New On VOD:
Extra Ordinary – Take the quirky attitudes of both new Academy Award winner Taika Waititi and combine it with the sombre middle American weird comedy of a Jared and Jerusha Hess movie like Napoleon Dynamite and ad a splash of British bumbling charm and you have this new horror-comedy. The film has unknown actress Maeve Higgins as a medium that has given up talking to ghosts because of the role she thinks she played in her father’s death. Now begged back into the job by a man who has a daughter that is being supernaturally groomed to be a sacrifice to the devil for a burnt-out rock star looking for a comeback. Aside from Higgins, the film also has Barry Ward in a comedic role, a weird movie after his Loach movies and the hilarious Will Forte as the villainous rock star. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, a gut bustlingly hilarious story that will keep you laughing until the hysterical final moment.
Robert The Bruce – Twenty five years after Angus MacFayden played the character that screwed over Willaim Wallace in Braveheart, he is back to reprise the role in a film about the events that followed that betrayal, one that the actor wrote himself twelve years earlier. The immediate question is why did MacFayden at fifty-six years of age decide that he should jump back into that role, playing Robert The Bruce at age of thirty-two? It honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense and takes away from this quasi spinoff of the Academy Award-winning Braveheart. That said, the film is gorgeous looking throughout, taking advantage of the picturesque Scottish landscape and the mists in every moment, I just wish the surrounding film was more engaging. A story about this era should definitely not feel this painfully dull at times.
Blue Story – A gritty new tale of gangland violence comes from the United Kingdom with this feature film that is based on a series of YouTube videos from a creator named Rapman. Now in the huge leap to a major Paramount production, he writes and directs the feature version about two young friends who become rivals in an escalating street war that is killing off both sides with malice. Rapman himself jumps in as the narrator, always talking in rap rhymes which works well in some instances and comes off as corny in others. All in all, the film is a well-done gangster warfare story but just with that British edge that makes it a little hard to understand in some parts but as a genre entry goes I think a lot of people will enjoy it.
Spaceship Earth – Remember the Biosphere 2, an Earth system science research facility that was constructed to created to conduct a two-year experiment meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in Outer Space? Sealed in for the experiment in 1991, the way most of my generation learned about this was the comedy BioDome starring Pauly Shore and Stephen Baldwin, but, as flawed as the initial experiment was, this was supposed to be a direct representation of how we could live on other planets if need be and more than twenty-five years afterwards that need has sped up exponentially. This film is fascinating in its approach, pulling from hours of footage, and the reveal on what happened to the facility after is almost some Scooby Doo villain type insanity that connects the Trump administration to this mess. The last ten minutes of this movie is pretty infuriating.
Lancaster Skies – Going from the war movie I had to watch last week which supported from a lame script, shoddy production value and a scowling bad boy lead who just looks slimy, I was trepidatious about this new World War II movie but also thought “well, how bad can it be?” I can’t say that this film was worse but it lacked almost all of the action of the before mentioned film. This is the story of Douglas, a broken, solitary, Spitfire Ace, who must overcome his past to lead a Lancaster bomber crew in the pivotal aerial war over Berlin, in 1944 but the guy has zero people skills whatsoever and has a hard time bonding with any of his men and is an absolute disaster with the woman on the base who has an obvious infatuation with him. This movie is really only bookended with war scenes and is instead about the off-time between the men of this crew which is not what I expected with this title. The skies are pretty much a metaphor besides a couple of scenes and it comes off as more a British melodrama more than anything. A bit dull for a casual viewer.
Bloodshot – Sony and Valiant Comics kicked off their own cinematic universe with this new violent action film with a character that I honestly think was tailor-made for lead star Vin Diesel. The Fast And Furious action-heavy stars as Ray Garrison, a marine that is resurrected as part of a secret black ops program with nanobots in his blood that repair him as he is shot, stabbed, contused and everything else. In short, the dude is now totally invincible but was he brought back for good or to dispatch those who get in the way of the shadowy organization that created him? The film is the feature debut for visual effects supervisor Dave Wilson and the inexperience shows through with a project that could have carved its own path but instead kowtows to the cliches we expect from the star. Being this is the last movie I saw in theaters, I’m so disappointed that the studio who rather play everything safe than to produce a new franchise of worth.
