Minions: The Rise Of Gru – The kids are all most likely chomping at the bit for this new entry into this really popular animated franchise from Illumination Entertainment and there are probably parents out there that are bracing for the visual nails on the chalkboard that these films are for them. I am on the more positive side of the fence for the Minions although I will say that the first of their spin-off films was a bit pointless but now they’ve brought Steve Carrell’s Gru back into the mix for his origin story. The film follows Gru, growing up in the seventies, idolizing his favourite supervillain group, the Vicious 6, his inspiration for evil. Gru hatches a plan to become evil enough to join them and, luckily, he gets some mayhem-making back-up from his loyal followers, the Minions, Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto, a new Minion sporting braces and a desperate need to please. Together they deploy their skills as they and Gru build their first lair, experiment with their first weapons, and pull off their first missions. The expectations for this film are kind of the same as every other film that we’ve gotten after the first one because they all deliver on somewhat the same level. All I know is there is a repeat of the constant nonsense these little guys spew from my kid for at least four weeks afterwards.
The Forgiven – There’s something about the McDonough brothers, Martin and John Michael, that sets them apart from other filmmakers and the odd thing, unlike the Coens, the Farrellys, the Safdies and others, they never make their films together but they still have a distinct feeling about them. The definition line for the McDonough’s is fantastic dialogue with incredible casts and that is what is evident here with this drama that seems as elusive in its tone as is the truth of its characters. The story takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa and the ramifications but sociological and psychological that happens to our main man, Ralph Fiennes in the result. This film has two main threads of reluctant redemption and excessive classism that makes it a heavy narrative with a lot of food for thought. I can’t say it would be broadly compelling but as a fan of great character-driven work on an ensemble level, I really liked this one.
Dual – With just three films under his belt now, Riley Stearns has risen to be one of my favourite filmmakers and a creative mind I follow on social media for nuggets about what he’s going to tackle next. He’s made subversive and intriguing stories about many sociological issues like religious and cult indoctrination in his thriller Faults, toxic masculinity in his dark comedy The Art Of Self Defense and now takes on a whole new set of issues in a movie he made in the midst of the COVID lockdown. The film stars Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Karen Gillan as a woman who opts for a cloning procedure after she receives a terminal diagnosis but when she recovers her attempts to have her clone decommissioned fail, leading to a court-mandated duel to the death. The concept of this film is incredible and opens with a duel between a man and his clone that totally sets the tone. The film is a bit of a character building slow burn but once the gears lock in, you are in for one hell of a ride and a biting dialogue that made me chuckle darkly multiple times.
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On – If there has ever been a palate cleanser of great design and scope, it really has to be this new wondrously imaginative feature film that blends stunning stop motion with the “reality” of a documentary feel. The movie is based on a popular web series created by Dean Fleischer-Camp and voiced by his wife at the time, Jenny Slate, I feel robbed that I didn’t know about this series earlier but I feel fulfilled now in having seen the big-screen version. The story follows our title character, an adorable one-inch-tall shell who ekes out a colourful existence with his grandmother Connie and their pet lint, Alan. Once part of a sprawling community of shells, they now live alone as the sole survivors of a mysterious tragedy. But when a documentary filmmaker discovers them amongst the clutter of his Airbnb, the short film he posts online brings Marcel millions of passionate fans, as well as unprecedented dangers and new hope at finding his long-lost family. This movie is heartwarming at all times and deals with some heavy subject matter in parts, like the ending of relationships, Separation and even the death of a loved one or family member, but does it through the prism of precious naivete that comes off so beautifully. It was refreshing to see an animated film without a goal other than giving its simple story and not aiming for a franchise or toy sales. Marcel is exceptional, perfect and utterly must-see.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – I headed into this second sequel in the spinoff prequel of the Harry Potter franchise with a few mixed emotions. The first Fantastic Beasts film I found to be really fun with some great characters and storytelling but the second film, The Crimes Of Grindelwald, felt way too much at once being shoved into a single movie which grew tedious as the story moved on. Now we return to the world of wizarding with Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, at its head. With the knowledge that Grindelwald, now played by the great Mads Mikkelsen, is intent on seizing control of both sides of the world, both magic and ordinary, Albus must enlist Magizoologist Newt Scamander to lead an intrepid team of wizards, witches and one brave Muggle baker on a dangerous mission, where they encounter old and new beasts and clash with Grindelwald’s growing legion of followers. The good thing is we get a little more of a return to what made the first movie so entertaining and they don’t feel like they cram in and rush little storylines that come to fruition later but it sadly never meets up to the magic of the original Potter films and likely never will in the prequel setting. As much as I love Mads, he didn’t seem to equal what Johnny Depp had already brought to the role and I feel like Ezra Miller is so problematic in real life that it is really hard to watch him on screen now.
