Spider-Man: No Way Home – It’s pretty cool to be heading into the end of the year with definitely the biggest Marvel movie of the year and a film that is going to change the landscape of that cinematic universe for the next phase. There is so much speculation heading into this film, one that brings the multiverse into the equation and we know that Alred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Jamie Foxx’s Electro appear but does Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spideys? The film takes up just after Spider-Man’s identity was revealed, forcing Peter to ask Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man. I have to keep the synopsis vague to avoid any spoilers but the good thing is that they’ve been keeping everything very guarded. What more can I say, the expectations are through the roof on this so hopefully, it delivers.
Nightmare Alley – It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a Guillermo del Toro film because it has been four years since his Best Picture-winning The Shape Of Water divided audiences. Full disclosure here, it’s a fantastic film. One of the greatest cinema masters today, he returns with a remake of a classic film noir and it looks incredible. The film stars Bradley Cooper as an ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words who hooks up with a female psychiatrist, played by Cate Blanchett, who is even more dangerous than he is. Featuring a supporting cast of Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe and Ron Perlman, this movie looks incredible and drips with that del Toro style that just leaps off the screen thanks to the work of his many time collaborator and stalwart cinematographer Dan Laustsen. This looks like a masterpiece.
Swan Song – Mahershela Ali is an actor of such gravitas that he already won two Academy Awards before he was a household name or anyone learned how to correctly pronounce his name. Well, for me he is an immediate draw if I see him leading a film and that’s exactly why my anticipation was high heading into this new Apple Original. The story is set in the near future and follows Ali as a terminally ill man who explores a heart-wrenching, emotionally complex solution to save his wife and son from grief by duplicating himself in robot form without them knowing. Constantly battling with himself morally and to the selfish nature of wanting to spend every last moment with them but sparing them his health decline into death, this film constantly pulls on your emotions with Mahershal playing the strings beautifully. Oscar-winning writer and director Benjamin Cleary makes an astounding feature-length debut here and I hope he rides this momentum as it is truly special.
Red Rocket – Sean Baker, a writer and director who frequents Vancouver and has met a bunch of my friends, is one of the most important filmmakers of our time to me, telling the stories of real people and microcosms in our would the predominantly make up the majority. With his films Tangerine and The Florida Project, he exuded this and it came to a point in the latter that it broke me down into tears in theatres. Now he teams with actor Simon Rexx for this Trump-era comedy-drama that follows Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown that has no interest in having him back. Rexx is reported to have given the performance of the year and I’m hoping that this is the year that Baker’s work elevates him to the top of the game as he has deserved for a long time. I dare say he’s one of my absolute favourites today and I still hope to meet him.
The Hand Of God – Ah, new Paolo Sorrentino is now upon us so we can head into the holidays season with lush sceneries and exquisite cinematography. With films like Il Divo, Youth, The Great Beauty and the HBO series The Young Pope in his resume, his work appeals to a niche audience and that includes me. This new film is the story of a boy growing up in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s, a very personal and almost autobiographical film for Sorrentino but yet is a new and original tale of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. Toni Servillo, the Italian director’s many time used lead actor, returns for this film that has been praised by critics worldwide and was a solid pick up for Netflix to showcase it internationally.
Rumble – I feel like this Dreamworks animated adventure comedy has been in the pipeline for almost two years as I’ve seen the same trailer for it play over and over again before any family film in theatres but now it looks like Paramount has decided to fast track it to Paramount+ instead. Everything about the trailer looks so generic and getting Will Arnett and Terry Crews to lead a WWE-produced story isn’t as big of a selling point to me as one might think. The story is set in a world where monster wrestling is a global sport and monsters are superstar athletes, following teenager Winnie who seeks to follow in her father’s footsteps by coaching a loveable underdog monster named Steve into a champion-level athlete. I don’t feel much of a push behind this movie that is seemingly being airdropped into this release format as an afterthought so I’d have to believe the studio doesn’t have any faith in it either. For kids, this movie will probably be fun but it could be a cliched and drony hard sell for the parents.
Flee – Some. of the most important filmmaking out there has to be the documentary, a style much maligned for being boring or dull but they continue to push the boundaries of exploration, information and ideas. The other interesting thing about them is how subversive they can be and how they can blend into almost every genre as this new critically-lauded film does. Animated beautifully, the film tells the extraordinary true story of a man named Amin who, on the verge of marriage, is compelled to reveal his hidden past for the first time. What results is the first-hand account of a refugee’s story with no flinches away from the darkness and harrowing experience contained within as well as the trauma that comes through later in life? This film is truly special and is reminiscent of a film like Waltz With Bashir, which I believe will experience the same trajectory right to an Oscar nomination.
