The Courier – I feel like I’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch pretty often in the last few weeks with The Mauritanian a few weeks ago and this one now and both stories are centred around real events which makes it that much more compelling. Cumberbatch absolutely shines in this new tense drama, playing an unassuming British businessman named Greville Wynne who is recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history, the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative, played by Marvelous Ms. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan, he forms a covert and dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the international conflict before it hits disastrous consequences. This film is a treasure trove of white knuckle nervousness and near misses as both men, sweating profusely, elude authorities who will certainly execute them if caught. Fans of historical spy films will dig into this one quite well.
Bad Trip – If you have never had the chance to check out any of Eric Andre’s work, whether it be his series The Eric Andre Show, his scripted series work on Man Seeking Woman or his stand up special Legalize Everything, I don’t think this new film is a great jumping-off point because, well, it’s complete insanity. Much in the way the Jackass guys did the Johnny Knoxville comedy Bad Grandpa, this is a film with a scripted story but besides Andre and his co-stars Ll Rey Howard. Michaela Conlin and Tiffany Haddish, everyone else isn’t in on the joke. The film is a mix of a scripted buddy comedy road movie and a real hidden camera prank show which follows the outrageous misadventures of two buds stuck in a rut who embark on a cross-country road trip to NYC and the storyline sets up shocking real pranks that will seriously knock you on your ass. The planning that must have gone into the construction of this film is immense and seems like an incredible accomplishment but as much as I want to call this one a must-see I have to caution you with many trigger warnings.
Breaking News In Yuba County – The cast is the immediate draw to this new dark comedy is definitely the cast as the poster boasts a great ensemble with Alison Janney leading Mila Kunis, Awkwafina, Wanda Sykes, Clifton Collins Jr., Regina Hall and more and it’s directed by Get On Up’s Tate Taylor in a bid to wash the disappointment of Ma off his resume. The film has Janney as Sue Buttons, an under-appreciated suburban wife, gets a taste of being a local celebrity after her husband goes missing as she embarks on a city-wide search in Yuba County to find him. To prolong her newfound fame, she stumbles into hilarious hijinks as her world turns upside down, dodging a wanna-be mobster, a relentless local policewoman, her half-sister who is a local news reporter desperate for a story and her husband’s dead-beat brother who all set out to uncover the truth behind the disappearance. Unfortunately, with all of that great setup, this film is never as good as the sum of its parts and is another sad entry onto the list of movies that started so promisingly as the darling who made the Oscar praised The Help. For the record, I didn’t like that movie either.
Nobody – I have been waiting patiently for the return of writer and director Ilya Naishuller, the pun rock pirate Russian filmmaker who was responsible for the first-ever first-person action adrenaline ride Hardcore Henry starring Sharlto Copley. Why is he a pirate? Because he has a rough and gritty style of innovation and will accomplish it by any means necessary. He gets a big-budget Hollywood boost this time and a fan favourite star of Mr. Show creator and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk and it is another piece of action cinema that will be remembered as a can’t miss John Wick style pulse pounder. He plays Hutch Mansell, an underestimated and mild-mannered family man, increasingly unaffected by his life’s hardships and mundanities. One night, when two thieves break into his suburban home, he declines to defend himself or his family, hoping to prevent any serious complications. His son, Blake, and his wife, Becca disappointed in Hutch’s inaction, start to drift further away from him than before but the incident has actually ignited his resentment towards being an unsubstantial father and husband and awakening his suppressed skills and illuminating his dark secrets to cause some brutal violence. Buckle up for a full ninety-minute ride that takes no prisoners and still, although being a distinctly American feeling story has a Russian dressing to it.
Six Minutes To Midnight – Benedict isn’t the only one who’s bringing the historical dramas this week as Dame Judi Dench and the great Eddie Izzard have a little piece of World War II-centric story to tell you. Set in the summer of 1939, the story follows the influential families in Nazi Germany who have sent their daughters to a finishing school in an English seaside town to learn the language and be ambassadors for a future looking National Socialist. A teacher there sees what is coming and is trying to raise the alarm, predicting the horrifying future, but the authorities believe he is the problem. This movie plays out interestingly at first but then the story starts to slide in an unbelievable direction, causing me to frantically look up the real story to fact check and, lo and behold, this is a completely fabricated plot. That kind of thing really bothers me as there are so many real tales in this time and made-up ones feel unnecessary in my opinion. It is great to see Izzard and Dench on screen together though.
