Elvis – I have to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of the works of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann but the more I saw the trailers for this new biopic of the original King Of Rock n Roll the more interested in it I became. It isn’t for Tom Hanks either, who kind of looks and sounds bizarre in it, but Once Upon A Time In Hollywood actor Austin Butler who takes on this infinitely iconic role and is seemingly doing a great job of it. The film takes on the story from top to bottom, from his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi to his rise to stardom starting in Memphis, Tennessee and his conquering of Las Vegas, Nevada, as Elvis Presley becomes the first rock ‘n roll star and changes the world with his music. The look of the film is absolutely gorgeous, something that Luhrmann always has going for him, but I also put that in the hands of Mulan cinematographer Mandy Walker who worked on his last movie Australia as well. I have a lot of hope for this movie and for it to attach a rocket to Butler’s career as he is earning great acclaim for his performance.
The Black Phone – Another pandemic rescheduled film, this new horror from writer and director Scott Derrickson has been on my most anticipated movies list for a long time, ever since I saw the trailer, and it has to be because of the uber-creepy performance from a masked Ethan Hawke. It also is because Derrickson is a master of scaring you out of your seat, as is evident in one of the scariest films of all time, his chiller Sinister. The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy who is abducted by a child killer and locked in a soundproof basement with only a broken phone in the corner on which he starts receiving calls from the killer’s previous victims. I can tell that Derrickson and co-writer Robert Cargill have cooked up something special and wildly original to kick off some great summer horror, a niche in the genre that is sometimes pretty hit or miss. I think this movie is going to mess with people and word of mouth will be pretty big.
The Man From Toronto – This had so much potential out of the gate, an action-comedy about mistaken identity with Kevin Hart and Jason Statham directed by Patrick Hughes, the guy behind fun action films like Red Hill, Expendables 3 and The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Due to scheduling issues, Statham had to drop out and Woody Harrelson stepped in which isn’t a downgrade in my opinion so everything is looking good. The story which I nutshelled at the beginning follows the results of a case of mistaken identity that arises after a screw-up sales consultant and the world’s deadliest assassin, known only as The Man from Toronto, run into each other at an AirBnB holiday rental. This movie starts with that promise I described and then quickly pulls into a nose dive as things get worse and worse. The CGI and effects are horrible, the script is lame and wastes both actors’ talents featuring lines I know I’ve heard in better movies and the only saving grace is some well-done action scenes. If only I could care about those because everything in between screams bad Netflix action and it’s evident why Sony Pictures offloaded this dud to a streaming service. An utter waste of time.
Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe – It’s been a long time coming for another installment in the saga of two of the biggest slackers of the nineties and an animated gem out of the MTV generation. That’s right, I’m. a huge Beavis and Butthead fan and it’s been too long since their last series, which was eleven years ago, or their last and only movie, which was over twenty-five years ago. Now, after a “creative” judge sentences them to space camp, a black hole sends our adolescent heroes twenty-four years into the modern future where the duo misuse Iphones, embark on a quest to score and become targets of the Deep State. Yes, I feel like, as a fan, this is exactly what I want and creator Mike Judge always seems to hit with the great satire and comedy coupled with the love and reverence for the characters that got him here, thirty years later after their debut on Liquid Television. I’m watching this day one on Paramount+ and can not wait.
Drive My Car – With Academy Awards nominations, which notched a win for Best Foreign, and critical acclaim from so many renowned film reviewers around the world, the bar was set pretty high for this Japanese drama. This is no flinching matter for writer and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, who not only netted the Best Foreign Oscar award but the Best Adapted Screenplay nomination as well, which puts him in the arena against favourites like Jane Campion, Denis Villeneuve and Maggie Gyllenhaal but I don’t think he’s worried because his film is that good. The story follows Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, who receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya at a theatre festival in Hiroshima just shortly after the tragic passing of his wife. There, he meets Misaki Watari, a taciturn young woman assigned by the festival to chauffeur him in his beloved red Saab 900. As the production’s premiere approaches, tensions mount among the cast and crew, not least between Yusuke and Koshi Takatsuki, a handsome TV star who shares an unwelcome connection to Yusuke’s late wife. Forced to confront painful truths raised from his past, Yusuke begins, with the help of his driver, to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind. This film is made with such rich performances and a beautiful scope that reminded me of the serene qualities of a Hikaru Korreda film, a dramatic director who prefers stories about quiet solitude. I don’t want to give too much of this movie away but it is a real crowd-pleaser that will be remembered long afterwards and goes down avenues of grief and processing it through art.
