Dear Evan Hansen – It seems like we haven’t learned from Glee at all and we’re still going forward with close to thirty-year-old actors playing high school teenagers. I know that it is a special case with this film as star Ben Platt played the role on Broadway and was the originator of it but I think it is distracting and tanks the movie immediately. This is the adaptation of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical about Evan Hansen, a high school senior with Social Anxiety disorder and his journey of self-discovery and acceptance following the suicide of a classmate. The film does not translate well at all in my opinion and besides Evan looking like a guidance counsellor rather than a student, the story is contrived, manipulative and more and more cringeworthy with every song he belts out. I tried to get beyond the simplicity of its problems and, in the end, couldn’t overcome them.
Joe Bell – A lowkey Mark Wahlberg film makes its quiet debut this week and just based on the subject matter and the story it’s based on, it should have earned a lot more attention and overall celebration and put director Reinaldo Marcus Green on the A-list track with his second well-received film in a row after Monsters And Men. This film is the true story of a small town, working-class father who embarks on a solo walk across the United States to crusade against bullying after his son is tormented in high school for being gay. Wahlberg brings the soul to this movie in a heartfelt performance that gets off to a bit of a rocky start and it’s interesting to note that the relationship between Wahlberg and the youngster that plays his son, Reid Miller, was really important to the blockbuster star and he invited him to his house for breakfast just to tell him in person he booked the role of Jadin Bell. Stories like this are what makes these dramas so important and must-see in my opinion and it has been a few years since Wahlberg made a straightforward drama and I feel that it was largely pulled off and gives a great insight into the ability to change some of the most staunch and stubborn minds when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community.
The Starling – With two lead stars like Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, I thought this movie was going to be an immediate home run and the fact that Hidden Figures and St. Vincent filmmaker Theodore Melfi was behind it just added to the draw. Unfortunately, everything falls apart really quickly by being way too overdramatic but, at the same time, completely unoriginal and not relatable. The film follows Lilly and Jack, a couple dealing with a devastating loss, leading Jack to head off to deal with his grief while Lilly remains in the “real” world, dealing with her guilt. As if Lilly’s troubles weren’t bad enough, a starling that has nested in her backyard begins to harass and attack her and she becomes obsessed with killing it. Lilly eventually finds guidance from Larry, a quirky psychologist-turned-veterinarian with a troubled past of his own. I wish this film lived up to its promise because it has Kevin Kline, who is an absolute treasure any time he’s on-screen, playing the vet but it can’t save itself from a bad script, sluggish pacing and some janky CG.
Intrusion – After the sleeper hit that was The Invitation I have vowed to get a little bit hyped for every film I see actor Logan Marshall Green-billed in and it’s worked out pretty well so far. I’m looking directly at you, Upgrade, you beautiful bastard. This film also has the benefit of the fantastic Freida Pinto in the lead role and comes from director Adam Salky who’s movie I Smile Back with Sarah Silverman wrecked me. This one is a drama thriller that follows a woman who moves to a small town with her husband and has her world shattered when she is targeted for a home invasion and in the fallout becomes suspicious that those around her might not be who they seem. The film was written by Greenland and Buried writer Chris Starling and looks to be filled with great twists and turns. Netflix wouldn’t give me an early look but I’m psyched for it still.
Between Waves – This is an odd film as it is an existential fantasy love story about reconnecting with a loved one across planes of existence which immediately brings to mind the Richard Matheson story What Dreams May Come which was adapted with Robin Williams starring. The story is about a woman’s pursuit to join her missing lover by crossing into a parallel dimension, after his presumed death, when he continuously visits her, pleading for her to find him. Through her own pragmatic and driven ways, she tries to defy everything she knows to achieve the impossible in a Canadian film that is quite remarkable to look at. None of the stars were known to me but the execution and performances were engaging and, with a few parts that dragged, I felt the outcome resonated well.
F9: The Fast Saga – After over a year of delay we finally got our dose of “The Family” film and I’m not talking about a Disney animated adventure, I’m talking about Vin Diesel and his family of, well, we used to call them car thieves and a heist squad but after the insane things in the previous movies I have lost track of what to identify them as. This film takes a twist on the family theme as it opens with Dom Toretto leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but knowing that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, the new threat aligned with old enemies will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most as his crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered, a man who also happens to be Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob, played by John Cena. As ridiculous as this is, it was massively satisfying to see a film as epic as this was and no matter what they threw at you, which was pretty much everything, it kept you into the action for the whole ride. Even better, for those who experienced it in theatres, this edition has a director’s cut with more insanity.
