Our Friend – Coming from the director of the wildly popular documentary Blackfish, I put a lot of stock in this new drama from filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite, her second narrative feature after the critically acclaimed Megan Leavey, and she has a great trio to lead this one with Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segal. The story follows a couple who find unexpected support from their best friend, who puts his own life on hold after they receive life-altering news and moves into their family home to help raise their two girls. Segal’s performance may go down as one of his best but the film refuses to let you resonate in its emotional beats and always tries to up the ante in an obvious manipulative way that pulls you out of the drama far more than the scattered timeline of the storytelling which may frustrate other viewers. Everyone is so good in this and the cinematography is exquisite but it feels like it fails in the end.
Psycho Goreman – I had a small inkling that I would love this movie just based on the description and the fact that it’s the brand new film from The Void writer and director Steven Kostanski really just added to the hype for me. So, are you ready for the low down? Well, friends, this film follows siblings Mimi and Luke who unwittingly resurrect an ancient alien overlord bent on the destruction of all worlds and the flaying of all life within them. Fortunately for them, they are also in possession of a magical amulet connected to his powers and they force the monster to obey their childish whims, accidentally attracting a rogues’ gallery of intergalactic assassins to small-town suburbia. This movie is absolutely insane, full of dark humour, gore and incredible creature effects from the great Masters’ FX who put on a clinic of wonder throughout. I didn’t know that I’d be looking at one of my favourite films of 2021 but here we are.
Cactus Jack – With Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration being this week and white nationalism being so prevalent and blatantly in front of us right now, it feels like this film may be very on the nose right now, which could be a bad thing or a good thing. The film follows an amateur documentarian who sets out to make a film about a man who hasn’t left his mother’s basement in six months when he discovers the recluse is in fact a vile doomsday hatemonger. The tables are turned when the maniac snaps, imprisons him and takes control of the cameras to start a vitriolic, venomous podcast, making enemies far and wide and promising violent retribution. This all feels dangerously familiar right now and the chilling nature of the film is gripping and totally unrelenting. It doesn’t feature any actors you know or a director of note but it definitely will make some waves so get on it now.
Make Up – This sleeper indie film has been slated three different times for release in the fourth quarter of last year and now arrives in it’s VOD release which is pretty disappointing that it doesn’t have more fanfare because it is really good and a strong female led story. Starring Molly Windsor from the BBC miniseries Three Girls, Game Of Thrones actor Joseph Quinn and newcomer Stefanie Martini, the film follows a young woman on holiday at a remote park in Cornwal who is drawn into a mysterious obsession that spirals out of control when she suspects her boyfriend has cheated on her. This movie wears it’s paranoia on it’s sleeve and draws you into it with it’s relentless eeriness and its all in the perfect storm of Windsor’s performance and the brilliant story command from writer and director Claire Oaley who makes her astounding debut here into feature film. This is a movie to take note of and be ahead of the mainstream curve.
Ammonite – Well, all you need to do is say the name Kate Winslett and it’ll get my butt in a seat but you add Saorise Ronan to the mix and I was just ravenous to get this film into my eyeballs. Francis Lee, the acclaimed writer and director of a total festival favourite God’s Own Country from a few years back, returns with this period drama about an acclaimed but overlooked fossil hunter named Mary Anning and a young woman named Charlotte Murchison who was sent to recover from her “slight bit of melancholia” by the sea who develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever in a time that definitely wasn’t ready for their love. This immediately brings to mind last year’s stellar French film A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, one of my favourite films of last year and , while it doesn’t quite hit that level of amazing, it is a beautifully shot film, done by Jackie and Captain Fantastic cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, and Winslet and Ronan are incredible in their very subdued performances.
The Climb – There’s no better way to enter this movie than to have no idea at all about the premise but it just might be the funniest movie of the year in my mind. Written by, directed by and starring Michael Angelo Covino, the simplest way I can safely describe this movie is that it is a look at the friendship between two guys that spans over many years. Over that time span the ups and downs between an emotional screwed up and self-destructive douchebag and the most continually accepting human beings on film. This movie caught me completely off guard and sucked me in from the get-go and it’s technical prowess immediately becomes another one of its strengths as the use of one take elaborate doll shots to make it a goldmine for cinematography fans. A film that has no huge stars or clout, this one will most likely slip under the radar but do not let it, you will thank me later.
Come Away – Peter Pan seems to be the story that Hollywood loves to pull from where it be the iconic tale you know, a prequel, reimagining or even a story about author J.M. Barrie himself. This version follows eight-year-old Alice, her mischievous brother Peter and their smart older sibling David who let their imaginations run wild during a summer in the English countryside. Encouraged by their parents the kids’ make-believe tea parties, sword fights and pirate ship adventures come to an abrupt end when tragedy strikes, forcing the kids deeper into their imaginary worlds. The cast is solid with the parents played by David Oyelowo and Angelina Jolie in a rare acting performance but it feels like a bit of a half baked idea that can get a bit convoluted.
