Armageddon Time – One of my favourite filmmakers working today, I have been waiting for the next film from writer and director James Gray after his underappreciated sci-fi masterpiece Ad Astra. It seems to be par for the course for Gray’s films to go largely unnoticed but he does have a rabid fan base, me included, and the cast of this new drama, with Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins and Succession’s Jeremy Strong, all actors he has never worked with, gets me even more amped. The film is very loosely based on real events in Gray’s childhood in the Reagen era 1980s and is a coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream, something that is lost in today’s America. The film received a seven-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and ever since it was announced I have been eager to get it in my eyeballs. Sadly, I live in a small town so my chances of seeing it on the big screen are slim to none so I live with my jealousy of those in a bigger market.
The Good Nurse – With two Academy Award winners in the leading roles with Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, it’s an easy assumption to say that this is probably one of those Oscar bait films, especially with us heading into November and the sort of start to awards season. The confirmation comes from it being based on a true story as well as the initial writing credit coming from a bestselling novel but I’m more excited about it being the first film directed by Tobias Lindholm since A War in 2015. The story follows Amy, a compassionate nurse and single mother struggling with a life-threatening heart condition who is stretched to her physical and emotional limits by the hard and demanding night shifts at the ICU. Help arrives in the form of Charlie, a thoughtful and empathetic fellow nurse who starts at her unit and the two develop a quick friendship. Life is improving for everyone until a series of mysterious patient deaths set off an investigation that points to Charlie as the prime suspect. The film is a well-told drama with Chastain and Redmayne elevating it where they can but I just wish that Lindholm had taken the script writing duties. It is a small gripe but his film Another Round, the last thing he wrote, is such an incredible film that may be one of the best international character films of the last decade.
Call Jane – A timely and relevant story about abortion, this is the type of filmmaking we need in the world right now without question. The benefit, to be completely honest, is that this isn’t an independent film as well and features known Hollywood stars in Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Mara which gets it in more theatres and more commercials on television. The film follows Banks as a married woman with an unwanted pregnancy who lives in a time in America when she can’t get a legal abortion and works with a group of suburban women to find help. This leads to her joining the growing movement in the hope to empower the women around them and take the fight to the powers that be but under the contact eye and thumb of those who hold their choices, including her own husband. This movie just played at the Vancouver International Film Festival, so it is very fresh in my mind heading into this wide release. I really dug the film, fully focused on its message as it should be but it definitely lacks in enriching the characters who are supposed to be based on real people. When it comes to telling that story it feels a little contrived and familiar in most parts. I still can’t stress enough how important it all is though.
Wendell & Wild – On the same week that his last directed feature hits Blu-Ray and 4K, Jordan Peele has another project ready to jump into your eyeballs and it is a sort of reunion with his longtime writing partner and c–showrunner Keegan Michael Key, a prospect that has fans like me very excited. Adding their voices to this animated feature and with Peele as a writer, the uber draw to this should be that it comes from the mind of Henry Selick, the man who brought us Tim Burton’s vision in A Nightmare Before Christmas and brought Neil Gaiman’s Coraline to glorious life. This film falls into the same spooky category, following two scheming demon brothers, Wendell and Wild, who enlist the aid of thirteen-year-old Kat Elliot to summon them to the Land of the Living for a chance to wreak some havoc. Selick’s motivation has me so intrigued and I wish I got an advanced look at it as he used Charles Addams cartoons, The Twilight Zone, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-mo monsters, The Night on Bald Mountain, The Night of the Hunter and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as inspiration for this movie plus Key and Peele are basically doing Abbott and Costello impressions. All of this sounds so much like something geared to a Laika Studios fan like me which is who Coraline was produced by. This may be a hit before you know it!
All Quiet On The Western Front – This might be the best film of this year, a war film that has been made twice before, once in 1930 and again in the seventies for television, but this version of it hits like a hammer and is unrelenting for two and a half hours. There are so many stellar war films that have come, even just in my lifetime, but only a couple have been so laser-focused to show the visceral horror of being broken by combat and it’s the 1985 Russian film Come And See and this one now. The story follows teenagers Paul Bäumer and his friends Albert and Müller, who voluntarily enlist in the German army, riding a wave of patriotic fervour that quickly dissipates once they face the brutal realities of life on the front during World War I. Paul’s preconceptions about the enemy and the rights and wrongs of the conflict soon crumble but, amid the countdown to the armistice, he must carry on fighting until the end, with no purpose other than to satisfy the top brass’ desire to end the war on a German offensive. I was left slack-jawed by this film the moment these naive young men enter the battle and I couldn’t collect myself until the final credits hit. Bookended by beautiful serene moments before the cataclysmic chaos of war, this might not just be the best film of 2022 but the one of the great war films ever.