Firestarter – Making a Stephen King adaptation is really dicey at any time because, in this avid reader and huge fan’s mind, they haven’t had the best transition time from page to screen and some of them have gone beyond being disappointing and gone to the depths of being downright awful. This adaptation has the benefit of being one I’ve read but haven’t had the deepest connection with at the time, although the father and daughter bond at the center of it has sentimental value to me now, decades after I initially read it. For those who didn’t get to read this or see the eighties Drew Barrymore film, the story follows parents Andy and Vicky who have been on the run for more than a decade, desperate to hide their daughter Charlie from a shadowy federal agency that wants to harness her unprecedented gift for creating fire into a weapon of mass destruction. Andy has taught Charlie how to defuse her power, which is triggered by anger or pain but, as Charlie turns 11, the fire becomes harder and harder to control. After an incident reveals the family’s location, a mysterious operative is deployed to hunt down the family and seize Charlie once and for all but, of course, she has other plans. The was promising, with Zac Efron playing Andy and Indigenous actor Michael Greyeyes as the formidable assassin bearing down on them and director Keith Thomas gets his shot at this big-budget Blumhouse feature after his outstanding debut, The Vigil but sadly it all amounts to mediocrity. This film seems to completely throw away its subject material early on and gives us characters that are confusing in their motivation and bland in their delivery all leading to a finale that is a complete mess that rings hollow and totally bland. This film was an utter waste of time.
The Worst Person In The World – A Best Foreign Academy Award nominee that now has a beautiful new Criterion Collection edition, when one of my studio publicist contacts emailed me about this new well-received drama I jumped at the chance to watch it, and the next masterpiece from writer and director Joachim Trier who has not only not mad a sub-par film but has yet to make one that was any less than amazing. All over film Twitter, people had been going crazy for this movie and I can say that I agree with them and furthermore call it a must-see for 2022. The film is a modern dramedy about the quest for love and meaning in contemporary Oslo, chronicling four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is and make decisions that could paint her to others as a horrendous human being. Lead actress Renate Reinsve is absolutely electric in this movie, giving her journey resonance and purpose, putting us on an odyssey of finding her perfect center which includes a mind-bending mushroom hallucination that could be one of my favourite scenes I’ve seen this year. This is a special movie and, damn the subtitles, people need to watch it.
Mothering Sunday – If you’re in the mood for some post-World War I British romance then this is a damn good week for you because this film ticks all the boxes plus it features Colin Firth and Olivia Coman in supporting roles which is the setup to an actor’s dream showcase. The film also features actress Odessa Young in the lead role, looking for some redemption after The Stand, opposite Josh O’Connor who swept television award shows recently for his portrayal of Prince Charles in the Netflix series The Crown. The story follows a maid living in England after the war who secretly plans to meet with the man she loves before he leaves to marry another woman in a clash of familial relationships and societal politics. This film is driven by fantastic performances that are subdued and seemingly bubble just under the surface. Aside from the few episodes, I saw of the Prime Video series Hanna that director Eva Husson had directed, I wasn’t familiar with her work until this movie and was totally blown away by how studious her craft was alongside Moffie cinematographer Jamie Ramsey. This film won’t have a lot of mainstream buzz around it but it is definitely worth the watch.
See For Me – As far as thrillers go, it feels like the blind girl dealing with intruding assailants trope mostly belongs to the Terence Young film Wait Till Dark with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin but this Canadian film is making a run at being in that conversation. Starring the actually visually impaired Skyler Davenport in her feature film debut and directed by Randall Okita in the follow-up to his first narrative film, the movie has flares of originality that caught me off guard. The story follows Davenport as Sophie, a blind former skier who is cat-sitting in a secluded mansion when three thieves invade for the hidden safe. Sophie’s only defence is army veteran Kelly, who is her remote visual aid consultant, who helps her defend against the invaders and survive until the police arrive. The film has its narrative gaffs here and there but still manages to make a compelling thriller that uses the character’s disability as a trapping that we can really get behind in a situation like this and root for her survival. Okita gives the film an excellent sound design and does some great camera angles that I found fascinating.
