Let Him Go – Years after playing Ma and Pa Kent for Zack Snyder in his Superman film Man Of Steel, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane reteam for this noir feeling thriller that is a bit above the calibre of film that the trailer would lead you to believe it is. The film has them playing a retired sheriff and his wife who, following the loss of their son, leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living off the grid in the Dakotas. Both Lane and Costner give formidable performances but it is the small part that accomplished character actress Leslie Manville gives as the matriarch of the family in question that bolts you to the floor for her absolutely intense scenes. This is a taut and emotional slow bubbling thriller that keeps you engaged from start to finish.
Jungleland – Top lined by stars Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell, I was immediately drawn to this film right away simply by their talent and the fact that this is the third feature film from director Max Winkler, a really compelling young filmmaker. This film follows two brothers who try to escape their circumstances of poverty by travelling across the country for a no holds barred boxing match that may net them a hundred grand. Hunnam plays the scheming and boastful older brother of O’Connell’s character nicknamed Lion, a bare-knuckle brawler with some emotional and development issues and both actors are absolutely astounding in their performances. Also notable is Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors who plays a supporting role as the drug lord that sends them on their journey. This is an actor who will take the movie screens by storm, mark my words.
The Kid Detective – Usually a comedy favourite of mine, actor Adam Brody seriously brings it in a dramatic performance that hangs it’s hat on the detective noir style storytelling and does it so well in the feature debut of writer and director Evan Morgan, known for co-writing the sleeper comedy The Dirties. Brody plays Abe Applebaum, a once-celebrated kid detective, now 32 years old and continuing to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. His world may turn around when a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend which may end up tying in with a kidnapping case that has dogged him since he was a kid. The movie is so impeccably shot and the noir nature of the film is brilliantly executed with Brody giving the performance of a lifetime. The final shot of this film is a brilliant mix of triumph and sorrow that will stick with me for weeks.
Major Arcana – Stories about addiction and overcoming addiction are always tough dramas to get through, especially if it is triggering to viewers that have gone through this or have watched a loved one go through it but the consistency is that if the story is created from a knowledgable place, the soul of it pokes through in phenomenal ways. That’s definitely true to say about this little indie feature that follows a long-troubled itinerant carpenter who returns home to small-town Vermont and attempts to build a log cabin by hand, hoping to free himself from a cycle of poverty and addiction. When he reconnects with Sierra, a woman with whom he shares a complicated past, he becomes locked in a desperate struggle between the person he was and the person he hopes to become and goes to the brink of self-destruction again to find his own truth. In such a harsh time where the news cycle seems to hold our emotions captive, it is a breath of fresh air to see a film that focuses so deeply on the growth of spirit and character which gives such a warm feeling in the end.
The Cuban – It feels like it’s been a long time since we were talking about Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. in a leading sort of way but, aside from a higher profile role in HBO’s Watchmen last year, we haven’t seen a lot from this legend recently. He gets top billing in this new drama following a naive pre-med student named Mina who gets her first job in a nursing home and forms an unexpected friendship with Luis, an elderly Cuban musician, who reignites her love of music and changes her life forever. Gossett Jr. is so great in this movie, really the driving heartbeat behind it as co-star and Canadian actress Ana Golja feels almost green in comparison at times. The film also has veteran actress Shohreh Aghdashloo who is always a treat to see.
Saint Frances – Dramas made on the big studio level always have a level of unrealness to them as they try to skirt around issues, omit things and largely minimize indelible parts of being a woman just based on how uncomfortable it makes the general public. These are things that need to stop, freedom in telling the real truths can’t be taboo and writer and star Kelly O’Sullivan’s new film is definitely a great template of that, an indie film that is a darling in every sense, no matter how much it makes you squirm. She plays thirty-four-year-old aimless server Bridget who hasn’t yet achieved her goal of becoming a respected writer but when casual relations with a younger ‘nice guy’ leads to an unexpected confrontation with potential motherhood, she manifests a job nannying a pint-sized spirit guide disguised as an obstinate six-year-old. This movie succeeds on every level, giving some real situational laughs while still being grounded at all times. The commentary on abortion and the societal reactions, mental health and the societal reactions and emotional health are all explored in such a beautiful way and I felt myself digging more and more into my love for this film. One of the best this year.
