Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings – It’s crazy to think that the pandemic created a huge rift in the releasing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and we just got Black Widow a couple of months ago after an over a year delay and now we get the first Asian superhero in his own film after a delay of about six months. It’s so cool to note that star Simu Liu got the ball rolling with this film just by shooting his show with Marvel on Twitter saying “Ok Marvel, are we going to talk or not?” with the hashtag Shang-Chi. The film follows the title character’s origins, a man who must confront the past he thought he left behind when he is drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization, AKA The Mandarin who was already eluded to in Iron Man 3. I’m choosing not to get any deeper into my own research into the film but it does have a great supporting cast with Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and the legendary Tony Leung as the villain. With an already Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m totally psyched for this one.
Cinderella – With the flash mob stunt that was pulled in Los Angeles by James Corden, this fairy tale remake is already skating on thin ice for me as, c’mon, you guys know that Corden is the friggin’ worst, right? Anyways, I really love what Kenneth Branagh did with the Disney live-action version of the story so I feel like this one is highly unnecessary and a musical as well and with the heavyweight that is also coming on blu-ray in that department, this one doesn’t have a chance. This remake stars Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel and opts to take a modern take on the traditional story you grew up with, even down to the fairy godmother who Porter plays as Fab G. Yeah, I don’t like any of it either but I’m sure this one will find an audience and become a pretty sizeable hit and we’ll all still regret that horrible PR traffic stunt.
Worth – I got really interested in this film when I saw it grace my preview bar on Netflix as it boasts it’s from the producers of Spotlight and it features Michael Keaton in the main role which gave me the utmost hope that it was going to be great. Featuring a supporting cast that has Amy Ryan, Stanley Tucci and Tate Donovan, the more I read about it the deeper I got in my interest. This true story follows Keaton as attorney and renowned mediator Kenneth Feinberg that is appointed to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund by congress following the horrific 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Assigned with allocating financial resources to the victims of the tragedy, Feinberg and his firm’s head of operations face the impossible task of determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses. When Feinberg locks horns with Charles Wolf, played by Tucci, a community organizer mourning the death of his wife, his initial cynicism turns to compassion as he begins to learn the true human costs of the tragedy. This film hits me on a fifty/fifty level as a lot of the procedural stuff works but the melodrama feels overly done and takes you out of the story from time to time. The acting from Keaton, Tucci and Ryan is top-notch though and is the reason to check this out.
Mogul Mowgli – Let’s just make it all clear at the get-go. If I see Riz Ahmed’s name attached to a film I immediately become very interested in it because he is one of the best emerging talents of this generation and the projects he picks are always so fascinating. This new film feels very closely connected to Ahmed and his experiences growing up in the United Kingdom dealing with race and culture as a British Pakistani, following him as a rapper on the cusp of his first world tour that is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. Learning his lessons the hard way, he realizes that the way he was living his life in excess of ego and forgetting the culture of what made him have slowly deteriorated his soul and his being, leading him to this unfortunate fate. Riz’s performance in this film is riveting and gives dramatic focus to the monkey on his back while we observe him like a living fish tank. That last wistfully triumphant moment in this movie will go down as an unforgettable cinematic moment for me this year.
Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles – We’ve got a new Billie Eilish documentary here this week but this one is a little different than the intimate AppleTV+ released film The World’s a Little Blurry which debuted about six months ago, a must-see before you even press play on this one. This is more of a concert film that showcases tracks from her new album and has a little bit more dazzle to it than you’re regular concert, thanks to the direction of Robert Rodriguez. The multiple Grammy Award-winning and chart-topping artist debuts on Disney+ with a very cinematic experience, fresh off the heels of her brand-new album, “Happier than Ever,” which features an intimate performance of every song in the album’s sequential order, for the first and only time, from the stage of the legendary Hollywood Bowl. As a fan of hers, I loved the documentary and am digging the new album a lot but for those who are just dipping their toe into the talent of Eilish, this film clocks in at just over an hour so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James – When it comes to popular R&B and pop music in the eighties, Rick James is an artist and producer who was a bigger-than-life persona, especially in his excessiveness. Heck, it was so legendary that Dave Chappelle was able to capitalize it with the stories of CharlieMurphy’s and give a sort of renewal to the “Superfreak” icon. This feels like a documentary film that was a long time coming as it is a profile of the legendary funk/R&B superstar, capturing the peaks and valleys of his storied career to reveal a complicated and rebellious soul, driven to share his talent with the world. The film is in great hands as it comes from writer and director Sacha Jenkins who made the fantastic music docuseries Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, which is another great watch for music fans. I can’t wait to see how deep this goes and how long they focus on Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”.
