The Suicide Squad – Some comic book properties are so good and so deep that if you mess up their transition to the big screen it’s really all on you because the potential is all there. This is exactly what happened with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, a movie totally micromanaged by screaming producers at Warner Bros. and the result was a giant mediocre mess that writer and director James Gunn has to come in now and revamp and retcon to a better result. The Guardians Of The Galaxy filmmaker adds his flair to a new team with some familiar faces from the last film as supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X and are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese on a search and destroy mission. Pushing a hard R rating, this movie is guaranteed to be balls to the wall action with blood, gore and some great lines written by one of my favourite current creators. I’m so excited for this one.
Vivo – Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical genius is back on display for those Hamilton die-hards and people that championed his latest offering In The Heights but this one is for the whole family and the parents who have probably seen Moana in the triple digits by now. Well, hopefully, you can give Maui and “You’re Welcome” a rest for a bit as this new animated feature, originally slated to come out in theatres from Sony Animation which was taken over from Dreamworks, is available on Netflix for the easy repeat viewings at home. The story follows a one-of-kind kinkajou, also known as a rainforest “honey bear”, who spends his days playing music to the crowds in the bustling town square with his beloved owner Andrés and, though they may not speak the same language, the two are a perfect duo through their common love of music. When tragedy strikes shortly after Andrés receives a letter from the famous singer Marta Sandoval, inviting her old partner to her farewell concert with the hope of reconnecting, it’s up to Vivo to deliver a message that Andrés never could which is a love letter to her, written long ago, in the form of a song. To get to Marta, who lives on the other side of the world, Vivo will need the help of Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum, to fulfill his owner’s wishes. The film is lively, vibrant and full of catchy tunes that threaten to make me far less of the musical hater that I think I am. I so love that the film also has Zoe Saldana, Bryan Tyree Henry and Michael Rooker in main roles.
Val – Love him or hate him, Val Kilmer has been part of the popular film zeitgeist for close to forty years and, personally, I was a huge fan of his all through the nineties until I heard of all of his primadonna antics, especially on the set of The Island Of Doctor Moreau, a film that I think he kind of tanked. This documentary, compiled with footage over the last four decades, attempts to give a bit more understanding of the brash actor all documented by himself and put together by filmmakers Ting Poo and Leo Scott. Amassed from thousands of hours of footage, from home movies made with his brothers to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster films like Top Gun and Batman, this raw and wildly original documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled look at what it means to be an artist. I love films like this and have heard nothing but great things about it from the festival circuit. This is going to be a great one I think.
Dream Horse – More than five years ago today I was treated to a great little documentary that told the story of a group of people in a small Welsh town that pooled their resources to breed a championship-level racehorse and ended up with one of the best in modern times. Now that story has been turned into a theatrical film with the benefit of having Toni Collette as its lead star and Damien Lewis in a supporting role. The story is pretty much the same with a little melodrama thrown in, about an unlikely racehorse named Dream Alliance bred by small-town Welsh bartender Jan Vokes, a woman with no experience in the industry who convinces her neighbours to chip in their meagre earnings to help raise Dream in the hopes he can compete with the racing elites. The film is interesting and endearing but if you have already seen the documentary-like I have, it really doesn’t bring anything new to it and feels more like a dramatic reenactment of the events. That said, Collette is phenomenal as always and is worth the price of admission.
12 Mighty Orphans – Getting some of that era-specific sports dramas in this week with this new football film that has an interesting true story behind it but the execution is a little off to me. The film comes from Texan filmmaker Ty Roberts who always has a lot of pride in shooting his homegrown films in his state but this is his first true-to-the-story movie in this adaptation of Jim Dent’s novel of the same name. The film has Luke Wilson as a devoted high school football coach haunted by his mysterious past who leads a scrawny team of orphans to the state championship during the Great Depression and inspires a nation absolutely devoid of any hope. Wilson is very solid in his leading role and plays well with veteran actor Martin Sheen who also produced this film but their calibre makes everyone else look like they’re struggling to keep up with that kind of gravitas and it is very noticeable. On top of that, I feel like this inspirational sports story of underdogs and ne’er-do-wells rising to the top has been done before and this one doesn’t stand out by any means.
