Zola – The anticipation for this movie was absolutely huge for me as the festival and critical buzz has been looming all over social media since the Sundance Film Festival and now that it’s here I am happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint. The crazy thing, and an indicator of where we can get film stories now, the inception of this story came from Twitter and a story told through a series of one hundred and forty eight tweets that laid the whole insane narrative out. “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” These are the words that start this Florida odyssey, following Zola, a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer named Stefani that seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures. This movie is crazy and jaw dropping with it’s developments but still holds on to a rough command of cinema that puts it into the same category as the Sean Baker masterpiece The Florida Project. Oh man, I loved this movie so much.
The Boss Baby: Family Business – Dreamworks Animation is definitely looking to snag that post pandemic family movie money this weekend as they kept this one out of theaters and off of VOD the whole time, patiently waiting for theaters to re-open. It may not look like any sort of an entertaining film but I really enjoyed the first movie about a little businessman baby voiced by Alec Baldwin and that’s probably due to how much I love his 30 Rock Character Jack Donaghey and how he seems to channel it with this character. The sequel picks up with the Templeton brothers, Tim and his Boss Baby little bro Ted, who have become adults and drifted away from each other. Tim is now a married stay-at-home dad and Ted is obviously a hedge fund CEO. The adventures reignite when a new boss baby with a cutting-edge approach and a can-do attitude aims to bring them back together which starts with a quick de-aging process, reverting them back to babies. The animation is goofy and fun and the script feels like a snappy improv of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks which I really like but audiences can sometimes be cold to. It makes me think of how much I was into the Andy Samberg film Storks and how much everyone else hated it.
The Tomorrow War – As proven with the Guardians Of The Galaxy and Jurassic World movies, Chris Pratt is a bankable star when you put a huge franchise on him but with Passengers and the Magnificent Seven remake he didn’t bring that same box office glow with him which is not good for expensive tent pole films. He’s hitting up the sci-fi action thriller genre again to see what falls out with this new film that comes from Tom Cruise’s company Skydance and Chris McKay who’s mostly known for doing The LEGO Batman Movie. The film is set in an alternate version of our world that is changed forever when a group of time travelers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver the urgent message that thirty years in the future mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight and among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester, played by Pratt. Determined to save the world for his young daughter, Dan teams up with a brilliant scientist, played by Chuck actress Yvonne Strahovski, and his estranged father, in the form of Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons, in a desperate quest to rewrite the fate of the planet and I have to say it looks pretty cool. I’ve been duped by these genre films before but I want to believe that Chris Pratt made a solid film, and he produced it for his first time as well.
America: The Motion Picture – Not since Team America: World Police has the puffed out chest of bravado that makes the American pride been poked so viciously but lets face it, they kind of deserve it. Coming from the producers of Archer, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The Expendables and Magic Mike comes an animated retconning of history featuring the voices of Channing Tatum, Simon Pegg, Andy Samber, Will Forte, Killer Mike, Jason Mantzoukas and so many more. The film follows a chainsaw-wielding George Washington who assembles a team of rabble rousers including beer-loving bro Sam Adams, famed scientist Thomas Edison, acclaimed horseman Paul Revere, and a very pissed off Geronimo to defeat Benedict Arnold and King James in the American Revolution. Who will win? America, duh. I mean he has chainsaws, just like history intended. Look, with Independence Day on Sunday, this is the perfect way to acknowledge it and give the story a bit of a kick in the pants.
