New On VOD:
Hazy Little Thing – A very contained little story about a damaged author, we see these films rise up in the independent market across the world but it’s all in how you make it stand out from the others. This film follows Billie, a writer who is floating on the instant success she earned from her first book, absorbing the undulations she gets on social media, obsessed with her follower and like counts. Behind on her next book and feeling the despair of it, she gets blackout drunk one evening and ends up making a suicide attempt post which causes all of her friends to gather around her in a sort of celebration party for her. The enjoyment of this film lies in if you can relate to Billie’s plight or get inside her mental status as the film plays everything on its sleeve and gives you little insight into her lashing out at the people who love her. This is an interesting story of the validity of cries for help and how to help someone who is obtuse to recovery.
Becky – When comedic actors make the leap from their comfort zone into a dramatic role it is usually pretty shocking but I have to say that nothing caught me off guard more than to see King Of Queens star and Adam Sandler buddy Kevin James playing a an escaped white supremacist prisoner with a swastika tattooed on the back of his head. This brand new gory thriller follows a father and his troubled daughter as he brings her up to a remote cabin to drop the news that he is remarrying. This is interrupted by James and his three other escapees as they terrorize the family for something their leader has left behind there. The daughter, Becky, having run out to the woods after her dad’s talk, now must devise a plan to survive and save her family. This movie is brash and ugly in a great survival thriller way and James does a great job being brutally menacing. It may be predictable in parts but the blood and guts of this movie are truly awesome and another great entry for Cooties directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion.
2040 – Had I watched this in a not so chaotic time, this documentary would have come off incredibly effective and forward-thinking but given the state of the world where hope feels like a bit of a dwindling commodity I couldn’t shake the pipedream feeling. Writer and director Damon Gameau takes center stage in this, the father of a four year old daughter and, like us all, e is concerned for the future she will inherit and sets out on a mission to find practical solutions to environmental concerns to improve our planet and shift them into the mainstream. The second component of this film comes with Gameau, through some sweet looking CGI, gives us a look at the future world of 2040 with these new solutions implemented and, oh man, I really want to live there. Is it just the sign of the time that I let this wash over me with a bittersweet “that’s nice but could never happen”? I want to believe in Gameau’s vision because it has room for everyone, I just feel I watched this at the total wrong time.
Clapboard Jungle – The unbearable pitfalls of getting your passion project made in the modern independent cinema world is on display here from filmmaker Justin McConnell as he documents his journey of getting his and co-writer Serena Whitney’s adaptation of the novel Mark Of Kane off the ground and into production. As we go through the endless battles, festival crawls and pitch meetings, O’Connell matches this up with interviews with some of the greatest current and past filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Schraeder and Richard Stanley talking about the evolution of the cinema landscape, the restrictions of the studio system and teachings that got them through their most creatively difficult times. For any fledgling filmmaker or hopeful, myself included, this was a fascinating watch and it even features Vancouver’s own Gigi Saul Guererro and Raynor Shima from Luchagore Productions.
Judy & Punch – Some more great Australian cinema is now out and I swear that debuting writer and director Mirrah Foulkes and The Nightingale filmmaker Jennifer Kent may have had a little discussion as both of their films involve the brutal killings of an infant, although Foulkes handled hers with almost a Monty Python-like flair. The story follows puppeteers Judy and Punch who are trying to resurrect their marionette show on the brink of their town being under an anarchic mob rule that sees citizens stoned and hung daily for various “witchcraft” doings. Punch’s drunken belligerence and violence goes too far one night and ends us destroying their family and leaving Judy for dead, setting her off on a murderous plan of revenge. This movie is incredible, exquisitely directed with quirky cinematography that Terry Gilliam would be proud of. The highlight of this film is Justified actor Damon Herriman who gives so much depth to the villainous Punch character. This is one of the year’s best, for sure.
Parasite (Black and White Edition) – I know I’ve talked about this so many times since my coverage of this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, a masterpiece of Korean cinema from one of the masters, Bong Joon-Ho and if you really haven’t gotten around to it yet you are missing out. In his return to all Korean film, which is now a multiple Academy Award winner, he tells the story of a family of con artists who grift their way into a rich family’s lives as a chauffeur, housekeeper, tutor and personal assistant respectively. They think they’ve hit the big time until the former housekeeper shows them a deep secret that she’s been hiding in their employer’s house that blows everyone’s situation up. Joon-Ho crafts another incredible totem in cinema history, a movie that’s filled with twists, incredible cinematography and the amazing ability to tell stories within a story. He never relents in showing that he is not only one of the greatest Korean storytellers today but one of the best in cinema today. This new version of the film pulls all of the color out into the classics of black and white and it works incredibly well, almost like it was made for this format like Mad Max: Fury Road was with the “Black and Chrome” edition.
