Munich: The Edge of War – This was definitely a pleasant surprise to see coming in a week that doesn’t have a lot to offer as it is a World War II film that features George MacKay, an actor who did a hell of a job in a major World War I film, 1917, just a couple of years ago. Not to be confused with the Steven Spielberg drama Munich, this film is based on a novel by author Thomas Harris who is best known for giving us the characters of Will Graham, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector. Very different from those films, this follows MacKay as a British diplomat who travels to Munich in the run-up to World War II, where a former classmate of his from Oxford is also en route but is working for the German government. Co-starring Jeremy Irons and Downton Abbey actress Jessica Brown Findlay, this film is reported to be a gripping historical thriller that manages to hook you in even if we know the endgame of the story. MacKay continues to climb the ladder to the A-list and it’s great performances like this in sleeper surprises that will get him there.
A Hero – From the moment I saw the film A Separation, almost ten years ago exactly, I knew writer and director Asghar Farhadi was going to be one of the most notable international filmmakers in recent times and a prolific voice creating unique and important narratives in the Middle East. Amazon has taken note of that, acquiring this, his latest drama thriller to stream on the Prime service. The story follows Rahim, a man imprisoned because of a debt he was unable to repay so, after requesting a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum which ends up sending him on a path that will make his plight even worse. Farhadi once again masterfully tells a deeply rich character story while shining a glaring light on what is bringing down the middle and lower class of his home country of Iran. Lead star Amir Jadidi delivers a stellar performance to match the brilliant script of the storyteller and I’m really surprised that this film is coming out with not much fanfare and no Oscar push behind it heading into the Best Foreign film battle.
Marionette – For those who dig a good Scandinavian mystery thriller and want more for their palate after devouring the Noomi Rapace film Lamb, Level Film has got all your weirdness covered this week. The film comes from writer and director Elbert van Strien who is a new creator to me, based in the Netherlands as is the scope and reach of his work but he definitely got my attention with this internationally distributed new feature. The film tells the story of a therapist, who starts to lose her grip on reality when a ten-year-old boy claims he can control her future. Hoping for a fresh start after moving to Scotland following the death of her husband, her new patient’s drawings also seem to tell a dark future while propelling her on the path to realizing that against her will. The atmosphere and substance are all present as van Strien holds you in the palm of his hand for the almost two-hour duration with In Bruges actress Thekla Reuten delivering a hell of a performance. The concept of this thriller is a thinking one and the filmmaker’s goal is to swerve you a lot and I feel he pulled it off.
First We Eat – If there’s a niche hidden within the genre of documentary filmmaking that connects us all it has to be films about food. We all need it to live but we all consume it in various states of ecological consequence, some regarding it more than others. This story falls into the category of being conscious of it all as it follows an ordinary family, living just south of the Arctic Circle, who ban all grocery store food from their house for one year. Housing three skeptical teenagers, a husband, no salt, no caffeine, no sugar and forty below weather, the elements are combustible and the experiment may lead to tensions, which is an extreme understatement in my opinion. This film does what good documentaries do best, provoke thoughts and at least spur an idea of change or influence in the mind of the viewer. Is it something I may take on in my own life? Probably not at this juncture but it has put the seed of a clear living more forefront than it was before.
Last Night In Soho – October was really good to us this year as we got week after week of films that ranked on my most anticipated films of the year and this one happened to be a long-awaited one from a filmmaker who makes nothing but gold. Yes, Edgar Wright could be considered possibly my favourite current working writer and director who hasn’t let me down yet with a perfect track record and he already has a film that came out this year with his music-driven documentary, The Sparks Brothers. This puts him back into the narrative driver seat with a darker story about an aspiring fashion designer who is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. The glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker as she is increasingly in more and more danger of not returning to her world. The cast is stellar in this with The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Jojo Rabbit’s Thomasin Mackenzie and former Doctor Who Matt Smith and the editing, scope and music are top-notch as that is where Wright always excels. The film is another piece of the resurgence of Giallo films in 2021 that started with Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor, continued into the madness of James Wan’s Malignant and concluded with this one, all featuring delicious red filters that get a cinephile’s blood pumping. This is now a cherished piece in my collection and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.
The Addams Family 2 – We’re already at a second animated feature of the kooky, ookey and spooky family that was done so well in live-action form by Barry Levinson in the nineties. Heck, I didn’t even know that the film had done well enough for a sequel but I guess this is our new Hotel Transylvania in a way. Once again featuring Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron as Gomez and Morticia Addams, now distraught that their children are growing up, skipping family dinners, and totally consumed with “scream time” so, to reclaim their bond, they decide to cram Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester and the crew into their haunted camper and hit the road for one last miserable family vacation. Their adventure across America takes them out of their element and into run-ins with their iconic cousin, It, who is “voiced” by Snoop Dogg but he doesn’t really talk, does he? This is pure entertainment for the kids based on an IP that we all know and love within different generations who loved the movies or the original television show. I’m just in it for the adult references.