Watson – Finishing off the week with a good old biopic documentary, this is a deeply fascinating film about one man’s incredible journey to try and save the earth and it’s oceans while lawmakers and corporations do everything they can to obstruct, undermine and destroy his work and discredit him in the process. A deeply fascinating film, it follows Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson who has spent his life sailing the globe to keep our oceans and their inhabitants safe, like a crime-fighting superhero of the high seas. Blending revealing contemporary interviews with Watson, archival clips of Sea Shepherd’s dramatic encounters, and spectacular underwater nature footage, filmmaker Lesley Chilcott paints a portrait of a man willing to put his own life and liberty at risk in a relentless quest to protect the oceans and the marine life within. For those looking for a documentary surrounding real change, this will be a golden recommendation.
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.
Misbehaviour – A big cast and a crazy true story are at the center of this brand new film set in the seventies and I can’t harp on how great this group of performers is. Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Leslie Manville (again), Keeley Hawes, Greg Kinnear, Rhys Ifans and more feature in this film about a team of women who hatch a plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World beauty competition in London and it is an insanely charming feelgood Brit flick that feels like it more in the same styling of crowd-pleasers like The Full Monty and this year’s true story charmer Military Wives. It’s really hard to discredit any of it, especially coming from filmmaker Phillipa Lowthorpe who follows up her phenomenal and imaginative Swallows And Amazons.
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.
The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage! – When I opened the package for this new release I laughed myself silly in a very Spongebob way as I was delighted that this even existed because I hadn’t heard a word about it. My curiosity was immediately abated as a close friend of mine said he loved this whole silly production and, after giving it a thorough watch with the kid, I adored it too. Classified as a live television event, we get a Broadway musical stylized and live-action version of the characters we love as SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy attempt to stop an erupting volcano from destroying Bikini Bottom while Plankton sees this as his perfect time to strike for Krusty Krab domination. Just like the series, this musical is irreverent, self-aware and a certain kind of madness that the creator Stephen Hillenburg would be proud of. If you love this hilarious sea sponge-like I do, you will love this special.
The Mortal Storm – Time to get cultured with some old classics from Warner Archive, their one release this week, and it’s one of note as it stars the legendary James Stewart. Directed by two time Academy Award winner Frank Borzage, this is the story of university professor Victor Roth who leads a contented life with family and friends in the south German Alps of 1933. This changes quickly and dramatically once Adolf Hitler comes to power and most of the town embraces the new creed while a few friends such as his close confidant Martin Breitner do not. Victor himself is classified as “non-Aryan” and his two step-sons soon leave his house because of this, while his loyal daughter Freya breaks her engagement from Nazi-inclined Fritz and against increasing difficulties, an attachment between Freya and Martin starts to grow. This film was released in 1940 and was banned by Hitler from playing in Germany and subsequently got all of MGM’s films banned there until after the war.
Catherine The Great – Whenever Helen Mirren and HBO team up for a miniseries it always turns out beautifully. She did the one for Elizabeth I and it won her a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a SAG award so you know this is a match-up made in television heaven. For this new show, the writer behind that series, Nigel Williams, and Mirren’s Prime Suspect director Philip Martin have reunited to tell this new historical biographical series about Russian Czarina Catherine the Great who, amidst scandal, intrigue and immense conflict, develops a unique and devoted relationship with Grigory Potemkin, played by Jason Clarke, as they overcome their adversaries and serve as the architects of modern-day Russia. I love shows like this that delve deep into the psyche of people we just read about in books and historical papers, brought to life by an actress who has an unbelievable presence. This is a great watch.
