Antebellum – Even before the pandemic hit and movie release dates were scattered, I was really looking forward to this new thriller. The film stars Janelle Monae in her first leading role, another piece to a great period in the actress and singer has been having with her involvement in Hidden Figures as well as her great album, Dirty Computer, which was co-produced by Prince before his death. This film has Monae as successful author Veronica Henley who finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality of being deep in a Confederate owned and run plantation in the Civil War era that oddly forces her to confront the past, present and future. Without going too deep into reveals, the story is fascinating and engrossing until the first twist happens and you find yourself questioning how they can resolve it. Once the explanation is revealed I basically tossed this whole film out the window as a totally unsatisfying movie that was supposed to be a project of such promise for Monae. So disappointing.
The Nest – If you would have told me twenty years ago that Jude Law would become an actor that would immediately make a film anticipated for me I would have called you a dirty liar because, honestly, I was never a fan of his earlier work but things have changed big time. In this new film he plays Rory, an ambitious entrepreneur and former commodities broker who persuades his American wife, Allison, played by Gone Girl’s Carrie Coon, and their children to leave the comforts of suburban America and return to his native England during the 1980s. Sensing opportunity, Rory rejoins his former firm and leases a centuries-old country manor, with grounds for Allison’s horses and plans to build a stable but soon the promise of a lucrative new beginning starts to unravel and the couple have to face the unwelcome truths lying beneath the surface of their marriage. Law’s performance is absolutely knockout in this film and his chemistry with Coon is so palpable. Directed and written by Sean Durkin, this is the much anticipated follow up to his only other feature film Martha Marcy May Marlene and it delivers in a big way.
Blackbird – There’s something about a really great ensemble cast that gets me excited for a movie and, while I have been duped before, I’m still a total sucker for it. This one lands in that category as it features Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill as Lily and Paul who summon their loved ones to their beach house for one final gathering after Lily decides to end her long battle with ALS on her own terms. The couple plans a loving weekend complete with holiday traditions but the mood becomes strained when unresolved issues surface between Lily and her daughters Jennifer and Anna, played by Kate Winslett and Mia Wasikowska. Also starring usual comedic actor Rainn Wilson, veteran actress Lindsay Duncan and former The Killing star Bex Taylor-Klaus, the film feels like a sensitive drama with some real backbone to it as the characters never feel like cardboard cutouts and I’d have to credit that to the years of experience from the adept cast as well as the stalwart direction from the always accomplished Roger Michell.
H Is For Happiness – In the mirk that is 2020 and all the horrible events in the world seemingly transpiring at once to drive down our spirits, it’d be really great for something to come along and raise our spirits and that is what this new Australian film is aiming to do. Based on the award-winning book My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg, this is the genuinely heart-warming and unflinchingly honest story of one twelve-year-old with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world who is inspired by the strange new boy at school and determined to mend her broken family and spark happiness in their lives. Aside from veteran actors Miriam Margolyes and Richard Roxburgh, you won’t recognize many in this film but comes off as pure pander free joy and sweetness although it sometimes goes for that feeling rather than narrative cohesion.
Radioactive – How has the brave story of Madame Marie Curie, the discoverer of plutonium which was both a life changer and a life ender for her, not told in a biopic yet? Well, thanks to Amazon Prime and Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi, we do have a screen representation of this amazing woman, played by Academy Award nominee Rosamund Pike. This film is a close look at the woman dubbed a pioneer, a rebel and a genius and her relationship with her husband Pierre, played by Control’s Sam Riley, and chronicles her rise to discovery. I love the trailer for this movie and I really hope the full film is a great film about an important woman because the last at-bat for this, Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet, did not hit the mark for me at all.
Alive – For two weeks in a row now there have been horror movies released called Alive and unlike last week’s South Korean zombie film that debuted on Netflix, this one doesn’t have the hashtag in front of it. The story follows a severely injured man and woman who awake in an abandoned sanitarium with massive memory loss only to discover that a sadistic caretaker holds the keys to their freedom and the horrific answers as to their real identity. The small cast is made up of all unknowns except for the antagonist, played with menace by Braveheart actor Angus Macfayden and I was surprised by how effective the film is with its tension and smart gore. This one is a hidden little gem of a movie.
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 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.
Weathering With You – Oh yay, some more anime to either leave me aloof, confused or just completely out of the loop. The story follows Hodaka who, during the summer of his high school freshman year, runs away from his remote island home to Tokyo, and quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits. The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day, which is seemingly an indicator of his future, he lives his days in isolation but finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine. Then one day, Hodaka meets Hina on a busy street corner, a bright and strong-willed girl who possesses a strange ability, the power to stop the rain and clear the sky. I actually feel like I finally understand one of these films and really appreciated this beautifully animated and emotionally rich movie that has a broader appeal than the medium would suggest. I’m not saying that this is a film that will convert the masses but it certainly got a hold of me.
