Creed III – I had no idea that we would get movies set in the Rocky cinematic universe that didn’t feature Sylvester Stallone but now, with this third film in the spin-off movies, we have hit that point. It’s acceptable because both of the Michael B. Jordan films have been great up until now, and he steps behind the camera in his feature film directing debut. The film picks up with Adonis thriving in both his career and family life until a face from his past comes back to threaten the empire that he’s built. With a mentality that Donny has taken everything that was owed to him when he was incarcerated, Damien looks to be the most formidable foe of our hero and he’s played by the incredible Jonathan Majors. It really is the year of Majors as he was just the best thing about the last Ant-Man movies and also features in this week’s Blu-ray release, Devotion. I have high hopes for this film as I’ve loved every movie that was connected to Rocky since I was a kid.
Joyride – I’m always in for a good Olivia Colman film and with Empire Of Light last week and her doing a voice in Puss In Boots: The Last Wish this week, it really is an embarrassment of riches if you enjoy the Oscar-winning actress. This one wasn’t on my radar at all until Level Film brought it to my attention and after a few weeks delay, it is here now. Colman plays a headstrong attorney who has made a plan to offload her newborn baby to her sister and is scrambling to adjust when a vulnerable but opinionated teenager steals their taxi. Colman carries this film squarely on her shoulders as she is the sole reason to give it any thought at all as it clearly lacks something in the credibility department. The manipulation of it trying to tug at your emotions feels moot because there isn’t a moment that you feel the characters won’t resolve their situations and, aside from Colman, it’s very hard to get immersed in their problems as the exposition feels very shallow.
The Quiet Girl – Having just seen the Academy Award-nominated story of a young friendship destroyed in the film Close, I was not ready for another tragic tale of childhood tragedy and this new Irish film took quick advantage of that weakness. I can easily say that it made itself memorable in how much it devastated me and a very deserving entry into the official submissions for the Oscars, in which it is the first ever Irish language film to earn the accolade. The story is set in rural Ireland in the early eighties and follows a quiet, neglected girl who is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with foster parents for the summer where she blossoms and starts to become comfortable with herself in their care. Of course, the fairy tale can’t last forever as discovered secrets end up bringing an abrupt end to the new happiness she has found for herself. This film is punctuated by a fantastic performance from young actress Catherine Clinch who is able to tell so much in an obviously very subdued way and the final scene is so heartbreaking and resonant that it will stick with me for a while. It’s such a tough race for Best Foreign this year, I’m really curious as to what will take it.
Huesara: The Bone Woman – Have you ever wanted a version of What To Expect When You’re Expecting but from a total horror perspective? I know, this is a completely focused projection but that has to be what writer and director Michelle Garza Cervera had in mind when she conceptualized this horror drama. The story follows Valeria, a woman who has long dreamed about becoming a mother and that day has arrived. The happiness quickly turns to worry and concern as the pregnancy begins to veer into supernatural depths as she connects everything to unsettling dark magic. This is a film that is destined to mess with your mind and push you to revulsion with the disturbing body horror contained in a seemingly straightforward story. Cervera and her lead actress Natalia Solián have crafted a character journey that is disturbing in ways that set itself apart from other horror films like it and the final product is definitely not for the faint of heart. I really wish I saw this one in theatres with an audience, it is so atmospheric in some scenes and the reactions must have been wild.
Return To Seoul – A fish out of water sorry is always compelling but there is something about this new film, mostly spoken in French but set in South Korea, that hits a whole new level. At the heart of it, I think it’s incredible that the lead performance in this drama is from a plastics artist named Park Ji-min who gives such a soulful and complex depth that resonates with so much experience. The film follows Ji-min as Freddie, a twenty-five-year-old French woman who returns to Korea, the country she was born in before being adopted by a French couple, for the very first time. Out of her element and unaccustomed to the traditions and ways of the locals, he decides to track down her biological parents, a decision that she might have not thought through the impact of before pursuing. This film is an enlightening and sometimes heartbreaking journey of one character’s seemingly aloof quest for self-discovery and the process seems to run the gamut on how the audience can feel about our main character. This is one of those great dramas that excels in the human condition experience.
