Mortal Kombat – Oh man, we are starting with one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Why? Well, it may have something to do with how ravenous I was about the original movie, which I saw in theatres multiple times. It may be my disappointment in the sequel to said movie, my insane love for the video game franchise or my whetted appetite that the Legacy YouTube series gave me but, you get the point, I’m into this. The film follows MMA fighter Cole Young, a warrior accustomed to taking a beating for money who is unaware of his heritage and why the mythic Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, played by The Raid’s Joe Taslim, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high-stakes battle for the universe. This movie looks so much fun and I feel like I’m destined to love it in a Godzilla vs. Kong way where I can just appreciate it for what it is and be dazzled by it. Sub Zero stabs a dude with a sword made from frozen blood! How awesome is that?
Stowaway – This one was a late addition to my timeline and I started kicking myself immediately because it has the incredible Toni Collette in space with Anna Kendrick. How could I not know about this? The film comes from writer and director Joe Penna, who astounded with his last feature Arctic with Mads Mikkelsen, the story follows a three-person crew on a mission to Mars who faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger jeopardizes the lives of everyone on board. Penna has such great and subtle ways of expressing terror and despair through cinematic tone so I am really excited to see what he can do with a slick budget and a deep space thriller. It should also be noted that Penna shoots all of the films himself, without a director of photography and his writing partner, Ryan Morrison, actually edits the films as well so the attention to detail in the storytelling is top to bottom impeccable.
Tiny Tim: King For A Day – With the first haunting trills of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” you are reintroduced to the falsetto sounds of the legendary Tiny Tim, a guy who could be played by a de-aged Tim Burton in a biopic, surely. Where is this story going to lead you? Into completely unexpected and damaged places in my opinion. This documentary is the story of the outcast Herbert Khaury’s rise to stardom as Tiny Tim in the ultimate fairytale but so seemingly is his downfall. Either considered a freak or a genius, Tiny Tim left no one unaffected as over forty-five million Americans tuned in to watch his first wedding on the Carson Show and his queer personality has been celebrated by the likes of Bob Dylan and later Johnny Depp. There were plans and hopes that Tiny Tim would be a lasting star, not only a novelty act but one man acted to sabotage these plans and that was Tiny Tim himself. A haunting human portrait, this movie felt like an introduction of a character to me in many ways but with each diary entry, red by Weird Al Yankovic, the curtain pulled to reveal some disturbing things crawling behind it.
Brothers By Blood – With the two toplined stars of this gritty crime drama being The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman and The Drop’s Matthias Schoenaerts, I was definitely hooked into this just based on them alone. The film follows Schoenaerts’ character who is tormented by the memory of helplessly watching as his little sister is killed by a neighbor’s reckless driving when he was eight years old. Now, thirty years later, he still wrestles with the guilt he feels over his sister’s death and his father’s vengeance that came after. As he tries to distance himself from the criminal family business, his cousin, Michael, played by Kinnaman, becomes more powerful in the hierarchy. Bonded by blood, neither man can escape violence as they are dragged further into a chilling cycle of betrayal and retribution in a film that sounds like a great set up but has no emotion behind it’s bludgeoning violence, no message to be told or no moral to glean. People the may like a straight forward crime story may dig this but I wanted substance.
The Marijuana Conspiracy – A Canadian made film dealing with cannabis released during the week of our celebration of this wonderful plant. Honestly, you almost caught me singing “Oh Canada” there but the celebration and de-stigmafication of the plant by putting it in more mediums is definitely helpful to me. This drama features great Canadian actress Julia Sarah Stone and is set in 1972 following five young women who become part of a radical experiment that studies the effects of marijuana on females. Despite the agendas of the government, they use their unique strengths and friendship to overcome adversity and to glean some truth out of the very devicive test they’ve been brought in for. The final result is sort of a middling mishmash of not fully realized ideas but the cast is so phenomenal and the bond between the crew shines on the screen. This was an enjoyable film to get into while ignoring the lopsidedness of the bigger story arcs.
