Cruella – Before I get into one of the biggest movies this week, I have to begin by saying that I find the trend of humanizing these classic villain characters a little troubling, as the direction for blockbuster filmmaking is heaping sympathy on the truly evil in their origin story so that we look at their endgame a bit differently. In the case of Cruella De Vil, played in this film by Emma Stone, we all know that she goes on to try and murder dogs for a coat. This film is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution and follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly haute, played by Emma Thompson, but their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella. The film is lavishly shot by director Craig Gillespie but feels bloated in it’s over two hour run time and has some moments of time-bending through music and dialogue. That said, it still is pretty entertaining even if Stone’s British accent comes and goes.
A Quiet Place Part II – It’s been over a year since the pandemic robbed us of one of the most anticipated horror sequels of last year and after being pushed to September then pushed to this date it is still unknown when Canadians will get this film as theatres are still closed but, what the hell, I want to mention it anyway. Following the events at home in the first film from 2018, the remaining members of the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world as they are forced to venture into the unknown to see what is left of civilization. They realize that the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path as humanity has fallen to dark and desperate motives. The first film is incredible and a landmark movie really and the advance reviews of this one tout much of the same as director John Krasinski continues to make all the right moves as a filmmaker and Emily Blunt’s performance shakes the room. This is must-see stuff for me.
Blue Miracle – I really have to be honest here because judging by the poster and trailer for this new inspirational drama it looks like a paint-by-numbers, underdog wins-out style competition movie with an unlikeable character that ends up redeeming himself. What grabs my attention is Dennis Quaid, although he has arguably done some terrible work recently. I’m looking at you, The Intruder. This film follows a guardian and his kids who partner up with a washed-up boat captain for a chance to win a lucrative fishing competition that would give them the funds to save their cash-strapped orphanage and when I said it was paint by numbers, I wasn’t far off, but, oddly, that kind of works for this film in particular. Written and directed by Julio Quintana, who did the phenomenal Martin Sheen drama The Vessel, this movie knows when to lay in that emotional manipulation in such a way that you don’t know that it’s been laid on you until it hits you which is actually really refreshing to see. Don’t let the ads fool you, this is a pretty solid film.
Dog Gone Trouble – While Cruella may be a bit too dark and long for the littler kids, Netflix does have a new animated film that will occupy them, featuring the voices of rapper Big Sean, Better Things star Pamela Adlon, Lucy Hale, who also features in Son Of The South this week and That 70s Show star Wilmer Valderrama among other. A Canadian and American co-production that had been shelved since 2019, the story centers around a pampered dog named Trouble who must learn to live in the real world when he has to escape from his former owner’s greedy children. The movie definitely has its cute value and will entertain the kids but I definitely wouldn’t say that it is memorable enough to stick around and won’t replace any Pixar, Disney or Dreamworks films in any child’s regular rotation.
Endangered Species – Action thrillers are definitely a dime a dozen when it comes to direct-to-video releasing, which, let’s face it, has been pretty much everything for over a year in the pandemic, but looking at this one it is definitely true. Starring real-life married couple Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O’Connell alongside Strike Back star Philip Winchester, this adventure tale unfold beneath a brutal African sun as Jack Halsey takes his wife, their adult kids, and a friend for a dream vacation in Kenya but, as they venture off alone into a wilderness park, their safari van is flipped over by an angry rhino, leaving them injured and desperate. Then, as the two of them go in search of rescue, a bloody, vicious encounter with a leopard and a clan of hyenas incites a desperate fight for survival. Yes, this is a safari mishap thriller that seems a bit original to an untrained eye and it honestly has some pretty great moments of almost horror-like action and you know I love that stuff.
