Synchronic – Writing and directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are back with their new highly anticipated sci-fi mindbender, providing their fans such as myself with what they are supremely gifted at, something I call the equivalent of cinematic salvia. It’s an intense term that I feel means that the reality is warping into something else continuously but for this film, they play it a bit more linear and a bit closer to the true reality. The film stars the Falcon himself, Anthony Mackie, and the Fifty Shades trilogy main man Jamie Dornan and follows them as two New Orleans paramedics whose lives are ripped apart after they encounter a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects. The look of this film is constantly intriguing and the performances from these two actors drive the emotion that anchors this story that’s main root is the friendship between the two. I loved every second of this one and the horror elements are very small so it’s open to a broader audience.
Supernova – Break out the tissues because Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are here to steal all of your tears and these guys aren’t messing around either. Coming from acclaimed writer and director Harry Macqueen, this is the story of Sam and Tusker, partners of over twenty years, who are travelling across England in their old RV visiting friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have as the two try to come to grips with his declining health and Sam readies himself to transition their relationship into that of a caregiver which may not be in Tusker’s plans. This film shows just how masterful both Firth and Tucci are at their craft as both men have such textured history as a couple on the screen that leaps out at you within minutes into the film. There’s such a soft touch of emotional beats that send this story cascading into your heart and, honestly, my heart was heavy by the end. This is a beautiful film filled with truth and light and I really loved it deeply.
Flora & Ulysses – Maybe it’s the age gap or maybe it’s that the film wasn’t made for me as the target audience but there’s something drastically off about this new Disney Plus film and it’s not just that the movie is a totally mess. The film is based on the novel by Because Of Winn-Dixie and The Tale Of Despereaux author Kate DiCamillo and follows an imaginative and creative ten year old cynic and comic book superfan named Flora who never could have predicted that the little squirrel she found in her yard would be born anew as a superhero after getting sucked up in the vacuum and have the uncanny knack for helping her and the lovable but broken people in her life realize their full potential as a family. Co-starring How I Met Your Mother’s Alyson Hannigan, the voice of Sonic The Hedgehog and Community’s loveable Abed, Danny Pudi, the movie has a sweetheart at its core but is pepper with a mean spirit, especially directed towards Flora’s blind neighbor who honestly gets the crap kicked out of him for almost the entire duration. I’m totally confused by this and, really, it took me out of it more than once.
Some Kind Of Heaven – With the title being like it is you expect something sunny upfront and debuting director Lance Oppenheimer gives you just that to open his documentary on a little slice of paradise on earth, The Village, a retirement town located in Florida. With amenities, golf courses, tennis courts, pools, community activities and social events, the place is just as the identity card suggests, “some kind of heaven”. Oppenheimer immediately swerves you by then focusing on four individuals not enjoying themselves, one couple heading into a deep divide in their marriage, one woman widowed as soon as she reluctantly moved to The Village and another man living in his van, hoping to woo a single woman living there to punch his ticket to luxury. The film becomes a quietly reflecting mosaic of characters against the backdrop of the Panhandle sun and it is absolutely captivating from the get-go. Engrossing in its reality and a very exposing look at the actions of either gender when they get to retirement age, this movie is human nature at its very core.
The Sinners – When we were growing up, namely in our high school years, we all secretly believed that our mean girls clic was part of an overarching hierarchy of a cult, right? Or was that just me? Either way, this is the basis of this new Canadian-made drama thriller which follows an A-List Girl clique that starts a secret cult where each of them must embody one of the seven deadly sins. They soon realize there’s more to their small religious town and their reactions to their new project as they start to go missing one by one. The main cast is a group of unknown actresses save for the daughter of former Sons Of Anarchy star Kim Coates Brenna but features a couple of Canadian treasures like Aleks Paunovic, Lochlyn Munro and Letterkenny star Dylan Playfair in a story that debuting writer and director Courtney Paige manages to navigate a series of narrative cliches while stepping wholeheartedly into others. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, really.
Animals On The Loose: A You vs. Wild Movie – I really don’t know what can be said about this movie as far as a review can go because it’s unconventional and I’ve never really gone in-depth with one and it’s not the first that Netflix has done with their interactive entertainment, following installments of Black Mirror with Bandersnatch and even a Kimmy Schmidt one that was a lot of fun. I will forgo a review portion, as I find it impossible and will instead inform you that this is a bigger and more expanded version of the survivalist Bear Grylls show You vs Wild and has him calling to you for help when the protective fence surrounding a wildlife sanctuary suffers a breach and he is called in to help rescue a mischievous baboon, track down a hungry lion, and fix the fence before any more animals get out. Some of the setups are ridiculous and you put Bear through hell, including making him eat a leech, which disturbed my wife to no end. All in all, I got him through it in about forty-five minutes. Go me!
