Strange World – It’s crazy how developed Disney’s own in-house computer animated division has gotten as it is now easily on par with all of the Pixar releases, something that used to far exceed it. With recent releases in memory like Raya And The Last Dragon and Encanto, it fueled the excitement big time for this sci-fi foray for the gifted studio. The film follows a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog and a slew of ravenous creatures. Featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid and stalwart Disney voice-over master Alan Tudyk and looks like an immense amount of colourful fun. At the top of it, it is also world exploration sci-fi and that has me the most excited plus it comes from the filmmaking team that brought us Raya as well as Moana, Big Hero 6 and Meet The Robinsons. The potential here is huge.
The Fabelmans – Being a lifelong Steven Spielberg fan, clearly the number one filmmaker in the world now for decades, he has tackled so many different stories and genres over his life and career but I think this one is the most personal he has ever done. It is a film that definitely speaks to his fans but to the filmmakers and creators that he has inspired as well as the heart of this story is about imagination and the creation of cinema from a young age. The story follows young Sammy Fabelman growing up in post-World War II era Arizona, aspiring to become a filmmaker as he reaches adolescence. Armed with a camera, Sammy makes his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother, played by the phenomenal Michelle Williams. With an incredible cast and the powerhouse and comfortable team of Spielberg and longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, this film has the potential to close out 2022 as one of the best. I can’t even say that is hyperbole because it is the master of modern cinema, Steven Spielberg.
Devotion – It’s really interesting that we get this true story fighter pilot film coming out at the end of 2022 as it is the same year that Top Gun Maverick was released and, not only that, it also shares a leading star with Glen Powell who played Hangman in that long-anticipated sequel. Now it goes to a Korean War story featuring the great Jonathan Majors, a few months before he hits the big time with both Creed III and Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantamaina releasing early 2023. The film tells the story of the friendship between two of the elite pilots in the American air force who are sent on the most dangerous of missions due to their precision strikes. The issue of racism in the leadership is another element of the film obviously with Majors being black and the action looks pretty rip-roaring in ti but it will have to do a lot to best Top Gun. The pandemic really messed this release up as it should have come out two years after the biggest film now of 2022 but here we are.
Bones And All – Is it weird that Luca Guadagnino is making a film about cannibals just a few years after his award lauded drama Call Me By Your Name which starred now-outed weirdo Armie Hammer? I’m not the first to bring that connection up but even so, I’ve been really excited to get my eyes on this new collaboration between the Italian director and his star, Timothee Chalamet. The film is the story of first love between Maren, a young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society, and Lee, an intense and disenfranchised drifter, as they meet and join together for a thousand-mile odyssey which takes them through the back roads, hidden passages and other trappings of a Ronald Reagan era America. Oh, I also have to mention that they both have an incredible and undeniable urge to eat human flesh, another element that bonds them but inadvertently puts them on the path of like-minded but dangerous individuals. The trailer for this movie is engrossing and Luca has a great penchant for making deeply compelling characters so I’m saying that this might be the number one on my list this week. Sorry, Spielberg.
The Swimmers – Because of some of the more Holywood side of the Netflix releases, a lot of the internationally made releases produced through the streaming service get maligned and ignored constantly. Without a lot of ads or fanfare behind it, I really hope this movie doesn’t get lost in that same shuffle because I think it is important and, above all, a beautiful story of human resilience. The film tells the story of the miraculous journey made by swimming sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini who fled as refugees from war-torn Syria all the way to the 2016 Rio Olympics. The detail shown in the two sisters’ escape from Syria with all of the other refugees feels intense with the real knowledge of the situation we know holding a huge weight in our minds. None of this would be as interesting in movie form if we didn’t have a connection and care for the characters and acclaimed writer and director Sally El Hosaini pulls it off masterfully with compelling and deep character development. I was enthralled with this film and found myself on the edge of my seat a few times in it. Please don’t let it get lost in the Netflix algorithm and check it out as soon as possible.
