In The Heights – A casualty of the pandemic, this film was supposed to premiere in the summer of 2020 and is the much anticipated new musical created by Hamilton mastermind Lin Manuel Miranda that would definitely have some new viral tracks contained within it. Now we sit almost a year later, and the film’s anticipation still exists, especially with Hamilton being a highly streamed film on Disney+ right now. Coming from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, the film centers on a variety of characters living in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after the ageing Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighbouring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi, has returned to the neighbourhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighbourhood get a dose of what it means to be home in a film that is, at this point, earning perfect scores from critics who are calling it a joyous and infectious celebration of life and culture. It might be best to get on the ground floor of this one as it looks like it’s going to be a monster hit.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – When the first film adaptation of this rolled out of the Sony lineup, I was totally trepidatious but, in the end, my daughter and I both got a solid kick out of this and even adored the human element, being the great tandem of Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne, which makes up for Peter himself being voiced by the often insufferable James Corden. Well, after a lengthy pause in release dates due to the pandemic, Peter is up for another adventure and this one gets into the bunny lineage, really. The film picks up a bit after the first with Bea, Thomas, and the rabbits having created a makeshift family, but despite his best efforts, Peter can’t seem to shake his mischievous reputation. Adventuring out of the garden, Peter finds himself in a world where his mischief is appreciated, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, Peter must figure out what kind of bunny he wants to be. The great news for adults, beyond being an entertaining and, at times, a silly movie for the kids, is that it works and is enjoyable for adults, is pretty well written, and has a great sense of self-awareness. I’m not saying it’s Paddington levels of great but it still earns your time watching it.
Wish Dragon – There is so much to check out for the kids and family this weekend and all the studios are getting into it like Dreamworks here who follow up their previous weekend release of Spirit Untamed with this animated Chinese co-production that is just dazzling to look at based on the trailer alone. Featuring the voices of Harold and Kumar’s John Cho, Silicon Valley’s Jimmy Wong, Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu and comedian Bobby Lee, the story follows Din, a working-class college student with big dreams but small means, and Long, a cynical but all-powerful dragon capable of granting wishes, who set off on an adventure through modern-day Shanghai in pursuit of Din’s long-lost childhood friend, Lina. Their journey forces them to answer some of life’s biggest questions, some very reminiscent of the most famous “wish” movie Aladdin, like the notion of just because when you can wish for anything, you still have to decide what really matters. This film looks like it still has that great Dreamworks charm that has been serviceable for over twenty years now and I wouldn’t let the fact that it was sold to Netflix for its release fool you on that.
The Amusement Park – I know I’m not alone in this world as a horror movie fan in saying that I really miss the voice of master filmmaker George A. Romero on this earth as he passed away closing in on four years ago now. I’m supremely sad that I never had a chance to speak with him, interview him or even thank him for the tremendous influence he had on my movie life but knowing that he had an unreleased film in his catalogue that was getting a posthumous debut was like an incredible cinematic present and the fact that it’s getting great reviews makes me even more excited. Recently discovered and restored forty-six years after its completion by the George A. Romero Foundation and produced by Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, the film follows an elderly man who finds himself disoriented and increasingly isolated as the pains, tragedies and humiliations of ageing in America are manifested through roller coasters and chaotic crowds. No stranger to subversive and socially biting commentary, this is being described as perhaps Romero’s wildest and most imaginative movie, an allegory about the nightmarish realities of growing older, and is an alluring snapshot of the filmmaker’s early artistic capacity and style and would go on to inform his ensuing filmography. At the time of writing this, I am ravenous to get into my Shudder account and devour this “new” Romero as I have with all of his films.