Boomerang – It seems like all of Eddie Murphy’s heyday era films are getting their blu-ray update releases recently and I was pleasantly surprised to see this one in my mailbox, a solid film from Reginald Hudlin that features an early performance from Halle Berry. The film is also noteworthy for being unique as it was the most expensive movie with an all-Black cast and production crew for its time in 1992, costing $40 million to make and making $130 million at the box office, which was rare for an all-Black cast and crew film. The film was a from com that follows a successful executive and rampant womanizer who finds his lifestyle choices have turned back on him when his new female boss turns out to be an even bigger deviant than he is. The film was lambasted by critics at the time and got slammed with bad reviews but watching it now it exhibits all the tropes of Murphy as a film star that we loved and has such a fun side to it. The film doesn’t feel like we have to take it all that seriously and more wants to play on the gender angle which works for the most part.
The First Wives Club – It was a big get in the mid-nineties to have Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton in the same film billed at the top for a large part of moviegoers, a woman-led comedy with some star power. The same billing would most likely not garner the same attention today but at its time it had everything going for it plus it had the stalwart filmmaker Hugh Wilson coming off of Guarding Tess to guide it in the right direction. The story follows three wives of husbands who they have helped climb the ladder of success that have been dumped for newer, curvier models. The trio decides to use their pain as motivation to destroy their exes and come up with a cleverly devious plan to hit them where it really hurts, in the wallet. The film was fun and a hit at its time and from what I’ve read, the cast wanted to make a sequel to it but the studio considered the success of the movie a fluke and balked at doing more. What I will say that the lasting effect of the film was is it introduced us to the great Timothy Olyphant who make his debut in the comedy.
Scooby-Doo And Guess Who?: Season 2 – Scooby-Doo got some reinvention in this new series but with some of the tested and true pieces sticking around with Matthew Lillard continuing to be the best Shaggy ever since Casey Kasem retired, and Grey Griffin and Frank Welker keeping up their duties as Fred and Daphne and a perfectly cast Kate Micucci voicing Velma. The show has a different guest star every week which ranges from Batman himself, voiced by the best Batman Kevin Conroy, Sia, Weird Al Yankovic and even the late Alex Trebek in the first season and this season goes way out there with Axl Rose, Kacey Musgraves, Macklemore and more. This is a great new revival of classic characters and the love for the source material shows.
Only Murders In The Building: Season 2 (Disney+) – Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez return for the second season of their series that debuted on Disney+ through the Star side of things last year and became one of the most talked-about shows on the entire streaming service. The series is also produced by the stars and I will say that it’s really not hard to immediately adore it. The story follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, the endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living among them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before they possibly become victims themselves. The anticipation for this second season has been large, especially on my Twitter feed as a lot of the people I follow are huge fans of it and there is some great guest casting coming up in it but I’m not going to even start to give spoilers on that.
Westworld: Season 4 (Crave) – It’s been over two years since we’ve seen anything from this incredible mysterious show that emanated from a 70s Michael Crichton movie and now it is back with an almost unexpected new offering and to be honest, if I had known it was coming I would have had it on my list for the most anticipated releases of the year. The favourites are all back including Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard and Thandie Newton’s Maeve and takes place seven years after the outside the park world of season 3’s events but what is this season about? Well, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are keeping everything secretive but what we do know is that the story will head back to the park and that just adds to the intrigue for me.
Stranger Things 4: Volume 2 (Netflix) – We have the second half of the fourth part of this Netflix series event and after the things that we saw in the first four episodes I am chomping at the bit to dig in and they didn’t even give me the courtesy of an advance screener! The audacity! For those who haven’t caught up with this season yet, Eleven and Will live in sunny California and are not fitting in well but in Hawkins, a new evil called Vecna is dispatching kids Nightmare On Elm Street style and the only ones who can save everyone is the only people in town that have gone through this before. I can’t even say where my expectations lie because the creators The Duffer brothers annihilate them every time. Hell, they’ve even created a new character per season that becomes my fresh new favourite every time. Get ready because this will set up the final season as well.