Titane – Well, back when it was initially released, the little town I live in deep in the beautiful Okanagan pissed me off by not having this sought-after film the played in the lower mainland in multiple theatres but I can sort of be understanding of the decision because it’s foreign, a really niche indie and it is decidedly messed up. The film comes from writer and director Julia Ducournau who’s last movie, Raw, became one of the most talked-about horror movies of the decade. For this one she’s going further out there, telling the story of a father who is reunited with the son who has been missing for ten years following a series of unexplained crimes. That doesn’t sound immediately weird but it’s almost just the basic bullet point of what the basis is. This film is deeply cerebral body horror mixed with an uncompromising and unpredictable journey into provocative filmmaking that I can’t wait to get my eyeballs deep into. The buzz made my anticipation for this hit a fever pitch and all of my friends got to see it before I did and now I’m sitting without a blu-ray copy of it because I’m not friends enough with a distributor. I feel like I just entered my own realm of tangents but it is also a test to see if people are reading this.
The Dry – This new Australian film was sent to me out of the blue and to be completely honest I had never heard of it. Upon closer inspection, the Eric Bana drama mystery has some pretty stellar reviews that earned it a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and as a usual fan of Aussie cinema, I knew I was in good hands. The film follows Bana as policeman Aaron Falk, a man returning to his small hometown for a funeral after three people from the same family died in what appears to be a murder-suicide. Falk was best friends at school with Luke, the husband accused of the murders and the return, his first in over 20 years, is not a happy one, bringing up memories of and anger from another death, one he was accused of. Bana is riveting in this film, carrying the brunt of the drive on his shoulders are we are slowly clued in on both incidents, the shocking multiple murders in a small town suffering a catastrophic drought and the death of a community darling from two decades ago that have left everyone in shambles. Beautifully shot in the vast Australian outback, this is exactly the kind of Down Under filmmaking I love.
Escape From Mogadishu – Hell yes, a South Korean-made action-adventure to chew on this week thanks to the great international distribution of Well Go USA. The film comes from director Seung-wan Ryoo, a filmmaker that I am shockingly unfamiliar with a lot of his work, but he did do the incredible and brutal action flick, City Of Violence which I enjoyed a lot. This film is set in 1991, Mogadishu when the capital city and most populous part of Somalia was torn by civil war. The story follows the personnel and the families of the South Korean embassy, who are isolated with no communication, enduring hail of bullets and shells constantly. Then one night, personnel from the North Korean embassy come knocking on the door asking for help and together they make a plan with one goal in mind, to escape from Mogadishu. This film moves with such a great feel of action that there isn’t a dull moment to be had in it and it has so many different themes at play, given political or countryman ethics, human morals and more, but all processed through that great South Korean cinema style. I feel like so many American-made action thrillers try hard and fail to give their films the momentum that this movie does effortlessly and it all pays off with a pulse-pounding and nail-biting third act that keeps your hands blistered on the edge of your seat. Really brilliant stuff.
A Hard Day’s Night 4K – I feel like I’m always coming back to my love of the Beatles, especially after the docuseries Get Back reignited the world’s love and in-depth conversation about them, but here we go again and it also involves my favourite releasing company, Criterion. It’s funny because I already own this one on blu-ray but when the 4K edition came out, I couldn’t resist. The film was the Fab Four’s first foray into filmmaking and was a simple story about two “typical” days in the life of The Beatles as the boys struggle to keep themselves and Sir Paul McCartney’s mischievous grandfather in check while preparing for a live TV performance. The movie has all the things that each of them would become known for as they cemented their legendary status. John was being a goofball, Paul is trying to be the organizer of the group, George is painfully shy and Ringo mugs for the camera whenever he can. Made in 1964 by director Richard Lester who would go on to make Superman movies, the 4K transfer of the film is gorgeous to behold now and should be on the wishlist of any Beatles fan out there.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:
Black Hawk Down – Shane Hewitt will love that I’m bringing this war story set during the conflict of Mogadishu with a stellar cast and the visionary eye of Ridley Scott directing it and I just had to do it because it is its twentieth anniversary this week. It is a favourite for many for a damn good reason as the conflict is so well orchestrated and every actor is bringing all that they’ve got to their performances including a great leading one from Josh Hartnett. The film is the story of one hundred and sixty elite U.S. soldiers who dropped into Mogadishu in October of 1993 to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord but found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis. The winner of two Academy Awards and nominated for four and shot brilliantly by nominee Sławomir Idziak, who shot Three Colors: Blue for Krzysztof Kieslowski among other great films, this film is just as effective as it was when I saw it in theatres all those years ago.
