Cocaine Bear – We kicked off the year with a living doll in M3GAN and had Mia Goth give another gonzo performance in Infinity Pool and, now, 2023 is giving us the next installment of horror risk-taking with this piece of insane genre filmmaking which is, believe it or not, inspired by a true story. Judging from the trailer, this looks like a Tarantino-esque ensemble grouping of stories around our titular forest creature and I’m here for every second of it. The film follows an oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens who converge in a Georgia forest where a five-hundred-pound black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine. Besides the insane premise, this film is notable for being the final completed role of Ray Liotta before his passing last year, so it will be a few bittersweet moments within the carnage. I can’t wait to see how big this film will go as the trailer features some really hilarious and totally out-there stuff. I can’t believe that this is Elizabeth Banks in her follow-up to directing the Charlie’s Angels reboot. That directorial range in my opinion.
We Have A Ghost – Let’s get this clear, if David Harbour is leading a movie, I’m in. This has been a newer development since Stranger Things debuted and it has worked against me, like in Hellboy, but this holiday season he played a kickass Santa in Violent Night and now, well, he’s a ghost. This new film from Freaky and Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon follows a teen named Kevin and his family who move into an old house that has a current inhabitant named Ernest who has been haunting the attic. Immediately deemed a non-threat, Kevin is intent on finding out the mystery about Ernest’s death and ends up forming a friendship along the way in a film that is sweet, charming and a whole lot of fun. This movie could easily come off really cheesy but Landon gives it great self-awareness and a funny script tinged with his fantastic horror prowess to give it a knowing flavour. I enjoyed this film a lot and I hope it finds its audience on Netflix.
Juniper – Veteran actors usually are a good selling point for me in any character study drama and Charlotte Rampling has had a handful of these types of films that I have loved like Swimming Pool and 45 Years. This film is also deeply rooted in the country where it takes place, New Zealand and, like Aussie films, I have a certain affinity for their cinema as well. The film follows a self-destructive teenager spiralling into suicidal thoughts that is asked to look after his ailing grandmother when he is suspended from school. Obtuse to each other at first the two start to bond over each other’s strong will and battle for control over their situations, hers as it dwindles to a close and his as he searches for meaning and a purpose in it. The film is well acted and beautifully shot but I feel like it doesn’t do enough to secure its own singular voice and kind of gets lost in the shuffle of other films like it and dwarfed by ones that are better. I still love the mauri culture that is represented, an indigenous voice that has such a great presence in all New Zealand productions.
Empire Of Light – My initial feeling on this new drama was that it seemed like the perfect pairing to put acclaimed filmmaker Sam Mendes and Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman together for a story loosely based around cinema, or at least the holy temple for movie fans, the theatre. 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 companionship in the quiet solitude of the closed-down section of the Empire Theater where they work in. Olivia Colman gives another astounding performance that hit runs the gamut of emotions, proving her grit as a character actress once again. I’m in awe of every beautiful shot that Deakins created in this film and still find myself surprised that it scored so low with critics as I really loved it.
The Inspection – It’s a telling sign that I got a tingle up my spine when I saw the A24 logo because, as usual, I knew I’d be seeing something special, either incredibly personal, definitely resonant and something that no other huge studio would take a chance on. That said, so much of this film was unknown to me. I didn’t know who Jeremy Pope is as I don’t watch Pose (yet), I was unfamiliar with writer and director Elegance Bratton and I didn’t know anything about the plot itself other than being a military story. A semi-autobiographical story from Bratton, the film follows a young, gay Black man who has been rejected by his mother and, with few options for his future, decides to join the Marines, doing whatever it takes to succeed in a system that would cast him aside. The character building of this film is so fantastic and this isn’t just focused on our main lead as the squad around him seems to grow and develop alongside him. The command Bratton observes in just his first feature is that of a creator who has been running this film in his mind for a long time. I also have to acknowledge how incredible Gabrielle Union is in this as the main’s homophobic mother.
Nocebo – I always love a good Shudder original and know that no horror films appeared in last week’s list, so I’m overdue. This film also has the added gravitas of having the incredibly alluring Eva Green in the lead role and Mark Strong as her husband, a definite favourite of mine, all to make a film that definitely borrows in its tone from the Italian giallo style. Green plays a fashion designer who is suffering from a mysterious illness that puzzles her doctors and frustrates her husband until help arrives in the form of a Filipino carer, who uses traditional folk healing to try and cure her ailment. Director Lorcan Finnegan really surprised me with his last film, the thriller Vivarium with Jesse Eisenberg which had a “blink and you miss it” release during the pandemic and this follow-up has a lot of those same qualities that made that one work but with a bit of a disturbing edge to it. The ending was a bit divisive for me but it was still a really thrilling ride.
Dazed And Confused 4K – I know I’ve talked about this film a few times here but the 4K is out this week so I revisit it once again. 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.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
The Dentist Collection – Most people know actor Corbin Bernson as a television actor from his days on the David E. Kelley series L.A. Law but for me, it was, firstly, the first two Major League movies and then these shlocky horror films that followed in the footsteps of his co-star Larry Drake’s hilarious thriller Dr. Giggles. Yes, over-the-top gags, dumb one-liners and that classic nineties cheese make these movies so much fun to watch and it all came from director Brian Yuzna, one of the minds behind Re-Animator as well as the iconic Society. The first film follows Bernsen’s Dr. Feinstone, an extremely successful dentist who goes off the deep end after he catches his wife cheating on him while the second film has him freshly escaped from the mental hospital where he has been since being caught at the end of part one. Of course, the second movie tries t up the ante a bit but it does so by getting totally insane in dream sequences and an abundance of gore. These will only appeal to a certain audience but those people will enjoy the blu-ray upgrade as I do.
Bones And All – Is it weird that Luca Guadagnino made 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 definitely 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. This film may go down as one of the most underrated films of 2022, a story rich with brilliant character work from two young actors in Taylor Russell and Chalamet as well as some career-best stuff from Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and another scene-stealer for one solitary moment by another one of Luca’s favourites, Michael Stuhlbarg. This movie is going to be one that is re-evaluated in the future and we will realize that we did it dirty for sure.
Party Down: Season 3 (Crave) – This is a show that I heard a lot about before and never gave it a chance for unknown reasons. It just was an unnecessary blindspot as it has actors I love with Adam Scott Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr and Lizzy Caplan so when the new season was announced it gave me an opportunity to correct my mistake. Originally debuting in 2009, the series focuses on a group of wannabe actors and writers who work their day job as part of a catering company. After burning through most of the first season already, I’m kicking myself for not supporting this show earlier as it is hysterically funny and definitely my type of humour. So many great guest stars feature in this and it is a show that definitely shouldn’t have been cancelled after season two initially.
The Reluctant Traveler (AppleTV+) – When Schitt’s Creek made its farewell, the question on people’s minds was mostly relegated to what is next for Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy because Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara have already done so much in their careers so whatever was next was just icing on a fantastic career cake. Well, I will say that a travel show for Eugene wasn’t a prediction for me but here we are. This new docuseries follows the adventures of the Canadian comedy legend as he visits some of the world’s most remarkable hotels, as well as explores the people, places and cultures starting with Finland in the opening episode that features all of that charm and nervous reservation that Levy exudes so easily. I’m not generally into shows like this but I can’t resist a good host and that is their strength here in a show that would be pretty bland otherwise.