Mank – This new era picture from master director David Fincher is notable for a multitude of reasons, the small being that this production distracted him so much that it’s doubtful that we’ll get a third season of Mindhunter, which is heartbreaking for a lot of fans. The big thing is that with this movie he has hit the true god-like level in cinema, pushing him into the echelon of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and even the man he has as a character in this, Orson Welles. The story has Gary Oldman playing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he sequesters himself after a serious car accident to start his tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane which starts to rope in real people from his life like American businessman and newspaper publisher Charles Randolph Heart. This film is incredible, leaping off the screen with every shot filled with nostalgia for the era but themes that are still painfully relevant today. Honestly, you can give Oldman another Oscar after this one because he shakes the whole room with his performance, my favourite lead actor of this year I think.
Dreamland – Margot Robbie is really on track to win herself an Oscar pretty soon. Yes, she still affords herself time to get silly and step back into the role of Harley Quinn continually, something she was destined to do, but her dramatic work is so good and, with this film, it’s the thing that holds it together. This film is a love story set amidst America’s struggle during the Great Depression following Eugene, a teen who dreams of escaping his small Texas town when he discovers a wounded, fugitive bank robber, played by Margot Robbie. Torn between claiming the bounty for her capture and his growing attraction to the seductive criminal, Eugene must make a decision that will forever affect the lives of everyone he’s ever loved and also forge his own path away from dust storms, a domineering stepfather and general hopelessness. Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders plays the male lead opposite Robbie and does a fine job in a film that only seems to aim for the middle ground, beautifully shot but dragged down by one of the worst scores I’ve heard in a while.
The Witches – This one definitely surprised me with its existence, and not just because it’s a remake of a beloved 1990s classic film because that just seems to be part of the norm now whether it’s a reimagining, a sequel or a reboot. What shocked me is that this Roald Dahl classic is still keeping it’s absolutely creepy tone that shook me a little bit as a kid and is running with it again and I have to say that it is probably because Robert Zemeckis directed with Guillermo Del Toro as the co-writer. Starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci and more, this tells Dahl’s beloved story for a modern audience, a darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of a young orphaned boy who, in late 1967, goes to live with his loving Grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely takes him away to a seaside resort but, unfortunately, they arrive at the same time as the world’s Grand High Witch has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe-undercover-to carry out her evil plans. The creepiest thing about Nicholas Roeg’s original film was the transformation of the Witches from their disguises to their true form and they did the same thing with this, making it a film I would never show a kid in a million years. It’s also absolutely terrible with Hathaway giving a gonzo performance that may go down as the worst in her career. Damn my eyes, I hated this remake, a slap in the face to the original.
Sound Of Metal – Riz Ahmed has astounded me with his talent twice now this year, first with his role as a British Pakistani rapper in the drama Mogul Mowgli just over a month ago at the virtual version of the Vancouver International Film Festival and now this one, another deep character piece. In this film, he plays a heavy-metal drummer and former heroin addict whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. Believing that there can be a solution, he fixates on an experimental but expensive procedure to “cure” his hearing loss in a sort of desperate hope. This is an impactful film about the state of denial and desperation a person must feel when they lose something that we take for granted, really. Director and writer Darius Marder beautifully creates an experience that seems to transcend the sensory experience and put you right into Ahmed’s character’s plight in such an incredible way. It’s truly stellar.
The Last Vermeer – I wonder if Claes Bang’s agent has him only auditioning for art-related projects because, besides his turn as the titular character in the miniseries Dracula, he’s done three films revolving around the subject with The Square, The Burnt Orange Heresy and now this. Bang stars here as Joseph Piller in this dramatic thriller set just after WWII about a soldier investigating renowned Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, played by Guy Pearce, the total reason to watch this film, who is accused of conspiring with the Nazis. Despite increasing evidence, Piller becomes increasingly convinced of Han’s innocence and finds himself in the unlikely position of fighting to save the life of the most beloved man in the country who has a very mysterious past. The film is a very dry and monotone film so the term “thriller” is very loose in my opinion but the film is gorgeously shot throughout by cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, who also shot both of Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth movies. History buffs will definitely dig into this one.
Team Marco – Kids these days, always with their faces glued to an iPad or a tablet or a Nintendo Switch and so on. I know, I have one and she’s obsessed. How do we get them off that and out into the world to do something physical? That’s what’s at the heart of this new family comedy following twelve-year-old Marco who is obsessed with his own iPad and hardly leaves the house. but when his grandmother dies and his grandfather moves in, Marco’s life is turned upside-down and he is forced to go play in the dreaded outside. Grandpa introduces him to the fun of bocce ball and to the neighbourhood crew of old Italian men who play daily at the local court and it turns Marco’s attitude around, giving him something to focus on as he finds a connection to other people and rounds up a team of neighbourhood kids to take on Marco’s grandfather and his pals. This movie is a sweetheart little piece of fluff that is enjoyable but fleeting, like the melt away of cotton candy.
