Nomadland – For months I have been sitting on this review and the hype is evident as this film has already picked up Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director for Chloe Zhao and has six Academy Award nominations and is a heavy favorite to win all of those categories. Starring the incredible Frances McDormand, the film follows Fern, a woman dealing with the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, who packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. This film is a fascinating look at a real society of people who now find themselves disenfranchised to the American dream or even an affordable home and Zhao uses some real nomads peppered into this story for a hard hitting effect. The stories told in this movie were enlightening and a bit of stark modern reality contained in one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema this year.
Voyagers – With a hot esthetic, the sleek blackness of space and a neon glow, Limitless and The Illusionist filmmaker Neil Burger returns with a great cast and a creepy sci-fi mystery to baffle everyone with again. Starring Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead and Game Of Thrones alum Isaac Hempstead Wright, the film is set in the near future and chronicles the odyssey of thirty young men and women who are sent deep into space on a multi-generational mission in search of a new home. The mission descends into madness, as the crew reverts to its most primal state, not knowing if the real threat they face is what’s outside the ship or who they’re becoming inside it and it hits all the right buttons for me. The creeping paranoia of this film is so deliciously infective that I must have had a weird grin on my face the whole time. The Neil Burger I enjoy has fully returned in this movie, a huge improvement from The Upside. And Allegiant for that matter.
Thunder Force – With an exasperated groan and much against my will I clicked watch on the newest offering from Melissa McCarthy and her writer and director husband Ben Falcone who have gifted us the cinematic presents of Tammy, The Boss, Life Of The Party and Super Intelligence. Spoiler alert, all of those were terrible and the bar was low going into this one. Co-starring Octavia Spencer and Bobby Cannavale, the story follows scientist Emily Stanton who accidentally imbues her estranged best-friend with incredible abilities in an experiment meant to give superpowers to regular people in a world terrorized by super-villains. The two women must become the first superhero team, naming themselves Thunder Force, to battle the super-powered Miscreants and save Chicago from the clutches of The King. With a couple jokes here and there that land, I call this movie spaghetti funny as it takes five pieces and throws them against the wall to see what sticks and, usually, one of them does. This movie will make you facepalm on a level of “okay, the joke is over and didn’t land” and has painful levels of bad CGI but isn’t an overall waste of an hour and forty minutes.
Moffie – This movie out of South Africa is getting a huge amount of buzz from both the festival circuit as well as the LGBTQ+ community and, I will warn you now, it’s not for the faint of heart and hits levels of real brutality that I wasn’t ready for. The film follows the story of Nicholas van der Swart who, from a very young age, realized he is different but, try as he may, he cannot live up to the macho image expected of him by his family, by his heritage. So, at the age of 19 he is conscripted into the South African army and finds his every sensibility offended by a system close to its demise, and yet still in full force. Set during the South African border war against communism, this is a harsh tale about the emotional and physical suffering endured by countless young men, brilliantly put together by writer and director Oliver Hermanus who adapted this from André Carl van der Merwe’s book of the same name which actually is a derogatory Afrikaans term for a gay man. This movie is like a cold slap to the face and never relents until the credits hit.
Held – We’ve now been in some form of lockdown isolation for more than a year now and it makes horror based in isolated areas so much more chilling at the present time and this new horror thriller hopes to prey on that weakness. The story follows a couple whose marriage is losing its spark and, in an effort to reconnect, they vacation to a remote high-end rental, complete with automated smart house features and integrated security. However, after suspecting a nighttime intruder they decide to flee, only to become forcibly trapped inside by the automated security system. Emitting from the house, an unknown voice watches their every move through an array of hidden cameras, revealing an intimate and unsettling knowledge of their relationship. While the situation grows increasingly brutal, the couple must work together to uncover the truth and find a way out before it’s too late. This movie was a hidden surprise that has great twists throughout and a crazy ending that I can’t even begin to describe, nor would I want to because it is incredibly satisfying on a storytelling level. This is truly a special film.
