Judas And The Black Messiah – With a cast boasting the fast-rising stars of Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stansfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback and Ashton Sanders, all performers on the road to future Academy Awards, I was already on board with this new historical drama but it’s the subject matter and importance of its timing that got it’s hooks into me most. The second feature film from writer and director Shaka King, most known for her work on Aidy Bryant’s show Shrill and Wyatt Cenac’s People Of Earth, she goes for the throat in this story that follows FBI informant William O’Neal as he infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton. A career thief, O’Neal gets lost in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell and, as Hampton’s political prowess grows, he also starts falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson. This film is being called electrifying and authentic with performances that leap off the screen. This is definitely one of my most anticipated films of the first quarter of this year.
Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar – Comedy audiences have been demanding a sequel to the massive hit Bridesmaids ever since it was released ten years ago this year and it’s probably what was expected when it was announced that writers and star Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumelo had a new project together. Heck, maybe they intended for it to be a follow-up, but it isn’t and instead Wiig teams with Mumelo on screen as two very different characters. This is the story of best friends Barb and Star, who leave their small Midwestern town for the first time to go on vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida, where they soon find themselves tangled up in adventure, love, and a villain’s evil plot to kill everyone in town. This duo both on and off-screen work absolute magic as they once again create hilarious and memorable characters, this time wackier than those of Bridesmaids, but still grounded with a sense of being real people.
Fear Of Rain – For the second week in a row I’m talking about former Grey’s Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl and again it’s a role that she isn’t usually playing, which tells me that she’s really trying to go against her image type, a refreshing idea. She hits up the horror-thriller genre for a definite change in a story she plays the parent of a teenager named Rain, living with schizophrenia and struggling with terrifying hallucinations that are heightened as she begins to suspect her neighbour has kidnapped a child. When Rain insists against her parents’ advice that the shadows and cries from her neighbour’s attic aren’t real, she enlists help from Caleb, the charmingly awkward new kid at school who himself may not be real. The film is not just a genre shift for Heigl but for writer and director Castille London who usually makes family movies and takes a hard turn for this one. Looks promising.
The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things – It appears that actress Kathryn Newton really likes the stories with a crazy twist as just months after the Freaky Friday body swap fun that was the gory and awesome Freaky, she’s back in this new fantasy that has her doing the Groundhog Day thing. It all worked out great for Andy Samberg who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his day resetting comedy Palm Springs, and on Amazon Prime just like this one, so maybe lightning can strike twice. Newton stars opposite Kyle Allen, the lead in the upcoming Spielberg directed West Side Story in a film that tells the story of quick-witted teen Mark, contentedly living the same day in an endless loop whose world is turned upside-down when he meets mysterious Margaret also stuck in the time loop. They form a quick partnership and set out to find all the tiny things that make that one day perfect, hence, the title of the movie. The film comes from director Ian Samuels whose last film, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser starring tragically former Stranger Things star Shannon Purser, which is an underrated gem on Netflix. Hopefully, he continues the streak with this debut on Amazon Prime.
Saint Maud – Weeks after I got the pleasure to check it out, one of the boldest filmmaker debuts I have seen in horror in the last year lands and both writer and director Rose Glass and her lead star Morfydd Clark will be household names in the years to come. The film is an unsettling story that boils to bone-chilling fever pitches following Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse who becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul but sinister forces from within her, as well as her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy mission. This film is gorgeously shot by The End of the F***ing World cinematographer Ben Fordesman who seems to lead you down the path of Maud’s descent into the darkness of her own fevered devouring, catching you off guard many times. To describe this film is to ultimately experience it and I do believe that a film like this will eventually earn its place alongside classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.
