Hillbilly Elegy – Based on the best selling book from J.D. Vance, who is the subject of the book as well, even the trailers set this film up to be total Oscar bait with Glenn Close and Amy Adams under some heavy makeup to play their roles and stalwart filmmaker Ron Howard at the helm to pull the strings. The film is a modern exploration of the American Dream through three generations of an Appalachian family as told by its youngest member, a Yale Law student forced to return to his hometown when his mother overdoses, forcing him to confront his upbringing, his pursuit of his career and the familiar relationships he still has. This movie is frustrating in that every advance it makes to being stellar it is immediately cut down by a totally glossy and contrived scene. At the end of the day, when Howard, Brian Grazer and the rest of Imagine Entertainment are gunning for Oscar, it all comes up way too short in the end.
Freaky – When Christopher Landon hit his stride with audiences in the horror-comedy Happy Death Day I have to admit I was really not on board and, to be totally honest, I outright despised the film. Well, the sequel Happy Death Day 2U turned it around for me and now with this new film I see that those movies had to walk so Freaky could sprint because he has made a genre masterpiece here. In a Freaky Friday and horror mash-up, a teen girl finds herself body swapped with a vicious serial killer after he attempts to murder her with a cursed dagger and discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent. This is lead actress Kathrine Newton’s real coming-out party as an absolute star and Vince Vaughn, playing the unstoppable killer, has such an adorable nature to him when he’s portraying a teen girl. I absolutely adored this film from start to finish and know that it’s going to become a massive hit.
Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslet and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and I was just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. Francis Lee, the acclaimed writer and director of a total festival favorite God’s Own Country from a few years back, returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to recover from her “slight bit of melancholia” by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favorite films of last year and , while it doesn’t quite hit that level of amazing, it is a beautifully shot film, done by Jackie and Captain Fantastic cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, and Winslet and Ronan are incredible in their very subdued performances.
The Climb – There’s no better way to enter this movie than to have no idea at all about the premise but it just might be the funniest movie of the year in my mind. Written by, directed by and starring Michael Angelo Covino, the simplest way I can safely describe this movie is that it is a look at the friendship between two guys that spans over many years. Over that time span the ups and downs between an emotional screwed up and self-destructive douchebag and the most continually accepting human beings on film. This movie caught me completely off guard and sucked me in from the get-go and it’s technical prowess immediately becomes another one of its strengths as the use of one take elaborate doll shots to make it a goldmine for cinematography fans. A film that has no huge stars or clout, this one will most likely slip under the radar but do not let it, you will thank me later.
Chick Fight – On paper, this is a movie I really should have enjoyed. The cast is solid, featuring Malin Ackerman in the lead with Alec Baldwin, Fortune Feimster and Bella Thorne in a story of female empowerment that feels like it is really needed in this day and age. Ackerman plays Anna Wyncomb, a down on her luck woman who is introduced to an underground, all-female fight club to turn the mess of her life around and discovers she is much more personally connected to the history of the club than she could ever imagine. This movie fails almost right out of the gate with easy jokes, contrived and dated plotting and, immediately, I head to the notes to see that this movie was made by two dudes who obviously didn’t get a woman to give them notes because, although it doesn’t go sexually exploitative, it is really apparent that they just had the cliff notes on what it means to be a woman. They also saw way too many Michael Bay films because it comes through in the direction.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel – Remember The Corporation, a Canadian made documentary from 2003 that looked at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance and even put it through the psychopath test? Well, director Jennifer Abbott and new co-director Joel Bakan are back for this very and, yes, unfortunately, necessary follow up that exposes how companies are desperately rebranding as socially responsible and how that threatens democratic freedoms. It is infuriating to watch in detail how these tactics had blurred political lines between massive conglomerates and dirty politicians and have effectively choked the life out of democracy to the point that it is almost completely unrecognizable. It’s also really interesting to see how close this has all gotten in the timeline as the filmmakers have been able to include the happenings of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies’ reactions and ad campaigns around it, exploiting the public needs and even the exploitation of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a great movie but, be warned, it will piss you off.
