F9: The Fast Saga – After over a year of delay we get our dose of “The Family” film and I’m not talking about a Disney animated adventure< I’m talking about Vin Diesel and his family of, well, we used to call them car thieves and a heist squad but after the insane things in the previous movies I have really lost track of what to identify them as. This film takes a twist on the family theme as it opens with Dom Toretto leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but knowing that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, the new threat aligned with old enemies will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most as his crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered, a man who also happens to be Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob, played by John Cena. As ridiculous as this movie looks, I’ve been salivating for my chance to see it ever since that first trailer last year. I am pumped for it.
The Ice Road – Let me start this piece off by saying that I respect Liam Neeson, an actor who has had a storied career and reinvented himself for them more than a few times but I just wish that writers and filmmakers would respect him more than being a one-trick pony. Years after saying that he was giving up the action genre as he was ageing out of it but that seems to be untrue as he’s made many since saying that and here we go with yet another one. In this film, he plays a ‘big-rig ice road driver who must lead an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners of a remote diamond mine that collapses in far northern Canada. Contending with thawing waters and a massive storm, they discover the real threat is one they never saw coming but they should have because it is obvious corporate greed. This movie is just plain bad with paper-thin characters, ridiculous dialogue, decisive moments created out of buzz terms of the modern-day and more corn than your body has room for. Neeson is becoming the poster boy for “skip this” really fast now.
False Positive – I will admit that the trailer for this movie threw me off immediately as it has Broad City and usually comedic actress Ilana Glazer in the lead role of a very genre-specific horror thriller which is an interesting hurdle to get over but good for her for branching out. Beyond that, this is definitely a triggering movie for any woman who has been, will be or is currently pregnant but I think that is exactly what writer and director John Lee was going for when he wrote it with, oh wow, Ilana Glazer. So crazy. The film follows a woman named Lucy who, after months of trying and failing to get pregnant, her and her husband Adrian, played by Justin Theroux, finally find their dream fertility doctor in the illustrious Dr. Hindle, in the form of a well-cast Pierce Brosnan. After becoming pregnant with a healthy baby girl, Lucy begins to notice something sinister through Hindle’s gleaming charm, and she sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about him, and her own upcoming birth story in a creepy little mystery that has great genre substance all over it. This could become a sizeable sleeper hit, I think.
Wolfgang – Disney+ has been pretty solid in all the new documentaries they’ve commissioned and produced, telling the stories of some behind-the-scenes players in their films and productions but this one is a bit different as it focuses on a trailblazer and total rock star of his industry. Even if you aren’t a big foodie or pay attention to restaurant trends, you have definitely heard the name of Wolfgang Puck before. Hell, he even guested on The Simpsons! This film starts with Wolfgang as a teenager in Austria, harnessing his love of cooking to escape the harsh rule of his stepfather, something that would forever drive him. A local apprenticeship forged his path to training at a revered French restaurant before landing in America at age 24 and by 1970 he’s already working in Ma Maison, crafting an original menu around fresh ingredients, making the once-tacky eatery a popular, acclaimed darling. Still, the lack of acknowledgement from Ma Maison’s owner pushed Puck to take the biggest risk of his career and open his first restaurant, Spago, an instant hit where famous clientele obsesses equally on Puck’s new American cuisine and personality. Almost by accident, Puck created the concept of a “celebrity chef” with his decades-spanning television appearances, building a staggering global empire of restaurants, cafes and products for home cooks but at home, as with all driven workaholic empire heads, the frenetic professional demands disrupted his family life. This was such a phenomenal look at a powerhouse that paved the way for every advance in the cooking world through entertainment and, really, the main reason that people like Gordon Ramsey, Emeril Legasse and even Guy Fieri are in the spotlight.
Good On Paper – Iliza Scheslinger is the latest actress to try out the Amy Schumer track with her own little “Trainwreck” and like Amy, she wrote the film herself but unlike the popular stand-up comedian she didn’t have the helping hand of Judd Apatow to keep it on track so to speak and it really shows. Iliza plays someone very close to herself, a comedian who always put her stand-up career first, and while dating came easy, love wasn’t a priority or very interesting to her until she meets Dennis, a quirky nerd with disarming charm who coaxes her into letting her guard down. Her best friend Margot isn’t convinced he’s all he seems and she urges Andrea to embark on a wild goose chase to uncover who Dennis really is and that’s when the movie starts to get a bit wild. To this point, the film is formulaic, no one seems like a real person and It starts to stumble down a predictable path when the mystery really begins. Is it enough to save it? Unfortunately, no, as the answers aren’t grandiose enough to correct the path and really too many unexplained crazy things happen that it feels like a waste and, sorry, I do not care about the main character’s plight at all.