Doors – Ambitious and eye-catching, this little anthology science fiction thriller really had me going early on and I thought it’d be one of those little sleeper indie films that I could praise, much akin to a now cult classic like 2007’s The Signal. The film follows multiple stories reacting to a shared human experience when, without warning, millions of mysterious alien “doors” suddenly appear around the globe. In a rush to determine the reason for their arrival, mankind must work together to understand the purpose of these cosmic anomalies. Bizarre incidents occurring around the sentient doors leads humanity to question their own existence and an altered reality as they attempt to enter them and, honestly, none of them are super unsettling until the final story which presents itself as a podcast style Zoom meeting until you realize that it is more of an unwilling ascension to a new state of being than it is an interview. I feel like these filmmakers will hit an incredible stride once they have a studio backing them and the groundwork they have here is so impressive even if some of it leaves me scratching my head in confusion.
Violation – A huge hit at festivals last year, it’s about time that this new horror drama made its way to us as I’ve been reading reviews of it for months leading up to my viewing of it. The plot follows Miriam, a troubled woman with her marriage about to implode, who returns to her hometown to seek solace in the comfort of her younger sister and brother-in-law. One evening a tiny slip in judgement leads to a catastrophic betrayal, which leaves Miriam shocked, reeling, and furious and believing her only recourse is to exact revenge, she takes extreme action but the price of retribution is high and she is not prepared for the toll it takes as she begins to emotionally and psychologically fall apart. Lead actress Madeleine Sims-Fewer, who co-directed and co-wrote the film as well, is astounding and totally gut-wrenching in her performance, a total starmaker of an outing. This movie will absolutely rock you with its unflinching story of a woman’s deep trauma.
I Am Lisa – Is it time for some horror yet? Okay, let’s go! Coming from American director Patrick Rea, the film follows a sadistic, small-town sheriff and her underlings who brutalize a woman named Lisa and leave her for dead in the woods. Unfortunately for them, she is subsequently bitten by a werewolf and is bestowed with supernatural abilities that put her on a bloodthirsty tour of revenge that takes absolutely no prisoners. This movie is a mashing of two very popular themes in horror and thrillers and does it in such a great way that it elevates both of those story elements. The cast is made up of, to this point, unknowns but they all work so well together and also serve the story well in presenting it as a badass lady led horror both in the protagonist and antagonist sense. This film exists on what looks to be a shoestring budget but with all of it being played so well you never really notice.
Soul – I have to be honest here when Inside Out came out both my wife and I enjoyed the film but it never hit us on that deeply emotional level that it resonated with everyone else on. That said, when I watched this new film from Pete Doctor, the director of that one and Up, it hit me like a ton of bricks and easily fit into my list of the best of the year. Jamie Foxx voices Joe, a middle-school band teacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way he expected. His true passion is jazz and he’s good, able to get in the zone and float away on his own tangents and it ends up earning him his big break and then he falls into a sewer drain right after. Now he must team up with an earth-defiant little soul, voiced by Tina Fey, and travel to another realm to help her find her passion, he soon discovers what it means to have a soul. This is such a beautiful film about purpose and Doctor nails it in every respect. It feels like the Pixar of old was missing for a few years but they came back big time for this one.
News Of The World – It’s hard to believe that in Tom Hanks’ long and storied career he has never tackled a western before, although he has played a cowboy before but his Toy Story adventures don’t really count in this regard. Reteaming with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, he finally corrects this wrong, playing a Civil War veteran who now goes across the country reading the news who agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, although against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either of them can call home and create a bond together that may be stronger than they have ever experienced. This movie is sombre and methodical with Greengrass shelving his usual shaky handheld style for something more poignant and it works so beautifully. I was gripped by Hanks’s performance and the character development holds fast to you until the very end.
The Undoing – A brand new HBO drama lands this week and it should be a more noteworthy premiere as it is the first series on the cable network for a mega television producer and creator David E. Kelley, known for making Ally McBeal, The Practice and, my personal favourite, Boston Legal. This show has some big names to it as it stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and follows Grace Sachs, a successful therapist who has a devoted husband, a young son who attends an elite private school in New York City and is living the only life she ever wanted for herself. Overnight a chasm opens in her life as a violent death disrupts her perfect life structure, her husband goes missing and the investigation only yields a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster and horrified by how she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself. The entire series was directed by acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier which is the biggest reason I want to take in all six episodes of this show which is very different from Kelley’s previous work.
