Eternals – It’s crazy to see, as we get closer to the reveal and origins of another super-powered team within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of the worst reviews that have come out of this franchise in its over ten year run. I have to say that I am totally skeptical of them as I have seen the review bombing of the film based on its inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and it comes from Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao as well. The film directly follows the events of Avengers: Endgame when an unexpected tragedy forces the Eternals, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years, out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, the Deviants. The cast of this movie looks awesome with two Game Of Thrones cast members in Kit Harrington and Richard Madden, Atlanta’s Bryan Tyree Henry, the brilliant Barry Keoghan, the now totally jacked Kumail Nanjiani and the iconic Angelina Jolie and that’s definitely not everyone. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m excited for this one.
Finch – Tom Hanks has taken some serious genre opportunities this year as we have already gotten a great wester from him and Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass in News Of The World and now we get a post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama from the guy who did that really dark Game Of Thrones episode from the final season that everyone complains about. Just know that Hanks once again gives it his all and I loved every minute of it. He plays the title character, a robotics engineer and one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic solar event that has left the world a wasteland that has been living in an underground bunker for a decade and built a world of his own that he shares with his dog, Goodyear. He creates a robot, played by Caleb Landry Jones, to watch over Goodyear when he no longer can and, as the trio embarks on a perilous journey into a desolate American West, Finch strives to show his creation, who names himself Jeff, the joy and wonder of what it means to be alive. Their road trip is paved with both challenges and humour, as it’s as difficult for Finch to goad Jeff and Goodyear to get along as it is for him to manage the dangers of the new world. This movie is brilliant with each character being so endearing and well fleshed out, the humour is ever-present, and the peril of survival. At the time of writing this, I’m unsure what any fellow critic thinks but I was reeled in from the get-go.
The Harder They Fall – I got only a few minutes into this film, just past the cold open and credits, when I knew I was in for a hell of a ride with this new western. The cast alone is worth screaming from the rooftops because we’ve got Lovecraft County’s Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Academy Award winner Regina King, Oscar nominee Lakeith Stansfield and Delroy Lindo just to name a few. The story follows outlaw Nat Love who discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck is being released from prison and rounds up his gang to track him down and seek revenge. Those riding with him in this badass and beautiful looking new school Western include his former love Stagecoach Mary, his right and left-hand men hot-tempered Bill Pickett and fast drawing Jim Beckwourth and a surprising adversary-turned-ally only known as Cuffee. Rufus Buck has his own fearsome crew, including “Treacherous” Trudy Smith and Cherokee Bill, and they are not a group that knows how to lose which leads to a crazy final showdown that had me on the edge of my seat. This is the debut film from Jeymes Samuel who gets to put a future-length spin on his short film from eight years ago with the producing power of Jay-Z to back it up and it all turned out gloriously. Jay-Z also debuts a song over the beginning credits that sets up the film in the best possible way. This might be one of my favourite movies this year.
Spencer – This is a movie I have been looking forward to ever since it was announced because I am a huge advocate for Kristen Stewart in movies as dunking on her for her performances in the Twilight movies is old and busted these days. Is she a good enough actress to take on a huge public figure that was beloved internationally? Yes, I think so. The film has KStew playing Princess Diana right at the time when she and Prince Charles were about to call it quits. During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, the holiday season will mean something a little bit different for the Windsors and nothing will be the same afterwards. I haven’t even seen the film yet but I want to believe that this may be a contender for best actress and Pablo Lorrain, the film’s director, is no slouch in the biopic department, already giving us the stellar Jackie starring Natalie Portman.
The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain – Benedict Cumberbatch is going to have a strong final part of 2021 with this movie getting some love and his other film, Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, also getting rave reviews and the good news is you can see them all from the comfort of your own home. Yes, we now live in an era where the Oscar hopefuls are getting snapped up by streaming services like Netflix or, in this case, Amazon Prime. This film dabbles in the art field with writer and director Will Sharpe making his feature film debut about the story of English artist Louis Wain who rises to prominence at the end of the 19th century for his surreal cat paintings that seemed to reflect his declining sanity. I love stories about misunderstood geniuses like Lewis Carroll and the like so a biopic like this is totally up my alley and I love Cumberbatch’s character work. I also would be remiss to point out that the cinematography was done by Erik Alexander Wilson who did such beautiful work on Paddington 2.