Swan Song – Udo Kier is always known for being a strange actor who has his own unique baseline and usually in the horror genre but this new film may be one of the jewels in the golden crown of his career as it delves into the great chameleon-like nature in his arsenal. Featuring supporting work from the always incredible Jennifer Coolidge, Dynasty actress Linda Evans and Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie, this movie is one of those character-driven movies that become the benchmark in actor’s careers and it is the perfect follow up for Kier after Bacurau. Written and directed by Todd Stephens in his first feature film in thirteen years, the film follows retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger who escapes the confines of his small-town Ohio nursing home after learning of his former client’s dying wish for him to style her final hairdo. Driven with purpose, Pat embarks on an odyssey to confront the ghosts of his past and collect the beauty supplies necessary for the job along the way. I can not stop talking about how great Udo is in this movie but Stephens also imbues this film with a colourful vibrancy that is totally undeniable.
Rising Wolf – Sometimes weird science fiction can just reach through the screen and grab a viewer and it doesn’t need a huge star, big special effects or any sort of existing IP to do it if it’s well written enough. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be from North America like this one that is from the Land Down Under from writer and director Anthony Furlong who makes his feature film debut here and it is an ambitious one for sure, which may get in the way for some viewers. The story follows a young woman who wakes up trapped and kidnapped in an elevator of a super high rise building at the mercy of her tormentors. Set in Shanghai, the film follows as her instinct to survive takes over in a situation out of her control and without any form of escape and cocooned in the belly of the beast, she is forced to adapt her thinking, her beliefs and her endurance to connect to abilities that define who she truly is. The great thing about this film is the freedom that Furlong was granted to make an unconstrained sci-fi thriller but the convoluted nature of his storytelling bites him in the ass a bit as it is, at times, frustratingly hard to follow, like he has seven different stylistic thoughts at the same time. It is a bold debut though and I wonder what he has up his sleeve next.
Blackpink The Movie – K-Pop is a huge music genre and market that has millions upon millions of rabid and loyal fans, some of whom helped disrupt the former President Trump’s rally plans and I will always appreciate them for causing the kerfuffle but I still don’t get the music but my kid does. Along with BTS, Blackpink is a group I do know from the continued use of one of their songs on the app TikTok but this film is a tool to get a deeper understanding of a group that is burning up music sales daily. This documentary is a film to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the debut of the world-loved K-pop group and its members, Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa. Over the last five years, the film features these superstars’ memories through undisclosed special interviews and even gives their processes on hit songs like The Show, In Your Area, and at least a dozen more songs. This played for me as that Justin Beiber documentary did years ago, going over like a lead balloon, but I can definitely see its fan-focused appeal.
Escape From Mogadishu – Hell yes, a South Korean-made action-adventure to chew on this week thanks to the great international distribution of Well Go USA. The film comes from director Seung-wan Ryoo, a filmmaker that I am shockingly unfamiliar with a lot of his work, but he did do the incredible and brutal action flick, City Of Violence which I enjoyed a lot. This film is set in 1991, Mogadishu when the capital city and most populous part of Somalia was torn by civil war. The story follows the personnel and the families of the South Korean embassy, who are isolated with no communication, enduring hail of bullets and shells constantly. Then one night, personnel from the North Korean embassy come knocking on the door asking for help and together they make a plan with one goal in mind, to escape from Mogadishu. This film movies with such a great feel of action that there isn’t a dull moment to be had in it. I feel like so many American-made action thrillers try hard and fail to give their films the momentum that this movie does effortlessly.
The Swarm – A creepy little French horror flick that doesn’t feel far off of an Elseworlds Monsanto cautionary tale, I caught wind of this new Netflix release late but I knew I had to bring it. The film is the feature debut of filmmaker Just Philippot that is immediately a fantastic blend of social-political issues and deeply insidious eco terror that is helped along by some fascinating special effects. The story follows a single mother who breeds edible grasshoppers to save her farm from bankruptcy but soon develops a strange, obsessive bond with them that will lead her to confront the local farmers and her own children, who can no longer even recognize her. This film is freshly original and doesn’t have a predictable moment in it that leads to an edge-of-your-seat intrigue that extends to the final frame. Much like the gorefest The Platform that was released last year, this cerebral thriller could find the same footing on Netflix.
Pray Away – Netflix’s executive producer and creator darling Ryan Murphy and head Blumhouse honcho Jason Blum have teamed for this new documentary that hits hard and hits fast with its outrage and it was almost enough for me to yell at my television and story the film, never to pick it up again. The film centers around five former leaders of the “pray the gay away” movement that was created in the mid-seventies as Exodus and now contend with the aftermath unleashed by their actions while one of the subjects, a survivor, seeks healing and acceptance from more than a decade of trauma from similar groups. As a non-religious but educated viewer, this film only served to prove the point I always come to in these programs and movies and that’s that religion is a cult and only serves to create fear, shame and depression in their followers unless they keep on a straight (pun intended) and narrow path without deviation or suffering the consequences. This is a movie that prompted constant engagement from me as I cursed angrily, shook my head in disbelief and felt constant resentment to a spirituality that is supposed to make people happy and find their true selves instead of burying it so deeply that they lost all semblance of their soul. This film is like a slap to the face of believers and I am so here for it.