Body Brokers – Sometimes we just need a middling crime thriller to entertain us for a couple hours to kill some time and we come across something like this on VOD or a streaming service, make sure that Bruce Willis isn’t in it (more on that later) and plunk it on. This is one of those such films that will get consideration but the good news is that it’s actually quite good which was a total surprise for me. Featuring the tried tested and true Frank Grillo (more on him later too) Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe and The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams, the story follows a recovering junkie brought to Los Angeles for treatment that soon learns that the rehab center is not about helping people, but a cover for a multi-billion-dollar fraud operation that enlists addicts to recruit other addicts. A fresh and boldly original film from writer and director John Swab, it does an incredible job of drawing you into the story by focusing on making that characters work and being worthwhile so you actually care about what’s happening to them, something that usually gets lost in the shuffle. I’m really looking forward to anything Swab has next as this is just his third film.
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 kid’s 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.
Skull: The Mask – Shudder continues to bring the new and off-the-beaten-path horror every week. This time, they reached into South America to grab this Brazillian genre film that’s brought some serious praise for filmmakers Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman. The film opens in 1944 on an artifact called the Mask of Anhangá, which was worn by the executioner of Tahawantinsupay, a Pre-Columbian God, being used in a military experiment that ultimately fails. Fast forward to modern times and the Mask arrives at Sao Paulo and immediately possesses a body and starts to commit visceral sacrifices on vengeance for the incarnation of its God, initiating a blood bath. A policewoman named Beatriz Obdias is put in charge of investigating the crimes and challenging her beliefs and sending her life into a chasm of terror. This film is gory and frantically action-paced but still has a smart and cerebral quality to it and an endgame that is pretty diabolical. Horror fans will be happy to discover this one.
Blu-Ray and DVD:
Son Of The South – We got a bit of true story drama this week and it probably will rope in some of the CBS primetime crowd as it features Lucas Till who plays Angus MacGyver in the rebooted series but it also has one of the final performances from the late and totally legendary Brian Dennehy, although in a pretty villainous role. The story is set during the sixties Civil Rights Movement, following a Klansman’s grandson who is forced to face the rampant racism of his own culture and, defying his family and white Southern norms, he embraces the fight against social injustice, repression and violence to change the world he was born into. This story is a really important one and should be told but the method by which it is done fails to steer it out of the quagmire of “white saviour” storytelling and even misses the mark on what the whole civil rights movement is all about. Till is really solid in the film but the narrative really doesn’t deliver anything fresh or lasting, only presenting a story that we’ve seen far more than once.
Long Weekend – I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of romantic comedies as many of them feel like dismal retreads, stale stories with dull characters or feature terrible outdated cliches. It was with this chip on my shoulder that I entered into this film, starring future Green Lantern Finn Wittrock and the charming Zoe Chao, who I sometimes get “spoonerism” saying her name and call her Chloe Zhao. The film follows a down-on-his-luck struggling writer who meets an enigmatic woman who seems to enter his life at the right time which leads to an enchanted weekend courtship with unexpected revelations from this woman who harbour some deep secrets that will definitely catch you off guard. This movie benefits from the great chemistry between Wittrock and Chao but it’s fascinating reveals in the story that almost keep you on the edge of your seat and that final moment before the credits will leave you with a smile on your face for the rest of the day. I loved this movie.
Cosmic Sin – We’ve got another direct to DVD Bruce Willis film this week which more than likely means he appears at the beginning, finds an excuse to duck out and returns for the finale to earn a paycheque which is actually a pretty brilliant ploy. It’s a good thing we got Frank Grillo to help string this one along, which is always a bonus to me. The story is set in the year 2524, four centuries after humans started colonizing the outer planets and follows retired General James Ford who gets called back into service after a hostile alien fleet attacks soldiers on a remote planet. The threat against mankind soon escalates into an interstellar war as Ford and a team of elite soldiers try to stop the imminent attack before it’s too late. This movie is such a flatulent dud of a movie that spews the noxious gas of science fiction stories of the same ilk and makes you wish you were watching the movies that did it better. Why must Bruce punish us so badly and why is he dragging Grillo into this mess?
