Coming 2 America – I’m kind of disappointed in the film world for the simple fact that Eddie Murphy’s grand return in the biopic Dolemite Is My Name wasn’t as celebrated as it should have been, a total crowd pleaser and the brilliant role he needed to put himself back on top and for awards accolades to roll in. None of that happened but what we did get is him reteaming with the director, Craig Brewer, to bring us the long-awaited follow up to a classic John Landis comedy that is still hilarious. The film brings us back to the lush and fictional royal country of Zamunda with newly-crowned King Akeem and his trusted confidante Semmi, played once again by Murphy’s pal Arsenio Hall embarking on an all-new adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York, back to where all of his worldly escapades began. Both Murphy and Hall once again don multiple characters in a film that I am hugely looking forward to and maybe this will be that wide celebration I’ve been waiting for.
Raya And The Last Dragon – We have definitely been missing the movie theatres, like these top two films this week totally remind you of, but this movie is the biggest reminded of that as I felt throughout my viewing of it how incredible the experience would have been. Originally slated to arrive in theatres this past November, this dazzling Disney film follows a lone warrior named Raya whose mission is to track down the last dragon to finally stop the Druun, sinister monsters that turns all life to stone and have broken apart humanity into different tribes who hide to keep their pieces of an ancient dragon artifact that keeps the enemy at bay. The only chance for a future lies in the unification of all these pieces that will restore the balance of the world. Featuring an all Asian cast including Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran and the hilarious Awkwafina, I loved every moment of this film and so did my family, a breath of fresh air in the Disney animated films that fell like another piece in their iconic original stories that could stand shoulder to shoulder with movies like Aladdin and The Lion King.
The Mauritanian – I picked the perfect time to watch my screener for this new drama thriller that is based on the novel from the author and the main focus of this film, Mohamedou Ould Salahi, as it picked up a Golden Globe just this past Sunday for Best Supporting Actress Jodie Foster. Coming from acclaimed director Kevin Macdonald, this is the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the United States government for years. Alone, afraid and yearning to be reconnected with his family, Slahi finds allies in defence attorney Nancy Hollander, played by Foster and her associate Teri Duncan, played by Shailene Woodley who battles the government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a formidable military prosecutor, The Benedict Cumberbatch played Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, uncovers shocking truths and ultimately proves that the Americans have been so shady and callous in their reaction to 9/11, the catalyst for all their actions. The film is brilliantly acted but there is a dry dullness that snakes through it and kind of drags it down in parts.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Now that this film has won lead actress Andra Day the Best Actress Golden Globe we can now probably dub this biopic about legendary singer Billie Holiday as this year’s Judy, meaning that it will award its number one star all of the accolades, like Renee Zellweger last year, for their work while, as a whole, not being a great movie. This story follows Holiday during her career as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, played by Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes, with whom she had a tumultuous affair. The film was directed by Lee Daniels who has made incredible films in the past like Precious, The Paperboy and The Butler but it seems like this one misses the mark largely. Just watch Lady Sings The Blues, it’s amazing.
Moxie – After the fun but a bit vapid lady-led romp that was Wine Country, I was really looking forward to Amy Poehler’s next offering as a director, an actress turned filmmaker who studied under the tree of knowledge that is Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain. Instead of having a big cast filled with her friends, Poehler turned her focus to a high school story in this adaptation of the book by Jennifer Mathieu about a shy sixteen-year-old fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school who finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution. The movie sounds great but manages to step into every pandering cliche about teenagers, high school life, love interests, dialogue and even hits crazy levels of white saviour thinking. Very quickly I knew I was knee-deep in a bad film and it didn’t improve its stance and just kept sinking into its problematic quagmire.