Cruella – Before I get into one of the biggest Blu-ray releases this week, I have to begin by saying that I find the trend of humanizing these classic villain characters a little troubling, as the direction for blockbuster filmmaking is heaping sympathy on the truly evil in their origin story so that we look at their endgame a bit differently. In the case of Cruella De Vil, played in this film by Emma Stone, we all know that she goes on to try and murder dogs for a coat. This film is set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution and follows a young grifter named Estella, a clever and creative girl determined to make a name for herself with her designs. She befriends a pair of young thieves who appreciate her appetite for mischief, and together they are able to build a life for themselves on the London streets. One day, Estella’s flair for fashion catches the eye of the Baroness von Hellman, a fashion legend who is devastatingly chic and terrifyingly Haute, played by Emma Thompson, but their relationship sets in motion a course of events and revelations that will cause Estella to embrace her wicked side and become the raucous, fashionable and revenge-bent Cruella. The film is lavishly shot by director Craig Gillespie but feels bloated in its over two-hour run time and has some moments bending through music and dialogue. That said, it still is pretty entertaining even if Stone’s British accent comes and goes.
Lady Of The Manor – As a guy just getting into Justin Long’s podcast Life Is Short, I missed out on the mention that he and his brother Christian has written and directed a new comedy together in their directorial debut. It even has a killer cast with Melanie Lynskey, Judy Greer, Ryan Phillippe and Luis Guzman which intrigues me quite a bit. The film follows Hannah, a farty, aimless stoner who becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor’s resident ghost, Lady Wadsworth, a Southern belle who died in 1875. She tells Hannah it’s time to change her slacker ways or she’ll haunt her until she does in a comedy that is pure insanity and pretty much anything the Long brothers wanted to make. They are playing to their audience and themselves and not all of its lands but when it does it is funny. I’m unsure there is a wide audience for this one.
Last Call – I’ve been a Jeremy Piven fan for a long time now and this was well before we even got the script for Entourage and the tailor-made role of Ari Gold because, yeah, I watched Ellen’s sitcom. The cast that surrounds Piven in this is a great who’s who of television and movies as Black Sails’ Zach McGowen, Orange Is The New Black’s Taryn Manning, Rescue Me’s Jack McGee, Jamie Kennedy and so many more veteran faces feature in this too. The film has Piven as a local success story and real estate developer who returns home to his offbeat blue-collar Irish neighbourhood in the shadows of Philadelphia for a funeral and is obligated to stay to ensure his parents’ ailing family business gets back on course. As he begins to reconnect with the neighbourhood he grew up in as well as get closer to his childhood crush, he finds himself at a crossroads when forced to either raze or resurrect the family bar. My biggest issue with this movie comes from how unreal and coincidental almost every plot point feels in this story and, no matter how great the people in the roles are, it never leaves your mind. With a better script and story drive, this could have been way better than the mediocrity we got.
The Vigil – Some good ghostly horror to get some less funny supernatural content this week and the initial reviews for this one were big heading into it so I was intrigued. The cast is comprised of unknowns and writer and director Keith Thomas is making his debut with this film but after people get to this one eventually by word of mouth, he will be on the horror fans must see list. The story is set throughout a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighbourhood and follows Yakov, a man low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community who reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vigil he finds himself opposite a malevolent entity that is hell-bent on destroying him. This movie was an awesome surprise, creepy and full of a dark atmosphere that draws you in and chills you to the bone. I think this film has a broader appeal if you’re looking for something to quicken your pulse.
The Power – Religious horror seems to be a little bit of a recurring theme this week and as a non-religious guy, I still find myself drawn to this specific sub-genre. I also really love that this brings a new voice to the women’s side of horror filmmaking as Corinna Faith wrote and directed a film that could easily sit in the best of the year category. Set in 1974, the story follows a young nurse who is forced to work the night shift in a crumbling hospital as striking miners switch off the power across Britain. As the night goes on, she starts to realize that inside the walls lurks a terrifying presence that threatens to consume her and everyone around her. Again, I was blindsided by another thrilling ghost story that gets under your skin using the device of deep-seated trauma as its trigger. It uses its location so well to create its claustrophobic atmosphere that doesn’t leave until the credits hit.