Happily – I’ve been hearing such great things about this darkly comedic romantic comedy as the praise has been rolling in from across the internet from our lucky American friends that have gotten to check out the debut of writer and director BenDavid Grabinski. Starring Joel McHale and Red State standout Kerry Bishé as Tom and Janet, a happily married couple who, after fourteen years of marriage, still have an undying love and lust for each other. When they discover their friends are resentful of their constant public displays of affection, the couple starts to question the loyalty of everyone around them and then, a visit from a mysterious stranger thrusts them into an existential crisis, leading to a dead body, a lot of questions and a very tense vacation. This movie is so deliciously bizarre that it manages to string you along to the edge of your seat. With an extended cast that includes Office Space’s Stephen Root, Justified’s Nathalie Zea, the hilarious Paul Scheer and stand-up comedian Al Madrigal, just to name a few, this is a sleeper comedy worth searching for.
Deliver Us From Evil – If you throw any South Korean cinema on my doorstep, I’m going to eat it up ravenously and ask for more but if it’s incredible, engrossing and amazingly constructed, I will scream the praises from the rooftops. It’s my favourite international cinema, bar none. This film is a violent and brutal game of cat and mouse and follows a government-agent-turned-mercenary who is forced to re-emerge after a little girl is kidnapped and he learns the incident is closely connected to him. However, when an infamous gangster learns who has entered the country and is finally within his grasp, he goes on a bloody rampage to thwart the ex-agent’s rescue mission. This movie is absolutely intense, stylishly shot and totally gripping from it’s opening scene. The action scenes feel so visceral and real with each punch, kick, gunshot and stab wound punctuating in an impactful way. I also love how South Korean film is able to entwine emotion so deeply into the fight which gives everything that much more weight. This film is an absolute must-see.
100 Candles – Want some creepy horror that just screams “what the hell are you doing? Do you want ghosts? This is how you get ghosts!” at every turn? No? Too bad because it’s coming out this week and I’m thorough as hell. A stylish New Zealand-made film, the story follows a group of friends who reunite after a time apart to play a game of storytelling around a circle of candles looking for an otherworldly reward for their efforts. That’s weirdly vague but sort of intriguing, right? That’s how I felt too! Unfortunately, the good stories within this partial flop of a film are few and far between and it really leaves you looking at your room around you in boredom rather than exude any feelings of fear or even a slight chill. After some of the great Kiwi horror hits like Housebound recently, I thought I was going to find a diamond in the rough here but it really didn’t work out that way.
Shithouse – With a title like this screaming at you from the cover I think it would intrigue the majority of viewers flipping through their VOD, or Netflix where this also resides, as you don’t really get a lot of titles with swear words in them, am I right? This college party-driven film doesn’t boast any big names or anything but what it does have is an incredible writer, director and star behind it by the name of Cooper Raiffwho is definitely going places after this debut film that is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The story follows a homesick college freshman who goes to a party at the “Shithouse”, a fraternity party house, and ends up spending the night with his sophomore RA who’s had a terrible day and wants someone to hang out with. This movie connects like a lightning rod to the feeling of coming out of teen angst into that early to mid-twenties depression that I feel connects a lot of us in this experience of being human. This film absolutely blew me away and I had zero expectations going in.
Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection – Whenever Arrow Video hooks me up with a weird and unheard of box set full of films I get a bit giddy about it because they wouldn’t have such a hyper-focus on it if it wasn’t important in some way. This set looks at the works of Bill Rebane, a Latvian-born director and producer who had a love for making films in his adopted backyard of Wisconsin. The set features seven films, Monster a Go-Go! about a space capsule crash-lands on Earth with the missing astronaut possibly being an earth terrorizing monster, Invasion from Inner Earth about a group of young pilots barricading in a remote region of the Canadian wilderness against an unknown force, The Alpha Incident about a microorganism from Mars, brought to Earth by a space probe, that terrorizes passengers in a railroad office, The Demons of Ludlow about a murderous demon that lurks inside an antique piano in a picturesque coastal town and so much more. I’m nowhere near done with all of these films but I’m enjoying the hell out of them!
