Wonder Woman 1984 – Finally, after waiting since June after delay after delay due to the pandemic we get to see the next piece in the theatrical story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, also known as Wonder Woman. It would have been way better to see this on the big screen obviously but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and be happy with what you get as both Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins has returned for this sequel that is bigger and better than the first film, corrects the mistakes made with the character in Justice League and even resurrects Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor character. How is this? I’m not going to give all that info to you but it definitely involves Diana’s new foes in this film, Max Lord and The Cheetah, played by The Mandoloarian Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig respectively. Sit back, relax and have this film dazzle you. After the year we’ve had, we deserve to go out like this.
News Of The World – It’s hard to believe that in Tom Hanks’ long and storied career he has never tackled a western before, although he has played a cowboy before but his Toy Story adventures don’t really count in this regard. Reteaming with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, he finally corrects this wrong, playing a Civil War veteran who now goes across the country reading the news who agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, although against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either of them can call home and create a bond together that may be stronger than they have ever experienced. This movie is somber and methodical with Greengrass shelving his usual shaky hand held style for something more poignant and it works so beautifully. I was gripped by Hanks performance and the character development holds fast to you until the very end.
Wild Mountain Thyme – For all of those who loved movies like Circle Of Friends or, more recently but not recently, P.S. I Love You, they may take a look at this movie, see it’s an Irish romantic comedy and plunk in their dollars to VOD for a new Emily Blunt movie with the guy from the Fifty Shades trilogy. Well, the rude awakening comes when you hear Christopher Walken’s narration to open the film, in the worst faltering Irish accent you’ve ever heard. Seriously, coming from the writer of Moonstruck, John Patrick Shanley, I was expecting so much more from a film that follows headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon who has her heart set on winning her neighbor Anthony Reilly’s love. The problem is Anthony seems to have inherited a family curse, and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer. Stung by his father Tony’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams in this film that feels ridiculous, contrived and totally offensive to anyone living in Ireland. Really, everyone should skip this one as a Christmas present to themselves.
Sylvie’s Love -At first glance, many may pass this one by as just a flighty romantic drama but a guy like me looks at it and goes “oh man, Tessa Thompson is in this? I’m sold.” It’s just that simple for me but let’s get deeper on this one. The second narrative feature film from writer and director Eugene Ashe, this film follows a woman working at her father’s record store in Harlem in the late 1950s who meets an aspiring saxophone player and begins a whirlwind romance that will change her life. The movie has so much going for it, featuring a killer cast around Thompson including Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi McClendon-Covey and Jemima Kirke, which is really just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s shot by Declan Quinn who did A Master Builder, Rachel Getting Married and Breakfast On Pluto just to name a few, and incredibly vibrant cinematographer. Critics are falling in love with this one so there’s a good chance you will too.
Chicago 10 – It’s so odd to watch this film a mere few months after Aaron Sorkin’s big cast adaptation of this story hit Netflix but with it being so fresh in my mind, I enjoyed it all that much more because of it. In a half-real footage and half animated film, documentarian Brett Morgan looks back at the eight anti-war protesters, including Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and other activists/dirty goddamn hippies (depending on which side of the argument you were on), who were put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention. This is a fascinating look at the trial which I already was able to pull where Sorkin pulled his scenes from but the most interesting thing is that this film was made in 2007 and is only getting a sort of theatrical release now. The voice cast from the animated bits is sort of a who’s who of popular stars, including Roy Schieder who passed away a year later. I also have to say that the soundtrack is full of great tunes, although they definitely aren’t era-specific as it all kicks off with Rage Against The Machine’s Freedom.
The War With Grandpa – As a general rule now, I don’t get into any movie involving Robert De Niro and the word grandpa because I’m still in a state of trauma from having to go to the press screening for his raunchy comedy Dirty Grandpa which made me severely question his financial state as well. This one will definitely go in a different route than that, a family film that follows a boy thrilled that Grandpa is coming to live with his family until he finds out that Grandpa is moving into his room, forcing him upstairs into the creepy attic. Though he loves his grandpa, he wants his room back and has no choice but to declare war, so, with the help of his friends, he devises outrageous plans to make Grandpa surrender the room but Grandpa is tougher than he looks and rather than give in, Grandpa plans to get even. Oh man, now reading that back, this movie may be no better than the previous movie I mentioned and seeing that it comes from the director of Alvin And The Chipmunks, well, the positivity meter is shrinking.