Quo Vadis, Aida? – Well, if you want to know how my weekend was, it will definitely contain the anecdote about how this movie kicked my ass emotionally on a Saturday night. Nothing will prepare you for the sorrow of this now Academy Award nominated film from Serbia, set in a time of horrible atrocities in the mid nineties. The story follows Aida, a translator for the United Nations in the small town of Srebrenica which has just been taken over by the Serbian army. Her family is among the thousands of citizens looking for shelter in the UN camp and, as an insider to the negotiations, Aida has access to crucial information that she needs to interpret that she can hopefully maneuver into being a bargaining chip to help protect her loved ones. This movie is powerful, constantly moving and always embedded with an urgency that’s quick to follow with despair. As it is every year, it’s a tight race in the Oscars foreign category but this one deserves eyes on it.
Night In Paradise – Hell yes, some new South Korean cinema is hitting Netflix this week and, better than that, it is written and directed by Park Hoon-jung who started his career out writing the cat and mouse serial killer thriller I Saw The Devil, a movie I consider one of the greatest of all time. The story follows a wronged mobster with a target on his back hiding out in Jeju Island following a brutal tragedy who connects with a woman who has her own demons. This film is beautifully shot and moves at such a great pace that it keeps you engaged with these characters throughout. This movie plays with a blend of emotion and old school gangster noir that operates brilliantly and never lets the story get muddled. I loved this movie but I am, as you know, totally biased.
Felix And The Treasure Of Morgaa – Family animated releases have been few and far between during the pandemic rocked time we have been going through for over a year now and besides Trolls, The Croods and Disney releases, it’s been tumbleweeds in this department. We look to the French Canadian sector of our country for something this week, an animated adventure that follows twelve-year-old Félix who, taking advantage of his mother’s absence as she departs on a cruise ship for some rest and relaxation, sets out to find his father, a fisherman who disappeared at sea two years earlier. With no voices that are recognizable and an animation style that isn’t that fresh or new, all that Felix’s adventure will do is hold the kids attention for ninety minutes while you give yourself a respite to plan the next thing to occupy them because you sure as shit won’t want to watch this one, trust me. This is another example of me going above and beyond for you, my faithful reader and listener.
Pandemic – Oh great, just what we need. A pandemic themed thriller that definitely cashed in on the opportunity to change its name from the originally titled Alone to something with a current hotness. Starring Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey and Canadian legend Donald Sutherland, the story follows Aiden who barricades himself inside his apartment when an outbreak hits and starts rationing food in his complex which is overrun by the infected, known as “Screamers”, and with the world rapidly falling apart into chaos, he is left completely alone fighting for his life. We could relate, right? Unfortunately, everything about this movie screams mediocre. Posey is half assed in this one, the effects are borderline terrible and, for a story that could play up the urgency and isolation that we all feel, it’s more content on going down a long beaten path in a tired genre. It’s pretty sad and a complete waste of time, even for a horror guy like myself.
Underplayed – Bud Light produced a film? And it’s about the party scene of DJs? Yes, but it’s not as vapid as you would be led to believe as this documentary goes straight for the issues and takes a direct route to get under your skin and drive home the message of inequality and inequity in the constant fight to get women an equal share in, heck, any industry. Featuring an artist I absolutely adore, Australian’s entrancing Alison Wonderland, this documentary was filmed over the summer festival season and presents a portrait of the current status of the gender, ethnic, and sexuality equality issues in dance music. The story and issues are through the lens of the female pioneers, next-generation artists and industry leaders who are championing the change and inspiring a more diverse pool of role models for future generations. This film has a big message to it, the pulse pounding reflection of the festival scene to power it and some really great music to keep your head in the game. I really dug this movie a lot.
Sugar Daddy – This week seems to be filled with little films that are far off the beaten path and this is another one of those but it benefits from having the great gravitas of distinguished Canadian actor Colm Feore to give it some immediate weight. The film stars Letterkenny’s Kelly McCormack, who also wrote it as well, and has her playing Darren, a young talented musician who dreams of making music like nobody has before but she’s hopelessly broke. Desperate for cash, she signs up to a paid-dating website, throwing herself down a dark path that shapes her music with it and adds some serious substance to her experience whether she wants it or not. McCormack delivers such a special performance in this film that I think will catch on with word of mouth, a story that navigates the hopeful dreamer and plunges it into the reality of gender politics and harsh life lessons. It doesn’t always play to it’s strengths but when the iron is hot it strikes with a blinding fire.