Land – Veteran actress and former crush of mine back in the Princess Bride days Robin Wright makes her directorial debut with this emotional drama the puts a grieving woman in the middle of the wilderness in a story not just of personal survival but soul resurrection. Wright stars in the film as well, playing Edee, a woman living in the aftermath of an unfathomable event and finds herself unable to stay connected to the world she once knew. In the face of that uncertainty, she retreats to the magnificent, but unforgiving, wilds of the Rockies in Wyoming and, inexperienced in how to live off and protect herself from the land, she puts her life in extreme danger. After a local hunter, played beautifully by Demián Bichir, brings her back from the brink of death, she must find a way to live again and open herself up to the continuation of her being. The film starts off rocky in my opinion, giving so much emotion to a character that we haven’t even gotten to know yet and her survival naivete comes off as frustrating but the second and third act comes in to totally elevate that film and give us a really tender one-two dynamic with these characters. Wright sticks her landing as a filmmaker and I’m looking forward to what she has next.
My Salinger Year – This is definitely one of my favourite films of the Vancouver International Film Festival last year and the crowning achievement for the director and screenwriter Philippe Falardeau whose last outing I saw at a previous festival was My Internship In Canada, an absurd comedy that I’d love to forget. Based on Joanna Smith Rakoff’s novel of the same name, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley plays Joanna as a young aspiring writer who lands a day-job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency in n New York City during the late nineties. While her eccentric and old-fashioned boss, played by Sigourney Weaver, tasks her to process Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, she struggles to find her own voice through romance, a crash course in the publishing world and communications with the reclusive writer that she knows as Jerry. This film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and leaves a resonance that will put a smile on your face.
The World To Come – Is everyone out there ready to get depressed because have I ever got the movie for you to get into the depths of your sullen emotions! Not to make light of it but this film has to be one of the bleakest films I have received into my brain in a while and it is another Vanessa Kirby project that did it, less than two months after Pieces Of A Woman. Starring Fantastic Beasts’ Katherine Waterston, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott as well, the film takes place in upstate New York in the 1850s and follows Abigail who begins a new year on the rural farm where she lives with her husband Dyer. As Abigail considers the year to come through her journal entries, we experience the marked contrast between her deliberate, stoic manner and her unravelling complex emotions, dealing with the death of their only daughter. Spring arrives and Abigail meets Tallie, an emotionally frank and arrestingly beautiful newcomer renting a neighbouring farm with her husband, Finney. The two strike up a tentative relationship that soon turns romantic as the two share a torrid romance that ends in sullen tragedy. This film is beautifully shot in the countryside of Romania but the dour nature of this story refuses to let you enjoy that scenery as we watch Abigail fall apart emotionally. Fantastic performances from the whole cast but it’s not really a recommendable film unless you enjoy depression.
Boogie – A teen story to wipe the bad taste in my mouth that Moxie left, this is a sort of coming of age film that delves into themes of ancestry, lineage, family pride and individualism in a modern world and the shrugging of race politics. This is the story of Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a basketball phenom living in Queens, New York, who dreams of one day playing in the NBA. While his parents pressure him to focus on earning a scholarship to an elite college, Boogie must find a way to navigate a new girlfriend, high school, on-court rivals and the burden of expectation with a domineering mother who only sees the prosperity of her family and his recently released from prison father who just wants the American dream for his son. The indie style is a driving factor to this film that is only really let down by the inexperience of its lead cast and the hurtle in this film is Boogie isn’t really likeable until a good way into this story and the first “pick up line” he uses is so laughably cringy that I had to pause the movie to stop laughing.
Dreamcatcher – Oh man, have we not hit up the horror genre yet? Well, let’s quickly fix that with this new party-themed slasher film that has a really cool-looking central villain in it. With an unproven cast led by the Incredible Hulk’s kid Lou Ferrigno Jr., this film centers on two estranged sisters who, along with their friends, become entrenched in a forty-eight-hour whirlwind of violence after a traumatic experience at an underground music festival. Dylan, known to his fans as DJ Dreamcatcher, an artist who plays under a mask much like Deadmau5, is on the brink of global stardom but someone has co-opted his mask for a series of murders that will make him memorable for the opposite reason he wants. It’s a bumpy ride through the beginning of this film as noting really takes a good hold of you until the second act and some viewers may have checked out by then. Some inventive kills, pulsing music and neon vibrant visuals are enough to keep it sailing to the end in my opinion.
