New on VOD:
Abe – Aside from Jon Favreau’s fantastic and endearing foodie film Chef finding a great movie about cooking seems to be like sifting through a needle in a haystack, I say because I’m unable to find a suitable food metaphor. This movie was close to having me believe that we had another diamond in the rough and it stars one of the charismatic young actors from Stranger Things, Noah Schepp. He plays the title character Abe, a twelve-year-old with a love for cooking and a solid Instagram and YouTube following of fans and haters both. He is also the child of an Israeli Jewish mother and a Palestinian father which, even emigrated to the melting pot of the New York City area, feels a bit far fetched, doesn’t it? Hoping to bring his two battling sides of his family together with a meal that features foods from both cultures and really the film had me until its third act where it devolves into a contrived “all’s well that ends well” ending that felt far too easy for my liking. We almost had it, another great cooking film. Oh well, back to Chef we go.
Working Man – A very interesting and fitting story to tell in 2020, this film hinges on the shut down of industry and factories and its effect on small-town America and Canada for that matter. Starring veteran actor Peter Gerety, this movie follows an older factory worker who continues going to his former job every day, despite the shutdown that a factory closure causes in a small Rust Belt town. His peculiar decision has a profound effect on the whole community, though his actions yield an outcome that no one ever expected and I have to say that Gerety’s performance is phenomenal, a true showcasing of his years in the industry. Also, as a debut film from writer and director Robert Jury, this is simply outstanding.
Target Number One – Any 90s heartthrob fans out there have been probably wondering where Josh Hartnett has been outside of his work on the Showtime series Penny Dreadful. Well, here he is, starring in a brand new thriller playing a Canadian as well. He leads the film as a journalist investigating the circumstances surrounding the suspicious arrest of a heroin addict imprisoned in a Thai jail, so kind of like that Kate Beckingsale film Brokedown Palace but based on a true story. The movie is written and directed by Daniel Roby who made the fascinating drama sci-fi A Breath Away last and features Burnaby’s own Amanda Crew, stand up comedian turned dramatic actor Jim Gaffigan and Canadian legend Stephen McHattie. I found the film engaging and really telling when it comes to the treatment of westerners in eastern judicial systems, a reality that Canada has been faced with for years.
Body Cam – When this was sent to me, a direct to video horror movie, I have to admit, I didn’t look at it as anything that would interest me at all because the cover looks so B-grade but I found myself mildly surprised. The film stars iconic R&B star, Mary J. Blige, as a Los Angeles police officer who finds herself in a bad position as the department is being scrutinized for some of the citizen deaths which have been questionable. When an unseen force starts to kill some of her fellow officers she takes it upon herself to investigate why these are happening. The scares are here, with some pretty effective jump ones, but I was really disappointed with how light they were on actually showing anything on screen and the mystery thread of the film was pretty predictable. That said, it was way better than I was expecting.
Enter The Fat Dragon – Usually, when I get a release from Well Go USA that stars Donnie Yen I am immediately onboard and excited to watch it but when the email rolled in for this new blu-ray I was trepidation to say the least because this incredible martial artist in a fat suit doesn’t inspire confidence no matter how great he is. Yen plays a former star police officer busted down to a desk jockey who is assigned to a case of escorting a criminal to Japan while dealing with relationship problems and his enormous change in appearance as a result of being dumped. The film is corny and brainless from the start and has odd tonal shifts throughout and a penchant for using English language music that doesn’t fit with the scenes. This was an absolute slog to get through and I don’t recommend it for anyone.
Nothing Stays The Same: The Story Of The Saxon Pub – The music scene is an iconic piece of what makes Austin, Texas such a tourist trap but in a rapidly developing climate that sees an increasing demand for condos to be built that no one can afford many of the venues have closed their doors never to reopen. The Saxon Pub is one of those last venues standing, a place with three decades of live music history and through the lens of this we see the challenges faced by musicians and music venues in one of the fastest-growing and most popular cities in the country. The film is a bit bare-bones and is driven by a grassroots blues sound and maybe a bit bland for most viewers but I found the struggle really interestingly illustrated in this.
Clueless – One of the most iconic films out of the mid-nineties, it still is a surprise for people to find out that this movie is actually based on the Jane Austen book Emma so all of those people that say her books are stuffy, boring and have no merit in modern times, including me, well, we just have to eat a giant pile of crow. Now we get this 25th Anniversary edition and for those who let this gem pass them by, the story follows Cher, shallow, rich, socially successful and at the top of her Beverly Hills high school’s pecking scale. Seeing herself as a matchmaker, Cher first coaxes two teachers into dating each other and soon inserts herself into the love lives of her friends through manipulation and arranged encounters. This movie is a total classic, featuring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Jeremy Sisto and, of course, Paul Rudd. The film also proved director Amy Heckerling to be a proven high school storyteller in two different decades, also having directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
The Prince – Looking for a gritty prison drama to check out? Well, be warned, this is a different one than you are used to entirely. An international film from Argentina, this is a ’70s-set homoerotic prison drama based on a low-circulated pulp novel which was actually banned in a few regions, following the sexual, often-violent and eventually murderous experiences of a twenty-something narcissist named Jaime. The thing that struck me the most in this movie between the masterfully lit nude scenes that punctuate it throughout is that it could seamlessly move from brutal violence to tender emotion almost turning on a dime. The film comes off a bit predictable at times but still is really shocking at other times and is a definite niche film that probably won’t make it far outside of the gay cinema crowd.
