Jungle Cruise – The Rock is getting his Johnny Depp style franchise film with Disney as he too is now part of the theme park-inspired movie with this new adventure that was actually supposed to come out last fall but because of the pandemic it all got delayed. Proving that he has such good chemistry with everyone they pair him with, he stars in this film alongside the absolutely loveable Emily Blunt who is on a continuous roll after the phenomenal A Quiet Place Part II which I’ll speak about later on. Playing wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton respectively, the story follows Lily as she travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila, his delapidated but dependable boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities–possessing the power to change the future of medicine and, thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate and mankind’s hangs in the balance. The trailer makes this movie look like so much fun and The Rock has always proven to be a big-screen draw no matter how dumb or ridiculous it is.
Stillwater – Matt Damon thrillers still intrigue as he always picks stories that compel and make you think and this one is no different as it is based on a true story. The other thing that immediately grabs my attention about this film is Spotlight director Tom McCarty, who always seems to bring it in these high drama films, which makes me forgive him for making an Adam Sandler dud like The Cobbler. The story has Damon as unemployed roughneck Bill Baker who travels from Oklahoma to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter Allison that is imprisoned for a murder she claims she did not commit. Focusing on a new tip that could exonerate her, Allison presses Bill to engage her legal team and eager to prove his worth and regain his daughter’s trust, he takes matters into his own hands. Quickly roadblocked by language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, he gets the help of a French actress and single mother who helps him navigate a path to his daughter’s freedom. The advance reviews are really favourable for this film as it looks like a return to form for Damon who has faltered a bit in his solo films.
The Green Knight – This is one of my most anticipated films of the year and one we should have gotten last year and the best thing about it is I really don’t know that much about the central plot to it besides the vaguest of descriptions. The film is a mesmerizing looking blood and sword epic art film from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story director David Lowery and the trailer leaves me drooling every time I see it. Starring Academy Award nominee Dev Patel, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton, the film is an epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend that tells the story of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. This movie, unseen to me at the time of writing, will most likely be my favourite movie of the year next to Dune which I haven’t seen either. I am freaking excited about this.
Ride The Eagle – I have a deep love for usually comedic actor Jake Johnson that started with my affinity for his series New Girl which then led to his buddy comedy he did with Damon Wayans Jr., Lets Be Cops, and his unforgettable turn as the voice of elseworlds Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. He’s really great when he gets the opportunity to shine and this film is kind of a showcasing of that and it is all on his terms too as he co-wrote it with the director Trent O’Donnell, a guy responsible for so many great episodes of television including The Moodys, The Good Place, Single Parents and, of course, New Girl. This film has Johnson with D’Arcy Carden, Susan Sarandon and J.K. Simmons and follows Leif, a guy processing the death of his estranged mother Honey who leaves him a ‘conditional inheritance’. Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate, and sometimes dubious, to-do list. Leif and Nora, his canine BFF, step into Honey’s wild world as she tries to make amends from beyond the grave in a movie that is absolutely charming just from Johnson’s mere presence and is so beautifully written with it’s heart beating loud on it’s sleeve. Not many people are going to be vocal about this movie as it is a very small release but I think it is totally worth searching for.
Lorelai – I seriously adore the work Jena Malone does but the last time I saw her onscreen was a villainous performance in the slavery-based thriller Antebellum and her performance was, to put it delicately, not good. This film looks to be more her speed, especially if you follow her Instagram, as it’s an emotional and artful drama. The film stars Pablo Schreiber as well as a man that is released from prison after fifteen years and reunites with his high school girlfriend, who is now a single mother of three. The story feels a bit bare-bones here but the cohesion of the performances of Schreiber and Malone are the driving force and heart and soul of the whole thing. Writer and director Sabrina Doyle makes quite the sweeping feature film debut here and I think she has a really bright future ahead of her.
The Last Mercenary – I begged and pleaded with my Netflix public relations people to get the screener for this new action film as when I was a child, Jean Claude Van Damme was a personal favorite along with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and more as I gobbled up every action film ever made from the video store. My regrets set in fast once I got about fifteen minutes into this French film that is more a comedy than it is an action flick and it loses that steam quite quickly as well. The film has Van Damme as a mysterious former secret service agent who must urgently return to France when his estranged son is falsely accused of arms and drug trafficking by the government, following a blunder by an overzealous bureaucrat and a mafia operation. The movie goes over the top with terrible dialogue and has Van Damme’s character being a master of disguise but in the campiest and cheesiest ways, at one point having him essentially fight in full drag complete with a flowing wig. I know this was a comedy but I swear I had a scowl on my face for the entirety. This is definitely not what I wanted.