Miss Juneteenth – A highly touted film in black cinema right now, I was really excited to get my hands on this movie with lead actress Nicole Beharie making some serious waves in the indie film world and already a fan favourite in the television world with the series Sleepy Hollow. This film takes a deep dive into generational expectation as it follows a former beauty queen and single mom who obsessively prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant, an accomplishment that would validate her own life. The plight and story are very interesting but I feel like the dialogue and terrible music choices hamper this film at every turn and even make the editing feel confusing and stilting the whole approach. Maybe I over-thought this one but it just didn’t meet the expectations I had for it.
The Kid Detective – Usually a comedy favourite of mine, actor Adam Brody seriously brings it in a dramatic performance that hangs it’s hat on the detective noir style storytelling and does it so well in the feature debut of writer and director Evan Morgan, known for co-writing the sleeper comedy The Dirties. Brody plays Abe Applebaum, a once-celebrated kid detective, now 32 years old and continuing to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. His world may turn around when a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend which may end up tying in with a kidnapping case that has dogged him since he was a kid. The movie is so impeccably shot and the noir nature of the film is brilliantly executed with Brody giving the performance of a lifetime. The final shot of this film is a brilliant mix of triumph and sorrow that will stick with me for weeks.
Max Cloud – Eighties homages are my total bread and butter, as I adore Stranger Things and Turbo Kid has its own bean bag chair to rest on comfortably in my heart, so this is why I was really gung-ho about this new sci-fi homage that combines the synthy style that many from that generation would love to forget and props it up on classic video gaming too. Also known as The Intergalactic Adventures Of Max Cloud, this follows a video game enthusiast named Sarah who is transported into her favourite game and finds herself in an intergalactic prison, home to the most dangerous villains in the galaxy. The only way to escape the game is to complete it by teaming up with space hero and intergalactic misogynist Max Cloud with Sarah battling the terrifying planet while her best friend, Cowboy, controls the game from her bedroom in Brooklyn. I wanted to love this movie so much and it is admirably made on a micro-budget but it has so much dumb stuff that constantly drags it down and makes it too goofy to even get behind. Maybe I hyped it up too much.
Spiral – Alright all of you sensitive types out there, time to head back to the mystery horror bucket for this new release so maybe shield your eyes for it. The film follows a same-sex couple who move to a small town to enjoy a better quality of life and raise their daughter with strong social values but when the neighbors throw a very strange party, nothing is as it seems in their picturesque neighborhood as the reality of their new surroundings start to come to light. The film doesn’t come from a known filmmaker or feature any well known stars, unless you enjoy spotting Canadian actors like Lochlyn Munro, but the story is pretty gripping and reminded me a bit of the thriller The Invitation, which can be found on Netflix. Spiral manages to keep a good edge of tension running the whole time which make the reveals of the mystery that much more hard hitting. You won’t find a huge buzz about this film anywhere but I definitely was pleasantly surprised.
Wander – I didn’t notice this until someone pointed it out on my Instagram but with the main billed actors being Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones it actually makes this the first film to feature two Two-Faces. Pivoting off my Batman geeking, this is a pretty compelling mystery filled with paranoia as it has Eckhart playing a mentally unstable private investigator who gets hired to probe a suspicious death in the small town of Wander and becomes convinced the case is linked to the same ‘conspiracy cover up’ that caused the death of his daughter. Eckhart is relishing this role and delivers it with such great power but the sound mix was so bad that it felt like dialogue was being consistently drowned out and muffled, a totally frustrating experience. The mystery is there and the film is shot with a horror film like franticness but it kind of shot itself in the foot.
Dreamland – Margot Robbie is really on track to win herself an Oscar pretty soon. Yes, she still affords herself time to get silly and step back into the role of Harley Quinn continually, something she was destined to do, but her dramatic work is so good and, with this film, it’s the thing that holds it together. This film is a love story set amidst America’s struggle during the Great Depression following Eugene, a teen who dreams of escaping his small Texas town when he discovers a wounded, fugitive bank robber, played by Margot Robbie. Torn between claiming the bounty for her capture and his growing attraction to the seductive criminal, Eugene must make a decision that will forever affect the lives of everyone he’s ever loved and also forge his own path away from dust storms, a domineering stepfather and general hopelessness. Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders plays the male lead opposite Robbie and does a fine job in a film that only seems to aim for the middle ground, beautifully shot but dragged down by one of the worst scores I’ve heard in a while.