Cowboys – I have a real soft spot for when comedic actors start to take on dramatic roles and while this is certainly not the first time that lead actor Steve Zahn has done this, his co-star in this new film Jillian Bell is just on the beginner’s path of it, doing the hybrid comedy-drama thing with one of her more recent films, Brittany Runs a Marathon. This film, the debut of a filmmaker with a bright future, writer and director Anna Kerrigan, follows Troy, a troubled but well-intentioned father who has recently separated from his wife Sally. Stunned by Sally’s refusal to let their trans son Joe live as his authentic self, Troy runs off with Joe into the Montana wilderness with a police detective hot on their trail but her resolve about the case is tested the more she learns about and sympathizes with Joe’s family. This film is incredibly shot by John Wakayama Carey, who previously shot the indie horror masterpiece Porno, and gives the film such a rich background for the phenomenal performances given by Zahn and Bell, as well as young actor Sasha Knight and veteran character actress Ann Dowd. This is another solid drama that people will slowly discover and love.
Skyfire – Ever been on a tropical vacation on a destination island in Asia when a volcano pops off and kills a bunch of people? Me neither but this new disaster action film puts you right in the crosshairs of Mother Nature’s rage and it is super entertaining if you can get past the bad dubbing, terrible script and cheezy melodrama. Produced by an all Chinese production company, crew and cast besides former Harry Potter series actor Jason Isaacs and Con Air director Simon West, the film follows Wentao Li, a geologist who vowed he would never return to Tianhuo Island after a catastrophic volcano eruption tragically killed his wife. But twenty years later, his daughter Meng continues his research work on the island that took her mother’s life, developing a brilliant eruption forecasting system that could save countless lives. The island has now been transformed into a thrill-seeking theme park by greedy businessman Jack Harris, played by Isaacs, despite Meng’s warnings and, unfortunately for our characters but awesomely fortunate for the viewer, she was right. Distraught over his daughter’s safety, Wentao lands on the island as the volcano begins to erupt and it’s a race against the clock to save his daughter and the tourists and villagers from the apocalyptic chaos. Look, this is a lot of dumb action and vapid characters getting picked off but I had so much fun in the ridiculousness that I can’t help but have a little soft spot for this movie.
Freaky – When Christopher Landon hit his stride with audiences in the horror-comedy Happy Death Day I have to admit I was really not on board and, to be totally honest, I outright despised the film. Well, the sequel Happy Death Day 2U turned it around for me and now with this new film I see that those movies had to walk so Freaky could sprint because he has made a genre masterpiece here. In a Freaky Friday and horror mash-up, a teen girl finds herself body swapped with a vicious serial killer after he attempts to murder her with a cursed dagger and discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent. This is lead actress Kathrine Newton’s real coming-out party as an absolute star and Vince Vaughn, playing the unstoppable killer, has such an adorable nature to him when he’s portraying a teen girl. I absolutely adored this film from start to finish and know that it’s going to become a massive hit.
Greenland – It’s a double hit of frontier films this week and it is also a twofer of disaster movies but this one plays it a bit more earnestly, which was a complete shock for me as it is a reteaming of Gerard Butler and director Ric Roman Waugh whose last outing was the vapid action sequel Angel Has Fallen, a terrible movie in every sense so I really wasn’t expecting anything even passable as good. The story follows Butler as John Garrity who, with his estranged wife, played by Deadpool’s Morena Baccarin, and their young son, embarks on a perilous journey to find sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth. With terrifying accounts of cities getting levelled playing everywhere on the radio and televisions, the Garrity’s experience the best and worst in humanity as the countdown to the global apocalypse approaches zero. This movie definitely hits some dark and desperate places that given our present perceptions of how people behave during a global event like a pandemic, seems totally plausible making the film even more of a total downer, not that that’s a bad thing. The film is effective, engaging and puts you on the edge of your seat more than once.
