Lightyear – The amount of promise that this new Pixar film has amassed since it was announced is very interesting because I didn’t really see the appeal when the idea was first proposed but this cast alone has got me going. Chris Evans is taking over the iconic role from Tim Allen, a replacement I’m more than fine with but it also has the added boost of Nope’s Keke Palmer and the great Taika Waititi to join him on his brand new adventure. This is a prequel adventure that follows the real and non-toy Buzz as he is marooned while spending years attempting to return home and encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by his arch-nemesis Zurg who are attempting to steal his fuel source. Being a Pixar film, I do have an ascertained level of expectation for this movie but, given its source material, it has to be delivered through a canon of predetermined things around this character to be fully satisfying. This could be polarizing but I’m looking forward to it.
Spiderhead – Top Gun Maverick director Joseph Kosinski didn’t even have time to do a victory lap over the success of his long-anticipated Tom Cruise sequel before Netflix rolled out his newest movie but that is just the pitfalls of being in a “post-pandemic” existence. For this new thriller, he got to bring along Miles Teller for a familiar face in his works as well as work with the uber-talented Christ Hemsworth just a month before Thor: Love And Thunder hits theatres. The story is set in a near-future where convicts are offered the chance to volunteer as medical subjects to shorten their sentences. One such subject for a new drug capable of generating feelings of love begins questioning the reality of his emotions and the motivation of the man in charge of the whole facility. Teller gets the main role in this film as Hemsworth dons a role that is rare for him, the shady scientist with cold calculations who might be a villain and for how interesting the switch in the archetype is, the interest of this movie never rises above a dull hum. The cinematography is great and the style is present but the story consistently falls into familiar ruts and the engagement never seems to arrive. Even by the last moments, I felt disappointed in the fact that for all of the talents of everyone involved, it all came across so mid-grade.
The Phantom Of The Open – This is a lucky week for character acting because we get not just one Mark Rylance-led film but two and it all kicks off with this based on a true story underdog tale and it features all of the Oscar-winning actor’s best qualities. Charm is the name of the game in this one as it also has the immeasurably great Sally Hawkins as Rylance’s wife in the film so the points it automatically earns are off the charts. The film has Rylance playing Maurice Flitcroft, a dreamer and unrelenting optimist, who managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship Qualifying in 1976 and subsequently shot the worst round in Open history, becoming a folk hero in the process. Based on a novel by author Scott Murray, written by Paddington 2’s Simon Farnaby and directed by the immensely talented actor turned filmmaker Craig Roberts, this film is so endearingly funny and all has the brimming heart of its star and co-lead to rub off on all the other elements of the film. I loved the cinematography of it, done by Eternal Beauty’s Kit Fraser, which gives the whimsy of Flitcroft’s wonderful imagination in some really key scenes. The best part is that you don’t need to be a golf fan or even a casual viewer to really sink your teeth into it. The film feels broad in its appeal and I think it will spread through word of mouth.
Brian And Charles – Every now and then there is a festival darling that, despite the studio’s best efforts, just squeaks by without any notice due to not featuring a big star, a notable director or a sizeable budget. That’s exactly what this little British film tried to do but luckily I was sent a trailer for it months ago and have been eagerly waiting for its release. The film follows Brian, a man in a deep depression after a notably bad winter who wallows in the anxiety of loneliness until he finds the one thing to bring him out of it and that is building himself a robot companion. This comedy has such great word of mouth behind it with people calling its brand of deadpan brilliant which has me even more excited to check it out. I also really enjoy David Earl’s work from his roles in some of Ricky Gervais’ shows like After Life and Derek.
Jerry And Marge Go Large – Just looking at the poster, with lead actors Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening sitting on the back of a pickup truck, I knew I was going to be into this movie no matter what it turned out to be because I love both of these stars. Upon a deeper dig, I found this was a comedy that happens to be based on a true story and I was even more elated because both of these great talents work so well in comedic settings. The film is the real story of retiree Jerry Selbee, who discovers a mathematical loophole in the Massachusetts lottery and, with the help of his wife, Marge, wins millions and uses the money to revive their small Michigan town. Very inspirational and totally sweet-hearted at its core, it has the added charm of being directed by David Frankel who has given some solid offerings like The Devil Wears Prada and Marley And Me. On the other hand, this is his follow-up to Collateral Beauty which had an amazing cast but the worst follow-through of a good concept I have seen in a while. I’m trying not to let that hang over this one though.