Dating Amber – A totally quirkly little teen comedy, this Irish film brings the awkward in yet another great LGBTQ+ story and, with limited ways to advertise in this current pandemic climate, caught me totally offguard again. The film follows a closeted gay teen and his lesbian counterpart who pretend to be a couple to avoid suspicion and skirt through the next years of high school until they can reveal their true sexualities unencumbered by the bullying of other students and the condemnation of their lives. The film stars the very likeable duo of Fionn O’Shea from the Netflix series The Letter For The King and Lola Petticrew who is totally new to me but their chemistry in this is unmistakable. This is a great movie, well worth checking out.
The Life Ahead – Screen legend and Academy Award winner Sophia Loren returns to film over a decade after her last big-screen role with this new heartfelt drama playing an aging Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a young immigrant from Senegal who recently robbed her. The film comes from Swiss filmmaker Edoardo Ponti in his third feature film in twenty years of directing but it reteams him with Loren, his mother who he made his debut film Between Strangers with, a movie with a deeply veteran cast besides her. This time the biggest star on screen is Sophia and she shines like the incredible beacon she is, turning in a fantastic performance alongside young Ibrahima Gueye, who will be a star on the rise if he continues down this path.
Mulan – With every new Disney animated classic adaptation, I feel a little more trepidation and not because the movies are bad but because they seem to lack the heart and soul of the original films. The pandemic has robbed us of getting the chance to see this new version of Mulan on the big screen and it really is a robbery because this is an incredible film to behold and it’s a total gamechanger for these movies. Directed by Whale Rider filmmaker Niki Caro and shot by the eye behind Baz Luhrman’s Australian, cinematographer Mandy Walker, this movie is vibrant and leaps off the screen at you, a breathtaking experience at all times. The casting is impeccable, featuring an amazing cast including Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei Pei Cheung, Jason Scott Lee and Jet Li, gathered around an incredible lead in Yifei Liu who shoulders the load of this lead character amazingly, this may be one of the best films of the year. I adored it thoroughly.
Bill & Ted Face The Music – Being a pretty much lifelong fan of the two Bill and Ted movies we’ve received so far I am more than overjoyed that we finally get a full trilogy of the continued time travel stories Bill S. Preston and Ted “Theodore” Logan, Esquire, though it is with a twinge of sadness that George Carlin is no longer here to play their guide, Rufus. Now, over thirty years after the original movie, the two would-be rockers from San Dimas, California find themselves as middle-aged dads still trying to crank out a hit song and fulfill their destiny, once told they’d save the universe. This movie seems like a pass off for the daughters played by Ready Or Not’s Samara Weaving and Atypical star Brigette Lundy-Paine to take over the franchise and I’m totally on board for that because they’re both really great in this and their new guide Kristen Schaal is fantastic as always. No matter how this movie turned out I was going to love it unconditionally, like my own child, and to see that it is truly “excellent” makes me feel the warmth of a nostalgic hug.
Spontaneous – Coming of age is hard as I remember it. Budding sexuality, hormones, high school cliques, exploding bodies… wait, exploding bodies? Yes, this is the direction that this teen horror from com goes in The Babysitter writer Brian Duffield’s directorial debut and although the story seems insane he makes it work for the entire duration. Starring the “it” girl of right now, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford alongside Charlie Plummer, they play seniors Mara and Dylan two newly found lovebirds who struggle to survive in a world where each moment may be their last as students in their school begin exploding like balloons full of blood. The dynamic of the film is so interesting as the explosions at first come off as comical but when you start putting faces behind the victims the seriousness arises along with the stakes to keep everyone alive. I was honestly surprised by how much I liked this film and the script and lead stars are definitely what keep it afloat.
A Rainy Day In New York – Woody Allen, in an era where his schtick is faltering more and more every time out due to his very in the open antics, falls flat on his face in this new offering and, even worse, he takes down the incredibly likeable and, until this point do no wrong star Timothee Chalamet. Co-starring the also incredibly likeable Elle Fanning, this story follows a young couple who arrive in New York for a weekend where they are met with bad weather and a series of misadventures, kind of a standard fare for Allen but it all starts to feel so wildly out of touch almost immediately and that has to start with the disconnect he has for modern society. Hearing his words through young Timothee feels unnatural, almost like his character had been mothballed with other ideals and then brought back to life like a cro magnon man. I feel like we’re coming to the end of an era with Woody Allen films and after this one, it really couldn’t come fast enough.