Django 4K – Quentin Tarantino can really be credited with bringing the collective movie audience’s attention to these classic Italian and Spanish co-productions of westerns with his film Django Unchained but once you’ve seen Franco Nero on screen as the title character, you’ll never forget him. Restored in a beautiful 4K edition from Arrow Video, the story is about a lonely cowboy, dragging a coffin through the desert who rescues a woman from a group of bandits, an act that bites him immediately as the next town he comes upon is under the thumb of that posse. What results is a showdown with the enemy who is made up of a Klan of Southern racists and a band of Mexican Revolutionaries. Just starting this film, you can see what inspired Tarantino to pay homage to it with his first western and also where the influences are for The Hateful Eight. I’m so happy to have this film in my collection now, it is so special.
Athena – Warner Archive has some deep dives this week, kicking off with this romantic comedy musical from the mid fifties that featured Jane Powell, Virginia Gibson, and Nancy Kilgas, three of the brides in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers which was a huge hit earlier that year. The film follows lawyer and aspiring politician Adam Shaw who meets Athena Mulvain who claims the stars have told her that they will marry. However, Adam is already engaged to socialite Beth and, furthermore, he is confused by Athena’s unusual family, which includes six other sisters raised in an extremely health-conscious environment that excludes meat, smoking and alcohol. Gradually, Adam is slowly won over by Athena, even at the detriment of his political future and the love affair blossoms. The film’s casting of Powell led to studio turmoil as the star that MGM built this production around, Esther Williams, felt slighted when the producers removed her from it and left the studio. Even still, the film was a success and is a lavish production to look at almost seventy years later.
The Tender Trap – The second film in the Warner Archive titles this week brings the star power big time as it has “Ol’ Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra and one of the most popular actresses of her time and the mother of my forever princess, Debbie Reynolds. This was an adaptation of the massively popular Broadway production of the same name, following successful theatre agent Charlie Reader who lives a playboy’s life in New York City when his childhood friend Joe McCall shows up with a desire to leave his wife. Joe immediately falls in love with Charlie’s girl Sylvia while Charlie spends his time with young actress Julie who turns up for an audition and rebuffs Charlie’s advances, making her a must-have for the Casanova. Debbie Reynolds and Frank Sinatra became good friends and during production, he took her to lunch and said, “Sweetie, don’t get married. Don’t marry a singer. We’re nice guys but we’re not good husbands.” Reynolds was engaged to Eddie Fisher at the time, who ultimately left her for Elizabeth Taylor. Random stuff, right? The film is ultimately dated but still gives a great indication of how far we’ve come in romantic comedies.
Infinity Train: Book Two – Usually when I get a new Cartoon Network original, I wave it in front of my daughter’s face and go “look what I’ve got” and she gets all crazy excited about it. This one she had no idea about but once I read deeper into it I figured that it was less up her alley and way more of my kind of show. The show is one of my favourite forms of storytelling, the anthology style, which explores the mysteries of Infinity Train, where every train car is an adventure and nothing is what you expect. Our main character Tulip was just trying to get to game coding camp when she ended up on the mysterious train where she’ll encounter plenty of friends and enemies along the way in a journey to finally find her way home. I love when cartoons try to explore the unknown with something more linear in the storyline and continuous rather than being unconnected one-offs. If you loved Gravity Falls on Disney+ and have finished everything there, get on this one because it’s pretty great.
Supernatural: Season 15 – This is an odd one for me as I have a whole bunch of catching up to do to even get close to watching this new box set which is the final season in this very long-running demon-fighting series. Full disclosure, I own up to season three of this show and only have seen past that into season seven but for those who are new to the show, it’s about two brothers who follow in their father’s footsteps as hunters, fighting evil supernatural beings of many kinds, including monsters, demons and gods that roam the earth. That’s definitely an oversimplification of fifteen seasons of storytelling but I need to whet the appetites of those who now will buy into it now that it’s over because it is a really great show and Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are so perfect in it, as is Misha Collins who joins the cast later in it’s run. Now excuse me, I have so much Supernatural to watch!
