Promising Young Woman – Just when you think your best of the year list is all completed, the last week of releases comes through and throws a couple more at you to think about in including this film that has a Carey Mulligan performance that demands to be seen. The feature debut of Killing Eve creator Emerald Fennell, this film is a gutshot to every toxic dude on this planet and it may be uncomfortable at times, but it is all necessary. Mulligan plays Cassie, a young woman who is traumatized by a tragic event in her past that happened to her childhood best friend and seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path as well as men who prey on drunk women at clubs. This film’s narrative is caustic, searing and totally unrelenting but has an ability to be sardonically funny and then slap you hard with its seriousness. Very quickly into this movie, I knew I was watching the year’s best and it kept getting better.
Pieces Of A Woman – Starting your 2021 out with some real tragedy here, which extends in two very different ways with this new film that got snapped up by Netflix from the festival circuit. Starring the new queen of existential sorrow, Vanessa Kirby, and arguably the best actor of his generation but totally mental case human being Shia LeBeouf, this film starts with a long thirty-minute opening scene that culminates in a soul-crushing home birth death, this film hits the emotional high on the intro but that is just the beginning. The story continues with Kirby’s character beginning a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with her husband and domineering mother as she learns to live alongside her loss. The film is a guttural blow to the emotions until the third act comes and tries to sprint to the finish line with grandiose moments and unsatisfying quick wrap-ups of the storyline. It all feels completely unearned and does nothing but knee cap the whole movie. I was so on board for most of this movie but it lost me.
The Dissident – The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a shocking and blatant act of cold, brutal and calculated violence that in the large scheme of fast digested news has seemed to be almost swept under the rug in every facet. Will Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man largely believed to be the one to give the kill order ever see punishment for this. I guarantee he won’t but filmmaker Bryan Fogel makes sure all of the evidence is presented in this gripping and riveting documentary. This film follows Khasshogi’s fiancée and dissidents from around the world as they piece together the clues to murder and expose a global cover-up when he disappears and in the aftermath of his murder. This film left me slack-jawed in shock many times and for spoiler reasons, I won’t get into that. This is a must-watch, trust me.
Herself – This week’s underlying theme seems to be about women, adversity and the strength of their character as this new film hits Amazon Prime on Friday and embodies all of these qualities. The movie follows the story of a young mother named Sandra who escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She then sets out to build her own home while rebuilding her life and discovering her new sense of self that emerges. The film doesn’t feature any big-name actors but it comes from the capable hands of director Phyllida Lloyd who directed the fan-favourite Mamma Mia and the Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady and it was shot by cinematographer Tom Comerford who previously did the horror film The Hole In The Ground, which was gorgeous. This one has definite potential.
Stars Fell On Alabama – Alright, so let’s look at a quick synopsis of this one, which as a successful Hollywood agent named Bryce who is returning to Alabama for the first time in 15 years for his high school reunion and when he learns he’s the only one of his friends who isn’t married with children, he convinces his client, a country starlet, to pretend to be his girlfriend. Of course, things aren’t what they seem and he is drawn into his scheme more than he thought and starts to fall in love with his fake wife because this is a predictable rom-com that falls way short on comedy. No known stars grace this movie that feels like it was grafted straight from a Lifetime original and blown up to feature size without any touch-ups. I can honestly say that I hated every second of this one.
Knuckledust – Apparently underground fighting is the new hotness in film again, two decades after Fincher brought the cerebral nature of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but just in the last few months alone we got the great Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell flick Jungleland and the dismal Malin Ackerman comedy Chick Fight. This one kind of fits in between in calibre, following Chief Inspector Katherine Keaton and her team who have ninety minutes to interrogate Hard Eight, a man found beaten to a pulp and barely breathing in an elite underground fight den called Club Knuckledust. With a shady Government official en route to take him away, Keaton has ninety minutes to interrogate Hard Eight to find out if is the lone survivor or a multiple murderer responsible for the seven levels of hell they found him in, filled with the dead bodies of countless fighters, assassins and goons. The film is brash and rough, with The VVitch actress Kate Dickie being the big draw but don’t expect a whole lot of originality to it.
Emperor – With The Good Lord Bird so recently in our television rearview mirror, it’s really hard to see anyone do that story better and, to this movie’s detriment, it had an uphill battle to even hit a level of adequacy for me. The story is a massively important one to this time, following an escaped slave who travels north and has chance encounters with American abolitionists Frederick Douglass and John Brown and right away the level of acting feels drastically different from the powerhouses of Ethan Hawke, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. This film feels like a starter film from director and writer Mark Amin, who really does make his directorial debut here, and the amateur mistakes show through very largely. At the end of it, I think a watch through of all of the Showtime original would be better suited to satisfy the urge for this historical story.
Love And Monsters – These days, if a film is attached to the name of Brian Duffield I am pretty much on board immediately with his last works being the Babysitter movies and his directorial debut Spontaneous which was just fantastic. This new film has Five Fingers for Marseilles director Michael Matthews behind the camera for his second feature and star Dylan O’Brien in front of it to hopefully show off how great he was in Teen Wolf and not the failings that were the Maze Runner series and the action flick American Assassin. The story is set seven years after the Monsterpocalypse, following Joel, who, along with the rest of humanity, has been living underground ever since giant creatures took control of the land. After reconnecting over the radio with his high school girlfriend Aimee, who is now 80 miles away at a coastal colony, Joel begins to fall for her again and as he realizes that there’s nothing left for him underground, he decides against all logic to venture out to Aimee, despite all the dangerous monsters that stand in his way. The supporting cast also has Michael Rooker, which is an instant sell in my opinion.
