A Man Called Otto – 2023 kicks off with a trope that American filmmakers love to do, remake a fantastic foreign film that probably didn’t need to be done. This new film is a remake of a 2015 Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, but it has the added bonus of starring Tom Hanks which is at most times a win. The film has Hanks playing against type as Otto, a grump who’s given up on life following the loss of his wife and wants to end it all. When a young family moves in nearby, he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol, leading to a friendship that will turn his world around and renew his joy in life. The film was adapted by Monster’s Ball and Kite Runner filmmaker Marc Forster, so it does have some potential, but it is imperative that the original film by Hannes Holm gets some love as well because it was one of my favourite dramas of 2015 and didn’t really get the love it deserves.
M3GAN – Cult horror may be off to a jump start this year as the first release weekend has this new sci-fi horror from Blumhouse landing in theatres and the trailer looks kind of insane. Much like Barbarian took hold of moviegoers in September, this new film has all of the makings of earning that soft spot in genre fans’ hearts and if it has a dance scene, which this clearly does, I think the odds move more in that film’s favour. The film follows a robotics engineer who builds a life-like android doll and decides to activate it to be a companion for her niece that has recently lost both of her parents. The friendship between the two is fast and the attachment between the two grows until our titular robotic doll starts to take it too far and begins to off anyone she deems a threat to her new friend. Based on a story by one of the greatest minds in modern horror, James Wan, the man behind Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring and Malignant, this has all the markings of a chiller that wants to colour outside of the box. Wan leaves the directing duties to Gerard Johnstone, a creator who astounded with his movie Housebound in 2014 and with this being his big North American break I’m excited for what’s to come with this thriller.
The Pale Blue Eye – Christian Bale and Scott Cooper have had a pretty solid partnership over three films now with the tense drama Out Of The Furnace, the western thriller Hostiles and now this new Netflix shepherded mystery thriller. As much as enjoyed all of Cooper’s work with Bale, some of his other endeavours, like the Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass didn’t spark the joy I wanted it to. This film had potential in the story, following Bale as a world-weary detective who is hired to investigate the murder of a West Point cadet, a tough task with the cadets’ strict code of silence. Needing some sort of foothold into the surroundings of the murder, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case, a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, it goes to the original goth himself who is played rather well by Harry Melling, an actor mainly known for playing Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies. For the dull patches this film has, Bale is able to keep the train on the rails but I wish it played its horror stylings up a bit more. I also felt a little bit cold on the ending which felt very much less than the sum of its parts.
If These Walls Could Sing – Just over a year after getting the incredible spectacle that was The Beatles: Get Back, Disney+ has gifted us with another visit back to the Abbey Road studios but this time to celebrate the actual building itself from the foundation upwards. Being a huge Beatles fan, my knowledge of the place is mostly rooted in all of the incredible albums they recorded there but much like Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary, this film opened up Abbey Road’s whole catalogue to me. The film goes through the orchestral beginnings of the studio, into Brian Epstein introducing George Martin to the Fab Four to create magic, to the recordings of Pink Floyd’s greatest and most iconic music, the sound of more modern British rock with Oasis and even John Williams coming in to score the Star Wars prequels with George Lucas. There really is something for everyone in this film and it hits in the great way that a music documentary should and leaves you with an urge to listen to all the fantastic music recorded in the revered building in a whole new light. This movie is yet another gem in the juggernaut of a Disney+ lineup.
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 had some optimism about this film but the reviews of it make me go “yikes” and not in a good way.
Star Trek Prodigy: Season 1 – The collective zeitgeist is probably looking at CBS All Access and thinking they’re milking the Gene Roddenberry-created universe of smart science fiction for all it can get and, yes, that’s almost exactly what producers are thinking but it is paying off. They have a straightforward series with Discovery, a call-back show with Picard, a comedy series with Lower Decks and now this in-betweener. The series is a teenager-aimed animated story that follows a group of teenagers who steal a derelict Starfleet vessel and use it to explore the galaxy. The show signals the return of Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway and Robert Beltran’s Captain Chakotay from Voyager, which makes me far too happy for a guy who isn’t a Trekkie.
Steve’s Criterion Collection Geek-Outs:
Seven Samurai – This Christmas came a big moment for me as my wife picked out some great Criterion Collection films which I will start sharing here over the next couple of weeks and it starts with this film, the second in the collection and my first Akira Kurosawa movie in my collection. For those who don’t know who he is, Kurosawa is possibly the most influential director ever as his ideas sparked George Lucas to make Star Wars among many more and this film, in particular, has been borrowed from so many times. Starring the legendary Toshirô Mifune, a frequent collaborator, the story follows farmers in a small village who hire a group of seven warriors to protect them from bandits who are exploiting and stealing from them. The film was remade in America to be the western classic The Magnificent Seven and even Pixar had an animated kick at it with their early feature, A Bug’s Life so the effect it has had on the industry is very evident. As a film fan or someone who wants to get educated in cinema, this is a great launching point right here.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – Continuing through the greatest Criterion hits, this film is pure perfection to its core, a seemingly impossible adaptation of the wild times of one Hunter S. Thompson. Everything came together to make this masterpiece with Johnny Depp playing a stellar Raoul Duke and Benicio del Toro as his insane Samoan lawyer all spearheaded by the idiosyncratic imagination of director Terry Gilliam. For those uninitiated into this drug-fueled Sin City trip, the story follows Duke as he is sent to cover a motorcycle race as an article for his magazine, but then the situation escalates into him and his psychotic attorney searching for the American dream, aided by almost every drug known to man in the boot of his red convertible. This is an all-time favourite movie of mine and this edition is beautiful and filled with illustrations by Thompson’s long-time friend and collaborator Ralph Steadman in a collectable book that outlines the journey from book to the page to screen, a perfect piece for any film lover.
