Empire Of Light – Having just seen just one trailer for this, it feels like the perfect pairing to put acclaimed filmmaker Sam Mendes and Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman together so I am immediately excited for this one. Add to that the film nerd panache of the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins shooting it and you have all the makings of a Steve-certified favourite. The story is set in a small English coastal town in the early 1980s and follows a cinema manager struggling with her mental health and her new employee who longs to escape the provincial town where he faces daily adversity as a black man in England. Together they find a sense of belonging and experience the healing power of music, cinema, and community in a film that feels like a deep love letter to those who are driven emotionally by these works of art. I expect this to be a tour de force of acting from Colman, as usual, but know that it will have some of that low-hanging Oscar bait fruit in it. That aside, this is one of those types of films near the end of the year that I adore.
Spoiler Alert – I have to admit, I saw the trailer for this film before Bros and it really did absolutely nothing for me, felt pretty formulaic and bland. Now that I’ve read up on it, I see that it is based on a true story about television journalist Michael Ausiello, a man whose work I have read many times and my interest was piqued and I think maybe this film’s market sufferers from a bland trailer. The story follows the relationship of Ausiello and his husband Kit Cowan from its inception through to Kit’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Jim Parsons plays Michael and maybe it’s the fact that I can’t shake the Sheldon Cooper of I’m entirely yet but it was directed by Michael Showalter who will always have a place in my heart with his partial biopic The Big Sick so I think this film is in the right hands. IT probably won’t be an award contended but it really looks Oscar-bait worthy and it’s great to see another big-budget gay romance in theatres in 2022.
Emancipation – It’s hard to believe that the infamous slap incident from Will Smith to Chris Rock was at this year’s Academy Awards but it was and within this same year the culprit is gunning for another win although I feel like he’s ineligible now. That aside, the film looks really interesting, emotional and, above all, totally Oscar bait worthy and from a director that made a film that got Denzel a statue, Antoine Fuqua. Smith plays Peter a runaway slave who forges through the swamps of Louisiana on a tortuous journey to escape plantation owners that nearly killed him. The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly with one image, known as “The Scourged Back,” showing Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, a revelation ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery. The film is shot in a classic sepia grey and white that reflects that picture and Smith’s performance elevates that film past the sometimes mediocrity of the direction and script. Still, I don’t think it’s enough for us to forget the slap so quickly.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – It was just Dinsey Day this year that we got Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks reuniting for their motion capture version of Pinocchio, the Disney-fied version of the story but now one of the masters of cinema has stepped into the chat with his own long developed, gestated and anticipated by his audience. knowing Del Toro’s work and the things that are close to his heart, it should be apparent that he is going to do a classic fairy tale like this in his own way and sort of make it his own. The film is set in Mussolini-ruled Italy and tells the classic tale of the wooden marionette who is magically brought to life in order to mend the heart of a grieving woodcarver named Geppetto. A beautifully animated stop-motion musical, it delves deeply into Geppetto’s trauma and standoffishness with his new creation but never shies away from the mischievous and disobedient adventures of Pinocchio as we know him and his pursuit of a place in the world. The film is cinema wrapped up in an animated playfulness but I think it is a hard one for the kids to watch as the heavier elements in the story, which have always been sort of implied, are leaned on in a more dramatic fashion in this interpretation. That said, I think it is easily the best animated film of the year.
Night At The Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again – I have been on board with most of the IP renewals that Disney+ has given us since the launch of the streaming service, especially now that it has been crossing into the Fox library and, while some have been way better than others, I was really looking forward to this new installment of the Night At The Museum saga. Yes, I enjoyed both of these Vancouver-shot Ben Stiller movies but still, I will heartily admit that I was a bit bummed it was in animated form and with a completely different cast to voice it with the obvious omission of Robin Williams for apparent reasons. The film continues the story with the search for a new night watchman to handle the responsibility of the magic of the Smithsonian when Larry Daley moves on to an international opportunity. The museum’s residents choose Larry’s son Nick at the exact time when Kahmunrah decides that it is a perfect moment to return and take over the world. The positivity I felt for this franchise sort of stalled with this movie as it felt unnecessary to pick up this story for something that felt so limp and tacked on. Zachery Levi is a halfway replacement for Stiller in his small role as Larry and I knew it was going to be jarring to hear Teddy Roosevelt without the voice of Robin, without question. I do love Thomas Lennon, a fantastic and funny actor, but the entire feel of the character is completely different and kind of came off as worse than I could have expected. They can’t all be gold but this one is regrettably less than bronze to me.