The Scary Of Sixty-First – An addition to the weird movies I’ve watched in 2021, this is one I never saw coming and I don’t know how anyone could, Coming from writer and director Dasha Nekrasova, who also stars in a supporting role that shifts to the main one, this mumblecore horror with a slightly comedic edge definitely wouldn’t have worked too well in a conventional pitch room. The film follows friends Addie and Noelle who are doing something city dwellers know is truly horrifying, apartment hunting. Everything changes for both women when an unnamed stranger knocks on their door off their new sweet deal abode and tells Noelle that she believes they’re living in a place that has seen untold horrors as one of the apartments in which Jeffrey Epstein used to traffic and abuse girls. Before you know it, they have tumbled down the rabbit hole into a world of conspiracy theories about Epstein and his apartments while Addie starts to become possessed by… something. This is like a long Jeffrey Epstein joke without the benefit of a punchline and a third act that I’m still trying to unpack I honestly don’t know who the audience is for this.
Schemes In Antiques – Well Go USA has hooked me up with many great films over the time that I have been reviewing their films and it has been a plethora of different styles of the story from every country across Asia. This one comes from China and was adapted from a popular novel of the same name from an author who I’m just learning about now but am enamoured with their name, Marberionius. The film tells the story of a series of adventures that occurred when the descendants of the five veins made a wish to find out the truth about the Buddha head of Wu Zetian Mingtang in the Tang Dynasty. This movie feels like it should be right with ancient mystery and treasure but just comes off as extremely boring and a story that feels like it never starts. I can appreciate that the filmmakers didn’t kowtow to Hollywood style glossiness but I feel like. a little of it around the edges would have improved it greatly.
Meeting The Beatles In India – It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of music documentaries and general discussion around one of the greatest groups to ever bring magic to our ears, The Beatles. This is why I threw on this film without a single thought of what it would be, just because my love of John, Paul, George and Ringo knows no limits. The film is the story of a more personal journey, following writer and director Paul Saltzman as he returns to India to reminiscence about his life-changing and affirming time with the Beatles while they were on a spiritual retreat under the mentorship of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968. There he would gain the knowledge of transcendental meditation which immediately brings David Lynch into the mix, a very big figure in the movement for decades now and another conduit to my heart. The film is very low pro and “do it yourself” which gave me more problems watching it on to of not connecting with Paul’s story for my journey through life. I can appreciate it but I never found it very interesting at all.
The Boathouse – This is an odd little independent thriller that caught my attention just purely on it being written and directed by Hannah Cheesman, an actress I know as the android character Lieutenant Commander Airiam on Star Trek Discovery. I also have an affinity for remote location set mysteries which have satisfied me a bunch this year with The Beach House, The Rental and Caveat. I’m sensing a theme here. The story follows an emotionally-fragile young woman who takes a job as nanny to two troubled children at a remote summer cottage and falls in love with the children’s father, while becoming enmeshed in the mystery of their estranged mother, with whom, it turns out, the young woman has her fraught history. As the summer progresses, she begins to suspect that the family has a dark history that they are desperate to keep secret. The film runs slow and quiet, almost molasses-like, ramping up to an unexpected finish that I thought wrapped it up in a way that was both shocking and still fitting to the drama that gets us there. The film is also beautifully shot and keeps you concealed in its vision as it reveals the mystery to you. Very cool stuff.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage – After many delays and release date shifts we finally got the follow-up to a non-MCU-connected franchise that still manages to include Spider-Man and, yes, I know that this is all convoluted and confusing. That all said, the first Venom movie was a stupid amount of fun and Tom Hardy really brought his A-game to the absurdity and now we get the fan-favourite villain of Carnage to join the antics. The sequel follows Eddie Brock as he still struggles to adjust to his new life as the host of the alien symbiote Venom, which grants him super-human abilities to be a lethal vigilante. Brock attempts to reignite his career by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the symbiote Carnage and escapes prison after a failed execution. With Andy Serkis taking over directing from Ruben Fleisher, I feel like the campiness of the storytelling took an uptick in this follow-up and still manages to work despite its very noticeable flaws. Hardy is again having the time of his life and the buddy comedy romanticism between him and Venom is so great when it’s pushed to its limits. Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast as Cletus Kassidy and Carnage, chewing every moment he has, but I thought, as a fan of the comic character, they did him a little dirty in the end. That said, this movie is still a thoroughly wild ride.