Resort To Love – Remember Christina Milian? She was an R&B star that starred in a Nick Cannon romantic comedy in the late nineties and was the pop star foil in the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool which is what I remember her from but she has the Netflix appeal now as she is the lead in this all-new romantic comedy. Co-starring Saturday Night Live’s Jay Pharoah, the film is about aspiring pop star Erica who ends up as the entertainment at her ex-fiancé’s wedding after reluctantly taking a gig at a luxurious Mauritius island resort while in the wake of a music career meltdown. She tries to keep their past relationship a secret from his bride-to-be Beverly, but Erica rediscovers her feelings for her ex, Jason, despite his brother Caleb’s attempts to keep them from falling back in love. This film is goofy, corny and formulaic and will most likely appeal to a certain audience but for me, it was the dreadful visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Really not my thing.
Nemesis – For the second week in a row Nick Moran makes an appearance on this blog but this time he’s in front of the camera, not behind it, and it’s some familiar territory as it is a British gangster story but it doesn’t go down the comedic route like his Guy Ritchie film, Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. This comes from usual horror filmmaker James Crow who puts aside the things to make you scream and instead opts to get into the gritty criminal underworld for a bit of different violence. The film is a multi-character affair that follows the aftermath as an underworld kingpin’s past catches up with him when he returns to London, igniting a furthering explosive chain of events that ends in revenge and murder. The film is definitely rough around the edges, slightly sophomoric and under-produced but it manages to deliver where it is supposed to, in the gangster quality as a lot of these guys almost feel like the real deal and Crow hired people directly from the streets.
For Madmen Only: The Stories Of Del Close – Improv is something the snagged my interest in my teen years at school and I was even asked to come audition for the Vancouver Theater Sports League when I was eighteen so I have a deep love for it. The pull that it has on many comedians is the reason we have many of our comedy stars creating in Hollywood today so this new documentary is almost a celebration of that, channelling it into a very important figure that many wouldn’t know. The film is about comedy guru Del Close, a mentor to everyone from Bill Murray to Tina Fey, who sets out to write his autobiography for D.C. Comics. As he leads us through sewers, mental wards, and his peculiar talent for making everyone famous but himself, Close emerges as a personification of the creative impulse itself, a muse with BO and dirty needles, offering transcendence despite, or because of, the trail of wreckage behind him. Featuring Ike Barinholtz, Matt Walsh, Patton Oswalt, Jason Sudeikis, Lauren Lapkus and more, this was such a great way to approach the linear biopic documentary that almost kept re-inventing itself over and over again. It was absolutely re-inspiring for me as well.
We Are Many – I would like to say that this is a brand new documentary hitting video on demand this week but that’s not really the case as this film was actually completed five years ago when the world was in definitely a different political climate and is about a time over a decade before that, three years removed from the tragedy of the World Trade Center, an even more different political time. The film is about the global protest against the Iraq War on February 15th, 2003, which was a pivotal moment in recent history, the consequences of which have gone unreported. This documentary looks in-depth at the struggle to shift power from the old establishment to the new superpower that is global public opinion, through the prism of one historic day featuring Susan Sarandon, Mark Rylance, filmmaker Ken Loach, Noam Chomsky and more.
The Five Rules Of Success – This movie was honestly an almost midnight addition to this blog as I got the screener quite late but it seemed too interesting to ignore and not bring to you, my faithful reader. The film is written and directed by Orson Oblowitz who has made some really interesting and character-driven little indie films and this one branches out a little bit in the budget department and pulls it off quite nicely. The story is a mesmerizingly told one about an enterprising ex-convict who sets out to rebuild his life with a bulletproof mindset but when society proves to be more treacherous than imagined, he embarks on a ruthless phantasmagoric journey through the underworld in pursuit of the American Dream. This movie put Oblowicz on the map for me in a big way as he can straddle the line of being a totally tripped-out visual storyteller with incredible flair and a character-driven story that reads as a pain seared poem of how the American youth are failed and never recovered. Fascinating stuff.
