The Croods: A New Age – Heading into this brand new Dreamworks sequel I was already at a huge disadvantage as I hadn’t and still haven’t seen the first movie of this caveman-centric animated franchise that has already spawned a Netflix television series. I knew I liked the cast though which has Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman and adds Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann and Kelly Marie Tran to the mix for this continuing adventure. This film has the prehistoric family discovering a lush utopia that was formed by the more evolved family, the Bettermans, who invite the Croods to stay with them under the one rule, don’t pick the bananas. This movie surprised the hell out of me as I laughed from beginning to end with a big goofy smile on my face. Its great fun for the whole family and Cage goes insane in his vocal performance and it’s worth every second.
Happiest Season – Christmas movies can usually be filed into a few different categories, the cheesy, almost Hallmark Channel variety, the classic family film fare and the surprise hits and I think that the last one is exactly where this one fits in and it is such a great thing in my opinion as it was written and directed by Clea Duvall, an actress I absolutely adore and one who appears in this as well. Featuring a huge cast with Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Stewart, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy and Mackenzie Davis, this is an ensemble comedy about the pitfalls of meeting your girlfriend’s family but the even stickier situation it becomes when they don’t know you’re gay. Planning to propose at her family’s annual Christmas dinner, Abby (Kristen Stewart) learns that Harper (Mackenzie Davis) has kept their relationship a secret from her family which causes her to begin questioning the girlfriend she thought she knew at the worst possible time, the holiday season. The reviews pouring in for this one are phenomenal, some saying that it exists within a well-worn framework of other dysfunctional family stories but it still feels like a fresh and substantial comedy that will be an immediate addition to the Christmas movie rotation for many.
Stardust – My initial reaction to seeing the trailer for this film started with excitement to finally get some sort of a David Bowie biopic aside from the “inspired by” film we got in 1998 with Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing a character based on Bowie named Brian Slade. Imagine how my heart dropped when I read that Bowie’s family didn’t sign off on this one either. Even so, they went ahead with it without any Bowie music, chronicling a young David Bowie’s first visit to the US in 1971, a trip that inspired the invention of his iconic alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Sounds like a cool part of the iconic singer and songwriter’s career but really what is the point of doing it if you’re not allowed? What we get is a boring and plodding film that meanders so badly that you wish Bowie’s family had sued the production to put it out of its misery.
Girl – Besides the two very cool Babysitter movies that are now available on Netflix, I haven’t really gotten the hype around Bella Thorne as an actress and have a hard time separating her from any other middling actress that is plastered all over social media. She must have heard my thoughts on the matter because this film feels like a direct shot of vitriol and a performance that will make people stand back and pay attention. This new film is gritty, visceral and totally unflinching, following a young woman who returns to her small hometown with revenge on her mind, intent on killing her abusive father only to discover someone murdered him the day before. As the girl searches for answers, she uncovers a family legacy more dangerous than she’d imagined and finds herself fighting to get out of the town alive. This film is a badass exercise in destroying the stigma around Thorne and proving the haters like me totally wrong. I honestly loved every moment of this movie.
Zappa – Being a late arriver to the genius of Frank Zappa, an uncompromising artist who sought out the highest quality of work rather than the volume of being a desired artist, most of what I knew about this legend came from the previous documentary Eat That Question released four years ago but this new film, written and directed by Bill And Ted’s Alex Winter, feels totally definitive. Compiled from hours and hours of home videos, tour footage, backstage documentation and interviews over his career, this is the peering into the mind of a legendary musician almost directly from his point of view, a man who was known as difficult due to his perfectionism and an emboldened fighter in the war with the establishment, the government and that nasty word that we regard as censorship. I found myself constantly blown away by Zappa’s drive to create content over commercialism and his process to keep himself out of the mainstream medium. So many artists, not just in music, can look at Frank’s story as the utmost tale of fierce originality and a will unbreakable and unbendable by any of society’s constraints. This is an amazing film.