Boys From County Hell – This is a combination of the best of things for me as it has Irish brogues and blood curdling horror colliding for a pretty effective and chilling storytelling. Coming from Chris Baugh, the writer and director of the fantastically gritty revenge thriller Bad Day For The Cut, the film follows the strange events that unfold in Six Mile Hill, a sleepy Irish town that claims to have been traveled by the famed author Bram Stoker, when construction on a new road disrupts the alleged grave of Abhartach, a legendary Irish vampire said to have inspired Dracula. Deadly forces terrorize the work crew led by Francie Moffat and his son Eugene, a free-spirited young man who prefers pints to pickaxes and they’re forced to fight to survive the night while exposing the true horror that resides in the town’s local myth. This movie is absolutely gnarly in every way and satisfies all of you vampire horror needs while bringing a fresh attitude and original ideas along the way. I love the British Isles and their cinema, it’s always such a breath of new air.
Crisis – It was only a matter of time before the opioid crisis was tackled in some shape or form, making Steven Soderbergh seem that much more prolific when you realize that he adapted the miniseries Traffik in 2000. Hell, he did Contagion ten years ago. Man, maybe we should be listening to him exclusively! This story is broken down into three stories about the world of opioids which collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market. The cast is eclectic, featuring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, the Wasp herself Evangeline Lilly and the possible cannibal Armie Hammer but as interesting as the story starts it completely falls apart in the end and becomes predictable and formulaic. This movie could have been special but will ultimately get lost in the shuffle.
The Mortuary Collection – This movie is the ultimate hidden treat for any horror fan as it totally snuck up on me as an ignored Shudder original film but, once I got slipped the blu-ray here by RJL Entertainment, I was pretty much onboard from the reveal of star Clancy Brown as the creepy mortician. Coming from writer and director Ryan Spindell in, insanely, just his first film, this is an anthology movie, my favorite kind of horror, set in the town of Raven’s End following a troubled teen girl who decides to hideout in a decrepit old mortuary where the definitely murderous undertaker chronicles the strange history of the town through a series of twisted tales, each more twisted and disturbing than the previous, all leading up to her own story in the record books. This movie is so brilliantly written with incredible gore effects and an insane imagination that seems to have no ceiling. I loved this movie.
Memories Of Murder – The second feature film by Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho finally makes its North American debut just a mere seventeen years after its release in South Korea, but no big deal, it’s not like I’ve been obsessed with his work since 2006’s The Host. Oh wait, I totally have been! This film, a very personal story, is set in 1986 in the province of Gyunggi, South Korea, following two brutal and stupid local detectives without any technique who are investigating the murder of a young and beautiful woman, the second found dead, raped and tied and gagged with her underwear. Using brutality and torturing the suspects, without any practical results, the investigation picks up steam when a detective from Seoul comes to the country to help and is convinced that a serial killer is killing the women, proven when a third woman is found dead in the same “modus-operandi”. This movie is intense, so incredibly well-plotted and lays the incredible groundwork of the intricacies of why we love Bong’s work. It also has Parasite star Kang-ho Song in a lead role, who is riveting as usual. This is a highly recommended one and now that it is a treasured Criterion release, it makes it all that much better.
The Violent Heart – There’s a lot of secrets contained in this high school mystery thriller with some Shakespearian tropes to it but it attaches itself interestingly to many current thematic issues even if it does get a bit grandiose in it’s scope. The film stars Jovan Adepo from HBO’s Watchman limited series and has him playing twenty four year old Daniel, a man trying to recover emotionally from the murder of his siter fifteen years earlier and finds himself falling for Cassie, an outgoing high school senior which starts to increase the darkness he’s been trying to keep contained. This film is ambitious in it’s scope but the paper thin characters and development always serve to bog it down as you really don’t have any investment in them so why would you care what happens to them? I felt the need to know what was going to happen next but it was more of a completionist thing for me rather than a finality to the story.