LFG – The push for equity and equality in the paying of female athletes has been at the forefront of controversy for a long time now but the fight has been taken to a more viral level by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s captain Megan Rapinoe in a big way as she leads the fierce charge as a stalwart warrior for the cause. Produced by the great people at HBO Max, this film, an anacronym for “Let’s Fucking Go!”, this documentary starts three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup when the players filed a class-action, gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which sets the stage for this groundbreaking story. The film interweaves transcendent athletic performances, including a record-breaking World Cup victory in 2019, with the players’ ongoing pursuit for equal pay and grants viewers unprecedented access to these game-changers as they meet the physical demands and pressures of being some of the world’s top athletes while showcasing their courage, unflinching spirit and resiliency to create long-lasting social change. As far as important documentaries go, this is a story of our times and a call to stand up for athletes who have been completely marginalized due to their gender. We as a society are better than this.
Silent Night – In the late nineties and early 2000s I really had an addiction to gritty underground London gangster films like Snatch, Gangster No. 1 and Sexy Beast but the well seemed to run dry a bit since then or at least nothing really has grabbed me in that same way. Heck, maybe I’ve outgrown them? Nah, that can’t be it. This film is trying to pull me back on board and follows Mark, recently released from prison, who tries to reconnect with his daughter and give her a Christmas to remember. Struggling to find work, he meets his former cellmate, who encourages him to return to a life of crime but the decision soon becomes easier when Caddy, a ruthless crime boss, blackmails him into doing one last job. The film is definitely lacking in the acting department, with Cruella’s Joel Fry being the only recognizable star, but the story is compelling enough to keep the momentum and interest going although, against the films I mention at the top of this, it really doesn’t compare. You can definitely see where the inspiration came from though.
Sun Children – I love the releases that Mongrel Media gets behind sometimes to distribute because they usually represent international films that wouldn’t get the exposure here without their push and this is one of them. Made by Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, who directed the incredible Baran in 2001, this movie has been getting a lot of festival attention and even earn lead actor Rouhollah Zamani the Best Young Actor Award at Venice Film Festival 2020 and was the official submission of Iran for the Best International Feature Film category of the 93rd Academy Awards in 2021. The story follows twelve-year-old Ali and his three friends who work hard together to survive and support their families. In a turn of events that seems miraculous, Ali is entrusted to find hidden treasure underground that they were hired by a local gangster to unearth. This film is an incredible ride through the eyes of these young boys who evoke so much empathy and emotion through their plight and, although it will definitely fly under a lot of people’s radars, I think it is such an important film to see.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
Nobody – I have been waiting patiently for the return of writer and director Ilya Naishuller, the pun rock pirate Russian filmmaker who was responsible for the first-ever first-person action adrenaline ride Hardcore Henry starring Sharlto Copley. Why is he a pirate? Because he has a rough and gritty style of innovation and will accomplish it by any means necessary. He gets a big-budget Hollywood boost this time and a fan favourite star of Mr. Show creator and Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk and it is another piece of action cinema that will be remembered as a can’t miss John Wick style pulse pounder. He plays Hutch Mansell, an underestimated and mild-mannered family man, increasingly unaffected by his life’s hardships and mundanities. One night, when two thieves break into his suburban home, he declines to defend himself or his family, hoping to prevent any serious complications. His son, Blake, and his wife, Becca disappointed in Hutch’s inaction, start to drift further away from him than before but the incident has actually ignited his resentment towards being an unsubstantial father and husband and awakening his suppressed skills and illuminating his dark secrets to cause some brutal violence. Buckle up for a full ninety-minute ride that takes no prisoners and still, although being a distinctly American feeling story has a Russian dressing to it.
The Unholy – With the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan leading it and horror legend Sam Raimi producing with his Ghosthouse and Evil Dead counterpart Rob Tappert, I felt like this might be an enjoyable little popcorn supernatural horror flick. Oh boy, was I ever wrong. The film follows Alice, a young hearing-impaired girl who, after a supposed visitation from the Virgin Mary, is inexplicably able to hear, speak and heal the sick. As word spreads and people from near and far flock to witness her miracles, a disgraced journalist, played by Morgan, who, hoping to revive his career, visits the small New England town to investigate. When terrifying events begin to happen all around, he starts to question if these phenomena are the works of the Virgin Mary or something much more sinister and, obvious spoilers, it is. This movie is haphazardly plotted, filled with dumb reveals, cheesy and seemingly unfinished special effects and, worst of all, it isn’t scary for even a second and relies on jump scares to get you. This movie was a complete waste of time and a total bummer.
