Ip Man: Kung Fu Master – It’s no secret that on this weekly blog posting and my spots on The Shift that I’m a fan of these films about the legend of Master Ip and his teachings that were made international by his most famous student, Bruce Lee, but, admittedly, the ones without establishing star Donnie Yen come across a little flat and charisma light. That goes for this one, which follows the title character during his time as a police captain in Foshan, Ip Man is targeted by a vengeful gangster just as the Japanese army invades the region, the common enemy that the master finds himself tangling with. I haven’t been given the review opportunity to see this one but it does feel like another cash in on the name but from what I read it’s just a great excuse to watch over eighty minutes of kick ass fighting.
Songbird – Ugh, I’ve been cursing the day I would ever have to review this movie and the good news is, from all that I can tell from emailing studio reps, there will be now reviewing of this title, a, get this, pandemic themed thriller. With all the shared trauma that nests in all of our brains daily, do we need to have a film scaring us with the isolation we already feel anyways? Starring Riverdale’s KJ Apa, The Office’s Craig Robinson, The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and more, this film is set in 2024 as a pandemic ravages the world and its cities and centers on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society like disease, martial law, quarantine and vigilantes. The film comes from low budget horror guy Adam Mason, who I appreciate for all the Alice In Chains music videos he did recently, but, really, this all feels like the low hanging fruit that all filmmakers should avoid. I speak for myself but I don’t think we want COVID horror flicks.
Nadia, Butterfly – Retirement must be a hard transition to go through and must be even harder to do when you’re at a young age and still have so much future ahead of you. When you’re an athlete it must be doubly worse, a problem I will never know. French Canadian writer and director Pascal Plante delves into this notion in this new drama about a Canadian Olympic swimmer who finishes her final race, a relay in which her team wins the bronze medal, and then the real implications of her decision start to dawn on her, pushing her to some self-destructive actions with all start with her alienating her teammates during their celebration that night. Plante does a phenomenal job in illustrating our main character Nadia’s isolation that she feels deep inside and does a great job of keeping everything so internal with actress Katerine Savard giving a knockout performance in the process. The weird irony that struck me was that this takes place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an event that, due to COVID-19, hasn’t even taken place. Maybe this movie is set in the future.
Guitar Man – I feel like I’m a pretty knowledgeable guy when it comes to rock music, not as much as movies and television but comparably. That said, Joe Bonomassa completely slipped under the radar and this is a guy that sold out arenas overseas, headlined Jazz Festivals and played with legends like Eric Clapton and B.B King who called him the future of blues. How did I miss this? This documentary tells the comprehensive story of Bonamassa, a guitar virtuoso who single-handedly transformed Blues from a marginalized legacy genre to an arena-filling spectacle, told in interviews and concert footage to chronicle his extraordinary rise as a guitar wunderkind who was playing chords at five years old and melting faces with his skill by thirteen. The film is a bit underproduced, especially coming off films like Zappa and Crock Of Gold, and at almost two hours long it feels a bit bloated and uneven.
Giving Voice – After talking about the immense catalog and reach of Joe Bonamassa and his music we now change gears and hit the inspirational side of documentary filmmaking with this Netflix produced film that focuses on the legacy that one of the greatest American playwrights and a man regarded by many as “theater’s poet of black America”, August Wilson. The film follows the annual monologue competition created in his name immediately after his death in 2005 and the thousands of high schoolers who enter the competition for their golden opportunity to perform on Broadway. Featuring and produced by mega stars Viola Davis and Denzel Washington who had the privilege to perform Wilson’s work like Fences both on the stage and the screen, this is a unique film that celebrates what has come before, in the form of the renowned writer’s oeuvre, and the future with these gifted young performers. This is a touching and emotional movie that resonates, especially if you’re in the arts crowd.
Possessor: Uncut – Let’s mess you up right quick as David Cronenberg’s son Brandon returns with his second feature, a violent sci-fi film that proves once again he is his father’s son and the body horror runs in the family. The film stars Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Abbott and it follows an agent who works for a secretive organization that uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, ultimately driving them to commit assassinations for high-paying clients. Riseborough’s character, a veteran assassin, is starting to suffer psychotic breaks in her “outside” life which breaks wide open with her latest client. I’ve already had a chance to see this movie and it blew my mind entirely. Disturbing in visuals, this chaotic film is another showcasing of Cronenberg’s boundless imagination and the incredible prowess that cinematographer Karim Hussain has.