The Last Duel – Given that masterful director Ridley Scott has probably made just as many bad movies as he has good ones over his storied career, I’m inclined to be a bit standoffish about this new medieval film and with the trailer for his next film after, House Of Gucci, looking borderline awful, it worries me even more. That said, he did make the incredible Kingdom Of Heaven, the descriptor is reserved for the director’s cut only, and this is the sole reason that I feel any sort of excitement for this one besides the cast. Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck, the film is based on a true story amid the Hundred Years War about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges was a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield and Le Gris was a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in the court. When Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a gruelling duel to the death and I have to say the trailer is pretty damn intense but Affleck’s hair in it makes me laugh every time. I’m willing to put aside the absence of French accents aside to give this one a fair shake.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines – It was a rough theatrical ride for the latest animated film produced by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the guys who brought us such gems like Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The LEGO Movie and so much more. Bouncing around release dates and being retitled from Connected to this a couple of times over, the pandemic made a release pretty much impossible but then we got it on Netflix and it was worth it. The film is an action-comedy about an ordinary family who finds themselves in the middle of their biggest family challenge yet, saving the world from the robot apocalypse. It all starts when creative outsider Katie Mitchell is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people,” when her nature-loving dad insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising. Everything from smartphones to Roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity in one of the consistently funny and delightful family films I have watched this year. This would have played so well on the big screen and the message is so universal and heartful that I came so close to rolling a tear over it. Maybe I should stop playing Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle on repeat.
Dangerous – Just last week I was talking about the new Clint Eastwood film hitting blu-ray and now this week I get to talk about his son Scott’s new action thriller which is a lesser film than his father’s Cry Macho. This is mostly out of disappointment I say this as it has such a great cast around the leading man with Kevin Durand, Famke Janssen, Tyrese and even Mel Gibson. The plot follows a newly reformed sociopath who journeys to a remote island to investigate the mystery behind his brother’s demise but soon ends up facing off with more than he bargained for. The film has its minimal twists and turns as well as some bloody violence but it feels completely devoid of any substance and I struggled to find one scene I enjoyed in it. It also relegates Gibson to being in a room by himself and interacting with almost no one in the principal cast which I think was a massive under sight. This could have been passable but the final product was anything but.
South Of Heaven – I feel like watching two seasons of Ted Lasso has ruined me in some regard as now every time I see Jason Sudekis in something I just relegate it to a facet in Lasso’s personality. Like this film, just judging from the cover, I said it was Ted looking for revenge on those who shaved off his moustache. Not true. He plays convicted felon Jimmy who is granted early parole after serving twelve years for armed robbery. Upon his release, he vows to give Annie, his childhood love that is now dying from cancer, the best last year of her life but unfortunately it’s not that simple and his former crew is looking for some reparations in the form of another job. Co-starring Evangeline Lilly and Shea Whigham, this is a neat little western noir in a dusty Texas setting and, for me, it’s all about Whigham chewing the scenery while relishing his bad guy role. He makes every line sound brilliant but how brightly he shines kind of dulls the performances of everyone else by contrast. This could have been a home run but it is just missing a little something.
Holler – A sombre little drama that killed at film festivals like South By Southwest and Palm Springs, this movie wouldn’t get much exposure elsewhere as it is a real feeling character story with no big names to boast. Pretty much death in the modern theatrical landscape. I immediately felt the appeal of writer and director Nicole Riegel’s feature film debut, an expiration on her short from five years back. Actress Jessica Barden gives a hell of a performance as Ruth Avery, a determined young woman in a forgotten pocket of Southern Ohio who finds her ticket out of a place where American manufacturing and opportunity are dying up when she is accepted to college. Also working alongside her older brother in a dangerous scrap metal crew to pay her way to go, she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind. This is some gritty drama that doesn’t spoon-feed any drama and pushes its compelling storytelling straight on the actor’s sleeves. This was a well-done film that doesn’t have the platform it deserves in the awards climate.
Vengeance Is Mine – With a title like this, you would expect whatever feature that proceeds to be wild, frenetic and bloody as all hell, right? The title sets up the expectations but the film has no notable actors and comes from the mind of Hadi Hajaig, a creator who has struggled to make a hit so far unless you include the Sean Bean thriller Cleanskin which has its moments. This film follows the main character Harry, a broken man struggling to come to terms with the murder of his wife and daughter and is living a hallucinatory life in the aftermath. When he discovers the whereabouts of the killers he awakens from his grief to destroy those who destroyed his life in a blind rage with so much collateral damage left strewn about. Surprisingly, the cheesy ultra-violence actually elevates the movie beyond being a flash in the pan and I ended up enjoying it for the most part. I have a hard time calling it recommendable for any viewer. It might be a “stumbled upon” one at best.