Tommaso – Abel Ferrera may be more known for being a total nutcase, making pervasive films like Ms. 45, The Driller Killer and Bad Lieutenant, giving Christopher Walken one of his best performances in King Of New York or even threatening to murder Werner Herzog over his remake of the aforementioned Bad Lieutenant but he also has been making seriously thoughtful films with one of the best actors on the planet, Willem Dafoe. This one is no different and close to the filmmaker as Dafoe plays opposite the director’s own wife and daughter as a Ferrara-like American artist living in Rome in this improvised drama of doubt and disconnection, shot in a self-reflective documentary style. The film definitely comes off as a sort of cathartic little vanity project but is driven by the soul of Dafoe who is almost anchored to the camera throughout. This one is for the art film fans for sure.
Flying Leathernecks – This is a classic film that I know my John Wayne obsessed uncle is probably well versed on as he did name my cousin after the Duke. Co-starring Robert Ryan, Wayne plays Major Daniel Kirby, a strict military man who takes command of a squadron of Marine fliers just before they are about to go into combat. While the men are well-meaning, he finds them undisciplined and prone to always finding excuses to do what is easy rather than what is necessary, the root of the problem being the second in command, Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin, played by Ryan, the best flier in the group but a poor commander who is not prepared for the difficult decision that all commanders have to make according to Kirby which could put men in harm’s way knowing that they may be killed. This is a rare great performance from Wayne alongside Ryan and the aerial footage is pretty impressive for the time it was made.
Stephen King 5-Movie Collection – For any Stephen King fan this is going to be a must-own in my opinion as it is a pretty solid collection of some of his better adaptations, along with one of the latest adaptations which actually is a remake as well with the original included in this set too. The five-film set includes two films that had previously been released in special editions, the television miniseries of The Stand and the 1989 version of Pet Sematary as well as the remake from last year, the Corey Haim and Gary Busey led werewolf classic Silver Bullet and, a personal favorite, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone featuring one of my favorite Christopher Walken performances ever. This is just a treasure trove of greatness right here.
Succession: Season 2 – I used to be so in tune with whatever HBO was releasing because everything had such a stellar quality to it that it was all can’t miss television so the fact that this one has flown outside of my radar is a bit sad. It follows the Roy family who controls one of the biggest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world and their lives as they start to make power moves in the hopes that their ageing father begins to step back from the company. It stars Brian Cox as the patriarch of the Roys as well as Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong but the standout for me is Hiam Abass as Cox’s wife who constantly delivers knockout performance after performance. This is a winner for sure.
Mom: Season 7 – After seven seasons of this popular CBS series, I finally got my hands on my first box set of it and it happens to be the final season that the star, Anna Faris, will appear on as she exits to possibly do something else with her life. For those who don’t know about the show, it follows Faris as single mom Christy who has her hands full with two children, Violet and Roscoe, and maintaining newfound sobriety, when her passive-aggressive, recovering-alcoholic mother re-enters the picture, played by the brilliant Allison Janney, brimming with criticisms about Christy’s life. As the daughter works to be the best mother she can and to overcome mistakes she made, she must also navigate dysfunctional relationships with romantic interests, and with her irresponsible ex-husband, Baxter, played by Breaking Bad’s fan favorite, Badger, Matt Jones. Season seven has Christy just having finished her law degree and pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer, while her mom attempts to have a healthy romantic relationship with her new husband, Adam, played by the wonderful William Fichtner. It’s really pretty standard sitcom stuff so if you’re in that crowd of fans, you’ll probably enjoy it but, you know, start at the beginning.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Sunset Boulevard – When it comes to classic Hollywood films this movie is undeniably a top pick as it has become absolutely iconic in stature, story and even the line “Mr. Deville, I’m ready for my close up.” which is just scraping the surface of the film’s allure. The film follows screenwriter Joe Gillis, desperate for cash, who has a chance meeting with a faded silent film star. Norma Desmond, living in her crumbling Sunset Boulevard mansion with only her butler to keep her company. She has become a sad demented recluse convinced that the outside world is clamouring for her dramatic return and, enticing him with the prospect of script work, she puts him up in her mansion and he dangerously becomes more involved and entangled in her life. Celebrating seventy years this year, it might be a great time to get knowledgeable or renewed with this lion of a film that has been beautifully restored for this release.
Midsommar: Director’s Cut – My favorite film of last year has been given a new life with this rare and limited edition from the studio A24 itself and it is now a prized piece of my collection. The sophomore film from Hereditary director Ari Aster, the story is about a couple who travels to Sweden to visit a secluded town’s fabled mid-summer festival and what was thought to be an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult. Florence Pugh delivers an incredible performance as the girlfriend, Dani, who is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress from the murder-suicide of her entire family and is afflicted with an aloof and gaslighting boyfriend, played by Jack Reynor. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I will say no more, go watch it. Those who have seen it and love it, well, you probably missed out on this edition which is glorious.