Rise – After Adam Sandler’s Hustle a couple of weeks ago, I’m totally ready for more basketball movies and this one just happens to be directly based on a true story which gives it that added boost. I’m not too familiar with a lot of players in the NBA right now but I would have to be under a rock to not know who Giannis Antetokounmpo is, especially after he won the NBA championship last year with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is his origin story, following the parents of Giannis and his two brothers as they emigrate from Nigeria to Greece for a chance at a better life for their family, working hard to provide for their children, while the reality of deportation from a difficult citizenship system threatens the dreams for their future. When an opportunity arises, the Antetokounmpo brothers take their frustrations to the public basketball courts and although they have no experience in the sport, they realize they are naturally gifted ball players. With the help of a talent agent, the trio decides to pursue careers in the NBA. This movie looks like a feel-good story of an underdog family fighting against poverty and adversity to achieve a dream and it looks like it could transcend the interest in baseball just to be a solid based on a true story drama.
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story – Nothing is better than a solid music documentary even if I’m not exactly into the genre in question but I think the fact that “jazz” is in the title is a bit misleading as it really encompasses many different styles into one show. The movie also brings something that is special to me in many different settings, the festival feel, atmosphere and ability to bring people together. This documentary not only captures the signature annual music and cultural event that has been called America’s greatest festival in all of its beauty and glory but also delves deep into the rich culture of The Big Easy. New Orleans is a destination for me as I’ve seen so much of it through film and television many times and this film just compounds how much I need to go there. The music and the culture, yes, but, oh my god, the food looks incredible and the documentary definitely focuses on that a little bit as it is a big part of the celebration as well.
Slash/Back – I love that Indigenous stories or films written, produced and starring the community are getting a bigger platform because it’s about damn time these films stopped getting marginalized and, let’s face it, they can help elevate the mediocre name that Canadian films have had as a stereotype for decades. What was even better about this new and fantastical sci-fi adventure is that the early buzz and festival reactions to it were really positive. The story follows Maika and her ragtag friends who discover an alien invasion in their tiny arctic hamlet and decide that it’s up to them to save the day. Utilizing their makeshift weapons and horror movie knowledge, the aliens will soon realize you don’t mess with girls from Pang. For me, the biggest takeaway from this film was the emerging voice of writer and director Nyla Innuksuk who brims with originality in her storytelling. I really hope that this debut feature is just the tip of the iceberg and we get to see more from her in the coming years. This movie pays beautiful homages to the classic alien invasion films that obviously inspired it but does it in unique ways that keep you excited for what’s next. I loved this one and hope it gets to shine on a wider audience level.
The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent – Being a huge Nicolas Cage fan, which is no secret to any regular readers of my work, this seems like the ultimate goal for this legend to hit at least once in his career, playing an ultra version of himself. Add to that the added charm of starring The Mandalorian himself, Pedro Pascal, which gives this comedy even more of a draw and it becomes even more must-see for 2022. In the film, he plays a cash-strapped Nicolas Cage who agrees to make a paid appearance at a billionaire super fan’s birthday party but is really an informant for the CIA since the billionaire fan is a drug kingpin and he is forced to live up to his own legend, channelling his most iconic and beloved on-screen characters in order to save himself and his loved ones. The onscreen chemistry between Cage and Pascal is absolutely beautiful and incredibly charming and the addition of Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz as the CIA agents in question adds so much more to the hilarity as well. I had a huge bar set for this movie to clear and it soared so high above it that I forgot any of my expectations and just had a hell of a time. Getting meta with Nic Cage has never been so much fun and I can’t wait to watch this again and again, one of my new favorite comedies.