A Dark Foe – I love a good obsessive mystery horror and I’m feeling like it’s an embarrassment of riches this week because I get five of them that I can watch in the comfort of my own home which is an exciting and reclusive prospect. This film follows a guilt-ridden FBI agent, stranded in the painful memory of the abduction of his sister, who suffers from a rare condition known as Nyctophobia, an irrational fear of the dark, and will have to face off with the cunning serial killer who took her away to find any sort of resolution in his life. Featuring Selma Blair and Graham Greene in supporting roles, I dug into this one deep and thought it was incredibly studious and driven, which is crazy because it is the debut of filmmaker Maria Gabriela Cardenas. This may not be a perfect movie but I feel like the next one will be even closer to a masterpiece.
Boys From County Hell – This is a combination of the best of things for me as it has Irish brogues and blood-curdling horror colliding for pretty effective and chilling storytelling. Coming from Chris Baugh, the writer and director of the fantastically gritty revenge thriller Bad Day For The Cut, the film follows the strange events that unfold in Six Mile Hill, a sleepy Irish town that claims to have been travelled by the famed author Bram Stoker, when construction on a new road disrupts the alleged grave of Abhartach, a legendary Irish vampire said to have inspired Dracula. Deadly forces terrorize the work crew led by Francie Moffat and his son Eugene, a free-spirited young man who prefers pints to pickaxes and they’re forced to fight to survive the night while exposing the true horror that resides in the town’s local myth. This movie is gnarly in every way and satisfies all of your vampire horror needs while bringing a fresh attitude and original ideas along the way. I love the British Isles and their cinema, it’s always such a breath of new air.
Hardball – Back when Keanu was in another reinvention of his career with Neo and the Matrix movies, he also would do a drama here and there to remind you of how charmingly blank he could be as well as being an action star. This was one of those films that also had the greatness of Diane Lane to play off of as well with her stepping in as the love interest. For those who let this one skip them by twenty years ago almost exactly, the film is about an aimless young man who gets by scalping tickets, gambling, and drinking who agrees to coach a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago as a condition of getting a loan from a friend. His sense of pride in becoming the boys’ sole idol and the exhilaration of competition start to motivate him to become better and the kid’s attractive teacher helps as well. This movie was a sweetheart when it came out and I think it aged well as it still will bring a smile to your face.
Breakdown – Kurt Russell against an enraged trucker. That should put butts in seats alone but no, it seems like anything involving truckers doesn’t get the love it deserves as we look back at all the underrated films of the past like Duel, Convoy, Joyride and Over The Top. Well, maybe not Over The Top. Even sadder, this film features J.T. Walsh as the villain and is still forgotten but I digress. The story follows a man and his wife who are driving cross-country from Massachusetts o San Diego when their new car mysteriously breaks down. A truck driver stops and assists them by taking his wife to the nearest diner to phone for help but in reality is kidnapping her, causing her husband to track down his wife and the kidnapper himself. Funny enough, this movie was actually really well-reviewed at the time of its release and still holds up well, I think. As I mentioned, Walsh is so damn good and Russell digs into that action hero stuff that we love from him.
Love & Basketball – This is a great pull from the year 2000 to add to the Criterion Collection that is a beautiful love story with driven performances plus it’s just a great piece in modern black cinema. Starring Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps, the film follows Monica and Quincy, two childhood friends who both aspire to be professional basketball players. Quincy, whose father, Zeke plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, is a natural talent and a born leader while Monica is ferociously competitive but sometimes becomes overly emotional on the court. Over the years, the two begin to fall for each other, but their separate paths to basketball stardom threaten to pull them apart. Writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood established herself with this phenomenal film that I only saw just a few years ago and now it has its rightful place in this prestigious collection. Very worth picking up.
The Equalizer: Season 1 – Move over Denzel, Queen Latifah is coming through to take your place in the lead chair as this property, once a television series made into a couple of movies with the greatest actor of the last thirty years, now reverts to being a new network series again proving that everything in Hollywood is cyclical. Latifah is Robyn McCall, an enigmatic African American woman with a mysterious background who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall comes across to most like an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter. But to a trusted few, she is an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption. The series takes off on the original Edward Woodward show from the late eighties as each episode seems to be reworkings of the older plots to get things going then it will hopefully find its footing.