Collective – The hard-hitting documentaries never stop coming and with government obstruction and conspiracy always being at the forefront of our thoughts these days, this film is ready to share that real estate in your brain and catch a seat there. The film starts in 2015 with a fire at Bucharest’s Colectiv club that leaves 27 dead and 180 injured. Soon, more burn victims begin dying in hospitals from wounds that were not life-threatening causing a doctor to blow the whistle to a team of investigative journalists. One revelation leads to another as the journalists start to uncover vast health care fraud and when a new health minister is appointed, he offers unprecedented access to his efforts to reform the corrupt system but also to the obstacles he faces. This is an incredibly thorough political thriller about cover-ups and conspiracy that feels almost unrelenting in its revelations. This feels like a future narrative film in my opinion.
The Great Invisible – Originally made in 2014, this eco-documentary now gets its theatrical release and it’s a story that we already saw Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg take on a few years ago. This is a documentary on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion as seen through the eyes of oil executives, survivors and Gulf Coast residents who experienced it first-hand and then were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on because, as we know, once the glitz of scandal is gone so are the cameras. This is a deeply damning look at the causes and effects of American energy policy and offers it in such an empathetic, smartly crafted, and totally devastating way that it’s really hard to shake what you’ve seen for long after the end credits. It’s weird because Wahlberg’s movie didn’t really hang out in my mind for very long at all.
Crash – Getting the full revamp treatment is this thriller based around car crashes and sex, not the Best Picture Oscar-winning film from Canadian Paul Haggis but from the mind of body horror auteur and Canadian legend David Cronenberg. In case you never had the pleasure of seeing this madness on DVD or playing on Showcase, as I did, this is the perverse story of a TV director who discovers an underground sub-culture after getting into a serious car accident of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce and tries to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife with that new knowledge. There’s no better way to describe this one other than it is totally and utterly screwed up but quite the norm for a guy like Cronenberg and this one has been messing up audiences and been the “oh my god, have you seen this?” movie for almost twenty-five years. I find it fascinating that the studio is bringing it back for another run.
The Irishman – Legendary director Martin Scorsese plays with the progression of the cinema medium with this movie directly made for Netflix and now it. Even better, Scorsese has rounded up some of his greatest collaborators because this film stars Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci who acts in his first movie since the 2010s The Love Ranch. The movie follows DeNiro’s character of Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman recalling his involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa, a long-unsolved murder so all of this can be listed under supposed. The film is another piece in a stellar career from Scorsese and it definitely deserving of a release as part of the most definitive film collections on the planet and I can’t wait to get immersed in the behind the scenes of a massive undertaking to de-age all of the stars involved in the picture and the huge CG and makeup process.
Friendsgiving – Also known as Dinner With Friends in North America, I’m not only completely surprised by the existence of this movie but totally upset with myself that I didn’t know it existed because, holy hell, this cast is great. Malin Ackerman, Kat Dennings, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Deon Cole, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster and Ryan Hansen star in this hilarious film that follows the main character of Abby who is looking forward to a laid-back Thanksgiving with her best friend Molly but their’ plans for a quiet turkey dinner go up in smoke when they’re joined by Molly’s new boyfriend and her flamboyant mother. After the arrival of some party crashers including Molly’s old flame, a wannabe shaman, and a trio of Fairy Gay Mothers, and it gets chaotic to the point of a complete farce in a film that is really just a big fluffy comedy of no substance but still felt totally enjoyable from beginning to end.
Train to Busan Presents Peninsula – After the South Korean zombie horror hit went overseas and became a must-see film for genre fans in North America the obvious questions came up which are “can we remake it?” and “where’s the sequel?”. Well, hopefully, the answer to that first question is never but the second question has been answered with this brand new follow up which takes place four years after the zombie outbreak in Train to Busan with the Korean peninsula in full devastation and follows Jung Seok, a former soldier who has managed to escape overseas, who is given a mission to go back and unexpectedly meets survivors. Now having said all of that, it’s really unfortunate that the audience demand rushed this movie to be made because, in all honesty, it really isn’t very good and kind of makes the problems from the first film more glaringly obvious. This one, by extension, feels clunky, cartoonish and at many times totally ridiculous. I know zombie films, in general, are ridiculous but this far exceeds the limit.
