One Night In Miami – On an incredibly hot streak already after an Academy Award win for If Beale Street Could Talk and her incredible performance in the HBO limited series Watchman, I’ll watch anything that Regina King does and it just happens that her directorial debut here arrives this week. The film features real life people but is a fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. In these pivotal roles are a handful of up and coming actors with Canadian actor Eli Goree playing Ali, Peaky Blinders star Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke and Straight Outta Compton’s Aldos Hodge and knowing that King has Tami Reiker shooting it, the visionary behind HBO’s Carnivale, oh boy, I’m geeking on a whole other level.
Outside The Wire – Getting some of that alternate future sci-fi this week, helmed by the very capable Mikael Hafstrom, the filmmaker behind the Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen thriller Derailed and the Stephen King horror 1408 and led by Anthony Mackie, kicking off the year of when his new Marvel series arrives. The film is set in the near future and follows a drone pilot who is sent into the war zone of a conflicted Europe that has been taken over by radicals and occupied by the United States on a peacekeeping mission. Looking for redemption after a mission his miscalculated a strike on, he finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack that threatens the whole world. The action really delivers in a film that is so much better if you can ignore all of the logic going into Mackie’s cyborg character as it may get bogged down with the simplicity of it. Otherwise, this film is a shallow fast paced action that comes and goes without any real resonance.
Climate Of The Hunter – Yes, much to Shane’s chagrin, I’m bringing more horror this week as I seem to always do and this one is decidedly quirky and weird which really lends to its appeal. Coming from critically acclaimed indie director Mickey Reece, this is an oddball story about two sisters who are competing for the affections of a man who may or may not be a vampire and while none of these actors are on the mainstream radar, they all deliver performances perfect for the genre in a result that sticks to you bones in multiple capacities. I am totally new to Reece’s work and he really sold me with this one, although it is his first in the horror vein.
Love Sarah – Okay, I will admit that I have a weakness for British, Irish and Scottish romantic comedies but I have been burnt before by them and very recently too with that Shanley abomination Wild Mountain Thyme. The thing that this movie has immediately going for it beyond that is that it involves cooking and, most notably baking and I’m all about a Great British Bake Off. The feature film debut of writer and director Eliza Schroeder, the story follows a young woman who wishes to fulfill her mother’s dream of opening her own bakery in Notting Hill, London but to do this she needs some serious help and she enlists an old friend and her grandma for the job. Quirky and light, this is a great movie to watch with the parents or grandma herself if she’s within your bubble but it does nothing to leave a lasting impression and honestly has the weight of an eclair. It’s enjoyable chewing it but it really does nothing good for you.
Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets – This is a weird little film that I was sent an email about from a small studio called Create Films. The film is led by a young cast with 20th Century Women’s breakout star Lucas Jade Zumann, We Can Be Heroes featured actress Yaya Gosselin and Waves’ Taylor Russell, who also features in another favorite this week, Words On Bathroom Walls, but they have a great supporting cast including the always great Jason Isaacs, David Arquette and Tom Wilkinson. The film follows sixteen year old James Whitman, a teen who lives in an emotionally charged, wild and humorous world of his own design. In his struggle to overcome anxiety and depression, he begins seeking advice from Dr. Bird, an imaginary pigeon therapist, who helps him cope in the wake of his sister’s disappearance. Yes, this is a weird one but it’s shot beautifully and constantly intrigues with its ability to keep you on your toes with its unpredictable plot and stellar script. Just the second film from writer and director Yaniv Raz, which was released ten years ago, I hope it doesn’t take another decade for his next feature.
Bright Hill Road – What’s that? More horror? I thought you’d never ask and this one is Canadian to boot! This one is the new film from indie genre filmmaker Robert Cuffley and he’s trading in wrestling, which featured in his last film Chokeslam, for some decidedly cerebral horror. The film follows an alcoholic named Marcy who is on leave from her job after a workplace shooting and decides to head out to see her sister in California. Halfway there, she stops for a couple of days at the Bright Hill Road Boarding House and with alcohol withdrawal making the walls close in on her, the deeply troubled Marcy starts to lose touch with reality and comes face to face with the misdeeds of her sordid past. I have to say that Deadly Class actress Siobhan Williams knocks this film out of the park with a performance that is so nuanced and damaged that it emits her troubled past from the get go. She left me transfixed by the end. This would be a great pairing with the horror film Beach House from a few months ago which is available on Shudder now.