Switchblade Sisters – Arrow Video reaches back into the history of grindhouse movies for their new collector’s edition of a film that inspired many current filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino most famously who pulled elements of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Death Proof from this. The film plays on the themes of exploitation films, following the “Dagger Debs”, a gang of snarling girls, with Maggie being their newest member. Lace, the ever tooth-gritting leader, befriends her but soon has doubts as it seems Lace’s man, Dominic, head of the “Silver Daggers” has intentions for the recruit. Lace struggles to keep control of the Debs, and a handle on Dominic, as they face off against the rival gang of pushers lead by Crabs. Yes, this is like The Warriors but with women and still holds up as a classic action film that screams with the era’s flavour. Arrow does their magic again with the picture restoration and retrospective featurettes, churning out another absolute gem of a blu-ray.
Each Dawn I Die – This week Warner Archive is doing a pretty awesome reissue of an old James Cagney classic crime noir story from the late thirties and what was allegedly the favourite film of former Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. Weird, right? The story follows investigative reporter Frank Ross who finds evidence of corruption against a powerful politician, Jesse Hanley, who is a candidate for Governor in the elections. Hanley sends his gangsters to catch Frank and frame him by knocking him out, soaking him with whiskey and then putting him in a car on a collision course with another car, subsequently killing the driver and two passengers. Frank can not prove that he is innocent and is sentenced to twenty years of hard labour in Rocky Point Prison. His only hope is the newspaper that tries to find evidence of Frank’s innocence while he befriends the gangster Stacey that was sentenced to 199 years for protection. A lot of convoluted and nefarious deals are made as Frank gets deeper into a quagmire of trouble, even while incarcerated. This is some classic noir with Cagney showing what he was best at.
Annie Get Your Gun – This is one of those classic titles that you’ve always heard the title of but was unsure of what it exactly was besides being a western or maybe that was just me. This biographical comedy musical was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Score, and, despite its popularity, it was unavailable in any form from 1973 until 2000 due to legal tangling between Irving Berlin, the music’s writer and composer and MGM, which later became Turner Entertainment and then Warner Bros. It was finally re-released on DVD in 2000 after the 1998 Broadway revival of the stage show with Bernadette Peters renewed interest in seeing this film again and now lands on a pristine blu-ray. The film is a story very loosely based on the love story of Annie Oakley and Frank Butler who meet at a shooting match. Annie then joins him in Colonel Cody’s Wild West Show and they tour the world together, performing before Royalty as well as the public at large. It’s a classic that definitely has its mark on the genre for years to follow.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Out:
Dark Web Cicada 3301 – With the amount of hold that computers, technology and the internet have on us, it’s surprising that there aren’t more techno-thrillers out there to scare us silly and make us uber cautious next time we log in to any of our social media apps. This film has the idea and it comes from former Aquaman on Smallville and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Alan Ritchson who makes his debut writing and directing this cautionary tale and I was pretty surprised by it. It follows hacker Connor, his best friend Avi and a cunning librarian who find themselves over their heads when they are forced to compete in a sophisticated dark web secret society’s global recruitment game. Is it a murder club, a fight club or the Illuminati that has capture all the kid’s imaginations? The film does a solid job of being a techno-thriller but like others that have come before it, once the tech is outdated, so are the thrills.
The Toll – “He has a horror film in his Geek-Outs this week!” exclaims Shane Hewitt. Yes, Shane, apologies but I got this new C-grade thriller and I felt the need to bring it to the masses. This is a little Canadian-made chiller that follows a woman named Cami who orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home. Hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride everything gets imploded when a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road and after several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, they both realize they are being watched by an unseen presence, one that sees them as trespassers and is ready to take it out on them in blood. The film comes from writer and director Michael Nader who makes his feature debut here after the great HeadCount a couple of years ago and manages to make a tight eighty-minute horror story that doesn’t mess around with its pacing at all. As a genre fan, I felt engaged with the twists and turns at all times but it didn’t make me feel safe about ride-sharing at all. There has to be a downfall.
Death Has Blue Eyes – Those guys at Arrow Video always make interesting choices when it comes to their deep dive collector’s editions and a lot of the times, for me, they are of movies that are brand new discoveries to me, just like this one. Made in 1976, this is a Greek made action thriller with a hidden sci-fi edge, following a Greek gigolo, Ches, and his American friend, Bob, who are commended to protect a mysterious girl, Christina, and her mother, Geraldine, from a gang of killers. When they get abducted by the gangsters, they found out they have been fighting on the wrong side and that Geraldine is not the mother of Christina, but an East-German agent and medium. The young girl has very strong telepathic powers that her abductor planned to use for the assassination of very important Soviet diplomat. Sounds wild right? Well. it definitely is and was the debut of filmmaker Nico Mastorakis who became an international icon in his own way, showcasing outlaw and outcast action stories. He’s a guy who’s work I’d love to take a deeper look at.
