The Son – When Florian Zeller made his dementia-fueled drama The Father with Anthony Hopkins, I was quickly given the knowledge that this was a filmmaker who had a definite grip on how these sad situations played out but to do it from the point of view of the man suffering from it was absolutely devastating. Well, Zeller is back again to shatter your emotions and give you reasons to cry in the fetal position and it is through the conduit of Hugh Jackman this time. The film centers on Peter, whose hectic life with his infant and new partner Beth is upended when his ex-wife Kate appears at his door to discuss their son Nicholas, who is now a teenager. The young man has been missing school for months and is deeply troubled and Peter strives to take care of Nicholas as he would have wanted his own father to have taken care of him while juggling his and Beth’s new son, as well as at work with an offer of a dream position in Washington. However, by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold onto Nicholas in the present. Although I enjoyed The Father more as a well-rounded film, Jackman’s performance drives a hard-hitting drama that is unpredictable in where it’s going and its emotional manipulation is so well embedded that you find your eyes leaking almost out of nowhere. It won’t get the attention that his first film did but Zeller has to be regarded as some sort of emotional terrorist at this point.
Missing – The John Cho-led thriller Searching introduced a new kind of thriller to movie audiences and that is the storytelling through a computer interface and I have to say it was pretty effective. Presented through Facetime videos, Skype or Zoom calls and internet searches, it was pretty effective in ramping up the intensity and now writers and directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, who were editors on that film, make their feature film debuts by going back to that well. The film follows June, played by A Wrinkle In Time’s Storm Reid, who has free reign of her house when her mom goes on vacation overseas with her new boyfriend. The terror sets in when June’s mom doesn’t return and she is sent on a tech-driven search, fearing the worst with all signs pointing towards the new man in her life. The unpredictability of the story method makes me really excited for this one as, admittedly, I was lukewarm heading into Searching and ended up loving it. The advance word is really good on this film so it may be another unexpected January gem to join M3GAN this year.
Living – Bill Nighy is an incredible actor with a plethora of fantastic performances on his resume but he may have just put a new and bright gem in the crown of his career with this new drama and it also happens to be inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in cinema history. This new character-driven film driven by Nighy’s stellar outing is based on Ikiru, a drama written and directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1952, a film he considered his greatest work. The story follows Nighy as a humourless civil servant who decides to take time off work to experience life after receiving a terminal diagnosis from his doctor. Realizing that he has no legacy, he strives to make his life mean something for the community he’s served all of his life. I cannot stress enough how beautiful Nighy’s portrayal is in this film and the direction from Moffie director Oliver Hermanus is on a whole new level with intimate and gorgeous cinematography from Jamie Ramsey who also shot the unfortunate fanfare silent See How They Run. Presented in a fascinating 4:3 screen ratio, it added so much to the experience.
There’s Something Wrong With The Children – I’ve been a fan of horror thriller filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin since her segment of the dusty anthology film Southbound in 2015 which led to a great short piece in XX before her debut feature, Body At Brighton Rock, a fantastic outing for her. Now, she is back with a creepy little vacation thriller involving some creepy kids and it even had the master of horror Stephen King so chilled to the bone that he even tweeted out his approval. The story follows a couple named Ben and Margaret that takes a weekend trip with longtime friends and their two young children to a remote cabin. Ben starts to suspect something supernatural is going on when the kids behave strangely after disappearing into the woods overnight. The film reminds me of an eighties or nineties chiller, like an episode of Tales From The Crypt, and has an awesomely atmospheric soundtrack to match the film’s intensity, even if it creates a couple of red herrings along the way. I love that Lower Mainland actress Amanda Crew has a supporting role in this ut he film’s heft, besides the two kids, belongs to Midnight Mass actor Zach Gilford who does such a great job as the audience conduit. This coupled with the alluring cinematography from Yaron Levy, who also has the new horror flick Sick, hammers it all home for me. I have to say that Blumhouse is just killing it right now.
The Devil’s Offering – A late arrival this week from VVS Films, this movie almost didn’t get the coverage which is almost a tragedy as it will be a word-of-mouth film for horror fans to check out. Known as simply The Offering overseas, this British genre film makes its way across the pond in a limited release and features It’s All Gone Pete Tong star Paul Kaye and the vision of a new voice in horror with director Oliver Park which is always exciting for a fan like me. The story is a very contained one about a family struggling with loss who finds themselves at the mercy of an ancient demon trying to destroy them from the inside. This is a well-crafted thriller that is very reminiscent of the ghostly horror films that punctuated the 2000s and early 2010s like Insidious and the like but with its own subtle twists. I would also say that as an establishing piece for Park, it set’s him up for a bright future and maybe even a studio film for a company like Blumhouse, which is my hope.