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’ 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 that tackles the subject matter of schizophrenia so well and Charlie Plummer delivers yet another noteworthy performance. I definitely recommended this one.
Jungleland – Top lined by stars Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell, I was immediately drawn to this film right away simply by their talent and the fact that this is the third feature film from director Max Winkler, a really compelling young filmmaker. This film follows two brothers who try to escape their circumstances of poverty by travelling across the country for a no holds barred boxing match that may net them a hundred grand. Hunnam plays the scheming and boastful older brother of O’Connell’s character nicknamed Lion, a bare-knuckle brawler with some emotional and development issues and both actors are absolutely astounding in their performances. Also notable is Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors who plays a supporting role as the drug lord that sends them on their journey. This is an actor who will take the movie screens by storm, mark my words.
Lupin III: The First – It feels really weird to be covering another adaptation of this classic French thief story but the Japanese animation division looks like they wanted a crack at it so I’m kind of talking about the same thing two weeks in a row but it’s a different feather off the same bird. For this go around the third in the thief’s lineage, aptly named Lupin III, goes on a grand adventure to uncover the secrets of the Bresson Diary, which is tied to the legacy of his famous grandfather. Although it doesn’t feature any hugely known actors or even voice over artists for the English dubbing of it, the animation is absolutely gorgeous and completely flawless making it a really fun treat to watch with the whole family.
Skylines – I had to do some serious research for this one because it is the third in a series of films that kicked off in 2010 with Skyline then took a long break until 2017 with Beyond Skyline. The first film followed an alien invasion that had an extraterrestrial force swallowing up the entire human population off the face of the Earth by sucking them up into their ships and using their brains to power their soldiers and the second film was that story from a different angle of survivors and got into some killer action with Frank Grillo and The Raid star Iko Uwais. That second movie is totally awesome by the way and I was expecting more of the same from this one but was let down. It fast forwards over a decade after the events of the last movie and follows Captain Rose Corley, a toddler in the last installment, who must lead a team of elite mercenaries on a mission to the alien world in order to save what’s left of humanity. You can almost literally feel the wind come out of the sails of this one as it progresses. If the long arc of this story is being fully realized here then it is getting decidedly lacklustre.
Spell – With the heavyweight of the horror classic The Serpent And The Rainbow behind it in a big bad way, I’m always excited to check out voodoo and hoodoo centric genre films and this one definitely piqued my interest as it not only has all of the boxes checked on these tropes but it also has character actress Loretta Deine doing some villain work. The story follows a man who crash lands in rural Appalachia with his family on the way to his father’s funeral and awakens in the attic of a traditional Hoodoo practitioner named Ms. Eloise who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. He desperately tries to break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon in a film that has its really creepy moments but feels a bit less than effective. The thing that bothered me most about this lower grade but bloody thriller-horror was the score which felt like a placeholder rather than anything composed with what was going on in the movie.
Monsoon – One of the breakthrough stars in the last few years after Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding takes the lead in this new film dealing with culture, race and self discovery and it’s really sad that no one seems to be talking about it. He plays Kit, a British Vietnamese man, who returns to Saigon for the first time in over thirty years, after fleeing during the Vietnam-American War when he was 6 years old. There he meets Lee, an estranged second cousin, Linh, a Vietnamese student, and Lewis, an American clothing designer and even arranges an online date, something very new for him and it turns into something more. Struggling to rediscover the country he never knew, he is able to discover friendship, love and happiness on his journey in a film that feels uplifting and another stellar piece of writer and director Hong Khaou’s resume.
The Empty Man – Based on the graphic novel from writer Cullen Bunn, this is an adaptation I was looking forward to without even knowing it as I love the book but didn’t know it had been greenlit to be made. Starring James Badge Dale from The Departed and Stephen Root from Newsradio, this is the story of an ex-cop on the trail of a missing girl who comes across a secretive group attempting to summon a terrifying supernatural entity. The book is incredibly stylish and absolutely chilling so I was very excited to see if the debuting director and screenwriter David Prior has done justice to the source material but it all felt like something we may have enjoyed in the time of The Ring or The Grudge but with all of that time passed, it feels like none of this is really that scary anymore. This shows some of the staunch unevolved nature of studio horror films and it really bums me out as a fan of the genre.