American Sicario – Sometimes I think these small independent little action thrillers are just using the word sicario to piggyback on the incredible Denis Villeneuve film and its sequel so that people will be duped into watching it. I love Danny Trejo but seeing him and Philippe A. Haddad, a complete unknown to me, headline this movie just lends more to my belief that this would be bad. The story has Haddad as American gangster Erik Vasquez, a ruthless man who is scheming to become the top dog in the Mexican underworld, only to find himself making enemies out of both the powerful cartels and his allies. This is paint by numbers cartel-style action without the brains or intrigue. It’s hilarious to me that director Raja Collins’s next movie is called Don’t Suck because he should have applied that sentiment to this movie that did the deed for an hour and forty minutes. It is poorly executed in every day and painfully dull at every turn. If you’re going to punctuate your action film with lengthy monologues then you need to give them the purpose behind just being failed gravitas. This movie is a real bummer.
The Waltons: Homecoming – What can you say about this new revival of the American sweetheart family with good ol’ Christian values, the Waltons. Heck, at this point I think Richard Thomas is the only one still alive so they keep trotting him out for more, though I doubt he minds. This mercifully short little holiday film has the newest patriarch John Boy and his family preparing for John Sr.’s homecoming to spend Christmas together, but after a storm comes in the way, he has to find his father and the journey through it will change his life forever. This film is corny like a Hallmark movie but I’m inclined to believe that the Waltons were the art of the formula that eventually created those types of television programming so it’s kind of centrifical at this point. The audience who likes this knows who they are and know where to get it.
My Stepmother Is An Alien – At a young age I fell totally in love with this movie and it has to be based around my love for both Dan Aykroyd and Kim Basinger more than the sci-fi tale at its heart. I like that Arrow Video has taken on this Richard Benjiman directed romantic comedy with aliens as it still to this day has a sweetheart to it. The film follows an alien sent on a secret mission to Earth where she appears as a gorgeous, attractive, and single lady. Her mission is to make contact with a rather nerdy young scientist, who’s quite overwhelmed by her attentions and isn’t aware of the connection between her arrival and his work. All the charm which I remember is still present and Aykroyd is in that dad phase of his career that included the great addition of My Girl and I always hold this film in the same regard. I also love that the daughter is played by a young Alyson Hanigan, way before she was in Buffy, American Pie or How I Met Your Mother.
Manifest: Season 3 – If you are looking for your new Lost like series, this family NBC sci-fi mystery might be up your alley and, while it doesn’t feature any huge stars unless you were a fan of Josh Dallas on Once Upon A Time, it comes from creator Jeff Rake who created some vastly underrated comedy with the Wall Street series The $treets and the Alicia Silverstone and now does a sizeable genre shift. The series follows the passengers onboard Flight 828 who, after being presumed dead, return and discover the world has aged five years. As they reintegrate into society, they begin to experience guiding voices and visions, and soon a deeper mystery unfolds. The show reminds me of the Syfy original series The 4400 quite a bit, a show that was cut down far too early and left too much of a tantalizing mystery. Now, unfortunately, the series has been cancelled just as all popular network shows are at the top of their popularity but hopefully the rabid fan base and dutiful showrunners, producers and stars can get someone like Netflix, who it currently streams with, to pick it up and create a conclusive fourth season.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
A Night At The Opera – This is kind of a special one for me this week as it is, yet again, another kick-off of the geek outs with a Warner Archive title but it is also my first Marx Brothers movie to add to my collection with my Abbot and Costello movies and my Laurel And Hardy collection. Just need the Charlie Chaplin filmography to round that classics out. This film, loosely plotted, follows a sly business manager and the wacky friends of two opera singers in Italy who collaborate to achieve success in America while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies. This was the favourite film of Groucho’s career but oddly is the first film to not feature brother Zeppo who, as I’m writing this, seems to be the expendable part of the group. He’s like the Chris Kirkpatrick of N Sync or the Howie D of the Backstreet Boys. Yeah, I said it.