Yes, God, Yes – Every now and then I come across a movie where I think “where the hell did this come from?”, something that completely flew under my radar. This is another one of those films, a comedy set in the early 2000s starring Stranger Things actress Natalie Dyer and is one of those rare coming of age films for a woman, following the star as a Catholic teenager who discovers masturbating after an innocent AOL chat turns racy and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of the indoctrinated punishment of possible eternal damnation. This movie really surprised me, especially based on its premise, for being so sex-positive in its message and Dyer is so fantastic in the film, giving such nuance to her character. The film is the debut behind the camera for Obvious Child writer Karen Maine who continues her knack for creating believable and endearingly fallible female characters. This is a must-see I think this week.
Smiley Face Killers – Bret Easton Ellis is a writer who I had a pretty extensive love for in the late nineties and early 2000s, a mind whose pure nihilism blended well with my addiction to Chuck Palahniuk books, especially after Fight Club. Those who have seen films like Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction know that Ellis likes to put beautiful people in a downward spiral and that’s the basis here, a story about handsome young soccer player Jake Graham who believes he is going insane and is unable to shake the feeling of being stalked by something or someone. His friends and everyone around him believe he’s just anxious and prone to paranoia and start questioning his mental state but Jake is actually being followed by a small group of serial killers that track, drug, torture and drown beautiful young men leaving only a graffitied Smiley Face as their signature. Really, this movie will only appeal to a niche audience and aside from former George McFly, Crispin Glover, there are no stars of note and everything gets crazily excessive. Watch at your own risk is what I’m saying.
The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone – I think we’re all in agreement that while we celebrate The Godfather and The Godfather Part II we still use Francis Ford Coppola’s third film in the Mario Puzo penned trilogy as pretty much a joke that contained too much of his daughter Sofia and was a total step down from the excellence exuded from everything before it. Now, like he has done multiple times with his masterpiece Apocalypse Now, Coppola has redone this film with new footage, re-edits and story swapping to make this into a real fitting end for this trilogy. The plot has an aging Don Michael Corleone seeking to legitimize his crime family’s interests and remove himself from the violent underworld but is kept back by the ambitions of the young. You know, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”, right? While he attempts to link Corleone’s finances with the Vatican, Michael must deal with the machinations of a hungrier gangster seeking to upset the existing Mafioso order and a young protege, played by a young and dashing Andy Garcia, who’s love affair with his daughter distracts him as well. This is an insane resurrection of seemingly dead material from a true legend.
She Dies Tomorrow – Actress Amy Seimetz has a lot of great things on her resume, dating back to 2006 when I first saw her in Wristcutters: A Love Story, then Upstream Color which is a story I would rather not get into and great television like The Killing and a small part in Stranger Things and, let’s face it, she’s one of the better things about Alien: Covenant. Well, she is behind the camera as writer and director in this new horror, her second feature, this film following a character named Amy, played by You’re Next actress Kate Lyn Sheil, who is ravaged by the notion that she is going to die tomorrow, which sends her down a dizzying emotional spiral. When her skeptical friend Jane discovers Amy’s feeling of imminent death to be contagious, they both begin bizarre journeys through what might be the last day of their lives and, I feel like this is needless to say, but the film is amazing and totally captivating from the start. I’m in total awe of this film and I feel like it was released in the perfect time as it works incredibly well into the pandemic psychological warfare. Be prepared for this one, it will bruise you.
Bobbleheads: The Movie – As a reviewer, when a distribution company emails me with new releases I adopt the rules of the Yes Man and give an umbrella answer of “send me everything” which sometimes leads to me receiving kids movies like this where I look at the cover of it and go “what the hell is this?” Yes, Bobbleheads in movie form and it features Cher. Complete weirdness. So, what is the story here, if there even is one? Loosely, it follows a group of toys who must defend their home from unexpected guests when their humans go missing with two of the uninvited intruders who hope to swap a new baseball player bobblehead for a valuable one. Yup, it’s the heist of the century am I right? Move on, Toy Story, get bent Ocean’s Eleven. Oh, man. How much more shade can I throw at this crap?
