it is over the top hyper frenetic and in your face from start to finish and with a title like this, you know it fits right into that category easily. The set up is simple, a man knocks on the door of a ruthlessly violent police detective bent on bludgeoning him to death with a hammer he is concealing behind his back. Why? Because the detective’s daughter had told this man, her boyfriend, that her father abused her and, well, that’s just the tip of the twists that cascade from the start. Bloody and absolutely off the rails, this movie is not for the faint of heart at all and hits Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino like crescendos and then tops them like breaking through a glass ceiling. This movie is totally relentless and I really loved it for going so balls out.
Looking For Alaska – Teen dramas usually skate a fine line between being annoying or cheesy and totally sappy but it seems that author John Green has the adolescent voice hammered down because, in my opinion, the previous adaptations of his work, The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns, are pretty damn good. Now, in a longer series format for Hulu, his first book Looking For Alaska gets the adaptation treatment, following a guy named Miles who has enrolled in a private school in the woods called Culver Creek Academy, a decision that will change his life and hopefully give him a deeper perspective on life. Not a popular kid at his previous school, Miles immediately strikes up a friendship with his roommate known as “The Colonel” who then introduces him to Alaska Young, the girl of his dreams. This young cast, including rising star Charlie Plummer and new faces like Kristine Forseth and Denny Love, give this show a charisma that intrigues me and characters I felt like I immediately cared about and that has to be due to it being shepherded to the screen by The OC’s Josh Schwartz.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Lost River – After working so closely with Nicholas Winding Refn on their movie Drive, Ryan Gosling got bitten by the directing bug hard and wanted to carve a little piece of cinema out for himself and five years ago this week he did with this weirdo story that borrows some of that neon glare from his aforementioned director friend and casts that light on a pretty David Lynch feeling story. Starring Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD’s Iain De Caestecker, Saorise Ronan, Christina Hendricks, Matt Smith and Gosling’s wife Eva ended, this is the tale of a teenager that finds a road to an underwater town nears his sleepy small town while his mother slips into the madness of a dark underworld. This movie is very strange and definitely commands a very open cinema mind but I really love it and the soundtrack from Portland’s electro pop ground the Chromatics in one of my favorites in the last ten years.
The Salvation – An actor with charisma in every smouldering look and intrigue in the enigma of his gaze, I could watch Mads Mikkelsen star in pretty much anything so when it came to him starring in a Danish made western you better believe I was all in. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this week, Mikkelsen plays a peaceful settler living in 1870s America who is put on a path of bloody revenge when a ruthless gang leader kills his entire family. This is a searing story of a one-man army that comes from Kristian Levring who helped develop the Danish filmmaking style of Dogme95 with Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg in the mid-nineties. Co-starring Eva Green, this is a forgotten about western that unfortunately never got a wide enough release to make a mark.
Kung Fu Hustle – From writer, director, producer and star Stephen Chow, the easiest way to describe this movie lies in a pull quote on the cover as it really is “Looney Tunes meets martial arts”. Celebrating its fifteenth year, this is an incredible action film that seamlessly blends fantastical CGI into a story that was massively ahead of its time, just like everything else Chow has done it needs that gestation time to hit the full capacity it deserved. The story is kind of simple, a wannabe gangster living in Shanghai, China in the 1940s aspires to join the notorious “Axe Gang” while residents of a housing complex exhibit extraordinary powers in defending their turf from this same gang wanting full control over the city. This film commands a great home theater set up as it is a mindblowing experience for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Trust me, this is a must-see.
The Basketball Diaries – Reaching back into the beginning of an Oscar yearning Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, this is a movie I still think of when it comes to all the outstanding work the Academy Award winner has done. Based on the memoir of Jim Carroll who Leo plays in the film, this is the story of an inner-city teen who has aspirations of becoming a professional basketball star who’s life is thrown into chaos when he descends into the crippling addiction of heroin. Co-starring Mark Wahlberg and Lorraine Bracco, this is one of the best films of the nineties and is powerfully biting every time I see it. I find it fascinating that director Scott Kalvert only made this and Dueces Wild seven years later before dying just over five years ago. This film should have earned so much awards acclaim.
