The Power Of The Dog – When acclaimed writer and director Jane Campion returns to film after an over ten-year hiatus, you stop and take notice as a film fan. Granted, she made the excellent murder mystery series Top Of The Lake with Elisabeth Moss for BBC but there is something special with the cinematic scope of this Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Her new film is a western drama that follows Benedict Cumberbatch as charismatic rancher Phil Burbank, a severe man who inspires fear and awe in those around him. He can castrate a bull calf with two swift slashes of his knife and swims naked in the river, smearing his body with mud off his own land, a cowboy as raw as the hides he produces because all of Phil’s romance, power and fragility is trapped in the past and the dirt he stands on. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them incessantly until he finds himself exposed to the possibility that his heart may not be as dead and buried as he thought. The film co-stars Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons and has a really rich character feel that is driven home by some stellar direction from a true master.
Wolf – It’s insane to think that actor George MacKay isn’t already a huge megastar like Timothee Chalamet or Tom Holland because the guy knocks it out of the park every time, like his performances in the Viggo Mortensen drama Captain Fantastic or the one-shot World War I epic 1917 but this arthouse film likely won’t get his name at the poster just due to its niche quality. That said, writer and director Nathalie Biancheri’s sophomore feature gives MacKay a new complexity to work with and he totally runs with it. He plays Jacob, a young man who fully believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body and eats, sleeps, and lives like one, much to the shock of his family. When he’s sent to an experimental clinic, Jacob and his animal-bound peers are forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of ‘curative’ therapies. However once he meets the mysterious Wildcat, played by Lily-Rose Depp, their friendship blossoms into an undeniable infatuation and he is faced with the decision to renounce his true self for love or to give himself fully over to his baser nature. This movie is beautifully shot but all hinges on the performances of MacKay and Depp as well as their oppressor, the cold and surgical Zookeeper played by Paddy Considine. I was absolutely astounded by this film.
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid – Over a decade after this popular book series from kid’s novelist Jeff Kinney got the live-action big-screen adaptations, Disney Plus has netted them for an animated reboot and, showing how timeless these stories are, my youngest daughter is as excited for this as my oldest daughter was in 2010. The story follows Greg Heffley, an ambitious kid with a healthy active imagination with big plans to be rich and famous if he can survive middle school first. In contrast to Greg, his best friend Rowley just breezes through life without any hardship and just seems to be successful without too much effort and in time, our little protagonist learns the patience to wait for the good things in life as well as appreciate his real friends and the satisfaction of doing what is right. The kids eat these stories up ravenously in print so I feel like this will be possibly the biggest streaming film this weekend.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road – Fresh off taking in all eight hours of The Beatles: Get Back, this new documentary landed on my pile for the week and I thought it would be a really stellar companion piece. The Beach Boys have always been the American counterpart to the Fab Four with Pet Sounds being a knee-jerk reaction to Rubber Soul and Brian Wilson’s drive to outdo them, a competitive nature that created some of the best music ever. This film is a cool trip through a legend’s memories as Brian Wilson goes on an intimate journey through his legendary career, reminiscing with Rolling Stone editor and longtime friend, Jason Fine. Featuring a new song written and performed by Wilson and interviews with Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Jonas, Linda Perry, Jim James, Gustavo Dudamel and Al Jardine, this was a fascinating film about an artist who fought through his personal and mental demons, learned to live with them and learned to create and continue to break boundaries in spite of them. It wasn’t quite the fly-on-the-wall spirit of Get Back but it felt special all the same.
Julia – CNN Films has a knack for making great biopics and true stories like the Ruth Bader Ginsberg movie RBG or the real-life mystery of genealogy, Three Identical Strangers, and now they turn their attention to one of the giants at the forefront of chef-inspired television, Julia Child. I don’t know a huge amount about Child, other than seeing Meryl Streep play her in that Amy Adams movie, so I was an open book and ready to learn. Simply put, the film tells the story of the legendary cookbook author and television superstar who changed the way Americans think about food, television, and even about women. Using never-before-seen archival footage, personal photos, first-person narratives, and cutting-edge, mouth-watering food cinematography, the film traces Julia Child’s surprising path, from her struggles to create and publish the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961, which has sold more than 2.5 million copies to date, to her empowering story of a woman who found fame in her 50s, and her calling as an unlikely television sensation. The film is a bit paint by numbers as a biographical documentary goes but it is studious in its delivery even without giving those in the know much more information than they already have.