Yakuza Princess – On the outside of this new action flick and comic book adaptation, it should really be an easy and stylish slam dunk. Based on the indie series Samurai Shiro, this film comes from the guy who did the crazily fascinating horror Motorrad and features singer MASUMI, 13 Assassins actor Tsuyoshi Ihara and life long bad boy and middle-aged trainwreck Jonathan Rhys Meyers and, on paper, has a damn cool storyline. The plot follows an heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate who forges an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger that believes an ancient sword binds their two fates. With his help, she reluctantly must unleash a war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead. I wish the execution on this film was as good as the setup because the movement of this story always feels a little half-baked and not thought out and none of the action scenes feel that exciting or well shot no matter how many moments of good blood and gore that we get. I was left feeling very underwhelmed by this one.
The Madness Inside Me – Mental trauma is a really universal affliction that affects all of us, whether we like to admit it or not, and the more it’s brought up in the mainstream the more it will be de-stigmatized and taken way more seriously. One action is to bring it to film and television which is a piece of this new mystery thriller that stars the immensely talented Merrin Dungey. She plays Madison Taylor, a forensic psychiatrist who spends her days interviewing prison inmates and her evenings with her husband Jeremy. When Jeremy is killed in a home invasion, her world begins to turn itself inside out. Madison’s fascination with morbid crime begins to gnaw away at her character and she becomes sleepless, her evenings spent stalking and photographing strangers. She refuses to identify her husband’s killer and instead chooses to stalk him for revenge and, finding pleasure in her thrill-seeking, dangerous life choices, she starts to put herself in compromising situations for arousal. Yes, this film gets deep into mental fractures and does it well through her performance but the low budget of this production is evident in many ways so if you don’t stay hyper-focused on the character work, you may find the tears in its seams.
Saving Paradise -Remember the oldest kid from the Disney adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia? Well, his name is William Mosely, not to be confused with The Devil’s Rejects horror villain Bill Mosely, and he is definitely not a kid anymore as this new film illustrates. This film is based on true events and has him playing a ruthless corporate raider who s forced to return to his small-town roots where he suddenly inherits his father’s nearly bankrupt pencil factory, which is the heart and soul of the depressed community. With the foreclosure deadline looming, he must decide to either let it close or join the community’s fight to save it. So, yes, if you look at this storyline, it is essentially a real-life Grinch story of a guy who needs his heart to grow a few sizes but the melodrama is the make or break aspect of this film for me. Just like with Worth, sometimes it works to serve the story and other times it pulls you right out of it although, in the latter film’s case, it works more than it doesn’t.
In The Heights – A casualty of the pandemic, this film was supposed to premiere in the summer of 2020 and is the much anticipated new musical created by Hamilton mastermind Lin Manuel Miranda that would definitely have some new viral tracks contained within it. Now we sit almost a year later, and the film’s anticipation still exists, especially with Hamilton being a highly streamed film on Disney+ right now. Coming from Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, the film centers on a variety of characters living in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after the ageing Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighbouring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi, has returned to the neighbourhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighbourhood get a dose of what it means to be home in a film that is, at this point, earning perfect scores from critics who are calling it a joyous and infectious celebration of life and culture. I will be among the naysayers when I say that I felt the movie was a little bit long and meanders here and there but the joy is pretty infectious and Miranda just knows how to make an immensely catchy song with a delicious hook and that’s what this film thrives on.