A Man Named Scott – I really love a good music documentary about origins, inspiration, musical drive and creation and I feel like that is exactly what this film will be, focusing on a different genre than I’ve seen in the last few music films and it is all based around one of my favourite rappers, Kid Cudi. The film follows the music career of Kid Cudi from the release of his incredible album ‘Day n Nite’ in 2008 through present-day recordings. Friends and producers illustrate his story in conjunction with concert footage and never before seen behind-the-scenes. There were so many different things I learned about Cudi’s process in songwriting, mental health and how he is with his friends, like Dune star Timothee Chalamet and I totally dug everything about it. I hope people pick up on it when it launches on Amazon Prime.
Love Hard – Netflix has a penchant for releasing some really dumb and really bad romantic comedies and every now and then I get duped by them because an actor I like is in it and find myself cursing the producers when the credits roll. That was definitely the case with this movie that has Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Wang in it and, well, that shouldn’t have been an indicator as he’s done some terrible ones. The film also has The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev and Never Have I Ever’s Darren Barnet and follows a lovelorn LA girl who falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays, only to discover that she’s been catfished. I can’t lie, everything about this movie looks lame and completely forgettable and, as much as I enjoy all of these three in other things, it’s not enough to make me at all interested in this one.
Only The Animals – I’m a huge fan of French cinema and have been for a long time. Their films usually have a great depth of character and a rich story to them and this one definitely plays into that but in a multi-faceted way that explores multiple characters’ journeys that all lead to a tragic conclusion. The story surrounds the mystery of a missing woman whose car is discovered on a road to a small remote village after a snow storm. While the police don’t know where to start, five people are linked to the disappearance, each one with his or her own secret. The coincidence factor is constantly raised and pushed in this film, almost to a point where it is a detriment to the final outcome but I still felt wrapt in the mystery. The one thing that is very true is there is absolutely no likeable male character in this film, every one of them acting with a dark motive, but maybe that’s the point. I do like that Inglourious Basterds actor Denis Menochet is part of the ensemble but he is such a dirtbag in it.
Nine Days – I hadn’t heard of writer and director Edson Oda before starting his ambitious and deeply philosophical feature-length live-action debut but you can be sure that I know his name now and definitely feel the influence of those who inspired him. It also helps that he had the great talent of Us star Winston Duke to anchor his insanely existential story to and the erratic power of Zazie Beetz to dispel those feelings of narrative control. This film is incredibly hard to describe but to put it into the vaguest of terms, it follows Duke as a reclusive man who conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born into existence. Skirting discussions of existence in an umbrella of grand questions, the movie plays as if Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life was a philosophical thriller and manages to not get ugly in its pretentiousness but instead prompts more introversion into the viewer’s own beliefs. This movie is definitely not going to be for everyone and the reward lies not within individual scenes but the entirety of its mosaic and comes out the other side with its own separate narrative on consciousness and what we choose to do with it. I also loved the casting with Benedict Wong stealing every scene he was in.
PAW Patrol: The Movie – Every nightmare for the parents of the last eight years has finally come true as the gang from the Paw Patrol have now landed themselves in a big-screen film that will have their faithful fan base tugging at their moms and dads begging to see it. Yes, that’s right, Ryder and his team-up pups have been upgraded and become more textured with their feature film debut and, although it has a few jokes that may land with adults, it’s very much business as usual. The story follows the gang as they move to Adventure City to keep tabs on the sleazy Mayor Humdinger who has gained leadership over the big city in an uncontested election. The movie features some guest voice work from Kim Kardashian West, Dax Shepherd, Randall Park and Jimmy Kimmel and, thankfully, doesn’t overstay its welcome to the point that you want to be euthanized. Honestly, I expected a lot worse.
Pig – It was a weird week in the new release section when this came out as there were two films that were completely pig-centric and in a fashion that would surprise no one that knows me, I hugely celebrated this one, the Nicolas Cage movie. The legendary and iconic actor adds another incredible performance to his recent renaissance in his career with a film that fits neatly in the calibre of films like Joe, Mandy and Color Out Of Space, giving me more ammo to call him one of the greatest. The story is fairly simple at first, with Cage playing a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness that must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped in the middle of the night and the assailants leave him for dead. The story opens itself up as it begins the second act leading to a totally brilliant finale, all with Nic alongside his benefactor, played by Alex Wolff in an equally great performance. This movie had me on the edge of my seat and not just because it is a Nic Cage film but because it was so well presented by writer and director Michael Sarnoski who guides this story with veteran precision. This movie is so damn good.