Kajillionaire – One of my favourite filmmakers in the last twenty years and a storyteller who is very idiosyncratic in her own right, like Nicholas Winding Refn or Yorgos Lanthimos, I have always been excited about Miranda July’s new projects and this film didn’t disappoint. Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez, the story follows two con artists who have spent twenty-six years training their only daughter to swindle, scam and steal at every turn to get them by. During a desperate and hastily conceived heist, they charm a stranger into joining them, only to have their entire world turned upside down as she upsets the dynamic that had been working so well for them and starts to show Old Dolio (yes, that’s really what they named her) the real way of the world and the goodness in people. Wood is absolutely incredible in this movie, playing a morose feeling monotone character that reflects so well in every nuanced reaction. Just another phenomenal performance in 2020 that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Craft: Legacy – Sequels or reboots two decades or more after the originals, it’s a very touch and go thing. It can either work or make you wonder why they even tried in the first place and the latter is what you may be thinking about this one but the easy answer is that it wasn’t made for the original fans or that age demographic but instead made for a younger audience to latch onto it and make witch covens of their own. Yes, it’s 1996 all over again. For this film debuting director Zoe Lister Jones creates a very familiar but updated story following an eclectic foursome of aspiring teenage witches who get more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers and everything is going pretty well for the most part until a mess that is the third act comes along to fudge everything that preceded it. This film feels like a hurricane of studio notes and edits and a rushed post production and it really robs the viewer of a film that had potential. I can’t believe I’m half praising this but here we are.
The Place Of No Words – The four year old son of writer, director and actor Mark Webber and actress Teresa Palmer asked them a serious question that set this whole film production in motion, the simple query of “what happens to us when we die?” What results is this inventive and boisterous adventure that has Webber acting with his own son as they cross an existential plain looking for answers to life’s mysteries and, honestly, it reminded me a lot of Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. At the sea time, this movie feels very personal as well, lie we’re peering behind the curtain of a family home as they educate their child. You may have qualms with the information they are imparting but it’s not your place to say differently or criticize. This is what makes this an incredibly hard film to review and I’m certainly not the only person to say so.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Out:
Burst City – How about I throw some weirdness into this holiday season by way of Japan because what would one of my geekouts be without an oddball pick? This one ticks all the boxes of genre insanity with a film that has punk rock gangs and music groups clashing with one another as well as the brutal police force in a futuristic Tokyo setting. Coming from gonzo filmmaker Sogo Ishii, this is an action packed and frenetic two hour romp of nuclear power plant protests, armor clad bikers and so much more, giving it a cult status that should have raised it in popularity. Hopefully this new blu-ray edition from Arrow Video will give it a boost to new audiences as it also has an in-depth interview with Ishii so you can get in the head of the madness that created it.
Avenue 5: Season 1 – Veep creator Armando Iannucci left his series early but I like to think it was so he could go and develop this new sci-fi comedy and I think we are all better off for it. The series follows the troubled crew of Avenue 5, a space cruise ship filled with spoiled, rich, snotty space tourists, who must try and keep everyone calm after their ship gets thrown off course into space and ends up needing three years to return to Earth. The cast is so phenomenal, featuring Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Jessica St. Clair and so many more in a show that has all of that great snark that Iannucci has in abundance and creates characters that are so massively unique. I can’t wait for the next installment of this fantastic series.
The Slammin’ Salmon – Finally, the last piece of my Broken Lizard comes together with this purchase I made of a massively underrated comedy in their filmography as well as a great performance from the gargantuan actor and sorely missed talent Michael Clarke Duncan. He’s the title character of this restaurant set film, the brutal former heavyweight boxing champion Cleon “Slammin'” Salmon, who is now owner of a Miami restaurant, that institutes a competition to see which waiter can earn the most money in one night. The winner stands to gain $10,000, while the loser will endure a beating at the hands of the champ. This movie is so funny, a total tribute to how great this troupe is at writing for each other and the additional cast members of Burnaby’s own Cobie Smulders and Will Forte just sweeten the deal that much more. If you haven’t found this one but love all the other films you need to rectify that problem immediately.