Spirit Untamed – This was one of those family animated films where I really had to rely on my eight-year-old daughter’s knowledge of the pre-existing Netflix series that proceeded it to get an idea of where it was coming from. Also, being a Dreamworks property, the film was derived from Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron which was one of the animation division’s first films. For this expanded theatrical adventure, the story follows young Lucky Prescott who, after moving to a sleepy little town to live with her father, she befriends a wild mustang named Spirit that shares her rebellious spirit. When a heartless wrangler plans to capture Spirit and his herd, Lucky and her new friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime to rescue the horse that forever changed her life. The story is light and fluffy, great for all the little kids and the animation is gorgeous but I was surprised with some of the star power in the voice cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Andre Braugher and Walton Goggins. With only another weekend and a couple of days to keep the kids occupied before going back to school, this may be a perfect way to have them zone out in front of the television for a bit.
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.
Beasts Of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga made an incredible film six years ago with his Netflix-produced feature that is jaw-droppingly astounding in its vision, execution, cinematography and performances. It even got caught up in critical acclaim and the award season, earning it award nominations everywhere except the Oscars because it was in a weird time that Netflix released films that were still looked down on and didn’t earn that respect for the Academy. The story follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in a fictional West African country. Fearing his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination. This movie is a damn masterpiece and now has the esteemed honour of being added to the Criterion Collection, the top echelon of film. With incredible special features and in-depth interviews and commentaries, this is the ultimate film lovers brick of gold, trust me.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle Of The Realms – It’s a hot year for Mortal Kombat because after years of teasing it Warner Bros. finally gave us the R-rated film that we fans deserve and, yes, it was a bit cheesy in parts but with a limited story like this, what did you expect? Now, we get a little addition on the animated side, one to follow up the killer Scorpion prequel we got not too long ago. Featuring the voices of Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter and Community’s Joel McHale, the story picks up right after Scorpion’s Revenge where the heroes are attacked by Shao Kahn, which will force “Raiden and his group of warriors into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms.” This forces the good guys to travel to Outworld to defend Earthrealm while Scorpion journeys to find the Kamidogu (a mystic relic made by the almighty Elder Gods) before it is used to bring back the mysterious One Being, who would destroy the universe. If you’re a fan of the video game, this series or just animation in general, you will definitely dig what Warner is doing making their own little animated universe of this intellectual property.
The Brotherhood Of Satan – Arrow Video has a couple of notable collector’s editions coming out this week and one of them, to me, is an absolute monster but let us get this one into your eyeballs first. This one will make none horror fans roll their eyes big time but for a guy like me that feels he is discovering pre-1975 genre films almost weekly, this is a fun one. Starring Slapshot’s Strother Martin and Casino’s L.Q Jones, this story follows a widower who is taking his young daughter and new girlfriend to visit a relative when they find a grizzly car accident by the highway. They report the incident to the sheriff in nearby Hillsboro, New Mexico and discover the town in the grips of a deadly fear because in the past 72 hours, 26 people have died, and 11 children have gone missing. As Ben investigates, a local priest (Charles Robinson) informs him that a Satan-worshipping cult is to blame and soon all hell starts to break loose. This film is a cult film and in more than just including a cult-like presence in the movie but a film that is enjoyed and appreciated way more than at the time of release because I will say that it was definitely not well regarded in the release year of 1971.
Dune 4K – Arrow digs up some more unappreciated gold from the past as they have given new 4K life to David Lynch’s attempt at making a Frank Herbert epic that gets the remake treatment this year from Denis Villeneuve. If you’ve seen the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune then you know the strife that has gone into making Dune and through this release, you can see the trouble that Lynch went through to get even a sliver of his vision. For those who don’t know, Dune is loosely about a Duke’s son who leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s evil nemesis to free their desert world from the emperor’s rule in the vaguest of description. The film had an incredible cast including Kyle MacLachlan, Sting, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart and so many more and still holds a dear place in my heart but really just for the extended version. Also, the 4K beef-up looks so incredible too.