Collateral – I don’t think this is a controversial statement to make but I think that this is my favorite Tom Cruise performance to date in a Michael Mann film that is filled to the brim with tension and action thrills but it was Jamie Foxx that got the Oscar nomination for it. The story, for those who skipped by this one, has Foxx playing a cab driver who finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer, brilliantly portrayed by Cruise, as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in Los Angeles. Shot in that brilliant digital style that has been known to bring down some of Mann’s films, this one was shot by a duo of cinematographers, Dion Beebe, who won an Oscar two years later for Memoirs Of A Geisha, and Paul Cameron who did Tony Scott’s awesome Man On Fire the same year. Did I mention that all of this is on the glorious hi-def of 4K and should be on every movie lover’s Christmas list? Yes, I’m doing your cinephile shopping for you.
Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Series – All long-running series must come to an end and, as far as new series reboots of old classic shows go, I’d have to say that Steve McGarrett, Danno and company had a solid run as I’ve brought this show to the radio program a number of times and now is the final time I do that as this is the whole shebang in one set, all eleven seasons. Yes, it all is some of that same police procedural stuff you’re used to but in a tropical setting, like bombings, kidnappings, murder and such but it also brings things like pirates, race wars, deadly mercenaries and a joyful dude that has a shaved ice stand to spice it up. The show also features in some crossover with CBS’s other reboot series Magnum P.I., bringing Jay Hernandez into the mix because they’re both on the same island. Also, to keep with the theme, all of the episodes have names that are unpronounceable and I’m not even going to try it live on the air. Don’t test me.
Mouchette -Two new Criterion Collection titles arrive this week, both from the seemingly hidden niche corner of all of cinema. This first one already existed in the collection on DVD, numbered in the three hundreds of this prestigious list of titles. The story is about a young girl living in the country with a mother who is dying and a father who constantly neglects her. Mouchette remains silent in the face of the humiliations she undergoes but one night in the woods she meets Arsene, the village poacher, who thinks he has just killed the local law enforcement and tries to rope in the title character to build an alibi. In the eyes of acclaimed filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and modern auteur Kelly Reichardt, this is a masterpiece and now in a new higher definition we can see that too.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes By William Graves – We get even odder for the second Criterion entry this week with a film from the late sixties by African American documentary writer and director William Greaves who chose to approach his subject with two complete films. The first, known as Take One, Greaves auditioned acting students for a fictional drama, while simultaneously shooting the behind-the-scenes drama taking place which ends up becoming the real story and I think the goal behind the experiment. For the second part, Take Two and a Half it’s called, he headed to Central Park to shoot scenes of a young couple whose marriage was falling apart and now, thirty five years later, they are back in the landmark New York location as the director relentlessly pursues the ever-elusive symbiopsychotaxiplasmic moment. So, what is sybiopsychotaxiplasmic? Well, it’s a documentary inside a documentary inside a documentary is the best it can be described but it’s a damn fascinating experiment for sure.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Essential Fellini – Look, as much as a cinephile and a guy that tries to be in the know as much as I am, there are some of the classic filmmakers that are far before my time and definitely slip under my radar. Federico Fellini is one of those filmmakers, a creator known for creating bizarre and abstract plots peppered with risque humour and who loved to include dream-like imagery and nostalgia. Now, the greatest blu-ray maker on the planet and the definitive standard of film appreciation, the Criterion Collection has amassed this new set which features fourteen of his productions from the years 1950 to 1987, released in the year that would have been his one-hundredth birthday. It’s really cool now to go back and watch all of these movies that have influenced countless directors and see where the homages lie. It’s almost like a parlour game for movie nerds.