Betrayed – Let’s get some foreign cinema into this week’s features and this is a sweeping historical drama as well, based on a true story from World War II. The film comes from Norweigan filmmaker Eirik Svensson who is still formulating his style over five different films but this is the first I’ve seen to get a full international release. The story follows the Jewish Braude family’s experiences when the Jews are arrested and deported from the camp Berg, on the ship Donau and down to the extermination in the concentration camp in Auschwitz. I thought it was odd that a director from Norway was taking this story on but this story actually focuses on the citizens of Norway that were taken, a side of the Nazi occupation I didn’t know. Svensson nails the tone and message of this story through so really exquisite filmmaking that may cement him as a true international auteur or at least get him a cushy next project to earn him bigger clout.
Love It Was Not – We’re doubling down of the Aushwicz related films this week but this one plays in the realm of being informative as it is a straightforward documentary from writer and director Maya Sarfaty who makes her feature debut in the format. The film is about the tragic love story of Helena Citron, a young Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz, and Austrian SS officer Franz Wunsch, who were caught in a forbidden relationship that destroyed both of them. Thirty years later, a letter arrives from Wunsch’s wife asking Helena to testify on Wunsch’s behalf. Faced with an impossible decision, Helena must choose to help or ignore the man who brutalized so many lives but saved hers. This movie is compelling from the start and keeps you on the edge of your seat with each new development, bordering on total suspense which is fascinating in the documentary world. Sarfaty lands with incredible filmmaking prowess and I’m excited for whatever comes next.
It Takes A Christmas Village – Sometimes, when a movie gets a theatrical release, it really baffles me entirely. This is one of those such movies because, for all express purposes that I can see, this movie looks like it’s a Hallmark holiday film or worse with the emphasis on the latter. The cast even lends more credence to that belief as it stars Brooke Nevin, of the Hallmark movies Crashing Through The Snow and Jingle Around The Clock, and Corey Sevier from Heart Of The Holidays and Northern Lights Of Christmas who also directs this as well. The story follows a mayor who deals with a road closure that threatens to close the town’s shops and offers a Christmas market to boost sales but she’ll have to convince the town recluse to host it at his family’s mill which reigniting old feuds and obviously sparking romance. This movie was a complete waste of time and I hated every second that I endured. I honestly could have made something up or scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a root canal instead of enduring it but, I don’t know, glutton for punishment or something.
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 before this one which featured the first Asian superhero in his own film after a delay of about six months and Widow’s own delay of almost two years. 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. Again, with the Marvel films pulling on strings of other genre movies, this one occupies the space of being a martial arts style story and takes that ball running for a beautiful slam dunk. The fight scenes are incredible, I really enjoyed all of the characters and there’s a scene of discovery in this film that has all the magical prowess of the Alan Grant seeing Jurassic Park for the first time moment in the first Jurassic Park. This is special Marvel right here and more people should have been talking about it.
Malignant – James Wan declined to direct the latest Conjuring flick because he wanted to do something a little bit different and he really has here, for better in my opinion but for worse in others’ minds for sure. My favourite thing is that he dipped into the Giallo pool for some fun which added a little more resurgence into that horror trope, something I really love. The film has Annabelle Wallis as a woman paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders which she soon discovers are not just dreams but are in fact terrifying realities. This movie goes all out in its insane script that doesn’t let up on the throttle for a mere second, art direction that was made by a deliciously grandiose but impractical vision and a twist and a third act that no one could see coming. This is one of my favourite movies this year but I’m understanding about people’s hate for it.
The Eight Hundred – I’m all about epic Chinese cinema and this film fits the criteria big time. It also helps that it was made by the director of Mr. Six, Hu Guan, a little film that I discovered almost by accident and it knocked me on my ass. For this feature, he has delivered a riveting war epic set in 1937 following eight hundred Chinese soldiers tirelessly fighting under siege from a warehouse in the middle of the Shanghai battlefield, completely surrounded by the Japanese army. The scope of the film is huge and looks insurmountable but Guan handles it all with such flair and point and constantly keeps you engaged with the characters, something hard to pull off in war epics. The film definitely dabbles in symbolism and metaphors that reflects our current struggles but does it in a way that doesn’t cheapen what the true story was. This is some fantastic Asian moviemaking here.