Ailey – This was a midnight hour addition to the releases this week that was so close to not getting on this blog but I love my PR person at Elevation and wanted to make her happy. This one’s for you, Kate! I’m really glad I did get this one as it comes from Neon, a company I really love and is an incredibly immersive and beautiful-looking movie that I did not know heading in. The film is a portrait of Alvin Ailey, a visionary artist who found his own personal salvation through dance. Told in his own words through the creation of a new commission inspired by his life, evocative archival footage and interviews with those who intimately knew him, this is a documentary that centers on the Black American experience with grace, strength, and unparalleled beauty. Sometimes a movie lands in your lap and it feels like a gift from the movie gods and this was my happy piece of that this week.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
Luca – Pixar is back with their second film released during the theatre shut down and I’m reading reports about how disappointed the animators are that their work hasn’t been able to be displayed on the big screen and I definitely feel their frustration because I would have loved to experience Soul that way and now this beautiful film. Inspired by the works of Studio Ghibli and Hiyao Miyazaki, director Enrico Casarosa, this film is set in a beautiful seaside town on the Italian Riviera and is a coming-of-age story about one young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer filled with gelato, pasta and endless scooter rides. Luca, voiced by Langley’s own Jacob Tremblay, shares these adventures with his newfound best friend, Alberto, in the voice of Shazam and It star Jack Dylan Grazer, but all the fun is threatened by the deeply-held secret that they are sea monsters from another world just below the water’s surface. This film is an endearing story of friendship and the need for escapism as they chase their dreams and I feel like it’s another strong entry into the library of Pixar who seem to always bring the top calibre of stories and warm and comforting experiences.
Those Who Wish Me Dead – Remember when it seemed that Angelina Jolie was retiring with her vanity project By The Sea with now ex-husband Brad Pitt being her acting swan song? Well, I guess being a Disney villain like Maleficent or a superhero in the upcoming Eternals for Marvel must have renewed her thirst for the medium because she’s back in this new action thriller from Wind River director Taylor Sheridan and alongside Nicholas Hoult. The story follows a teenaged murder witness who finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert and smoke jumper played by Jolie who takes on the task of protecting him as a forest fire bears down on them, wiping out everything in its path. Automatically, with the attachment of Sheridan’s name, I’m immediately drawn in because he hasn’t made a flop yet. The film was also shot by Ben Richardson who’s done pretty much everything that Sheridan has been behind the camera for as well as Beasts Of The Southern Wild. This is most likely one of the better films to see this weekend.
Here Today – It’s a sure thing that if you have Billy Crystal in your cast that I’m going to check out your movie and more often than not the movie is pretty damn good as was evident in the film he did with Ben Schwartz, Standing Up, Falling Down, which is a must-see. This film puts Crystal into another great position as he teams with the hilarious Tiffany Haddish in a film he also wrote and directed. The film has the legendary comedian as veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz who meets New York street singer Emma Payge and the two form an unlikely yet hilarious and touching friendship that kicks the generation gap aside and redefines the meaning of love and trust. The movie definitely has its moments of sappiness that can drag it down from time to time but the performances from these two massively likeable stars who imbue that directly on their characters right the ship and make it a pleasant and light-hearted watch. If anything, it proves that Crystal still has it and it never left.
Seance – One half of the guys who brought us You’re Next, The Guest and so much more, writer Simon Barrett marks 2021 with a new horror flick that oozes with so many of the elements that make fans of this genre, starting with what I felt was the beautiful nods to Dario Argento. Was it the boarding school setting, the beautiful uses of colour or the Giallo-like kills? Yeah, maybe. The story follows Camille, a young woman who arrives at the prestigious Fairfield Academy, an elite boarding school for girls, following one of the student’s untimely and violent death. The tragedy was the result of six of the students jokingly engaging in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. Featuring the fantastic Suki Waterhouse in the lead role, this movie is a solid slow burn that keeps its cards to the chest before breaking everything wide open in its third act. I love Barrett and Adam Wingard as a team but while Adam is doing Godzilla things, I’m totally cool with more of these great horror set-pieces. Bring ’em on.