The Forever Purge – They’re still making these movies? Yes, of course they are because they make money, cost little and even spawned a television spin off. Also, it seems like everyone in America kind of wants to kill each other already so the thirst for a horror film about a one night mass killing spree is still pretty appealing. This installment has the fallout from the events of the previous film and instead of improving the world through the main characters heroic actions and the exposing of the elite who created it, all the rules are now broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end. The imagery is totally gnarly with all of the Purge costumes and this aesthetic is what always brings me back to these movies as a glutton for punishment I guess. Will this be any good? No, probably just towing the line until the next movie as this franchise peaked with the Frank Grillo led second film and has never gotten back to that level.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 – As a pre teen and teenager I got hooked on the works of R.L. Stine but I didn’t start with the younger book series Goosebumps, which has already had the television series and movie treatment, because I was a fan before those books existed. No, I’m talking about the pure horror that was Fear Street and it’s many titles and now, through Netflix, we get our movie version of it with a little trilogy of films. Part one is a nostalgic kick off in the mid nineties that features all the greatest music needle drops you could get and follows a group of teenagers brought together when they accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. The film feels a bit heavy handed with all of it’s horror tropes to a detriment but a few gory minutes in the final act will definitely haunt my dreams and has me gassed up for next week’s follow up that has the Friday The 13th Camp Crystal Lake vibe written all over it.
Summer Of Soul – If I keep receiving music documentaries every week or every other week then I’m going to start becoming a euphorically happy critic from week to week because it is honestly one of my favorite subgenres. This film is a pivotal and important capturing of history with a message and a drive that makes it completely must see and it also happens to be the directorial debut of A Tribe Called Quest member, Jimmy Fallon bandleader and total music legend Questlove, billed in this by his real name, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson. Subtitled “Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised”, the film is a powerful and transporting documentary that is part music film and part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock at The Harlem Cultural Festival in Mount Morris Park, now named Marcus Garvey Park. The footage was never seen and largely forgotten, mothballed in a warehouse basement, until now thanks to Questlove. The film has incredible concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and so many more and I found myself grooving continuously to a fantastic soundtrack that I really hope gets a release on vinyl, CD or at least Spotify. This is such a fantastic movie and it really earns that Certified Fresh rating.
Let Us In – Sometimes you know a movie is a horror movie just by the inclusion of certain actors and seeing that Tobin Bell is one of the featured stars of this movie was like a shining beacon of genre specific stories. When I saw who the director of the film was, Craig Moss, I got a little worried to it’s quality as the guy did a couple buddy action films with Danny Glover and Danny Trejo and a spoof movie called The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It and you can probably figure out how good that was. The film follows a spirited twelve year old girl and her best friend who look to uncover the sudden disappearances of several missing teens in their small town and, realizing there might be something deeper happening, they quickly find that they might be up against forces they can’t even imagine. The thing I appreciated most about this film was that they went for more practical effects and in camera tricks to further the horror, which borders on science fiction quite a bit. Unfortunately, that’s where the praise ends as the end product is just not very good and only rises in it’s quality with the appearance of Bell who can only do so much to elevate it.
Vicious Fun – Shudder is a treasure trove for great little indie films from week to week but there’s a little catch, you have to love horror. Not just lie it, love it, because then and only then will you get the full appreciation of the artful on a niche level. This new flick that debuts this week caught my interest immediately and it’s definitely due to the smaller indie medium’s ability to be way more subversive. A story aiming directly for my heart, the story follows a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine named Joe who finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers and, with no other choice, he must try to blend in or risk becoming the next victim. This movie is all sorts of brilliant with incredibly meta threads running through it and never takes itself seriously for a second which just adds heaps more to it’s charm. I really hope that word of mouth drags this one into the stratosphere because it is that damn great.