Tokyo Olympiad – Criterion once again brings the pivotal filmmaking with this feature from 1965 in which director Kon Ichikawa examines the beauty and rich drama on display at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, creating a record of observations that range from the expansive to the intimate. The Olympic Organizing Board was looking for a commercial representation of the Olympics, including glorifying winners and the Japanese contestants and was disappointed with Ichikawa’s vision, which humanized the games instead. The uncut version was subsequently never publicly screened but now lands on this beautiful edition, painstakingly restored for the Blu-ray release. It’s also included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.
Dodsworth – Warner Archive strikes again with another classic released from their vaults and onto a high definition blu-ray release, going way back to 1936 for this Walter Huston led film, a Canadian born legend and the father of auteur John Huston, grandfather of Tony Huston, Anjelica Huston and Danny Huston and the line goes on from there even. This film has him playing a retired auto manufacturer who takes his wife on a long-planned European vacation only to find that they want very different things from life, splintering their marriage. The film would be nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for William Wyler and Huston himself along with supporting star Maria Ouspenskaya but only ended up winning for art direction. The film is meticulously made and its painstaking attention to detail still lingers in viewing it today.
The Mad Fox – Going for the classier side of Arrow releasing this week with a new title in their Arrow Academy collection, a special edition of a fantasy drama out of Japan in the early sixties, one that may have gotten confused as it has two different titles, this one and Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow. The film is a sprawling story told over the time of the reign of the Emperor Suzaku and follows the various mishaps happen after a strange white rainbow in appearance in the sky over Kyoto causing the Emperor to order a famous astronomer, Yasunori, to consult a certain Chinese book of secrets to calm the fear of the people. The film gets deep into folktale and lore, a style of Japanese film that has seemed to go away since the sixties and seventies. The film has gone largely ignored since it’s release and only got international exposure in 2005 when it had a special screening in the section “International Forum of New Cinema” at the Berlin International Film Festival and was listed as one of “75 Hidden Gems: The Great Films Time Forgot” in the August 2007 issue of Sight & Sound Magazine. Some hidden Japanese cinema that is an indelible piece of their culture.
30 Rock Reunion Episode (NBC) – Months after Parks And Recreation did its own fundraising stuck at home episode, which was phenomenal, 30 Rock is coming back to do the same thing and, as it’s one of my favorite shows ever, I am immediately on board and I really hope it doesn’t ignite my need for more. For those who weren’t clued in to the seven-season run of this series, it follows Liz Lemon, the head writer of a female-led Saturday Night Live type variety show whose life is thrown into chaos when a new studio head is put in charge and a problematic star is forced on her. This show consistently won Emmys and Golden Globes every year it was on and still is infinitely quoted by me to this day. I can’t wait to see recurring jokes from the show make their return. My body is ready.
Cursed (Netflix) – Someone needs to grab Frank Miller by the shoulders, sit him down and tell him his style of direct filmmaking sucks and has since he laughably tried to adapt Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Over a decade later and literally nothing has improved as this medieval knights and witches fantasy story feels like a garbled mess almost immediately. Led by 13 Reasons Why star Katharine Langford, the story follows her as a teenage sorceress named Nimue who encounters a young Arthur on his quest to find a powerful and ancient sword which is, of course, Excalibur, a tale that we know painfully well. The effects in this feels subpar, the storytelling can’t seem to pick a linear path and the transitions between scenes are goofy, cartoonish and totally distracting. I can’t say this will earn a second season and you’re better off watching Warrior Nun.
Father Soldier Son (Netflix) – If you’re looking for a new documentary to devastate and astound you then this film should be on your list as it definitely did the trick for me but fortunately not in the way that brutal story Dear Zachary did and at the end of this it feels like a clash of ideals as well. This film is the story of Sgt. First Class Brian Eisch, the father of two boys in Wisconsin, who is critically wounded in Afghanistan and is forced to have his leg amputated and must adjust to his new life as a disabled vet. A man that lives to serve the U.S. Army, Brian’s relationship begins to feel a strain with his two boys and they all must reconcile the feelings before it destroys the family. The film has twists I can’t even begin to describe but made me feel how disturbing the unfettered belief and adoration of the military the Americans have attached to the troops and how it really is a meat grinder that takes you in and spits you out a shell of who you were.
Secret Society Of Second Born Royals (Disney+) – Look, I know a lot of this Disney+ original programming is geared especially for the kids and, in a slow week like this one, sometimes they rise to the top, just for something to talk about. This is one of those releases, a fantasy action series set in a far off future, following one girl’s adventures at a top-secret training program for a new class of second-born royals tasked with saving the world. The show has my interest because it has former Marvel’s Daredevil ex-flame Elektra herself, Elodie Yung in a prominent role and it looks like a production that Disney actually put some solid money into. Does that mean it will be good? Hell no, it could be awful but will the kids enjoy it? Most likely and that’s the one that counts if we’re being honest about it.
Absentia: Season 3 (Amazon Prime) – For the entire run of the ABC series Castle I watched the show for Nathan Fillion because I’m an uber-nerd who will follow that man anywhere but along the way, Canadian co-lead Stana Katic really grew on me so when it came to this new series I was in it from the beginning. She doesn’t stray far from law enforcement, playing an FBI agent who, after being declared dead in absentia, must reclaim her family, identity and innocence but immediately finds herself as the prime suspect in a string of murders. I really loved the first season and, full disclosure, I’m only in the second season so I’m keeping the plot description super limited to keep myself clear of any spoilers. I hold true to being clear of spoiler territory always, not just for you but myself too. We all should do our part there.