Take Back – I feel like I would have been into a movie like this in the nineties and pretty easily too. Mickey Rourke, a known badass who retired from acting for a stint in boxing for a while and Michael Jai White, the only man up to this point to play the comic book demigod Spawn in live-action form. Older me has seen way too many of these though and it takes a lot to rock my world and this film really doesn’t look like it has that gusto. The story follows a couple named Zara and Brian who are living the perfect small-town life when she heroically foils a robbery and becomes headline news. This unwanted notoriety draws elements of Zara’s mysterious past back into her life, putting the lives of her family in danger. When Zara and Brian’s daughter is kidnapped by a sadistic gang of people traffickers led by the vicious Patrick, the pair face a race against time to save her life. The film has a great setup and keeps you strung along for the duration but that third act came in like a bull in a china shop to destroy all the momentum with a corny desert shoot-out that reeks of them writing themselves into a corner.
Lucky – Brea Grant is an absolute favourite of horror genre fans and that is beyond getting knifed by Michael Myers in the Rob Zombie made Halloween II or her role on Dexter. Just look at her latest venture behind the camera, 12 Hour Shift, which subverts the horror genre in many great ways, and now this new thriller, another Grant-written film, which very much does the same defying of the horror tropes. The story has her as a suburban woman who fights to be believed by the authorities and those around her as she finds herself stalked by a threatening figure who returns to her house night after night. When she can’t get help from those around her, she is forced to take matters into her own hands and the explanations are more rifely existential than she could have imagined. This film has a brilliant subtext to it that isn’t quite apparent until the second act but that transition to the finale breaks it all wide open and I felt a smile creep up on my face in recognition of what was going on. This film is clever and driven by a performance by Brea that is a showcase of her total star power. I loved this movie.
Righteous Blood – Westerns seem to be those types of films that either get great and rich Hollywood attention or are some low-budget affair by filmmakers who cut corners and half-ass their productions to a direct-to-video release. Unfortunately, this one is the latter of the two and it is even a lesser one at that. Featuring former Warriors and Dexter star Michael Pare, this story follows an outlaw gun for hire named Jericho who is on the run from the law when he finds himself tangled in a situation that will challenge his skills and his beliefs. Yes, it makes an ugly swerve into the faith department which wouldn’t be so bad if it had any sort of viewing merit before it got into those entanglements. Spoilers, it doesn’t ever earn a moment where you’re not questioning why you are watching it so let my viewing of it absolve you of yours. It isn’t worth it.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek Outs:
Mirror – This was a big geek-out moment for me, hence me including it on this week’s list, as it is the first movie in my collection that was written and directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, most known for his sci-fi mindbender Solaris. This is a more grounded film but only in the fact that it has both of its feet planted on the earth but it deals with the very mortal passage in time but on an existential level. The acclaimed and legendary filmmaker mixes flashbacks, historical footage and original poetry to illustrate the reminiscences of a dying man about his childhood during World War II, adolescence and a painful divorce in his family while also interweaving reflections about Russian history and society into the mosaic. This is very much an art film in every way and will only really appeal to the well-versed film connoisseur but if you have the patience for it I really feel the reward is there and the Criterion edition I received for it is absolutely gorgeous. I’m proud to have this incredible film in my possession.
Bringing Up Baby – We’re getting some powerhouse in the classic film department this week as the Criterion Collection recently released this legendary romantic comedy from the powerhouse trio of leading stars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and director Howard Hawks, who took it upon himself to studiously coach the legendary actress in her first comedic role. The story follows paleontologist David Huxley who is trying to make a good impression on society matron Mrs. Random who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. On the day before his wedding, Huxley meets Mrs. Random’s high-spirited young niece, Susan Vance, a madcap adventuress with her pet leopard, Baby. Of course, she immediately falls for the straitlaced scientist and pursues him to no end. This is the perfect example of cast and crew coming together to make timely comedy gold and it’s funny to think that the studio was projecting disaster for the release when it actually did quite well.
Objective, Burma – Delving into some Warner Archive this week with a title that missed my mailbox on the release date, I’m bringing you back to the mid-1940s for a war film that earned itself three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Score. The film stars one of the era greats, Errol Flynn but the decision of one-eyed director Raoul Walsh to cast him created controversy as Flynn had notorious health problems that barred him from ever serving in a military capacity and audiences saw through it no matter how much he loved the role. The story follows a platoon of special ops who are tasked to parachute into the remote Burmese jungle and destroy a strategic Japanese radar station with no means of escaping afterwards. The film is pretty great but audiences, studios and theatres did all they could to kill the film and they really effectively did as it has been long forgotten now.