First Date – This week has a lot of smaller films with great buzz around it and cast members that you won’t immediately recognize but that is certainly no reason to marginalize any of them into unknown just future sleepers I think. Take this film for example, the feature debut of writing and directing duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp that channels the great things about Risky Business into the awkwardness of trying to impress someone on their first date. The film follows shy teen Mike who, after being conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, his eagerly-anticipated first date with the girl-next-door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops, and a crazy cat lady. This is one of those fun comedies of errors that are reminiscent of the big Hollywood versions like Date Night or the recent Netflix film The Lovebirds with lead actors Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos sharing some really great comedic chemistry. This film is a low level riot that showcases all of the influences of the creators behind it
Black Conflux – We get some Canadian content this week with a film that has been getting so much great buzz on the festival circuit and it all has to be from the twist on conventional psychological thrillers it gives. A little in joke for Canadians, the film is also set in 1980s Newfoundland meaning that it is a straight up Newfie movie so get your jokes ready now. The film is a dreamy account of two converging lives, fifteen-year-old Jackie, who is navigating from vulnerable adolescence to impending adulthood, and Dennis, a socially inept loner with a volatile dark streak and delusional fantasies of adoring women at his beck and call. It opens with Jackie auditioning for her school choir with a gorgeous rendition of “Hey, Who Really Cares?” by little-known 1970s psychedelic folk singer Linda Perhacs, in a symbolic opening for a promising young woman from a broken home. Raised by her aunt and living under the cloud of all the failures endured by the women in her family, Jackie finds herself giving in to internal and external pressures like partying, skipping school, and hitchhiking in search of her own identity. Her choices leave her speeding inevitably towards Dennis, whose car doubles as a venue for his violent desires. The film is a fantastic debut from filmmaker Nicole Dorsey with a completely unpredictable script and I can’t wait for her next film which looks to be heading into production soon according to IMDB.
The Winter Lake – This new slow burn thriller may not have a big name cast but if you’ve seen Peaky Blinders, Sex Education, Alexandre Aja’s Crawl or recognize Roose Bolton from Game Of Thrones you know the acting is where this one shines. The film is the feature debut of director Phil Sheerin and comes from David Turpin, whose last film The Lodgers was a pretty solid mystery thriller as well. The story follows a young woman whose darkest secrets are accidentally uncovered by her new emotionally unstable neighbor which pulls them into a violent confrontation with her father, who will do anything to keep the secret hidden. This film is quiet and somber but really plays out on the long run and shows the treasure in being patient with your story telling. I feel like Sheerin has a good future ahead of him.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
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 the 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.
Here Are The Young Men – As a teen and into my early twenties, stories about people living their lives to excess were really my jam. I was fully into nihilistic authors like Bret Easton Ellis for Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules Of Attraction, loved Chuck Pahlaniuk for Fight Club and Survivor and ate everything Irvine Welsh like Trainspotting or The Acid House. This new film might have me changing my tune because for all of its substance< I should love it, but it felt like it tread too much unoriginal ground. Based on the acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, the film catalogues the last hurrah of three high school graduates intent on celebrating their newfound freedom with an epic, debaucherous bender but when they witness a horrible accident, it sends them spiralling badly and the trio must grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives which is largely facing their own inner demons and, in some cases, their true nature. My screener for this film was grainy, stuttery and awful which may have led to some of my dislikes but the cast features Anya Taylor Joy, Finn Cole and Dean-Charles Chapman and utterly wastes them with a predictable story full of dumb character decisions and paint by numbers descent into chaos. This should have been way better.
Percy – Speaking of crops in Canada, this film takes it to the plains of Saskatchewan for a real David versus Goliath battle with some great veteran talent taking the screen, led by the legendary Christopher Walken. Directed by actor and filmmaker Clark Johnson, this film is based on events from a 1998 lawsuit and follows small-town farmer Percy Schmeiser, who challenges a major conglomerate when the company’s genetically modified canola is discovered in the 70-year-old farmer’s crops. As he speaks out against the company’s business practices, he realizes he is representing thousands of other disenfranchised farmers around the world fighting the same battle and suddenly he becomes an unsuspecting folk hero in a desperate war to protect farmers’ rights and the world’s food supply against what they see as corporate greed. Featuring co-stars Zach Braff, Christina Ricci and good Canadian Adam Beach, this film is a great character drama that excels over its small flaws to be a compelling story about a real fight that rages on now. I really enjoyed this one.