A Quiet Place Part II – It’s been over a year since the pandemic robbed us of one of the most anticipated horror sequels of last year and after being pushed to September then pushed to this date that Canadians couldn’t capitalize on at first and now it is on Amazon Prime for everyone and glorious 4K blu-ray. The story picks up pretty much where we left it, following the remaining members of the Abbott family who now face the terrors of the outside world as they are forced to venture into the unknown to see what is left of civilization after their home burns to the ground. They realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path as humanity has fallen to some dark and desperate motives to stay alive. The first film is incredible and a landmark movie really and director John Krasinski continues to make all the right moves as a filmmaker and Emily Blunt’s performance shakes the room once again but I really felt that this movie belongs to the kids, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, who really shoulder the brunt of the plot as is newcomer Cillian Murphy as a pivotal character both from the family’s past and present. This movie, just like the first, kept me on the edge of my seat and the sound design is just exquisite.
Every Breath You Take – Just looking at the cast list on this new mystery thriller draws me into wanting to watch it right away as it features Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Sam Claflin in the lead roles, all proven character actors plus it’s a Gone Baby Gone reunion between the first two. The fact that this film is being dogged by bad reviews and comes from director Vaughn Stein, whose last film Terminal was a heinous waste of time, gives me an appropriate pause. The story is about a psychiatrist, played by Affleck, whose career is thrown into jeopardy when his patient takes her own life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother into his home to meet his wife and daughter, his family life is suddenly torn apart from the inside. This film looks like it would be intriguing but manages to keep making the easy and predictable choices throughout. Very frustrating.
The God Committee – Getting duped by Kelsey Grammer movies might be a new film reviewer gag on me because I was so into his reclusive rock star film The Space Between before it turned into a big pile of crap but he was really one of the best things about this new medical thriller. Writer and director Austin Stark didn’t exactly endear me with his underwhelming Nic Cage drama The Runner but with a nice supporting cast of Julia Stiles, Zola’s Colman Domingo, Janeane Garofalo and Dan Hedaya, he has definitely improved. The film follows an organ transplant committee that is forced to decide which of three patients deserves a life-saving heart with only one hour to put pen to paper. Seven years later, the committee members struggle with the consequences of that fateful decision, questioning the morality of their decision. The leads play the emotions of it well, leaving the viewer to glean the cleanliness of their souls in the wreckage of lives that were destroyed or irrevocably changed in the process and is an interesting narrative on what these decision-makers go through, even if it feels a bit melodramatic at times.
Midnight In The Switchgrass – He we go again because I’m back with a new Bruce Willis direct to video release that he definitely didn’t want to do save for the money and you can even see that on the blu-ray cover as he looks bewildered to even be there. Seriously, look it up, it’s hilarious. Even worse, he’s teamed up with the very lovely but not fantastic by any means Megan Fox who brings her little boytoy Machine Gun Kelly along for a small but pivotal role and, honestly, he’s worse than both of them. The story follows FBI agents Helder and Lombardo who, while in Florida on another case, cross paths with state cop Crawford, played by Emile Hirsch who I adore, who’s investigating a string of female murders that appear to be related. Lombardo and Crawford team up for an undercover sting, but it goes horribly wrong, plunging Lombardo into grave danger and pitting Crawford against a serial killer in a twisted game of cat and mouse. What results is a predictable and underwritten thriller that never earns that title as it is devoid of thrills. Really, this feels like a mediocre cop and killer story from the nineties that would become a forgotten piece on someone’s early resume. Hell, Bruce would have turned it down in the nineties but I guess he wants an easy paycheck that badly.
Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns – Honestly, as a film fan you really have to love and admire the work that Arrow does through their Video and Academy brands of releases because they are truly impeccable and lovingly crafted for their audiences. It shines through big time on their focused box sets and this genre collection is no different as it deals in a beloved cinema area, the westerns. Vengence Trails has four great classics to retell you in blu-ray form with the Franco Nero led Massacre Time, about a prospector and his drunkard half-brother who must fight a rancher and his sadistic son after they seize control of his farm, My Name is Pecos, about a Mexican pistolero who exacts revenge on the man responsible for the murder of his family, Bandidos, about a performing sharpshooter who trains a young man framed for the train robbery that mutilated his hands so they can seek revenge and, lastly, And God Said to Cain starring the great Klaus Kinski, about a man who takes his revenge on the family responsible for his wrongful sentence of ten years of hard labour. These are all violent spaghetti westerns that earn their genre marks but never the acclaim that should have been attributed to them. A very cool discovery for me.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage 4K – Italian horror legend Dario Argento is celebrated with this 4K reissue of his debut film and the start of his leather glove clad and murderous creation of the Giallo film genre. Made in 1970, Argento arrived on the scene with disturbing aplomb as producers wanted him removed from production after watching the dailies and being outrightly disturbed, horrified and actually scared of them which added so much more to the anticipation of this debut. The story follows an American expatriate living in Rome who witnesses an attempted murder that is connected to an ongoing killing spree in the city and decides to conduct his own investigation despite the target he and his girlfriend have on their backs by the killer. Argento does a total superhero landing in this film with effective style and cinematography, brilliant uses of colour which he would master years later in Suspiria and establishes himself as a filmmaker who will make bold choices that mean the character you think you’re following as the main might not have the shelf life you think. This is a coo classic to receive.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Pickup On South Street – I’m going for the huge cinephile nerd bell this week as most of the picks I’ve brought this week lend to the art film, early works of prominent directors and not just one but two different Criterion releases that have niche appeals. This first film is a film noir thriller from the early fifties that breezes by as a well-paced and well-told mystery from legendary filmmaker Samuel Fuller and a production that everyone wanted to be a part of, including Marilyn Monroe who read for a part. Fuller reportedly said she was wrong for the part, telling her that her “overwhelming sensuality” was wrong for the story. The film follows a pickpocket who unwittingly lifts a piece of top-secret microfilm destined for enemy agents and then becomes a target for a Communist spy ring. Playing the pivotal role of police informer Moe Williams, actress Thelma Ritter would earn the film’s only Academy Award nomination but lost the Best Supporting Actress to Donna Reed for From Here To Eternity. This is such an influential little spy thriller that definitely inspired a lot to follow.
Pariah – With her film Mudbound, writer and director Dee Rees arrived on the film scene in a big way as the film had huge acclaim behind it and had the great platform of being a widely accessible Netflix release. What people didn’t know was her feature narrative debut from ten years back that was the fully realized version of a short film she did but now it has the glory of being a Criterion release, a massively honorable pedestal to be put on. The film is a drama that follows a Brooklyn teenager who juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak, and family in a desperate search for sexual expression. The film pushes realism in a phenomenally written story that is given a beautiful heartbeat from lead actress Adepero Oduye who wears her emotions so well on her sleeves. Also, as a huge In Living Colour fan, it was so cool to see the great Kim Wayans show up in this film as the main character Alike’s mom.
The Last Time I Committed Suicide – With a great cast that includes Thomas Jane, Keanu Reeves, Adrien Brody, Claire Forlani, Marg Helgenberger and Gretchen Mol, it bothered me so much that I’d never heard of this movie before. Released quietly in 1997, the film was the feature debut and passion project of New Zealand filmmaker Stephen Kay who adapted this story from the letters written by Beat Generation product Neal Cassady. The film is a biopic about Cassady and his life during the beat life in the 1940s, working at The Tire Yard and philandering around town but with a whistful want for a happy life with kids and a white picket fence. When his girlfriend, Joan, tries to kill herself he gets scared and retreats into his old way of living causing Joan to try and win him back over by finding a new lust for life she can share with him. The reviews were not favourable at the time, most calling it dreadfully boring, but I think it’s fascinating to go back and look at this film as a blip in each of these stars careers, especially Reeves who took so many chances in the nineties with just a select few paying off.
Mr. Jealousy – Noah Baumbach is a personal favourite filmmaker of mine but I am sad to admit that the first couple of films he did before his hugely celebrated debut, The Squid And The Whale, completely skipped me by and I hadn’t gotten around to rectifying that. Kicking And Screaming was his first and this romantic comedy was those films in particular and MVD Visual hooked me up so I could get half of this Baumbach list completed. The film follows a neurotic writer played by Eric Stoltz who becomes obsessed with his girlfriend’s former boyfriend that is now a very successful novelist. To discover if the ex-boyfriend still has feelings for his old love, the writer joins the novelist’s group therapy meetings under an alias to find out if he still has any feelings for her. Like the filmmaker’s other movies, this film is a character study of complex feelings delivered in the morose and mundanity of a self-sabotaging existence and I loved it. Baumbach’s undeveloped style is on display in this film and holding it up to his more polished works like Frances Ha reveals an interesting thread of growth that’s so neat to look at.