Lost Girls And Love Hotels – Alexandra Daddario is either one of the hardest working actresses right now or she has a really diligent agent because she has been starring in multiple titles a year going back to 2013. She leads this new sexually charged and emotional drama, playing an American ex-pat named Margaret who finds herself in the glittering labyrinth of Tokyo by night and as a respected English teacher of a Japanese flight attendant academy by day. With little life direction, she searches for meaning with fellow ex-pat Ines, played by Game Of Thrones actress Carice Van Houten, in a Japanese dive bar, drinking to remember to forget and losing herself in love hotel encounters with men who satisfy a fleeting craving. When she crosses paths with Kazu, a dashing yakuza, she falls in love with him despite the danger and tradition that hinders their chances of being together. Daddario gives a stunner of a performance in this but the story is so slow and plodding that it feels painfully dull, even when there are large bursts of sexual energy this feeling is lost as is the sympathy for the main focus herself.
Sputnik – Usually when you get into a Russian genre film, whether it be a horror, sci-fi or action, they’re generally fast-paced with an “in your face” hyperactive presence to it but this new film gets broody, methodical and plays with a dark repose that’s really refreshing. Best of all, it’s a delicious little creature feature. The film is set at the height of the Cold War, after a Soviet spacecraft crash lands after a mission gone awry, leaving the commander as its only survivor. After a renowned Russian psychologist is brought in to evaluate the commander’s mental state, it becomes clear that something dangerous may have come back to Earth with him and is hell-bent on escaping the government facility and getting into the outside world. This movie is smart and cerebral and has a great effects team behind it with some killer and, in parts, unforgettable sequences of gore, a worthy addition to the space monster sub-genre. I loved this movie.
Wander Darkly – Having no knowledge of the plot of this movie, I really wasn’t expecting it to knock me on my ass as it did, nor did I expect to be so crazily engaged by it immediately. In a sort of dark and depressing version of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, the film follows a new mother played by Sienna Miller who is sent on a disorienting search through her memories after a horrific car accident with her husband, played by Diego Luna, at the wheel. Unknown if she survived the car wreck or is on her journey to the next plane of existence, she makes acknowledgements and emotional fixes in her psyche along the way. A bold and ambitious switch of filmmaking style from writer and director Tara Miele, I wasn’t prepared for how hard this film would hit and how dazzling its exposition was until the credits hit and I deemed this one of the best films that most people will sleep on. Don’t let this happen, watch it now.
The Right One – Well, there’s been a whole lot of darkness on this list so far this week so I think it’s about time that I brought in some more levity as it’s been a slog of emotional downers this week, not that I’m ragging on those because some of these titles are must-see. This one is a vapid little rom-com for you to rest your brain with and follows Sara, a novelist struggling with writer’s block and in desperate need of inspiration who finds it when she serendipitously meets Godfrey, a down-on-his-luck oddball that constantly changes personas and alter egos to cope with his past and avoid reality. Just as Godfrey begins to open up to Sara, he discovers that she’s been using him as inspiration for her next novel and he vanishes from her life leaving Sara to wonder if she just lost the man of her dreams or will she be able to find him and make things right. Starring The Last Man On Earth actress Cleopatra Coleman and comedian Nick Thune, the strengths are in veteran co-star David Koechner and stand-up comedian Iliza Schlesinger but the film rarely feels like its standing on its own and feels horribly contrived at times.
Jiang Ziya – Also known as Legend of Deification, this film is the new dazzling piece of animation from the international distributor Well Go USA and really is just for a niche audience, mostly the anime crowd and those who love stories entrenched in Chinese folklore. The plot follows the title character and top commander Jiang Ziya who is given the task to banish the Nine-tailed Fox Demon who threatens all mortals’ very existence right after he vanquished a huge foe in war. When he discovers the Nine-tailed Fox’s life linked to the soul of an innocent girl, he is faced with a challenging decision, if he should follow the will of heaven or find his own path to righteousness. The great thing about this movie is that I didn’t feel like I needed to be so fluent in Chinese history or the storytelling style as a large piece of it seemed to be easier to digest to bring it to a larger audience but the marketing isn’t geared to doing that. For many, this may be a Saturday afternoon discovery that you will feel the sole responsibility for because it seems no one is talking about it which is a shame as it is gorgeous as well.