I Still Believe – We made it into March before getting the first weepy romance of the year but this film has the double distinction of being a faith-based inspirational movie as well. Starring Riverdale’s leading man K.J. Apa and Tomorrowland’s Britt Robertson, this is the true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and the love of his life Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer shortly before they married. I never have anything great to say about these Christian studio releases as none of them have been any good and seem to be more driven in getting the message across than to make a good movie and this doesn’t change that at all. For a true story, this movie still feels completely contrived and massively predictable with all logic thrown to the wind just to make the narrative fit into their box. It’s disappointing and massively boring.
Gretel & Hansel – In the dark niches of mystery and horror actor turned director Osgood Perkins has been making waves with stylishly done films like The Blackcoat’s Daughter and with this film, just his third feature, he may hit more of a mainstream level with how wide this release was and he’s doing it with a classic Grimm fairy tale. The story is kind of what you remember it to be, a young girl and her little brother who live in a distant countryside long ago are forced from their home lured in a desperate search of food and work to a cottage in the woods that may be the end of both of them. The film stars It’s Sophia Lillis and The Borg Queen herself Alice Krige as the formidable villain of this film and one who absolutely owns her performance in every way, the delicious little extra that keeps the atmosphere of the story heightened. I really enjoyed this movie visually as it is an absolute feast in every way with a rich art direction and production design that is totally awe-inspiring, The script is a bit threadbare but on the level of being an arthouse horror it succeeds.
Greed – Writer and director Michael Winterbottom brings another facet of his biting satire with this new film that puts his usual leading star Steve Coogan in a handbag looking tan with some bright white veneers as the patriarch of a ridiculously rich and powerful family. Showcasing all the awful qualities of vapidly bullheaded billionaires and the effects of money, Winterbottom gives this movie a scattered feel that all meet up in the end but the journey feels very disjointed along the way. Infusing the movie with the refugee crisis and the evils of sweatshops in Middle Eastern countries and underpaid workers, making a comedy that feels like a little tickle with a hell of a slap. That said, the third act of this movie was so unpredictable that I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Arkansas – Usually known from comedic roles, Clark Duke makes his feature directorial debut with this modern noir story that he wrote as well, adapted from a book by John Brandon. It stars Liam Hemsworth and Duke as two smugglers working for a mysterious Arkansas based kingpin named Frog that they’ve never met. When their in-between is killed after being followed home, the two are thrown into the crosshairs of their boss as the errors stack up. Both Hemsworth and Duke are fantastic in this movie and Vince Vaughn carries the other half of the film as Frog as well as some great supporting work from Josh Brolin’s daughter, Eden. I really liked this film and I’m looking forward to what’s next from Clark Duke.
The Jesus Rolls – John Turturro got the rights to make a spin-off story of his character Jesus Quintana from the Coen Brothers but it is explicitly known that they do not consider this movie a direct and official piece of the Lebowski “universe” and, honestly, after watching it that’s really for the best. Written, directed, produced and starring Turturro, this movie follows “The Jesus” after he is released from prison again and looks to start up a sort of prison release program with his cohort, played by Bobby Cannavale. All this movie does is show how thin Jesus is as a character and really drive home the thought that we don’t need a Lebowski sequel. In all of this mess though it is so great to see French actress Audrey Tautou. I adore her.
Tigers Are Not Afraid – This movie has a couple of things working against it coming out of the gate. Firstly, this is an independent film so if you want it to hit the big time it needs to have that word darling attached to it. That’s not going to happen because the second deterrent from that additive title is that this s a horror film as well. Hopefully, Guillermo del Toro calling this Issa Lopez written and directed movie one of his favorites of the last year can help because I found this movie to be incredibly special. The film is a dark tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels, led in a way by a girl who can see the ghosts created every day by the drug war, spirits looking for vengeance. Lopez’s style breathes right off of the screen and sort of reminds me of the earlier del Toro film The Devil’s Backbone, signifying that she has a huge future ahead of her.