Turn Every Page: The Adventures Of Robert Caro And Robert Gottlieb – Documentaries about writers walk a little bit of a fine line between interesting and dull and it all depends on your level of knowledge about the subject heading into the film. That said, I knew next to nothing heading into my screening of this new film and didn’t know the reverence that the literary world had for writer Robert Caro and editor Robert Gottlieb. The film follows the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning author and his editor, considered a literary giant, in this chronicle of a unique 50-year professional relationship that was volatile in getting the work done but something that captured the minds of many different walks of life. Early on in the film, it is shown that Caro’s book The Power Broker is on the shelf of many on-air pundits and experts, something that seems to connect the political and business world but the major works from the two Roberts are much more presidential. Grown from a fixation on the man who would succeed John F. Kennedy, Caro made most of his life’s work on the story of the life of Lyndon Johnson and one that is still being worked on til this day, with both me now in their nineties. This film is definitely a bit dry and not appealing to everyone but I found my interest points in it here and there.
Ticket To Paradise – Without knowing anything about it, on paper, the casting of George Clooney and Julia Roberts in a comedy would probably lead to a hit given that they have great chemistry in the Ocean movies and audiences love a reunion. Then the trailer rolled around and it felt like we’d seen every funny part and plot twist contained in a two-and-a-half-minute mash but the name of the game is casual optimism. The film follows the two bankable stars as a divorced couple who team up and travel to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made twenty-five years ago, marrying the supposed love of her life. To be honest, there is so much predictability in the story that the film does have to rely on the charisma and charm of these two A-listers but they do manage to play to their strengths and with some good laughs contained within, I thought it worked out to be an enjoyable film. It comes from writer and director Ol Parker who is mostly known for the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again so it is definitely playing to a certain kind of audience but the name of the game is “crowd pleaser” and it does just that with some help from the great Kaitlyn Dever as their daughter and a very game and fun Billie Lourd as the trainwreck bestie.
The Menu – The trailers for this were very mysterious and secretive but after the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, many made the mash-up of genre connection between Saw and Succession which is kind of true at its baseline. 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 for a group of elite guests but it might come at a deadly price as the patrons seem to see their deepest and darkest secrets exposed as each course is delivered to the table. Led by the enigmatic chef Slowik, his grand master plan has a little wrench thrown in it with the inclusion of Anya Taylor Joy’s character Margot as she was not on the guest list. The casting in the film is impeccable with Joy and Ralph Fiennes as the chef in question giving incredible and award-worthy performances as well as Nicholas Hoult, John Leguizamo and the incomparable Hong Chau adding to the devious fun with equally fascinating portrayals. This film was an easy pick for one of my favourite films of 2022, something that had me on the edge of my seat in theatres and now everyone can revel in the awesome end game of this 1% skewering thriller.
Till – I’ve known the brutal story of Emmett Till’s lynching in 1950s America for a long time and have even seen a couple of documentaries about it but this has to be the first time it’s been done in a narrative film. The supporting players are known, with Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Patrick Thomas, Franki Faison and Haley Bennett but the heavy lifting goes to lead actress Danielle Deadwyler who I know from the killer Netflix western The Harder They Fall. Deadwyler plays Emmett’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley who, after her son’s brutal murder, vows to expose the racism behind the attack while working to have those involved brought to justice. Lots of love for this movie appeared online when the film was released in theatres but as far as the awards talk for it, all has been silent, which is a shame because Deadwyler is electric from the first scene and it just gets better and better. Some of the biopic tropes and glossiness of the story rub me the wrong way in this but the heart of the truth is where it excels. Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu made a hell of a first major studio film with the Alfre Woodard-led Clemency and it’s good to see the quality didn’t shift for her follow-up. She has so much promise in the future.
Spin Me Round – Writer and director Jeff Baena, the husband of the great Aubrey Plaza, has really carved out a niche for himself with these oddball comedies that I think no big studio would take chance on in a wide release. He has made films about zombie love, grieving with friends, horny nuns and socially isolated mental breaks and now he’s going for a lampooning of the sweeping romance with some of his usual suspects joining the fun like Alison Brie who co-wrote it, Molly Shannon and, of course, Ms. Plaza. Brie plays a woman who wins an all-expenses-paid trip to a company’s gorgeous “institute” outside of Florence, and also the chance to meet the restaurant chain’s wealthy and charismatic owner. In the process, she finds a different adventure than the one she imagined and an avenue to switch gears out of the mundanity that her life has become. I will say that this might be among Baena’s lesser works but that doesn’t mean it’s bad by any degree. I have always enjoyed Brie as a comedic actress, back in the Community days, but her dramatic work is fantastic and with a little comedy edge she always excels. The highlight of the film is definitely Alessandro Nivola as the romantic lead, an excellent character actor in everything he does.