Guest House – Pauly Shore is back everybody so we can now break out everything nineties and rejoice! As a guy that was definitely the target market for the zany comedian’s antics in his heyday, I would be totally lying if I said that this one didn’t excite me as soon as I saw the cast list but it totally did. The story follows a newly engaged couple who find the home of their dreams but it quickly becomes a nightmare when the previous owner’s friend, played by Shore, continues squatting in their guest house leading to a turf war that ultimately ruins their house, their marriage and their lives. Sure Billy Zane and Jackass alumni Steve-O appear in this as well but, who cares? It’s all about Pauly getting his time in the spotlight again. For non-fans, is it any good? Hell no, did you expect it to be?
Book Of Monsters – Anytime a horror film reaches back into the eighties styling I jump immediately on board because I really love the aesthetic. The hair, the atmosphere and, most of all, the pure bliss of a synthesiser score.This new film, that definitely slipped way under my radar, has everything going for it and follows Sophie, a teen celebrating her 18th birthday which quickly becomes a bloodbath when monsters descend upon her house and start to devour the party guests. This forces Sophie and her friends to rally together to send their party crashers back to hell and what a fantastically fun ride this movie is, filled with gore, practical creature effects and some kick-ass girl power to drive it all along. For genre fans, you really might discover that this is your sleeper hit of the year because damn did I love this movie.
Tennessee Johnson – For the installment of Warner Archive releases of the week, as it seems to be the case the last few, we’re going pre-World War II for this drama, a biography of Andrew Johnson, who followed Abraham Lincoln into office and became the first President of the United States ever to be impeached. The classic Hollywood that lies within this movie is Lionel Barrymore, one of the most famous actors of the era who played American Representative Thaddeus Stevens in what some critics thought was a distorted and derogatory way. It’s interesting to note that this very American history driven film was directed by German filmmaker William Dieterle which is a fascinating lens to put it through.
Girlfriends – The excitement of a brand new Criterion Collection entry is here and, something that happens now and then, I haven’t heard of this movie before but that is usually. a good thing. Released in 1978 his comedy-drama comes from writer and director Claudia Weill in her first of the only two feature films in her career, following a New York City photographer who feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness when her best friend gets married and moves out. Reading into this movie, I nerd out about it because my favourite filmmaker of all-time Stanley Kubrick raved about the film and called it the best of 1978. That is high praise in my mind.
The Last Starfighter – This is a very cool release to bring this week as it is, without a doubt, one of my favorite childhood movies of all time. It is really the damn coolest, about video game expert Alex Rogan who finds himself transported to another planet after beating the arcade game The Last Starfighter finding out it was a test and he was recruited to join the team of best starfighters to defend their world from the attack. It’s every kid’s dream scenario put on film and we ate it up and, honestly, still really go as it may have paled in the way old sci-fi productions do, but the feeling is all there as is the nostalgia, restored brilliantly by Arrow Video. I’m so pumped to have this new edition in my library, a very special one for me.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Claudine – A huge film for black cinema in the mid-seventies that wasn’t categorized as blaxploitation or anything campy, this movie featured the high profile star of Diahann Carroll, who just passed away last year, and James Earl Jones and was a relatable romantic drama with its sights set on the working class of America. The plot follows the titular character Claudine, a single mother who tries to provide for her six children in Harlem while on welfare who finds herself in a whirlwind romance with Roop, a cheerful garbage man she meets while working on the side as a maid. The chemistry between Carroll and Jones is so huge and drives this classic film as soon as they share the screen and it’s really incredible how charismatic young James looks, just a few years away from voicing one of the most iconic villains of all time.It should also be noted that Carroll was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars that year, ultimately losing to Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
Superman: Man Of Tomorrow – I’m bringing more DC Animated again this week as they are just too good not to geek out on. This new release follows the big blue boy scout himself but in a younger time as Daily Planet intern Clark Kent takes more than his newspaper’s workload when Lobo and Parasite set their sights on Metropolis to lay their path of destruction. The film is missing that greatness that Tim Daly brings to Superman but being the younger version, I obviously get it, and Darren Criss does a solid job in his at-bat with the role. What I really enjoyed was Ryan Murphy productions’ buddy Zachary Quinto as Lex Luthor which brings the Heroes vibes all over again. This is a fun movie for sure.