Minding The Gap – Twenty years after the affecting documentary of future skateboarding legends in Dogtown And Z-Boys we get this new but very different story of three American youths, tied to each other through their love of riding that board and it makes its debut on home release through a deserved Criterion Collection edition. The film is resonant as the story of these three boys who escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown, as it brings a plight that can be recognized in so many people’s tales. As this documentary progresses, they face adult responsibilities and unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship as each of them seek their own escape from their harsh realities. I was captivated by this movie and saw quickly why it had been chosen to go into the collection. An amazing movie that was only just on the festival rotation in 2018.
Spongebob Squarepants: Season 12 – I’ve definitely said this before on the show but I don’t need my kids to be around to watch my favorite underwater seas sponge because I will watch this insane show at any time because I believe the show is funny no matter if you’re a kid or an adult and it is especially funny if you are a stoner like I am. This is another season beyond the passing of creator Steven Hillenberg in 2018, but the love and reverence for these characters is still felt as it is in the hands of writers who still truly know this zany bunch as well as the man who thought them up. This season also brought back David Hasselhoff as himself again in real life, just like the first feature movie, as well as guest stars like Maria Bamford, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Gilbert Gottfried and Nickelodeon original star Kel Mitchell. This is definitely a box set I can get lost in.
The Twilight Zone: Season 2 – It seems like everything that Jordan Peele has touched in genre storytelling has turned to gold so why not take the iconic Rod Serling serial series that creeped out the generations before and give it a bold kick in the ass on CBS’s All Access streaming services and now for you to watch at home on DVD. I’m unsure if original series classics like “Terror At 30,000 Feet” like the first season but I know that it will include filmmakers like The Endless directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, Gretel & Hansel’s Osgood Perkins and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour so you know the atmosphere will be incredible and the star line up includes Joel McHale, Topher Grace, Christopher Meloni and Damon Wayans Jr. If you’re hoping for a solid sophomore season from this one, you definitely have it here.
Manifest: Season 2 – If you are looking for your new Lost like series, this NBC sci-fi mystery might be up your alley and, while it doesn’t feature any huge stars unless you were a fan of Josh Dallas on Once Upon A Time, it comes from creator Jeff Rake who created some vastly underrated comedy with the Wall Street series The $treets and the Alicia Silverstone and now does a sizeable genre shift. The series follows the passengers onboard Flight 828 who, after being presumed dead, return and discover the world has aged five years. As they reintegrate into society, they begin to experience guiding voices and visions, and soon a deeper mystery unfolds. The show reminds me of the Syfy original series The 4400 quite a bit, a show that was cut down far too early and left too much of a tantalizing mystery. Now seeing that this one was preserved for a third season, maybe we’ll get to see this one until it’s conclusion. Fingers crossed.
Legacies: Season 2 – The CW added to their ranks of teen targeted hit shows that aren’t related to DC Comics with this thriller mystery that had a built in fan base already as it is the second spinoff from The Vampire Diaries after The Originals with the Matthew Davis played vampire hunter Alaric Saltzman taking the central role with his family at the head of a this new continuing story. this series is the tale of the next generation of supernatural beings at The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted with former vampire baddie Klaus Mikaelson’s daughter, the 17-year-old Hope Mikaelson, Saltzman’s twins Lizzie and Josie and a plethora of other attractive teens coming of age in the most unconventional way possible, nurtured to be their best selves in spite of their worst impulses which include the unbridled maiming and murder of everyday people without powers. It’s slickly shot, maybe a little bit cliched on the script but still very entertaining for those that love the original series.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Mustang – One of the greatest international films from the last decade, this is a movie that is begging to be seen and heard. Guaranteed to drain every tear out of your body, as it did a friend of mine who I brought to the original screening, this is the story of five orphaned Turkish girls who are sold off in marriage by their guardians. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking film of sisterhood and the destruction of innocence, a movie that will leave its mark on you like a belt lashing. This movie was nominated for an Oscar but ultimately lost to Son Of Saul in a year of incredibly tough competition. The release was bobbled badly here in Canada so this is a great opportunity to check it out.