Bugsy Malone – I have to say that when I saw it in my parcel of movies I definitely laughed my ass off and not because of a young Jodie Foster on the cover but for the guy who plays the title character in it, Scott Baio. Now, living in the times of 2021, Baio’s name has a different connotation besides being Charles In Charge or Chachi because now he is a batshit crazy Trumper who is a bigger joke than he was but I shouldn’t let that affect how I feel about this one. Made in 1976, this was a weird studio experiment that had, essentially, kids playing adult roles as notorious gangsters. Instead of real guns and ammo, they use “splurge guns” that cover the victim in whipped cream in the story of the rise of Bugsy Malone and the battle for power between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. Did I mention that it is also a musical? Yes, the deeper you go on this the weirder it gets but it is still pretty oddly intriguing, right?
NCIS New Orleans: The Complete Series – The television year on DVD isn’t quite over until I’ve received every iteration of NCIS and its spinoffs and now with the arrival of this complete series of the southern fried Louisiana version, well, we can close on this chapter of it forever, although I hear a NCIS Hawaii is coming. This one starring Scott Bakula in the lead as Special Agent Dwayne Pride who heads his crew in a colourful city that harbours a dark side and is a magnet for service personnel on leave who often delve into vices that land them in a series of different troubles. The show is your standard fare for these procedurals in the military vein, just factoring in a cajun flavour for the locale, but the charm of Bakula himself, the friendly face of classics like Quantum Leap and Star Trek Enterprise may draw you to it. I like the cast formed around him like stalwart veteran CCH Pounder and current Fast family star Lucas Black. I find it interesting that the second spin-off of the original series finished its run first of all the NCIS shows.
Blue Bloods: Season 11 – I have another traditional procedural this week for those who love them, as I now move onto more primetime crime dramas with this Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg-led show that has well over two hundred episodes now. Basically, for those uninitiated into this police show, this is like the Charles Bronson series of made for television movies A Family Of Cops but told much better as we have Tom Selleck as the patriarch of the family and also the commissioner of police, his sons Wahlberg and Will Estes as a detective and police sergeant respectively. The cast rounds out with Bridget Moynahan as the sister, an assistant DA, and the great Len Cariou as the grandpa, a former commissioner himself and the show is actually very solid and its long tenure is indicative of that. I know that when I post on social media that I have it, fans come out of the woodwork to like it.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:
The Great – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and The Favourite writer Tony McNamara combine for this new series that is filled from top to bottom with great character work, beautiful set pieces and a brilliantly dark humour that will absolutely tickle you if you liked McNamara’s Yorgos Lanthimos film as much as I did. The show follows a royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century who is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia when she marries an Emperor. I love that this series takes the stuffiness out of the usual period piece and allows each character to breathe with dialogue that feels quick and totally sardonic. With a second season on the horizon, this may be a dark horse here in Canada as it originally aired on Hulu.
One Crazy Summer – As a huge Bobcat Goldthwait fan, I was over the moon to get this Warner Archive release in the main as I was a huge fan of it when I was a kid and rented it multiple times on VHS and anytime I notice it on television, I really have to watch it all the way through. That is why I was overly ecstatic when I received this new edition in the parcel of Warner Archive titles from this month as I now have it on a high definition in my collection. For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing this one, the film is led by John Cusack and Demi Moore and follows art school hopeful Hoops McCann who struggles to complete his application to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduating from high school. Resigning himself to a summer of boredom, he agrees to go along with his best friend on a family trip to Nantucket but after McCann and his buddy meet rocker-in-distress, Cassandra, boredom takes a back seat. This is some eighties Brat Pack gold here that comes from writer and director Savage Steve Holland who had such a great one-two punch with this and the film before it, Better Off Dead. Classic stuff.