Chaos Walking – It’s been a few years since Doug Liman made his unexpected sci-fi time travel masterpiece Edge Of Tomorrow and regained his status as a notable filmmaker who can be believed in. With that in mind, I was so excited to check out his new film, the first genre-specific one since that great Tom Cruise flick plus it has Spider-Man and Rey Skywalker so it had all the selling features for me. I have to be a little plot vague on this but it’s set in the not-too-distant future and follows Todd, a citizen of Prentisstown, who has been brought up to believe that a phenomenon called the Spackle released a germ that killed all the women and unleashed Noise on the remaining men, which makes all of their thoughts visible. After discovering a patch of silence out in the swamp, his surrogate parents immediately tell him that he has to run, leaving him with only a map of New World, a message, and many unanswered questions because he has found the source of the silence and possibly something to save humanity, a girl, named Viola. This movie has so many big ideas but not the logic or coherence to follow through satisfyingly. I kept finding my interest in it waning which is weird for me because the villain is Mads Mikkelsen. This all should have been a win but it is a total time waster.
The Umbrella Academy: Season 1 – This Netflix original based on the comic series from My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way hit with their first season and grabbed views immediately with its sort of Addams Family crossed Charles Xavier’s School For The Gifted from X-Men charm. Starring a very cool cast of Elliot Page, Misfits’ Robert Sheehan, Colm Feore and even Mary J. Blige, season one was a fantastic jumping point of character origins and fleshing out what the focus was of the series. As a huge fan of the comic series, I feel like showrunners and developers Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater have given this show a new life in series form and one that is different from the path we’ve already seen but without losing what we love about the characters. This is such a great show and I love that it’s on a physical disc now.
The Paper Tigers – Old dogs dusting off their skills to become heroes and champions and giving hope to all of us dudes who have felt like the years have passed us by. We too could be formidable again and be the “Best OF The Best”! Is that Eric Roberts movie reference too obscure? Well, anyway, the film follows three Kung Fu prodigies who have grown into washed-up, middle-aged men, now one kick away from pulling their hamstrings. When They discover their master has been murdered, they must juggle their dead-end jobs, dad duties and old grudges to band together, retrain and avenge his death. The premise sounds totally 1980s and 90s cornball but everything manages to work really well character-wise and the action is actually really entertaining, even when it gets into a bit of silly territory. As a martial arts film fan, I really dug into this one but I also think a casual viewer could pull some enjoyment from it as well.
Night Of The Sicario – If you’re looking for a direct to video hitman action flick that is doing some serious piggybacking off of a name that is far more successful and must-see, trying to gain that “maybe it’s a sequel” crowd, then you have definitely found it. Even more upsetting, it features a Canadian I without a doubt had a crush on with her sci-fi thriller Species and it’s the wonderful Natasha Henstridge who requires a career rejuvenation. She plays Taylor a woman who is forced to hide the young daughter of a Colombian woman in witness protection who will be testifying against a powerful drug cartel in Federal Court, struggling to keep her head above water as ruthless sicarios aim to hunt them down. What this film fails to convey in any shape or form of description is that it’s a faith-based movie with all the action cliches it can throw at you, an infuriating reveal in my opinion. I don’t want to call this film utter garbage but I’m struggling to find other words.
Hunter Hunter – I don’t care if you call it a nineties or 2000s nostalgia-driven desire but I just want Devon Sawa to succeed because he is a pretty solid part of my movie-watching at the turn of the millennium with at least Idle Hands and Final Destination. That’s why when I saw this got a “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes I instantly put this one on my list as a must-see. This is the second wilderness horror this week and it follows a family living in the remote wilderness earning a living as fur trappers to make ends when the return of a rogue wolf starts to create a problem of rising amount of empty traps. Determined to catch the predator in the act, the father leaves his family behind to track the wolf in the most badass performance I’ve ever seen from Sawa. Seriously, believe the hype because this movie is awesome and writer, director Shawn Linden knocks this film out of the park, and Canadian actress Camille Sullivan is amazing, providing the other half of the emotional weight of the film.