Watchmen – One of the greatest graphic novels of all time and the most interesting and real feeling superhero story I’ve ever read gets a live-action television sequel told by HBO and Lost creator Damon Lindelof and I think this is not only the best superhero television show ever made, but it may also be one of my favorite HBO series ever made. The cast is great, featuring Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Tim Blake Nelson and Aquaman breakout star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, this series is set decades after the events in Alan Moore’s landmark graphic novel with the atmosphere being set by the incredible score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Seriously, after the first episode’s opening scene, recreating on the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre that is so chillingly apropos right now, you will be absolutely hooked.
Rogue Warfare: The Hunt – I can’t believe I subjected myself to more in this Call Of Duty reliant action series but as a critic, we submit ourselves to brutal eye torture just so you, our faithful readers, don’t have to subject yourself to it. We pay for your penance. Not asking for a medal of honor, just an observation but the good thing is this one is a bit of an improvement, only because our characters have now been established. The plot is simple, a group of the military elite who represent the best of the best from the U.S., Russia, UK, China and France join forces to fight an elite underground terrorist network led by a black-clad Muslim stereotype who represents the worst of western culture’s nightmares. Continuing off the cliffhanger of the last movie, this one has team leader Daniel, played by Will Yun Lee, as the prisoner of war for our villain and the team coming to his rescue. The action is really the best thing about this movie once again but some of it feels a little inconsistent as CG is used for muzzle flashes and blood squibs but almost sparingly as they don’t always appear and it’s a bit distracting.
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.
Urban Cowboy – After Welcome Back, Kotter, Grease and Saturday Night Fever, I think it was this movie that cemented John Travolta’s first time around as a megastar, playing a young country boy who gets his life lessons in love and public interaction when he moves to Houston and starts going to a nightclub named Gilley’s after he finishes work at the oil refinery. The film was nominated for two Golden Globes, both for Debra Winger, one being a breakout star award that isn’t given out, but everyone is so great in this film and the debut of Ray Villalobos who did 9 To 5 the same year and went on to do Risky Business, American Me and Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion. This forty-year anniversary edition is stacked with special features and a new transfer of the film.
Star Trek: Short Treks – This is a fascinating box set I didn’t even know existed but it is a companion piece to this all-new CBS All Access produced Star Trek universe that was kicked off with Discovery. Bridging the gap in character backstories, between episode interstitials or background character tales, this set is a group of nine short films that feature fan-favorite characters like Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd, the most famous Vulcan ever, Spock and even Captain Christopher Pike who is getting his own spinoff series as well, which was recently announced. For a guy that already has both seasons of Discovery, the three J.J. Abrams movies and the Picard collection already and very recently, this one fits nicely into that collection. Now I’m just waiting on season one of Picard to hit blu-ray!
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
The Good Place: The Complete Series – One of my favorite comedy of recent years, Brooklyn Nine-Nine creator Michael Shur hit another level as showrunner by making a whole new series that will live in the glow of fandoms like Community, Friends or even Seinfeld, it is just that damn good. For those who don’t know about it, the series is about Eleanor Shellstrop, a recently deceased woman that finds herself in the cushy heaven-like landscape of The Good Place but the catch is that this place isn’t anything like it seems and the man who runs it, Michael, is hiding the truth behind his goofy smile. The writing is incredible in this show but made so much better by a brilliant cast of Kristen Bell, Ted Danson and Jameela Jamil as well as new faces like William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and Darcy Carden. If you have yet to give this show a chance then what the fork are you waiting for?
Mortal Kombat: Scorpion’s Revenge – Mortal Kombat is a video game property near and dear to my heart ever since I would stand around for hours on end plunking quarters into the arcade machine. We got a live-action movie from Paul W.S. Anderson that hasn’t aged well but I still have a soft spot for, a terrible sequel and a kick as web series. Now Warner Bros. animation has put together this film that gives a full on telling of the franchise fandom’s favorite character Scorpion and how he was cursed with his powers. The movie has Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter voicing Sonya Blade and Joel McHale as the cocky superstar Johnny Cage, which is perfect casting, and, you know what? This movie actually kicks ass in a lot of ways and looks beautiful in its 4K glory. I would love more Mortal Kombat stories like this if anyone’s listening!
Forbidden Fruit Vol. 4: Marihuana / Narcotic – Now a bit into the Kino Lorber restored entries for this collection, these are two entries that define the term exploitation and fear-mongering when it came to drugs in America. The first film is called Marihuana: A Weed Rooted In Hell, which automatically is very telling in its title misspelling of marijuana and follows the downward trajectory of a high school girl who dabbles in cannabis and laughably becomes a hardened, heroin-addicted criminal, who inadvertently kidnaps her own child whom she had given up for adoption. Yes, this crap is wild but the second film Narcotic claims to be a true story and follows a physician whose personal journey leads him through opium dens, carnival tents, sex-crazed drug parties, skid-row brothels, and eventually the halls of madness. This is a fascinating look into how we reacted to drugs as a society in the mid-thirties compared to now in our own minds.