The Chinese Boxer – Weeks ago I was sent this new blu-ray special edition for this martial arts flick which was also known by the original title of Hammer Of God, a film that was a pivotal installation in the genre and almost a building block for it. The star, Jimmy Wang Yu, actually predates the debut of Bruce Lee and was kind of the original face of kung fu films which floored me to read. He was not only the leading man but also wrote and directed this story of a noble young martial arts student who won’t give up in the face of all the blood-thirsty Japanese killers that come his way. This isn’t exactly a classic that will weather the storms of time but a film that shows the foundation of a genre that would start to snowball throughout the decade that it kicked off, the seventies. Jimmy Wang Yu was a man of ideas ahead of his time but it took other masters to expand on it and continue up the staircase to when it is today, a global phenomenon.
Middle Earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition 4K – For any Tolkien fan, this is the be-all ultimate edition of a whole franchise that I believe we all know about no so I won’t spend too much time trying to explain films that made billions of dollars. These Peter Jackson adaptations are now all in glorious 4K and it features both the extended editions and theatrical cuts of each film in a gorgeous fold-out book that needs to be beheld and sung a little Hobbit ditty to. Even for how little I cared for the three Hobbit movies, I would feel like this set was amiss if it didn’t include them. Hell, I might even give them another chance. I don’t have much to say beyond that, we already have our thoughts and opinions about these films anyways.
The Hills Have Eyes 4K – Wes Craven’s original chiller about freaks in the mountains that crave blood and violence gets its time to shine now in a 4K collector’s edition from Arrow Video and it puts it on the platform it deserves. So many filmmakers and horror stories were inspired, affected and spurned on by this movie and to experience it in the second-best way than seeing it in theatres in the late seventies is so cool. The film follows a family amid a road trip to California who has the misfortune to have their car break down in an area closed to the public and inhabited by violent savages ready to attack. This movie is iconic in its scope and features the odd looking but genre darling of Michael Berryman who is memorable for anyone who has seen him. To re-experience this film, which also has an awesome remake, is really cool, especially in a time where Wes, one of the masters of horror, can speak to us for the beyond as we lost him way too soon.
The Gestapo’s Last Orgy – This is probably one of the most messed up films I have ever received while covering new blu-ray releases and I can’t even say I was prepared for it. Seriously, how do you prepare for this? The film is also known as The Last Orgy of the Third Reich and something like Hitler’s Caligula and became a source of regret for actress Daniella Poggi saying “I was twenty years old then and I was a model, my agency pushed me. Unfortunately, they added unexpected scenes and a monstrous title. I was born with a beautiful body, and not being an actress out of academia, it was normal to be chosen for my good looks ” Wow. That’s rough. The film is about a Jewish WWII survivor who revisits the ruins of a hellish concentration camp, and the memories rush back vividly and play for the audience. This movie is rife with insane nudity and sex, brutal violence within the sex and so much monstrous Nazism that I’m really surprised I haven’t read about it being banned before. I like to bring the wholesome stuff to this section of the blog so I don’t know how I’ll top this one.
The Witcher: Season 2 (Netflix) – I feel like I’ve been waiting for this second season forever and the animated film that came out at the end of the summer only kept me satiated for a little bit. I need my Geralt Of Rivia, damn it! Henry Cavill takes the lead in this Netflix original, the adaptation to a widely popular video game series, one that I’m kind of familiar with but in comic form. Geralt is a solitary monster hunter, who struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts, so a Game Of Thrones-style action series with crazy monsters and beasts, so expect some great gore. The show was brought to the screen by former Daredevil producer Lauren Schmidt who was also behind the hit show The Umbrella Academy which was based on a comic as well. I don’t want to walk down any spoiler paths with this as I think it is one of the best current shows but season one’s cliffhanger will leave you drooling and an actor from Game Of Thrones shows up in a pivotal role in episode one of season two. That’s all I’m giving you
Aggretsuko: Season 4 (Netflix) – I never thought that I would relate so much to an animated red panda but here we are. Yes, Retsuko was a graduate who had everything going for her coming out of university but a mere five years later she sees herself in a thankless job, overworking herself for a sexist boss who minimizes all of her accomplishments causing her to bottle her red hot rage to unleash it every day at the karaoke bar, screaming out death metal songs. Yeah, this show was made for my consumption and with the third season landing, it’s their perfect time to pull more of you onto the bandwagon of underappreciated Japanese transplants. Each episode is short, sweet and weirdly intuitive, especially if you’re in the nine to five work grind that makes you feel a little off-kilter. I highly recommend this show, it’s so ingenious.