Iron Mask – Okay, let me set this one up for you. This is a Chinese-made fantasy action epic that features a wise, old and long-bearded Jackie Chan and a curly wigged and moustachioed Arnold Schwarzenegger. Are you intrigued? The story follows English traveller Jonathan Green, played by Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels actor Jason Flemyng, who receives from Peter the Great an order to map the Russian Far East. He sets out for a long journey full of incredible adventures that will eventually lead him to China but along the way, he unexpectedly faces a lot of breathtaking discoveries, encounters bizarre creatures, meets with Chinese Princesses and confronts deadly martial arts masters, and even the King of all dragons, the Dragon King. This movie, for lack of a better term, is just plain bad. No matter how good the CGI looks, and it really is impressive at times, and how well thought out the fight scenes are, this film can not escape its bad plotting and horrendous script that make it consistently bizarre and, I assume, unintentionally hilarious.
The Bloodhound – Arrow Video is usually known for doing incredible collector’s editions of fan favourites like the recent Southland Tales or Weird Science and the 4K updates on Tremors and Cinema Paradiso but they also have a great platform of movies that wouldn’t get this sort of international treatment. This film fits that mould big time, the simple synopsis is following the strange events that plague a young man when he’s summoned to the secluded home of a wealthy childhood friend and his twin sister. The vibes feel akin to a horror mystery like the Karyn Kusama mindbender The Invitation as they are both films that live and breathe with their reveals and the less explained about it, the better. The film also features a great young cast including Captain Fantastic’s stand out Annalise Basso, former Stepmom child star Liam Aiken and former Damnation and Grey’s Anatomy actor Joe Adler and is a sleek, stylish and underhandedly chilling film that will resonate in your mind for a little bit after watching. This was a nice little surprise this week.
Gattaca 4K – Remember this stylish and impeccably dressed science fiction story that took the not quite hot button topic of cloning on in the late nineties? Well, the Andrew Niccol written and directed mystery starring Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman has gotten the full 4K treatment now and looks and sounds better than ever and presents the perfect opportunity to rewatch it or discover it for the first time. The film was Oscar-nominated for Best Art Direction in the Set Decoration category and is set in a future society in the era of indefinite eugenics where humans are set on a life course depending on their DNA. Young Vincent Freeman is born with a condition that would prevent him from space travel, yet is determined to infiltrate the Gattaca Corp, an aerospace firm. I wasn’t a fan of this film when I initially saw it but the reconnection I just did with it shows that the film has aged beautifully and definitely hit me differently and landed as a heady mystery with big background ideas.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Man Push Cart/Chop Shop – American-born and of Iranian descent, director Ramin Bahrani finally gets the respect of some of his films getting the prestige of Criterion Collection editions showcasing two of his establishing pieces that highlight the immigrant’s plight in the sprawling metropolis of The Big Apple. Man Push Cart tells the story of Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant who struggles to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in Midtown Manhattan every night while the city sleeps, and every morning, from inside his cart he sells coffee and donuts to a city he cannot call his own. He is the everyman worker found on every street corner in every city as he is also every man who wonders if he will ever escape his fate. Chop Shop follows Alejandro, a resourceful street orphan on the verge of adolescence, who lives and works in an auto-body repair shop in a sprawling junkyard on the outskirts of Queens, New York. Existing in this chaotic world of adults, Alejandro struggles to make a better life for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister. Breaths of reality punctuate Bahrani’s work and I feel they are most on display in these two unforgettable films that are so beautiful on blu-ray. Must-see stuff here.