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish – It feels like the Shrek franchise and spin-offs are so long ago in the pop culture zeitgeist that it really only exists in an internet meme cache and oddball nostalgia posts but then this film comes along. Not only is it a follow-up to the spin-off for the Antonio Banderas voiced character but it also has a new animation style to boot which is incredibly dynamic especially in the fight scenes leaving me to think that, given the film’s success, we may get more from the big ogre that got the ball rolling for Dreamworks Animation. This film follows our titular fairy tale character as he discovers that his passion for adventure has taken its toll and he has burned through eight of his nine lives. With knowledge of something that can restore him to his adventurous self, he sets out on an epic journey to find the mythical Last Wish with the prize of a brand new nine lives and with a villainous Goldilocks, voiced by the lovely Florence Pugh, on his tail. Much to my surprise, this might be the best-animated film of 2022 or at least in the top echelon of that category.. The film leans into a Sergio leone style coupled with an anime sense o storytelling featuring a bold voice cast that brings a punch, fun and funny script to life. I found myself fully engaged with the story within moments and am delighted with the fact that they could rejuvenate something that, honestly, felt stale going into. This was possibly the biggest movie surprise of last year.
I Wanna Dance With Somebody – I have to admit, every time I saw the trailer for this film it looked worse and worse to me and maybe it’s just that I feel a little burnt out on the music biopic scene. Yes, we’ve had great ones recently with Rocketman for Elton John and, to a slightly lesser degree, Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen but we’ve also had the bland Respect for Aretha Franklin and the unapproved disaster of Stardust and I just have a feeling that a lot will be omitted or glossed over in this one. The film stars Star Wars actress Naomie Ackie as the hit-generating but tragic singer in her meteoric rise to superstardom against a backdrop of family betrayals and a whirlwind but misguided love affair. I do love that Stanley Tucci is playing mega-producer and collaborator with Houston, Clive Davis, which is just perfect casting for me. After loving the documentary on the man himself, this might be the shining piece in a film that looks very mediocre to me.
Violent Night – Just describing this film, you know exactly why one like this would be at the top of my list for the best holiday films ever and, yes, David Harbour is a big reason for it. Not being a huge Christmas movie guy except for the classics, it takes a hook to get me immersed in a new one and this one definitely has it. The story follows a team of elite mercenaries who breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage to obtain the millions in an underground vault. The team isn’t remotely prepared for a surprise combatant in the form of Santa Claus who takes it upon himself to dispatch each one of these naughty listers in increasingly gruesome ways. Translation? My type of movie. The film comes from the producers of the Bob Odenkirk action flick Nobody and is directed by the madman Tommy Wirkola, responsible for the Nazi zombie comedy horror films Dead Snow and its sequel, a team that has created absolutely glorious insanity from start to finish. Harbour is charming as a Santa disillusioned with the greed of the modern world and John Leguizamo plays a fantastic villainous foil with a certain charm of his own. The script is biting and hilarious at times and the action is ferocious and pops off the screen. I loved this movie.
Devotion – It’s really interesting that we got this true story fighter pilot film nearing the end of 2022 as it was 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, on blu-ray now the same week as Creed III and just a couple weeks after Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, both in villain roles. 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 and I think it, unfortunately, hurt the film’s box office chances which is a total shame because it was a damn good movie.
God’s Country – Thandiwe Newton has been one of the best character actresses in the business for at least a couple of decades now but it was her brilliance in Westworld that made us go “oh yeah!” to a large degree. She can play big but when she is understated, this is where her best work comes out and this slow-burn character drama thriller from first-time feature film writer and director Julian Higgins makes brilliant use of that. Newton plays a grieving college professor who is forced to confront two hunters on her rural property land and gets the authorities involved to keep them away. What starts as a simple but tense confrontation turns into a daily terrorizing as the two enlist their community to push her over the edge and escalate the problem to a dangerous and possibly deadly level. Newton is so stellar in this but it was co-star Jefferson White who grabbed my attention, only known to me for his role on Yellowstone as the ranch hand looking for redemption, Jimmy Hurdstrom. He gets to play into the menacing a bit more in this film and he does it so well plus the final scene does so much heavy lifting with just sound and the audience’s imagination, I couldn’t help but be massively impressed. I think Higgins has a big future in rural thrillers if he makes a niche of it.
Pretty Little Liars Original Sin: Season 1 – There are honestly so many network television shows that I have been picking up on very late into airing or even after the full run of the show and the original series for this spinoff, Pretty Little Liars, was one of them. It was massively popular with a faithful fanbase so it made sense that they would want to keep that magic going and after ingesting all of that first show into my brain via Netflix, I was ready to go for more. Knowing where the money is in the meat of their storytelling, Original Sin brings a whole new mystery to the little liars of Millwood but with an all-new cast of characters and I have to say I appreciate that all the homages and references to other horror and mystery properties seem to be consistent. Although I do miss the old cast, there is a charm to this new series and I’m digging the originality of it, not to get all punny and referential to the subtitle.