Pennyworth: Season 2 – The DC Universe-related television shows keep on coming with this new prequel show that has landed on the American cable channel Epix of all places and now has gotten its season two as well. Not to be confused with the recently finished Fox show Gotham that had a younger Alfred Pennyworth, loyal butler to Bruce Wayne and medic and everyman to the Caped Crusader Batman, this show features British actor Jack Bannon in the role, harkening back to his days working for Bruce’s father Thomas. The show will delve into Pennyworth’s past as a British special forces officer and is really well done with a great look to it that comes from showrunner Bruno Heller who has already gifted us with great television like HBO’s short-lived Rome and, yes, he was the man behind Gotham so he is probably the best guy to do another prequel series.
The Walking Dead World Beyond: Season 1 – Another Walking Dead spin-off arrives on blu-ray a few weeks back just as the final season of the original series has been gearing up to close the first television bloodline of a now-massive entity and this one has definitely a different vibe to it as it seems to combine the themes of Lord Of The Flies a little bit with the shambling flesh, brain and entrail eating ghouls we are oh so familiar with these days. Featuring Nico Tortorella from Scream 4, this series focuses on the first generation to grow up during the zombie apocalypse, centred around a trio of characters and judging by the trailer it looks suspenseful and will carve a new side in this new zombie lore. So far it’s really great, though not as good as Fear The Walking Dead but I will definitely continue to immerse myself in Robert Kirkman’s imagination as season two is on the horizon and the first ends with such a great cliffhanger. Of course, with Kirkman behind it, I will say that it’s not for the faint of heart at all.
Cooking With Paris (Netflix) – This is a weird one and I even feel kind of weird for bringing it but the curiosity is too great and I guess I can kind of tell what they mean about that notion and its cat-killing ability. It’s been a while since Paris Hilton was in this kind of reality show position after she and Nicole Ritchie did The Simple Life seasons but now since that cat’s out of the bag from her YouTube documentary, which is really great and dispelled her vapidness as just a created persona, this show will play a little differently. Now she’s turning the traditional cooking show upside down, being a person who can’t really cook. With the help of her celebrity friends, she navigates new ingredients, new recipes and exotic kitchen appliances, taking the viewer from the grocery store to the finished table spread and possibly learning something along the way. The guests include Kim Kardashian West, Demi Lovato, Nikki Glaser, Saweetie, Lele Pons and Nicky and Kathy Hilton, which are really hit or miss for me but I’m still morbidly wondering if she can pull this off. I kind of hate myself for it.
Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami (Netflix) – Some more true crime arrives on Netflix this week but this one is like an old coked-out friend who used to entertain you in the mid-2000s. Following the documentary films Cocaine Cowboys and Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin With The Godmother and Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded, we now get another installment but this time in the form of a six-episode limited documentary series. So, kind of like a dude with bloodshot eyes and an itchy nose telling you his life story, longest form. The show follows two high school dropouts who become South Florida kingpins known as Willy and Sal, aka “Los Muchachos”, two of Miami’s biggest celebrities who were accused of smuggling over 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in the 1980s. It’s pretty self-explanatory from the title, I think, and if you’ve watched Scarface more than five times, you’re going to love it.
Mr. Corman (AppleTV+) – The new AppleTV+ originals, at least in the first few years of the streaming platform’s beginnings, feel a lot like shows that were declined by other networks which is definitely the case with Ted Lasso, a series that NBC mistakenly turned down. I feel this is also the case with Rose Byrne’s hard-edged show Physical and this new Joseph Gordon Levitt written, directed and led series which, to me, seem like shows that would belong to a cable network like Showtime. The series follows Josh Corman, a guy who is an artist that has given up on his music career and fallen into the mundanity of being a fifth-grade public school teacher, dealing with the fallout of his ex-fiancé Megan moving out and his high school buddy moving in. Aware that he still has a lot to be thankful for, Josh struggles nevertheless through universal feelings of anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt as he struggles to get back a semblance of a happy existence. A strong and darkly funny pilot episode kept me onboard for a fresh and witty series that shows that Levitt has been able to hone his skills from his great film Don Juan into a compelling character series.
Obama: In Pursuit Of A More Perfect Union (Crave) – If there was anyone I really fanboyed over in politics it is definitely Barack Obama and it is for a whole cornucopia of reasons so when I saw that he was releasing something new and something outside his Netflix deal and on HBO, I was definitely invested in checking it out. The series is an examination of the journey of Barack Obama from his early upbringing to the 44th U.S. President, set against the backdrop of the country’s unfolding racial history. A three-episode show, this is HBO going deep on one of the greatest presidents in history which is I think the best documentary makers in television today. The show features interviews with David Axelrod, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Lewis and many others who help illustrate the life of an incredible man who, even out of office, isn’t quite finished with leading or inspiring.