Batwoman: Season 2 – I’d been waiting a long time for a live-action onscreen version of Kate Kane aka Batwoman to be made and finally we got it and I thought the casting of Ruby Rose is kind of incredible as she already invoked many of the character traits right out the door. Now, a year later, and Rose has departed the role and has left the producers scrambling for their unpredicted new direction. For those not in the know, Kane was inspired by Batman to use her resources to fight crime in Gotham as well under the moniker of Batwoman, but is a woman of Jewish descent and is also a lesbian, something that was a hard pill to swallow for the mainstream. Now the new actress that has stepped in is Javicia Leslie, star of the cancelled series God Friended Me, as Ryan Wilder who steps into the cowl in Kate’s absence. With other Arrowverse shows being shown the door, it isn’t known what the longevity of this show is but I’m enjoying it so far.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Star Trek Lower Decks: Season 1 – More Star Trek from CBS All Access? Well, why not because it seems to be a lucrative cash cow for them and if I can throw my opinion in on this, I’m enjoying everything that has come out so far. This new show though begs the question “can we do comedy in this universe of science fiction that has been so serious up until this point?” Not only is this show forging new ground in genre shift it is also animated and follows the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos, who have to keep up with their duties, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies. The voice cast includes former Sliders star Jerry O’Connell, The Boys’ Wee Hughie, Jack Quaid and Eugene Cordero from Tacoma FD and looks like it is pretty damn funny. In a void of missing shows like Futurama, this series makes a mark outside of its niche audience I think because it nabbed me pretty quickly.
Legend – First the twins in Spandau Ballet, Martin and Gary Kemp, did the biopic of the notorious Kray brothers Reggie and Ronnie, in the appropriately titled crime saga The Krays and then the always fantastic Tom Hardy took on both roles for this redo of the biopic for Mystic River writer Brian Helgeland and, I’ll be honest, he’s the only reason to watch this. For those who need to be caught up with this story, it is the true story of London’s most notorious gangsters, who just happen to be twin brothers of very different temperaments. As the brothers rise through the criminal underworld, Ronnie advances the family business with violence and intimidation while Reggie struggles to go legitimate for local girl Frances Shea. In and out of prison, Ronnie’s unpredictable tendencies and the slow disintegration of Reggie’s marriage threaten to bring the brothers’ empire tumbling to the ground. The vibe of the movie is weird, the editing is a little lacklustre and it drags in many parts but Tom Hardy is blisteringly intense every moment he is on screen and it makes up for a large degree of its shortcomings.
Prodigal Son: Season 2 – I love Michael Sheen in just about everything he does, one of the best character actors working today, but when I saw he was doing an American network television show I kind of felt like he might be slumming it. Then I got a whiff of the role he was playing and My trepidation turned into anticipation as he has a very dark and sinister monster to embody in this. The series follows Malcolm Bright, a gifted criminal psychologist who uses his twisted genius to help the NYPD solve crimes and stop killers, all while dealing with a manipulative mother, a serial killer father still looking to bond with his prodigal son and his own constantly evolving neuroses. Bright’s only ally is his sister, Ainsley, a TV journalist who wishes her brother would take a break from murder and have a normal life. Unfortunately for his sister, the only way Bright feels normal is by solving cases with the help of his longtime mentor, NYPD Detective Gil Arroyo. Arroyo’s one of the best detectives around, and he expects no less from his team, which includes Detective JT Tarmel, a born-and-bred New Yorker who questions whether Bright is a psychopath himself. The series comes from one of the guys behind the great comedy-action series Chuck and uses some of that great wit in a new fashion. Disappointingly, the series was cancelled this summer but what we got was pretty damn cool.
Free Fire – Ben Wheatley is a filmmaker usually known for horror or that one time when he adapted a seemingly unfilmable novel in High Rise but he made this phenomenal ensemble crime shootout story that got swept under the rug like it never happened and I’m going to shine a light on it. Featuring a killer cast including Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Jack Reynor and Armie Hammer, this movie kept a constant smile on my face. Set in Boston in 1978, simply put, the film follows a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs that turns into a shoot-out and a game of survival when a black-market arms deal goes outrageously wrong. A snappy script, incredible performances all around and a fun ride of violent action and wild camera shots make this one unforgettable to anyone who’s seen it. I love this movie and more people should too.