Batman: The Long Halloween Part One – One of my favourite Batman stories ever made, a masterpiece from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Time Sale, finally gets that high profile adaptation into the DC Animated universe and good lord is it beautiful. Split into two parts for the release, this story is revered by all Batman fans and is a go-to for beginners just getting into the Caped Crusader so the need to get it right is imperative. Part One begins as a brutal murder on Halloween prompts Gotham’s young vigilante, the Batman, to form a pact with the city’s only two uncorrupt lawmen, police captain James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, to take down The Roman, head of the notorious and powerful Falcone Crime Family. When more deaths occur on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it becomes clear that, instead of ordinary gang violence, they’re also dealing with a serial killer that, with each conflicting clue, grows harder to make a suspect list for. Few cases have ever tested the wits of the World’s Greatest Detective like the mystery behind the Holiday Killer and the first part ends with such a great cliffhanger that even my daughter is on pins and needles for the next one. August can’t come soon enough!
Visions Of Eight – Criterion Collection is heading to the Olympics this week with a look at a very pivotal year in the storied competition featuring the short films of some of the most profound filmmakers of the time. Eight film artists from different countries, including One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Bonnie And Clyde’s Arthur Penn and Midnight Cowboy’s John Schlesinger, are given carte blanche to make a collection of short documentaries on the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, offering unexpected, original and often humorous perspectives. Criterion has a knack for celebratio=ng the most obscure but pivotal films in cinema history and it is really felt with these little shorts including Claude Lelouch’s take on Olympic losers and their struggle to remain dignified even in the face of bitter disappointment and defeat which hits so hard still to this day. I love receiving these movies as it feels like a constant education and opens my eyes to the foundations of the industry.
Irezumi – Arrow Video is opening up my pre-1970s international cinema horizons with a special edition of this 1966 Japanese drama that didn’t actually get any exposure in North America until a limited theatrical release in 1983, over twenty years after it was made. The film was directed by filmmaker Yasuzô Masumura who was known as a maverick director whose main legacy was films portraying and promoting individualism, which was the opposite of the norm in Japanese society. The film is about a woman with a double life as a librarian and seductress who gets kidnapped into prostitution and after getting a spider tattoo made on her back, she grows vengeful, leaving several men destroyed in her path. This movie is a far different jaunt through Japanese cinema than I was expecting but the evident reasons in which Arrow picked this film are pretty much evident from the get-go. A fascinating film.
It Happened At The World’s Fair -Besides the HBO documentary series The Searcher, I really think this is my first Elvis Presley film on this blog so it’s pretty interesting that it isn’t one of his massive hits to start with. Funny enough, this is actually Kurt Russell’s debut film as well, who would go on to play the rock n roll icon in a biopic directed by John Carpenter who he would go on to have more great success with, some bigger than others. This film is a comedy musical that has Presley as Mike who, with his friend Danny, hitch a ride to the World’s Fair in Seattle after the sheriff seizes their crop-duster biplane to cover Danny’s gambling debts. While Danny tries to earn money playing poker, Mike takes care of a small girl, Sue-Lin, whose Uncle Walter has disappeared and, of course, being a ladies man, he also finds the time to court a young nurse, Diane. This is one of those classic romance comedies aimed to get the camera loving every part of Elvis’s face and showcasing his music, nothing more, nothing less. Does it age well? Probably not but it serves its purpose.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Flowers Of Shanghai – It seems like I bring a Criterion Collection film a week these days and to a movie buff like me it is absolutely glorious every time because these are the cream of the crop, the best of the best and the films that you should be watching to keep the finer touches of cinema in your brainpan. This week’s film comes from Chinese filmmaker Hsiao-Hsien Hou who incredibly directed ten films in the eighties and seven of them received best film or best director awards from prestigious international films festivals in Venice, Berlin, Hawaii, and the Festival of the Three Continents in Nantes. This film could be considered his crowning achievement, following the struggle of the different women in a Shanghai brothel where everything only appears to be beautiful but the steady underbelly is just seeping through to be exposed. This film is a masterpiece that is comprised of thirty-eight long and beautiful shots and the special features. of this blu-ray are insanely intricate.
Indiana Jones 4K – What can I say about this box set that you don’t already know? Indiana Jones is the adventurer of my generation and, along with Star Wars, Ghostbusters and others was my conduit into movies and definitely a piece of my childhood that made me love the medium. All four movies are included in this set with Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Temple Of Doom, The Last Crusade and, yes, I will say it, Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, all remastered in glorious 4K to be vibrant on your screens, shake the house with its sound and packed full of special features to keep you in Indy’s world for hours. I also implore people to give Kingdom another chance, there are fun sequences in it and Shia Labeouf isn’t that bad, people. As an actor that is.
