Falling – Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut with this drama that he wrote and starred in as well, and I know awards season is going to be weird this year, but if both he and his other star Lance Henriksen aren’t even mentioned during it, well, that’s going to be a serious indictment on the industry. Henriksen plays Willis, a gruff and brutal father rapidly descending into dementia who moves from his rural farm to live with his gay son and his family in Los Angeles very much against his own wishes. From the get-go, nothing but hazy bile, vitriol and resentment come out of Willis’ mouth and it all takes out characters downhill as they just try to do what’s right for him as they put their lives on hold to figure out his situation, The film explores the deep commitment to family, for better and in this case for worse in an experience that largely feels stressful and uncomfortable but is some of the best character work I’ve seen this year. Bravo to Viggo in his first film and it was a nice touch to see a David Cronenberg cameo in this.
Malcolm & Marie – After seeing his film Assassination Nation and the incredible debut season of Euphoria on HBO I was really excited to see writer and director Sam Levinson’s new film come down the release schedule, a drama shot in black and white with the next serious A-list star, Tenet’s John David Washington, and the filmmaker’s television lead star Zendaya. Being the only two to appear on screen, the story follows a filmmaker who returns home with his girlfriend following a celebratory movie premiere and awaits what he hopes to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening immediately takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface and the subject matter of his film and it’s inspiration are at the forefront of he argument. Beautifully shot and exquisitely acted, the ultimate goal of the film felt missing to me as I got to the credits. Essentially, the film is two people gaslighting each other for over ninety minutes and the goal is pretty much unknown by the end which, to me, felt like it negated the reason the watch it. Ultimately, I walked away disappointed.
Rams – When I saw this movie pop up on my list of new releases, well, no easy way to say this but, I was pissed. The film is based on a really great Norweigan film and it always seems that American companies grab something great like say Force Majeure and turn it into easily digestible crap like the Will Ferrell comedy Downhill. Luckily, my fears were for naught and Australians remade this movie and put the very likeable Sam Neill and Aussie veteran Micahel Caton in the lead roles. The story follows two sheep farming brothers in the midst of a decades-long feud that comes to a head when disaster strikes their flocks. I will say that the original, Hrutar, is a much better film just because it struck while the iron was hot and this film feels like a straight rehash of that but if you haven’t seen this particular story yet then it all works in this rougher Australian sense. Neill and Caton carry this film on their shoulders and there is no limping on this, they are both so stellar in it.
Two Of Us – Some international flavour lands this week in the form of this romantic drama from France which also is the narrative feature debut of filmmaker Filippo Meneghetti who also co-wrote it as well. The film stars Rainer Werner Fassbinder protege Barbara Sukowa, Tell No One actress Martine Chevallier and absolute stunner Léa Drucker in a story about pensioners Nina and Madeleine who have hidden their deep and passionate love for many decades but their bond is put to the test when they are suddenly unable to move freely between each other’s apartments when Madeleine’s daughter moves in. The film has such a building resonance that feels incredibly tangible as the decade-old love story between these two women and the frustration of hiding their secret is apparent at every second. Intimately shot and beautifully acted, this movie was an absolute surprise to me this week.
A Glitch In The Matrix – Oh boy, time to terrify you with the underlying knowledge that it is possible that the reality you live in may not be real and that you might have the ability to be Neo and take on all of the Agent Smiths around. Sorry, just seeing if you were paying attention but this one does delve into the thoughts I’m sure we all have in that capacity. Coming from documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher, who already brought us the conspiracy film Room 237 about the supposed secrets contained in The Shining, this film tackles this question “are we living in a simulation?” with testimony, philosophical evidence and scientific explanation to make up his hypothesis. Ever since I saw The Matrix, ideas like this have been floating in my head so it’s so cool to see that Ascher really tackled it head-on and the results are very interesting. I know a lot of people will latch onto this one.
Princess Of The Row – This is a film that really came out of nowhere and goes directly for the feelings right away and I definitely walked away with the name Van Maximilian Carlson in my mind as he makes his feature filmmaking debut here with a heartfelt coming-of-age drama amidst some very dark themes. The film is an inspiring tale of a runaway foster child who will stop at nothing to live with the only family she knows which is her homeless, mentally-ill veteran father who lives on the streets of LA’s skid row, played brilliantly by X-Men: First Class actor Edi Gathegi in a performance that needs to be seen to be believed. This is one of those indie films that will probably slide to the wayside until it is discovered in years on Netflix but I’m telling you now that this is a can’t miss film and the word of mouth will travel.