Wildcat – When I see a movie on the new release list I feel an obligation to let the public know of its existence and give it a little platform for a moment and sometimes that is something I live to regret in the usage of my time. Given the unknown cast and a director, Jonathan S. Stokes, I didn’t know, I felt like this might be another low budget American made half baked Middle Eastern terrorist film but I was happy I watched it in the end. The film follows an ambitious reporter stationed in the Middle East who is taken captive after her convoy is ambushed. She is confronted by the trauma of her past and must find a way to bring down the militants who incarcerated her in a film that has a few cool reveals and twists and turns as she struggles to make choices to ensure her survival. That said, it’s not a movie I would really go out of my way for.
Madame Curie – Warner Archive is bringing us back to the World War II era for a film about the discoverer of radium which, given the upcoming nuclear bomb that would be detonated a few years later, seems either ironic or like foreshadowing. Starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, two of the biggest stars of the era, the film follows poor physics student Marie, studying at the Sorbonne in 1890s Paris as one of the few women studying in her field. Of course, she encounters skepticism concerning her abilities, but is eventually offered a research placement in Pierre Curie’s lab and the scientists soon fall in love and embark on a shared quest to extract, from a particular type of rock, a new chemical element they have named radium. Unfortunately, history tells us that this eventually ends in tragedy but it is an interesting story that was re-tackled recently with the Rosamund Pike film Radioactive on Amazon Prime. If you like a Turner Classic Movies approach to the story, I would definitely recommend this one.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:
Nightmare Alley – A newer release from the Criterion Collection, those geniuses are pulling on a title from the late forties that is about to become rejuvenated from one of the current masters of horror, Guillermo del Toro, in the form of a remake. slated for next year with Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Bradley Cooper and so many more. This film is celebrated now for the chances it took, including a departure for Tyrone Power from a good guy role and it’s disturbing noir feel, but it was totally hated at it’s time of release and bombed badly, losing the studio heaps of money. The story follows workman Stanton Carlisle who joins a traveling carny and unsuccessfully schemes to figure out the mind-reading act of Mademoiselle Zeena and her alcoholic husband, Pete. When Pete dies, Zeena is forced to take on Stanton as a partner, and he quickly proves more gifted than his predecessor and eventually abandons Zeena and the carny to reinvent himself as “The Great Stanton,” becoming a devious superstar, impressing high-class audiences in a Chicago hotel. This movie’s look and execution are totally ahead of its time and is definitely an inspiration for a lot of filmmakers as so many scenes evoked many cinematic memories for me.
There Was A Crooked Man… – The cast from this recent Warner Archive release grabbed me immediately and the fact that it’s a comedy western is all just excellent extra gravy in my opinion as this epic from the man behind All About Eve and Cleopatra. Starring Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates and Burgess Meredith, the story follows Wild West bandit Paris Pitman Jr. who, after a botched heist, hides his newly stolen money where no one will find it, then loses his entire gang in a blaze of bullets before being captured by the law and given a lengthy sentence in a desert jail. Paris believes that he can buy his way out of his predicament by offering some cash to the guards, but the upstanding Sheriff Lopeman makes sure his men remain honest, forcing the outlaw to begin plotting a jailbreak. I absolutely loved every moment of this classic, a film that was costly for the studio and one that was a constant worry as it was being made and even in how lucrative it would be upon release. Released at Christmas in 1970, the fears would be realized as it would do very poorly over the holiday season but I’m totally confused as to why because it is well written and has great performances. It makes me sad that the pretty racy and sexy scenes are most likely the reason for it’s failure.
Animaniacs: Complete Series – This is one of the greatest animated shows of all time and that’s a stated fact and not an opinion. A staple part of my generation’s preteen and teen years, Yakko, Wakko and Dot’s weekly antics are still an often quoted subject in my household and probably will be until I leave this plane of existence. For those who have never had the extreme pleasure of indulging in these classic episodes and are like “who, who and who?”, the show was about a trio of troublesome cartoon characters from the 1930s that have escaped from the Warner Brothers WaterTower and are unleashing their maniacal energy upon the world. Blending wit, slapstick and pop culture references in an almost variety show format, it was just perfection and it spawned an underappreciated series called Freakazoid that got cancelled far too early. THe show is also back in public perception in the last year or so as Hulu has rebooted the show but, as of yet, it hasn’t been released in Canada.