Prey For The Devil – Daniel Stamm is a horror storyteller that emerged with a hell of a debut in the sort of found footage possession horror The Last Exorcism, a film that made me say “how the hell did they do that?” more than once. Since then, he has failed to garner the same excitement out of his features, including the sequel to his first film, but it looks like he’s going back to that demon-soaked well for this new outing. The story follows Sister Ann, a nun who believes she is answering the call of a higher being to join the faith but is it from God or something else that has been tied to her and her mother since childhood? In response to a global rise in demonic possessions, Ann seeks out a place at an exorcism school reopened by the Catholic Church. Until now these schools have only trained priests in the Rite of Exorcism but a professor recognizes Sister Ann’s gifts and agrees to train her and things quickly spiral into the personal connection she doesn’t want to believe is true. The trailer is full of exorcism-driven chills and thrills and the hope is that we aren’t given everything in the three-minute ad, leaving a bare bone and unscary foray into exposition but I’d like to think that Stamm has some devious twists along the ride. I have some optimism about this film.
Run Sweetheart Run – It feels like week to week we are given a straight-to-streaming feature film that only seems to get some advertising in the days leading up to it and that is definitely true with this new horror thriller that should be plastered everywhere as we are heading into Halloween weekend. Even so, Prime Video hopes to rope you in with a film that did really well on the festival circuit and gained a lot of fans with its slick and stylish thrills. The story follows an industry go-getter and single mom who finds herself on a blind date with an influential businessman. At the end of the night, when the two are alone together, he reveals his true, violent nature which sends her fleeing for her life, battered and terrified, beginning a relentless game of cat-and-mouse with a bloodthirsty assailant hell-bent on her utter destruction. These are the films with a lot of grounded and character-based suspense in a hell of a shift for writer and director Shana Feste who usually does romantic drama fare like Country Strong and the remake of Endless Love. This might just be the sleeper hit to kick off your spooky weekend.
Nope – Easily one of my most anticipated films of 2022, the return of Jordan Peele with his third feature film satisfied me thoroughly although I will say that a lot of people really failed to see the point driven in it and kept calling the filmmaker one that suffers from diminishing returns. I say those people are wrong. The trailers are deliciously ambiguous but entirely intriguing and if you haven’t seen the film yet, I would like to keep it secretive because the reveals are fantastic. The story follows OJ, the inherited owner of a failing Hollywood horse ranch who is reunited with his estranged sister Emerald after the mysterious death of their father. OJ is gearing up to sell the ranch and its contents to Ricky “Jupe” Park, a former child star and local attraction entrepreneur in the area until something appears in the sky and changes all of their lives. Peele reteams with Get Out actor and Academy Award winner Daniel Kaluuya and has a solid cast around him with Keke Palmer, Steven Yuen and veteran Michael Wincott who all deliver character-rich performances in a film that has all the ominous thrills and chills that you want but with an almost Spielberg like drive to it. Peele seems to grow more and more with every project and Nope was an astounding testament to that.
The Invitation – I have to be totally honest off the top to give this movie the dagger and say that it was a complete dud to me. Too much was given away in the trailer, like the reveal that it’s a vampire film and it really looks too close to the horror comedy Ready Or Not but without the levity and at the end of the day and in this spooky season, that would be a better bet anyway. The film follows Fast And Furious franchise star Nathalie Emmanuel as Evie, a woman grieving the loss of her mother with no other relatives who take a DNA test and discovers a long-lost cousin she never knew she had. Invited by her newfound family to a lavish wedding in the English countryside, she’s at first seduced by the sexy aristocrat host but is soon thrust into a nightmare of survival as she uncovers twisted secrets in her family’s history and the unsettling intentions behind their generosity. As I said, too much out on the table heading in so I suggest you ignore it but I do like that it comes from a woman writer and director in Jessica M. Thompson because this genre needs a female voice more and more any day. I really just wish the final product left me feeling a bit more fulfilled. Heck, maybe we should be done with vampires for a bit.