Ex Machina – With his brainchild Devs currently blowing minds on FX, it’s cool that we can look back on writer and director Alex Garland’s first official time behind the camera, the techno-thriller Ex Machina starring Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. For those who don’t know, the film follows a young programmer who is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I. created by his recluse employer. The movie, released five years ago this week, earned Vikander the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and was meticulously crafted in every way, these three actors working so incredibly well of each other. It may seem grandiose to say but this is among my favorite sci-fi films ever made and it continues to blow my mind every time I watch it.
Middleditch & Schwartz (Netflix) – Capturing three nights of their North American tour, this show gives you the brilliance of comedic actors Thomas Middleditch, a native of Nelson, British Columbia, and Ben Schwartz as they do hour-long shows completely made up on the spot with just a few suggestions from the audience. With the kick-off episode entitled Parking Lot Wedding, the pure brilliance of these two is fully on display as I was laughing my butt off from beginning to end. The callbacks, memory gaffs and motions to the audience all combine to hopefully elevate the hilarious improv that these two pull off. I definitely want more episodes added as three doesn’t feel anywhere close to enough.
The Willoughbys (Netflix) – An animated film without the backing of a huge company like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks or Illumination, I hadn’t heard of this movie until it landed o my pre-screening row on the Netflix bar and I have to say that I was completely blown away by it. Featuring a great voice cast including Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Terry Crews and Ricky Gervais, this movie follows the Willoughby children, a quartet of kids that are convinced they’d be better off raising themselves and hatch a sneaky plan to send their selfish parents on vacation or death, whatever comes first. This is a movie that hilariously hugs the line fo being darkly comedic and a sweetheart story that is bursting with rainbows. So many moments had me laughing so hard and the fact that Gervais narrates as the neighborhood cat is just the cherry on this sundae.
After Life: Season 2 (Netflix) – Whenever I hear the name Ricky Gervais I am automatically interested, especially in series form, as this is the man who brought us The Office, Extras and Derek, plus the countless other things he has been a part of. This series might be my favorite he has ever done as it comes from deep in the heart and soul but sheds away the humanity of saying whatever the hell you want to people and, although it looks like it will play on some heavier themes like his last one, I think it has broad appeal. The series follows a man that goes from Mr. Nice Guy to social terror with a don’t give a shit attitude when his wife dies. A good cast around Gervais with The Strain’s David Bradley playing his father, It’s All Gone Pete Tong’s Paul Kaye as his therapist and his Extras co-star Ashley Jensen as his father’s caretaker.
Extraction (Netflix) – Chris Hemsworth leads this film that was produced from Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame filmmaker’s The Russo Brothers limited comic series Ciudad, a phenomenal book. Led by new director Sam Hargraves, this is the story of a black market mercenary named Tyler Rake who is employed to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord in an extraction that is definitely a suicide mission. This movie is pulse-pounding action from start to finish with bloody violence, bullets flying, explosions booming and fight scenes that will quicken your heart rate. This movie kicks ass almost constantly and I loved every second. If you dig movies like John Wick, you will love the hell out of this one.
Circus Of Books (Netflix) – Yes, I’m bringing a documentary yet again this week but the subject matter on this one is so interesting I couldn’t resist. Produced by Ryan Murphy, this is the story of Karen and Barry Mason who, in 1976 Los Angeles, had fallen on hard times and were looking for a way to support their young family. They answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times for Larry Flynt who was seeking distributors for Hustler Magazine which led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBT community as they took over a local store, Circus of Books. A decade after that they had become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the US and the community grew immensely for years after that. This documentary is a sweet human interest story that has a great message to it and some loveable people at the center. This is one of my favorite releases this week.