The Secrets We Keep – Nazis are evil no matter what and we should stomp them out whenever we come across them, no question, no if, and or buts. This is unwavering but what if you were unsure because your trauma may be clouding your judgement. This is the story at the heart of this new thriller starring former Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina and Joel Kinnaman, set in a post-WWII America following a woman rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband who kidnaps her neighbour, seeking vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her. The film is well-paced and Rapace is absolutely riveting, wearing every emotion on her sleeve, so palpable with each drag of her character’s cigarette. Pieces of this movie feel a bit far-fetched but it’s her conviction that keeps it all grounded.
Fatman – On paper this sounds like the stupidest possible thing to make a movie out of, and honestly, the jury is still out on that one, and, maybe, people might find this one Christmas blasphemy but I am not afraid to admit that I was crazily entertained the whole time and thought it was wildly imaginative and original. The film follows a rowdy, unorthodox Santa Claus played by Mel Gibson who is fighting to save his declining business in a brutal modern world. Meanwhile, Billy, a neglected and totally bratty twelve-year-old, hires a hitman played by the great Walton Goggins to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. This movie oozes tough-guy imagery against a snowy backdrop and delivers the violence in a bloody battling third act that keeps you hooting and hollering until the credits hit. So many times I marvelled at what I was seeing and knew deep down that it wasn’t going to be accessible to everyone but that sick action-loving side of me was thrilled.
Cold Light Of Day – Arrow Video coming through with this collector edition with this underseen and under-heard of fictionalized serial killer biopic from 1989, the only production from writer and director Fhiona-Louise who clearly made this on a shoestring budget. The story is about Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least 12 young men and boys in the two successive flats where he lived, storing their corpses for long periods of time before dismembering them and disposing of them in the drains. Fhiona-Louise crafts a character-heavy introspective piece with this film that is as fascinating as it is disturbing in a final result that will delight fans of films like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and Maniac. Definitely not for the weak of heart or those who are terrified of delving into a psychotic brain.
Sonic The Hedgehog – After a delay in release to repair a horrendous looking lead character with teeth and muscle structure that will give you nightmares, we finally get to see this video game adaptation that is hotly anticipated for a rabid fanbase. For those who have lived under a rock for decades, Sonic is a speedy blue hedgehog with a cocky attitude who, in this film, befriends a small-town police officer played by James Marsden to join him in a battle against an evil genius, the villainous Dr. Ivo Robotnik who wants to do experiments on it. My initial excitement came from the fact that the big bad is played by one of my favourites of all time, Jim Carrey, and he honestly does almost steal the entire show. I initially thought that this movie was going to be garbage but I had a hell of a lot of fun with it, the references to the classic pieces of the videogame are all there and the love for this character and the world it comes from is all there. I really hope that this leads to a full-on franchise because me and my family would definitely be interested in more, especially after that stinger at the end.
Libeled Lady – For the first of this week’s Warner Archive releases we head to the mid-thirties for an Academy Award-nominated romantic comedy that features starlet Jean Harlow in a role so important to her that she would be buried in the gown she wore in this film just a year later. The film follows the editor of a popular New York newspaper who calls in the help of his ignored fiancée and a former employee when a socialite sues him for libel. Together, they concoct a scheme to frame her in a scandalous situation and do everything in their power to make the false story seem true. Harlow really shows her star power in this film and it makes the tragedy of her passing away at the young age of twenty-six hit harder. She has a huge career ahead of her.
The Pirate – For the second classic film out of the vaults of the Warner Archive is this adventure musical that features the music of the legendary Cole Porter in a film that has the leading lady of Judy Garland and her husband Vincente Minnelli, the father of Liza, behind the camera. The film follows a girl who is engaged to the local rich man in her town but dreams about the legendary pirate Macoco. A travelling singer gets wind of this desire as he falls in love with her and to impress her he poses as the pirate to win her heart. This was a later film in the career of Garland as she was in declining health, only able to film for thirty-six of the one hundred and thirty-five shooting days, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day and the studio ended up hiring an on set psychiatrist for her. Even worse, the film was a box office failure and lost the studio over two million dollars.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Batman: Death In The Family – I have been waiting for the geniuses behind the DC animated films to finally get to this pivotal story in the tales of the Caped Crusader and especially his line of Robins that he’s had and the tragic end to this one. Bruce Greenwood reprises his role as both Batman and Bruce Wayne this telling of the ending of the second Robin, Jason Todd’s tenure in his sidekick role but it is a different styling as this is one of those choose your own adventure style blu-rays where you’re job is to interactively steer Todd from his comics inevitable fate at the hands of the maniac Joker. I really didn’t think I would enjoy this as I was hoping for a more straight-forward film but as a fan of the comic story, I thought going through it this way was fresh, original and added a whole new unpredictability that made everything feel brand new. For Batman fans, this one is a true gift.