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Mackintosh and T.J. – Not only am I kicking this week’s geekouts with something frontier and western but it is the ultimate in that genre as it is the final film of the one and only Roy Rogers, an actor considered to be one of the closest on-screen conduits to the real thing. From multiple Emmy Award-winning director Marvin J. Chomsky, the film has Rogers as a wandering old ranch hand named Mackintosh who takes care, in a very fatherly way, of the young and homeless T.J. who he helps him to keep on a straight path. Both of them find a job on the ranch of Jim Webster where Mackintosh proves his skills as a horse tamer, winning him the sympathy of Webster. Webster asks Mackintosh to hunt coyotes, as the area is unsafe because of them but when a murder takes place, it is pinned on Mackintosh as the new one to the area. This is a solid film with many memorable scenes including a badass bar fight that is so well shot for its time. The film was written by Paul Savage who worked for over a decade on Gunsmoke, a show that I own most of.
They Won’t Believe Me – I’ve got some classic film noir this week on the geekouts, thanks to Warner Archive, and it’s new to blu-ray just a few weeks ago and, notably at the time of its release in 1947, was among the first movies to show the taboo subject of suicide. The story follows philandering stockbroker Larry Ballentine, on trial for murdering his girlfriend, who takes the stand to claim his innocence and describe the actual, but improbable sounding, sequence of events that led to her death. Told in the most direct of narratives, the film is deceptive in its obscurity of the facts and features great performances from both of its leading women, Susan Hayward and Janet Greer. It also should be noted that this film comes from director Irving Pichel who did the human hunting thriller The Most Dangerous Game which has inspired many others like it.
She’s The Man – I adore this movie and I don’t care who knows it. The film is hilarious and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise but the heartbreaking fact at the center of it is that the film excels, not just on its brilliant script, but on the Carol Burnett like leading performance from Amanda Bynes who has fallen down the path of mental illness in the last decade and recovery seems unlikely. The film, loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, follows Viola, a teen whose soccer team at Cornwall gets cut, who decides to disguise herself as her twin brother and heads over to his elite boarding school to play on his team when he decides to ditch for a couple weeks. Once she gets there she falls for the star captain of the team, played by Channing Tatum in the first thing I ever saw him in. The cast in this is so great including those two, with David Cross, Vinnie Jones, Julie Hagerty, Jonathan Sadowski and Amanda Crew rounding out the awesome ensemble. I already owned this one on DVD so this anniversary edition is just icing on the cake.
Wonder Showzen: Complete Series – You haven’t seen the ultimate nihilistic television series until you’ve seen this parody of a Sesame Street kid’s show that aired on MTV2 in its debuting years, directly from the minds of Vernon Chatman and John Lee who went on to create even more madness in the shows Xavier: Renegade Angel and The Heart, She Holler. It’s an all-cynical, all-evil absurdist variety show that parodies the classic educational PBS shows of the 1970s, made up of old cartoons and educational films, children, and puppets from one’s worst nightmares and I love every second of it. To be honest, I already own both individual box sets but I just couldn’t pass up this set. Maybe they indoctrinated me to pick it up, who knows?
The Legend Of Korra: Complete Series – A couple years ago Paramount sent me a two-pack of the Nickelodeon shows Avatar The Last Airbender and the companion series The Legend Of Korra and has since sent me. steelbook version of Avatar. Now it’s Korra’s turn for this beautiful upgrade, a show set seventy years after the events of “Airbender”, following Korra as she moves to Republic City to master her final element, air. With the guidance of the previous avatar Aang’s son Tenzin, she has to fight crime and face a growing anti-bending movement that threatens to rip the metropolis apart in a series that’s just as addicting as its predecessor. This is a must-own for any fan and it loos so gorgeous on my shelf right now, I can’t stop looking at it.