Girl Crazy – I’ve got another throwback movie this week, another pairing of the golden on-screen couple of the bygone era of Hollywood, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Rooney stars as rich kid Danny Churchill, a guy with a taste for wine, women and song, but not for higher education so his father ships him to an all-male college out West where there’s not supposed to be a female for miles. Before Danny even arrives, he lays eyes on the dean’s granddaughter, Ginger Gray played by JudyGarland, who is more interested in keeping the financially strapped college open than falling for Danny’s bag of girl nabbing tricks. The film is actually based on a Broadway play and Garland’s character was named for the original star, Ginger Rogers, and is definitely a vision from a bygone era.
His Dark Materials: Season 1 – I’m going to say something controversial here and reveal that I really like the Chris Weitz made Golden Compass film from 2007 which was the first kick at the Phillip Pullman written series of books and I really wanted to see more. It’s a damn great thing that HBO and BBC joined forced to do a faithful adaptation of these books and cast Dafne Keen, who astounded audiences alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan, as the lead character of Lyra. The potential of this series is limited and while being compared to Game Of Thrones is becoming a bit tiresome, the comparison feels a little more real with this one as the book series is popular and perfect for this style of adaptation.
The Etruscan Sun – I’m doubling up on the Brian Cox projects this week although, unlike the previously talked about HBO series that landed him a Golden Globe, this was a film that I had really never heard of. Cox is Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved isolated Hebridean island for San Francisco to seek medical treatment. Moving in with his estranged son, Rory starts to feel a transformation come over his life through a newly found love for his baby grandson. Cox once again proves why he has been the diamond in the rough for decades now, shelling out another great performance in a film that has a likeable streak just from the sentimentality that Israeli directors Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun bring to the tone of it.
The Devil All The Time (Netflix) – Following the release of Charlie Kaufman’s latest a couple of weeks ago, this is another one that is swinging for the awards fences and the performances may just be good enough to get them there. Directed and written by Christine filmmaker Antonio Campos, the film is set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, following a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, a tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his “prayer log.” There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his disabled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right. Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson deliver blisteringly brilliant turns in a film that is brutally as violent as the nature of all those around Arvin, though we feel like he is warranted mostly. A hard film to digest but an excellent one.
We Are Who We Are (Crave) – Any time I see Luca Guadagnino’s name attached to anything I am immediately onboard and adding to the mix that the show was co-created with The First King writer Francesca Manieri and stars It and Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer makes it another great HBO series already. The show follows two American teenagers who come of age while living on an American military base in Italy, exploring themes of friendship, first love, burgeoning identity as well as all the messy exhilaration and anguish of being a teenager, just on foreign soil. One of the things that excite me most about this is the cinematographers which has Force Majeure and The Square’s Fredrik Wenzel on the majority as well as Luca’s A Bigger Splash shooter, Yorick Le Saux.
Challenger: The Final Flight (Netflix) – We’re going back to space this week but we don’t have Hilary Swank in tow this time and it’s a true story that rocked the world and definitely shook America as a national tragedy. From executive producer JJ Abrams, this four-part docuseries delves into the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster, unpacking an indelible moment for a generation of Americans with engineers, officials and the crew members’ families providing their perspective on the tragedy and its aftermath. The series is really fascinating as it first takes you to the day that changed everything for NASA and put the crosshairs of blame squarely on their shoulders then goes back to the high profile diversity hire of the “class” of 1978 to start the ball rolling to its catastrophic end. Another great true story docu series from Netflix.
The Third Day (Crave) – It’s a twofer this week with HBO entries which we get on the Crave streaming service here in Canada, and it marks a second one for star Jude Law who also has The Young Pope running, a fantastic show from creator Paolo Sorrentino. This one is a devilish little mystery as it chronicles the individual journeys of a man and woman who arrive on a mysterious island at different times. The story is told over six episodes in two distinct halves, “Summer” sees Sam, Jude Law’s character, a man drawn to the island off the British coast and encountering a group of islanders set on preserving their traditions at any cost. “Winter” follows Helen, played by current Ms. Moneypenny Naomie Harris, a strong-willed outsider who comes to the island seeking answers, but whose arrival precipitates a fractious battle to decide its fate. The third episode is a supposed live event that takes place between the episodes in which I would think the final resolution would be unveiled. It’s weird, but I am totally intrigued, and it comes from one of the minds behind the mystery series Utopia.
Ratched (Netflix) – So, it looks like mega-producer Ryan Murphy and brand new showrunner Evan Romansky have dreamed up one of the most unlikely prequel stories with this series that gives us a look at the younger years of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest villain, Nurse Ratched, played to Academy Award-winning perfection by Louise Fletcher. Starring Murphy’s greatest asset Sarah Paulson in the title role, this is a suspenseful drama series set in 1947, following Mildred Ratched as she arrives in Northern California to seek employment at a leading psychiatric hospital where new and unsettling experiments have begun on the human mind. On a secret mission, Mildred presents herself as the perfect image of what a dedicated nurse should be, but the wheels are always turning and as she begins to infiltrate the mental health care system and those within it, feeding growing darkness that has long been lying with, revealing that true monsters are made, not born. As much hate as the show got immediately on Twitter, I feel like this is another hit for Murphy and people will eventually come around to it. The stellar casting around Paulson is also awesome, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Sharon Stone, Cynthia Nixon and more.