Life In Color With David Attenborough (Netflix) – Who doesn’t love a good David Attenborough narrated nature series, right? If you said “not me” then I’m ignoring you because this space is only for nature lovers right now and I don’t want that sort of negativity. Anyways, with his new show, David travels the world from the rainforests of Costa Rica to the snowy Scottish Highlands to reveal the extraordinary and never-before-seen ways animals use color. Using revolutionary camera technology created specifically for this series, viewers will experience how colors invisible to the human eye play a vital role in animal interactions. From the seemingly magical ultraviolet signals on a butterfly’s wings to the surprising yet crucial purpose behind a Bengal tiger’s stripes, a hidden world of color is waiting to be discovered and each episode is a glorious treasure trove of new imagery which is crazy if you’ve been following all of his works for decades. One thing that it also made very apparent is how much older David is getting. I don’t think I could bear nature shows without his sultry tones.
Shadow And Bone (Netflix) – Let’s head into a new world of fantasy, one that may catch the attention of Game Of Thrones fans and the like but in a less bloody and violent sort of way. Adapted from the Leigh Bardugo written book of the same name, the first of the Grisha trilogy, the series drops you in a war-torn world where lowly soldier and orphan Alina Starkov has just unleashed an extraordinary power that could be the key to setting her country free. With the monstrous threat of the Shadow Fold looming, Alina is torn from everything she knows to train as part of an elite army of magical soldiers known as Grisha. But as she struggles to hone her power, she finds that allies and enemies can be one and the same and that nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. There are dangerous forces at play, including a crew of charismatic criminals, and it will take more than magic to survive. The show has a really great look to it and some solid production value that keeps the fantastical story driven and not waiting on how cheesy it looks. I’m unsure if it will command a broad audience but so far so good and I hope to see the other books adapted too.
Secrets Of The Whales (Disney+) – I must be spoiling all of you nature lovers out there because now I have a new National Geographic docuseries here to gush about and it is a deeply majestic journey into the world of the deep. Too grandiose? Narrated by Sigourney Weaver and filmed over three years in 24 locations, this new series plunges viewers within the epicenter of whale culture to experience the extraordinary communication skills and intricate social structures of five different whale species: orcas, humpbacks, belugas, narwhals and sperm whales in what results as a revealing of life and love from their perspective. This show was absolutely captivating in every way and totally engaged me ad my family for each fascinating episode, a definite must see for any family.
Confronting A Serial Killer (Crave) – Hell yes, more serial killer documentary shows for your crime depraved heart sitting at home on the couch bored. This series tells the story of the unprecedented relationship between acclaimed author and journalist Jillian Lauren and the most prolific serial killer in American history, Sam Little, and her race against time to identify his victims before it’s too late. In some of the deepest investigative journaling that the geniuses at HBO could muster, the great Joe Berlinger, who has already given us documentaries of Ted Bundy, the Cecil Hotel and Murder Among The Mormons recently, does it again with another engrossing and astonishing examination into a grizzly path of slayings by Sam Little. Man, that filmmaker’s mind must be so messed up from looking at all of this.
Mare Of Easttown (Crave) – HBO does limited series stuff so well and one of the shows I really liked from years ago was Mildred Pierce which featured Kate Winslett. Well, they’ve pulled her in again for a brand new show and if the first episode may be something to gauge the rest of the show on we might have ourselves the best new show of 2021 here. She plays Mare Sheehan, a small-town Pennsylvania detective who investigates a local murder as life crumbles around her. The series is an exploration into the dark side of a close community and an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present while showing a care and fully rounded dimension of each person that doesn’t seem to be present in other shows like this. Maybe it’s that the show comes from Craig Zobel who has had such a storied film career in the “human behaviour” department with Compliance, Z For Zachariah and the blood dripping satire of The Hunt.