Black Widow – It’s been over a year since we were robbed of the next installation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a film that was a long time coming and, honestly, show have been made years earlier. Yes, Scarlet Johansson finally gets her own solo Black Widow movie and I am happy to have it, especially with the supporting cast of Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz and the emergence of Marvel villain Taskmaster. The film follows Natasha in a story that precedes Infinity War and Endgame as she confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger. The action is fast and hard-hitting, the characters are well fleshed out and this is exactly the Black Widow story we have been waiting for and I hope it becomes a massive hit because it really deserves to. This is the real welcome back to theatres thanks to the legends at Marvel.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 – We continue down the path of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street this week with the next part of the Shadyside curse story and I think I loved this one more than last week’s opener as it pulls from all of those summer camp horror films in all the best ways. The film ties into the 1994 beginning then takes us back to Shadyside in 1978 where school’s out and activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin and get violent as another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival. This movie is full of style, great music and great kills as it features Stranger Things star Sadie Sink in the lead role and she pulls off the scream queen very well. This one directly reminded me of a series of books within Fear Street so it had my attention fully. I am just sweating in anticipation for the finale next week!
Lift Like A Girl – Two very interesting documentaries are getting small releases this week and they both play into the field of being sports related as well as inspirational and it all kicks off with this one that also deals with the gender divide or the continued implying that there is one in reality. The film is about the female weightlifting community training in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, as it follows the 14-year-old Zebiba as she pursues her dream to become a professional weightlifter. Her coach Captain Ramadan believes so much in her and never takes no for an answer and has been training world champion weightlifters for more than 20 years, including his daughter Nahla Ramadan, a former world champion, an Olympian and the pioneer of weightlifting in Egypt, as well as Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab female two-time Olympic medalist. For 4 years, Zebiba goes through victories and defeats, including major losses that shape her, as she finds her way from dust to gold in a movie that really displays the strength and resolve of a remarkable human. I really enjoyed this film and think that it should be shown widely as a great template for those who doubt their own ability.
Running Against The Wind – This is the second inspirational documentary this week and it is almost like the distributor knew that this would be a great pairing to put together for people. Maybe they’re thinking that audiences need it because I certainly did. The story starts with twelve-year-old boys, Solomon and Abdi, growing up in a remote village in Ethiopia whose lives are changed by a single photo. Solomon heads for Addis Ababa to become a photographer while Abdi remains at home and trains to fulfil his dream of matching the sport successes of Haile Gebrselassie, a famous Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete. Ten years later, the story picks up when Abdi is nominated for the Ethiopian National Running Team and moves to Addis Ababa. Thinking Solomon might be dead, Abdi is spurned on by a gentle voice in his head to reconnect with his old friend and the result is amazing. The division of this story feels a little disjointed but, just like the last movie, the human drive of this story is enough to keep you looped in from beginning to end and it had me totally captivated.
Bone Cage – There was something about this new Canadian indie drama out of Nova Scotia that had me looped in pretty much immediately and it has to be attributed to the focused drive of British Columbian Taylor Olson who wears multiple hats in this film as the lead star, writer and director, an adaptation of the play from writer Catherine Banks. The film has Olson as Jamie, a gentle soul working as a wood processor, clear-cutting for pulp who, at the end of each shift, he walks through the destruction he has created looking for injured animals, and rescues those he can. Yearning for more meaning in his life, his desire to break free from this world is always thwarted by the very environment and circumstance he’s trying to escape in a story that often feels relatable and devastatingly true. Olson establishes himself well as a filmmaker with this feature and I look forward to what stories he brings in the future, especially being a west coast born and bred creator, which puts him in the win column for me. I guess I’m shallow like that.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
Defending Jacob – What initially weirded me out about this new limited series from AppleTV+ is that Chris Evans is now at an age where he can play the father of a high school teenager and no one will bat an eye at it. Maybe that’s just me that thinks it’s crazy. Anyways, this new show comes from Academy Award-nominated director Morten Tyldum and creator Mark Bombeck, known for penning The Wolverine among others and is based on the best seller of the same name from by novelist William Landay. The story unfolds around a shocking crime that rocks a small Massachusetts town and one family in particular, forcing an assistant district attorney to choose between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son who may be the murderer. The show also has Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery and It’s Jaeden Martell and has a great chilling mystery to it that keeps you engaged episode after episode and, let’s face it, Evans will bring so many eyes to it just being his attractive self. I can admit that.