The Donut King – Just watching this movie made me have a real sweet tooth craving for some REAL donuts and not that Tim Horton’s recreated and reheated crap so this is your warning now not to go in with an empty stomach. This is a great documentary that feels personal and loving, telling the story of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian American entrepreneur who purchased his first doughnut shop, Christy’s Doughnuts in 1977 which was the first step to him becoming “The Donut King” becoming an example to other Cambodian immigrants, who began to follow his business model for their own entrepreneurial endeavours. He later went into politics as a Republican, so let’s avoid that part, but this is a really cool story about the “American Dream” in a time that we really need to hear about it.
Crazy, Not Insane – Just a month after he brought us the complete pandemic timeline from the American point of view under the blundering Trump administration, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney returns with another hard-hitting film, this one produced by HBO, just like a lot of his others. Narrated by Academy Award winner Laura Dern, this film is an examination of the research by forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis who investigated the psychology of murderers to get in their head t see what makes them tick and why they do the things they do. Gibney always has a deep talent for getting to the absolute heart of every subject he focuses on and the same applies to this film as it paints Lewis’s work with intricate detail rather than broad strokes, truly a fascinating film.
The New Mutants – I was starting to get to the point that I thought this movie was a big deep state lie or something that I had made up in my mind as it was supposed to come out years ago and now finally its on blu-ray after hitting theatres at the end of August. A spin-off of the X-Men, the film follows five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, who fight to escape their past sins and save themselves and features a great cast of then-rising stars who are now very established with Game Of Thrones actress Maisie Williams, Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton and The Witch’s Anya Taylor Joy. My excitement left my face within the first fifteen minutes as I started to realize why it had been shelved for so long. The film is completely disjointed in its storytelling, its tone and its character development to the point that it outright starts abandoning plot points and character arches to fit in a cool looking but totally nonsensical final battle in the third act. This one isn’t Fantastic Four levels of bad but it is still a massive disappointment that seems to be cut to shreds by producers. These X-Men movies continue to break my heart like a horrible ex-girlfriend.
Unhinged – On paper, this movie sounds absolutely insane and with the rising tempers in citizens around the world during this pandemic maybe it’s a little ill-timed but what really surprised me is how entertaining this movie was and how absolutely gonzo Russell Crowe is in it, playing the ultimate villain role. This one is super simple, a woman and her son become the target of an unstable man’s rage after a confrontation at an intersection and the proverbial shit hits the fan as he pulls out all the stops to try and force an apology out of her. The film comes from German director Derrick Borte who just released the very dark thriller American Dreamer with Jim Gaffigan on Blu-ray earlier this year and this movie is just far-fetched enough to be a total popcorn flick and not as societally damning as the premise would initially suggest. This is a totally pulpy film and kind of grindhouse at its core and I totally enjoyed it for that reason.
Summerland – Consistently, British actress Gemma Arterton has been the main selling point for me to watch pretty much anything, a versatile performer who has done great genre films, comedies, historical dramas and romances and for this new film she combines those last two. Writer and director Jessica Swale makes her feature-length theatrical debut with this story, set during World War II, following an Englishwoman who opens her heart to an evacuee after initially resolving to be rid of him when the two realize they have more in common in their pasts than she had once assumed. Arterton is without a doubt the best reason to watch this movie, delivering another stellar performance, further proof that she is one of the most underrated leading actresses today. For another example of this in the same sort of setting, the film Their Finest, released four years ago.
Relic – Something in the subgenre of horror that deals with psychological warfare seems to really speak to me, like Ari Aster’s films Hereditary and Midsommar and immediately grabs me, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s straight-up relating to the character’s plight, I’m not sure. This one had e quickly, following a daughter, mother and grandmother who are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home. Starring Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote from The Neon Demon, this is an amazing film that probably no one will hear of or see but is the incredible debut of filmmaker Natalie Erika James who makes it look like a veteran put this movie together. As a new female voice in horror, I sincerely can not wait to see what’s next for her.
