The Menu – The trailers for this have been very mysterious and secretive but after the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival many have been saying that it is Saw meets Succession which is way too intriguing to not get excited about. Interestingly enough, it was directed by Mark Mylod, who has directed a handful of the Succession episodes so the comparison is almost on the nose. The story follows a young couple who travels to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu but it might come at a deadly price as the patrons seem to be dispatched one by one as the course mounts up. The cast in the film looks great with Anya Taylor Joy and Nicholas Hoult playing the leading couple and Ralph Fiennes as the head chef of the night. From what I’ve read, a really dark comedy is the drive of this film and I have to say that the ad campaign for it keeps my interest in it as it gives almost nothing away. This could be a late 2022 favourite.
Spirited – For me, not being the biggest holiday movie fan, it takes some coaxing to get me into a film that is not already an established classic or a yearly yuletide rewatch. The easiest way possible to dig through that frosty attitude is to put two funny dudes together to guide me past the jingle bells to the enjoyment and Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell seem like the perfect pairing to do that. Be warned, this is a classic story that you’ve seen so many times before but with a modern twist and music at the forefront as, yes, this is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Kitsilano’s treasure plays Cliff, a miserly man who treats everyone around him with terrible selfishness and finds himself on a fantastical adventure into the three phases of time, the past, present, and future, in order to discover how he ended up so miserable and alone. This movie feels a bit bloated with spectacle and music, something that can usually sour me, but it really works for the most part and at the end of it all, it is a fun ride and Ryan can really do no wrong. At least he has done little wrong in my opinion if that was too big of a statement.
The Wonder – After the debacle that was Don’t Worry Darling to end our summer of movies, it is sadly on Florence Pugh for a bit of cinema redemption, an unfair notion as she was the one that balanced everything good about that film on her shoulders, but the movie-going public can be mean. Good thing she has director Sebastian Lelio to guide her on this journey, the man behind masterpieces like A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience. She plays an English nurse sent to the Irish midlands in 1862 to watch over a young girl who hasn’t eaten a single piece of food in four months. Believed by the town elders to be an act of god, she is set to use her medical science to save the girl’s life but it may just open her to a faith that was ripped from her life by tragedy. The best way to go into this film is blind to the story as the beautiful cinematography and Pugh’s incredible character work drives it to be one of the most compelling stories I have seen this year. It also happens to be written by Emma Donoghue who also wrote the Oscar-winning drama Room, a film that still haunts me emotionally.
Slumberland – Jason Momoa has been in the news more recently, talking about possible opportunities of playing Lobo in the DC Comics universe where he is already positioned as Aquaman and baring his ass on late-night talk shows so it’s the perfect time to roll out another of his Netflix original films. This one plays a bit on the fantasy side and he is paired with a director who has some experience in that type of filmmaking as Francis Lawrence, the guy behind I Am Legend, the majority of the Hunger Games franchise and Constantine helmed this one. The story follows a young girl who discovers a secret map to the dreamworld of Slumberland, and with the help of an eccentric outlaw, she traverses dreams and flees nightmares, with the hope that she will be able to see her late father again. The movie is based on old novels by author Winsor McCay which were already adapted in animated form in the late eighties as the Little Nemo films so I’m a little surprised that it took so long to see them in live-action form but it definitely builds a world within it. I’m sure, with the star power and filmmaking team behind it, that Netflix would love a franchise to be birthed with this film so we’ll see how it pans out.
She Said – The heart of the Me Too movement gets a big Hollywood boost this week and it also stars the great Carey Mulligan who starred in the phenomenal Promising Young Woman, one of my favourite films that year. A film we should have known was coming, the story comes at an important time of whistleblowing and is the big Hollywood debut of filmmaker Maria Schrader whose last film I’m Your Man is a sleeper international drama that impressed me greatly. The story follows Mulligan and The Big Sick actress Zoe Kazan as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor who break one of the most important stories in a generation, the story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood. A hell of a cast has been assembled around Mulligan and Kazan, including the legendary Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher and Jennifer Ehle and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz has given us great female-led stories in the last few years with Colette and Disobedience so I’m really looking forward to this one, even if it comes off as a bit of Oscar bait.