Rock Dog 2: Rock Around The Park – This one is predominantly just for the kids as we head into the final weekend before school starts and you need to park them in front of the television to maintain a grip on your sanity. What better way to do that than with a dog rocking a Stratocaster, I guess. This is a sequel to a Luke Wilson movie no one really cared about, granted, but it follows the main man Bodi who decides to take his newly formed band True Blue out of the comfort zone of his home, Snow Mountain, and takes them on a whirlwind world tour to show off their music but, of course, fame comes with a price. The movie loses all of its actor credit as no one came back to reprise their roles for this but it does have some voice-over royalty as My Little Pony’s Ashleigh Ball lends her very studious and capable talents to this sequel. It is what it is at the end of the day.
Only Murders In The Building (Disney+) -* Steve Martin and Martin Short are returning in a big way with this brand new series debuting on Disney+ through the Star side of things and it’s something that the legendarily funny actor came up with showrunner and former Grace And Frankie writer John Hoffman. The series is also produced by the stars, along with the third in their trio, Selena Gomez, and I will say that I’m just in the beginning but I already adore it. The story follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, the endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living among them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before they possibly become victims themselves.
What We Do in the Shadows: Season 3 (FX) – Following up a phenomenal second season that capitalized on a great season one and brought in some great new characters and visits from old ones, it really delivered on all levels and we have been not so patiently waiting for the return of our favourite vampire roommates. Created by the star of the original film, Jemaine Clement, this show follows a different cast than people who have only seen the movie are used to, led by the brilliant Kayvon Novak and one of my favourite current British comedic actors Matt Berry. The story simply follows three vampires and their night lives living on Staten Island, their home for a century in, by far, one of the most clever new comedies on television and their return is so welcome at this depressing end of the summer season that has us all feeling that step into autumn ennui.
Turning Point: 9/11 And The War On Terror (Netflix) – Time to get your tinfoil hat on, maybe, and turn your clocks back twenty years and get back into the mindset you were when you saw the planes hit the World Trade Center the first time. Netflix has been killing it in the documentary series department for a long time now so honestly, I’m really intrigued to see how this one will play and with what angle. The series claims to be a cohesive chronicle of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., offering illuminating perspectives and personal stories of how the catastrophic events of that day changed the course of the nation. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the country’s breathtaking collapse back into the hands of the Taliban just weeks before the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, the show pushes on the real fact that history continues to be made and will continue as nothing has been learned or gained for this horrifying moment in time.
Q-Force (Netflix) – In a mix of Archer meets Space Force meets a kind of depressing gay stereotype, Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes leads this new animated series that comes from Parks And Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place master creator Michael Schur and I think that’s what bums me out the most. Featuring the voices of Gary Cole, David Harbour and Shrill’s hilarious Patti Harrison, I might have placed the bar way too high seeing the voice and creators involved and ruined the experience for myself. I digress though, as the series is about a group of undervalued LGBTQ superspies, and is centred on a gay secret agent who is like James Bond, Steve Marywhether (also known as Agent Mary), as they try to prove themselves on personal and professional adventures. One day, Mary decides to prove himself to the American Intelligence Agency (AIA), solve a case, and get the approval of the agency, but they have to add a new member to their team, a straight guy, which proves to throw off the progress they have going. Easy jokes and lazy writing totally bungled up the pilot for me and I had to muster enough energy to get through the second episode which was only a slight improvement. Maybe it gets better but this one is a miss for me.
Reservation Dogs (Disney+) – Taika Waititi is largely known as the guy who rejuvenated the Thor series for Marvel and directed himself as an imaginary Hitler in Jojo Rabbit but those of us who love New Zealand’s filmmaking know the incredible mark he has made on us through his independent films and with him producing this new series, not from his home country but centred in the Southern United States, it is for this reason that I am fully on board. The series is about four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma who try to steal, rob, and save everything they can to get to the exotic, mysterious, and faraway land of California. Not featuring any notable stars or locals you will be used to, the seemingly aimless nature of this series is so endearing and the script is so whip-smart that I really feel that the show has a broader appeal than what you just see on paper. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this on some top ten lists at the end of the year as the reviews are big for it.