Come True – Is it finally time for some horror? Oh yes, it is kiddies but, remember, in my world, it’s always time for horror! This is the lone release this week from the Great White North and it is also the sophomore film from filmmaker Anthony Scott Burns who made a pretty solid debut with Our House starring Thomas Mann. This film features the always great Julia Sarah Stone as eighteen-year-old Sarah who, looking for an escape from her recurring nightmares, submits to a university sleep study, but soon realizes she’s become the conduit to a frightening new discovery. I really liked this movie on a surface level ad loved the textured madness of her dream world but the more I started to break it down after viewing it the more that I felt the hollowness of its attempts to be clever as plot holes and missteps start to rend the experience apart leading to an ending that was entirely not satisfying. The film is by no means bad, just underdeveloped and a bit underwhelming in its final delivery but the Clive Barker Hellraiser-like nature of the “other side” of the landscape is enough to keep you interested.
Zone 414 – Guy Pearce is an immediate draw to any film he takes part in but his agent seems to throw every available script at him to the point that I feel like he’ll do anything. That said, this one interested me solely in that it was a sci-fi story with him in it and it has robots so my nerd senses take over. Set in the near future, the film follows private detective David Carmichael, hired by Marlon Veidt, an eccentric businessman, to track down his missing daughter. David teams up with Jane, a highly advanced A.I. to solve the mystery, which may be more treacherous than the payday would suggest. The secondary thing that makes me interested in this film is the co-star Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz who was in one of my favourite French thrillers of the last decade, Revenge. That being as it is, this movie doesn’t go above being mediocre at any point during it. Again, Pearce’s talent is utterly wasted ad as good as Lutz looks onscreen, she isn’t really given all that much to do. As far as the debut of filmmaker Andrew Baird goes, it’s an interesting start but needs some more substance in the delivery.
The Sheik – Usually, I’m bringing the classics from companies like Warner Archive but every now and then Paramount sends me a reissue on blu-ray which is what I have this week but it goes beyond some of the aforementioned releases by at least a decade as this romantic adventure drama was released at the beginning of the roaring twenties. The film stars two of the celebrated talents of the era, Agnes Ayres and Rudolph Valentino, and under the eye of the equally celebrated filmmaker George H. Melford. The story follows a charming Arabian sheik who becomes infatuated with an adventurous, modern-thinking Englishwoman and abducts her to his home in the Saharan desert. The free-spirited socialite recoils from his passionate embraces and yearns to be released and, only after being kidnapped by desert bandits, does she realize how much she has grown to love the sheik, who comes to her rescue in the nick of time. For a long time, this film was revered and looked upon as a masterpiece, included among the American Film Institute’s list of the top one hundred America’s Greatest Love Stories movies. The abduction angle is a little dicey these days I think so that may be a little redacted.
Kung Fu: Season 1 – It’s been a long time since David Carradine roamed the streets of Western America as Shaolin Monk Kwai Chang Caine in the original series Kung Fu, which ran from 1972 to 1975, a movie in 1986, then rebooted in 1993 to run for another four seasons. Well, The CW, who are no strangers to rebooting popular shows, have put this classic martial arts serial in the crosshairs for a gender-swapped update. Starring Legacies actress Olivia Liang, she plays a young Chinese-American woman named Nicky Chen who, after a quarter-life crisis, decides to drop out of college and go on a life-changing journey to an isolated monastery in China. She returns home to find her hometown overrun with crime and corruption and vows to use her martial arts skills and Shaolin values to protect her community and bring criminals to justice while searching for the assassin who killed her Shaolin mentor and is now targeting her. Much like the Walker, Texas Ranger reboot, this show plays in the corny sandbox but it still has all of those nods to the original that will make you smile and remember Caine and how he was here to help us.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geek Outs:
Black Lightning: Season 4 – Let’s just acknowledge right here how fantastic all of the DC Universe shows have been since the start of their sort of expanded universe, starting with Stephen Amell’s Arrow. Everything that has been put out has been a total knockout and that extends to this series that, I admit, as a comic book fan I was a bit hazy on the character. Cress Williams plays the titular hero whose civilian identity is Jefferson Pierce, a crusading school principal who gets back into action as the original African-American electrical superhero Black Lightning. He hung up the suit and his secret identity years ago, but with a daughter hell-bent on justice and a star student being recruited by a local gang, he’ll be pulled back into the fight as the wanted vigilante and DC legend. Locally shot in Vancouver, as are all of these shows, this is a very entertaining series with fantastic action sequences in every episode. Cruising through this show has been an absolute pleasure and it is bittersweet to see it come to an end with this final season.