Father Of The Bride – It’s an odd shift to go from a couple of Steve Martin-led comedy films that were beloved by its audience to the not usually comedy-associated star of Andy Garcia but that is exactly what HBO has done for their new remake of a nineties favourite. They’re also making the gamble of putting it in the hands of director Gary Alazraki in his English language debut but I think this is just part of the Latinx spin that this story is getting and dealing with big families and big weddings, well, it works well. The film is fairly simple as its predecessor, following a father’s coming to grips with his daughter’s upcoming wedding through the prism of multiple relationships within a big, sprawling Cuban-American clan. I didn’t space on the fact that classic actor Spencer Tracy originally starred in this story in 1950 and this is the style of film that I think we are getting this time around, rather than any of the physicality and excessiveness that comes with a Steve Martin film. That said, I think those expecting that sort of movie will be disappointed.
Cha Cha Real Smooth – With only two feature films under his belt including this one it may be a little early to call writer, director and actor Connor Raiff one of my current favourite filmmakers but following up the brilliant comedy-drama Shithouse with this even better offering has me speaking in hyperbole about the guy. Raiff has such a great command of deeply humanly flawed dramas with a comedic twist that after his microbudget debut he has managed to get Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann in this one and it pays off beautifully. Raiff plays 22-year-old Andrew, a guy fresh out of college and without a clear life path going forward who is stuck back at home with his family in New Jersey. If there’s one thing that belongs on his nonexistent résumé, it’s how to get a party started, and this lands him the perfect job of motivational dancing at the bar and bat mitzvahs for his younger brother’s classmates. When Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino, and her daughter, Lola, he finally discovers a future he wants and his meandering in life days might come to a close if he makes the right moves. Raiff’s script is so snappy and funny that I found myself laughing so hard with each sarcastic and sardonic delivery, which elevated Dakota Johnson’s performance as well, an actress who seems to get immensely better and better in each performance I see from her. Much like Coda did for it last year, I think this is a slow-burn film for AppleTV+ which will constantly be pushed by word of mouth. I consider it equally as special.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
Morbius – I had definite worries about this new piece of the Sony Pictures part of the Marvel cinematic universe and it wasn’t just because of the length of time it took for it to finally be released, all pandemic related but from the lacklustre trailers that seem totally corny and uninspired, the shoehorning of Michael Keaton’s Spider-Man: Homecoming character into said preview and the list goes on and on. Well, my worries were half right as the film is corny, uninspired and totally forgettable but that isn’t to say it’s a bad movie just a film that completely fails to elevate itself to any degree. The story follows the brilliant biochemist as he tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. This movie is a special kind of dumb in the fact that Sony thought it was a smart idea to release the film to bomb a second time after they were led to believe that the internet was a huge fan, meaning that someone at the studio had a hard time reading sarcasm. This isn’t a film that will gain cult status in ten years or will be remembered fondly. The sad fact is that aside from the microcosm of 2022, Morbius is destined to float away in a sea of mediocre comic book movies.
The Outfit – My second opportunity to praise Mark Rylance is here and I revel in it because he is an Academy Award winner who always gives his best in every film he does but a lot of people still don’t know who he is or know his face but not his name. Well, he might get some eyes on him now as he’s in this brand new crime thriller that has a broad genre appeal with him front and center and the target of some pretty bad guys. The story has him as Leonard, a master English tailor who’s ended up in Chicago and operates a corner tailor shop with his assistant, played by the great Zoey Deutch, where he makes beautiful clothes for the only people around who can afford them, a family of vicious gangsters. One night, two killers, played by Dylan O’Brien and Johnny Flynn, knock on his door in need of a favour and Leonard is thrust onto the board in a deadly game of deception and murder as a result. This film is the debut as a director for writer Graham Moore who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for The Imitation Game not to sound like a cliche when it comes to a film about a tailor but the look is so slick and stylish and that is all thanks to cinematographer Dick Pope who has done incredible work in his career, especially his films with Edgar Wright. The film is a satisfying journey of plot twists and motivation reveals, although it seems to float under the mark f better films of its ilk. Rylance still is mesmerizing to watch on-screen though and elevates anyone that is in the scene with him.