2067 – Self-contained sci-fi and lower budget sci-fi, it can either be great and captivating or it can leak air for ninety minutes and make you wonder why you got into it in the first place. This film hits somewhere in the middle, starring former X-Men’s Nightcrawler Kodi Smit McPhee and former True Blood star Ryan Kwanten and is set, obviously from the title, over forty years into the future following a man sent on a dangerous mission to an unknown world to save the human race when Earth’s air becomes unbreathable, only on the prodding of a mysterious message that was sent out. The film has a detailed plot with several intriguing mysteries at its core but that may be the biggest issue being that it has so many strands going outward that it can’t resolve or make sense of most of them besides our main character’s increasing existential quandaries. It’s still a bold film for former VFX artist turned director Seth Larney to take on.
Paydirt – If you’re looking for dumb guy bravado with guns and terrible one-liners then this is the movie for you as direct to video tough dude and former Guillermo del Toro villain (note to self, watch Hellboy II: The Golden Army again) Luke Goss leads this heist action thriller that was just tedious to get through. Written and directed by Vigilante Diaries filmmaker Christian Sesma, this film follows a parolee who teams up with his old crew and is determined to find a buried bag of cash stolen five years ago from a DEA bust gone bad while being tracked by a retired Sheriff. The only real big star to grace the screen in this film is Val Kilmer, who features with his daughter Mercedes, and, oh man, he looks so awful that I felt like he died multiple times on camera. This movie is supremely awful, just avoid it.
Monstrum – I love a good South Korean movie but a South Korean horror movie definitely gets me salivating a bit and a South Korean monster horror movie is something I’ll bust through walls for like the Kool-Aid Man. This is exactly that last one and it is all the awesomeness that it sounds like. The story follows a loyal subject of King Jung Jong of Joseon who struggles to fight against a monster that looks like a sort of reptilian balrog from Lord Of The Rings that threatens King Jung Jong’s life and a group of people trying to depose King Jung Jong. This movie is big and fun with some killer action sequences and a feel that will remind people of Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host, another fantastic monster flick. This one is definitely recommended and crank the sound when you’re watching it.
Words On Bathroom Walls – Moody teen dramas seem to be my bread and butter these days and for as many of them, as they are, some of them don’t even deserve to be any good. This one falls into the total surprise category and only because I had never heard of it before and it has such a phenomenal cast with Spontaneous’s Charlie Plummer, Soul Surfer’s Anna Sophia Robb, the great Walton Goggins and former Ocean’s Eleven adversary Andy Garcia. The film follows Plummer as a witty and introspective teen diagnosed with a mental illness halfway through his senior year of high school who struggles to keep it a secret while falling in love with a brilliant classmate who inspires him to not be defined by his condition. The film comes from director Thor Freudenthal who goes low-key for this small production after doing the Percy Jackson sequel and other family fare and it works out beautifully. This is a little gem of a film, definitely recommended.
The Personal History Of David Copperfield – Things that are fleeting until the real weight of the knowledge hits you but when Armando Iannucci makes a film, you stop, take notice and salivate for it until it arrives. Now, after a brief “blink and you miss it” theatrical run, the creator of Veep, The Thick Of It and The Death Of Stalin returns with his send-up of Charles Dickens featuring a killer cast including Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Tilda Swinton and Ben Whishaw. The film is a fresh and distinctive take on Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical masterpiece, set in the 1840s, which chronicles the life of its iconic title character as he navigates a chaotic world to find his elusive place within it. From his unhappy childhood to the discovery of his gift as a storyteller and writer, David’s journey is by turns hilarious and tragic, but always full of life, colour and humanity done with a sardonic and acerbic bite that only Iannucci can give it. Trust me, you will throw this on and laugh yourself silly, in the most proper and dignified way, of course.
It’s A Wonderful Life – One of the most iconic Christmas films of all time gets the full 4K restoration special edition treatment as you can now show your entire family this classic Jimmy Stewart movie. For those who don’t know this story, the film centers around a stressed-out and overworked businessman who is shown what the world would be like without him in it. The film is one of the most celebrated holiday movies of all time and even earned five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director for Frank Capra, one of the greats of the time. I honestly don’t need to prattle on any more about this one as we’ve all seen it or know about it or watched the Nicolas Cage sort of remake of it, The Family Man. Am I alone on that last one?
Vikings: Season 6 Volume 1 – The theme of this week with the television new releases it seems is “shows that are coming to a close” and we start with this show and the first half of its finale and a popular one that was the kick-off to History Channels scripted original productions. For those who don’t know, this is the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok, the greatest hero of his age, following the saga of Ragnar’s band of Viking brothers and his family as he rises to become King of the Viking tribes. In the “Sons Of Anarchy” styling of history, Ragnar embodies the Norse traditions of devotion to the gods and, of course, legend has it that he was a direct descendant of Odin, the god of war and warriors. To get any deeper into describing the plot I would run into spoiler territory, especially with the synopsis of this final season, but I’ve fallen headlong into binging it and I love it.