Forbidden Fruit Vol. 5: Tomorrow’s Children / Child Bride – Some more of those exploration films from the mid-1930s with this second Kino Lorber release but with a different focus and all the fear you’d come to expect from these hysterical folks that want to protect their citizens through misinformation. Sound familiar? The first film, Tomorrow’s Children, is a look into eugenics, following a young woman from a family of genetic predisposed problems who is ordered by the court to be sterilized. The second piece, Child Bride, follows a headstrong schoolteacher as she tries to halt the practice of child marriage in a backwoods community before it claims another innocent victim which is the definite glaring film I can get behind because that reality is totally disturbing. One out of four isn’t bad, right? No, wait, it is. Nevermind!
13 Reasons Why: The Final Season (Netflix) – Netflix’s breakout teen mystery is closing their books with this final season of a pretty well written and intriguing series. I always thought that this show would be kind of a standalone series, especially after the first season which followed Clay Jensen, a high schooler living in the aftermath of the suicide of his classmate Hannah Baker who is drawn into a web of intrigue when he is left a series of tapes that Hannah recorded before she died. The show has a neo-noir quality to it and purposefully leaves the audience in the dark for many moments of “aha!” type narrative and, I have to admit, it’s very addicting. Dylan Minnette gives Clay that introverted quality that I kind of related to and Katherine Langford is definitely the breakout star of the series, she’s fantastic.
Quiz (AMC) – This new series on one of the most popular American networks for new original programming comes from Britain and looks into one of the most popular game shows of the last thirty years, how it was created and how it was hacked by its contestants and, the best thing about it, it makes it all into the most insane piece of biting satire since the US made satire ironic. Starring Matthew Macfadyen, Aisling Bea and Michael Sheen in another incredibly chameleon-like performance, this is the story of the creation and rise of the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but beyond that it focuses on Charles Ingram, a former British army major, who caused a major scandal after being caught cheating his way to winning £1 million. After one episode, I can say that this is definitely intriguing enough or me to continue.
Laurel Canyon (Crave) – Coming on the heels of the phenomenal documentaries Echo In The Canyon and David Crosby: Remember My Name, which are both must-see films, this new two-part documentary takes it all deeper into the part of Los Angeles that became the hotbed for the development of folk, rock, soul and even pop in the sixties. With a laser focus on the bands that were first established in the area, so far episode one has featured The Byrds, The Mamas And The Papas, who made their way from New York City to find their special brand of music, The Doors and, a new band to me, Love who is responsible for the origins of a lot of different sounds from the area. The interview style and storytelling refreshingly not talking-head style and instead is used as voiceover using pictures and archive videos to tell the visual story. This could possibly be my favorite docuseries this year, a happily “untrashy” show to wash that Joe Exotic out of the genre.
The Last Days Of American Crime (Netflix) – I’m really excited for this new crime thriller set in a not too distant future that pits criminals against a police state thirsty government and, hey, wait, isn’t this story a little too painfully relevant too? The film is directed by Luc Besson protege and frenetic action movie director Olivier Megaton who not only has a sweet name but also directed the underrated Columbiana before taking over the Taken franchise and has some killer stars in it like the always great Edgar Martinez, former Boardwalk Empire star Michael Pitt and one of my favorite interview subjects ever, Sharlto Copley. I know that this probably hits really close to home right now bu the trailer is so captivating and I really want to see if this film is as well-executed as it looks given that it’s based on a graphic novel by a favorite of mine, Rick Remender, who also had the awesome Deadly Class adapted as well and unfortunately cancelled on SYFY.
Shirley (Crave) – With director and showrunner Mike Flanagan reentering Shirley Jackson’s harrowing and emotional horror novel The Haunting Of Hill House back into the Netflix trap of pop culture, and well done might I say too, this film is a biopic about the woman behind the pen. Starring the red hot Elisabeth Moss in the title role, this film follows the writer as she tried to find inspiration in a couple played by Logan Lerman and Odessa Young that she and her husband Stanley Hyman brought in to help support. Opposite Moss in this film as the husband is character actor Michael Stuhlbarg who knocks it out of the park every time, even if the film itself isn’t very good, meaning that this could possibly be an amazing film that might get swept under the rug of being released on Hulu originally. It also comes from director Josephine Decker who astounded critics with her last movies, Madeliene’s Madeliene. This could be fantastic.