Cinderella – With the flash mob stunt that was pulled in Los Angeles by James Corden, this fairy tale remake was already skating on thin ice for me as, c’mon, you guys know that Corden is the friggin’ worst, right? Anyways, I really love what Kenneth Branagh did with the Disney live-action version of the story so I feel like this one is highly unnecessary and a musical as well and with the heavyweight that is also coming on blu-ray in that department, this one doesn’t have a chance. This remake stars Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel and opts to take a modern take on the traditional story you grew up with, even down to the fairy godmother who Porter plays as Fab G. Yeah, I don’t like any of it either but I’m sure this one will find an audience and become a pretty sizeable hit and we’ll all still regret that horrible PR traffic stunt.
After Yang – Colin Farrell has had a hell of a year so far, not only playing The Penguin in, as of now, one of the biggest films of 2022 but also co-starring in this critically-lauded drama. The film was made by writer and director Kogonada in his follow-up to the phenomenal Columbus from almost five years ago and features Jodie Turner-Smith who blew me away in Queen & Slim last year. The film is set in a near-future where humans are dependent on androids to do their bidding and one family’s struggle with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down. Kogonada plumbs some incredible depths of human emotion in his last film so I’m really excited to see what he does with this sci-fi twinged setting and I really love sombre Colin Farrell’s character work as in the Yorgos Lanthimos films The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and The Lobster. This might be a low-key best film of 2022 I think.
You Are Not My Mother – There is something about British, Irish, Scottish or Welsh-made films that automatically makes me gravitate towards them but the horror side of things really gets my attention because they are always so incredibly crafted. Last year had the Welsh mind twister Censor and the British chiller Caveat and it’s right in between those great films where this simple and slightly monstrous horror tells its compelling tale. Not featuring any cast members that are known on a global scale, this film is set in a North Dublin housing estate where a young teen named Char’s mother goes missing. When she returns Char is determined to uncover the truth of her disappearance and unearth the dark secrets of her family as she starts to see weird behaviours in her mother that she has never seen before and her grandmother seems both wary and knowledgable about the whole situation. This film is immensely satisfying in its incredible atmosphere that draws you in deeper and deeper into the mystery that surrounds Char and her family with subtle little flashes of pure terror that will get under your skin. What I love about horror is it can be made for relatively nothing and still be effective with every frame, as this film shows off with class.
The Cellar – Yes, I’m a huge horror fan so it doesn’t take a lot to get me into a new fright flick but I also have had a deep love for Elisha Cuthbert but not during the Popular Mechanics For Kids time because that would be creepy. No, my crush is on Kim Bauer in the Keifer Sutherland series 24 but a brunette Elisha takes the lead in this new thriller and I’m so intrigued. She plays Keira Woods, a mother whose daughter mysteriously vanishes in the cellar of their new house. She soon discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling their home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever. Oh yeah, haunted house films get me all the time but my issue is that this film never seems to get to a place beyond middling in any facet. The script feels limp, the acting watered down and the scares are almost nonexistent due to its been there done that nature. Usually, these Shudder originals deliver but this one felt like a floater in the end.
Aquaman: King Of Atlantis – Aquaman seems to be in the news for all of the wrong reasons with the Amber Heard and Mera conversation being on everyone’s lip so it figures that this silly little animated version just slipped under the radar. The animation style may rub many adult viewers the wrong way as it is geared to the more simple ways of doing it but with shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time being the rage, well, the kids are into it and it can be as crazy as it wants to be. The story follows Aquaman just as he finally becomes king of Atlantis, but he has a lot of learning to do and thankfully, his advisors Vulko, a scholar, and Mera, a water-wielding warrior, are there to give him a hand. Cooper Andrews takes the lead role, an unknown to many people, but veteran comedian Thomas Lennon plays Vulko and, a great casting choice, Community’s Gillian Jacobs takes the role of Mera which kind of makes me want to see her in the live-action role as well. You know it would be a better choice than Heard but at this point that isn’t a hard sell.