Fear Of Rain – Now going on week three, I am again 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.
A Call To Spy – Spy films can come from everywhere but some of the best ones are rooted in reality and come from historical settings and I personally really dig the embedded World War II stories and that is exactly what we get with this new drama from director Lydia Dean Pilcher which marks her first solo outing behind the camera. The film is set in a desperate Britain at the beginning of the war as Prime Minister Winston Churchill orders his new spy agency, the Special Operations Executive, to recruit and train women as spies with their mission being to conduct sabotage and build a resistance. The agency’s “spymistress,” Vera Atkins, played by Absentia’s Stana Katic, recruits two unusual candidates, Virginia Hall, an ambitious American with a wooden leg and Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim pacifist. Together, these women help to undermine the Nazi regime in France, leaving an unmistakable legacy in their wake. This film is a super effective spy thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat and builds characters that you actually feel like you have a stake in. Katic is really great in her performance and it feels like a far cry from the years of police procedural she did with Nathan Fillion in Castle.
Archenemy – As soon as I see the identity card of production company SpectreVision I know I’m about to see something special, especially within a genre of bright and vibrant sci-fi, action and horror and this one satisfies those cravings but with a bit less of that third option. Another bold feature from writer and director Adam Egypt Mortimer, coming off his sleeper hit Daniel Isn’t Real, this one features Joe Manganiello as Max Fist, a homeless man who claims to be a hero from another dimension who fell through time and space to earth, where he has no powers and no one believes his stories except for a local teen named Hamster looking to make a mark for himself as an urban journalist. This movie is dripping with badass style throughout and Manganiello is playing it so nuanced that you continually ask yourself if he’s crazy or is he really an interdimensional hero. Rounding out the cast around him and really getting into the stylish and almost cartoony characters is Glenn Howerton playing the villainous “Manager”, Paul Scheer for a short, drug-fueled but memorable scene and the great Amy Siemetz who plays a massively pivotal role. Just by looking at the trailer, you will know immediately if this movie is for you and it seemed to be a love letter to my brain so take that as you will.
Horizon Line – I know we are all keeping inside, cancelling vacations and staying away from destination vacations but that isn’t stopping filmmakers from giving you extra incentive to keep your butt parked on the sofa. This one goes the distance, pun intended, as it follows Girls and Get Out star Allison Williams as one half of a couple flying on a small plane to attend a tropical island wedding who must fight for their lives after their pilot suffers a heart attack, putting the plane solely in their control. For me, that’s pretty much a nightmare scenario and the worst possible thought to have during any flight but even with that brilliant set up the film fails to capture any sense of suspense or intrigue because the characters are so underwritten that we don’t care about them whatsoever. It seems that all the imagination put into this just pertained to the premise and that’s it.
The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee – Being a kid from the eighties that was raised on movies of that era and the nineties when you hang the name Dundee and Paul Hogan’s picture in front of me I get all nostalgic because, oh man, did I ever love the first two films! I don’t dare talk about the film where he went to Hollywood because even as a kid I thought that was a stinker but seeing that we sort of getting a new adventure here, I was excited. It’s not exactly a sequel though as Paul Hogan plays himself in this and is reluctantly thrust back into the spotlight as he desperately attempts to restore his sullied reputation on the eve of being knighted. Unfortunately, self satire doesn’t work in this limp comedy and it gets so bad in parts that I almost wish I hadn’t had my initial burst of nostalgia that pused me to watch it in the first place. No matter if you put John Cleese, Chevy Chase or anyone else in comedy I loved, this just isn’t it. Learn from this but no reboots either, please. We can’t bear the thought of it.
San Francisco – Getting some of that A-list mid thirties Hollywood this week from Warner Archive as this musical romance is led by the top star of the time, Clark Gable, alongside Jeanette MacDonald, the star of the hit The Merry Widow, and another giant of the era, Spencer Tracy. The story follows a Barbary Coast saloonkeeper and a Nob Hill impresario who vie for the affections of a beautiful singer, both personally and professionally in 1906 San Francisco and the film already had MacDonald in place, going on her third lead film straight, riding on hits with both of them, and she insisted that it had to star Gable as well. On the other side of that, Clark Gable did not want to make the film but was at the mercy of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, who had just paid off one of Gable’s numerous lovers who was trying to make some money from his name. As you can see, it all worked out although the stars did not get along at all during filming and avoided each other completely off the set. Ah, classic Hollywood.