Blu-Ray & DVD:
Amsterdam – I am going to preface this little blurb here by saying that I don’t think writer and director David O. Russell is a good dude as there have been many documented incidents of bullying cast, crew and extras on his film by him. Still, I will say that he really does have a handful of great movies on his resume but he also has Joy and American Hustle on that same list, his last two efforts, and I downright detested the former of those two. This film has a killer cast, as he usually assembles, featuring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington and so many more, which makes this all the more enticing. Set in the 1930s, the film follows three lifelong friends who witness a murder, are framed for it, and then uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history attached to it. The trailer had me so pumped for it and maybe that is just the use of the Ten Years After song I’d Love To Change The World and snappy editing but the end result was the bluster of a fantastic cast with a messy script and plotting. So much of this film feels rushed in blocking, haphazard in its execution and so absolutely ugly to look at cinematography-wise. I feel like Silver Linings Playbook or The Fighter may have been the end of any good work from Russell and this movie feels so underlyingly mediocre that it will just fade into all of the lesser releases in 2022.
Clerks III – Being a long-time fan of the works of writer, director, editor, producer and star Kevin Smith, I have a reverence for anything Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob related so to say that the anticipation for this sequel, coming more than fifteen years after the second movie, was at an all-time high is even an underselling of my passion. Clerks was a piece in the mosaic of why I love movies and Smith is a big inspiration for me being on the radio now so this is like a cinematic golden gift for me and fans like me and no matter what we get, I’m predestined to love it. We go super meta with this installment as Randall suffers a heart attack and with his near-death experience, he makes it his mission to gather his friends Dante, Elias, and Jay and Silent Bob to make a movie about the Quick Stop as his lasting legacy on the planet. I love that Kevin incorporated his own journey into a film that gives the most heart, emotion and resonance of his entire career. I knew that, given how sentimental the man is towards the film that started it all for him, this film would shy away from the emotional core but I was still very unprepared for him to shatter me completely in many different scenes. He has effectively managed to close the book on characters that made him who he is and who we are as fans. I’m grateful for the journey.
Medieval – In keeping with my honest nature, I will begin here by saying that I had very low thoughts about this movie and definitely judged it by its low-level marketing and the fact that VVS Films is the distributor who has put me through many bad Liam Neeson movies in the last couple of years. What I should have read into was the fact that Ben Foster finally got the lead in a quasi-action flick and it was the stone and blood style of broadswords and shields that was at the forefront of it. The story is inspired by the true story of Jan Ika, one of greatest warriors in history and takes place during the Holy Roman Empire after the death of its reigning emperor which plummets it into chaos while feuding brothers King Wenceslas of Czech and King Sigismund of Hungary battle for control of the empty throne. Ika is hired by Lord Boresh to kidnap the powerful Lord Rosenberg’s fiancée, Lady Katherine, to prevent Rosenberg’s rise to power alongside the corrupt King Sigismund but that is really only the beginning of the inevitable fight for his life and that of the kingdom he serves, for better or worse. While the film does suffer from the trappings of a sad and morose lead character cliche more often than not, the action scenes and incredible cinematography keep you well-invested in the plot. I believe this to be the intent more than the historical story so, while it won’t be the full and bodied Braveheart that we want it to be, it is a means to an end for a visceral and brutal final act.
Mad God – This is something pretty fascinating here as it is a thirty-year journey of an incredible visual effects magician’s personal project that has found the perfect home on the streaming service Shudder. To say that something like this has never been seen before is a bit of an understatement because, while we have had many stop-motion animated films in that time period, none of them have been as visceral, ethereal and, at times, disturbing as this. Playing as sort of a fringe Ray Harryhausen film, the story follows an assassin who is sent on a mission of destruction by the “last man”, a human character played by cult filmmaker Alex Cox. His drive is to travel through a nightmare underworld of tortured souls, ruined cities and wretched monstrosities forged from the primordial horrors of the underworld and it really is not for the faint of heart in some sequences with so much blood, vomit and feces coursing through it. Probably doesn’t sound like the best selling point but holy hell was this experiment in film memorable.