Equal Standard – With the past two decades of his work being dedicated to playing a part of law enforcement on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, it’s probably crazy for the younger generation to think that Ice-T is one of the originators of gangster rap, the lead singer of the rap-metal hybrid Body Count and an outspoken voice against social injustice but he is and always will be. Just take a peep at his Twitter if you don’t agree. This film puts him back into the urban gangster landscape in a real feeling story about communities and gang members coming together to fight for real justice after an NYPD detective shoots a black man in the streets. This film’s voice feels like it’s a little muted as the makers seem to hold back on some of the angrier of opinions and hush them in the need to further the drama. It’s glaringly and frustratingly obvious every time they do it because now is not the time to pump the brakes, especially given the uprise of the last few years. Our art needs to fight as hard as those in the streets are, plain and simple. Anything else is, for lack of a better term, a cop-out.
Space Dogs: Tropical Adventure – I really don’t know how I can talk this one up for adults but for kids it will be a colourful and easy sell. Apparently, this is in a series of films and for this adventure, it follows astronaut dogs Belka and Strelka are sent to investigate a mysterious and dangerous whirlpool that appears in the tropics of the Atlantic Ocean and must complete a daring mission to save the planet along with the distant home of their new alien friends discovered in the process. As I said, a total eye-roller for the adults but you know it will occupy the little ones and that’s what matters in the end, at least an hour and a half of quiet time.
Threshold – Arrow Video is giving exposure to another little indie film and this one is a hidden gem that has a short but sweet runtime of only an hour and fifteen minutes but it’s looking to give your brain a little twist during that time. Coming from writing and directing duo Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young, the story follows a woman who persuades her estranged brother to accompany her on a cross-country road trip because she believes that she is cursed and this is the only way to lift it. The slow burn of this film is a winding road, just like the ones the characters traverse as they bicker the whole time, ending in a gnarly third act that has such a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to get your skin crawling. I really look forward to whatever these guys do next because they’re incredibly talented and with a studio budget they could be unstoppable, like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead.
Silat Warriors: Deed Of Death – Martial arts movies will always get me and that is pretty much the only thing I knew about this film heading in. Upon further investigation, I saw that it was a Malaysian martial arts film which made me pop it on immediately as I still rave about The Raid movies which I think are possibly the greatest of all time. The story follows a reckless young gambler whose wild lifestyle of illegal gambling, drag racing, and betting on brutal street fights pits him against a ruthless criminal betting ring when his luck finally runs out. The gang shows up at his family’s home to collect on the debt, forcing his family to fight to save their land and his life. Unfortunately the lack of experience and low-budget kind of dog this movie at every opportunity to separate itself from the pack and it fails to be memorable at all. I paid the price for jumping the gun on this one so you don’t have to. At least that’s a bonus.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
The Human Condition – Not really just a film and more like a collection of them, Criterion Collection debuted this new set of films from legendary Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi whose oeuvre was mostly based around the Japanese experience in World War II with a strong anti-war sentiment. The set is broken into six parts that make up three films that start with No Greater Love, which follows a Japanese pacifist, unable to face the dire consequences of conscientious objection, that is transformed by his attempts to compromise with the demands of war-time Japan. It is followed by Road To Eternity about a pacifist who is conscripted in wartime Japan’s military that struggles to maintain his determination to keep his ideals. The trilogy concludes with A Soldier’s Prayer as the pacifist fights for survival in the depths of a war he doesn’t believe in, fully bringing the title of the human condition full circle. As with a lot of Criterion-selected films, this is a master class in filmmaking and is a deeply meditative group of films that reflect strife, resolve and ideals beautifully.
Years Of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 – What? I’ve got two film box sets this week? Yes, I do and this one comes from Arrow Video who love to grab niche films off the beaten path of cinema and into the realm of the unknown or forgotten. This set has five films that kick off with Savage Three about three young men, fresh into the world, who work together at a computer analysis company that, through their boss, evolve from well-mannered professionals to violent criminals. Like Rabid Dogs follows an upper-class young man who lives a hectic double life and, under the guise of a good student, stalks and kills prostitutes in the company of a couple of friends. Colt 38 Special Squad tells the story of a police commissioner who forms a secret motorized brigade to fight a dangerous terrorist who is depositing bombs throughout the city of Turin. Highway Racer is about a hot-shot police driver who has more guts than brains which often puts him at odds with his middle-aged mentor who was once a legendary police interceptor responsible for numerous large-scale arrests. Finally, No, The Case Is Happily Resolved is the story of a murderer who turns the tables on an eyewitness and gets them accused of all of his crimes. The set is a barrage of over the to Italian cinema but it’s all still so wildly entertaining and I’m really used to all of their horror and Giallo work so this was a very cool departure from that.
Avatar – I probably don’t need to say a lot about this one but I saw the ultimate edition of this on sale for just twenty bucks and I had to get it. Yes, this is essentially James Cameron ripping off Ferngully by combining it with the Dances With Wolves storyline but it was incredible to see in theatres and has probably the most immersive 3D effects I have ever seen in my life. For those new to this movie, it follows a paraplegic Marine who is dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission, put into the bodies of the native creatures, the Na’Vi, to obtain resources but becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. Cameron knows how to give us breathtaking action sequences and amazing imagery but his script is sometimes lacking. We are eventually getting more stories from this world so it’s a great time to get caught up now.