Salvatore: Shoemaker Of Dreams – I’ve been waiting for a new Luca Guadagnino movie for a while since his 2018 re-imagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, which became one of my favourite films of the last twenty years. Albeit, the thing I was looking forward to was his thriller Bones And All with Timothee Chalamet which debuts later this month but this documentary tides me over, one that was actually completed in 2020. The film tells the life of Italian shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo, who created shoes for Hollywood stars during the silent film era and for iconic films of the period, including legends like Sophia Loren, Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn as well as visionaries like Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin. The film is exquisitely put together by a knowledgeable filmmaker but I found my interest waning here and there when it gets headier about the craft of the shoe. The cinema-related things are fascinating, especially when one of the greatest filmmakers to ever grace the earth, Martin Scorcese drops in as an interview subject. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I can appreciate the appeal.
Pearl – After seeing the seventies-style brilliance that was the horror film X from Ti West, there was a rumour I read online that there was a second film, a prequel to that story that was written and filmed by West and lead actress Mia Goth during the COVID quarantine in New Zealand which doubled for a hot and dusty Texas. Having loved everything I saw in X I was so curious to see even a trailer for Pearl which was apparently only shown in American cinemas, screwing us Canadians. You’ve had a few months to watch X on blu-ray now so I will play with a few spoilers here but the story of this film follows the story of Pearl, the old lady who murdered all of the main characters in X, in her back story of how she got there. Goth proved herself to be a bonafide leading star in X and I can not wait to see her stretch her legs again in an even darker role as I suspect she did the dual role of the predecessor as Pearl under heavy aging makeup. Mia Goth deserves an Oscar for her sweetly unhinged performance in this film, coming off like a twisted Judy Garland and I really hope that her name will still be bandied about during awards season. I know she won’t get even the sniff of a nomination but she deserves the conversation.
Three Thousand Years Of Longing – Mad Max: Fury Road is a hell of a move to follow up and the good news is that director and creator George Miller just wrapped production on the prequel to that movie. Still, before that hits the finish mark, he has this new film with an adult twist on an old fable and he’s paired with two of the best actors in modern cinema, Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. The story follows Swinton as a lonely scholar who happens to encounter a Djinn, played by Elba, while in Istanbul attending a conference which offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. This presents two problems, the first being that she doubts that he is real and the second because she is a scholar of story and mythology, she knows all the cautionary tales of wishes gone wrong. The Djinn pleads his case by telling her fantastical stories of his past and eventually she is beguiled and makes a wish that surprises them both. Miller is a king at making visually stunning tales and this is really no different as it explores the djinn’s past in a colourful fashion, one that Miller coaxed legendary cinematographer John Seale out of retirement again to capture. It’s ambitious, heady and thoughtful but definitely not something that any Mad Max fan was expecting out of the legendary filmmaker. I really liked it a lot but I can see people not being into it..
Moonage Daydream – With the ill-advised biopic Stardust in our rearview, a film unapproved by the estate of David Bowie and dreadfully scripted and put together, it is a breath of fresh air to get this documentary on one of the greatest rock stars of all time, a man whose death left me in tears for weeks. Even better, the film is written and directed by Brett Morgen who is no stranger to music-driven films of this ilk as he is the guy who put together the Kurt Cobain film Montage Of Heck among other projects. Fresh off of its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, the documentary promises to be a cinematic odyssey exploring David Bowie’s creative and musical journey in ways that have never been done before. The acclaim is already pouring in for it and if you’re a Bowie fan then this movie was made directly for you, an intimate portrait of a man that was bigger than life, bigger than this planet and maybe universe spanning in his artistic scope. His life and music had a profound effect on me and it’s great that the estate opened up to give us something like this because we know now a biopic will probably never happen with a full blessing.