Alienoid – I review South Korean films very often here, which is an ultimate pleasure, but one this that is certain is the abundance of genre films that the country puts out. With this film, I feel like they are dipping into that big blockbuster special effects-laden crown pleasers like Transformers or the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and, in this case, it works for and against them to an equal degree. The film is a time-bending sci-fi action adventure with a heady backstory that follows an alien warrior named Guard who is tasked with staying on earth and capturing alien prisoners who are moving from body to body. Obviously, being a “rife with emotion” Korean flick, that is just skimming the surface of the plot which definitely has its convoluted threads that bring it down but the fast and fun pacing punctuated by awesome fight sequences and awesome city-destroying spectacles, it all ends up as pretty entertaining ride. No spoilers here, but be warned that the film has a cliffhanger ending to set up a sequel. You’ve been warned.
Creepshow: Season 3 – Another season of great anthology horror is here to get us through the holiday season, especially if you haven’t gotten a chance to stream it on Shudder yet. I love this series and the fact that one of the greatest minds in horror, Greg Nicotero, is the man who brought it back for us. Featuring another six fantastic and chilling stories, like one grief-filled one from Fear Of A Black Hat filmmaker Rusty Cundief featuring Ethan Embry, a cinephile-based noir story from Joe Lynch and even some animated horror to bring us full circle back to the comics this series is based on. These are such fun episodes and it feels like there are no signs of slowing down as we eagerly anticipate the fourth season, hopefully with more from Lynch who is the MVP of this enterprise in my opinion.
Star Trek Discovery: Season 4 – Look, I’m not fully caught up on everything in this series yet so for my research I just went spoiler-free and vague just so I wouldn’t spoil everything for myself but I will say that fans of Star Trek aren’t too happy with the series. I’m enjoying it so far as I’m not as invested in it as everyone else but I can get people’s issues with it. The show is set ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, as the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms with one main Starfleet officer learning to understand all things alien both about herself and those around her starting at the disadvantage of being an accused mutineer for her brash actions. Great casting, exciting adventures and inner politics and an infinite ceiling due to being on the CBS All Access streaming service, I like what they’re doing with this show and the possibilities are endless as to where they can go. To gauge where I’m at for those who care, I’m within the season in question, I just haven’t finished it yet.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Complete Series – As a guy who grew up on the original Kevin Eastman cartoon of the heroes in a half shell so because of this bond I have an infinite love for these characters and have a yearning for it to be done right. That said, I believe this is the closest to what I love about these characters and it also comes down to the voice acting, which this series did fantastically by putting Sean Astin, Seth Green, Josh Peck and Mae Whitman with veteran voice workers Rob Paulsen, Greg Cipes and Kevin Michael Richardson. The show was five seasons of everything you remember it to be, about four ninja turtles, mutated by a mysterious alien substance, who must rise up out of the sewers and defend New York City against evil forces from both the past and present. With one hundred and twenty-four episodes making up its entire run, there are so many great stories and many pulled right from the original show or even as far back as Eastman’s black and white comic that are so cool to rewatch or even discover for the first time. I’m a Turtles nerd but I can see people getting into it that just want to see something well-written.
South Park: Post Covid – South Park is a total anomaly of a show, a cartoon series that has been on the air for twenty-five years and still manages to be relevant, biting, original and, the biggest sticking point of all, hysterically funny. Now, with the shift to the Paramount+ streaming service, the release style has changed and Trey Parker, Matt Stone and their insane creation have gone beyond the season and episode-to-episode schedule and are now releasing mini-movies like this two-parter to continue the story arcs. Following their Quarantine and Vaccination specials, this picks up with the survivors of it all decades later. The kids are now full-grown adults for the first time and it is absolutely glorious. Is this the new norm for South Park, Colorado or can the gang reunite to change the outcome of the Post COVID world? Oh man, this series is so funny, one I quote pretty constantly to my wife, so I should duck out of this one before I leak some spoilers. Seriously, though, they are another season and two specials deep so catch up, eh?
Steve’s 4K & Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Elf 4K – One of the modern Christmas classics is now on a 4K edition which is great because there was only a DVD release up until this point but it was an Infinifilm release so it almost was blu-ray quality anyways. Ignoring that blu-ray geek diatribe just now, I feel we all have a spot in our hearts for this movie that can be argued as one of Will Ferrell’s greatest on-screen accomplishments and an infinitely quoted and recognized holiday tradition. I will refrain from going into a quote rattle off and instead remind you that the film has Ferrell as Buddy, a human raised as an elf in the North Pole who goes on a journey to New York City to meet his biological father, a miserly but successful children’s book publisher played brilliantly by the late James Caan. This movie is so much fun every time you watch it and the supporting cast featuring Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Ed Asner, Bob Newheart, the list really does go on and on. I don’t really need to sell it to you, it’s Elf, but this 4K has a commentary from both Ferrell and director Jon Favreau on separate tracks which is pretty cool.