Crocodile Dundee Trilogy – As a kid, I grew up thinking Australian legend Paul Hogan was some kind of otherworldly superhero and it was definitely due to these films or, at least, the first couple. I will say that they paled a bit on rewatch but they had me wrapt as a youngster. For those who forgot about Mick from down under, the first film followed an American reporter, played by Linda Kozlowski, who goes to the Australian outback to meet the eccentric crocodile poacher and invites him to New York City. Of course, love ensues and the second film has Dundee protecting his New York love from gangsters who’ve followed her down under before the final film, released thirteen years later, has Mick heading to Los Angeles with his son for a different and vastly less successful fish out of water story. Are these films good? Hell no. Are they a representation of comedy of its time? Definitely and they can still be enjoyed on that level I think.
Night Shift – The first-ever Michael Keaton performance on the big screen is now on blu-ray and I am totally stoked. As a kid who loved everything Keaton did, this film holds a special place in my heart and, yet again, I definitely saw this movie way too young. The film was directed by Ron Howard and follows a morgue attendant who is talked into running a brothel at his workplace after a deceased pimp is sent there. Unfortunately, the pimp’s killers don’t look too kindly on this new “business”, nor does the morgue’s owner and both look to shut it down in their own unique ways. Just imagine a ten-year-old kid learning what a brothel was through the help of Mr. Mom and The Fonz and you’ve got a good representation of my experience but, that aside, I loved this movie and still really do. The comedy and the timing of the cast are timeless even if everything else is outdated. Warner Archive knocked the cover off the ball with this one.
Yokai Monsters – I’ve got some weird one-offs to finish off this week’s geek outs so bear with me but it starts out with some classic 1960s Japanese kaiju stuff and if that doesn’t scream “GEEK” I don’t know what to tell you. This is a new and gorgeous box set from the masterminds at Arrow Video who don’t just bring their all to the content on the discs themselves but the packaging as well. The collection features four films that kick off with 100 Monsters from 1968 to Spook Warfare from the same year then Along With Ghosts the year after. We then fast forward to the finale which was released in 2005, The Great Yokai War, which was my introduction years ago when I worked at a video store. If you like your Godzilla and Gamera with a little more mythological lore then these movies are for you and you will adore this set.
Honey Girls – This is one of the weirdest new releases I have gotten in a while and it all started with the header “From Build-A-Bear Studios” which threw me for a loop. Not only do we build stuffed animals in their store but they make movies now? It also stars Ashanti who I feel like I haven’t heard anything about since the Ja Rule days, pre-Fyre Fest. The film has the 2000s pop star playing mega pop star Fancy G who hosts a contest to find the next big solo artist but the young contestants realize they are “better together” and secretly form a band called Honey Girls and become a huge hit cloaked in mystery. This movie is totally made for the kids, really the biggest reason I’m bringing it is that I hardly bring the kid’s films to this section. Come to think of it, this one may burn out that subject on this part for a little bit.
Narcos Mexico: Season 3 (Netflix) – The spin-off of the massively popular Netflix series, Narcos, comes to an end with this third and final season which continues to document the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel, following an American DEA agent who learns the danger of targeting narcos in Mexico. Starring Michael Pena and Diego Luna with narration from Scoot McNairy, this show had more than enough star power to keep me engaged and I’m really excited to see where this show is going to end off, especially with the chaos and tension of the last two seasons. Hopefully, the momentum keeps up, which feels like an easy bet as neither this nor the original series really has had a lull point. Get ready for the binge, everybody!
Big Mouth: Season 5 (Netflix) – It’s time to get uncomfortable with our bodies all over again as this lewd, rude and massively crude animated comedy returns with all-new episodes. I adore anything that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney do and when you throw Maya Rudolph and Jason Mantzoukas into the mix then I am in love. For those who don’t know about this show, it is the awkward and sometimes brutal coming of age story of two best friends in the throes of puberty, this time dealing with the fallout of summer camp and new urges that have arisen since then and new love interests that have been created along the way. Watch it at your own risk but keep it in mind that it is totally my kind of messed up.
Dickinson: Season 3 (AppleTV+) – One of my favourite young actresses today and the future Kate Bishop in the upcoming Hawkeye series which hits Disney+ in December, Hailee Steinfeld has been on my radar since her breakout performance in True Grit. AppleTV+ knows her star power as well as they cast her in this great new series which delighted viewers when it debuted with the streaming service and quickly renewed it for a third and final season. Steinfeld takes the lead role in a highly fictionalized and stylized version of the real-life aspiring writer Emily Dickinson who is refreshingly brought to life with modern sense and sensibility. Embarrassed by her own parents and shunned from society, she stops at nothing to rebel against her strict background and makes her voice heard through the magic of poetry and, honestly, the series really works well. It’s an ambitious project but former head writer for The Affair, Alena Smith can channel all of it into a culturally relevant story without dampening the time period or real-life character. I was surprised by it.