Hearts And Bones – Hugo Weaving is one of those actors who people know well, sometimes solely for his performance as Agent Smith from The Matrix and Elrond from Lord Of The Rings, but cinephiles know the great body of work this Australian character actor commands. This film was made in his native Australia and plays a war photographer preparing an exhibition of his work from the world’s war zones who is approached by a man asking him to exclude the photos of a massacre in his village. Weaving delivers as expected in this film but it’s South Sudanese actor Andrew Luri who is the standout, giving Sebastian such a rich performance full of nuance that is the heart beat against this impactful story. Great direction from British director Ben Lawrence in his narrative debut.
Always And Forever – We get a double dose of black cinema this week, although this one plays more into the genre side of filmmaking and it is a definite shift for director Chris Stokes who previously did, well, mostly dance movies like You Got Served. The film follows a group of friends reunited by a tragedy who each find themselves in danger, targeted by a deranged stalker. With a terrible secret that they hold together threatened to be exposed, each of these players have more at stake than just death at the hands of blah, blah, I got seriously bored reading that and seeing the movie because it all feels done before. The acting is mediocre, aside from The Wire alumni Wood Harris showing up to make everyone look bad and I wish there had been more follow through and less predictability. Don’t be afraid of bloody kills in movie like this too, spice it up, people!
Toys Of Terror – You know, I should have known this movie was going to be a total crapfest as soon as I opened the package that was sent to me and saw this goofy looking cover that was reminiscent of the Tales Of Terror cover from the seventies with the creepy tribal doll on the poster but I noticed that Dana Gould wrote it and he is a brilliant stand up comedian who also created the great horror comedy series Stan Versus Evil with John C. McGinley. For this film he gets Christmassy with his scares, the film follows young Zoe, her brother Franklin and their family who move into a secluded mansion with a dark past. With the adults preoccupied with renovating the place, the bored kids find a toy chest hidden in the attic, and are delighted when the toys inside magically come to life but bizarre events soon begin to take place and events happen that increasingly threaten the family’s lives, exposing the toys as the evil creatures they are. I gave a way bigger synopsis than this movie deserves as it was compete garbage and a waste of time that has special effects that would have been embarrassing even if they were used in Jason And The Argonauts in the early eighties. I was disappointed that this isn’t even a fun kind of campy.
Martin Eden – It was kind of a solid year for Italian actor Luca Marinelli as he got some mainstream exposure playing on of the main heroes in the Charlize Theron action flick The Old Guard on Netfllx and this politically charged drama based on the work of legendary author Jack London and is getting rave reviews for it. The film has him in the titular role, a man who struggles to rise above his destitute, proletarian circumstances through an intense and passionate pursuit of self-education as he hopes to achieve a place among the literary elite. This is the film that heavily being touted as the next winner of the Best Foreign Academy Award, a complex film that delivers on great performances and a definitive piece of international cinema to start off the year.
Joint Security Area – I was just asking for some of South Korean director Park Chan Wook’s fims to be made into a blu-ray special edition or a Criterion Collection entry and Arrow has seemed to have heard my call through the ether as they have picked this film out of his filmography and it is definitely one of the more straight forward ones he did. The film is set in the DMZ separating North and South Korea just after two North Korean soldiers have been killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. The mounting evidence compiled by the investigating Swiss and Swedish team from the neutral countries overseeing the DMZ suspects that another, unknown party was involved, pointing to some sort of cover up meant to ignite a possible war. The film is slick and stylish and shows off that Park’s style can fit many different genre shifts. It also looks gorgeous in the hi-definition.
Scooby-Doo! And Guess Who?: Season 1 – Scooby-Doo gets some reinvention in this brand new series but with some of the tested and true pieces sticking around with Matthew Lillard continuing to be the best Shaggy ever since Casey Kasem retired, and Grey Griffin and Frank Welker keeping up their duties as Fred and Daphne and a perfectly cast Kate Miccucci voicing Velma. The show has a different guest star every week which ranges from Batman himself, voiced by the best Batman Kevin Conroy, Sia, Weird Al Yankovic and even the late Alex Trebek. This is a great new revival of classic characters and the love for the source material shows.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Three Films by Luis Buñuel – Let’s get artsy this week in this section, shall we? I have to admit, the works of Luis Buñuel have been a cinema blindspot to me but now that Criterion has released this beautiful new collection I feel totally enlightened. Featuring three of his most iconic works, this is a treasure trove of great content starting with The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie, a surreal, virtually plotless series of dreams centred around six middle-class people and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together. Then you move on to The Phantom Of Liberty, another series of surreal sequences that critique morality and society in a stream of consciousness style moving into the finale, That Obscure Object of Desire which follows the romantic perils of Mathieu recounted in flashback, a middle-aged French sophisticate who falls for his nineteen-year-old former chambermaid Conchita. This set won’t be for everyone but the film nerd in me was captivated and then kicked myself for not getting into this sooner.