Speak No Evil – I feel very late to the game on this Shudder original as the reviews that I have seen on Letterboxd and Twitter have all praised it and called it a must-see and completely unpredictable thriller and now that I’ve finally got my eyes on it, I feel part of that collective. It also happens to be a Danish-made film, a part of cinema I have a real soft spot for too. The story follows a Danish couple vacationing in Italy who befriends a couple and their son from the Netherlands that invites them to stay with them at their remote home in Holland. Slowly, the visit becomes marred by moments of awkwardness, questionable motivations and violent outbursts from their hosts to their young son which all careen towards a third act that is disturbingly jaw-dropping and totally unshakable. As the credits rolled, I sat in stunned silence at what I saw. I love Scandanavian films as they have zero constraints in messing with the taboos of what North American films will do and this is a great example of it. The less known about this film is better as the impending dread washes over you in a whole different way. I highly recommend this film to everyone who loves a good devious thriller.
Death Knot – When Well Go USA does genre films, they are usually something to take note of as the distribution company takes productions from all over the world and gives them a bright spotlight. This film comes from Indonesia, a country whose cinema has gifted us with phenomenal action epics like both the Raid movies and The Night Comes For Us as well as the new Netflix original, The Big 4, so a horror flick with that energy has all sorts of promise. The story follows a woman named Hari and her sister who return to the village where they were born after the death of their mother, a practitioner of black magic. This seems to be the catalyst for a rash of inexplicable suicides of several villagers which causes the hostility of the other citizens towards the two to explode and their safety hangs in a precarious balance. The film has a great atmosphere to it and a veteran quality to the chills it gives off which is impressive as it is the writing and directing debut of Cornelio Sunny, really just known as an actor before this. There’s something utterly fascinating about horror stories told in an environment that is unfamiliar to those abroad and I think this film takes full advantage of that.
Cloverfield 4K – I have to say that one of the coolest theatrical experiences of the last twenty years has to include this handheld shot thriller that had a trigger warning of motion sickness plastered all over the theatre at the time. It all stemmed from a mysterious teaser that showed before the first Transformers live-action film and the intrigue of what the hell we just saw sent us to the internet for a fantastically crafted viral ad campaign leading up to its release. Now fifteen years old with this brand new steelbook edition, the spoilers are flying and I can say for those who haven’t seen it that it follows a group of friends attending a party in New York City when a massive monster attacks the city, sending them scrambling for their lives. All documented by their friend Hudson, nicknamed Hud in a funny reference to “Heads Up Display”, the experience of this film is unlike any other and had me enamoured with the ingenuity of it all. This is a sci-fi monster classic and should be respected as one of the best in my opinion.
Steve’s Criterion & Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Fast Times At Ridgemont High – Written by Cameron Crowe in his first film and directed by the teen voice conduit that always delivers, Amy Heckerling, I still think it’s a pretty easy call to say that this is one of the greatest high school films ever made. I think we all probably know this film deeply and intimately from Sean Penn’s stoner character Jeff Spicoli to Brad masturbating in the bathroom to a daydream of Phoebe Cates in the pool, we all know it. For those who don’t, the film is a reality-infused look at the lives and loves of a group of high school students. It’s the final year of high school for Brad Hamilton who decides he should break up with his longtime girlfriend to play the field and gets completely floored when she breaks up with him first. Spicoli continues to take delight in getting under the skin of his teacher, Mr. Hand in one of the best onscreen rivalries in history and others are looking for love, sex and just plain having a good time which, for the most part, they all seem to find though sometimes in unexpected places. This movie had laughs, tackled issues, got into the inner workings of high school cliques and had such an honest heart to it which I believe will always keep it relevant. This is a must-see forever and the fact that Criterion put this into the collection is a clear indication of that.
Attack Of The 50ft Woman – Digging into some new Warner Archive this week in the Geekouts, I get to play in some genre stuff which happens every now and then but this is a cult classic for sure. Playing in the silly realm of science fiction, the poster for this movie still ranks in the top ones ever as compiled by Premiere magazine but has anybody really seen it these days? The storyline is pretty simple, following an abused socialite who grows to a giant size because of an alien encounter and an aborted murder attempt and decides to use her new giant stature to go after her cheating husband and grind him into the dust. The signs of the times are so fascinating with this film, released in 1958, as it was budgeted to be made for $100,000 and ended up coming under that by $10,000 which is kind of unheard of in the current climate of sci-fi productions. Either way, this is a pretty fun romp of a revenge film wrapped up in something pretty ridiculous and something that really couldn’t be remade in a straightforward way like this.