Mission Impossible – I feel like I talk about this franchise a lot on these blogs as I’ve received all of the films in 4K releases and I also got the original series in it’s fully completed version on blu-ray so where else is there to go? Well, Paramount has the answer to that as they’ve released the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the original Brian De Palma directed film that is a completely 4K remastered version of it, the first time it had been done. For those who haven’t seen Ethan Hunt, AKA Tom Cruise in his first mission, which turns disastrous as his teammates are all killed and he is put in the crosshairs as the prime suspect. In the greatest of De Palma’s twists and turns, Hunt must find the real murderer and clear his name in a movie that still rocks and got this movie franchise going in a big way. I love this film.
Snoopy Collection – For any Peanuts fans out there that have a deep nostalgia for the show like I do and want to show their young kids, nieces, nephews, cousins and whatnot these classic and wholesome movies, well, they are all available in pretty much one place now. This set features four of the big Charlie Brown movies with A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Come Home, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) which is a fantastic starter kit to get any new viewer going. The Peanuts gang shouldn’t be a hard sell for any kid as my daughter is in love with all the characters and has now moved on to the AppleTV+ original shows that just started in the last couple of years.
I Think You Should Leave: Season 2 (Netflix) – Produced by Lonely Island, my anticipation for the new season of this sketch comedy series on Netflix was through the roof as it’s from one of my favourite collaborators currently. For those who don’t recognize Robinson’s name and haven’t had the privilege of seeing season one, I get you in on the ground level and tell you that Tim was a main writer for Saturday Night Live and is the co-lead alongside Sam Richardson in the hysterically funny series Detroiters. What can you expect from this show? How about a show where the main goal is for them to get their guest to want nothing more than to leave? That’s the basic premise and they have guests like Vanessa Bayer, Will Forte and Steven Yuen to help out in the first series and pro-wrestler Brody King, John Early and Tim Heidecker.
Gossip Girl (Crave) – One of my guilty pleasures on The CW for a long time was the vapid and high society scandals in the series Gossip Girl which introduced me to the beauty of Blake Lively, more than he role in The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, but also the, at the time, young stars Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford, Penn Badgley and the smarmy anti-charm of Ed Westwick’s Chuck Bass. Now the show looks to reboot with Kristen Bell still providing the voice-over narration of the title character after, let’s face it, a bumpy final season that left a lot to be desired. Is this one going to be better? Well, it’s being made by HBO Max which gives it no tether and the moon to shoot for so I can get behind it even if no other connectable character from the first series is set to appear. I am a completionist, so however bad it is, I’ll be on board.
Cat People (Netflix) – I immediately fell in love with this new docuseries that follows interesting people from around the world and that’s probably because it kicked off with an episode about one of my favourite cat people on the internet. The show tells the stories of some of the most remarkable and surprising “cat people” in the world, defying negative stereotypes while revealing the truth of what it means to love such fiercely independent creatures and, honestly, made me jealous that I can’t have a cat in my own home right now. Episode one is about Moshow, a “cat rapper” who makes songs about his cats like DJ Ravioli and more and, to be totally real, I absolutely adore him. Just watch the first fifteen minutes of it and I’m sure you’ll agree.
Resident Evil Infinite Darkness: Season 1 (Netflix) – If you stick Resident Evil on anything, it will automatically pique my interest because I consider the first video game one of the greatest of all time. It was a real obsession mine in the late 90s and onward. I know the movies were not the greatest but the animated movies have all been awesome and this is that kind of production but in the form of four episodes. The story follows federal agent Leon S. Kennedy who teams up with TerraSave staff member Claire Redfield to investigate a zombie outbreak in a sort of re-ignition of the original story. There’s a brand new live-action film coming as well so I think this is just a small tidbit of Capcom centric zombie horror to tide us over until then.
Atypical: Season 4 (Netflix) – It’s the final season of this slow burn but critically acclaimed series that has a stellar cast to it with Kier Gilchrist, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rapaport and many rising stars and has cemented showrunner and creator Robia Rashid as a producer of note and someone I’m sure Netflix has under contract for her next project. The show s a coming-of-age story that follows Sam, an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he searches for love and independence. While Sam is on his funny yet emotional journey of self-discovery, the rest of his family must grapple with change in their own lives as they all struggle with the central theme, what does it even really mean to be normal? I’m far late to this show as I currently at the beginning of season two but I reiterate what all the reviews have already said, this is a show that is begging to be watched.