Stray – This documentary is as straightforward as they come but it is such a singular journey in its narrative that it may at times feel like you are watching paint dry. I’m not setting this one up too well, am I? To get the synopsis out of the way, the film explores what it means to live as a being without status or security, following three strays as they embark on inconspicuous journeys through Turkish society. There’s Zeytin, fiercely independent, who embarks on adventures through the city at night, Nazar, nurturing and protective, who easily befriends the humans around her all the while Kartal, a shy puppy living on the outskirts of a construction site, finds companions in the security guards who care for her. The strays’ disparate lives intersect when they each form intimate bonds with a group of young Syrians with whom they share the streets. This film is an intimate take on living on the streets and its effect and the judgement laid upon those individuals, canines and humans alike. It’s a beautifully shot tale of pure existence but it can definitely leave viewers wondering what the purpose of it was.
The End Of The Storm – I’m not really a soccer fan. Hold on, let’s switch to European style so I don’t piss people off. I’m not really a “football’ fan but anytime a documentary crew goes deep on a sport it generally has a human connective draw to me and I will always appreciate the strength, both mentally and physically, that goes into being a professional athlete no matter what the sport is. This film offers unprecedented access to Liverpool Football Club, a gripping look at their 2019/20 Premier League winning season. In a year when all sports came to a standstill, fans of Liverpool Football Club finally saw their team lift the trophy that had eluded them for thirty long years, seen through the eyes of manager Jurgen Klopp and his first-team players including Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. The blood, sweat and tears of not only this team, its coach and its staff but the fans as well are felt in this but some angry outsiders would like to come at this championship win with an asterisk which is unfortunate. A win is a win, right?
Notturno – As a slice of life documentary filmmaker, I have to admit I’ve been pretty aloof on the works of East African director Gianfranco Rosi’s work aside from the Academy Award-nominated Fire At Sea which was a film about life on the Italian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis. His new film isn’t far off that mark, an immersive portrait of those trying to survive in the war-torn Middle East, filmed over three years on the borders between Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon. his documentary captures everyday life in the aftermath of tyranny, invasions and terrorism in a stilled and pragmatic way the almost acts like the camera is a fly on the wall that we take this shattered existence from. So much beauty is captured by Rosi but is equally contrasted by the rubble, cracks and destruction left behind and the fire and brimstone on the horizon. A truly fascinating experience.
Monster Hunter – Can somebody please take these Capcom properties away from Milla Jovovich and her writer, producer and director husband Paul W.S. Anderson? Really, just take all adaptations away because Anderson has tanked the Resident Evil franchise, made a mess out of the history of Pompeii and even Alexander Dumas has been slighted with his terrible Three Musketeers adaptation. This slogfest that has bright points of action jumps on a game franchise I’m unfamiliar with, following Marine lieutenant Artemis and her loyal soldiers who are transported to a new world and engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Co-starring Ong Bak action star Tony Jaa and featuring T.I., Megan Good and Diego Boneta for all of ten minutes, the film is haphazard in plotting and brainless in its script and that’s me going easy on it. Ugh, when will the torture end, Milla? I used to love you!
Fatale – Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy are trying to bring you some sexy thrills before Christmas with this new film that seems to borrow a lot of its plot from nineties thrillers, which would be fine if you had a competent filmmaker to bring that to the screen. Instead, you have Deon Taylor, a director who has brought out laughable films like the Dennis Quaid dumbness The Intruder, a film so unintentionally funny that I couldn’t take it seriously for a millisecond. Predictably, this film is about a successful married man who, after an adulterous one-night stand, finds himself entangled in a cunning police detective’s latest investigation. My request for a screening link for this was denied so you know this is going to be craptacular.
Half Brothers – Newly discovered familial bonds are at the center of this new comedy adventure that I really just found out about this week and, let’s face it, the reason is that it doesn’t have a notable director or stars that we’ve heard of in North America. The story follows Renato, a Mexican aviation executive, who is shocked to learn he has an American half-brother he never knew about, the free-spirited Asher. They are forced on a road trip together, tracing the path their father took from Mexico to the United State in the hope that it will bring them closer together and erase the deficit that time has put between them. I had such a hard time following the tone of this movie, whether it was an emotional dramedy or a screwball road trip comedy at times but the worst offence was that the pulse of the film is almost no existent with a limp script, haphazard delivery and a directional execution that seemed to be learning on the fly. A pretty disappointing end to this one.
