New On VOD:
A White, White Day – Scandanavian films are always such a mystery to star it seems and always puts me on a rollercoaster of “what the hell is going on?” until it settles down and then I’m almost always blown away by what I’ve seen. This new film comes from Iceland and follows a small-town cop grieving after his wife plunges through a barricade off of the highway in a thick fog and dies. Through his grief, he gets the sneaking suspicion that a man he plays soccer with had an affair with his wife and becomes consumed with finding out the truth. The main character is a powder keg ready to explode at any wrong thing said to him and is massively unlikeable until, really, the final moments of the movie but the ride getting there escalates out of control in shocking fashion and it’s so intriguing to watch. Who knew that these countries would produce such incredible cinema?
A Perfect Plan – The Canadian Film Festival rolls on, continuing to showcase a new slate of films to audiences on Superchannel during this pandemic and this one delves into the mystery genre for a heist film. The film has that whole Saw vibe to it initially as it follows four notorious thieves wake up in a fortified warehouse and are forced by a cunning master thief to plan and commit an extraordinary diamond heist. The film has a total 90s staple in William Forsythe playing one of the ageing thieves put into this life or death situation as well as former 24 actor and creator and host of The Great Canadian Food Show, Carolo Rota as the villain but it all feels under-produced, predictable and very badly paced at times which makes this film a slog to get through rather than being intriguing in any way.
Raising the Dead: Re-Examining Night of the Living Dead – In a short little documentary created for the Hollywood Suite channels here in Canada, this film examines one of the most iconic horror movies of all time, a huge moment for creature features as writer and director George A. Romero created possibly the most used and beloved movie monsters ever, the zombie, although they are never called that in the film. Compiled from interviews with the surviving cast or crew members film historians and critics and archived chats with Romero himself who passed away in 2017. The film is very short and feels a bit “bare bones” when it comes to exploring much outside of this one film of Romero’s because it would have been nice to see footage of any of the other “Dead” movies he made in contrast to the original. I was kind of left wanting more to this.
Inheritance – Mystery is at the center of this brand new film from director Vaughn Stein who’s last venture, the neon gangster noir Terminal, boasted a great cast including Margot Robbie and one of the stars of this movie, Simon Pegg, but was kind of an incoherent mess. Doing away with the metaphorical driven story, this film follows Lily Collins as a successful and driven lawyer who’s life is thrown into chaos when her father dies and leaves her a very unusual inheritance. For spoiler reasons, I won’t get deeper into that plot but I have to say that Stein improved vastly from his last film but still lacks that third act polish which definitely hurts this movie as I felt it almost completely changed from mystery to suspense in that transition. I was largely entertained by this film in the end though.
Queen Of The Morning Calm – This is a contained little Toronto centric story about a Korean mother and her young daughter in desperate times in their life. Struggling to pay the rent and forever attached to an erratically violent and forever roaming partner, Debra has to turn to strip at the local club as well as performing other sexual tasks to make ends meet, something that is causing her daughter Mona to lash out at everyone around her. When a gaff in child care gets Debra fired from her job she must set out to find a real way to bring money in for her little family as well as rekindle the bond that she has lost with her daughter. Writer and director Gloria Kim crafts an intimate character study that really connects on a human level with some beautiful natural light shots throughout. I really liked this film.
The High Note – The cast is intriguing with this new music-driven comedy-drama which features Tracy Ellis Ross in her first big-screen lead role which was, unfortunately, shoved to video on demand during this awful pandemic. She plays Grace Davis, an ageing megastar who has left doing new music behind a few years back but is sort of just relying on greatest hits compilations and anniversary concerts as her bread and butter. Dakota Johnson plays her assistant who yearns to one day be a producer and Grace being her main target if she is willing. I would be into this underdog rising/comeback story if it didn’t feel so glossy and cheesy at almost every turn. It’s weird that a bigger production film like A Star Is Born can have an almost raw quality while this movie can avoid being contrived at every turn. Pretty disappointing.
Dreamland – Bruce McDonald, one of Canada’s most eclectic filmmakers, returns with a new mind-twisting cinematic journey, reteaming with the writer of his insane zombie feature Pontypool, Tony Burgess, as well as the lead from that film, Stephen McHattie. The story follows a contract killer who is hired to bring the severed finger of a drug-addled jazz musician as the wedding present from a vicious crime lord at one of the weirdest weddings I have ever seen on film. Featuring a supporting cast including Juliette Lewis and Henry Rollins, McDonald’s movie isn’t grounded in any sense of reality at all, giving you the distinct feeling that this whole story takes place on some sort of dreamscape that makes any rules total superfluous. This, in turn, makes the movie really tough to get into and aside from a few scenes it feels pretty forgettable. At first, I thought we were getting a sort of Lynchian film from a Canadian master but he never rises to that level, unfortunately.