Blood Relatives – For a lot of moviegoers, they know Noah Segan’s face, made memorable by his law enforcement turn in Rian Johnson’s mystery Knives Out but in my case I’ve been a fan of the guy since Johnson’s beginning in cinema with his teen noir detective story Brick. Now Segan has taken the teachings of his friend and crafted his first feature-length film in the form of this new horror comedy hybrid which he wrote and directed. Taking the lead role as well, he stars as a vampire living a solitary life whose existence is thrown into disarray when a teenager shows up claiming to be his daughter and has the fangs to prove it. On a road trip across America’s blacktops, they decide how to process their newfound family life and definitely kill a lot of people along the way. Little festival hits like this getting exposure on Shudder is why it is one of my favourite streaming services, even if it needs to punch up the interface a little bit. There is so much room for more independent fare to find the word of mouth it deserves and this one should be at the top of your list. Fresh, funny and languishing in its dark side, I adored every minute.
The Good House – The name of the game with this new comedy-drama is definitely likable because how can you not be intrigued by a film that has Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver leading it? Beyond that, it also has the husband and wife team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky writing and directing it, the same people who did the loveable Infinitely Polar Bear. The film follows Weaver as New England realtor Hildy Good whose life begins to unravel when she hooks up with an old flame of hers from New York. Becoming dangerously entwined in his reckless behaviour and igniting long-buried emotions and family secrets, including being a descendant of the Salem witches, Hildy is propelled toward a reckoning with the one person she’s been avoiding for decades, herself. From the initial reviews I’m finding, the standout here is Sigourney who brings that charm and gravitas that has made her a star for decades now and I definitely will always have a spot in my heart for her, an original crush since I first saw Ghostbusters and was deepened when I finally got to see Alien and Aliens. This is definitely a character movie at its core and who better to do it than her and the great Kevin Kline?
Hatching – As much as I love Scandanavian films, I never hear much out of Finland, except for exceptional heavy metal, so I was surprised when I saw a new horror film on the release schedule and it had a lot of great reviews. I will say the beginning is bumpy and felt like a sort of bad Hallmark movie but if you have the patience, it will eventually make your sin crawl in a good way. The story follows a young gymnast who tries desperately to please her demanding influencer mother in order to spend more time with her. Out in her backyard, she discovers a strange egg birthed from a half-dead crow and decides to hide it and keeps it warm. What hatches out of it is a creature that the design of it I was absolutely enthralled with. A meeting of CG and some practical effects, creature features are generally not done like this anymore and it is so refreshing to see this film rest almost solely on this. Usually, in lower-budget stuff, they shy away from fully showing the monsters but this film has so many great looks at the hatched monster and it really makes it memorable.
Malcolm X – This one is really cool to me as it is my first Spike Lee Criterion film and, really, what a film to get that part of my collection started with. It is a pivotal Denzel Washington role for sure but one I definitely didn’t appreciate as much when I saw it at a younger age in the nineties. Stating the obvious here but the film is a biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam. Co-starring the great Angela Bassett and even Lee himself, the film would be nominated for two Academy Awards, one of them being for Denzel’s riveting performance. The film hits very differently in the years after the emboldening of white supremacy and the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement but it also makes it more and more important as the years go by. This film shows how doomed we are to repeat past mistakes and that the fight for equality and equity and against hatred will sadly always be paramount.
The Great: Season 2 – Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult and The Favourite writer Tony McNamara are back for the follow-up season of this great series that is filled from top to bottom with fantastic character work, beautiful set pieces and brilliantly dark humour that will tickle you if you liked McNamara’s Yorgos Lanthimos film as much as I did. The show follows a royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century who is forced to choose between her happiness and the future of Russia when she marries an Emperor. I love that this series takes the stuffiness out of the usual period piece and allows each character to breathe with dialogue that feels quick and sardonic. I’m really happy to say that, although he don’t have the timeline of when it will be released, we do know that the show was renewed by Hulu for a third season. It feels like a no-brainer as the first season was to create word of mouth and the second season was to hook more viewers. I can wait to see what will come from another round with these characters.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geek-Outs:
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde – Some more Warner Archive-released horror landed in my mailbox this week and it’s always something fun to bring to this section as films from the 1930s, in this example, don’t usually get any sort of mainstream exposure. These are the films that influence generations upon generations and are the catalyst for the thrillers we get today. That said, the Jekyll and Hyde story is one that is an icon in thriller storytelling and this was a special one as it features one of the biggest stars of the time, Frederic March, playing Dr. Jekyll as he faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde. As far as a genre film goes, this is a pivotal one as it is the first horror film to earn an Academy Award, something that feels like a pipedream in the modern cinema age. Maybe it was just to sidle up to the sought-after star as March was the one to walk away with the Oscar but a win for horror is a win for horror, am I right?