Josie And The Pussycats: Complete Series – With each new box set that is sent to me, my old school Saturday morning cartoon collection grows and my Hanna Barbera centric piece of that expands to include the definitive series. I feel like everyone knows about this one, either seeing the show on television, watching the live-action movie from 2000 or reading them as side stories in Archie comics but I’ll give you the rundown for thoroughness. Made in the 1970s, Josie & The Pussycats follows the adventures of a rock & roll band that consists of Josie, their guitar-playing leader, Valerie, the brilliant tambourine-player, Melody, the naive and optimistic drummer, Alan, Josie’s love-interest, Alexander, the group’s cowardly manager, Alexandra, Alexander’s pesky sister who constantly tries to upstage Josie and be Alan’s main squeeze and of Sebastian, Alexandra’s feisty cat. Of course, adventures ensue across three seasons. You know I have to paraphrase Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie to finish off my review by saying the shot the movie once, in my hometown of Coquitlam and a lot of people were in it from miles around. Okay, I’m done now.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
The Gunfighter – Gotta love a newly discovered piece of cinema history, which is exactly what the Criterion Collection is bringing with this newly restored 1950s western starring the legendary leading man, Gregory Peck. He plays gunfighter Jimmy Ringo who returns to his old home town to visit his estranged wife and see the young son he has never met. Believing his past life as a gunslinger is over and is looking to settle down, there is little he can do to shed his reputation as the fastest gun around and he can’t escape those looking to make a name for themselves by challenging him to a gunfight. The script for this film ended up getting an Academy Award nomination, losing to Elia Kazan’s Panic In The Streets, this movie still packs a punch seventy years later and the blu-ray transfer is absolutely gorgeous and the supplementals are totally fascinating, including breakdowns of the film from multiple historians. Well worth checking out.
The Hit – Criterion keeps picking these awesome sleeper gems that I feel like the world has largely forgotten and the same applies to this absolute classic criminal noir that really got filmmaker Stephen Frear’s career going. Starring the accomplished star power of John Hurt and the young faces of Tim Roth and Terrence Stamp, this film follows ex-gangster Willie Parker, played by Stamp, who has betrayed his former “colleagues” and now lives in Spain where he thinks he can hide from their vengeance. Unfortunately for him, one day, ten years later, two hitmen, Braddock and Myron, played by Hurt and Roth, show up and kidnap Willie, ordered to escort him back to Paris where he should stand trial. It is a long way to Paris and many things can happen in between. This movie has aged beautifully and is a pure piece of cinema that excels in every way, from it’s meticulous direction to the brilliant script, seamless cinematography and stellar performances. This is one that demands to be seen and elevated on the best of all-time lists.
Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons – I absolutely love all of the DC animated films, always featuring some deep pulls from the comic world that delight fans like me and this one is definitely no different as it focuses on one of the most badass pieces of the comic universe, the badass mercenary Deathstroke, also known as Slade Wilson. Yes, I’m totally aware of the Deadpool comparisons but, trust me, they’re very different characters. The story follows Wilson who must face the consequences of a life or death deal he made to spare the lives of his family ten years earlier when the murderous Jackal and the terrorists of H.IV.E. come to destroy everything he loves once again. The movie features former The Shield and The Commish star Michael Chiklis as Deathstroke, his second comic book role if you’re keeping score, and it all works so brilliantly well. Another great movie for Warner Bros. and DC Comics in their continued awesomeness.
Random Acts Of Violence – Canadian star Jay Baruchel returns to his seat behind the camera for his second film after the sequel to the hockey comedy Goon, Goon: The Last Of The Enforcers but this unrelenting and visceral horror film has been in gestation for almost a decade before finally being made. Based on a graphic novel by acclaimed creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, the story follows Todd, a comic writer struggling to finish his magnum opus who goes on a book tour and is subsequently followed by a sadistic murderer who is reenacting all of the kills from his book. This movie is balls to the wall and unrelenting in its brutality in an ethereal way that makes you question the reality of these characters. This movie is not for everyone and gives a grindhouse-style that would make the originators of the genre very proud. I loved every moment of this madness but it plays totally into my weirdo proclivities.
The Deeper You Dig – It’s really awesome when Arrow Video gives a focused special edition release to a brand new movie because it usually means that this is one that should be noted for genre movie fans and when the set is as extensive as this one, being two discs and including the original short film that inspired it, movie audiences should take notice. The film follows Ivy and Echo who are not your typical mother-daughter team. Ivy, once an intuitive psychic, makes an easy buck as a bogus tarot card reader and 14-year-old Echo likes old-timey music, hunting, and black lipstick. When reclusive Kurt moves down the road to restore an abandoned farmhouse, an accident leads to Echo’s murder, and suddenly three lives collide in mysterious and wicked ways. Kurt assumes he can hide his secret under the ground but Echo’s beyond the grave spirit burrows into his head until he can feel her in his bones and as she haunts his every move, trying to reach her mother from beyond, Ivy must dig deep to see the signs and prove that love won’t stay buried. Not featuring any largely known actors or a filmmaker with a huge body of work, this movie blew me away entirely. This is a highly recommended film that may put you ahead of the curve in indie cinema.