A Tale Of Two Cities – Let’s get some of that classic film history into your bellies this week, thanks to the good people at Warner Archive, and this one has some deep gravitas to it as well as it comes from the works of Charles Dickens in one of his most iconic stories, aside from the two heavyweights like A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. The film adaptation follows a downtrodden lawyer named Sydney Carton who defends a French dissident, Charles Darnay, from charges of spying against England. Becoming enamoured of Darnay’s fiancée, Lucie Manette, he agrees to help her save Darnay from the guillotine when he is captured by Revolutionaries in Paris. Made in 1935, incredibly, this was the fourth film version of the novel, previously made in 1911, 1917 and 1922 but it was the most successful to that point as it was producer David O. Selznick’s last film for MGM because he was able to fund his own studio afterwards largely on the strength of this film’s box office receipts.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:
Ingagi – Watching the Shudder original documentary Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror last week actually gave me a good piece of insight into this movie, a new piece of Kino Lorber’s continued blu-ray series Forbidden Fruits. The story follows an expedition that enters an area of the Congo jungle to investigate reports of a gorilla-worshipping tribe and after many dangerous adventures, they come upon the tribe they sought, only to watch as a virgin is sacrificed to a huge gorilla, who takes her away. The expedition follows the gorilla in an attempt to save the woman in a movie that spawned a handful of other “gorilla-and-the-maiden films,” including possibly King Kong and perpetuated racist and colonialist notions of Africa. It wasn’t until the trope was taken back by a black filmmaker with the aptly named Son Of Ingagi in 1940, a decade after this film, that this movie was put through a new lens and cast the original one into obscurity until now.
Vigilante 4K – Nothing is more badass than a film led by the late and very great Robert Forster and very tough and very big man Fred Williamson, especially in 1982 when this film grace multiplexes everywhere. Being totally new to its gritty and violent charms, I immediately fell in love with this brand new 4K, directed by the legendary William Lustig, the mind behind two of the most iconic horrors of all time, Maniac and Maniac Cop. Really Death Wish like, the film follows a New York City factory worker who turns to the brutality of vigilantism to find some measure of bloody justice after his wife and son are beaten by thugs and a corrupt criminal justice system puts the perpetrators back on the street. This film is super grindhouse and really relies on Forster doing the heavy lifting but I found it super entertaining just for that reason. I like to imagine that this is one of the early paths of Jackie Brown’s Max Cherry but I’m a geek like that.
Tremors 4K – One of my childhood favourites of all time and something that traumatized me a little bit back in the day, this gloriously great underground sandworm thriller gets the hi-definition treatment thanks to those madmen at Arrow Video and I couldn’t be happier. Starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as, in my mind, the iconic duo of Valentine McKee and Earl Bass, the film follows citizens of a small isolated town defending themselves against strange underground creatures which are killing them one by one and it all leads to a fantastic scene with Family Ties’ Michael Gross and country star Reba McIntyre obliterating a worm with their huge arsenal in their basement which includes a frickin’ elephant gun. Oh man, this movie is so damn cool. I still love it with all my heart.