Father Stu – With the news that Mark Wahlberg may soon be retiring from mainstream Hollywood filmmaking and focusing only on faith-based stories like this one, it adds all that much more disappointment to covering this one which was already at a low with the casting of Mel Gibson. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, n good storytelling has come out of the faith-based market ever and I have suffered through too many of them. This one follows the life of Father Stuart Long, played by Wahlberg, a boxer-turned-priest who inspired countless people during his journey from self-destruction to redemption. Everything about the trailer for this movie feels like a pandering message-driven story that once again focuses on delivering the ideals over being an actually entertaining movie. I don’t need to be preached at about faith and belief but that is all these films seem to do. Seriously, how many people are being converted to Christianity or catholicism during an outing to the movies? Just give it up already.
Fatherhood – It was with a chip on my shoulder I entered into this new Kevin Hart comedy as I usually really dislike the films he chooses to make unless he’s teamed with The Rock. This film had some great things going for it though, as it was made by Paul Weitz who directed great films like About Boy and Grandma, so I had glimmers of hope. The film follows Hart in a sweet story about a father who brings up his baby girl as a single dad after the unexpected death of his wife who died a day after their daughter’s birth. Hart plays this role in a beautifully subdued performance that has instant chemistry with his little co-star Melody Hurd who can be seen in the incredible Amazon Prime series Them. I also adored his friends in the film, played by Bill And Ted Face The Music’s Anthony Carrigan and Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery who have hilarious lines throughout. I was really surprised by how much I adored this movie and I hope it lands with people.
Benedetta – One thing that has remained the same for pretty much his entire career, you can always count on filmmaker Paul Verhoeven to be a really horny storyteller. Much like David Cronenberg’s entry into cinema this year, these storytellers have a certain writhing sexuality that has been a part of their oeuvre as long as we’ve been watching them and at over eighty years old now we know that Paul is going to go out on a shield shaped like a naked woman. For this new film, he brings some religious controversy as he is telling the story of a 17th-century nun in Italy who suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is assisted by a companion who she saves from abuse and slavery, and the relationship between the two women develops into a romantic love affair that invokes a blasphemy that could lead to both their demise. It can be easily said that there is not a single dull moment to be had in this film which has everything sexual, sexually violent and just plain violent to be had and it’s all gorgeously shot. I do think that he could seriously benefit by having a single woman in the creative process but at this stage, a leopard is definitely not going to change his spots and what has worked for decades will continue to set him apart from other filmmakers.
Off Season – Trying to find information about this movie before I popped in the blu-ray was like trying to find the map to the Ark de Covenant so I was forced to go on what the studio and Shudder’s own PR people have said about it rather than get a Rotten Tomatoes or Letterbox’d pre-review.That said, I’m more grateful to have gone in pretty much blind because this film is all about atmosphere and ambiguity. Like all great mystery thrillers, this movie is largely about lineage and dormant family bonds as it follows Tenn and his relentless search for his father which takes him back to his childhood town only to find a community gripped by fear. As he travels deeper into the bitter winter wilderness of the town he uncovers a dreadful secret buried long ago and, even worse, he has dragged his unknowing significant other into the mess. Brimming with fog and greyness, this film languishes on being a head trip, starting out with a chilling monologue from character actress Melora Walters which ends with a tortured scream that plays over the beginning credits. This sets up quite the ride but if you don’t like a flighty arthouse horror it may just sail right by you.
The Clock – Warner Archive slides into the new releases this week with another Judy Garland film out of its vaults and now is the plotting on the timeline of the troubled star of when this was made in her storied career. The film was made and released in the mid-forties which was six years after her landmark performance in The Wizard Of Oz so this was very much in her heyday. The film was a modern one that was set during a 48-hour leave at a Pennsylvania station where a soldier meets a girl accidentally and spends his leave with her, eventually falling in love with the lovely New Yorker. Looking at Garland at the time, it wasn’t hard to imagine why she was so sought after and eventually overworked, as she had all the qualities that just popped on the screen. This was also during her romance with Vincente Minnelli who would make way for Liza to be born just a year later.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – One of my first major cinematic moments in memory has to come from this Steven Spielberg family sci-fi classic that gave me serious envy of finding an alien in my backyard. I feel like many kids of my generation and beyond had a love for this movie and for many of us it also may have been the point where we started to love watching films and even making them. For those who have been under a rock for forty years, the story follows an alien who is stranded on Earth but discovered and befriended by a ten-year-old boy named Elliott. Bringing him into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as he is dubbed, to his brother, Michael, and sister, Gertie, and they decide to keep his existence a secret. Soon, however, he falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both him and Elliott. I remember that last part devastated me as he went all white like an old dog turd in the backyard. This movie is so special in so many ways and I have had so many deep discussions with friends on its resonance so it is really cool to celebrate its fortieth anniversary this week.