The Show – Watchmen, V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen creator Alan Moore has written a new film and I’m just finding out about it as it lands o Blu-ray this week? I’m astounded and agast as he is one of my favourite comic writers and rumoured warlocks and this new film looks pretty damn cool and skewed to his sensibilities deep down. The story joins a man’s search for a stolen artifact which leads him to the haunted town filled with Voodoo gangsters, masked adventurers, Depression-era private eyes and violent chiaroscuro women. The reviews for it are really positive which leans me to thinking that they may have finally done a Moore project that was worthy of his own legendary status. The film has a solid British cast with Mank’s Tom Burke, Nocturnal Animals’ Ellie Bamber and character actor Christopher Fairbanks and was made by director Mitch Jenkins who had a previous feature film Show Pieces that was from… checking the notes… Alan Moore. What the hell how did I not know about THIS now?
Mill Of The Stone Women – Some classic film through the prism of an Arrow Video Collector’s Edition hits shelves this week and it will pique some of the international film fans interests as it is an early sixties horror story from Italy, meaning that it will contain some elements of Giallo to it. It won’t be bat shit crazy like Malignant so you don’t need to brace for that. The story is set in nineteenth-century Holland following a professor of fine arts and an unlicensed surgeon who run a secret lab where the professor’s ill daughter receives blood transfusions from kidnapped female victims who posthumously become macabre art. The film comes from the perspective of Hans, a journalist who comes to write a story on the professor and soon becomes embroiled in the murderous affairs when he falls for the daughter in question. The film has a certain appeal as being a creepy body horror film with murder mystery undertones but you definitely feel the time period in which it’s being made but see the influence in the films to come afterwards of this genre. These collector’s editions feel like a cinema history but continue to flesh out that we’ve been too harsh on horror for too long. Yes, this is a protest.
Heaven Can Wait – Paramount hooks me up with some classics all the time but this one rings special to me, especially as an adult, as it is a comedy from the trifecta of lead star, writer and director Warren Beatty, co-writer Elaine May and co-director Buck Henry. It was also an Academy Award winner out of nine nominations but it didn’t win for one of the big categories but art direction. Even still, solid stuff. The film has Beatty starring as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback, you know, the first time around, who is accidentally taken away from his body by an overanxious angel before he was meant to die, and returns to life in the body of a recently murdered millionaire. This is definitely a beloved film for many and was named one of the fifty greatest comedies of all time by Premiere Magazine. Just to show how ballsy Beatty was with this movie, he turned down an original Paul McCartney song for this and it’s still a good film. Crazy.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:
Straight Time – We’re getting the ball rolling this week with a given Warner Archive pick but it also has the legendary Dustin Hoffman in the lead role of a film that doesn’t get a lot of recognition anymore. To add even more clout to this one, Hoffman actually co-directed the film in an uncredited visit behind the camera with Belgian filmmaker Ulu Grosbard taking the full title. The film was actually a pet project that Hoffman was supposed to make solo in his debut but he was denied final cut by the studio and ended up suing Warner Brothers over their treatment of it. In it, Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a career criminal who is released on parole after six years in prison. Max wants to go straight but doesn’t like the restrictions of parole, much to the dismay of his parole officer, and the conditions, like living in a halfway house, not associating with past friends and associates, no driving, and no drugs, all may be more difficult than he imagines especially as his encounters with the guy in charge of his release become increasingly tense. I had never had the chance to see this film until now and was really impressed with it and Hoffman’s performance. It also features a young Theresa Russell, who looks phenomenal, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, M. Emmett Walsh and a really youthful Jake Busey in his debut movie. This is one that should be remembered more than a project that caused a rift between Dustin and the studio.
The Window – More Warner Archive to give you some time to revel in the classics but this one is a far older one than the previously mentioned late seventies character flick. We head back to the post-war times of the late forties for this noir drama thriller that was Oscar-nominated but for editing which is much more important than casual viewers will know. The story follows a nine-year-old boy named Tommy who has a knack for telling lies but when he witnesses a murder on a hot summer day the “boy who cried wolf” lesson catches up to him big time. He even sneaks out of the house and goes down to the police station but they don’t take him seriously leading Tommy to worry that the murderer may come for him to keep him silent. The film was made around young star Bobby Driscoll who was a loan from Disney and the most celebrated child actor at the time, fresh off of a juvenile Oscar win, something that hasn’t been awarded now for a very long time. It’s a beautifully pieced-together noir that plays with a great old adage.