Red Cliff – The last amazing thing that legendary action director John Woo has done, this film brought the Boiling Point and Hard Target filmmaker home to China for a taste of Chinese history and epic storytelling. Told over two films, the story is set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, with shrewd Prime Minister Cao Cao convincing the fickle Emperor Han the only way to unite all of China was to declare war on the kingdoms of Xu in the west and East Wu in the south. Thus began a military campaign of unprecedented scale, led by the Prime Minister, himself and left with no other hope for survival, the kingdoms of Xu and East Wu formed an unlikely alliance. Numerous battles of strength and wit ensued, both on land and on water, eventually culminating in the battle of Red Cliff where, during the battle, two thousand ships were burned and the course of Chinese history was changed forever. The film is mesmerizing, with incredible cinematography from dual directors of photography Yue Lü and Yue Lü and breathtaking action choreography, there isn’t a single dull moment to be had, stretching across both parts. I’m such a fan of this one that I went and purchased it myself. It’s like my own version of the “Hair Club For Men”, I guess.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Netflix) – Oh yes, there is more true crime documentary coming to Netflix in series form and it’s sure to bring them another hit show that will captivate subscribers without a doubt. Even better, this show also features a Vancouver local connection and one that I didn’t even remember until halfway through the first episode. A four-episode series, the focus is on Elisa Lam, a 21- Canadian tourist who stayed at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles in February 2013. Weeks later, after disappearing, her body was discovered in the hotel’s rooftop water tank but how the hell did it get there? Executive producer and director Joe Berlinger, the guy behind Netflix’s earlier chiller Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and the movie that followed with Zac Efron, we go piece by piece through the investigation that all started with a creepy elevator video that seems to have many clues hidden within its subtext and is the last known footage of Lam. I was captivated by the first episode which led to a quick binge of all four and I think many will do the same.
The Equalizer (CBS) – Move over Denzel, Queen Latifah is coming through to take your place in the lead chair as this property, once a television series made into a couple of movie with the greatest actor of the last thirty years, now reverts to being a new network series again proving that everything in Hollywood is cyclical. Latifah is Robyn McCall, an enigmatic African American woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall comes across to most like an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter. But to a trusted few, she is an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption. The series takes off on the original Edward Woodward show from the late eighties as each episode seems to be reworkings of the older plots to get things going then it will hopefully find its own footing.
Clarice (CBS) – As I’m writing this, today marks the twentieth anniversary of when Ridley Scott made Hannibal and a day after this is posted it will be the thirtieth anniversary of The Silence Of The Lambs so I guess it’s the perfect time for a new Thomas Harris influenced project to get going, especially if we’re not getting more Hannibal the series, which is a damn shame. Pretty Little Liars actress Rebecca Breeds takes the title role in this new show which is a deep dive into the untold personal story of brilliant and vulnerable FBI Agent Clarice Starling as she returns to the field in 1993, one year after the events of “The Silence of the Lambs” and the closing of the Buffalo Bill serial murder case. The show comes from showrunners Alex Kurtzman, following up Picard, and Jenny Lumet, who actually wrote Silence director Jonathan Demme’s dram Rachel Gets Married, but the show is a bit of a misfire so far, even if the dark tone and esthetic is correct. I hope it improves as the ten-episode series progresses.
Diana: The Interview That Shocked the World (BritBox) – Now that we’ve all been sensationalized by the Diana Spencer season of The Crown on Netflix, we can now dig into the real woman and this interview that, as the title suggests, shook the world. Taken from a 1995 BBC Panorama sit down, Princess Diana got candid about her marriage to Prince Charles and life as a royal but now, twenty-five years later, this documentary looks at how this broadcasting event was orchestrated, what the interview revealed about modern society and new insights into the psychological portrait of Diana herself. As a person that’s interests got reinvigorated by Netflix, I found this film pretty fascinating and it’s totally understandable how some never lost their fever pitch for the Royals.
Helter Skelter: An American Myth (Hollywood Suite) – Let’s get serial killer creepy now, especially if you haven’t had enough while continuing on about the Cecil Hotel and we’re going to look at the ultimate murder influencer but not anyone that actually killed people themselves and, no, it’s not Donald Trump. Sad trombone. No, this brutal series is about Charles Manson and his horrific followers and how fifty years have passed since they committed their crimes and yet, the public remains truly in the dark about The Manson Family and their journey into the abyss. This docuseries features never-before-accessed interviews from former family members and journalists first on the scene and in the courtroom, weaving these original narratives with archival footage and newly-unearthed images and it is engrossing and brutally chilling the whole time. If you’ve read all the books and seen all the other documentaries, this show will still manage to shock and surprise you. Its such a well put together show.