He Came From The Swamp: The William Grefe Collection – It’s all about film collections this week for active geeking as this new set hit my doorstep and contains a campy madman with a love for killer sharks, human jellyfish and living mummies, the one and only William Grefe. This collection features seven films with Sting of Death about a deformed man working for a marine biologist who takes revenge on the people that mock him by experimenting with a deadly jellyfish, Death Curse of Tartu about a group of student archaeologists who venture into the Florida Everglades to look for fossils but come across an area cursed by a Native American witch doctor, The Hooked Generation about a gang of dope peddlers who sail out to meet a Cuban boat and are forced to throw their narcotics overboard and are seen by a young couple, The Psychedelic Priest, filmed in 1971 but not released until 2001, about a priest who sheds his habit and heads on a road trip that will change his life, The Naked Zoo about a frustrated and seductive matron who lives in Miami with her wheelchair-bound, wealthy husband who is discovered to be having an affair with a young author and murder ensues, Mako: Jaws of Death about a man who meets a Filipino shaman who gives him a medallion that helps him develop a telepathic rapport with Mako sharks and finally Whiskey Mountain about four motorcyclists who arrived at the titular place for a treasure hunt but are then terrorized in the woods by a gang of murderous hillbilly drug dealers. It’s all great campy fun that is great for insane genre fans like myself.
The 100: The Final Season – Shot in the beautiful forests of British Columbia for seven fantastic seasons, this post-apocalyptic and completely unpredictable adventure action series draws to a close and I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed its run ever since that explosive first season. There is already a prequel series planned to go ahead next year but this has definitely been a rise in notoriety for showrunner and creator Jason Rothenberg who is undoubtedly on The CW’s fast track to make any series he wants along with the Arrowverse’s Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim. I feel like The CW doesn’t get a lot of the praise it should as more of the successful shows are seen on this network and the burnt-out procedurals that seem like a carbon copy of all those that have come before it air on networks like CBS and ABC. Is the CW the only one taking chances besides cable and streaming services?
Young Man With A Horn – With Kirk Douglas only passing away just over a year ago and at the age of over a century, I always feel like I’m getting a piece of Hollywood classic gold everytime I get one of his movies and this one is one of those memorable gems in a long career and features a great group of performances around him. In the film he plays a young trumpet player who is torn between an honest singer and a manipulative heiress as he rises to stardom. The film, made in 1950, also plays at musicians delving into controversial subject matter in their work and was definitely forward thinking for it’s time.It also should be noted that this film was directed by Oscar winner Michael Curtiz who did Casablanca and would go on to do White Christmas a few years after this one.
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.
Fate: The Winx Saga (Netflix) – This is such a weird one because this new series is based on a Nickoldeon show Winx Club that is geared for kids but this series is meant for a mature audience. I don’t know who the series is made for if no adult really is in the original demographic of this so I guess you could call it a Netflix risk. The story follows Bloom, a fairy who is adjusting to life attending Alfea, a magical boarding school in the Otherworld, where she must learn to control her dangerous magical powers and defend from the monsters that threaten their very existence. The show comes from one of the showrunners behind The Vampire Diaries so expect that CW like storytelling form this one but with a bit more room for the story to breathe due to the freedom that being on Netflix allows.
Batwoman: Season 2 (The CW) – I’d been waiting a long time for a live-action onscreen version of Kate Kane aka Batwoman to be made and finally we got it and I thought the casting of Ruby Rose is kind of incredible as she already invoked many of the character traits right out the door. Now, a year later, and Rose has departed the role and has left the producers scrambling for their unpredicted new direction. For those not in the know, Kane was inspired by Batman to use her own resources to fight crime in Gotham as well under the moniker of Batwoman, but is a woman of Jewish descent and is also a lesbian, something that was a hard pill to swallow for the mainstream. Now the new actress that has stepped in is Javicia Leslie, star of the cancelled series God Friended Me, as Ryan Wilder who steps into the cowl in Kate’s absence. With other Arrowverse shows being shown the door, it really isn’t known what the longevity of this show is but I’m enjoying it so far.
Losing Alice (AppleTV+) – Of the dog crap that was the evolving piece of the Justice League that we saw on the big screen known as Zack Snyder’sMan Of Steel, one of the glowing strands of gold within it was the Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer who showed up again in Marvel’s Netflix series Daredevil playing the formidable villain Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk’s wife Vanessa. Now AppleTV+ has nabbed her for this new episodic thriller and it just sounds awesome. In it she plays Alice, an ambitious film director in her late forties who becomes dangerously obsessed with Sophie, a mid twenties femme fatale style screenwriter and things start to spiral out of control in a total Faustian sort of way, as this is where the original story comes from. Series creator Sigal Avin creates a complex and very cinematic approach to this steamy thriller and it’s pretty impressive given that this is basically their proving ground.