Baby Doll – This one intrigued me as soon as I received it and looked it up because it is one of the first restricted films ever made, a total game changer in mainstream film from master filmmaker Elia Kazan and it is the debut films for Eli Wallach and Rip Torn. The story comes from the mind of acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams, following Archie Lee Meighan, a middle-aged cotton gin owner who can hardly wait for the twentieth birthday of his childish bride Baby Doll so he’ll be finally allowed to consummate the marriage or so he thinks. Rival owner Silva Vaccaro has suspected Archie of burning his gin down and has taken it upon himself to create a long con in an erotic form of Sicilian vengeance. Starring Karl Malden and Carol Baker, who earned an Academy Award nomination for this, the film was a racy product of its time and definitely would not see a greenlight today. This movie still holds up as being integral cinema that pushed boundaries and paved the way for more bold films to come.
Mandabi – Criterion Collection hit my doorstep with another film I had not heard of before but one that is, again, very important to the grand umbrella that is cinema in its own unique way. Made in 1968 in France by way of Senegal, the film is about a money order sent from a relative in Paris that throws the life of a Senegalese family man out of order. Dealing with and distancing himself from the corruption and greed within his own problematic family members as well the locals around him, he begins to undergo a change from his traditional way of living to a more modern one. This is an interesting class system film in a time before we really started taking note of this microcosm of storytelling plus it’s a bold movie from the black community and shines the spotlight on a gifted filmmaker named Usman Semben who followed up his impressive debut Black Girl, also a Criterion title. I love this film education that I’ve been receiving through these and Warner’s titles. Absolutely incredible stuff.
Lovecraft Country: Season 1 – This was definitely one of the most anticipated new HBO shows of last year and it did its duty in delivering a product that is on par with the excitement we television fans had for the Watchmen limited series. Created by Jordan Peele and Underground creator Misha Green, the series follows a young African-American man who travels across the U.S. in the 1950s with his uncle and a close friend, who just might become something more, in search of his missing father but it’s definitely going to get way deeper and far sinister given that Lovecraft is in the title which usually means that it will be a continuing spiral of despair and suffering that leads to doom and death. So, yeah, not going to be bright and sunny but it has Birds Of Prey’s Jurnee Smollett Bell and The Last Black Man In San Francisco’s Jonathan Majors in it and episode one is a total doozy of a springboard into it as it gives the layout of America it resides in then throws monsters and blood and gore at you in copious buckets Get on the train now for this because you will love it but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Harley Quinn: Season 1 & 2 – Kaley Cuoco is looking to shed that image of her as the blonde and sweet Penny that lived across the hall from the boys of Big Bang Theory and she’s doing it hugely as the bad insane villain sidekick turned good insane hero who really seems like the DC Comics version of Deadpool. Coming from the now recalibrated and shifted to HBO Max DC Universe streaming service, this comedic gem follows a newly single Harley Quinn who casts off the shackles of a toxic relationship with the Joker and joins her new best friend and fellow former Arkham Asylum inmate Poison Ivy as she sets off to make it on her own and create her own legacy in Gotham City. This show is hysterically funny with a punchy script that’s crass and biting, gratuitously violent action and voice performances from Cuoco, Alan Tudyk, Lake Bell and more that will have you on the floor laughing. This is a true gem of a show and I can’t wait for season three.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:
The Silence Of The Lambs – One of the greatest thrillers of all time hits its thirtieth birthday this week and it is a great time to revel in how much of a masterpiece this film is and how it helped elevate talent that was already thriving for years and had the hottest lamps of stardom on it as it would later win five Academy Awards. For those living under a rock, the film is about a young F.B.I. cadet who must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims. Of course, those two main roles were played by odie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins who would win an Oscar for his portrayal of the now infamous Hannibal Lecter but it’s director Jonathan Demme who is the real star of this one, crafting a brilliantly deceptive film filled with chills, incredible and unforgettable shots and establishing one of the greatest characters of all time and setting an archetype for villains to come. This movie is still one of the best
Cache – Michael Hanake is a filmmaker who’s been acclaimed in the international cinema community for years but it was this film, celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this week, that put him on the map for me. A subtle and chilling Hitchcockian thriller, the film is set in France and follows Georges, a TV literary reviewer who lives in a small yet modern townhouse with his wife Ann, a publisher and his young son Pierrot. They begin to receive video tapes through the mailbox of their house and family, alongside obscure child-like drawings. They visit the police with the hope of aid to find the stalker, but as there is no direct threat, they refuse to help and, as the tapes become more personal, Georges takes it upon himself to figure out who is putting his family through such horror. Brilliantly filmed and fantastically acted by veteran French actors Daniel Autiel and Juliette Binoche, this movie floored me when I was back in my movie clerk days in the mid-2000s. This is must-see French cinema and there’s no better time than now.