The Great Caruso – What would this whole weekly blog be without highlighting something totally classic that I had just discovered myself and wanted to share with the world? Nowhere, that’s where! Thanks to Warner Archive, we are heading back to the beginning of the fifties for a film that traces the life of tenor Enrico Caruso. A meandering lover, he loves Musetta, a girl in his hometown of Naples but then Dorothy, the daughter of one of the Metropolitan Opera’s patrons but Caruso is unacceptable to both women’s fathers. To one, because he sings and to Dorothy’s, because he is a peasant but even beyond his muddled love life to his New York patricians he is thought of as short, barrel-chested, loud, emotional and unrefined. Their appreciation comes slowly as the film depicts Caruso’s lament that “the man does not have the voice, the voice has the man” and he cannot be places he wants to be, because he must be elsewhere singing, including the day his mother dies. The film would go on to earn three Academy Award nominations, all in technical categories, and it was a passion project for many of the crew members involved as they all had known or had worked with the real Enrico Caruso. Fascinating stuff.
Hansel And Gretel – You know my love for South Korean movies and, to be honest, this movie sat on my list for years, unpurchased and unknowing of my love for it. Well, I finally made it my own and cradled it like a baby as soon as it arrived because it is that special. A Grimm fairy tales adaptation from writer and director Pil-Sung Yim, the story is a hybrid of the one you are familiar with, following a young salesman who is invited to a beautiful house with bizarre secrets and no way to escape after meeting a mysterious girl on a dark stretch of road. The film is genuinely macabre, more so than the history of this story will prepare you for but also shows that its trappings lend deliciously to the South Korean style of filmmaking. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more work from Pil-Sung Yim as this film is absolutely astounding and with a third act that is damn near unforgettable.
Q: Into The Storm (Crave) – HBO Max documentaries are never anything to fly under or over your radar but this one should definitely land squarely in front of everyone as it shines a spotlight on all the stupidity that had been glorified and emboldened over the last half of a decade. A six-part documentary series, this show charts a labyrinthine journey to unmask the mastermind behind QAnon while revealing how the anonymous character known only as “Q” uses conspiracy theories and information warfare to rile the internet up into a fever pitch, hijack politics and manipulate people’s thinking. Yes, this is a series to show any Q-cumber troll that exists in your family, your friends list or your workplace and say “hey stupid, you know you’re being played by the very thing you think you’re so ‘woke’ to, right?” Seriously, the followers of the “Mighty Q” may be some of the dumbest people I’ve ever come across but, remember, they think that YOU are the sheep. Huge eye roll.
The Irregulars (Netflix) – From the writer of the recent BBC adaptation of the classic book Watership Down, Tom Bidwell, comes this new mystery fantasy that is putting a dark twist on the story of one of the greatest literary detectives that is NOT Batman and a character that has been television chic in the last decade, Sherlock Holmes. Set in Victorian London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Holmes himself. The trailer is hugely misleading as it plays more on the strings of fantasy than it does with a “mystery of the week” style, more like Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row than it is like the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch-led show. Aimed at a teen to mid-twenties crowd definitely.
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney+) – So many people are looking forward to this continuation of a story we all adore and most of the fans drooling for it are my age and, yes, I can definitely be included in the ravenous waiters. Before heading full-on into this description I will say that the show was sadly not made for us at all. The show follows twelve-year-old Evan who, after failing to make the cut to join the now powerhouse Mighty Ducks junior hockey team, is encouraged by his mother to form a new team of underdogs with help from Gordon Bombay, the Ducks’ original coach who is now operating a rundown ice rink and, for some reason, hates hockey entirely. Yeah, this show is a bit of a headscratcher motivation wise and the push to re-establish Bombay as an anti-hero is just plain weird but, as I said, this show isn’t for us. Everything about it just reeks of the Disney Channel originals and I tried to push my way through the first three episodes and seriously struggled with it. This show kind of bums me out but maybe I’ve outgrown the Mighty Ducks. The original films though? Never.
Invincible (Amazon Prime) – One of my favourite comics in the last ten years and one that has since ended its run, Amazon Prime can seriously start calling itself the heavyweight of adult comic adaptations with this and The Boys under its belt. Coming from the mind of The Walking Dead’s creator Robert Kirkman, this show is animated exactly in the style of the comic, this is a superhero show that revolves around seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson, voiced by Oscar nominee Steven Yeun, who’s just like every other guy his age except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). Mark soon realizes that he is developing powers of his own but as these new abilities grow he discovers that his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems. The template of this story and the groundwork of the comics is so brilliantly thought out that it would be a serious misstep for any of this to fail so, without hyperbole, I will say that this might be one of the best R-rated superhero cartoon shows ever. You know, alongside Harley Quinn and Drawn Together.