Younger: The Complete Series – Darren Star is a guy known for producing huge hits like Beverly Hills 90210, Sex And The City and Melrose Place but with a long and storied career like his, many o his shows just sort of slip under the radar. I think that was the case with this one, an original series that played on the Paramount+ streaming service and I’m really just figuring it out myself. The show plays into his ensemble wheelhouse, following the main character, Liza, a suddenly single forty-year-old mother who tries to get back into the working world, only to find out it’s nearly impossible to start at the bottom at her age. When a chance encounter with a twenty-something guy at a bar convinces her she looks younger than she is, she tries to pass herself off as in her mid-twenties and, with the help of a makeover courtesy of her best friend Maggie she is now armed with new confidence which lands her a job as an assistant to the temperamental Diana. With life dominance on her mind, she teams up with her new co-worker and fellow twenty-something Kelsey (Duff) to make it in the career of her dreams. Led by relative unknown Sutton Foster, the co-starring Hilary Duff, Miriam Shor, Nico Tortorella and Debbie Mazar are definitely the draw to the show but beware, it is a Darren Star show so it has its vapidness.
Emily In Paris: Season 1 – Speaking of Darren Star, he has a hit show currently running on Netflix and, before the release of the second season later this month, you can get into the first season which was released on DVD through Paramount. This show starring Lily Collins has been more in the news this year for bad reasons as it started getting some really unearned awards clout that snubbed more of the diverse shows that are infinitely better like I May Destroy You on HBO but I digress. The series follows the titular character, an ambitious twenty-something marketing executive from Chicago that unexpectedly lands her dream job in Paris when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company. Emily’s new life in Paris is filled with intoxicating adventures and surprising challenges as she juggles winning over her work colleagues, making friends, and navigating new romances. I hate to get gender-specific on the target market of this show but I definitely the way it was leaning pretty much immediately. it doesn’t feel very fresh or new but I think it found its audience seeing as there is more of it now.
Kevin Can Fuck Himself: Season 1 – After the monster hit that brought a little bit of Canadiana to the masses of the world, how do you follow up the darling that is Schitt’s Creek? Well, in the case of Annie Murphy, she moved on to the big television studio of AMC for a new original series that has a name unpronounceable on network television as well as, you know, radio. The series follows the story of Allison McRoberts, played by Murphy, a woman we all grew up believing we knew, the prototypical “Sitcom Wife”. She’s beautiful, can take a joke, usually being the butt of them, and she’s married to a guy who must’ve won some sort of marriage lottery because she looks the way she does and he’s funny, I guess, but what happens when we follow Allison out of her husband’s domain? When she finally wakes up and revolts against the injustices in her life? This show is darkly hilarious and really different from Alexis Rose and lets the audience see Murphy in a brand new light. I really love it and can’t wait for season 2.
Lost In Space: Season 3 (Netflix) – This remake of a classic sci-fi series and a forgotten box office failure enters its final season and actually has a pretty solid following behind it. I think it’s cool that the series is locally shot here in British Columbia and definitely makes use of the scenery where it can with the help of a little CGI to make it otherworldly. In this update the Robinson family fight against all odds to survive and escape the hidden dangers and elements of an alien planet after crash landing. The series is anchored by beloved Canadian actress Molly Parker and former Bond bad guy Toby Stephens but it’s the gender swap of Dr. Smith that nabbed me because she is played by Park Posey, a personal favourite. Although I am sad to see this series go out with only three seasons, I do like that they are ending it on their own accord.
Money Heist: Part 5 (Netflix) – This Spanish crime drama series became a massive international hit almost out of nowhere and it wasn’t until about part three that I started paying attention to it but two installments later and now they have closed shop on it. Yes, this is the final season as creator Alex Pina has written it all to have this definitive closing and hopefully no fans with nudging him to renege on that commitment. The story follows a mysterious man called The Professor who aims to carry out the biggest heist in history and recruits a band of eight robbers who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Five months of seclusion memorizing every step, every detail, every probability culminate in eleven days locked up in the National Coinage and Stamp Factory of Spain, surrounded by police forces and with dozens of hostages in their power, to find out whether their suicide wager will lead to everything or nothing. This show is action-packed, filled with intrigue and really solid character development that keeps you engaged with the whole standoff. It’s never too late to get into a good binge and if you can take the subtitles this is a great one to do.