All My Life – It is the tearjerker side of this week’s write-up as this movie delves into the romantic drama side with a tragic twist. The film stars former Glee star Harry Shum Jr. and the glowing piece of both Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, Jessica Rothe and follows a couple whose wedding plans are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer. This movie looks pretty corny on the outside and, to be totally honest, it really is but the sugary sweetness that comes with it is kind of a breath of fresh air in the darkness of 2020 and hearing the COVID numbers every day. This may ease your mind and give you a reprieve from all of that and not in that terrible Hallmark movie sort of way.
Scare Me – Being a fan of one of the original Youtube sketch groups College Humor, I was really excited when I saw that long-time actor and writer from that group, Josh Ruben, had produced, written, directed and starred in his own horror film. Co-starring the breakout star of the second season of The Boys, Aya Cash, and SNL cast member Chris Redd, and it’s simply about two strangers telling scary stories during a power outage but the more Fred and Fanny commit to their tales, the more the stories come to life in their Catskills cabin and the horrors of reality fully manifest when Fred confronts his ultimate fear. The satire in this film is a brilliant side of biting that is a continuous wink to the audience but carves out a new side of the genre at the same time. This is one of the most inventive chillers I’ve seen in a while but it also has a broader side to it to inviting those who don’t love horror. You weirdos.
Pinocchio – I guess Gomorrah filmmaker Matteo Garrone looked at the original 1940 Disney telling of Pinocchio and said “Nah, that’s not grim and grotesque enough” and decided to make a faithful adaptation of the book because he put his all into making a true, poverty-stricken and dirty version of that classic story and it is certainly not for kids. Co-starring Academy Award winner Roberto Benigni, this film fully fleshes out the Carlo Collodi book, the story of old woodcarver Geppetto’s puppet creation, Pinocchio, who magically comes to life with dreams of becoming a real boy. Of course, easily led astray, Pinocchio tumbles from one misadventure to another as he is tricked, kidnapped and chased by bandits, gets turned into a donkey and swallowed by a whale in his journey to becoming flesh and blood. I remembered things from the old cartoon but seeing the way that Garone tackled these plot points made me totally rethink what I had seen. The donkey transformation scene is almost disturbing, reminding me quite a bit of a werewolf transformation. What a strange movie this was.
Zappa – Being a late arriver to the genius of Frank Zappa, an uncompromising artist who sought out the highest quality of work rather than the volume of being a desired artist, most of what I knew about this legend came from the previous documentary Eat That Question released four years ago but this new film, written and directed by Bill And Ted’s Alex Winter, feels totally definitive. Compiled from hours and hours of home videos, tour footage, backstage documentation and interviews over his career, this is the peering into the mind of a legendary musician almost directly from his point of view, a man who was known as difficult due to his perfectionism and an emboldened fighter in the war with the establishment, the government and that nasty word that we regard as censorship. I found myself constantly blown away by Zappa’s drive to create content over commercialism and his process to keep himself out of the mainstream medium. So many artists, not just in music, can look at Frank’s story as the utmost tale of fierce originality and a will unbreakable and unbendable by any of society’s constraints. This is an amazing film.
Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1 – You know you’ve got my money when you boast that a movie has “the world’s first seventy seven-minute, one-take action film sequence” in it so when this email landed in my inbox I smashed that “send it to me” button immediately. Is there a real story to it? With a setup like that, who honestly cares? Just to be thorough, I’ll give you a little bit, as the story is set in 1604 as Miyamoto Musashi attacks the Yoshioka family at their dojo and defeats master Seijuro and his younger brother Denshichiro in two duels. To save their reputation, the Yoshioka family decides to fight back with all one hundred family members and hire an additional three hundred samurai and now Musashi sets out to defeat all 400 enemies in his most famous battle. Sounds totally badass and a total gold mine to any fans out there itching for an insane samurai movie, right? Well, just know that it all pays off and that blu-ray quality and sounds are oh so sweet to behold.