Blade 4K – How freaking awesome was this movie when it came out? An early Marvel adaptation that worked on every level, this film kicked off a franchise that is so massively entertaining, featuring Wesley Snipes in a role we never knew he was born to play. For those who forget, the film is about a half-vampire, half-mortal man who, along with his life-long friend Whistler, battle vampires. Born of a mother bitten by a vampire, he possesses all their strengths and none of their weaknesses and is known as the day walker because sunlight does not affect him. With the addition of a new ally, Dr. Karen Jenson, Blade endeavors to prevent the evil Frost from unleashing the blood god upon the world. Now in a 4K update, this movie looks better than ever and will hopefully bring new fans to the character as Mahershala Ali is now stepping into the role for what looks to be a new slate of films.
The Midnight Sky (Netflix) – George Clooney gets in front of the camera as well as behind it with his first onscreen movie role in four years after Money Monster and, yes, I know he was in the Hulu series Catch 22 and some Nespresso commercials but we aren’t counting those. For this film he heads into the end of the world as Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic dying of cancer, who must take care of a little girl who stowed away at the Nunavut outpost he’s living in and also race to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe that has made the planet untenable. Clooney delivers the powerhouse, especially with his bond with his new dependant, almost reminiscent of the Tom Hanks film opening this week as well. The problem comes with the separation of the two stories, Clooney’s on Earth and Sully and her crew, led by Academy Award winner Felicity Jones. Every time we get some good character development we seem to be whipped back to the other storyline and it feels a bit jarring. Otherwise, it’s a solid emotional drama that is nicely shot,
Soul (Disney+) – I have to be honest here, when Inside Out came out both my wife and I enjoyed the film but it never hit us on that deeply emotional level that it resonated with everyone else on. That said, when I watched this new film from Pete Doctor, the director of that one and Up, it hit me like a ton of bricks and easily fit into my list of the best of the year. Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz and he’s good, able to get in the zone and float away on his own tangents and it ends up earning him his big break and then he falls into a sewer drain right after. Now he must team up with an earth-defiant little soul, voiced by Tina Fey, and travel to another realm to help her find her passion, he soon discovers what it means to have a soul. This is such a beautiful film about purpose and Doctor nails it in every respect. It feels like the Pixar of old was missing for a few years but they came back big time for this one.
ariana grande: excuse me, i love you (Netflix). – It’s a rough time to release a music driven documentary after Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, the recent Dolly Parton film Here I Am and then Taylor did it again with the Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, so I think people were expecting the same sort of introspective look at one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Ariana Grande, but this isn’t that. Instead what the “Thank You, Next” singer delivers is a very intimate look at her concert tour by giving you a front row seat for it. That’s it. No more, no less but you know that the Grandes or whatever her fan base is called is already over the moon and Google searching anyone’s review of it so, in that case, oh boy did I love it. Thumbs up!
City Hall (PBS) – This is an interesting one as it is a huge undertaking for a documentary, clocking in at over four and a half hours long, but it’s a film that is already getting a lot of critical love, which is great for original PBS programming. The film is an in-depth look at Boston’s city government, covering racial justice, housing, climate action, and more from the point of view of both the bureaucrats in the system as well as the citizens it governs. The film is incredibly studious in it’s approach and is massively insightful into the roadblocks on all sides and that has to be due to the wide net that director Frederick Wiseman casts, no stranger to this long form storytelling with three Primetime Emmys already on his awards mantle. I think you can expect a few more when the television awards ceremony rolls around next year.
Bridgerton (Netflix) – Shondaland must be really horny because the famed production company has landed on Netflix with their first original series and it is a randy little bodice ripper that can’t wait to show partial nudity and get swearing immediately. Created by one of Shonda Rhimes main dudes Chris Van Dusen, this series is set in the backdrop of Regency era England as seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family in their follies of wealth, lust, and, of course, betrayal. The young cast is young, attractive and relatively unknown, aside from Jonathan Bailey from Broadchurch, Nicola Coughlan from Derry Girls and Freddie Stroma from the Harry Potter films but it’s veteran inclusions like Rome’s Polly Walker and the legendary actress Julie Andrews that gives this one any weight. You’ll know quickly if this show is for you.