Snatch 4K – Not only is this movie possibly Guy Ritchie’s crowning achievement in his career but I’m not shying away from saying that this could be the greatest British crime comedy ever made. When it came out in theatres I saw it multiple times, bought it immediately on DVD, have easily seen it fifteen times at least, know the script off by heart and now it is in glorious 4K. For those who are emerging from there under a rock nap, the story follows Turkish, an unlicensed boxing promoter who is pulled into trouble when he becomes involved in big-time criminal Brick Top, who wants him to arrange a fight and fix it. Meanwhile, a diamond theft goes down but the eighty-four karat stone goes missing which leads Avi, the boss who was supposed to receive the stone, to come to England to search for it, with the help of his cousin, Doug The Head and Bullet Tooth Tony. As events twist and turn, the two situations blend into one with a chain reaction of events carrying on for each character in a movie that is infinitely quotable, massively influential in its style and featuring a soundtrack that is one of the best since the turn of the century, I will always have a deep love for this brilliant comedy.
Foundation (AppleTV+) – As I find myself once again blasting through seasons of The Expanse on Amazon Prime, I keep finding myself wondering if this is the bar set for fantastic and well-written science fiction shows and I guess Apple heard me because incomes this brand new show to hopefully blow minds. Already, the cast has me so intrigued with Halt And Catch Fire’s Lee Pace, Mad Men’s Jared Harris and Voyagers actor Lou Llobell leading it. The show is a complex saga of genre television that follows the existence of the human race, scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, all living under the rule of the Galactic Empire, something that feels vaguely familiar. Not going quite as fantastical as the franchise I’m alluding to, the show is centred around Dr. Hari Seldon and his loyal followers and their attempt to preserve their culture as the galaxy collapses. This show is so cool because it isn’t an original idea but is based on the book of the same name from one of the forefathers of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, and I think if it is a huge success then it opens the door for more adaptations of his work like the Rama series or Cradle. Please, just make it happen.
Dear White People: Season 4 (Netflix) – Adapted from a critically lauded movie from 2014, this Netflix series is about a group of black students attending an overly white Ivy League college and sparked a boycott immediately with its season one, with people being offended over its trailer, calling it racist. Now we are at season four, which might be its finale, and this show keeps rolling with brilliant writing from the original film’s creator Justin Simien in a time that I think is so important for this show to exist. The more we keep the conversation of race going through media like this the more we may be able to affect some change.
Doom Patrol: Season 3 (Crave) – After a killer first season and a killer sophomore season that kept the momentum going and added even more fun to the mix, I know people are chomping at the bit for this new season of a show that not only gives White Collar’s Matt Bomer a cool role but also gave some new life to 90s star Brendan Fraser who is continuing to get that redemption he deserves. For those who are uninitiated to this DC Comics world, it is a re-imagining of one of DC’s most beloved groups of outcast superheroes: Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Crazy Jane, led by modern-day mad scientist Dr. Niles Caulder, also known as The Chief. The series is tied to the cinematic universe by the common character of Cyborg so it’s neat to see exactly where all these stories meet up. Another great show to look forward to this week.
Midnight Mass (Netflix) – Mike Flanagan returns with his latest offering, which would be number three for the Netflix miniseries. After reliving Haunting Of Bly Manor, I was looking for a bit more of a return to form as I feel that the second series was such a huge step down from the first and within the first two episodes of Midnight Mass I knew I was in for a treat. The series is the tale of a small, isolated island community whose existing divisions are amplified by the return of a disgraced young man and the arrival of a charismatic priest. When Father Paul’s appearance on Crockett Island coincides with unexplained and seemingly miraculous events, a renewed religious fervour takes hold of the community but these miracles come at an evil price that will destroy everything. This is one of those shows that keep your hand off the remote when the credits hit and you just let the autoplay take over. Gripping and engaging, this might be one of the best this year.
Star Wars: Visions (Disney+) – Disney, Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise release their newest addition into the ever-expanding universe with a series of little short episodes that I didn’t think was going to be that cool until I started watching them. Seven Japanese animation studios bring their unique perspectives to the Star Wars universe through a series of short films that bring backstories to some, create new Jedi and Sith legends and pull back the curtain a bit of the inspiration and homages that this beloved entity has brought since A New Hope. The first episode, The Duel, is a beautiful ode to the classic style of Akira Kurosawa with an old-fashioned battle between two warriors that is reminiscent of Hidden Fortress, the film that inspired George Lucas on this initial path. It all just gets better and better as the stories continue and I hope we get another series of them afterwards.