The Adventures Of Batman – Warner Brothers sent me this new update of a revamped old Batman series that I can’t even research on IMDb because apparently, it doesn’t exist but what I can say is that it is really a product of its era and Casey Casem voices Robin in it proving that he was the busiest voice over artist with this Scooby Doo and Josie And The Pussycats to name a couple. The plot is really simple, Batman and his sidekick Robin solving mysteries and foiling his rogues’ gallery in some of the cheesiest episodes I have ever seen. Seriously, it makes the live-action series look edgy and Josie and Scooby’s show look more palatable in comparison. It looks good in my Batman collection but I can’t say I will be revisiting it.
Steve’s Blu-Ray Geekouts:
Our Dancing Daughters – Going classic this week as all three films were released years before I was born and we are starting with the oldest one, thanks to the great people at Warner Archive, and it is a film that is five years away from being one hundred years old. It also is a two-time Academy Award-nominated film although it was in the writing and cinematography department. The film follows the legendary and iconic actress Joan Crawford as Diana, a well-put-together girl who works as a flapper with her friend Ann, looking for the love of her life. She finds herself at odds with Ann when the two compete over the affections of Ben, a soon-to-be millionaire and it then comes down to how attractive Diana’s good-girl nature is against Ann’s devious attitude. This is the film that would propel Crawford’s name to the a-list, a path that would lead her to multiple Oscar nominations and even a win but not for a couple of decades. The film also proved to be a massive hit for the studio, MGM, turning a profit six times the amount of its production cost. People really loved this classic and the blu-ray revisit it well put together.
Rancho Notorious – Thi is a really cool release from Warner Archive from the mid-fifties as it features a formidable star of the time, Marlene Dietrich, was a western genre film and came from legendary filmmaker Fritz Lang, the mind behind M and Metropolis just to name a couple. The film was notable for pushing the limits of the MPAA at the time with its depictions and discussion of sexual assault and murder, a theme central to its main plot. The story follows Arthur Kennedy as Vern Haskell, a likable rancher who seeks out to avenge his fiancé’s death when she is slain during a robbery. His revenge leads him to Chuck-a-luck, Altar Keane’s ranch set up to hide criminals where he quickly finds that he may be in over his head. At the time the film was made, Dietrich was considered one of Hollywood’s most glamorous leading ladies and, at fifty years old at the time of filming, used every trick in the book to get lighting and camera to show her youthful side. Disagreements about this creative turn almost lost the film its cinematographer, who contributed to the film’s iconic and celebrated look and style.
Elvis – While everyone is still talking about Austin Butler’s star-making and Academy Award-nominated turn as Elvis Prestley, I went out and bought the Shout Select edition of John Carpenter’s version of the story starring a young Kurt Russell. In their first collaboration and a made-for-television movie at that, it was a must to have all of their films together and this was the last piece in the collection puzzle. Covering the rise of Elvis, the film starts with his early years in Mississippi and Tennessee raised by his parents, Gladys and Vernon, before he forms a partnership with “Colonel” Tom Parker that leads to the release of his first song, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which zooms to the top of the charts. Elvis soon catapults to stardom, marrying the beautiful Priscilla and cementing his legendary status in pop culture. The film has a really interesting cast around Russell including Shelley Winters as his mom, Pat Hingle playing Parker and Kurt’s own father Bing playing the father of the King which is a really neat detail. Being a Carpenter die-hard fan, this was a must-own for me as I continue to buy all of these films in the numbered collection.
The Mandalorian: Season 3 (Disney+) – The wait is finally over as we get more of the continued adventures of the Mandalorian and his sidekick, the “child” or “Baby Yoda”, Grogu. Every season of this has been absolutely incredible in my mind and, yes, I include the little mini-season of it in the Book Of Boba Fett series which seemed to be paned by a lot of viewers. For those who aren’t fresh to this incredible series, the story follows the travels of a lone masked bounty hunter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic, where he takes jobs and completes them with ease until one mission changes the entire trajectory of what he believed his legacy to be. This is another notch on the belt of actor Pedro Pascal who has to be the hottest television actor on the planet right now with this series and the currently running The Last Of Us on HBO. I’m so damn happy this show is back and it is a big reason to look forward to Wednesdays.