The Night Of The Iguana – Bringing out the big guns for the last Warner Archive release this week as this drama is directed by the legendary John Huston, written by the incomparable Tennessee Williams and starring the big screen power of Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The film would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and would win one for Best Costuming but that really isn’t the point as real cinephiles know the reach of this fantastic story. The plot follows an ostracized Episcopal clergyman who leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women on a tour of the Mexican coast and comes to terms with the failure haunting his life. Speaking of budgeting with the last film on this list, this movie dedicated half of its budget alone to the on-screen talent with Burton earning $750,000, Gardner getting $400,000 and Kerr pulling $250,000, which is such a stark contrast to the 50ft Woman. This is an actor’s film for sure and I really think it reflects that.
Mayor Of Kingstown: Season 2 (Paramount+) – The reach of Taylor Sheridan’s genius extends beyond his creation of Yellowstone and its spin-off shows 1883 and 1923 because he has reteamed with Wind River star Jeremy Renner for this series on Paramount+ which now enters its sophomore year. The show also features veteran actress Dianne Wiest, Game Of Thrones, The Wire alum Aidan Gillen and Headstones frontman Hugh Dillon, a former Yellowstone cast member who also is the co-creator of this. The series follows the McLusky family who are power brokers tackling themes of systemic racism, corruption and inequality in Kingstown, Michigan, where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry. I really love how gritty Sheridan’s writing is and it doesn’t relax one bit in this show at all, just puts it into a whole new avenue, away from the farm life. I’d say that maybe it would be good to stretch this one out viewing-wise as Renner just had a horrible medical emergency that will probably keep him out of action for a good long while.
Godfather Of Harlem: Season 3 (Disney+) – I really loved the Ridley Scott based on a true story crime epic American Gangster and own it on DVD in the most special of editions so I felt it was a betrayal to myself when I found out that not only is there a prequel series but as of this week there is three seasons of it. Granted, this isn’t a show that features either Denzel Washington or Russell Crowe, obviously, but it does feature a character that is so important to their characters or Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. Set during the 1960s in the neighbourhood that Lucas would one day run, this series follows the life of crime boss Bumpy Johnson, played by Forest Whitaker again in a role I loved him in. It picked up with him just released after a ten-year prison sentence to find the streets he once ruled in shambles with the streets controlled by the Italian mob and Bumpy must take on the Genovese crime family to regain control. The show doesn’t seem to have a huge amount of clout behind it, being an EPIX series, which is kind of a bummer but with the Canadian platform being Disney+ I think it does have a chance of being a sleeper binge for those who love a good crime series.
That ’90 Show (Netflix) – For me, this is a highly anticipated series reboot to kick off 2023 and it feels like the return of friends to see Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith reprising their roles as Kitty and Red Forman, the patriarch and matriarch that guided us through the seventies in the nineties. It is filled with cameos from all of your favourites from the original cast, aside from Danny Masterson for obvious reasons, but I won’t spoil exactly how they show up to give you some mystery. This series is set in 1995 and follows Donna and Eric’s daughter Leia Forman who is visiting her grandparents for the summer where she bonds with a new generation of Point Place, WI, kids under the watchful eye of Kitty and the stern glare of Red. I think the biggest deterrent for viewers will be that this is more about a new generation of kids with the older cast serving as more background characters, aside from Red and Kitty, but I really felt like it worked. Callie Haverda does a great job as the anchor for a new group of friends and there are some really sweet moments that kept me totally engaged. I hope that viewers enjoyed it as much as I did and we could get a second season.
The Last Of Us (Crave) – One of the most gripping video games of all time gets its live-action adaptation in the best possible form, in a series produced by HBO. In just one episode so far, I will say that it has broken the usual video game to screen curse and I have to credit the creator, Chernobyl’s Craig Mazin, and fantastic casting with The Mandolorian’s Pedro Pascal, Fringe’s Anna Torv and Game Of Throne’s Bella Ramsey as your three-piece lead tandem. The story follows the main characters, Joel and Ellie, a pair connected through the harshness of the world they live in, one that has been plunged into the darkness of a worldwide pandemic that has infected the majority of the human race with a mind-altering fungus. Forced to endure brutal circumstances and ruthless killers on a trek across post-pandemic America, Ellie has a secret that could change the world as they know it and Joel must do her best to protect her and that knowledge as they make their way to some sort of salvation. This show gripped me from the opening and totally chilling talk show segment that opens it and I will note that I never played the video game so I don’t have that context. It may look like the next Walking Dead but I think the show is more grounded in character development and story than horror so if that is the mindset you are coming into it with, you may be slightly disappointed. That said, I can’t wait for what’s next.