Awake – Netflix is gearing up to Bird Box you again and it could be a win for you if you enjoyed that or an unintentionally hilarious hour and a half watch which it kind of was for me. Starring Gina Rodriguez, the plot centers around the global hysteria that ensues after a mysterious catastrophe wipes out all electronics and takes away humanity’s ability to sleep. Scientists race against the clock to find a cure for the unexplained insomnia before its fatal effects eliminate the human race but the cure may lie within the innocence of youth when Jill, a former soldier, discovers her young daughter may be the key to salvation and she must then decide to protect her children at all costs or sacrifice everything to save the world. The film is interesting in its scope of storytelling but has so many moments of ham-fisted logic, over-the-top acting and points of what’s supposed to be pure terror that comes off really funny. I know that sleep deprivation causes us to make terrible decisions but some of these pieces in the film are just insanely comical to me.
Kate Nash: Underestimate The Girl – To be completely honest, all that I knew previously about singer and songwriter Kate Nash was from her role as Rhonda Richardson on the Netflix comedy series GLOW that was sadly cancelled last year after a renewal had been announced. It seems par for the course in Nash’s experience as this film documents well. The film outlines Nash’s career as she reaches the stratosphere of pop music at 18 but then just ten years later she is nearly homeless, dropped by her music label and defrauded by her manager. Deciding on her third album that she wanted to get away from the pre-packaged slog of pop music and hit a wave of more powerful punk anger, this ultimately is what stalled her career and we see Kate rising from the darkness of this through her music, fighting back and staying true to her artistic vision. The film was a fascinating study of an unbreakable talent and actually put me onto some of her music which I’ve subscribed to on Spotify now. My wife had already been a fan of hers but I’m a little late to the indie music game sometimes.
A Perfect Enemy – Lets go international for this Spanish, German and French co-produced dark crime thriller which features the great French actor Dominique Pinon who I’ve been a fan of for decades as he is a regular staple in Jean Pierre Jeunet films, starting with Delicatessen in 1991. The film follows Pinon as a successful architect named Jeremiasz Angust who is approached on his trip to the Paris Airport by a chatty girl called Texel Textor. She is a strange young woman who seems to be looking for captive victims whom she forces to listen to her strange stories. Jeremy loses the flight because of Texel and once they are installed in the lounge area, he will not be able to get rid of the annoying stranger. Although the meeting seems fortuitous, soon there will be a turn that will transform the character of that encounter into something much more sinister and criminal. Writer and director Kike Maíllo does an incredible job of stringing the viewer along in an almost mundanity that puts you in the mindset of Angust as the rug slowly gets pulled from under you and you decend into it’s pretty messed up finale. I felt on the fence for the majority of the film but the end really got me.
New Order – Just the lead into this new thriller is utterly fascinating as it has almost a “High Rise” like collapse of society to it which makes it really fit into in to today’s overhanging feeling. A Mexican and French-produced drama that was originally conceived six years ago, this is a near-future dystopia that takes place in the midst of a protest that rages in the streets while Marianne’s high society family prepares for her wedding. At first, only splatters of green paint and the appearance of Rolando, a former employee seeking emergency medical funds, intrude on the festivities but soon the party is unable to keep the reckoning at bay, and what follows is a swift disintegration of law and order defined first by class lines, then by disastrous government recapitulation. The reviews on this film are off the charts with so much praise being heaped on the excellent acting, cinematography and editing, I am salivating to get my eyes on it, personally. This film feels almost Kubrickian by comparison.
The Dose – Also being distributed as La Dosis, this Argentinian drama starts to play quickly into the field of psychological thriller in a way that feels subversive to it’s beginning and I found myself drawn more and more in by each plot reveal. The film follows Marcos, a night shift nurse at a provincial hospital who cares for patients in severe stages of illness. Sometimes, secretly, when a patient certainly won’t recover, Marcos helps them reach their last moment quickly but the settled routine of the ward is shattered when Gabriel joins the staff as another nurse. Gabriel is young, attractive and everyone is seduced by him but soon the death rate on the ward increases andMarcos realises that Gabriel is also killing patients, but indiscriminately and carelessly. He decides to try and put an end to both their actions but doing so places his own identity in jeopardy and in the crosshairs of a lengthy prison sentence. This film is gripping and the character work is really superb as the heaviness of the story is also infused with a dark humor that gives it that subversiveness with a genre bend and I thought it was pretty great.