Yellow Rose – This film was a total surprise, one that I had heard no buzz about or one that had any real ad campaign behind it which is kind of a shame because it is an incredible movie. Written and directed by Diane Paragas in her feature narrative debut, this is the story of Rose, an undocumented 17-year-old Filipina, who dreams of one day leaving her small Texas town to pursue her country music dreams. Her world is shattered when her mom suddenly gets picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, facing this new reality, Rose is forced to flee the scene, leaving behind the only life she knows and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for a new home in the honky-tonk world of Austin, Texas. This film is beautifully shot and gives each character on screen such a rounded reality that we feel the weight of the situation at all times, most heavily felt with any of the dealings with the Gestapo nature of ICE. This movie has a soul and will infuriate you with the immigration practices in today’s America. Highly recommended.
12 Hour Shift – If you’re a horror fan like I am then the name Brea Grant is one that you know or you know her face when you see it. An actress that has appeared in genre favourites like Beyond The Gates and Halloween II as well as a small run on Dexter, she now gets behind the camera for her second directed feature and it’s in her genre of comfort this time. Starring horror favourite Angela Bettis from Lucky McKee’s May, David Arquette and WWE Hall Of Famer Mick Foley, this story leans hard on the comedy following a junkie nurse, her scheming cousin and a group of black market organ-trading criminals over the course of one twelve-hour shift at an Arkansas hospital who start a heist that could and definitely will lead to their imminent demises. This movie completely blew me away and I was expecting something fun but, honestly, it surpassed expectations. Unrelentingly brutal, twisted and darkly funny, this is a wild ride from the start.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Doom Patrol: Season 1 – With everything good that has appeared in the CW aired DC Universe shows like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends Of Tomorrow and Black Lightning there is inevitably some clash of writing that brings it down to the level of your normal network television. This is certainly not the case when it comes to this brilliant series, made exclusively for the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service. For a quick catch up, the series follows a group of five seemingly unrelated and dissimilar individuals who find themselves drawn together, assembled by the mysterious The Chief. They all suffered traumatic, near-fatal accidents but now have superhuman abilities and The Chief has something in mind for each of them. The cast is phenomenal, including Brendan Fraser, Matt Bomer and Timothy Dalton and it is the series every comic fan needs to be watching.
History Of Swear Words (Netflix) – Netflix is kicking off their year with another hard-hitting docuseries and one that hits you in the knee and makes you scream “fuck!” Just kidding, this one isn’t hard-hitting at all but it is fun and delves into that expletive and all of the other swear words, their origins and their evolution all narrated and hosted by the man who uses each of these words so beautifully in many films, the legendary Nicolas Cage. Yes, he is a legend, deal with it. With help from some of the best “swear artists” in the game, like Sarah Silverman, Jim Jefferies, Nikki Glaser and Nick Offerman, we get an education in expletives, the history lesson you didn’t know you needed but oh is it fun! A loud and proudly profane series that explores the origins, pop culture-usage, science and cultural impact of curse words, I had such a great time with this entire series.
Dickinson: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – One of my favourite young actresses today and the future Kate Bishop in the upcoming Hawkeye series, Hailee Steinfeld has been on my radar since her breakout performance in True Grit. AppleTV+ knows her star power as well as they cast her in this great new series which delighted viewers when it debuted with the streaming service and quickly renewed it for this second season. Steinfeld takes the lead role in a highly fictionalized and stylized version of the real-life aspiring writer Emily Dickinson who is refreshingly brought to life with modern sense and sensibility. Embarrassed by her own parents and shunned from society, she stops at nothing to rebel against her strict background and makes her voice heard through the magic of poetry and, honestly, the series really works well. It’s an ambitious project but former head writer for The Affair, Alena Smith can channel all of it into a culturally relevant story without dampening the time period or real-life character. I was surprised by it.
Marvel Studios: Legends (Disney+) – This month is about to be a great kickoff to Disney+’s year as they are gearing up to release their first Marvel Cinematic Universe tie in series with Wandavision next Friday but to get the jump on that, they are rolling out this new documentary series that pays homage to the greats within the comic world. This series showcases individual characters from the MCU viewers have come to know and love over the years and revisit some of their most iconic moments, with the first two episodes of it directly tying into Wandavision with extended looks at Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, and her love, The Vision. As a comic book nerd myself, I am so damn excited for Wandavision and will definitely be watching every episode of this one as well.
Lupin (Netflix) – We’re going to France for this new series that takes Transporter helmer Louis Letterier and places him in the showrunner position of the story of a master thief, embodied by the phenomenal Omar Cy in the title role. The show is inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief that appears in literary form and is the assumed identity that Senegal immigrant Assane Diop takes to set out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by a wealthy family. The show is all about the long con and pulls each one off beautifully in a series that will delight international viewers and draw in those fans that latch onto mystery serials. It really just took me one episode to get on board with this and now I sit here having finished my binge and waiting for the arrival of the second part.
Pretend It’s A City (Netflix) – New York City is a legendary place that really grows beyond being a mere city into being a state of mind, a feeling or a way of life that extends beyond its own microcosm. So who would you pick to give it a thorough and wittily hilarious exposition? Well, Netflix has decided that legendary director Martin Scorsese is the perfect person to spearhead this project, which, given films like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The King Of Comedy and more, make him the perfect candidate but his interview subject, writer, humorist and raconteur Fran Leibowitz, makes it that much better. Many may be turned off by the style in which this show is done, a straight talk in a darkened New York City restaurant and other landmarks including the replica of the famed metropolis in a warehouse, but I was totally captivated. I feel like this show will definitely find it’s embedded with audiences looking for something a little different.