Predator – Speaking of really cool anniversaries, I couldn’t resist bringing this landmark action sci-fi flick on the week of its thirty-fifth birthday as it is another film that shaped my love of movies undoubtedly. As a kid of the eighties, action films were high up on my list and there were few bigger than the great Arnold Schwarzenegger and this one is still possibly one of his best. Obviously, a classic that a majority of people show know but this film follows a team of special force ops, led by a tough but fair soldier, Major “Dutch” Schaefer, who are ordered to assist CIA man, Colonel Al Dillon, on a rescue mission for potential survivors of a Helicopter downed over remote South American jungle. Not long after they land, Dutch and his team discover that they have been sent in under false pretenses but this deception turns out to be the least of their worries when they find themselves being methodically hunted by something not of this world. The movie still holds up with the action and monster-building elements even if the dialogue is clunky and has been more related to the iconic catchphrases that Arnie utters throughout it. This is the kind of film that I will watch the duration of as soon as it pops up on television as well as being an action thriller that informed many of our favourites to come afterwards. Sad that Jean Claude Van Damme quit his role as the Predator itself because it could have been a collaboration long before he and Arnie crossed paths in The Expendables 2.
The Witches Of Eastwick – Imagine assembling a cast like this now for a seemingly unbankable film about three newly anointed witches taking on the devil. I don’t think it would get the go-ahead from a big studio nor would they pitch stars like Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfieffer for it. Well, we lucked out thirty-five years ago and they even gave it to the Mad Max creator George Miller to direct, even if it followed the flop that was Beyond Thunderdome. This movie is a beloved classic, much better than the celebrated Practical Magic, that followed three single women in a picturesque village who have their wishes granted, at a cost when a mysterious and flamboyant man arrives in their lives with the intent of turning it all upside down in a lurid affair. The performances from each person in this powerhouse cast are so good and, although I’m not usually a fan, Cher is really the standout alongside Jack who gives his iconic best as Daryl Van Horne. I know they did a television version of this story but I think it would be fun to have an updated kick at this story again.
God’s Favorite Idiot (Netflix) – The combination of writer, director and supporting comedy actor Ben Falcone and his wife, actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy, has yet to yield anything of substance and usually causes me great frustration in the review department. With dogs like Tammy, The Boss, Life Of The Party and more unfortunate messes, the fact that Netflix has now given them the space to roam around in series form isn’t that inspiring but here we go anyways. Falcone takes the lead this time, playing mid-level Tech support employee Clark Thompson who finds love with co-worker Amily Luck, played by McCarthy, but at exactly the same time he becomes the unwitting messenger of God which includes the trappings of roller skating, a lake of fire and an impending apocalypse. I really love Melissa and want this to work out but once you’ve been burned by horrendous comedy, an affliction that these two suffer from, it’s hard to renew your investment. Will I still give it a chance though? Yeah, most likely. I’m a foolish sucker.
The Old Man (FX) – As soon as I saw that Jeff Bridges was doing his first television series and it was on FX I knew I was immediately on board and couldn’t wait. The trailers were simple and knew that all we needed to see was The Dude as an old modern cowboy with a gun and it would totally nab viewers. Bridges stars as Dan Chase, a former CIA officer living off the grid, who finds himself on the run from law enforcement who want to bring him in for past jobs that have been revealed. When Chase proves to be more difficult to apprehend than the authorities expected, a highly trained special ops contractor is sent to pursue him as well. This is totally my kind of show and it comes from the creative team behind Black Sails, which is a far different style of show granted, but it made a hell of an impact on screen no matter what the genre was. I hope this one is a big hit as it would be great for Bridges to have beaten cancer for.