The Classic Christmas Specials Collection 4K – I won’t get too deep with this entry but I feel like it is a generational thing to be raised on the classic films that play every holiday season ad this box set, a lovely gift from Universal, is a celebration as well as a rejuvenation to those beloved short films. Now updated with the high definition of 4K you can be sure that the kids, grandkids, great grandkids and neighbourhood children will know of these characters whether they like them or not. Aside from The Grinch or Charlie Brown, these are three of the most known Christmas specials of all time, starting with Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, then Frosty The Snowman and finally Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, all in their iconic stop-motion glory. These are either yearly staples at the holidays in your household or you really aren’t a Christmas person. I don’t make the rules, I just inform people of them.
A Discovery Of Witches: Complete Series – This is a mixed production between Amazon Prime and Shudder that piqued my interest with the involvement of Watchmen’s Matthew Goode and Australian actress Teresa Palmer but I had been slow going on my progress of working my way through it until this complete collection landed on my doorstep. The story follows Diana Bishop, a scholar and an unwilling witch who discovers a lost manuscript while studying at the Bodleian Library. The discovery invites chaos into Diana’s life as soon she is surrounded by daemons, vampires and other witches who are desperate to gain what she has found. Her only hope is Matthew Clairmont, a doctor, researcher and vampire who becomes a reluctant confidant in a dangerous new life. The set is gorgeous, meant to look like the leather-bound tome that kicks off the whole show and the fantastical nature of the series, paired with a reality that in ones kept in the dark to thematic live day to day, like you and me. I really enjoy Palmer as a lead actress but it is always Goode’s studious performances that will always bring me back to it. Keep in mind that I haven’t yet gotten to the endgame of the series but now, thanks to some amazing PR people, I can binge to my heart’s content on glorious blu-ray.
His Dark Materials: Season 3 (Crave) – I’m going to say something controversial here and reveal that I really like the Chris Weitz-made Golden Compass film that just turned fifteen as I am writing this, which was the first kick at the Phillip Pullman written series of books and I really wanted to see more as far as a franchise goes. It’s a damn great thing that HBO and BBC joined forces to do a faithful adaptation of these books and cast Dafne Keen, who astounded audiences alongside Hugh Jackman in Logan, as the lead character of Lyra. The potential of this series is unlimited and while being compared to Game Of Thrones is becoming a bit tiresome, the comparison feels a little more real with this one as the book series is popular and perfect for this style of adaptation. The first two seasons set such a great tone for it that separates it from the previous version, immersing it in a great world of realism that is dying to be explored in this new but hopefully not season. I am excited about it and it’s really cool to see where Lyra’s story goes as we are now far beyond where the Weitz film had initially left off.
Doom Patrol: Season 4 (Crave) – After a killer first season, a fantastic sophomore season and a wacked-out last season that kept the momentum going and added even more fun to the mix, I know people are chomping at the bit for this new season of a show that not only gives White Collar’s Matt Bomer a cool role but also gave some new life to 90s star Brendan Fraser who is continuing to get that redemption he deserves, especially at the end of this month with The Whale. For those who are uninitiated to this DC Comics world, it is a reimagining of one of DC’s most beloved groups of outcast superheroes: Robotman, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Crazy Jane, led by modern-day mad scientist Dr. Niles Caulder, also known as The Chief. The series is tied to the cinematic universe by the common character of Cyborg so it’s neat to see exactly where all these stories meet up but I really hope that this isn’t the last we see of these actors in these characters as there were so many cancellations recently and this, for now, was left off the chopping block. Hopefully, with James Gunn now in charge he will form a spell of protection around it.
George & Tammy (Crave) – Jessica Chastain seems to be forming a collection of real like Tammys because, after winning an Academy Award for playing Tammy Faye Bakker, she is now turning her sights on Tammy Wynette, this time in series form. She is in good company though again as Michael Shannon co-stars with her as one of the greatest country superstars of all time. The six-episode series chronicles the country music power couple, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, whose complicated relationship inspired some of the most iconic music of all time including the duets “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and “Near You”. Remembered as the “First Lady of Country Music,” Wynette’s most successful song “Stand by Your Man” remains one of the most iconic and best-selling country singles by a female artist and George Jones’ song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” is still widely called the greatest country song of all time. With over 30 number-one country songs between them, I definitely can say that I’m not super familiar with them, not being a fan of the genre at all, but I recognize their mark on it and it will be interesting to see how it’s told and if they hold back on some of the vitriol in their disagreements, to put it mildly.