Preman: Silent Fury – After the amazing and explosive two-piece that was Gareth Evans’ Raid film, anytime I see the words “Indonesian action film” I know that I want to get my eyeballs on it because there is a high possibility of new international martial arts spectacle. I also have a great track record with good Well Go USA-distributed films so my trust in them is at an all-time high. Originally released last year as a television movie, the story follows a deaf Indonesian gangster who is thrust into the fight of his life after his son witnesses a brutal murder by a notorious crime boss. He is subsequently forced into taking on his dangerous former allies, including a sociopath assassin, in order to protect his child. The film is bloody and violent with some incredible fight scenes but what I felt was pretty unexpected was the thread of dark humour that writer and director Randolph Zaini infuses into it. Zaini was born in Indonesia but was raised on American films in the United States so it has an interesting blend of the two filmmaking sensibilities.
Casablanca 4K – One of the most celebrated films in cinema history gets the sweet upgrade of getting a 4K release so of course, I’m going to bring it here. A film that is the template for so many films to come afterwards and the inspiration for so many, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, I will say its shadow is totally unshakable. The story is iconic and a cinematic World War II set staple following a cynical expatriate American cafe owner who struggles to decide whether or not to help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape the Nazis in French Morocco. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains are forever frozen in time with the collision of a great story and great characters in a final product that will never tarnish upon rewatch. And now with it being on 4K, it just gets more preserved so it’s a real in for film fans.
Wednesday (Netflix) – Tim Burton doing television? Yes, after his long and storied film career, the legendarily creepy filmmaker is coming to Netflix for a limited series but with this streaming giant, it never really is just television, right? I mean, David Fincher has don’t multiple shows here. Well, this has the base of an iconic legend beyond Burton himself as he gets to take a crack at the Addams Family with a story centred around Wednesday going to a creepy new boarding school. The benefit off the bat is that our title character is being played by Jenny Ortega who’s had a hell of a horror year already with Scream and X but the money is with Morticia and Gomez who are perfectly cast with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzman. Seriously, it’s worth the watch for just them alone. Beyond that, and if you loved the original films, you will be delighted to see that Christina Ricci, the former Wednesday Addams, is in the supporting cast in a pivotal role.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (Disney+) – It’s weird to think that one of my most anticipated things to close out 2022 is a Christmas special but I can not deny how much I love the characters of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy nor can I downplay my adoration for the works of James Gunn. Not travelling down the path of the regrettable Star Wars Holiday Special from my childhood, this brings the whole team back but, of course, minus Gamora for obvious reasons. The story picks up with a Guardians group with a leader grieving the loss of a loved one during the holiday season. Uninitiated into the Earth’s custom fully but ambitious, Mantis and Drex take it upon themselves to get Starlord a gift from his home planet in the form of one of his favourite actors, Kevin Bacon. Yes, things are going to get meta in this little feature and I honestly can’t wait because I’ve cherished every moment we’ve gotten so far. With Volume three on the horizon, this is the beginning of the end so we better savour it now.
Welcome To Chippendales (Disney+) – I love a good true story limited series full of scandal, especially if it is set in the glitz and glam of the seventies and this is exactly where this new Hulu series resides. Starring Kumail Nanjiani and produced by him and his wife Emily Gordon, the series is also about a bigger-than-life dude from India with big ideas, some of them not so legal. Kumail starts as Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian American entrepreneur who started the stripper troupe, Chippendales, a male revue that became a cultural phenomenon that still resonates today. Where would bachelorette parties be without them? Kumail is really great and the first episode kicks off brilliant;y with excess, ambition and a chameleon-like performance from character actor Dan Stevens. I had to look it up to make sure it was him, it was that unrecognizable. Don’t expect any extra seasons to this as it has a finite end but it is a fantastic rise and fall and it may get some awards recognition.