Let Him Go – Years after playing Ma and Pa Kent for Zack Snyder in his Superman film Man Of Steel, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane reteam for this noir feeling thriller that is a bit above the calibre of film that the trailer would lead you to believe it is. The film has them playing a retired sheriff and his wife who, following the loss of their son, leave their Montana ranch to rescue their young grandson from the clutches of a dangerous family living off the grid in the Dakotas. Both Lane and Costner give formidable performances but it is the small part that accomplished character actress Leslie Manville gives as the matriarch of the family in question that bolts you to the floor for her absolutely intense scenes. This is a taut and emotional slow bubbling thriller that keeps you engaged from start to finish.
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run – Once again I get to talk about the famous sponge who lives under the sea as I really love to do and, hell, it isn’t even my birthday. Seriously, I absolutely adore this Nickelodeon creation of madness and am totally excited for the arrival of the third movie. The new film had Spongebob on the search for his pet snail Gary who has been kidnapped or, as he puts it, “snail napped”. Spongebob grabs his best friend Patrick and embarks on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home and eventually encounter a helping hand along the way in the form of a “sage” played by Keanu Reeves. This is definitely a movie that will appeal to a certain audience but for a parent like me, I buy it all, hook, line and sinker, but this is the first time I felt any sort of fatigue or diminishing returns from a SpongeBob movie. I definitely didn’t dislike it but my love for this one only hit a middle ground and I felt myself wanting more from it. They got three movie and over ten seasons in so I’d say that’s still a damn good run.
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 neighbour 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.
The 2nd – This movie starts with the tickle and the slap as it stars Ryan Phillippe, an actor I generally enjoy and one who is currently enjoying a run on television in the network series Big Sky. The bad part comes when you see that his co-star is direct to video actor Casper Van Dien who hasn’t been the feature star of a good movie since Sleepy Hollow over twenty years ago and, yes, I’m skipping Alita: Battle Angel and Mortal Kombat: Legacy for effect. This film has Phillippe playing an Army Delta Force officer who is late picking up his son at college. Meanwhile, his son and a Supreme Court Justice’s daughter are the last there, as is a gang of terrorists who are there to abduct her and force her dad’s hand on a Second Amendment vote. All that said, go with your instinct that this movie is terrible because it really is. A lame attempt at trying to make a John McClane type ripoff, the film has zero originality and is boneheaded and hamfisted at the same time.
Breach – I always take a deep breath when it comes to reviewing Bruce Willis movies these days and definitely when it comes to direct to video titles he does because, unfortunately, he doesn’t really put that star quality into the ones he does for the big screen. Hell, he phones in those ones sometimes too. This story shoots John McClane into space, and follows a junior mechanic on the cusp of fatherhood aboard an interstellar ark to New Earth who must outwit a malevolent cosmic terror intent on using the spaceship as a weapon and slaughtering what’s left of humanity. Co-starring The Expanse’s Thomas Jane and G.I. Joe: TheRise Of Cobra’s Rachel Nichols, I feel like you know where I’m going to say in this review. Yes, I can not lie to you, the film is cheesy, unoriginal all looks like a bunch of people taking paycheque amongst unknown actors looking to make a mark in a production that will definitely not do that for them. I don’t understand why studios keep letting Willis fleece them. His agent must be really good.
Host – Months into the pandemic I said that I definitely did not want to see any COVID driven horror on my screen, a notion that just felt way too tacky to get behind but this film, released only a couple of months into it, gave me a bit of a pause because it takes something that is now very commonplace and used it so brilliantly in its divisiveness. Filmed over Zoom, the story follows six friends who hire a medium to hold a seance using the networking app during a lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong and things spiral out of control in a deadly way. I won’t get into the details but this film is effective in its scares, completely unpredictable in its plot and maybe enough to get your hair to stand on end. At just under an hour-long, this is that movie you use to actually freak out horror fans and a very smart way to take out the terrible situations and make something immensely cool out of it. Bravo to writer and director Rob Savage, you rocked this one.