The Jack In The Box – Looks like we’re getting a double dose of low budget British filmmaking as this dumb creature feature is available this week, an hour and a half of a slightly cool premise that farts its way to a murky finish. In “forbidden object” form, this is about a jack in the box that is dug up and given to a local museum where the clown that is contained in the box starts to kill people and bringing them back to the box as a collection that will unleash its freedom to kill untethered. Besides the cool design of the clown creature, this movie is a bust with totally lazy blood and gore and some really terrible looking CG in the third act. Also, the clown’s creepiness is only effective as long as they don’t have him appear on the screen for long periods of time which happens in the middle of the second act.
In Search Of Kundun – More than twenty years after its completion, this documentary brings us back to the production of Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, a passion projected he made about the Dhali Lama, a movie that was done in complete cooperation with the spiritual leader using his own family members. This movie is fascinating as it gives the viewer a deeper look into how Scorses constructs his movies but also about the spiritual connection that he held with the Lama and how fervent the need to make this film was in the acclaimed filmmaker’s soul. It also shows that he never has that cliched dictator’s spirit while making a movie and, even in the face of a production collapse he is calm as a cucumber. This is a fascinating look at belief working side by side with cinema and I also saw glimpses of his need to make his future passion project Silence hidden in there too.
Ray Donovan: Season 7 – One of the coolest men on television, Liev Schreiber, is back for another season of his hit Showtime series and, admittedly, being so embroiled in watching all the movies I can, this show slipped by me but I have finished a couple of seasons since I received season 6. The story follows Ray, a professional “fixer” who is employed by the who’s who of Los Angeles in secret. The problem is his own family, played by Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok and the legendary Jon Voight, create even more problems than he can deal with given his extra workload. The new season has Ray deep in therapy, trying to repair the damages he has made, still living in New York City but he has to revert back to the old Ray Donovan to deal with a bit of his father Mickey’s past. This show is one of the best on television and still, is sitting in the middle of Showtime’s ratings.
Gunsmoke: The Final Season – The final season of this, at the time, record-breaking series is now my collection, one that’s totally full of western stories including marshalls, outlaws, damsels in distress and the gloriously dusty town of Dodge City. For those who don’t know about the show, this is the story of Marshall Matt Dillon and his town, the aforementioned Dodge City, one that he governs and keeps safe from all the lawless townfolk and bandits that roll through. This series ran for a total of 20 Seasons so we are at the of the run and all of the original characters and actors had moved on from the series leaving actor James Arness and his sidekick Festus on their own. Still, this is a great show to go through for nostalgic reasons and see how episodic serial television was done in its first golden age.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
The Virgin Suicides – This is one of the most interesting films to come out of the year 2000 as it was the launching of the directorial career of the second generation of Coppolas with Sofia making her debut. A beautiful film shot by one of the best, Edward Lachman, it was based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides and follows a group of male friends who become obsessed with five mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents in suburban Detroit in the mid-1970s. For a first feature film, Coppola commands this story with such an overarching presence that you know the lineage of her family flowed through her strongly even five minutes into it. This one exists in the Criterion Collection for a good reason. Find this one on Hoopla and Popcornflix.
Kingdom Of Heaven – Ridley Scott is a director that has gotten a pretty bad rap for films since Gladiator in 2000, aside from The Martian, and I know because I’m one of the guys that said them. This movie is a bit of an anomaly in that time period as the original theatrical cut of this movie is a pretty confusing mess that feels like it should have been longer. News flash, it was longer and later Scott released the director’s cut of this Orlando Bloom Crusades story an I think it is one of the greatest epics of the 2000s era. Beautiful cinematography from Ridley’s main guy John Mathieson, incredible production design and career performances from the cast, especially Edward Norton’s masked and Brando like portrayal makes this film absolutely can’t miss.
Adult Beginners – A lot of people seemed to sleep on that style of comedy not so lovingly referred to as “mumblecore” but a guy like me absolutely lived for it. One of these movies that got swept under the rug was this little indie film from Sofia Coppola’s producer Ross Katz (how about that connection?) in his feature debut, a story about a self-involved businessman on the brink of bankruptcy who tries to rekindle the relationship he has lost with his sister and his nephew. The movie stars Nick Kroll and Rose Byrne in the lead roles who give performances that are but hilarious and totally grounded to life, a total gem of a movie that just this week celebrates its fifth birthday. You can find this one right now on the Crave subscription.