The Dare – When people saw the horror thriller Saw in 2004 it definitely gave some light to the smaller, self contained bloody and gory stories of minimal characters and a whole lot of blood, which is evident here with writer and director Giles Alderson’s film here. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and, honestly, this one is pretty column B for me. This film follows the fallout of a childhood prank gone wrong at a rare family night which ends in four strangers, including the workaholic father, who are forced to relive a cruel game at the hands of a masked psychopath. The film has all sorts of style that works for it but it seems more focused in giving that and splatter fans some eye candy to look at then giving a cohesive story with satisfying reveals and explanations. I feel like this is a great jump point for Alderson as a filmmaker but he needs to get those films that inspired him and preceded him out of his head when creating.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
The Lovebirds – A theatrical victim of the COVID-19 pandemic which was supposed to hit theatres at the beginning of April in 2020, Paramount made a quick deal with Netflix which then debuted in late May that year and now we get this brand new comedy starring two red hot stars, Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, on DVD this week. Coming from director Michael Showalter, following up The Big Sick which was written by and starring Kumail, this film is about a couple who has literally just broken up when they get put right in the middle of a murder conspiracy forcing them to run from the law. The chemistry between Nanjiani and Rae is phenomenal and the lines are hilarious even if this is a far lesser movie than The Big Sick. If you’re looking for a hilarious movie to kill an hour and a half then I highly recommend this one because it had me laughing throughout.
Assault On VA-33 – Of course we need to cover some straight to video lowbrow action because what would a release week or month be without them. The sad thing about this film is it has some very likeable stars in it, like Boondock Saints’ Sean Patrick Flannery, Spawn’s Michael Jai White, John Wick: Chapter 3’s Mark Dacascos and WWE Hall Of Famer Rob Van Dam but everything else about this film is so shoddy and low budget. Flannery plays decorated army veteran Jason Hill who, while on a routine visit to the local VA hospital, finds organized terrorists have infiltrated the building and taken hostages, including a decorated general, and Hill’s wife. The highly trained veteran is outnumbered and the last line of defense, taking on a building full of armed insurgents before it’s too late in a really low rent Die Hard sort of way.The film has zero room for character development or delivering a reason to care about anyone in it which makes it a total slog to get through. Films like this make my extracurricular activities seem so brutal.
City Of Lies – With the wide release all but cancelled and the distributors dropping the film outright, this is a movie that suffered the world wrath of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard divorce and court battle as when Depp was accused of abuse, everyone washed their hands of him. The movie is pretty interesting though, following the murder investigation of the Notorious B.I.G., directed by The Lincoln Lawyer filmmaker Brad Fuhrman with a great cast including Forest Whitaker, Shea Whigham and HBO favorites Toby Huss and Dayton Callie. The film takes place in 1997 and follows LAPD Detective Russell Poole as he investigates a case of an undercover cop killing another cop. This draws him into the Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur murders and what he uncovers is huge, so much so, that the closer he gets to the truth, the more his superiors try to prevent him from getting to it. This movie reeks of that eighties and nineties style crime procedural but I thought it worked really well and Depp and Whitaker are so great together. It’s sad to have this stigma of Johnny’s personal life marring all of his films now as I really still enjoy him as an actor.
Zeroville – James Franco is not the most popular guy these days and for good reason so for his new film that he also directed to slip under the radar of regular releases is not surprising at all, even if it features his now former friend Seth Rogen. To be honest, with it’s cult film like prowess, I should have loved this film, following Franco as a young ex-communicated seminarian Ike “Vikar” Jerome with two tattoos of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor on his shaved head who arrives in Los Angeles on the same August day in 1969 that a crazed hippie ”family” led by Charles Manson commits five savage murders to begin a dreamlike journey through the film business to kick off the 1970s. What bothered me about this movie is that it felt absolutely fruitless other than Franco giving the middle finger to an industry that made him and gave him the power he so abuses now. It tries to piggyback on better films of its ilk and fails to do so and really just sort of panders to Franco and his tastes while failing to utilize a great cast including Joey King, Jacki Weaver, Dave Franco, Craig Robinson and more. So disappointing but fitting for this douchebag.