Good Girls: Season 4 (NBC) – It looks like this might be the final season for this underrated hit with a little bit of a fan following as NBC loves to cancel their shows roughly around this time in their runs if they haven’t already given it the chop after season one. This show immediately got my attention with its phenomenal cast with the gorgeous Christina Hendricks, the hilarious Mae Whitman and equally funny Retta, plus it has Matthew Lillard who I adore. The show follows three suburban Michigan mothers, two of whom are sisters, who are having a hard time trying to make ends meet. Tired of having everything taken away from them, they decide to pull off an unlikely heist by robbing a supermarket, only to discover that they’re in for more than they bargained. Their successful robbery attracts the attention of the store manager after he recognizes one of the women, but for a different reason altogether than just the money. The show comes from creator Jenna Bans who definitely has paid her dues, writing for Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Desperate Housewives, so it’s great to see her have a serious hit.
Rick And Morty: Season 5 (Adult Swim) – The day I write this is Father’s Day, a day where we get to celebrate the men in our lives who formed us, in some shape or form, to be the people we become as adults. So, in that spirit, we also celebrate Rick And Morty Day, an acknowledgement of one of the more fucked up paternal relationships that probably changed young Morty for the worse and possibly made him a monster. Wait, is this the sentiment I’m going for? The show, now available in a season one to four box set as well as individually, is set to debut its fifth season tonight on Adult Swim and fans are drooling for it with creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon wringing their hands in excitement. The best news is that there are another fifty episodes commissioned beyond this and the show seems like it will continue indefinitely. Even better news, and don’t hate me for this, but I’m kind of new to the show and am still in season one so I am discovering all the “schwifty”, Szechuan sauce and Pickle Rick references beyond the times that they’ve become viral memes across the internet. Soon, I will be caught up and still kind of behind all the references. The point is, I’m receiving the Adult Swim education and goddamn is Chris Parnell great, right?
Bosch: Season 7 (Amazon Prime) – One of the original shows to debut on Amazon Prime, this long-running, critically acclaimed and low-key fan-favourite show is finally drawing to a close. Starring the phenomenal actor Titus Welliver in the title role, a guy you know his face and voice but can never put a name to, this show will be re-discovered for years to come. If you want to start at the beginning with an introduction, the series follows Welliver’s Harry Bosch, an irreverent homicide detective in Los Angeles who has problems with authority, follows his gut and bends a few rules while achieving the best-solved case rate in all of California. This is another notch in a long line of sort of likeable anti-heroes which we all seem to enjoy on television these days but this one comes from veteran writer and creator Eric Ellis Overmyer who has penned episodes of Homicide: Life On The Street, The Wire and Treme, meaning he’s a David Simon guy, one of the best in the business.
Central Park: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – Loren Bouchard, the mind behind the wildly popular Bob’s Burgers, and the multi-talented Josh Gad have teamed up for this new animated comedy-musical series and after an immensely entertaining first season, I have been eagerly awaiting this sophomore season. Featuring the voices and wonderful singing voices of a talented cast including Leslie Odom Jr. Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess and Gad himself, I was pretty much hooked with the quirkiness of episode one. The series tells the story of the Tillermans, a family that lives in Central Park consisting of Owen, the park manager, and Paige, his journalist wife who raise their kids Molly and Cole in the world’s most famous park while fending off hotel heiress Bitsy Brandenham and her long-suffering assistant Helen, who would love nothing more than to turn the park into condos. The show has such wit and warmth that can be attributed to the great mix of Bouchard’s great comedic writing and Gad’s grandiosity that makes for a real perfect storm in animation. If you already love Bob’s Burgers this is definitely your next step.
The Mysterious Benedict Society (Disney+) – Tony Hale has to be one of the most versatile actors working today, a rising star as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, an award winner for his time on Veep and a welcomed delight in any movie or television series he pops up in. Heck, in this new series he doesn’t even show up until near the end of the first episode but I was already hooked in by that point. In a rare hour-long family series, the story focuses on a group of gifted orphans who are recruited by an eccentric, benefactor to go on a secret mission. That mission? Something I am totally keeping spoiler-free as you don’t even get that reveal at the end of episode one but oh man just you wait for episode two! I also love that this show is shot in Vancouver so when they zoom through the city to the orphanage I was like “Hey, that’s Gas Town!” Yes, I’m THAT locations nerd!