The Witch – A press screening that left my jaw on the floor when the credits hit, this masterpiece and the debut film from writer and director Robert Eggers turns five this week and it remains one of the most audacious, chilling and gothic horror films in recent memory. The story follows a family, newly banished from their righteous pilgrim community, with the troubled patriarch, William, and his Puritan family setting out to make their new lives in a humble farmhouse on the outskirts of a thick and dark forest in mid-seventeenth-century New England. As the struggling family tries to settle in their new isolated homestead tragedy strikes when their infant child vanishes into thin air, and, shortly after, other unforeseen and disasters smite the God-fearing farmers. However, is this situation the result of a family on the brink of psychological breakdown, or is William’s first-born daughter, Thomasin, the root of all of their problems? Anya Taylor-Joy made her astounding lead role debut in this film with an incredible performance that has now led her to the limelight of audience favorite shows like The Queen’s Gambit but I implore people to check out where it all started. You won’t be disappointed.
The Crew (Netflix) – Well, Netflix did it. They commissioned Kevin James and his return to sitcom series making and maybe it was paired with the huge Adam Sandler deal that could be the reason we’ve seen more of him and David Spade on the streaming service but not being a fan of King Of Queens and Kevin Can Wait, I’m a bit leery of this one. The show follows the life in the garage of a NASCAR crew chief and his tight-knit racing team who’s usually lackadaisical way of life is thrown into upheaval when a new boss steps in and shakes things up. Besides James, the cast features the reliable veteran skills of Boston Legal actor Gary Anthony Williams and Freddie Stroma, who is hot off of the blindingly quick Netflix hit Bridgerton and I’d love to be proven wrong on this but the pairing of Kevin and NASCAR is a bit of a turn off for me.
How To Catch A Serial Killer (Britbox) – Oh, yes. More creepy goodness for all of those true crime fans that savoured the Richard Ramirez Netflix docuseries were let down by the Cecil Hotel series and in desperate need of something all new. Well, this is your saviour from across the pond and it has two full seasons already in its rearview but keep in mind that the shows run for shorter seasons over there. This show, which ran as To Catch a Serial Killer with Trevor McDonald on British television, follows the knighted McDonald as he explores the extraordinary pursuit of serial killer Christopher Halliwell by detective Steve Fulcher complete with interviews, eye witness account and investigation documentation to back up the facts. Because only a small niche group of people have bought into the great streaming service of Britbox, not many people are going to know about this one but you can be ahead of the curve when it becomes massively popular and say stuff like “meh, I already saw that.” How cool would you be?
Behind Her Eyes (Netflix) – Looking for some of that melodramatic thriller to get you through the weekend? Well, this transplant from the United Kingdom should do the trick to distract and it has the beautiful Eve Hewson to lead it, who also happens to be the daughter of U2 frontman and humanitarian, Bono. Hewson stars as Louise, a single mom with a son and a part-time job in a psychiatrist’s office who begins a sleazy affair with her boss and strikes up an unlikely friendship with his wife which may or may not be part of her grand plan. The show may not look like much but it is the return of showrunner Steve Lightfoot who may have Netflix Marvel fans salivating because he was the guy that helmed the Jon Bernthal-led Punisher series which was a massive hit and one that I know a lot of people want back. Well, it’s not exactly Frank Castle dispatching bad guys but the writing might be on par here.
Amend: The Fight For America (Netflix) – With the need for a bigger spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement att a fever pitch because, let’s face it, people aren’t getting it, this is a really important docuseries aimed at, above everything, educating audiences in simple constitutional things that should be common knowledge. Presented by host Will Smith, this six episode series explores American history through a lens that will have its viewers questioning what an idea of a United States really means, how the history has shaped where we presently are and where we really need to be as a society but, of course, through a purely American filter. As a Canadian looking from the outside, there are definitely things that can be learned on this side of the border and this that definitely apply to us and for sure our indigenous population. This is a series of progression that needs to be looked at as a template for change rather than just some nice idea that the Netflix producers put out.
For All Mankind: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – We’re now continuing into the second year of the streaming service that Apple has created to compete with the big boys so in the sophomore roll out comes this second season of the NASA centric show that has actually gotten very good reviews and, a little caveat from me, I’m predestined to enjoy this show because it features a friend of mine, Nate Corddry. starring The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman and created by Battlestar Galactica’s reboot showrunner Ronald Moore, the series is set in an alternative 1969, as the world, and especially the United States, watch in shock as the Soviet Union successfully manages to land men on the Moon before the USA does. With that defeat, NASA is presented with a renewed challenge in the space race that they never expected to face and the cold war rivalry takes on a new intensity and grander ambition to reach far further than ever dreamed and with more diverse resources than ever before. I’m a real sucker for elseworlds or alternate history plots so this show really gripped me early on and the production and performance level is great, almost on par with big productions like HBO or BBC puts out. Now with two seasons available to check out, the time has never been better to grab this service and get going on the binge.