The Land of Azaba – We’re getting deep into the field of quietly observant documentaries this week, thanks to the push of Kino Lorber who is amazing at giving a platform to these smaller productions. This is a closely observed film exploring the theme of ecological restoration, a worldwide movement to turn back the tide of mass extinction and restore planet earth to ecological balance. Filmed in far western Spain, “the film immerses you in a magical world where humans and wildlife work together to restore the largest tract of wild nature in western Europe where, as it is globally as well, the survival of many rare species, including ancient oaks, insects, vultures, and horses, is at stake. The message is glaring and urgent throughout this film but it’s storytelling devices of being observant may not jive with those casual viewers who need a little more narrative in their films.
The Stylist – We’ll never steer too far from horror at least on this blog as it seems to be the most productive genre, they always sent me the screeners for them on the first ask and, hell, I absolutely love them. Arrow Video does as well and they have an eye for new horror as well as they snapped this one off the festival circuit that has been getting some warm love from the critics. Starring Najarra Townsend and horror queen Brea Grant, the film is about a lonely hair stylist named Claire who dreams of being someone else but the dream goes from an obsession to a living nightmare as she goes from hairstylist by day to serial killer and collector of scalps by night, Claire’s lonely existence is thrown into turmoil when her regular client, Olivia, asks her to style her hair for her wedding day. Increasingly fixated on Olivia’s seemingly flawless life, Claire vows to lock up her scalp collection and change her ways for good, only to discover that repressing your deadly desires is easier said than done. This movie is so effective with its style and character development that I felt onboard with whatever it was going to do and the kills in it are so savoured that it will delight many of the genre fans. Believe the hype on this one, it’s the real deal.
Fuller House: Season 5 – Another reboot, or continuation in this case, has come to an end as the wildly popular Netflix restart of the TGIF line-up classic Full House from my generation’s childhood and teen years has wrapped up and a new young generation has been served this sweet and sugary little family comedy. Do I need to explain what the show’s about? Well, okay, the show picked up with D.J. Tanner-Fuller is now a recently widowed mom to a thirteen-year-old named Jackson, a seven-year-old named Max and a newborn son named Tommy. After realizing she is unable to cope with the demands of holding a full time job as a veterinarian in addition to raising three kids, her sister Stephanie and childhood best friend Kimmy, who is also the mother of a thirteen-year-old daughter, offer to move in to bring up her children. It seems a lot of the fans were a little let down by this series’ finish but I felt the same tone and message conveyed the whole run and the saccharine cheesiness of it made my teeth hurt more than a few times.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:
The Sweet Requiem – Going international to kick off this week’s geek-outs with this Indian-made drama that revolves around the revered lands of Tibet and has earned some real underground acclaim from critics ahead of its Kino Lorber spearheaded release. The film follows Dolka who, at the age of eight, fled her home with her father to escape the Chinese armed forces and faced an arduous journey across the Himalayas. Now at twenty-six, she lives in a Tibetan refugee colony in Delhi, where an unexpected encounter with a man from her past awakens long-suppressed memories, propelling Dolkar on an obsessive search for the truth. This film is a captivating drama that deals with a person ripped from their home and traditions, deposited in a new form of life entirely without the ability to come to grips with that until almost two decades later. The reality of this movie must be held in the hearts of so many and really made me introspective about my own white privilege that I’ve felt, even though I am a newly verified member of the indigenous in Canada. No matter where you are in the world, I feel like a story of this nature and message can and will affect everyone that has their hearts open to it.
The Gentlemen – Writer and director Guy Ritchie returned to the roots of the type of cinema that got him popular, the gangster flicks like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and it was oh so satisfying and I just wanted to bring some attention to it again. For this film, he grabs a huge cast with Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and more for the story of a drug lord looking to get out of the game and sell of his empire to the highest bidder which sets off a bloody war in the London underworld, a place that Ritchie knows as well as he knows himself. This movie probably won’t draw in a new audience but will satisfy the hordes of fans of this genre he made famous, all of us salivating for him to do another movie with great dialogue and loud gunfights. Got to hand it to him that he can make all of these already cool actors to an even higher level of coolness. That is some serious talent there.