Love, Weddings & Other Disasters – With a cast headlined by Diane Keaton, Jeremy Irons and former Lost star Maggie Grace, you would think a romantic comedy set at a wedding would be a slam dunk but adding in that this film was written and directed by Adam Sandler dude Dennis Dugan whose last four movies include both Grown Ups movies and Jack And Jill, well, the expectations lower. The film is a multi-story romantic comedy about the people who work on weddings to create the perfect day for a loving couple with their own lives and relationships being outlandish, odd, crazy and far from perfect. This film is a totally sloppy mess of bad writing, haphazard plotting and, well, other disasters making this a total slog to get through and even at only an hour and a half long my urge to yell at Diane Keaton until I’m hoarse came on very quickly into it. Also, she’s given up on having the costuming department dress her at this point, right?
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror – I’m a real sucker for film documentaries and let’s get so specific about this, I’m talking documentaries about film and its cultural, pop culture and world issues that they touch on. This movie checks all of those boxes while adding an attuned perspective and comes at the most pivotal time with the Black Lives Matter movement making such a mark in 2020 and hopefully from here on out. In a nutshell, the documentary is a look at the history of black horror films and the role of African Americans in the film genre from the very beginning, highlighting the horrific star with Birth Of A Nation and digging through the pivotal films in that lineage like Night Of The Living Dead, Blackula, Candyman and Tales From The Hood, all the way up to modern masterpieces like Get Out and The Girl With All The Gifts. I was captivated throughout and could have sat through another hour of it, easily. It is that damn good.
The Casagrandes: Season 1 – Oh, Nickelodeon. Such a bottomless barrel of new ideas to beam into your kids minds and this new show landed last year to some solid reviews, on kids sites of course, ad has some great BIPOC representation as it is a Latino based story. The show is a spin-off of the wildly successful animated show The Loud House and features Ronnie Anne Santiago, a girl who moves to the big city alongside her mother and older brother Bobby, where she meets her extended Hispanic family. The show features great voice actors like Carlos Alazraqui, Dee Bradley Baker and Alexa PenaVega and was created with Chris Savino, the guy behind Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Labratory, so he practically build the Cartoon Network himself, so it’s in good hands and, at the end of it all, it’s pretty well written and may actually get a chuckle out of you. The easy bar to clear is it being better than Paw Patrol and I can happily say that it is. Way better.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:
Epicentro – Yes, I’m starting the geek outs with an impactful documentary because what’s geekier than getting informed while you put something enjoyable in your eyeballs, right? Written and directed by Darwin’s Nightmare filmmaker Hubert Sauper, this film is an immersive and metaphorical portrait of post-colonial, “utopian” Cuba, where the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine still resonates. The incident that rocked the country really ended Spanish colonial dominance in the Americas and ushered in the era of the American Empire and at the same time and place, a powerful tool of conquest was born being cinema as propaganda. Narrated by young actress Oona Laurence, the film is fascinating as it rolls out the political myth-making that has been developed for years and kept the people oppressed by fear. This film is eye-opening and may give that frequent travellers on Cuban vacations some repose.
The Harvey Girls – Seven years after the iconic hot of The Wizard OF Oz, a film that still transcends the decades and is still a must-see piece of family-friendly cinema, Dorothy and the Scarecrow reunited for this western comedy musical headlined with the names Judy Garland and Ray Bolger. The story follows Susan Bradley, played by Garland, a mail-order bride on a trip west to unite with her suitor who meets a cheery crew of young women travelling out to open a “Harvey House” which is a restaurant at a remote whistle-stop. This was during the rough decline of Garland’s career as missed eleven days of shooting and was late forty times when she actually did show up and wasn’t keen on the western setting saying “This is a fine picture for me. I hate guns, and I’m scared to death of horses. When I even come near a bunch of horses, they nudge each other and say, ‘This is going to be fun.'”. Heck, even when she was declining into her worst behaviours she was still wildly entertaining as a human being.
Holiday Affair – Two of the greatest stars of the late forties Hollywood era, Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh, came together for this Christmas time romantic comedy, a modest film that was not a success at the time, but due to the annual showings on Turner Classic Movies in recent years it has become something of a minor holiday classic now. Set just before Christmas, the story follows a department store clerk named Steve Mason who meets a big-spending customer named Connie Ennis who is really a commercial spy. He unmasks her but decides to let her go which gets him fired. They end up on a date, which doesn’t sit well with Connie’s steady suitor, Carl, but delights her son Timmy, who doesn’t want Carl for a step-dad and, of course, romantic complications follow. Tragically, the film did not do well at the box office, resulting in a loss of $300,000, which would be roughly over $3 million in today’s numbers, which probably led to a handful of bad Christmases that year.