Amundsen: The Great Explorer – Straight out of Norway comes this explorer story based on the life and facts of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to arrive on the South Pole. With the only recognizable actress being The World To Come’s Katherine Waterston who is pretty fleeting in it, the draw to the film is the expansive beauty and haunting quality of the Arctic through methodical pacing and panoramic shots that punctuate it throughout. Is it enough to keep the whole thing afloat, so to speak? Yes and no, because, as the expedition progresses, the actual historical action is very interesting but the execution of it in a filmmaking setting is poorly done and suffers from some amateurish post production. I feel like people who are able to look through these gaffs will be rewarded with a story that is not well known but it was hard for me to get beyond these issues.
Senior Moment – William Shatner stars in a goofy and slapstick romantic comedy and even with his romantic lead being played by the amazing and hilarious Jean Smart, I couldn’t be less enthused about this wet fart of a movie. Shatner plays a retired NASA test pilot who, after drag racing his vintage convertible around Palm Springs, loses his license and is forced to take public transportation. This ends up working out for him as he meets Caroline and starts to learn to navigate a love life again in a movie that is so horribly “paint by numbers” I began to feel like I had forgotten if I had actually written this one myself. Not even a Christopher Lloyd supporting role as his doting best friend could keep me complacent as I kept checking the runtime like a detention student waiting for the teacher to let him go. There may be a market for this but it certainly isn’t me.
Barb And 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.
Shadow In The Cloud – I thought this one would be a movie with the utmost potential but all of that was quickly erased when I saw that it was partially written by the bottom-feeding troll that is Max Landis, for me one of the worst interview subjects I have ever had. Not to go into detail but the dude is awful. The movie does sound pretty cool, as it stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a female pilot with top-secret cargo talks her way on board a bomber plane about to take-off on a stormy night during World War II. The crass all-male crew reluctantly agrees, but their suspicions about her identity and the mysterious cargo quickly grow. Then a shadow appears in the clouds that may be the incoming Japanese fleet or it could be caused by some other sinister stowaway on the plane. The end result isn’t something I disliked but instead was a pulpy little horror film that would fit in an elseworlds World War, like the actioner Overlord. It feels like two separate movies thrown together at times but the unevenness of that is handled deftly by Moretz who is bringing her A-game here. It’s worth your time on a slow New Year’s Day, for sure.
The Reckoning – Neil Marshall is a horror filmmaker that I have enjoyed for years now. Starting with Dog Soldiers and moving to The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion, he had a killer four movie start and did stellar episodes of both Game Of Thrones and Westworld but then helmed the horribly realised remake of Hellboy that I would love to expunge from my memory forever. Now he follows that up with this witchcraft film that masquerades as horror but is an action film under that. The film follows Grace Haverstock, a woman who, after losing her husband during the Great Plague, is unjustly accused of being a witch and placed in the custody of England’s most ruthless witch-hunter, Judge Moorcroft. Forced to endure physical and emotional torture while steadfastly maintaining her innocence, Grace faces her own inner demons as the devil himself starts to work his way into her mind and turning her into the very thing that she is accused of being. This movie is horribly crafted, terribly edited and features effects that feel almost unfinished in many instances. I don’t want to have such a negative feeling about Neil’s future projects but ouch.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:
The World of Wong Kar Wai – Criterion Collection is giving an incredible gift of cinema here with a boxed set of all of the incredible works of writer and director Wong Kar Wai. So what’s in here? There’s seven movies so let’s go through it. As Tears Go By, a mid-level gangster named Wah who falls in love with his beautiful cousin, but must also continue to protect his volatile partner-in-crime and friend, Fly. Days of Being Wild, about Yuddy, a handsome Hong Kong lothario, who seduces and dumps women without compunction but when he charms and then abandons a shy shop girl named Su Li-zhen, he sets in motion a chain of events that climax in unforeseen self-discovery and shocking violence. Chungking Express, following two melancholy Hong Kong policemen that fall in love, one with a mysterious female underworld figure, the other with a beautiful and ethereal server at a late-night restaurant he frequents. Fallen Angels, a Hong Kong-set crime drama that follows the lives of a hitman, hoping to get out of the business, and his elusive female partner. Happy Together, about a couple who take a trip to Argentina but both men find their lives drifting apart in opposite directions. In the Mood for Love, about two neighbors, a woman and a man, who form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses but agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs. Lastly, there’s 2046, about several women who enter a science fiction author’s life over the course of a few years, after the author has lost the woman he considers his one true love. The set also includes The Hand, a short that appeared in the erotic compelation Eros with Steven Soderbergh. This is another awesome set from Criterion.