Space Jam 4K – After reviewing the soulless IP pushing mess that was Lebron James coming out party as a leading man wanting to do what the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan had already done, it was great to go back and relive the 1994 animation and love action hybrid that still is exactly what it was then, a totally WTF and who cares about the plot showcasing of basketball and the Looney Tunes characters with a damn catchy soundtrack. If you can get past the now cringy R. Kelly song I Believe I Can Fly, the story follows Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes seeking the aid of retired basketball champion, Michael Jordan in a desperate attempt to win a basketball match and earn their freedom. The movie moves by at a breakneck pace and is mercifully over not long after it begins but, heck, Jordan is pretty charming in this and it looks like Bill Murray, playing himself, just kind of did whatever he wanted to and it’s totally fun and absolutely endearing. The kids will still love this movie and it is way better than that new crappy cash grab.
Centaurworld (Netflix) – I knew just from the trailer for this animated kids show that I was going to have a bit of love for it and maybe it was the hybrid animation that on one side of the story looks like The Dragon Prince, another Netflix series, and the long-running and beloved Adventure Time. Coming from the mind of creator and first-time showrunner Megan Dong, this fantasy series follows a warhorse who is transported from her embattled world to a strange land inhabited by silly, singing centaurs of all species, shapes, and sizes. Desperate to return home, she befriends a group of these magical creatures and embarks on a journey that will test her more than any battle she’s ever faced before. This show is heartwarming, adorable and charmingly and arrestingly funny which kept me engaged past just putting it on to occupy my daughter. True originality is ageless and that’s what Centaurworld is a beautiful reminder of.
Watch The Sound With Mark Ronson (AppleTV+) – Mega producer Mark Ronson is the focus of a great music documentary series this week and if his name isn’t familiar to you then you need to pick up Lily Allen’s Alright, Still, Christina Agulara’s Back To Basics, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black and more right friggin’ now. This documentary follows Ronson as he tells the untold stories behind music creation and the lengths producers and creators are willing to go to find the perfect sound. Talking about music as the intersection of artistry and technology and how that has influenced their work are Paul McCartney, Questlove, King Princess, Dave Grohl, Adrock and Mike D from the Beastie Boys, Charli XCX, and more and it is a master class in how to make musical perfection and the pitfalls that can happen in getting there. Beitween this and the McCartney series, we are in a golden hour of 2021 for music driven shows.
Outer Banks: Season 2 (Netflix) – A mystery series for the tweens and twenty-somethings that was a low level hit, this show centers around a group of teenagers in the beach vacation destination of the Outer Banks of North Carolina known not so affectionately as “The Pogues” and I don’t mean the Irish band. A hurricane descends on the town and in the wreckage, this group discovers a sunken boat that contains clues to the possible existence of buried treasure. With corrupt police, slimy business owners and ruthless gangsters on their trail, the intrigue is really well told in this show that, honestly, wouldn’t have a lot of eyes on it if it weren’t for the lockdown last year. I’m really enjoyed what I watched of it but I hadn’t finished the first season so this is the perfect time to get reacquainted with a certain group of water rats.
Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life (Disney+) – This one hits me right in the nostalgia as I loved watching Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers when it was on as part of the great Disney cartoon line up that included Gummy Bears, Talespin and DuckTales. The great thing about this new show is it is an easy conduit to bring my nine year old daughter into the fray as I haven’t yet convinced her with the original series. Park Life is a little bit of a shift on the conventional stylings that we know these two for as the show is non verbal in a classic style comedy, following the ups and downs of two little troublemaking creatures living life in the big city. I believe there is a real Rescue Rangers reboot that is coming down to Disney+ with Andy Samberg involved so I think this is just something to tide us over, which I’m totally fine with. It’s alright, not great, but the kids will enjoy the heck out of it.
The Wedding Of The Century (BritBox) – I have just done a rewatch of the most recent season of The Crown on Netflix which focused largely on the courtship, wedding and marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana so this is kind of the perfect time for this documentary to roll out on BritBox. This feature-length film reframes one of the most iconic days in history like never before, with a beautifully restored original film of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding, now presented in full 4k resolution for streaming. Knowing the outcome of the history between this couple and its tragic end, it was fascinating to relive a piece of history that I was too young to truly experience and definitely too uncaring at the time to appreciate. I really hoped my skew from watching The Crown didn’t affect my feelings about the reality of it but I kept staring daggers at Charles every time he was onscreen. It was like muscle memory, I guess.