The Invisible Man – The Dark Universe from Universal Pictures may have died a dismal death after the failure of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy but from the ashes of that mess this property was floated over to Blumhouse and they put filmmaker Leigh Whannell, one-half of the minds behind Saw, at the helm of it and the final result is absolutely fantastic. Elisabeth Moss stars as the survivor of an abusive relationship who believes the news of her ex’s suicide is a hoax and this is reinforced when she realizes that she is being hunted by an unseen force. This movie is awesome, thrilling, unpredictable and always able to get under your skin by simply panning over to an “empty” side of the room. Whannell is quickly rising up the ranks of must-see filmmakers and it is so deserved.
Cruel Peter: The Boy – I seem to have the bad luck of having to review all of these “Boy” related movies all in the same two week period but here we go again but, thankfully, we don’t have a creepy doll, there is no sequel, at least not yet there isn’t, and the writer/director isn’t changing his own history within the story. The film is about a horrendous and murderous little bully who is buried alive and returns as a malevolent spirit over a hundred years later after being released by an earthquake. Some good ghostly jump scares aren’t enough to make up for a terrible script and just generally bad acting from everyone involved. I feel like my ocular cavities got a serious work out by how much I rolled my eyes during this movie, a film that descends into all the supernatural tropes we’re bored of.
Wildlife – Paul Dano makes his directorial debut with this film he adapted with his girlfriend Zoe Kazan from a book by Richard Ford, given just one stipulation by the author for an onscreen version. He replied to Dano’s request by saying “I am grateful to you for your interest in my book, but I should also say this in hopes of actually encouraging you. My book is my book, your picture, were you to make it, is your picture. Your movie maker’s fidelity to my novel is of no great concern to me. Establish your own values, means, goal. Leave the book behind so it doesn’t get in the way.” Dano made this his own, crafting a story about a splintering family in the 60s that features incredible performances from young actor Ed Oxenbould as well as Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. This is a beautifully shot film that has infinite patience to let an actor’s silence tell volumes. How this wasn’t looked at for Academy Awards is one of the biggest mysteries to me right now. A well-deserved Criterion edition.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson And The Band – 2019 was such an incredible year for music documentaries and retrospectives and it continued here with this look at the legendary Robbie Robertson and the group he led, The Band. Yes, if you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz you are very familiar with their work but instead of a focused concert, this tells the story of a group that went from backing up Bob Dylan to become one of the most influential groups of its era with a catalogue of songs that are so beautifully written by a group of songwriters with unfathomable cohesion. With both me and my wife being huge fans of The Band, this movie was incredibly special to us.
Escape From L.A. – Look, it’s not the best movie by any capacity but to get another collector’s edition of a film directed by the Master Of Horror John Carpenter and it features one of my favorite badass characters of all time, Snake Plissken, well, this is just a steal for a guy like me. The story follows Snake as he is coerced again by the United States government to do some world-saving merc work by recovering a doomsday device that is in Los Angeles, now a floating penal colony for the riff-raff of the country. The movie is definitely cheesy and very rough around the edges but little things shine through like Kurt Russell’s gruff character work, Steve Buscemi chewing the scenery and a great scene with Bruce Cambell as the torturous “Surgeon General”. I guess I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for this one.
The Deer Hunter – One of my favorite movies of all time gets the full $K restoration treatment by those great people at Shout Factory with this Michael Cimino Vietnam War classic, a film that will always be regarded as his best and one that gave us a depiction of Russian Roulette on screen. For those unfamiliar with this film, it is a pretty raw look at the ways that the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War traumatized and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania. The cast is incredible in this film with Robert Deniro in the lead and Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale in supporting roles, this being the final film for Cazale who succumbed to cancer. The movie would go on to win five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, a landmark film of the 1970s and one I feel like I’ve purchased on every medium. Well worth my money.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Hudson River Massacre – From the spaghetti western sets of Italy in the 1960s comes this frontier film that takes place in Canada? Yes, I’m just as confused as you are and it obviously wasn’t any sort of hit because I’m pretty much as new to this movie as most of you are now just reading it. Also titled Canadian Wilderness, this film follows Victor, the chief of the fur hunters rebels, as he kidnaps Ann from the ruthless landowner as a bartering tool to get more for his people from those who have it all. The film doesn’t have any recognizable stars or a director I’ve heard of but tries to use some real Canadian history as the character Leo Linoux sort of echoes the historic Louis Riel who led hundreds of Catholic Francophone Métis, supported by Cree fighters in the North-West Rebellion. It’s rough but if you like classic settler stories it’s pretty solid.