The Ten Commandments 4K – We’re getting biblical this week, just after the Easter weekend so it’s kind of fitting, as classic Hollywood is showcased in this new box set that has both the original film made in 1923 and the more popular remake starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price made in 1956, put into the glorious format of 4K. I feel like most people have seen some iteration of this movie, maybe on television, but this film has been completely restored to high definition levels and the remake features commentary by a biographer of the film, Katherine Orrison. A showcasing of the golden age of Hollywood, this was definitely a cool movie to receive.
Them (Amazon Prime) – I only caught the trailer for this new limited series just a few weeks ago but it quickly catapulted to the top of the most anticipated list just with the words “produced by Lena Waithe” who brought us The Chi, wrote Queen & Slim and now gets some horror under her nails. Simply put, this is a limited anthology series that explores terror in America. The first season is the 1950s-set “Covenant” which centers around a black family who move from North Carolina to an all-white Los Angeles neighborhood during the period known as The Great Migration. The family’s idyllic home becomes ground zero where malevolent forces, next door and otherworldly, threaten to taunt, ravage and destroy them. I highly recommend getting the trailer into your brain which features some increasingly unsettling imagery that gives it all an American Horror Story edge with an even darker epicenter. That last shot of it still haunts me and is my driving force in seeing this show as soon as possible.
Genndy Tartokovksy’s Primal (Crave) – One of the greatest creators in the game, Genndy Tartokovsky has returned with another incredible epic that he can put alongside Samurai Jack and beam with pride. A decidedly violent tale, this series follows a caveman at the dawn of evolution as he forms an unlikely friendship with an almost extinct dinosaur. Again, without a single word of dialogue, the series is a painting come to life, relying solely on music and graphic imagery to tell the story of two unlikely allies as they navigate through a treacherous world and, after bonding over unfortunate tragedies, they seem to become each other’s only hope of survival against a common enemy. The show is mind meltingly beautiful in a way that Tartokovsky has the utmost command over and I think he has released yet another masterpiece that will be celebrated for years to come.
This Is A Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist (Netflix) – It’s time again for some more true crime to hit Netflix and satiate those who love a crazy story involing high crimes, betrayels and maybe even murder. You are all a sick bunch but I find myself part of that crew as well and we seem to be keeping this side of the streaming service pumping. This limited series follows the events around March 18, 1990 when thirteen works of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Guards admitted two men posing as police officers responding to a disturbance call who then tied the guards up and looted the museum. Legendary works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others worth over half a billion dollars today were stolen and this show chronicles the leads, dead ends, lucky breaks and speculations that characterized the investigation of this still unsolved mystery and it’s pretty well done and fascinating. This one will probably capture a lot of imaginations.
Kung Fu (The CW) – It’s been a long time since David Carradine roamed the streets of Western America as Shaolin Monk Kwai Chang Caine in the original series Kung Fu, which ran from 1972 to 1975, a movie in 1986, then rebooted in 1993 to run for another four seasons. Well, The CW, who are no strangers to rebooting popular shows, have put this classic martial arts serial in the crosshairs for a gender swapped update. Starring Legacies actress Olivia Liang, she plays a young Chinese-American woman named Nicky Chen who, after a quarter-life crisis, decides to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. She returns home to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption and vows to use her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and is now targeting her. Much like the Walker, Texas Ranger reboot, this show plays in the corny sandbox but it still has all of those nods to the original that will make you smile and remember Caine and how he was here to help us.
Birdgirl (Adult Swim) – Speaking of reboots and updated sequel series, Adult Swim is jumping into the game with a follow up to one of my favorite cartoon shows of all time, Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, a series I still quote daily to a frustrating degree for my wife, I’m sure. This new show follows our titular character Judy Ken Sebben, also known as the great Birdgirl, who has to find a way to maintain her work and superhero life balance after being named CEO of the world’s largest and most nonsensical corporation, Sebben & Sebben. The hysterically funny Paget Brewster voices our hero and I expect many of the former cast members to make an appearance and I hope it catches on as we got four glorious seasons of the original show and a Harvey Birdman: Attorney General special. There is a market and total thirst for it!