Rick And Morty: Seasons 1-4 – What? I’m bringing up Rick And Morty again? Yes, but I’ll be brief as it really is just to show off my new box set of all the older seasons of this show that has just entered into season five on Adult Swim. This show is really divisive, a series that is definitely a take off of the relationship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly in Back To The Future which has been thrown into a blend with some really warped ideas. You are either going to ravenously love it or hate it’s frenetic comedy with a passion. I adore it and think creators Justin Roilland and Dan Harmon are absolute geniuses and they should make episodes forever with no break in between. Too much to ask?
Baphomet – This film lands on my geekouts just for being a combination of my heavy metal side with the inclusion of Cradle Of Filth frontman Dani Filth and satanic horror films and if that wasn’t big enough, it has the title of a satanic god to nail it home. Does that mean it’s awesome and hits the spot for horror fans? No, not quite but its execution is so wooden tht it may find itself as a cult hit at some time in the future. The film tells the tale of an American family celebrating their daughter’s pregnancy when things go awry with a Satanic cult leader named Henrik Brandr unexpectedly visiting their ranch. Henrik offers to pay the family a large sum for ownership of their land, claiming it is sacred to his congregation but the father rejects the offer due to the sentimental value of his ranch. Henrik, displeased, begins to put curses on the Richardsons, trying to force them off their own land, even if it means murdering them. After suffering unexplainable tragedies created by the curses, the family seeks help from Marybeth, a white witch high priestess and they soon discover a terrible secret about their house, revealing why their land is so sacred to the cult. This film reminds me of the 90s horror films that had a kicking soundtrack, gallons of blood and a reverence for the dark lord that borders on comical and, really, for that reason I kind of loved it all that much more. I might be alone on that though.
Monsters At Work (Disney+) – As a big Pixar fan, I was surprised that I only found out about this show just a few short weeks before it’s release this Friday. I love both Monsters Inc and Monsters University and it is definitely due to the great chemistry between John Goodman’s Sully and Billy Crystal’s Mike Wazowski who are now in charge of the whole shebang for this new show. It takes place the day after the Monsters, Incorporated power plant started harvesting the laughter of children to fuel the city of Monstropolis, thanks to Mike and Sulley’s discovery that laughter generates ten times more energy than screams. The main story follows Tylor Tuskmon, an eager young monster who graduated top of his class at Monsters University and always dreamed of becoming a Scarer until he lands a job at Monsters, Incorporated, and discovers that scaring is out and laughter is in. After Tylor is temporarily reassigned to the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT), he must work alongside a misfit bunch of mechanics while setting his sights on becoming a Jokester. The casting is great, with all the big stars returning and Superstore’s Ben Feldman playing Tylor and Mindy Kaling, Lucas Neff and more rounding out his crew. The first two episodes were great and I can’t wait for more. I hope they do this with more of the Pixar properties as I’d love to see a Wall-E related show.
Aya Of Yop City (Criterion Channel) – Kino Lorber usually does a pretty deep dig with their original releases and it definitely is the case with this animated feature from France that now gets a bigger platform to shine on with the renowned Criterion Channel as part of the Arthouse Animation collection. Set in the seventies, the story takes place in Ivory Coast’s working-class district of Abidjan, otherwise known as Yop City, following a nineteen-year-old girl with the hopes of being a doctor against her father’s wishes as this didn’t gel with the gender norms of women marrying and starting a family immediately. The film was created by the original writer of the graphic novel this was based on, Clément Oubrerie, and it really is a pretty astounding feature to look at and an interesting look into the class system of a foreign country.