Warning From Space – A Japanese space invader movie made by the minds at Toho, the creators of Godzilla just two years earlier, this is what we’re finishing this week off with and it honestly is really crazy how influential this movie was. Just to give you the story, it’s about a group of starfish-like aliens from the planet Pyra who come to Earth to warn mankind about a runaway planetoid known as Planet R that is on a collision course with Earth because they fear that when Earth is destroyed that their planet will be destroyed as well. Their form, unfortunately, causes people to panic, so they chose a female member of their race to take human form to spread their message and then decide to contact a prominent scientist who has invented a new source of energy that can also be made into the most destructive bomb the world has known to destroy the planetoid. The scientist is subsequently kidnapped by enemy agents who want to use the bomb for their own purposes and it becomes a race against time to find the scientist so he can complete his formula and save mankind. Whew, a lot going on there but it influenced many other Japanese science fiction films, such as Gorath in 1962, which, along with other 1950s science fiction films, influenced director Stanley Kubrick especially when he would later direct 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cinema owed to this movie is insane.
Moonbase 8 (Crave) – Space seems to be the new hotness in series form with Space Force, Away and the Challenger docuseries just released in the last few weeks and The Expanse, although more sci-fi that straight forward space exploration is still widely streamed. Now Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly have joined forces with Portlandia co-creator Jonathan Krissel to create this brand new show they all-star in, minus Krissel, and it is already brilliant after just one episode. The show follows them as three astronauts stationed at NASA’s Moon Base Simulator in a remote part of the Arizona desert who are working vigorously to qualify for their first lunar mission, encountering many obstacles including loneliness, self-doubt and their own gross incompetence. Despite it all, they remain determined to prove they have the right stuff to reach the moon. The combination of each of their comedic geniuses makes this a must-see series and maybe the sleeper hit as this year draws to a close.
The Liberator (Netflix) – Netflix is transporting us back to World War II with this brand new original series that is led by Merlin’s Bradley James and Wind River’s Martin Sensmeier. The show follows a unit from Oklahoma known as the Thunderbirds, composed of Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Dust Bowl cowboys, most of whom couldn’t drink together in the same bars back home, who land in Sicily and endured a brutal 500-day trek through Nazi-occupied Europe. Honestly, if this is anything like the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced HBO series Band Of Brothers or The Pacific, I am on board until they literally can’t pump any new stories out about this squad. I know that World War II stories are a dime a dozen but when you find a good one you latch on to it as hard as you can.
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House Of Fun (Netflix) – Holy buckets of crazy for you to ingest this week on Netflix as this madness lands, a transplant from Australia brought to you by Ed Helms and Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman. A new sketch series that can be likened to the big hit of I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, this show takes viewers along for an absurdist adventure through the everyday lives of three roommates and best friends as they travel the mad landscapes of their own madcap nature. It was immediate love for me with the stars Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane right at the beginning of episode one that starts with the musical number “Everything’s A Drum” before they start holding auditions for their new roommate, replacing their dishwasher who has just become sentient and with the voice of Kristen Schaal. If any of that seems intriguing or must-see than this show was certainly meant for you, just as it’s meant for me.
Trial 4 (Netflix) – Itching for a new crime-based docuseries and have blown through everything on the streaming service including the latest volume of Unsolved Mysteries for shits and giggles? Well, this new show is coming through and it may leave you with that simmering rage you get when you witness an absolute injustice. The show follows Sean K. Ellis, a man charged as a teen in the 1993 killing of a Boston cop who fights to prove his innocence while exposing police corruption and systemic racism, the perfect story to tell in a time where it’s getting increasingly harder for authorities to hide these occurrences. I will get the ball rolling here and say that episode one of this show is absolutely riveting from start to finish and I recommend everyone check it out.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (AppleTV+) – There’s something so great about Werner Herzog’s brilliant narration that, honestly, I could watch anything he made into a documentary, including watching paint dry, a total cliche, I know, but it is so damn true. This new film from the informative and almost alien-like German New Wave master is about meteors and comets and their influence on ancient religions and other cultural and physical impacts they’ve had on Earth and it’s perfect that it was made by someone who always seems to be a strange observer. It should also be noted that this will mark the third collaboration between Werner Herzog and co-director Clive Oppenheimer after Into the Inferno and Encounters at the End of the World, which are both phenomenal must-see documentaries.