Official Competition – An easy way to get me onboard watching a film is to have it be about filmmaking or at least the process of and this one roped me in with that premise but I had no idea that it would feature two of the greatest performances from a couple of international superstars. Yes, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas have a plethora of phenomenal films in their rearview mirror but there is something so special about this one and I have to believe that Cruz based a little bit on her frequent collaborator Pedro Almodovar. The film follows Lola Cuerva, a famous and highly touted filmmaker who is hired by a wealthy businessman looking to establish a new legacy. The project is a grandiose picture that also stars two of the biggest international stars who have never worked together before and for good reason. Creative and personal egos clash in a film that is darkly funny but can still come through with an emotional kick to spin the entire story. The film is impeccably shot at all times and I found myself astounded by the dually directed film from Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, two storytellers I am totally unfamiliar with. Needless to say, I’m paying attention now.
Breaking – John Boyega is an actor that I want to hit superstardom, a guy that I first saw in the British sci-fi action thriller Attack The Block then, of course, a plum but squandered role in Star Wars as Finn but everything else seemed to skirt by. Well, this year he was a lead actor in the Viola Davis-led The Woman King but this based on a true story drama was also released at roughly the same time. The film follows him as Marine Veteran Brian Brown-Easley who is denied support from Veterans Affairs and, being financially desperate and running out of options, he takes a bank and several of its employees hostage, setting the stage for a tense confrontation with the police. The film felt like Boyega doing his best Denzel in John Q performance and it was great to see the late and fantastic Michael K. Williams in his final performance but something about the story feels so uneven in its delivery. The story is the key, another utterance of the government crushing a lower-class citizen who broke their back for the country, but there is so much that feels like it’s distracting from what is important. In a film that should have been an easy home run, the final result feels like it has a fleeting resonance.
Fall – As a fan of thrillers, something that I really love as a subgenre is the survival thriller and the more ridiculous you go, the more I am on board. Something that pushes my buttons deep in my core is anything that involves heights and the possibility of falling a great distance to your death. I know, the horror guy has this affliction but I can’t shake it, it gives me the shivers. This new film plays right into my insecurity as it follows best friends Becky and Hunter who find themselves trapped at the top of a two thousand-foot radio tower. Even worse, it was an expression planned by Becky to get her friend over the tragic death of her boyfriend who dies at the beginning of the film in a climbing accident. All implausibilities aside, this movie grips you with the crushing fear of falling to your death and I’m sure that it all plays beautifully on the big screen, more than it did with my home screening but, you know, I still got vertigo from it all. What didn’t work for me was the pretty badly written script which, through actresses like Annabelle: Creation’s Grace Fulton and Marvel’s Runaways’ star Virginia Gardner just didn’t have enough to give it enough conviction. Obviously, this movie isn’t about the script, just the action, and it pulls through well there thanks to writer and director Scott Mann.
Ray Donovan: The Complete Series – One of Showtime’s greatest and long-running shows, the gritty Liev Schreber anti-hero gets his flowers in this cohesive box set that also includes the film as well and, really, what shows except the best get a chance to do a movie as well. The cast around Schreiber is really great with Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Paula Malcolmson and even Jon Voight is great, using his unlikeable personality, in reality, to channel into the dirtbag dad of the title character, Mickey Donovan. For those blind to television in the last decade, Liev is Ray, a professional “fixer” for the rich and famous in Los Angeles, who can make anyone’s problems disappear except those created by his own family. The show had a hell of a run, going seven seasons that featured guest turns from Susan Sarandon, Elliot Gould, Hank Azaria, Katie Holmes, Ian McShane and more. I honestly still haven’t finished the show yet but now with it all in my possession, I really have no excuse not to.
Steve’s Complete DVD Freak Outs:
Ed, Edd & Eddy: The Complete Series – Us Canadians have great memories of the launch of our own cartoon network Teletoon and this series was featured prominently, a Canadian-produced cartoon that still lives here and there on Roblox for the kids and TikTok every now and then but it is with this complete series box set that I’m learning it was actually made by the now deceased Cartoon Network. Yes, this is a bittersweet reminder that the television animation giant has walked into the sunset for the last time but we are gifted with this and the following pick in my newly named for this week, Freak Outs. Over sixty episodes the story of the off-the-wall, day-to-day life of three friends who have exactly the same name was told and some of them honestly feel like a fever dream I made up so it will be very cool to acquaint myself again with a Canadian animation legend. I even know a dude that animated it to add a personal connection to this.
Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends: The Complete Series – Yup, we’re doing a classic Cartoon Network twofer this week because the good people at Warner home video hooked me up with stuff that would make an early 2000s kid smile wide. Now, this one is a bit different from the previous one of the list because, in all honesty, I’ve never seen it before. The plot of the six-season series follows a boy and his beloved imaginary friend who are able to stay together at an orphanage of sorts for imaginary friends that children have outgrown to be adopted by new children. This is geared at kids like my daughter who still have lengthy conversations with their imaginary friends and can relate to it and feel like they aren’t alone in their minds and that is the whole point, right? The animation is crude and sort of feels like Nickelodeon `Lite’ but it features so many of the voiceover greats like Grey Griffin, Phil LaMarr and even Spongebob himself, Tom Kenny. I’m so glad to get this to watch with the kid because it really is a lot of fun.
The Mysterious Benedict Society: Season 2 (Disney+) – Tony Hale has to be one of the most versatile actors working today, a rising star as Buster Bluth in Arrested Development, an award winner for his time on Veep and a welcomed delight in any movie or television series he pops up in. Heck, in this new series he doesn’t even show up until near the end of the first episode of season one but I was already hooked by that point. Now entering its well-plotted second season, this hour-long family series focuses on a group of gifted orphans who are recruited by an eccentric benefactor to go on a secret mission. That mission? Something I is still not going to spoil for you because the intrigue is too great to waste in this write-up. I will say that this show is shot in Vancouver so when they zoom through the city to the orphanage here and there I’m always going “Hey, that’s Gastown!” because I’m a British Columbian nerd always pointing at the television like a Leonardo DiCaprio meme.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix) – One of my favourite horror filmmakers and, really, storytellers in general, Guillermo del Toro has created something masterful on Netflix and after getting my eyes on the first piece of it, it may be one of my favourite releases on the streaming service this year. Being a huge fan of anthology horror, this is an incredible way to deliver it in hour-long episodes and to have the master himself act as almost the Rod Serling-style host of the show is so cool. Over eight episodes we are given many very different nightmares from lots of awesome filmmakers like Cube’s Vincenzo Natali, The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent, A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour and more. I really hope this one takes off and we get many more volumes of it with filmmakers from all over the world because it could be a great way for genre creators to make short films as well as give a platform to up-and-comers.
Big Mouth: Season 6 (Netflix) – It’s time to get uncomfortable with our bodies all over again as this lewd, rude and massively crude-minded animated comedy returns with all-new episodes and the added effect of coming off the first season of the spin-off series, Human Resources. That one was a bit of a lesser show but I adore anything that Nick Kroll and John Mulaney do and when you throw Maya Rudolph and Jason Mantzoukas into the mix then I am in love. For those who don’t know about this show, it is the awkward and sometimes brutal coming-of-age story of two best friends in the throes of puberty, this time dealing with the fallout of summer camp and new urges that have arisen since then and new love interests that have been created along the way. Watch it at your own risk but keep it in mind that it is totally my sort of messed up.
The Devil’s Hour (Prime Video) – One of the more recent Doctor Who incarnations, Peter Capaldi has a certain side of the nerd zeitgeist on his side right now but I loved him from his turn on the vicious Armando Iannucci series The Thick Of It and, of course, his recent role in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. This one is a totally different animal than those and it has Capaldi tapping into a darker side of his acting ability and I’m all here for it. Vaguely speaking, the show follows a woman who wakes up every night at exactly 3:33 AM, in the middle of the so-called devil’s hour between 3 AM and 4 AM and the devil in question may or may not be Capaldi’s Gideon, a man incarcerated for life that has a connection with our main character. The show comes from a first-time showrunner and creator in Tom Moran but he did write a couple of episodes of the sci-fi series The Feed which was fascinating but sadly very unpopular for Prime Video. Here’s hoping that this one has a little better success.
Tales Of The Jedi (Disney+) – After the Star Wars animated shorts series Visions that came out last year, I’ve been really excited to see this new Force-based little batch of episodes, another brainchild from Clone Wars and Rebels head honcho Dave Filioni, also known as the master of everything Star Wars Universe related. The animation is exactly the same as Clone Wars, Rebels and the recent Disney+ exclusive The Bad Batch and even welcomes back some of those characters. If this is supposed to be the first season then this is the Ashoka Tano and Count Dooku season because this is the focus of it with the birth of the future padawan to Anakin Skywalker kicking off the show and the Attack Of The Clones villain’s turn from the Jedi council to the dark side. I really loved all of the episodes, as short as they were at roughly fifteen minutes each. They may be for the deep Star Wars fans but I also think it’s an ingenious way to enrich some of the less regarded characters too. I mean, there’s a main part for Yaddle in this and that is so damn cool.