The Last King Of Scotland – For how phenomenal of an actor as Forest Whitaker is it’s crazy to think that he has only one Academy Award nomination in his storied career but his single nod did lead to the gold and it was for this fantastic biopic that turns fifteen this week. It probably didn’t hurt to have James McAvoy star opposite him in the lead role as someone to play off but that is just an added layer of gold to a great Kevin Macdonald film. The story follows Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan who becomes the personal physician and close confidante of dictator Idi Amin while in Uganda on a medical mission. Although at first Dr. Garrigan feels flattered by his new position of power, he soon comes to realize that Amin’s rule is soaked in blood and that he is complicit in the atrocities which result in the fight for his life as he tries to escape the dictator’s grasp. Whitaker is so grinning evil in this film, almost foaming at the mouth in his thirst for power and his people to fear him. This is one of those actor’s clinic performances from both McAvoy and the Oscar winner, two opposite beings working in absolute tandem.
Haywire – Before we cancelled out former MMA champion Gina Carano for not necessarily being an awful human being but being too dumb to know the difference, she was on the up and up of becoming our next action superstar and this Steven Soderbergh action thriller was the igniting point. Featuring a killer cast around her with Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor and more, Carano seemed to be the lesser talent but that was all wiped away in the action sequences. Carano is Mallory Kane, a highly trained operative for a government security contractor whose missions take her to the world’s most dangerous areas. After Mallory successfully frees a hostage journalist, she’s betrayed and left for dead by someone in her own agency and knows her survival depends on learning the truth behind the double-cross, she uses her black-ops training to set a trap. But when things go awry, Mallory knows she’ll die unless she can turn the tables on her adversary. This film is incredibly badass and even a decade later still lands with all of its bone-crunching weight. There is a shot in the climax of the film that makes me wish that Soderbergh continued down the path of this genre but this is really the only one he has.
Ozark: Season 4 Part 1 (Netflix) – This is definitely a hugely anticipated new season, especially as it enters it’s final run of episodes but it’s doing it in a sort of pacing that is releasing two batches of episodes, this being the first part. In case you haven’t dug into the show yet, Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a financial advisor in Chicago who is unknowingly been fudging numbers for the cartel, something his business partner hasn’t clued him in on until the finality of being murdered in from of him by the leader of this deadly group. A quick thinker under pressure Marty is able to convince him to spare his life by moving to the remote Ozarks to clean millions for his new boss, presenting an all-new set of problems for him, his wife who is played by the great Laura Linney and his two kids. The show is so phenomenally well done and Bateman himself directs a handful of episodes. Highly recommended if you have immersed yourself in it yet.
Servant: Season 3 (AppleTV+) – It hasn’t been a great last few movies from creator M Night Shyamalan as Glass was a third act disappointment that shutdown his little superhero trilogy and Old was frustrating from the beginning credits and never got better. This show is one of the bright points of his work, although he didn’t create it, a freaky tale that benefits greatly from his puppeteering. Definitely containing some sort of massive twist in there, this series follows a young and troubled couple who replace their newborn baby with a lifelike doll after their child dies from sudden infant death syndrome. The coping mechanism spirals out of control when a mysterious young woman is hired to be the nanny and brings to light many things hidden along the way. This show is creepy as hell and it has a personal favourite actress in the lead, Lauren Ambrose who played Claire Fisher in the HBO series Six Feet Under. I’m not to the full waypoint of giving AppleTV+ all of my love but it’s getting there thanks to shows like this.
Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock (AppleTV+) – As a kid of the eighties, when I see the revival of something that was a beloved childhood classic I get mixed emotions because I want to see it but I want it done well and don’t want to get jaded about it. Fraggle Rock is a special one, something I sat in front of the television for with my little sister and absorbed each episode as it aired. Will I get the same feeling from this show as an adult? Probably not but I want to try. The story is basically the same as you might remember it, following the adventures of a group of cave-dwelling puppet creatures called Fraggles named Gobo, Red, Wembley, Mokey and Boober, as well as new friends to join in the fun. Jim Henson’s puppet Muppet company is fully behind the show again and AppleTV+ has a lot invested in it so I’m thinking good and positive thoughts that this is everything I wanted it to be when it was announced. Don’t prove me wrong, Fraggles!
The World According to Jeff Goldblum: Season 2 (Disney+) – This is an easy sell for any fan of Jeff Goldblum, myself included, as the iconic star gets deep into an investigation on seemingly familiar objects to reveal a world of astonishing connections, fascinating science, and a whole lot of big ideas. The episodes in the first season looked at sneakers, ice cream, tattoos and more and I personally can’t wait to be educated by one of the most oddball Hollywood stars out there once again with a myriad of other topics that fascinate him. There honestly can’t be a more idiosyncratic being out there and I’m more than thrilled that he was given the power of National Geographic and their crew to helm a vivid and educating chronicle of topics based on his own whimsy. I wonder if he’ll delve into teleportation at any point or maybe that’s a little too close to the Brundlefly pod for his liking.