Awakenings – A loss I felt heavily when it happened, as a film fan, is that of actress, writer and director Penny Marshall and aside from Big and A League Of Their Own, is this institution set drama that features incredible performances from Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. Celebrating it’s thirtieth anniversary this week, the story follows a new doctor who finds himself with a ward full of catatonic patients and, disturbed by the fact that they have been catatonic for decades with no hope of any cure, he develops a possible chemical cure with the hope he gets permission to try it on one of them. When the first patient awakes with his new prescription, the star patient, played by De Niro, is now well into his 50s having gone into a catatonic state at 20 years of age and finds delights in the new awareness of the patients and then on the reactions of their relatives to the changes in the newly awakened. The film was a critically lauded hit and earned three Academy Awards that year but ultimately lost out to a dominant Dance With Wolves.
Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer (Netflix) – Hell yes! A brand new crime docu series to binge through and it’s about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time and, trust me, by all the witness accounts of people that came across him and lived to tell about it, he may be one of the scariest people of the last century. Yes, he’s a far cry from the dashing good looks of Ted Bundy. Be consoled by the fact that this series leads up to and includes his apprehension and conviction but the details lining his gruesome spree across California is gruesome and monstrous and probably will haunt your nightmare but just know that he can’t hurt you anymore. He was real but he’s gone. I’m actually talking to myself here and not you, bear with me.
Disenchantment: Part 3 (Netflix) – Matt Groening’s third original series and his first with Netflix enters into its the third piece of its story, following Princess Tiabeanie or ‘Bean’, voiced by Broad City’s Abby Jacobsen, a royal in a world of fantasy that wants desperately to shed the shackles of what a princess is supposed to be, yearning for action and adventure. After meeting Luci, a demon, and Elfo, an elf, she gets more than she wished for in a series that is honestly a bit hard to get into through the first four episodes. Towards the end of the first season the show kind of finds its footing so I really hope that this new season builds on that from the get-go because, honestly, it feels slow and we are talking about an animated series here. That said, the supporting voices of Eric Andre and Matt Berry are what keep me coming back to this one for more.
WandaVision (Disney+) – We are finally at the point where Disney+ means more than having The Mandolorian, every episode of The Simpsons and Hamilton as the first all new Marvel Universe live action series hits the streaming service and, from all of the reviews I’ve already seen, it’s going to be amazing. For those who are new to this one, this eight episode series blends the style of classic sitcoms with the MCU characters in which Wanda Maximoff and the Vision, two super-powered beings living their ideal suburban lives, begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems as well as their nosy neighbor, played to perfecting by the always scene stealing Katheryn Hahn. After having weeks of nothing after the finale to the second season of Mando, I’m all excited about this show. It will most likely be amazing and they’re already comparing it to a “David Lynch-like production. Don’t threaten me with a good time!
Tiger (Crave) – No matter what scandals came into his life, and from my count that’s only really one, I think it’s safe to say that Tiger Woods will go down as the greatest golfer of all time and a name that is synonymous with the sport. I mean, let’s face it. If you bring up golf, his name is surely to follow. For all of those who want to get deeper in their knowledge or viewers who love biographical documentaries, this new HBO docu series will give you everything you need and its put together by the best of the genre with the greatest himself, Alex Gibney, overseeing in a producer capacity and the guys behind Cartel Land directing it. With this being HBO’s big release this week, I can see it becoming a huge hit, another victory for Woods to notch on his resume.
Servant: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – So, after the rollout of this new streaming that had seemed a little lackluster at launch time, we’re now heading into a time of the AppleTV+ where we aren’t up with the big boys yet but there is a lot of great watches in both original series and films This show is one of them, another freaky tale from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan who, with me, has been on a little bit of a roll even if Glass wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. Definitely containing some sort of massive twist in there, this series follows a young and troubled couple who replace their newborn baby with a lifelike doll after their child dies from sudden infant death syndrome. This show is creepy as hell and it has a personal favorite actress in the lead, Lauren Ambrose who played Claire Fisher in the HBO series Six Feet Under. I’m not to the full way point of giving this streaming platform all of my love but it’s getting there.