Hansan: Rising Dragon – I love a good historical war story and there’s something about Korean cinema that, obviously if you’re a regular reader of this, also draws me in as well and this new feature film has all of that going on, plus it is pretty well reviewed at this point too. I wish I had gotten on board with this movie earlier too as it is a follow-up to a film from 2014, The Admiral: Roaring Currents. The film is set in 1592 and follows Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his fleet as they face off against the might of the invading Japanese navy and its formidable warships. As the Korean forces fall into crisis, the admiral resorts to using his secret weapon, the turtle ship, in order to change the tide of this epic battle at sea. The action is exciting and well pieced out, as Korean films usually do, and the strategy of war is laid out pretty well for the viewer to take in. For a regular viewer, I will say that there are some dry patches in between the action that may take people out from time to time but the payoff is really great.
Beast – Really, all you need to do to sell this movie is to describe it as Idris Elba protecting his family against lions or at least one badass lion in particular. Easy, print money. The fact that it also has South African actor Sharlto Copley in a supporting role gets me excited more about it but that’s because I adore the man and interviewed him once years ago for the actioner rollercoaster Hardcore Henry. Anyways, this film has Elba as a father who, with his two teenage daughters, finds themselves hunted by a massive rogue lion on a warpath of revenge through the Savanna after poachers killed his mate. The effects on the lion and the action and suspense sequences are handled masterfully by filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur who is no stranger to survival thrillers with spectacle, coming off the true story Jon Krakauer adaptation, Everest. Breezy and without a huge amount of deep substance, Beast is an edge-of-your-seat man versus nature-thriller that Idris pulls off nicely.
Jerry & 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.
Halo: Season 1 – It’s been a long and rocky road for the video game adaptation to find any sort of footing in Hollywood. At first, it was going to be executive produced by Peter Jackson, the mind behind everything J.R.R. Tolkien on the big screen, written by Alex Garland, the filmmaker behind Ex Machina, Annihilation and Dredd albeit afterwards and director Neill Blomkamp, the eyes behind District 9 and Elysium. At one point even the great Guillermo Del Toro was attached but the point is that many were gunning for this to happen. Well, Showtime actually went ahead and made the series but got cold feet and Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment took over and here it is, living big on Paramount+. The series really has all you want from it if you are a Halo fan. Master Chief is there, the Covenant are launching their universal attack, Cortana is referenced, all of that good stuff. Now is where we see if that goodness is sustainable and I will say that some of the CGI with the Spartans is a bit dodgy but I had fun with the kick-off to this series and am really looking forward to the follow-up season which is filming currently.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
The White Ribbon – A staple for any good international film collection is to have a Micahel Haneke film included, whether it’s his Hitchcockian thriller Cache or either version of his grotesque and chilling Funny Games. Long on my list of films to pick up, this Oscar-nominated Palme D’Or winner plays in a sandbox of historical reality and that same thrilling drive we’ve come to expect from this legendary filmmaker. The film is set in Germany during the years before World War I as strange things start to transpire, pointing to a sort of ritual punishment for all in the village. A horse trips on a wire and throws the rider, a woman falls to her death through rotted planks, the local baron’s son is hung upside down in a mill, the locals start to lose their grips and commit very public indecencies and then start to outright disappear. What is this all crescendoing to? Haneke keeps you on the edge of your seat as the intensity boils out of control in a film that deserves a Criterion Collection edition as soon as possible. In the meantime, I’m excited to just have it on Blu-ray.
Mark Of The Vampire – I feel like it has been a while since I’ve gotten to talk about a Warner Archive classic release and, sadly, I wish this was given to me in October because it would have been a fun thing to bring. Coming out of the original golden age of Hollywood, it was a horror story headlined by one of the biggest names in town, Lionel Barrymore, as well as co-starring a genre heavyweight in Bela Legosi and under the eye of one of the most fascinating creators of the time, Tod Browning. The story follows the daughter of a slain nobleman who becomes the target of her father’s murderer, a vampire known as Count Mora. Enter Professor Zelen, an expert on vampires who are sent in to prevent her death just as more secrets are revealed surrounding the circumstances of Sir Karell’s death and the small village they reside in is put under more evil intent. Upon release, the film was banned in Poland and Sweden, and censors in Hungary excised the screams, shots of bats and other gruesome scenes, which are very pedestrian by today’s horror standards. Even so, the film was a moderate success for MGM at the time and raised the profile of all involved.