Dazed And Confused – Richard Linklater is a Criterion giant so for this to be my first of his films to own in the format is pretty poetic because it was the first one of his films I had ever seen and it is an all-time favourite and one that hits the same every time I watch it. The film is also the launching point for a huge cast including Matthew McCougnehey, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey and so many more. The film is a seminal last day of high school classic set at the end of the 1976 school year in a Texan small town. The upperclassmen are hazing the incoming freshmen, and everyone is trying to get stoned, drunk, or laid, even the football players that signed a pledge not to, an act of rebellion from our quasi-lead Pink, played by Jason London. This is one of those tent pole movies in the mid-nineties that still finds itself being discovered by generation after generation because that is how good and relatable it is. There is a damn good reason why it is a part of this prestigious collection.
The Rig (Prime Video) – More supernatural series at sea for people that enjoyed the AMC series The Terror for both seasons but this one looks to be more of a modern tale. I’ve really dug all of the Prime Video thrillers like Outer Range and this one has the added bonus of co-starring Canadian actress Emily Hampshire, a supporting star of the mega-hit Schitt’s Creek which I just finished over the holidays. The drama is set on the Kinloch Bravo oil rig, stationed off the Scottish coast in the dangerous waters of the North Sea and follows the crew who is due to return to the mainland when a mysterious and all-enveloping fog rolls through and cuts them off from all communication with the shore and the outside world. As the rig is hit by massive tremors, the crew endeavours to discover what’s driving the unknown force but a major accident forces them to ask questions about who they can really trust. The show comes from. first-time showrunner and writer who could bring fresh new ideas or beginner’s gaffs but everything I’m seeing from it looks utterly fascinating.
Ginny & Georgia: Season 2 (Netflix) – I thought this show was going to be so terrible just based on the trailer and you can witness yourself below this blurb but by the end of the first season, this voice in my head spoke up and said” are you looking forward to season two?” and, you know what? I really was. The show follows angsty and awkward fifteen-year-old Ginny Miller who often feels more mature than her thirty-year-old mother, the irresistible and dynamic Georgia Miller. After years on the run, Georgia desperately wants to put down roots in picturesque New England and give her family something they’ve never had, which is a normal and relatable life but it’s not all suburban dreams and high school crushes as Georgia’s past threatens her and her family’s new way of life and Georgia will do anything to protect her family which becomes very evident in the final twist of episode one. The show comes under inexperienced showrunner Sarah Lampert and operates like a sort of ungrounded Gilmore Girls which is actually a real joke from the series. As I said, I was surprised by this one and you might be too.
Stargirl: Season 3 (Prime Video) – After the rollout of the first two seasons of this bit of a left-field character for the average comic fan, I found myself really satisfied with the outcome of the build of a Justice Society Of America storyline and have been really looking forward to this follow-up. The show is about a teenage girl named Courtney Whitmore who discovers the cosmic staff and becomes the inspiration for a new generation of superheroes who eventually become the Justice Society Of America and the potential for this series expansion is so big just knowing that Arrowverse creator Greg Berlanti and comic legend Geoff Johns are the showrunners for this. With the DC Universe really needing something to keep it afloat, their television department could really do some cool things for them in the way that they can finally obtain that Marvel Studios-like prestige they’ve been wanting for so long. I also really like that there is a bit of a horror theme that runs through the last season and I’m really curious as to how they are going to make it fresh for this latest season and how they will keep it off of the chopping block of cancellation because it really is a lot of fun.
Copenhagen Cowboy (Netflix) – Nicolas Winding Refn is easily one of my favourite filmmakers with tentpoles in cinema for me like Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive and Neon Demon and to see his style dragged into episodic television is a real thrill for me. He isn’t new to the format by any means, most recently collaborating with comic writer Ed Brubaker for the Miles Teller-led Too Old To Die Young but now he’s taking it home to Denmark. The series follows an enigmatic young heroine named who traverses the ominous landscape of Copenhagen’s criminal netherworld after a lifetime of servitude within it. Searching for justice and enacting vengeance, she encounters her nemesis, Rakel, as they embark on an odyssey through the natural and the supernatural in only the hyper-violent and moodily neon way that Refn can. Seriously, the less known about this show the better and, to be honest, I’m completely biased to love it but it won’t be a real mainstream hit I think. NO known stars, an odd storyline and some definite synth beat driving the soundtrack, this is what you’re in store for.
Star Wars – The Bad Batch: Season 2 (Disney+) – I have been so excited and tingling with anticipation for this new season in the continuing series from mastermind Dave Filoni, the guy who also helped Jon Favreau with The Mandolorian as well as shepherding the Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows, and it’s here now and everyone should be happy because it is gloriously awesome once again and I have already watched through most of it. The series follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch, who were first introduced in The Clone Wars, as they find their way into a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the war. Members of Bad Batch, a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army, each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew that must forge their path alone as the Empire rises and the Republic is forced underground, forming the new Rebel Alliance. This show pulls deep into the geekiness of Star Wars in all the best ways and will immediately become my anticipated show of the week with the void as I wait for that one last episode of Willow to hit Disney+. Lucasfilm has really got a hold on me already in 2023.