Versus – Being a favourite in the genre of weird Japanese movies, I feel like the good people of Arrow Video have been dipping into reading excerpts from my dream journal because this two-disc collector’s edition is everything I could have contained in there and more. I’ll try to nutshell this synopsis but the film is set in the present day where a group of ruthless gangsters, an unknown woman and an escaped convict have met, unwittingly, in The Forest of Resurrection, the 444th portal to the other side. Their troubles start when those once killed and buried in the forest come back from the dead, with the assistance of the evil spirit that has also come back from ages past to claim his prize. What results is the final standoff between Light and Dark, where old Japanese Samurai mysticism meets the new world of the gangster and the gun in a gruesome, bloody and unforgettable fashion. This movie is a total experience and kind of feels like live-action anime in a way but one that I can get a toehold in and enjoy. This is deep genre stuff so proceed with caution.
Survivor Ballads: Three Films by Shohei Imamura – Speaking of not really accessible cinema, let us delve into this boxed set from acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura, a director whose oeuvre spanned almost four and a half decades with films that often dug beneath the surface of Japanese society to reveal a hidden cache of sensual and often irrational energy that lies beneath. This set showcases three of those films, The Ballad of Narayama from 1983, about an older woman who is getting close to the age of 70, a cut-off age where you have to climb a nearby mountain to die in a poor 19th-century rural Japanese village, Zegen from 1987, about a Japanese immigrant in 1901 Hong Kong wishes to become a simple shopkeeper, but fate intervenes send him on an adventure that brings fervent patriotism with greed and, finally, Black Rain from 1989, his most straight forward in the set, which is the story of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. There’s definitely some deep cinephile stuff here but those who love some complex Japanese films will love this one.
Firefly Lane (Netflix) – For many television viewers, this one is a double-edged sword as it features the incredibly likeable and Canadian former Scrubs star Sarah Chalke but also has former Grey’s Anatomy pariah and generally one-note actress Katherine Heigl in the opposite role. The great news is Heigl plays against type in this very friendship-centric new series and the two also share some great chemistry. The series is the story of Tully and Kate, two unlikely friends from their meeting as tweens in 1974 to the present. Kate, the introvert, and Tully, the coolest girl in school, form a bond that weathers every milestone in their lives, leading up to a tragedy in the present andwhen we start out with the characters Kate is going through a separation leading to a divorce and Tully is an Oprah like figure with a show rapidly descending into cheesy nothingness. The show is really intriguing but you have to get past the first episode which feels like it’s completely uneventful until the last scene.
The Pembrokeshire Murders (BritBox) – There’s honestly nothing better in the police procedurals than when the Brits get a hold of a juicy story for a little miniseries and this one checks all the right boxes and it is a breeze to watch through, only being three episodes long. The show stars the always great Luke Evans and follows him as newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins who decides to reopen two unsolved double murders from the 1980s that have cast a shadow over the work of his department’s work for a quarter of a century. The show was done under the eye of filmmaker Marc Evans who has a knack for really good drama, as evident in his Canadian production Snow Cake, he did in 2006 with Sigourney Weaver and the late great favourite Alan Rickman. This is a solidly made series that doesn’t skimp on the twists.
The Investigation (Crave) – HBO Max is going international with this brand new series that features a face familiar to those Game Of Thrones fans out there as Euron Greyjoy himself, Pilou Asbæk, leads this new six-episode show. A co-production between Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the show is based on a true story and follows Copenhagen Police’s Homicide unit, headed by the Head of Homicide, Jens Møller, as they try to solve the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. With the hope of being able to provide the prosecutor, played by Asbæk, some solid evidence to create a convincing case and give the relatives the certainty they deserve. While the show doesn’t get into the gory details of the real case, it decides to instead go into the details of the actual investigation without sensation, which plays exactly into the title and it is a very solid watch.
The Snoopy Show (AppleTV+) – There is a bittersweet notion to this all-new series being made as Peanuts creator Charles Schultz had stated that he didn’t want any more Peanuts cartoons being made after his death, but the Schultz family has now sold the rights to Apple for a newly commissioned series and technically it’s not Peanuts as the title just focuses on the beagle Snoopy himself, which I’m sure is to avoid legal litigation. The good news is that the six-episode series is really great, containing the same sweetheart that made these characters a hit that transcends generations. My little girl was completely new to these characters and burned through all the episodes in one sitting and was begging for more which made my heart absolutely sing. Consider the new generation onboard for more Peanuts and thank you Charles Schultz for this magic.