Exit Through The Gift Shop – One of the most interesting, enigmatic but wholly influential artists of the modern era has to be Banksy as it feels everyone gets interested when a new art “installation” pops up or he does something to provoke the media that seems very gullible to his tricks. Ten years ago he took it upon himself to jump into the fray of documentary filmmaking by doing his story himself or something kind of like that. This is the story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains footage of Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world’s most infamous graffiti artists at work in pieces that will consistently make your jaw drop. I love this movie and you can find it on Amazon Prime, Tubi and Sundance TV.
Please Give – Writer and director Nicole Holofcener is one of those special voices in independent cinema that I always take note of whether she is just writing a film or doing both like this great little movie that definitely doesn’t get talked about enough. Her films are always deep stories about the human condition and sometimes how much we can be that old oil and water adage and this film is very indicative of that. Starring Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt and Rebecca Hall, this film is about a husband and wife who butt heads with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives in the apartment the couple owns in New York City and is so brilliantly acted through Holofcener’s script and shot by Yaron Orbach who did Sing Street for John Carney. You can find it on the Criterion Channel right now.
Becoming (Netflix) – An incredible and inspirational story about one of the greatest first ladies of all time, get ready to fall in love with Michelle Obama all over again. Those who are still on the Obama train, like me, or who have already ravenously read her book Becoming will absolutely love every second of this movie that documents her 2019 tour to promote the book as well as going through her life leading to Barack, the ups and downs of the presidential campaign, the backlash of the media against her and, of course, everything about being the first lady. Beyond that, this is an interesting look at a woman that managed to keep her own identity intact and separate from the shadow of her husband, one that raised her daughters in an empowering way and the feeling of relinquishing their home at the end of Obama’s term. As a portrait of someone I highly respect, this was a fantastic movie.
The Eddy (Netflix) – I think it’s pretty apparent that Whiplash and La La Land writer and director Damien Chazelle loves jazz as it has been the basis of most of his career, save the Neil Armstrong biopic he did with Ryan Gosling a couple of years ago. Now he heads to Netflix to produce this eight-part series which he directed two of the episodes about a jazz club in Paris and a struggling musician that has to take the establishment on his shoulders after a tragedy befalls the previous owner. Ironically, the show stars Andre Holland, an actor from Moonlight, the film that was part of the Best Picture curfuffle from a few years back with La La Land. The show is grittily real, almost looking a bit like a docudrama at times and has a bit of a slow burn to it so it may take a few episodes to find it’s stride with you.
Dead To Me: Season 2 (Netflix) – Two of my favorite actresses lead this dark comedy as one of my childhood crushes, Christina Applegate, plays a recently widowed woman who meets a new friend, played by Linda Cardellini, at the grief support group, not knowing that she is the one responsible for her husband’s death. This series is so well written and while this new season takes it in a crazy different direction in some senses but doesn’t quite hit that level that Weeds did where it became completely unbelievable and kind of ruins some of the characters in the process. The show was created by Liz Feldman who made the short-lived Elisha Cuthbert sitcom One Big Happy but has really hit her stride with this show and the deeply sardonic and mean character for Applegate is so perfect. I love this show.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (Crave) – Natasha Gregson Wagner takes it on herself to set the record straight with this beautiful portrait of her mother complete with interviews with all of the remaining family including her biological father Richard Gregson, who has now since passed away and the father who raised her, Robert Wagner. What results from this film is an intimate look at a one of a kind and special talent that we may never see the likes of again. Natalie Wood was powerful, driven and always willing to stand up for herself in every way, push forward women’s rights in the industry in every facet she could. This type of documentary is an easy sell with me but I think everyone should check it out, it’s phenomenal.
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix) – One of the greatest living comedians on the planet is back with this new hour-long stand up set and I don’t know what it is about Jerry but I’ve always been a fan, dating back to his book Seinlanguage which I read three times when it came out. Not a huge accomplishment as it’s pretty short. This new special digs into the mundane nature of life as he always does, the fervour of going out just to want to go home, the annoying nature of friends and the headache to make new ones and the fact that dads are embued with the same natural instincts as mothers. Seinfeld proves that even now he can get the laughs and is still the measuring bar of stand up comedy and will be for years to come.