Daughters Of Darkness – Blue Underground seems to be this odd distribution company that gets these forgotten horror movie gems like old films from Lucio Fulci or William Lustig, for example and gives them an all-new hi-def life, whether it be on blu-ray or, in this movie’s case, on 4K in glorious fashion. This one takes us back to 1971 for a creepy but really well received little chiller from Belgian filmmaker Harry Kümel following a newlywed couple passing through a vacation resort when their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory and her aide, who may be a serial-killer that drains the blood of the victims to use as an elixir of youth. Having seen a biopic about Báthory starring Julie Delpy, I was immediately fascinated with this very cult-like movie that is super sexual, almost as much as it is creepy.
I’m Your Woman (Amazon Prime) – Celebrated breakthrough actress and the lead of the critic and audience lauded The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan is getting her chance to spread her wings a bit more in this brand new drama but only moving up a couple of decades in the timeline she usually operates in. This film is a 1970s-set crime drama about a woman who is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey into an unknown future. The film is written and directed by Julia Hart who astounded me with the incredibly grounded superpowered drama Fast Color, a film I recommended to anyone who was listening and I feel like this one will land in the same boat as well with the lucky critics who already got to screen it calling it smart, sophisticated, and subversive. Amazon Prime has landed a lot of hits recently and this may be a slow boil one as well.
Let Them All Talk (Crave) – Meryl Streep makes her first of two entries this week but the good news is that this one is probably the one with the most substance to it and that’s because it reteams her with director Steven Soderburgh and it co-stars Candice Bergen, Diane Wiest and the actor with the greatest agent in the business, Lucas Hedges. The story follows Streep as a famous author who goes on a cruise trip with her friends and nephew in an effort to find fun and happiness while she comes to terms with her troubled past. The good news is that Soderbergh is working at his highest level for this movie and produces a film that has an air of mystery to it and utilizes the entire cast to their strong points meaning you don’t have to be a dedicated Streephead to enjoy this movie, it’s just plain good.
The Prom (Netflix) – Okay, let’s move on to more Streep but this is one that definitely doesn’t really have a hold on me like the last one but it is a part of the continued Netflix dominance from the one and only Ryan Murphy, the creator of a gazillion shows and movies. This film features a huge cast around your favorite Meryl with Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Kerry Washington, Keegan Michael Key and Tracey Ullman and is about a troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars who swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom but, of course, the basic townspeople are not exactly friendly to that union. Oh, should I mention that this is a musical? Yes, that is where this film has a whole bunch of obstacles to me because I have a deep dislike for this genre of movies. Well, unless they are good which this one just actually manages to be but by a small margin. Corden is still pretty unbearable though.
Your Honor (Crave) – When Bryan Cranston does a new series, you take notice, but when he does a new show for Showtime? Get every Breaking Bad fan you know on board because this might be the new binge. A new show from The Night Of creator Peter Moffat, the story has Cranston starring as a judge confronting his convictions when his son is involved in a hit and run that embroils an organized crime family. Facing impossible choices, he quickly discovers how far a father will go to save his son’s life and the boundaries he’ll not only cross but sprint through. Kind of Walter White sounding, right? Look, Cranston is great in this show, as to be expected, but the underlying thread of a father going to the nth degree to save his family is a long threaded trope for him, is it not? I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get past this but otherwise, it’s old hat.
Lennon’s Last Weekend (BritBox) – This week is a hard one for a Beatles fan like myself as this is the fortieth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon who would have been eighty years old if the cowardly and unstable Mark Paul Chapman hadn’t have shot him in cold blood. Ravenous for everything to do with the amazing singer, songwriter, musician and activist, I was so taken in by this new documentary from writer and director Brian Grant. It transports you back to that fateful December in 1980, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono had not spoken to the media for more than five years. With a new album to promote Lennon was prepared to speak in New York to Radio One D.J. Andy Peebles of the BBC. John surprised everyone by candidly discussing a variety of subjects he’d never spoken of before including The Beatles break-up, his relationship with Paul McCartney, his battles with addiction, political issues in the US and UK, his family and his homesickness for Liverpool. This is just the tip of the iceberg of things he talked about and Lennon’s heartfelt honesty and forthright revelations make this film all the more potent as he was brutally shot and murdered 48 hours later. Any fan like me will love this movie but others on the outside of it may find some poignancy to it as well.