Master Of None: Season 3 (Netflix) – The acclaimed and award-winning Netflix original series from the mind of creator, writer and star Aziz Ansari returns for a very anticipated new season that almost seemed to come out of nowhere. This season pulls away from Aziz Ansari’s character of Dev and instead is a limited five-episode series about Lena Waithe’s character Denise and her wife Alicia as they look to take the next step in their marriage and possibly expand the family. Waithe has been a writer on the show through its whole run and it’s so cool to see that her character is getting the focused treatment for what feels to be the final season. This show has been a bit of a lightning rod for diversity in television and pulls in the consistent critic praise and awards to show for it, so this is definitely one to check out.
Black Monday: Season 3 (Crave) – As a big fan of Don Cheadle’s House Of Lies series on Showtime, I was immediately drawn to his new show that comes from the mind of Happy Ending creator David Caspe and has all the excessiveness added to a brilliant script and a great cast around it’s star like Paul Scheer, Regina Hall, Casey Wilson and Andrew Rannells. The show centers around the Wall Street crash of October 19, 1987, which no one knows who caused but this series looks to speculate. Contained in that event, this is the story of how a group of outsiders took on the blue-blood, old-boys club of Wall Street and ended up crashing the world’s largest financial system, a Lamborghini limousine and the glass ceiling. It’s brilliant in its execution, hyperactive in its use of cocaine and hysterically funny, sometimes in a brutally mean sort of way. I’ve loved all of it leading up to now and can’t wait for more of this season.
The Kominsky Method: Season 3 (Netflix) – All good things must come to a serviceable end and it’s great when the creators of a series have the good forethought of giving themselves an out as creator Chuck Lorre has done with this one. Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Sarah Baker and Paul Reiser, the inception of this series is about an ageing actor, who long ago enjoyed a brush with fame, makes his living as an acting coach. Now the show has grown, co-star Alan Arkin has shuffled off in his own way (no spoilers) and our main character Sandy Kominsky finds himself dealing with and relating all too much to his daughter’s new boyfriend who is almost the same age as he is. This show definitely captured the love of both my parents and in-laws and seems to gather the older audience as its demographic but I think the show is fun for every adult even if you don’t directly relate to it. Plus, it doesn’t have a freaking laugh track like Lorre’s other shows. That’s a bonus.
Lucifer: Season 5 Part 2 (Netflix) – The show that the fans keep having the ability to revive enters what I thought was going to be the finale for it, split into two parts with the final one now available to binge. My question consistently felt like “is this the final one?” as it keeps giving me an indication that it’s not quite over. It appeared that I was right as the Tom Ellis-led series has preemptively earned its sixth season now and the current season will focus on Lucifer’s lineage, his past and those close around him getting the truth of what he is revealed to them. There is also a killer guest spot of 24’s Dennis Haysbert showing up as, wait for it, God himself. Yes, I’m so behind President David Palmer portraying the thing that makes people do the stupidest thing, worship Donald Trump as the saviour of the world. Yeah, boom! I just went political but it really was worth it. Let me know on Twitter how much you hated it!
Mr. Inbetween: Season 3 (FX) – A breakout hit from Australia, this show is another great one about a brutal anti-hero that I loved with the very first episode, a show I was turned on to by Drex originally. Created by the show’s star Scott Ryan and directed by Nash Edgerton, the series is a black comedy-drama about Ray, a guy who has to juggle being a father, ex-husband, boyfriend and confidant as well as maintain his employment as an enforcer for hire, dishing out violence to whomever his clients want him to. Scott Ryan is a fascinating actor to watch onscreen in a series that hugs the line between wholly grim and hilarious, sometimes in the same moment. I really think that this show needs to catch on in a Breaking Bad sort of way.