The Patrick Star Show: Season 1 Volume 1 – As big as a Spongebob fan I am, I really have a soft spot for his good buddy Patrick Star and, honestly, it’s high time that this underwater madness got some sort of a spin-off, especially after multiple movies. The dim-witted starfish is honestly the perfect candidate for the show too because who wants to follow around the dour and depressing Squidward Tentacles? The Nickelodeon series is pretty simple at its core, following Patrick who still lives at home with his parents, a helpful sister and a grandparent he can’t seem to remember from day to day but neither can the rest of the family. I’m willing to let it slide that Patrick is no longer living next to Spongebob under a rock because apparently we’ve retconned that but I do love that they play in Patrick’s imagination and he has his own talk show through that. Yes, I know this is all geared at the kids but I am thankful that I love it just as much as they do and that’s probably more telling that I’m a stoner.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Blade Runner – One of the greatest sci-fi stories of all time hit the four-decade mark this week and I just had to bring it as I think it is still to this day Ridley Scott’s crowning achievement. Through multiple cuts, writer and director theories and audience conspiracy, this movie has managed to keep relevant for forty years and we even got a long-anticipated sequel from Denis Villeneuve that I love more than the original. For those who need to get a quick education on this Philip K. Dick brilliance, the film follows Harrison Ford as Deckard, a blade runner who must pursue and terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator. Ford is great in this but it’s Rutger Hauer who steals the show as the enigmatic Roy Batty, the replicant leader as well as a soulful philosopher who sees the mark of a new life on an old world and hopes to capitalize from it. The effects, the cinematography, the script, performances and studious direction all combine to make one of the most perfect moments in science fiction film history and I raise my glass to an absolute masterpiece.
The Umbrella Academy: Season 3 (Netflix) – This show has to be one of the most difficult to reform after the transition of one of its main characters and it is at a time where they are just sort of figuring out the power and depth of said person. Yes, it is now widely known that Elliot Page is the actor going forward but it also leaves the big question of what happens to their character, Vanya Hargreaves, a huge part of the main superhero family at the center of this show. The show as we know it has the crew back in their own timeline after a brief visit to the sixties in season two but the reality has changed and the man who put the group together, Reginald Hargreaves, has opted to adopt seven different miraculous babies instead with an all-new result. I love this show so much, one of Netflix’s greatest assets and a series that is so reverent and celebratory of the Gerard and Mikey Way-created comic series. The feel and drive of it have never faltered and it still manages to completely surprise me as it tries to carve its own path. This is a welcome return and I highly recommend getting into or back into it.
Wellington Paranormal: Season 3 (The CW) – As a big fan of everything that Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and their insane New Zealander comedy stylings, I have been waiting for this series to hit North American television screens as it has finished its entire run in its native country. Following on the heels of the phenomenal What We Do In The Shadows, the series follows Sergeant Ruawai Maaka of the Wellington Police who enlists the aid of Officers Minogue and O’Leary to tackle paranormal events in New Zealand’s capital city. In a police reality show style, the third season of this series follows these kiwi cops as they investigate cases such as the demon possession of a teenager, a noise complaint at a haunted house and a blood bank robbery in a completely irreverent comedic fashion. Seriously, New Zealand might be the funniest country on the planet and I’m pretty sold on that opinion. Prove me wrong, other countries!
Man vs. Bee (Netflix) – Rowan Atkinson is one of the best physical comedy actors of any generation and all you need to do is point to the many adventures of Mr. Bean, both on television and in the movies, for evidence. I have to assume, for this reason, it was a no-brainer for Netflix to pick up his new no-dialogue adventure even if he wasn’t playing the Austin Mini driving oddball. Again, we have a really simple premise, with Rowan playing a man who finds himself at war with a bee while housesitting a luxurious mansion. I can only imagine the hijinx that ensues with the brilliance contained in the head of Atkinson but how far can this be stretched out? I had initially thought this was a movie but it is a series apparently. Luckily, they are just fifteen-minute episodes but I hope that doesn’t overstay its welcome either.