The Great Escape – This is easily one of the greatest prison escape movies of all time but it also has the distinct genre crossover of being a World War II movie as well but with everything working so beautifully in it, cast, direction, cinematography and production, it is definitely on the list of greatest films ever made. A great escape it is, and for those who don’t know of this movie, it follows a group of allied prisoners of war who plan for several hundred of their fellow cellmates to escape from a German camp during World War II. The cast is so big with Steve McQueen in one of his best roles ever alongside Sir Richard Attenborough, James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and more in a movie that is entertaining every time I watch it. Deservedly so, this movie is a brand new addition to the Criterion Collection with a gorgeous new transfer.
The Road To Mother – Delving into some Kazakh cinema from almost five years ago, Kino Lorber has given this war-torn drama a full North American platform with this new Blu-ray release. Directed by filmmaker Akan Satayev, this is the story of several generations of a Kazakh family from the 1930s to the present day, tracing the most momentous events in the history of Kazakhstan through war and separation all through their eyes and the determination of the clan to remain united. The film in a large degree comes off as a bit of a history lesson, almost like the story would rather teach more than emote at times but when the impact is felt on our characters, the direction is flawless in driving their singular messages home. This was the official submission of Kazakhstan for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category of the 90th Academy Awards in 2018, two years after it was completed, but ultimately didn’t get the nomination and lost to A Fantastic Woman, a film I adored.
Snowpiercer (Netflix) – Adapted from Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho’s mind-boggling sci-fi thriller, his English language debut, I would usually start my write up on this by saying how disappointing it is that Americans have to pounce on popular foreign properties but this one is different. With Bong on board as executive producer along with fellow Korean film master Park Chan Wook and horror director Scott Derrickson, this show has the immediate source material love and care I wanted for it and it shines, especially with Blindspotting’s Daveed Diggs as the lead, one of the best actors working today. For those who don’t know, the show is a post-fall of humanity story about a divided remainder of people, either the poor or the elite, that live on a train that constantly zooms around the frozen landscape of Earth. With Jennifer Connolly playing the opposition in this show, it can only get better. The show will be updated weekly by Netflix but two episodes are available now.
Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (Netflix) – Australian comedian and creator of the hit show Please Like Me returns to Netflix for her second comedy special and if you’ve never seen her stand up or seen a meme made out of one of her jokes, you’re in store for a very different style of comedy as she provides what I call the “tickle and slap” of her trade and I know I’m definitely not her demographic. She even says so in this special. In a show simply named after her dog, Hannah shares her latest takes on popularity, identity, language, feminism and even a massively uncomfortable exchange at the dog park which pitted her in an age-old battle with the patriarchy. Those without an open mind will feel like Gadsby is lecturing, another trait she is aware of, but what I say was the comedy of frustration through a woman that takes no prisoners. This is a polarizing special, no doubt, but it’s well done.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix) – I am pretty sure that even though its series is pretty unpredictable in its scope I can figure out what doesn’t happen at the end and that’s Jeffrey Epstein killing himself. All jokes aside though, this show is like a disgusting pile of sludge that you can’t help but paw through as it goes deep into the allegations against him with first-hand witness accounts and episode one gets that pesky question of “why are these ladies only coming forward now?” out of the way with the simple fact that they were bullied and threatened into not saying anything. There will be a lot of gasping, angry shouts and slack jaws in disbelief as this limited series goes through every piece of Epstein’s disturbing sexual proclivities in excruciating detail. This is a can’t miss documentary series.
Ramy: Season 2 (Crave) – Now that Ramy Yousef is on the map as a Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a comedy series maybe this really funny and real feeling series will pick up the audience clout it deserves with the release of its sophomore season. Ramy plays himself in this show, a resident of New Jersey and the son of Egyptian migrants who begins a spiritual journey that is divided between his Muslim community, God, and his friends who see endless possibilities for him in love, life and a burgeoning career. This show has almost a sort of Curb Your Enthusiasm quality to it but still manages to stay true to its reality and prove its point in the absurdity of what we know and what we think we know about Muslims. I started with episode one of this series just on the weekend and found myself crashing through all ten episodes. Seriously, Friday can’t come fast enough for me to see one of my new favorite current shows.
Space Force (Netflix) – When King Karen down there in the United States announced that the next American conquest would be space, The Office showrunner and Steve Carrell were quick to make a declaration of their own, that they would be making their own series called Space Force. Well, episode one is a bit rough and not to the caliber of Daniels’ Amazon Prime series Upload but has a lot of promise as it follows Carrell as General Mark R. Naird, the man put in charge of the program by the Twitterer In Chief and, yes, the Twitter joke is used quite often at the President’s expense. Co-starring John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz and Lisa Kudrow, the show has promise if it can keep on the rails and not fall too hard into the Trump lampooning. It was very bittersweet to see an appearance from the late Fred Willard as Carrell’s father. It brought a tear to my eye with both sentimentality and comedy because he is hysterical in his one scene.