Victor And Valentino: Folk Art Foes: Season 1 Volume 1 – More Cartoon Network goodies land on the shelves this week with this brand new series from creator Diego Molano who has taken his adventurous little short and turned it into a full-fledged series for his first full-on series after writing for The Powerpuff Girls. The series follows two brothers, very opposite from each other, who spend a summer with their grandma in Monte Macabre, a small and mysterious town, where the myths and legends of Latin American folklore come to life. So, think Eerie, Indiana, Latin edition but animated and that sounds pretty fantastic to me. The kids will really dig this show has it’s flashy, fast-paced and seems to be exactly in line with all the hit shows from the Nickelodeon side of Cartoon Network that has been going strong since Dexter’s Laboratory.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:
Defendor – This is a hidden Canadian-produced gem about underlying mental health that completely blew me away and not because the actor-turned-director Peter Stebbings partially shares my name. Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings and Sandra Oh star in this comedy-drama that follows Arthur Poppington, a regular man who adopts a superhero persona, known as “Defendor”, to comb the city streets at night, in search of his archenemy, Captain Industry. Arthur knows he doesn’t understand and doesn’t belong in this ordinary world but is committed to fighting with no power other than courage, no matter how blind it looks. Harrelson delivers another beautifully nuanced performance that keeps you rooting for Arthur and hoping that his psychosis is more cathartic than damaging. I saw this movie when it came out over ten years ago and have always recommended it as a pick off the beaten path.
V For Vendetta 4K – One of the coolest graphic novel adaptations of the early 2000s, this was such an ambitious project to pick up and it really had to be the Wachowski Starship that tackled it, just after The Matrix series had been fully realized and with their protege James McTeague behind the camera in his debut as a director. Based on the book by renowned warlock and public curmudgeon Alan Moore, the film is set in a totalitarian future with Britain in the height of tyranny, London is a police state occupied by a fascist government, and a vigilante known only as V, played always under a mask by Hugo Weaving, who uses terrorist tactics to fight the oppressors of the world in which he now lives. When V saves a young woman named Evey, stunningly played by future Oscar winner Natalie Portman, from the secret police, he discovers an ally in his fight against England’s oppressors. This movie was incredible to look at on the big screen and is so immersive now on this 4K home release, one of Warner Bros.’s great bullets in their arsenal of great action films in the last twenty years. If you haven’t seen this one, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with this great and relevant story.
Full Metal Jacket 4K – War movies have a large niche fan are that usually delves into each film purely on a need for some action sequences, historical posturing or just to see some of the biggest moments in these conflicts reflected on the big screen. This is why I love these 4K movies and the reissues of the older titles as it breathes new life into the movies and it definitely does with this classic that focuses on the psychological side of the Vietnam War in one of the most unforgettable films of the eighties and another masterpiece from the greatest director ever, Stanley Kubrick. The film is a two-segment look at the effect of the military mindset and war itself on Vietnam era Marines with the first half following a group of recruits in boot camp under the command of the punishing Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and the second half which shows one of those recruits, Joker, covering the war as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes, focusing on the Tet offensive. Of course, the boot camp portion is the most memorable for most people but there are shots and scenes in the final act that are sear indelibly into my brain. This movie is incredible still.
Murder Among The Mormons (Netflix) – Just a couple of weeks after Joe Berlinger producer the Cecil Hotel docuseries that ruffled a few feathers, he is back co-producing this murder documentary series with Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre director Jared Hess in a story close to the filmmaker’s heart as it strikes right at the heart of his religion, the Mormon faith. The series brings you to Salt Lake City in 1985 when a series of pipe bombs kill two people and severely injures another, jolting the epicentre of the Church Of Latter-Day Saints. The murders send further shockwaves through the community when a trove of early Mormon letters and diaries are found destroyed in the vehicle of the third victim, Mark Hofmann, a renowned collector of rare documents, including the infamous White Salamander Letter, an artifact whose contents threatened to shake the very foundations of Mormonism. As Hofmann fights for his life, investigators race to uncover the truth in a fascinating trip that is the first comprehensive look at one of the most shocking crimes to have ever taken place among the Mormon community and the criminal mastermind behind it all. I was hooked from episode one and not just because I feel like the founding beliefs in this faith are ridiculously stupid.