Little Birds: Season 1 (Crave) – Kind of on a high after the critical and audience lauded Ted Lasso, actress Juno Temple takes the lead in this steamy new Starz original series from creator Stacie Passon who did a great job on a few of the episode of Dickinson on AppleTV+ earlier this year. The show is an adaptation of Anais Nin’s infamous collection of erotic short stories and is a mid twentieth century period piece that follows New York heiress Lucy Savage fresh off the transatlantic steamer and looking for love and marriage in an exotic and strange land. When her husband Hugo does not receive her in the way she expected, she spins off into the surprising, diverse and degenerate world of Tangier in a modern feeling tale of a woman losing and then finding herself down a mesmerizing rabbit hole. The shows unique sense of style and art direction is what keeps everything on the rails as I felt the story had a bit of meandering to it that made it a struggle for me to keep interested in it. I will continue to watch it for Juno’s great work as she always feels like a star with everything she does.
Lupin: Part 2 (Netflix) – We’re heading back to France for the second part of this new series that takes Transporter helmer Louis Letterier and places him in the showrunner position of the story of a master thief, embodied by the phenomenal Omar Cy in the title role. The show is inspired by the adventures of Arsène Lupin, a gentleman thief that appears in literary form and is the assumed identity that Senegal immigrant Assane Diop takes to set out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted by a wealthy family. The show is all about the long con and pulls each one off beautifully in a series that will delight international viewers and draw in those fans that latch onto mystery serials. The consistent misdirection of this series that always seems to pull the rug out from under you really kept me engaged throughout the first volume and I’m so happy to have another handful of episodes to see Omar Sy flesh out this phenomenal character.
Betty: Season 2 (Crave) – A few years back now, I fell in love with a little New York shot indie story from writer and director Crystal Moselle called Skate Kitchen about a teenager new to the area that falls in with a group of skater girls. It’s really great that HBO feels the same way I do, if not more, as they have produced, with Moselle directing, another six-episode series of this show version that already had a great initial run to kind of reinitiate us as an audience right back into this group and putting us right back into the skatepark. I think this was one of the most underappreciated and woefully not talked about shows of last year that made me want to experience Skate Kitchen all over again. I also love that the show is premiering during Pride month as there is so much representation within it.
Home Before Dark: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Ever since I saw Sean Baker’s The Florida Project at the Vancouver International Film Festival and cried my eyes out at the Centre For Performing Arts, young actress Brooklynn Prince who is electric on the screen at all times. Sadly, I didn’t get into this show when it premiered it’s first season but am now on the bandwagon of this dramatic mystery series that co-stars Across The Universe’s Jim Sturgess. The show follows a young girl who moves from Brooklyn to the small lakeside town her father left behind to follow his career drive. While there, her dogged pursuit of the truth leads her to unearth a cold case that everyone in town, including her own father, tried hard to bury. This show has such a deeply original feel to it and season one is so deeply fascinating with its twists and turns, again spearheaded by an incredibly committed performance from Prince. This is going to be one of those dark horse shows people should be watching but it’s understandable about it’s fringe status being on AppleTV+.
Loki (Disney+) – After WandaVision and The Falcon And The Winter Soldier have already completed their limited runs, we make way for one of the Phase One original heavyweight villains in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, a character that arguably catapulted him into stardom, due to how brilliantly he played the role, how much development he gave the God Of Mischief and how hard us as fans fell in love with the growing antihero. For fear that someone at Disney or Marvel may have a sniper trained on me lest I reveal secrets, I will say that I have seen the first couple episodes of the show and I love it but it leans towards the WandaVision side of things with so much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at play in it. I also will say that it starts off with that moment in Avengers: Endgame when a soon to be incarcerated Loki gets hold of the Tesseract and disappears during the “time heist” sequence. Look, no spoilers! You can take that laser pointer off my head now, please.