RWBY: Season 7 – I have said time and time again that I have to have some sort of mental block between my film and television sensibilities ad the format of anime because I largely don’t get it. This was my initial thinking when I picked up this box set but I had no idea that Monty Oum, Rooster Teeth contributor and Red vs. Blue writer, had my back and had crafted a show that felt like it was skewed to exactly that kind of viewer. The story takes place in the world of Remnant, which is filled with supernatural forces and shadowy creatures known as the Grimm. Before the events of the series, mankind waged a battle of survival against the Grimm before discovering the power of a mysterious element called Dust, which allowed them to fight back against the monsters. In the present day, Dust is used to power magical abilities and weapons where those who use these abilities to battle the Grimm are known as Huntsmen and Huntresses, focusing on four girls who form a team at Beacon Academy, training for that battle role. Really cool animation drives this action-packed series that really gets better with each passing volume. I’m digging all of it.
The Flight Attendant (Crave) – I have to admit that whenever I see anything with Kaley Cuoco in it for over a decade I automatically think of her character Penny from the long-running series The Big Bang Theory because that’s just the stigma that these sitcom stars are saddled with but hopefully this new limited series will shift the focus. She plays flight attendant Cassandra Bowden who wakes in her hotel room in Dubai, hungover from the night before and with a dead body lying next to her. Afraid to call the police, she continues her morning as if nothing happened, joining the other flight attendants and pilots travelling to the airport but in New York, she is met by FBI agents who question her about her recent layover in Dubai. Still unable to piece the night together, she begins to wonder if she could be the killer. I love the mystery drive of this series and it was created by writer Steve Yockey, who wrote for years on the recently ended Supernatural and more so I have some high hopes for this.
Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix) – 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 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.
Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime) – Let’s be honest here, if you mention the name Alan Ball to me I am going to corner you into an hour-long discussion about how amazing and life-changing Six Feet Under was, a show that he created and one that still sits atop my list with Twin Peaks and a couple of others. That said, this new project has him tackling a medium that he usually doesn’t do, a feature film. Starring a deep cast including Paul Bettany, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn and Sophia Lillis, this film is set in 1973 and follows Frank Bledsoe and his 18-year-old niece Beth as they take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina for the family patriarch’s funeral and unexpectedly joined by Frank’s gay lover Walid. The film has a textured retro look and Bettany is at the top of his game once again for this performance.
Black Narcissus (FX) – This is a really ballsy move for FX to take on as a network but after other cinematic masterpieces like Picnic At Hanging Rock have already been tackled, and done successfully might I add, well, I’m not giving everything carte blanche but I’m open-minded. This miniseries is the adaptation of a groundbreaking Deborah Kerr film from 1947 and features Gemma Arterton, a favourite of mine, in a story about a group of nuns who face challenges in the hostile environment of a remote old Himalayan palace that they wish to convert into a convent. This series is a bit bittersweet as it features the last performance from Dame Diana Rigg who passed away earlier this year and features in three of the episodes in a pivotal role. I’m really looking forward to this one as A Quiet Place cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen makes her directorial debut on this.
Belushi (Crave) – I really love all of these comprehensive documentaries on actors, actresses and comedians and I have been waiting for this one to get released as soon as I heard about it. Using previously unheard audiotapes recorded shortly after John Belushi’s death, director R.J. Cutler, who has previously brought us films like The September Issue and The World According to Dick Cheney, brings us this documentary that examines the too-short life of a once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny bones of devoted audiences for the time and the generations that follow. The film features interviews with Belushi’s friends like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Candice Bergen as well as those who have already left us like Carrie Fisher and Harold Ramis. Get ready for an emotional rollercoaster with this one.