Blindspot: Season 5 – Another finale to a pretty solid series run in this day and age, I was on board with this Jaime Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton mystery action series from its first season premiere as I enjoyed both stars from previous roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Cinemax’s Strike Back respectively. This show was awesome and follows a mysterious woman who is found zipped up alive in a duffel bag, in Times Square. With no memory of who she is or how she arrived there, the only clue to the mystery is that she is nearly completely covered in cryptic tattoos. The FBI is called in to investigate, and the tattoos are revealed one by one to be a mysterious ‘treasure map’ to prevent crime. I was such a fan of mystery shows like Lost, Prison Break and others that were frustratingly cancelled before their time that the fact that we got to see this one to its finish almost feels like an unheard-of treat on television.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Let’s Scare Julie – More horror? Still? Yes, it never ends for me and the great people at Shout Factory hooked me up with this brand new feature and, although it features no huge stars or a writer and director of note, it delves into a side of the horror fandom that is large and vocal but still only gets cosplay respect, the female fan of this genre. The story follows a group of teen girls who set out to scare their reclusive new neighbour, but the prank turns to terror when some of them don’t come back, sparking them to think that they have unwittingly stumbled across a serial killer. Although this movie is rough around the edges, I still thought it had effective scares and really pulled at the strings of grounded chills that feel like it could happen to anybody. Not a lot of push is behind this one, so it really relies on word of mouth to get the recommendations so consider this exactly that.
The Crown: Season 4 (Netflix) – One season after the next evolution of this story of the Royal Family arrived with Oscar-winner Olivia Colman taking the reins of the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy, this new season gets into scandals and adversities that I think are still fresh in people’s minds This new season forges ahead with my one time crush Gillian Anderson joining the cast as the formidable Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher for the Queen to butt heads with as well as the introduction of Princess Diana and the politics involved with that as well as the rebellion she made to the conventional rules of the Royal Family put in place for generations. I know I said it last season but this may be the top season of this Peter Morgan created show but, let’s face it, this whole series is incredible and so freaking addictive.
The Reagans (Crave) – There is nothing better and more informative than an HBO made documentary and it gets even better when they stretch it out to be a series, which is the case with this four-part show that chronicles the lives of the Republican golden boy President Ronald Reagan and his first lady Nancy Reagan. The series is a reexamining one of the most powerful and polarizing political couples of our time by award-winning documentarian and journalist Matt Tyrnauer who combines archival footage, exhaustive research and first-person accounts from the couple’s inner circle to craft a revealing portrait of their unlikely rise from Hollywood to the presidency as well as Nancy Reagan’s powerful position at the helm of their unprecedented partnership. This is a series that may distract from the buffoonery that is currently going on in the White House and remind you of a time when this party acted with even a little bit of class. Imagine that.
LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (Disney+) – No, this isn’t a LEGO remake of that horrible holiday special that had Luke ice skating, dancing and singing, Chewbacca going back to his family for the holidays and even Bea Arthur for some confusing reason. No, there’s an obvious reason that George Lucas wants all copies of that abomination destroyed. This, instead, is a fun little short film that has Rey and the gang readying for Light Day, their version of Christmas, which sends her on a quest to find a Jedi artifact that will give the true meaning of the day. It also has the power to travel her through time, meaning we drop into every iteration of Star Wars for a bunch of chaotic but fun character cameos. This was an enjoyable and funny movie for all of those deeply immersed in everything Star Wars and, yes, the kids will love it too.
Marvel 616 (Disney+) – Even since the launch of Disney+, Marvel fans have been chomping at the bit for any new Marvel-related content and with the recent announcement of a mid-January premiere of Wandavision, its new documentary series might be just what we need to stave off that nagging craving until then. This brand new show, led by comedic star and Marvel writer Paul Scheer along with other Marvel top creators G. Willow Willow and Sana Amanat, is an anthology documentary series that explores the historical, cultural and societal impacts of the Marvel Comics Universe and its intersection with the world. The show will delve into the creation of heroes of colour like Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales’ Spider-man and much more, so I’m really excited to see this show educate those who don’t know the origin of these fantastic characters.
His Dark Materials: Season 2 (Crave) – 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 forces 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 unlimited 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 first season set such a great tone for it that separates it from the previous version, immersing it in a great world realism that is dying to be explored in this new season. I am excited about it.