Yellowstone: Season 5 (Paramount+) – Kevin Costner takes the lead in this series that has taken audiences across North America in a big bad way and it’s because it is a damn good series both in writing from Hell Or High Water and Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan and a well-rounded cast around Costner including Kelly Reilly, Cole Hauser and Wes Bentley to get things started.. The show follows the Dutton family, led by John Dutton played by Costner, who controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States, under constant attack by those it borders, such as land developers, a nearby Indian reservation and the keepers of America’s first National Park. It is an intense study of a violent world far from media scrutiny, where land grabs make developers billions, politicians are bought and sold by the world’s largest oil and lumber corporations, where drinking water is poisoned by fracking wells and unsolved murders are not news. I was severely late to the game and am currently immersed near the end of the third season and am really enjoying it, a good series for those who like crime series like Sons Of Anarchy or The Sopranos.
Tulsa King (Paramount+) – The Taylor Sheridan freight train is in full effect this week, first with the debut of the fifth season of Paramount+’s juggernaut that I just talked about but Sylvester Stallone is now joining in the fun. To be clear, this is his own series, unconnected to the story of the Duttons and their predecessor but for those who have dug into the Jeremy Renner series Mayor Of Kingstown, he has more than enough talent to go around. The story follows Sly as mafia capo and ex-con Dwight “The General” Manfredi, recently released from prison and exiled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to keep on the straight and narrow. Obviously, he doesn’t and proceeds to build a new empire with the people he pulls in locally. Sheridan just knows how to write compelling television so I fully expect this show to be an immediate success and the subscriber numbers to jump up more on Paramount’s fast-rising streaming service. Personally, I’ve been waiting for something good for Stallone and this is the best possible outcome.
Dead To Me: Season 3 (Netflix) – Two of my favourite actresses lead this dark comedy to the finale as one of my childhood crushes, Christina Applegate, plays a recently widowed woman who meets a new friend, played by Linda Cardellini, at the grief support group, not knowing that she is the one responsible for her husband’s death. The casting is so impeccable in this show and the writing is so snappy that if this is really Applegate’s swan song, now battling MS after her two bouts of breast cancer, then it is a really great one to go out on. I also love that one of my favourite character actor Garret Dillahunt, is a prominent piece of this final season, although he just signifies trouble for our two leads. This is one of those hit shows for Netflix and I’m happy to see it’s going out on its own terms. Also, fuck MS for taking Christina Applegate from our television and movie screens.
1899 (Netflix) – For those who have never had someone sprinkle this knowledge in their ear, let me be the first to tell you that the Danish series Dark on Netflix is the best show you’ve never heard of. It caught people’s imaginations with its abundance of twists, turns and weird moments and Netflix loved the streaming numbers so much that they gave them carte blanche to create something new and that something is this new series. Digging into some Danish history tinged with gothic horror, this series follows multinational immigrants travelling from London to New York at the cusp of the nineteenth century who encounter a nightmarish riddle aboard a second ship found adrift on the open sea. The best thing is to give just that short teaser and go in blind as the intrigue is in the reveals and creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese are so gifted at that. The cast isn’t largely known to North American audiences but it does have actress Emily Beecham who astounded me in a Vancouver International Film Festival chiller called Little Joe a few years ago.
Fleishman Is In Trouble (Disney+) – I really love that a lot of independent filmmakers have taken short breaks from making big screen cinema to doing little limited series for streamers and American Splendor writing and directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s new series is a great example of that. Featuring the great talent of Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, Claire Danes and Adam Brody, there are so many elements of this show that get me excited to devour every episode and it is all before I even get to the plot. The show follows Jesse as Toby Fleishman, a man recently separated from his wife after a fifteen-year marriage and must now reacclimate and navigate weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness and the occasional moment of tension with his soon-to-be ex-wife in their co-parenting negotiations. This is exactly the sort of comedy-drama series I love and, for those who aren’t huge fans of Eisenberg’s traits as an actor, this is the type of story he excels in. Starting from The Squid And The Whale, it is exactly the same subgenre that made me a fan of his.